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In an era when anti-European populism is becoming mainstream in the West, it is sometimes hard to imagine that there are countries where the dream of a Eu- ropean-style liberal democracy is still very strong. Georgia is one such country. Public opinion polls conducted in July this year show that a whopping 77 per cent of Georgians support the European Union and 66 per cent support NATO. Thus, it has turned into a triumph of style over substance.

Arguably, the transfor- mation in Georgia began in when the Rose Revolution with its pro-Europe- an slogans brought Mikheil Saakashvili to power. Europe began here Georgia imports almost everything, and preferably from the West. Three- quarters of the products found in an average Georgian household are imported. It was Saakashvili who finally understood that the West would not come on its own and definitely not move 3, kilometres eastward.

The West — Saakashvili thought — had to be impressed. Hence, the conclusion: Georgia had no choice but to start resembling the West. It turned out, however, that it was not so easy to cover up the decaying post-Soviet blocs with self-made balconies clinging for life with a layer of paint, or to push away side-street bazaars to replace them with fancy su- permarkets; or to just hide everything Soviet behind giant glitzy billboards. As the opportunity arose, the statues of several unwanted heroes and, despite protests, a large chunk of the legacy of Soviet modernism were quickly removed.

It took Saakashvili a couple of years to pepper the country with post-modernist wonders: a pixelated shopping centre here, a police station in the shape of a glass pyramid there; not to mention the hotel which resembles the shape of an Alexan- drian lantern, or the ER building that looks like a Wi-Fi router with a large anten- nae. These are all different buildings, but the context is the same. And the unique post-Soviet characteristics of cheap construction practices allow for the use of remnants of insulation foam to build a moat, hollow bricks to erect an embank- ment, or old rusty weapons for fencing.

One thing is sure though, when Europe is approaching, there is no time to waste. The architectural Blitzkrieg touched the capital city above all. Not surprisingly, UNESCO was wringing its hands when centuries-old buildings were replaced by grotesque replicas cov- ered with gargantuan adornments resembling random elements of the traditional constructions.

What is more, this was all taking place in a city, which has existed since the fifth century has experienced many fires and earthquakes naturally after each of them some things survived but some things had to be built anew and has been inhabited by numerous ethnic groups Armenians, Kurds, Jews and Russians among them who all made Tbilisi a cosmopolitan capital of the region. His investors also had their methods to rid homes of their tenants. It was harder to find new ones, though.

Thus, today it is only tourists who climb the brightly illuminated yet aban- doned walkways below the Narikala fortress. In Kutaisi, the medieval Bagrati Cathedral experienced a similarly cruel fate. After its glitzy reconstruction with a heavy application of concrete and plastic, the building was removed from the UNESCO cultural heritage list in July ; it had been placed there in as an endangered world heritage site.

Finally, Signagi, a provincial town fa- mous for its vineyards, was rebuilt in a Mediterranean style. A part of Europe The apogee of the architectural madness is the city of Batumi, which in recent years has turned into something that looks like a buggy simulation of Las Vegas. Since the launch of the visa-free regime with which in recent Turkey, the service sector of the city was tightly filled years has turned with brothels and casinos, which are both illegal across into something the border.

There is also a miniature of the White House flipped upside down, which constitutes a surprising, although probably unintended, criticism of the blind imitation of American models. All this is in the vicinity close to the old town. There, new buildings stylised as old were tucked between the 19th century tene- ment houses, while the old buildings were renovated in such a way as to match the new ones. That is, it is only the fronts that match, as nobody can see anything from the backyard. The place where one can see a lot, meaning the very centre of the old town, a map of Europe was hanging for some time where Georgia was marked with highlighted red contours.

Conspicu- ously, it was missing the Iberian Peninsula — most likely due to the lack of space. The album was also released in the West. There was, however, a risky possibility that the photographs would not satisfy western judges and they would decide to come for an inspection. In that case, something had to be done with the locals. To get the latter was not particularly difficult.

When Warsaw, Prague or Bucha- rest — not to mention Berlin — were flooded with European funds, the cities also lost lots of their exotic charm. Here, no one praises Georgian cuisine. Thus you hear stories about a rented flat that has a shower with a radio and hydro-massager, but no working drains, or a studio where new windows were installed, but the excess of insulating foam busted their frame.

City life in Tbilisi — which according to local knowledge has existed for at least years — looks more like what you would see in Europe, and which is different from Istanbul, Odesa or St Petersburg. It is no wonder, then, that the West got a little carried away with its preaching. As a result, upon the initiative of volunteers from the European Voluntary Service, an alternative cultural centre was opened in an abandoned hippodrome. There young Georgians were shown films about squat- ting and were patiently told why they did not necessarily have to respect the police and democratic institutions although they had just learnt to respect them and that hard work will not necessarily lead to a career or financial success although they had just started to believe that.

Luxury for Georgian diaspora Close to Batumi, near the administrative boundary line with Abkhazia, a small village was meant to be turned into Lazika — an ultra-luxurious coastal metropo- lis. Considering that the imitation of Europe no longer impressed anyone, the im- itations of the Asian tigers could have. Lazika was named after a former kingdom, one of the incarnations of Colchis, which included, of course, Abkhazia. Abkha- zia is a Georgian province which enjoyed autonomy during the Soviet times but Georgians claimed their rights to it during the wave of pro-independence nation- alism.

As a result of the civil war, Abkhazia declared itself an independent yet un- recognised para-state. Saakashvili wanted to impress the Abkhaz with his tanks, but when this did not work he came up with the idea for Lazika. The only problem was that even if he really delivered on his promises and attracted Abkhaz with seven-star hotels — and was able to beat the competition of the fast develop- ing Sochi, which was right on the other side — there were still not enough people to inhabit the city.

Misha, as always, had a solution — the Georgian diaspora will return and start living there. Despite his ingenuity however, the former president found no remedy for the topography of the terrain. In his opaque calculations, as it was pointed out by lo- cal NGOs, he did not include the cost of building skyscrapers on mud and sand dunes. The connotation is not accidental, given the fact that the military vehicles produced in Georgia were given the same name — Lazika.

The new Georgian Saakashvili, the great reformer and a favourite of western diplomats, survived ten years in power. When the opposition began to gather steam, the president did not live up well to democratic standards. He began sending police forces to crush protests, which only made matters worse. Geor- gians listened to Saakashvili carefully, already knowing that European countries look differently. However, it would be unfair to say that Saakashvili did not deliver anything.

A number of radical neoliberal reforms, combined with domestic entrepreneur- ship, brought about economic growth. Georgia also built a system which closely resembled the rule of law and corruption was significantly reduced from everyday life. The old post-Soviet cadres in the police departments and local governments were exchanged. Georgians were hit by the costs of transformation. The authors of the Georgian shock therapy cannot be proud of its effects. The new labour code, which focused on entrepreneurs but somehow forgot about the workers, was a clear reflection of this approach. Someone who takes matters in his or her own hands and does not expect any support from the state.

Those who succeeded got stuck in limbo, an interim form of existence. They are a Homo post-sovieticus. On the one hand, they nostalgically reminisce about the Soviet Union and on the other hand, they are overpowered by dreams of consumption. Stagnation, which has tormented the country as a result of western sanctions against Russia, neither allows for the reconstruction of a social security system, nor for running a successful business operation.

In the party was re-elected for a second term, receiving 49 per cent of the vote with a low turnout of 52 per cent. Its politicians did not shy away from the pro-European slogans, despite softening relations with Russia. Despite some scandals as the re- cent kidnapping of opposition Azerbaijani journalist painfully testifies , one can say, overall, that democracy in Georgia is relatively stable.

It introduced basic universal health care, slightly increased state pensions and lowered utility bills. How- ever, economic stagnation and a lack of perspectives The Georgian for change has deepened frustration and indifference dream of Europe is among its citizens. The Georgian dream of Europe is still strong de- still strong despite spite the fact the current geopolitical situation leaves the fact that the the country without much hope of EU or NATO ac- current geopolitical cession.

The question remains what can Georgians be situation leaves the offered beyond a visa-free regime which was intro- duced in March? Homines economici, when they take matters in their own hands and when the developers finish constructing parks with new fancy build- ings. European politicians and investors nodded in agreement. It is clear that this scenario is far from being realisable. It is hard to say which colonisation projects Europe should be more ashamed of — the completed ones or those that have been left behind, and remain unfinished. She focuses on topics related to migration, politics and social changes in Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Southern Caucasus.

She is the deputy director of Ha! However, there are some common denominators worth exploring. A visit to both states brought some surprising results, defying our expectations. Europe is not only a geographical and political concept but also a cultural one. When trying to better understand what Europe is, we decided to visit two post- communist countries: Slovakia and Georgia. The former is a young European state, which is now part of the European Union and a member of the eurozone.

It is perceived as a country that has been successful with its economic and social reforms. Both countries were in some way dominated for many years by Moscow. Georgia was a republic of the Soviet Union and Slovakia, as part of Czechoslovakia, was subjugated to Moscow during its time behind the Iron Curtain. Today, not many people would see Georgia and Slovakia as having much in common. Yet there are certain elements — psychological, cultural and even politi- cal — that do bind these two states. That is why we decided to go to both places and directly discover the similarities ourselves.

History as a starting point A logical place to start is history — something that is very important to both states. By contrast, the 21st century brought reforms and a brief war with Russia in Geopolitics and geoeconomics placed Georgia in Asia, although culturally it is rooted in Europe. Georgia became a Christian state in the year and Orthodoxy is a very important component of its identity. Slovakia, in turn, did not actually have a history of its own statehood prior to It was only after the First World War when Czechoslovakia, a federal state which recognised Slovakia as a separate entity, emerged.

In the Slovak National Uprising, a resistance movement, was launched against German forces in Slovakia. In the communists took power in Czechoslovakia and Slovakia became part of the communist bloc. In our visit, we start with Georgia, in the city of Kutaisi. At dawn it was dark, sleepy and empty.

On the main square stood a gaudy fountain with gold-plated figurines of animals. The taxi drivers and owners of small currency exchange shops were awaiting their clientele. Most of the buildings lack care and there is plenty of unfinished construction around the city, some of which has turned into piles of ruin. Nevertheless, there is a lot of green space and the streets are decorated with spreading trees, entwined with ivy.

During the day, the streets are vibrant and full of life — young students, donning typical American- style clothes, are rushing to school. In the park the loud youth are offset by elderly Georgians playing dominos and chess. On top of a high hill overlooking the city stands the proud Bagrati Cathedral, which had its golden age in the 11th and 13th centuries. From the cathedral one can see the sprawling city, surrounded by the Caucasus Mountains.

Today, however, only a few ses- sions actually take place in Kutaisi. The authorities remain unsure about what to do with the brand new parliament building. At the beginning of the century, Kutaisi also opened a large, new airport, named after David the Builder — one of the greatest rulers in Geor- gian history.

A very common form of transportation in the post-Soviet space is the marshrut- ka — a privately owned mini-bus where the driver crams as many passengers as possible. The journey to Tbilisi was a post-Soviet space. The driver blared music that was fitting for the region, including Russian disco-pop and chanson. The landscape was dotted by ruined factories and unfinished building projects which appeared like wounds in the majestic mountainous scenery.

There were no visible road signs indicating the distance from Kutaisi to Tbilisi; only distances to other state capitals: Baku — km; Teheran — 1, km. The never-ending traffic jam began well before we entered Tbilisi city limits. We finally made it to Didube bus station, which is packed full of booths selling various trinkets and goods, typical of post-Soviet capitalism.

Among the mass of booths and crowds of people, we located our metro station entrance. The Tbilisi metro is like a chronicle of the city. The mosaic at Technical Uni- versity Station, for example, shows a bucolic picture of a scientific society, young people doing sport, children playing and overhead proudly flies the sputnik satel- lite and a dove of peace. The mosaic was built in — the same year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Today, Tbilisi displays new symbols and brands. In the prestigious Saburtalo neighbourhood near the city centre, among the post-Soviet buildings and small old houses entwined with grape vines, rise skyscrapers and glass office buildings.

The addresses of the streets are so chaotically arranged that even locals found it diffi- cult to help point out the one we were looking for. But Georgians are very polite and they tried their best to help us. The flat we rented, on the other hand, was earnestly and tastefully decorated. Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi could be a Parisian boulevard, but with a southern accent, decorated with majestic trees and numerous flowers. The avenue was built upon the order of Mikhail Vorontsov, the tsarist governor, who with equal grace systematically developed Tbilisi as well as pacifying the northern Caucasus.

On the avenue, we found a little bookshop snuggled in a courtyard behind a building. It looked like a stationery shop crossed with an antique bookshop, with a very small selection of books, mainly in Russian. Other bookshops in the centre of the capital looked similar. But what can we say about the famous pro-West direction of the country? It was something that was not grandly visible to us. There is a lot of Russian, Turkish and Arabic influence in the capital, but very little that is recognisable as Western Eu- ropean. The luxurious Agmashenebeli Avenue, which is located near the city cen- tre, was remastered by the Turks.

The highest skyscraper in the city has an Arabic owner. What is more, there are no Western European banks to be found and cur- rency exchange dealers, aside from western currency and the rouble, offer servic- es for Turkish and Arabic visitors, mainly from the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. To slay a dragon Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square were the scenes of many dramatic events in recent Georgian history.

In the spring of the Soviet army brutally crushed a Georgian pro-independence demonstration. In the autumn of the avenue was the arena of a civil war between adherents and antagonists of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. In Freedom Square was the hub of the Rose Revolution and in was the main site of the rally against Russian aggression, which also saw visits from leaders of Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states.

In the middle of the square, which used to be named after the Stalinist executioner Lavrentiy Beria, stands a giant column with the gilded statue of the Georgian emblem — St George slaying a dragon. Its narrow streets and devious alleys are lined with tiny houses many of which are in bad condition and wooden balconies over- grown with grapevines and flowers. On the weekend in the Saburtalo neighbourhood where we were staying, a temporary fair was erected. The police meandered among the booths, keeping or- der.

The main products for sale were meat, cheese, bottles of homemade wine and chacha vodka made from grapes sold in excessive amounts, some fruit — most- ly pomegranates, limes and persimmon. The sale of vegetables was less common. We were surprised by the limited choice of goods and how despite that fact, Geor- gians are able to prepare such good food. Yet for Georgians, it is the heart of Europe. Gaudily paint- ed housing blocks chaotically saturated with advertisements find themselves among the grey and neglected, but still elegant, buildings from the start of the 20th century.

The monument depicts two Slo- vaks with a Soviet soldier, proudly carrying a flag. Behind the monument lies the flamboyant palace of the Hungarian magnate dominating over the park. The Hungarians ruled Slovakia for 1, years when the territory was called Up- per Hungary. In the countryside the feudal Hungarians ruled over Slovakia is also a the Slovak peasants. Like Georgia, Slovakia is also a wine country. Tokaj grapes took to the local volcanic black earth as well as the warm climate since Roman times.

French kings and Turk- ish sultans alike were fond of the wine. Pickled with the characteristic Czechoslovak sense of humour, the film was recognised, among others, at the festival in Karlovy Vary. The film can be seen as a kind of metaphor of the Danube states, which play between The Third Rome Moscow and the fourth one Brussels. Under the church lies an open crypt which houses human skulls. Around 1, soldiers are buried here, mainly Russian, from the First World War — specifically the Carpathian operation of the Southwestern Front in there is even a dedicated website: www.

The crypt was renovated at the expense of the Russian Embassy in During the commemorations, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in a let- ter thanked the citizens of the village and the priest for taking care of the remains of the killed Russian soldiers. A similar letter hangs near the crypt, with thanks on behalf of the Taurida Centre of Military History of Crimea in Simferopol.

Clearly, Russia is doing a lot in order to maintain its influence in the region. The communist authorities of Czechoslovakia, in memory of a great tank battle here, erected a row of T tanks to replace the wrecked ones that stood for some time after the war. The tanks are in good condition — newly depicted stars shine from a distance. The entrance to the valley is decorated with a monument illustrating a Soviet tank ram- ming a German one.

That was the first paradox we observed on our journey: in Slovakia an EU country there is more of a Russian presence than in Georgia, a post-Soviet state that is far away from EU membership. Our expectations, as we were preparing our journey, were quite the opposite. Yet in some ways they are also like twins.

They have a similar surface area and population size as well as a common, though different, experience of communism. Slovaks and Georgians are generally creative and proud of their identity. During communist period both countries focussed on their agricultural industry, which created greater problems during the transformation and later the global financial crisis. Both countries now strongly focus on tourism. Mountains are also an impor- tant element to both identities.

They appear in the national anthems of both states. Georgian wines have been known since ancient times, while Slovaks promote their wine to even wider markets. In both countries there are visible relicts of social realism and they both remain in the orbit of Russian influence. In this century Georgia has tried to dissociate it- self from its Soviet heritage while for Slovaks this is Both countries still less of a priority. In eastern Slovakia there and both remain are still plenty of monuments glorifying the Soviet in the orbit of army, with streets still named after Soviet heroes.

Cer- Russian influence. Hence as we observed, one can be a part of the EU without having undergone a full level of de-communisation. It would appear that Europe is not only identi- fied with certain standards of living, but also with an open space determined by a cultural horizon. Wiktor Trybus is a blogger and freelance journalist. Today, they do streets in March and June ? They represent dif- Do they feel stuck? What brings tunities from their country. They want to them to the street is the feeling of be- work here, they want to start businesses ing very tired.

They want to be Tired of what? But, at the same time, Tired of everything that is taking place they see people like Pavel Durov, who in our country. They feel that something is one of the smartest guys our country is wrong. They want change, immedi- has, and they know what has happened ately. And they feel that time is of the to him. Many of these young people have But not everybody is so innovative. There lived with this regime their whole lives. True, and for them it is also very dif- ficult to feed a family with their salaries. What is this better future for them?

Short review: Lukianoff and Haidt’s new book, and request for book suggestions

That is why we need opportuni- ties here. We need a future. Otherwise, our youth will leave, even though they love it here. This is quite a different message from what official Russian media say… It is important to understand that a lot of young people do not watch TV, mainly because Russian TV has noth- ing to offer them. It has no programmes that are attractive to anyone under Thus, they are not fed state propaganda.

They understand that the pride of being Photo courtesy of Nikolay Artemenko Russian is not related to the size of the country or who its leader is. And you think that it the meaning of pride is different, I think. I am sure that and for many of my friends who are do- many of my colleagues and the young- ing the same thing. Nor historical memory. It that they have the same understanding is rather a feeling that you have when of pride as I do. They just want to live you know that you can do something here and make things better.

You can improve it and when you see that What about the so-called Putin genera- you are not alone, that you are making tion, meaning young adults age between an improvement with your colleagues 20 and 35, who are said to be strongly sup- and your friends, and that you are mak- portive of the president? Does it mean there ing this piece of land where you were is a generational conflict emerging in Rus- born better. You are doing it because sia now? By real patri- And what can you do about that? I them every day. We have to focus on consider myself such a patriot.

On the raising awareness about the situation in other hand, there are those whom I call our country. Here is a simple example. When you try to talk to them and any problem. In our country it is they call you an American spy or a trai- the opposite. Being involved in politics tor who is against Russia. We need to change this negative among the youth, between those whom attitude towards politics. People need you call the real and the pseudo patriots? This is what we are but I know that the number of the real fighting for — if we achieve that, then I patriots has been on the rise over the will say that the percentage of the real past few years.

You can see this when patriots has increased for sure. You will see how many The protests were not only attended by youngsters come to the opposition ral- the young. They also included representa- lies that he organises. What would you say is the relation between these young and old protesters? But is it enough? That is why they protesting on the streets this year means are standing together, shoulder to shoul- that when they all see each other dur- der, and demanding the same things, ing these demonstrations, they become together.

I think that the secret of the inspired and convinced that together connection between two or even three they can do something. I think that this generations of activists and protesters is is what is happening right now. Thus, among our protest- Being a co-ordinator of a youth organ- ers you will find people who were born in isation do you really see an increasing in- the Soviet Union and who understood all volvement of the youth? In other words, are the advantages and disadvantages of the you now receiving many new members? Soviet system — as they lived through it.

To be honest, our association does There were also people who experienced not want to become a large organisa- perestroika and the revolution that took tion and we do not focus on quantity. And there are represent- own NGOs. And they do. Here in St Pe- atives of the new generation who share tersburg they have opened up a migra- the same views and same European- tion centre where they help newcomers oriented way of thinking. They have all learn Russian. Others set up an urban de- found each other now.

We think that but connected by one idea. That is why four years ago we future of our country. But let me add set up Vesna, which means spring. We one more thing to your previous ques- want to prepare those young people for tion: in my view the fact that there have the future and in this way we will make been representatives of all generations our country great again! Iwona Reichardt is the deputy editor in chief of New Eastern Europe. What is a Russian oligarch? Historians and political scientists have long described Russia as oligarchic. The problem with the term oligarch, however, is that its usage has changed repeatedly since Soviet times.

Today, it seems to be much more about power than anything else. Indeed, the meaning of the word oligarch is difficult to separate from Russia. Russian oligarchs have become a pervasive spectre. Confusion springs from its two of- ten inseparable elements: wealth and political influence. While oligarchs are ide- ally both, many commentators on Russia need only identify a figure with either wealth or political power, but not necessarily both. The instability of the meaning of oligarch has led some to question its existence. A scan of academic works on the post-Soviet Russian elite shows that oligarch is a common sociologi- cal category.

But as the examples above suggest, it is also uncritically used simply to describe wealthy Russians. What, then, is an oligarch in Russia and where did this figure originate, and how has it changed over time, if at all? The use of oligarch or oligarchy in the Russian context speaks to debate about the very nature of the Russian political system. Keenan likened the Russian elite structure to an atom. The relationship between the tsar and his orbiting oligarchs was symbiotic. Disequilibrium periodically flared up, par- ticularly during monarchical transitions, and oligarchic clans often jostled against each other.

But for the most part, the Muscovite oligarchy maintained collective cohesion. This was especially the case in how it presented itself to the public. Smaller potentates orbited them in a concentric telescope of patron-client net- works that linked centre and periphery. In many ways, the power of an oligarch — even the one at the top — was always circumscribed by his clients.

The Russian state, therefore, was less the autocratic vertical as many imagined. In reality, the Russian sate was a politically fragmented entity bound by chains of patron-client networks swirling around the tsar. This model kept the Russian ruling system relatively stable, as long as there was a tsar strong enough to maintain the balance.

Soviet oligarchic rule was particularly visible under Soviet system. Recent Leonid Brezhnev. Some of those who cut their entrepre- neurial teeth as young communists in the mids, like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Vladimir Vinogradov, became infamous magnates of the Yeltsin era. Others used their connections to Komsomol resources and party patronage to get rich. This history is significant not just for the emergence of the post-Soviet oligarch, but for the privatisation of the Soviet economy in general.

By the time the Soviet system had collapsed, Komsomol connected co-operatives were awash with cash. The heads of these organisations set up the first banks, the means to give credit, and when the time came, the money to scoop up Soviet enterprises or loan Boris Yeltsin funds for his re-election campaign in the notorious loans for shares scheme. The idea was to experi- ment with market reforms through a politically safe entity like Komsomol. But once they can afford a trip to Warsaw or Vilnius, they often return disillusioned, as many Western cities have a similarly average architecture — grey and uninteresting.

The movie Stilyagi by Valery Todorovsky is a great illustration of this issue. When one of them finally goes to the United States, he is astonished to find that the desired West is not col- ourful and outlandish, but just normal. Even foreigners often point out that the above-mentioned Lviv, which wants to be European too much, is the epitome of the imagined West.

Thus maybe such a co-existence of Soviet monuments, historical architecture and churches of different faiths is not the ema- nation of the Homo sovieticus, but make these cities authentic? Opportunism and apathy In the discussion on Homo post-sovieticus in individual post-Soviet states, eco- nomic relations often play the most important role. According to the classical un- derstanding, Homo sovieticus does not respect private property. It sees public prop- erty as belonging to no one and has a dismissive attitude to law which also inclines being prone to corruption. When it comes to economics, one can see a clear So- viet legacy, especially in the way the Belarusian economy functions.

This is, how- ever, mainly because of the Belarusian ruling elite, who do not hide the fact that they see the archaic mechanism of central planning as most effective. All Belaru- sians pay a price for this attitude of the authorities — for the last five years or so, the country has been in a deep financial crisis.

In these circumstances, the Belarusian Homo sovieticus manifests itself in curi- ous ways. Opportunism and apathy are a typical response. Belarusians, while com- plaining that the situation is bad and they earn little, are trying to survive without rebelling. They say that the state provides them with the bare minimum which is enough to survive. Yet, the expert predictions stating that every economic crisis will be the beginning of the end of the Belarusian regime have so far failed.

Even a very bad economic situation will not change the dismissive attitude to law or cor- ruption, typical for the Homo sovieticus mentality. Belarusians in a large part re- spect and follow the law. Even if they often complain that it is stupid or inhumane, they function within its limits and rather look for ways to operate within the sys- tem rather than break the rules. Corruption is another issue — in this area Belarus is much better than Ukraine or Russia.

As opposed to the issues of obedience to the law and corruption, where Bela- rus contradicts the Homo post-sovieticus stereotype, the adaptability thesis is more than relevant. In the Belarusian case it often takes the form of creative entrepre- neurial thinking: How to operate within very limited conditions to earn money without breaking the law? Several products and services which have conquered global markets are the case in point.

Of course, one can say that this example has nothing to do with Homo sovieticus, but rather with a fast transition from the Soviet man to the neoliberal man. Indeed, in some post-Soviet states that was the case. But in Belarus it is precisely an expres- sion of the resourcefulness and entrepreneurialism of the Homo post-sovieticus. What alternative? In civil society and politics, Homo sovieticus can be characterised by subservi- ence, collectivism, submissiveness and passivity.

At first glance, Belarus is the ide- al example of Homo sovieticus: for over 20 years the The ruling elite state has been ruled by the same man, the society is have offered the passive and does not protest while the democratic op- people a simplified position is scarce and repressed. But if one looks clos- worldview and er at the nature of the Belarusian political system, one will find several paradoxes which escape these simpli- guarantee stability. For the majority The most important question is: Have Belarusians of Belarusians ever had a real alternative?

Maybe the citizens are not as subservient in the classical understanding of the that is more term, but rather opportunistic and passive? They simply do not opposition parties. The system is not democrat- ic but it gives most members of society stability and the minimum needed to survive. The ruling elite have offered the people a simpli- fied worldview and guarantee stability. Indeed, the undemocratic, partly authoritarian character of the Belarusian regime, among other factors, is responsible for the poor state of the opposition.

However, subjective factors should not be forgotten such as the fact that support for the op- position is within the margin of statistical error and that their leaders are already dividing roles in a non-existent government, arguing over imagined functions. Moreover, for the past 20 years the same leaders have been reluctant to share their limited influence and largely imagined power with the younger generation of opposition activists. Finally, the problem is the attitude of the opposition to certain European values and norms. Of course, if we take into account the current popularity of right-wing illiberal rhetoric of Putin and Orban-likes, such a stance might not be very surprising.

In the end, political views are a private matter and everyone has a right to their own vision of the social order. However, the situation shows that the Belarusian counter-elite in a large part present the same Homo post-sovieticus attitudes as the ruling author- ities. The only difference is that the latter do not hide it. On the contrary, they have built their positions around such sentiments, and that is why there is no alternative. Subservience and collectivism Still, the importance of the political factor in the functioning of contemporary Belarus should not be overrated.

For the majority of society, especially the youth, politics as such is a very abstract concept and simply unattractive. And this is not only the question of fatigue or a focus on simple existential matters. It is also the fact that for young people, participation in oppositional organisations means not merely potential repressions, but a waste of time, and getting involved in pro-regime organisations carries benefits only for a small group of people.

Against this background, such Homo sovieticus traits as subservience and pas- sivity are particularly important. This is because the subservience and passivity of Belarusian society carries a promise of… open- ness. One that is understood as accepting the norms and rules imposed from above. This, in turn, presents a great opportunity, but also a threat — if we treat social consciousness as a form, which should be filled with content. The passivity of Belarusian society can mean that its voice and attitudes towards certain issues would be much easier to manage than it is the case in Western Europe.

The myth about the tolerance of Belarusians, for example, can prove to be an advantage when it comes to attitudes towards LGBT groups. For a long time, the issue of LGBT rights existed as a normal element of life — society might have sub- consciously condemned non-heteronormative relations, but there were no signs of aggression towards LGBT people.

Several years ago, the first active organisa- tions advocating for gay rights were created and as long as they focused on environ- mental and social issues per se, there were no problems. A negative and condemning narrative appeared and repressions followed, but not because LGBT groups were viewed through the prism of their difference and perceived immorality, but be- cause in the eyes of the authorities they became anti-systemic, like the opposition.

Thus, a negative message was implanted from above. Of course, this does not mean that Be- larusian society is intolerant. In light of recent research, the level of tolerance in various areas in Belarus is much higher than in many other post-Soviet states, in- cluding the Baltic states. Intolerance in Belarus is not caused by attitudes or beliefs, but by the fact that the country is closed. And that is why the possibility of subser- vience and passivity of Homo sovieticus translating into openness is so important. Collectivism is another important factor.

There is no point to talk about its pe- jorative meaning but instead look at this phenomenon as the ability of the citizens to connect in defence of a common goal. First, it should be noted that contrary to stereotypes, Belarusian society is not as collectivistic as it may seem.

Bela- rusians are usually very individualistic or even egoistic, they just have to function in such restrained conditions. Egoism and delusional collectivism are also char- acteristic of Homo post-sovieticus. Collectivism proved to be the catalyst for people to come together to fight for their rights on a number of occasions. The demonstrations saw thousands of people, not only ac- tivists and opposition, but also common workers, uniting in protest against the bill.

They were not organised by oppositional politicians, simply the tolerance thresh- old of the common people had been breached. The authorities were frightened by the scale of the protests. And then the unthinkable happened — the authorities withdrew the bill due to social pressure. Thus the post-Soviet collectivism can turn into social not political! Blurred identity and fake religiosity The question of Belarusian national identity versus identification with the state is still an under-researched area of study.

In his view, the issue of Belarusian identity only arises when one looks for an answer to the question of what it means to be a Belarusian.

Key Features

For some, a real Belarusian is a per- son recalling the times of the Great Duchy of Lithuania, speaking Belarusian and glorifying the white and red flag. For others, much more important are the relations with Russia and the unity of Slavs. Others look back to the Soviet times. There is no doubt that the Belarusian identity is still blurred, complicated and multi-layered. Contemporary identity is most often a multi-level issue in which various identities such as I — Belarusian, I — Polish often overlap and complement one another, but are The Belarusian not mutually exclusive.

And that is the main feature identity is of the Belarusian Homo post-sovieticus mentality. Self- identification in Belarus is most often connected with still blurred, the state and not the nation. Being Belarusian means complicated and being a citizen of a country and not a representative multi-layered. And although over the past several years the trend to promote national belonging has been on the rise, espe- cially among young people, state-related identity still dominates. This is hardly surprising, as over the past 25 years of Belarusian transformation, neither the au- thorities, nor the counter-elite managed to fill the identity void.

The question of blurred identity is connected with yet another important feature of Belarusian Homo post-sovieticus mentality — the lack of a homeland. Emotional relations with a concept of homeland are much looser than in the case of Ukraine or Russia. However, I think that the domination of identi- fication with the state over national identity can lower the possibility of potential conflict based on nationality and nationalistic tendencies.

The lack of a homeland can translate into greater mobility, especially among young people, on the global labour market. Civic nations are much better equipped to deal with global chal- lenges than ethno-cultural ones. Finally, an important characteristic of Homo post-sovieticus which has been present in Belarusian society is a low level of religiousness. According to recent research, 60 per cent of the Belarusian society consider themselves a believer.

[Back Matter]

State atheism as a Soviet legacy has survived in Belarus. The division of church and state in Belarus is a fact and in terms of secularity of social life, Belarus is much closer to France, the Czech Republic or Sweden, than Ukraine, Russia or Poland. This secularity also influences a number of fundamental issues, such as the de- velopment of medicine and scientific research. Faith and religion remain in the private sphere. For example, in the conservative and Soviet Belarus, sex reassignment surgeries are considered nor- mal medical procedures, covered by the state insurance and thus free.

Moreover, according to medical organisations the Belarusian model of managing such oper- ations is the best in the Commonwealth of Independent States and one of the best in Europe when it comes to respecting human rights. Lindemann notices that the world is a global village, we all use the same gadgets and globalisation is at its peak. And he is right. One can have the same coffee in Minsk, Lisbon or New York. Belarusians are using the same equipment, applications or social networks as Western Europeans. Belarus has a strong internet infrastructure and so far the authorities have not indicated that they want to switch it off.

Why is the globalisation factor so important? Because the current conditions of life and work in many post-Soviet societies are similar — there are almost no obstacles in social and political activism that the lack of development and access to technology used to pose.

The problem is not that there are Homo post-sovieticus societies. It lies in the elite. Thus instead of portraying the remnants of the Bela- rusian Homo sovieticus as a problem, we should see it as a challenge and potential advantage: subservience and passivity as potential openness; collectivism as a chance to build a civil society; adaptability and opportunism as resourcefulness and the multi-layered identity as an expression of a modern civil nation.

Western civilisation gave its societies civil freedoms and the Soviet civilisation gave its nations freedom from politics. Contemporary Belarus can still be viewed as a society in the state of social anomy. Thus, using the vocabulary of social engineer- ing, it is up to the elite what sort of society will come out of the still flexible com- munity: modern, open and tolerant; or closed, superstitious and xenophobic.

Translated by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska Maxim Rust is a political scientist and graduate of doctoral studies at the University of Warsaw. His research interests include political elite and transformation processes in the post-Soviet space. A new Georgia? Georgia waves it the most vigorously, even though it is located in Asia. Europe could not have been moved to Georgia neither with pleads, nor with threats.

Thus, Georgia has decided to settle for an imitation. In an era when anti-European populism is becoming mainstream in the West, it is sometimes hard to imagine that there are countries where the dream of a Eu- ropean-style liberal democracy is still very strong. Georgia is one such country. Public opinion polls conducted in July this year show that a whopping 77 per cent of Georgians support the European Union and 66 per cent support NATO.

Thus, it has turned into a triumph of style over substance. Arguably, the transfor- mation in Georgia began in when the Rose Revolution with its pro-Europe- an slogans brought Mikheil Saakashvili to power. Europe began here Georgia imports almost everything, and preferably from the West. Three- quarters of the products found in an average Georgian household are imported. It was Saakashvili who finally understood that the West would not come on its own and definitely not move 3, kilometres eastward.

The West — Saakashvili thought — had to be impressed. Hence, the conclusion: Georgia had no choice but to start resembling the West. It turned out, however, that it was not so easy to cover up the decaying post-Soviet blocs with self-made balconies clinging for life with a layer of paint, or to push away side-street bazaars to replace them with fancy su- permarkets; or to just hide everything Soviet behind giant glitzy billboards. As the opportunity arose, the statues of several unwanted heroes and, despite protests, a large chunk of the legacy of Soviet modernism were quickly removed.

It took Saakashvili a couple of years to pepper the country with post-modernist wonders: a pixelated shopping centre here, a police station in the shape of a glass pyramid there; not to mention the hotel which resembles the shape of an Alexan- drian lantern, or the ER building that looks like a Wi-Fi router with a large anten- nae. These are all different buildings, but the context is the same. And the unique post-Soviet characteristics of cheap construction practices allow for the use of remnants of insulation foam to build a moat, hollow bricks to erect an embank- ment, or old rusty weapons for fencing.

One thing is sure though, when Europe is approaching, there is no time to waste. The architectural Blitzkrieg touched the capital city above all. Not surprisingly, UNESCO was wringing its hands when centuries-old buildings were replaced by grotesque replicas cov- ered with gargantuan adornments resembling random elements of the traditional constructions.

What is more, this was all taking place in a city, which has existed since the fifth century has experienced many fires and earthquakes naturally after each of them some things survived but some things had to be built anew and has been inhabited by numerous ethnic groups Armenians, Kurds, Jews and Russians among them who all made Tbilisi a cosmopolitan capital of the region.

His investors also had their methods to rid homes of their tenants. It was harder to find new ones, though. Thus, today it is only tourists who climb the brightly illuminated yet aban- doned walkways below the Narikala fortress. In Kutaisi, the medieval Bagrati Cathedral experienced a similarly cruel fate. After its glitzy reconstruction with a heavy application of concrete and plastic, the building was removed from the UNESCO cultural heritage list in July ; it had been placed there in as an endangered world heritage site. Finally, Signagi, a provincial town fa- mous for its vineyards, was rebuilt in a Mediterranean style.

A part of Europe The apogee of the architectural madness is the city of Batumi, which in recent years has turned into something that looks like a buggy simulation of Las Vegas. Since the launch of the visa-free regime with which in recent Turkey, the service sector of the city was tightly filled years has turned with brothels and casinos, which are both illegal across into something the border. There is also a miniature of the White House flipped upside down, which constitutes a surprising, although probably unintended, criticism of the blind imitation of American models.

All this is in the vicinity close to the old town. There, new buildings stylised as old were tucked between the 19th century tene- ment houses, while the old buildings were renovated in such a way as to match the new ones. That is, it is only the fronts that match, as nobody can see anything from the backyard.

The place where one can see a lot, meaning the very centre of the old town, a map of Europe was hanging for some time where Georgia was marked with highlighted red contours. Conspicu- ously, it was missing the Iberian Peninsula — most likely due to the lack of space. The album was also released in the West. There was, however, a risky possibility that the photographs would not satisfy western judges and they would decide to come for an inspection.

In that case, something had to be done with the locals. To get the latter was not particularly difficult. When Warsaw, Prague or Bucha- rest — not to mention Berlin — were flooded with European funds, the cities also lost lots of their exotic charm. Here, no one praises Georgian cuisine. Thus you hear stories about a rented flat that has a shower with a radio and hydro-massager, but no working drains, or a studio where new windows were installed, but the excess of insulating foam busted their frame.

City life in Tbilisi — which according to local knowledge has existed for at least years — looks more like what you would see in Europe, and which is different from Istanbul, Odesa or St Petersburg. It is no wonder, then, that the West got a little carried away with its preaching. As a result, upon the initiative of volunteers from the European Voluntary Service, an alternative cultural centre was opened in an abandoned hippodrome. There young Georgians were shown films about squat- ting and were patiently told why they did not necessarily have to respect the police and democratic institutions although they had just learnt to respect them and that hard work will not necessarily lead to a career or financial success although they had just started to believe that.

Luxury for Georgian diaspora Close to Batumi, near the administrative boundary line with Abkhazia, a small village was meant to be turned into Lazika — an ultra-luxurious coastal metropo- lis. Considering that the imitation of Europe no longer impressed anyone, the im- itations of the Asian tigers could have.

Lazika was named after a former kingdom, one of the incarnations of Colchis, which included, of course, Abkhazia. Abkha- zia is a Georgian province which enjoyed autonomy during the Soviet times but Georgians claimed their rights to it during the wave of pro-independence nation- alism. As a result of the civil war, Abkhazia declared itself an independent yet un- recognised para-state. Saakashvili wanted to impress the Abkhaz with his tanks, but when this did not work he came up with the idea for Lazika. The only problem was that even if he really delivered on his promises and attracted Abkhaz with seven-star hotels — and was able to beat the competition of the fast develop- ing Sochi, which was right on the other side — there were still not enough people to inhabit the city.

Misha, as always, had a solution — the Georgian diaspora will return and start living there. Despite his ingenuity however, the former president found no remedy for the topography of the terrain. In his opaque calculations, as it was pointed out by lo- cal NGOs, he did not include the cost of building skyscrapers on mud and sand dunes. The connotation is not accidental, given the fact that the military vehicles produced in Georgia were given the same name — Lazika. The new Georgian Saakashvili, the great reformer and a favourite of western diplomats, survived ten years in power.

When the opposition began to gather steam, the president did not live up well to democratic standards. He began sending police forces to crush protests, which only made matters worse. Geor- gians listened to Saakashvili carefully, already knowing that European countries look differently. However, it would be unfair to say that Saakashvili did not deliver anything.

A number of radical neoliberal reforms, combined with domestic entrepreneur- ship, brought about economic growth. Georgia also built a system which closely resembled the rule of law and corruption was significantly reduced from everyday life. The old post-Soviet cadres in the police departments and local governments were exchanged.

Georgians were hit by the costs of transformation. The authors of the Georgian shock therapy cannot be proud of its effects. The new labour code, which focused on entrepreneurs but somehow forgot about the workers, was a clear reflection of this approach. Someone who takes matters in his or her own hands and does not expect any support from the state. Those who succeeded got stuck in limbo, an interim form of existence. They are a Homo post-sovieticus. On the one hand, they nostalgically reminisce about the Soviet Union and on the other hand, they are overpowered by dreams of consumption.

Stagnation, which has tormented the country as a result of western sanctions against Russia, neither allows for the reconstruction of a social security system, nor for running a successful business operation. In the party was re-elected for a second term, receiving 49 per cent of the vote with a low turnout of 52 per cent. Its politicians did not shy away from the pro-European slogans, despite softening relations with Russia. Despite some scandals as the re- cent kidnapping of opposition Azerbaijani journalist painfully testifies , one can say, overall, that democracy in Georgia is relatively stable.

It introduced basic universal health care, slightly increased state pensions and lowered utility bills. How- ever, economic stagnation and a lack of perspectives The Georgian for change has deepened frustration and indifference dream of Europe is among its citizens.

The Georgian dream of Europe is still strong de- still strong despite spite the fact the current geopolitical situation leaves the fact that the the country without much hope of EU or NATO ac- current geopolitical cession. The question remains what can Georgians be situation leaves the offered beyond a visa-free regime which was intro- duced in March? Homines economici, when they take matters in their own hands and when the developers finish constructing parks with new fancy build- ings. European politicians and investors nodded in agreement.

It is clear that this scenario is far from being realisable. It is hard to say which colonisation projects Europe should be more ashamed of — the completed ones or those that have been left behind, and remain unfinished. She focuses on topics related to migration, politics and social changes in Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Southern Caucasus. She is the deputy director of Ha! However, there are some common denominators worth exploring. A visit to both states brought some surprising results, defying our expectations.

Europe is not only a geographical and political concept but also a cultural one. When trying to better understand what Europe is, we decided to visit two post- communist countries: Slovakia and Georgia. The former is a young European state, which is now part of the European Union and a member of the eurozone. It is perceived as a country that has been successful with its economic and social reforms.

Both countries were in some way dominated for many years by Moscow. Georgia was a republic of the Soviet Union and Slovakia, as part of Czechoslovakia, was subjugated to Moscow during its time behind the Iron Curtain. Today, not many people would see Georgia and Slovakia as having much in common. Yet there are certain elements — psychological, cultural and even politi- cal — that do bind these two states.

That is why we decided to go to both places and directly discover the similarities ourselves. History as a starting point A logical place to start is history — something that is very important to both states. By contrast, the 21st century brought reforms and a brief war with Russia in Geopolitics and geoeconomics placed Georgia in Asia, although culturally it is rooted in Europe. Georgia became a Christian state in the year and Orthodoxy is a very important component of its identity. Slovakia, in turn, did not actually have a history of its own statehood prior to It was only after the First World War when Czechoslovakia, a federal state which recognised Slovakia as a separate entity, emerged.

In the Slovak National Uprising, a resistance movement, was launched against German forces in Slovakia. In the communists took power in Czechoslovakia and Slovakia became part of the communist bloc. In our visit, we start with Georgia, in the city of Kutaisi. At dawn it was dark, sleepy and empty.

On the main square stood a gaudy fountain with gold-plated figurines of animals. The taxi drivers and owners of small currency exchange shops were awaiting their clientele. Most of the buildings lack care and there is plenty of unfinished construction around the city, some of which has turned into piles of ruin. Nevertheless, there is a lot of green space and the streets are decorated with spreading trees, entwined with ivy. During the day, the streets are vibrant and full of life — young students, donning typical American- style clothes, are rushing to school.

In the park the loud youth are offset by elderly Georgians playing dominos and chess. On top of a high hill overlooking the city stands the proud Bagrati Cathedral, which had its golden age in the 11th and 13th centuries. From the cathedral one can see the sprawling city, surrounded by the Caucasus Mountains. Today, however, only a few ses- sions actually take place in Kutaisi. The authorities remain unsure about what to do with the brand new parliament building. At the beginning of the century, Kutaisi also opened a large, new airport, named after David the Builder — one of the greatest rulers in Geor- gian history.

A very common form of transportation in the post-Soviet space is the marshrut- ka — a privately owned mini-bus where the driver crams as many passengers as possible. The journey to Tbilisi was a post-Soviet space. The driver blared music that was fitting for the region, including Russian disco-pop and chanson.

The landscape was dotted by ruined factories and unfinished building projects which appeared like wounds in the majestic mountainous scenery. There were no visible road signs indicating the distance from Kutaisi to Tbilisi; only distances to other state capitals: Baku — km; Teheran — 1, km. The never-ending traffic jam began well before we entered Tbilisi city limits. We finally made it to Didube bus station, which is packed full of booths selling various trinkets and goods, typical of post-Soviet capitalism.

Among the mass of booths and crowds of people, we located our metro station entrance. The Tbilisi metro is like a chronicle of the city. The mosaic at Technical Uni- versity Station, for example, shows a bucolic picture of a scientific society, young people doing sport, children playing and overhead proudly flies the sputnik satel- lite and a dove of peace.

The mosaic was built in — the same year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Today, Tbilisi displays new symbols and brands. In the prestigious Saburtalo neighbourhood near the city centre, among the post-Soviet buildings and small old houses entwined with grape vines, rise skyscrapers and glass office buildings. The addresses of the streets are so chaotically arranged that even locals found it diffi- cult to help point out the one we were looking for.

But Georgians are very polite and they tried their best to help us. The flat we rented, on the other hand, was earnestly and tastefully decorated. Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi could be a Parisian boulevard, but with a southern accent, decorated with majestic trees and numerous flowers. The avenue was built upon the order of Mikhail Vorontsov, the tsarist governor, who with equal grace systematically developed Tbilisi as well as pacifying the northern Caucasus.

On the avenue, we found a little bookshop snuggled in a courtyard behind a building. It looked like a stationery shop crossed with an antique bookshop, with a very small selection of books, mainly in Russian. Other bookshops in the centre of the capital looked similar. But what can we say about the famous pro-West direction of the country? It was something that was not grandly visible to us. There is a lot of Russian, Turkish and Arabic influence in the capital, but very little that is recognisable as Western Eu- ropean. The luxurious Agmashenebeli Avenue, which is located near the city cen- tre, was remastered by the Turks.

The highest skyscraper in the city has an Arabic owner. What is more, there are no Western European banks to be found and cur- rency exchange dealers, aside from western currency and the rouble, offer servic- es for Turkish and Arabic visitors, mainly from the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. To slay a dragon Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square were the scenes of many dramatic events in recent Georgian history. In the spring of the Soviet army brutally crushed a Georgian pro-independence demonstration.

In the autumn of the avenue was the arena of a civil war between adherents and antagonists of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. In Freedom Square was the hub of the Rose Revolution and in was the main site of the rally against Russian aggression, which also saw visits from leaders of Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states. In the middle of the square, which used to be named after the Stalinist executioner Lavrentiy Beria, stands a giant column with the gilded statue of the Georgian emblem — St George slaying a dragon.

Its narrow streets and devious alleys are lined with tiny houses many of which are in bad condition and wooden balconies over- grown with grapevines and flowers. On the weekend in the Saburtalo neighbourhood where we were staying, a temporary fair was erected. The police meandered among the booths, keeping or- der. The main products for sale were meat, cheese, bottles of homemade wine and chacha vodka made from grapes sold in excessive amounts, some fruit — most- ly pomegranates, limes and persimmon.

The sale of vegetables was less common. We were surprised by the limited choice of goods and how despite that fact, Geor- gians are able to prepare such good food. Yet for Georgians, it is the heart of Europe. Gaudily paint- ed housing blocks chaotically saturated with advertisements find themselves among the grey and neglected, but still elegant, buildings from the start of the 20th century. The monument depicts two Slo- vaks with a Soviet soldier, proudly carrying a flag. Behind the monument lies the flamboyant palace of the Hungarian magnate dominating over the park.

The Hungarians ruled Slovakia for 1, years when the territory was called Up- per Hungary. In the countryside the feudal Hungarians ruled over Slovakia is also a the Slovak peasants. Like Georgia, Slovakia is also a wine country. Tokaj grapes took to the local volcanic black earth as well as the warm climate since Roman times. French kings and Turk- ish sultans alike were fond of the wine. Pickled with the characteristic Czechoslovak sense of humour, the film was recognised, among others, at the festival in Karlovy Vary. The film can be seen as a kind of metaphor of the Danube states, which play between The Third Rome Moscow and the fourth one Brussels.

Under the church lies an open crypt which houses human skulls. I was happy that Merritt was portrayed as a young woman worthy of sympathy as opposed to deserving exactly what she got. She deserved better. The island itself provides a stunning backdrop to a tragedy that occurs in a place where noting bad can happen.


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Overall, you will sail right through this entertaining novel where looks can be deceiving and where the perfect couple ceases to exist. This is my second Hildebrand novel. I read Summerland several years ago. I look forward to more of her novels. Title: The Pisces Author: Melissa Broder Publication Date: May 1, Oceanic Depths of Self-Hatred Fantasy lovers may be drawn to this Piscean tale tail of a seriously lost woman on the brink of middle-age and the once believed mythical merman who is anything but what he seems to be. After assaulting her ex-boyfriend in a fit of jealous rage, Lucy leaves her home in Phoenix and heads to Venice Beach, CA to house and dog-sit for her sister and brother-in-law for an extended period of time.

The loss of her mother at a young age has more than likely resulted in repressed grief which is now manifesting as self-hatred however I had a hard time feeling sympathetic towards this character. In a comparison with Prudence in A Dress the Color of the Sky who exhibited similar behaviors as Lucy, there was a world of difference in how I felt about each of these characters.

Even in her perpetually self-absorbed state, Lucy knows that her time is up in terms of societal views of what it means to be thirty-eight and still acting like a teenager. Sex is an easy distraction for her and is often mistaken for connection. The sex scenes themselves are degrading and sad with an over-emphasis on bodily functions as something repulsive. A chance encounter with a real live merman has her thinking that she has been specially chosen by this amazing creature but looks can be deceiving and Lucy is not the kind of girl who attracts healthy relationships.

She romanticizes her being the chosen one as something poetic and mystical. This girl is seriously wrecked. We know she is depressed with no clue how to transcend. Still, she seeks answers from others while silently berating their choices as if she is somehow better than they are. Those who truly care for her are shunned for those who are also swimming in their own hatred.

Her physical body is the mechanism with which she dumps all of her self-loathing as she continues to disrespect herself in all sorts of shocking ways. Since she has no respect for herself, she cannot respect others. Though she is aware of what she is doing, she cannot seem to stop.

The sister who tries to offer Lucy love and shelter is ridiculed and also disrespected. This tale is both tragic and cautionary. Hopefully, it will inspire introspection instead of mere judgment. It has a powerful modern relevance. All the hospital physical therapists think he is crazy. No one want to work with him except a young newbie named Caroline who goes by Carly.

He and her sister Patty have a young son. Hunter chooses to confide his unbelievable story to Carly and discloses that he himself has arrived from and chosen to stay in after falling in love with Patty. The time travel program works but it is by no means perfect. When Carly arrives in April of , she is given four portal dates in which to return home. With no way of contacting Hunter or her sister to let them know what is happening, Carly is alone and terrified. She makes a fateful decision, one that costs her what she holds most dear.

I am not typically a fan of time-travel stories though I did appreciate the sheer creativity of this one. Carly herself came off as overly emotional. She lacked a cool head when making decisions. She was completely out of her depth however she made up for much of her ignorance with sheer determination and bravery. I did not care for her character but was curious to see how her story ended. Motherhood stands as a strong theme, in particular how different mothers appear in personality and how in spite of them, they all fiercely love their children.

In this way the story served to remind us that in motherhood, women are united even if it often feels otherwise. In spite of this, I would recommend skipping it unless overly sentimental time-travel stories are your thing. When the very private Winnie joins the group, several of the others try to draw her out but Winnie is protecting a past she is not comfortable sharing. Some of the other moms are hiding secrets of their own, secrets that they would prefer to keep hidden.

It appears that the abduction hits too close to home for all of them and they cannot bear to sit in silence waiting for the police to figure it out. The women keep digging until the incomprehensible truth emerges. Their doggedness however is anything but rewarded and these mothers are often portrayed as either bat-shit crazy or scattered to the point of mismanagement.

This book addresses the overwhelming lack of support women in our society receive after having a baby without any real solutions. The societal patriarchal lynch mob is alive and well. That is, until the night when Karen receives a troubling phone call and leaves the house in a panic. He dials just as the police arrive at his door to tell them Karen has been in a serious car accident. Karen recovers from her injuries but now suffers from amnesia. There is far more to the story because Karen was actually fleeing a murder scene and the murdered man is a link to a past Karen would prefer to keep hidden.

Tom grows ever more suspicious of his wife as the investigation unfolds. Rasbach from The Couple Next Door is back and dogged as ever. Could the murder somehow be related? The suspense mounts as the story unravels and the ending provides a cliffhanger that you might not see coming. A Stranger in the House is a solid follow-up to her first novel. This is so important to get because every little pile of stuff that you come in contact with every day, no matter how many times a day is like a blockage of energy keeping you from living your best life.

As a clutter-busting coach, lifestyle designer as well as a hardcore downsizer, preparing to live in a bona fide tiny house with no more than square feet, Richardson feels uniquely qualified to offer advice in this niche. She breaks things down into manageable chunks and I got the sense that it was OK not to go full on blitz on my piles of crap. I could parse it out into bite size sessions and know that I was taking solid steps to clearing energy on an ongoing basis.

This alone was so useful because the mental beating on a daily basis I was giving myself over not having all of my clutter dealt with already had been for years, taking its toll. Living with an even bigger clutter bug than I am, has caused so much ongoing resentment that I was tapping my brains out just to clear it out on a daily basis. I no longer coveted things. Even those small pick-me-up purchases were put under intense scrutiny after looking at a myriad of my knick-knacky crap burrowed away in drawers, on shelves or hidden away in boxes and piled under the ping pong table in the basement.

When I thought about sending hard earned cash on silly, nonsense items while neglecting to fund my Roth IRA or emergency account, I realized that I had turned a corner. I finally got the connection. Richardson tells us that our clutter is useful. It is trying hard to send us important messages and clues about what we need to address in our lives and that we can actually work with our clutter to unearth these messages and move forward in abundance. I found these messages infinitely comforting as I stopped beating myself up for having clutter to begin with, being terrified to let go of certain items, and for having an all or nothing mindset to clearing space.

This is an action taking book so take the first step and own a copy. Then get to work. A Totally Comprehensive Guide Addressing Mind, Body, and Spirit A totally comprehensive guide addressing mind, body, and spirit together to optimize total health, well-being, and a joyful life. This is a culmination of Dr. It is readable and full of easy to employ tips and suggestions to make life better. She even offers a nice long list of linkable resources at the end.

I love that you can start as full on or as slow as you would like to. She offers a lot of information but it never felt overwhelming. In spite of severe childhood trauma, Eleanor unconsciously creates an elaborate system of coping and protection. It is one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen, the power of the mind and spirit and it contributes to the jaw dropping impact of this story.

Yes, she is depressed and disassociated however these are symptoms born of the events of her life as well as by-products of the protective nature of her psyche. Her level of functioning is inarguably high and the boundaries she employs to survive the world alone are the constructs of an intelligent mind. However, not all of her mechanisms are constructive. In fact, few of them are but the reader will not be able to feel anything other than compassion once her story is revealed.

The first ingredient are people who care and whom she can trust. As her inner circle forms, Eleanor balks at first. Trust does not come easy to her and she has been managing quite nicely on her own all these years. She has a tendency to live in a fantasy world and when that ultimately fails to satisfy, vodka does the trick.

Until the inevitable day when her walls come tumbling down and she is presented with the opportunity to face her demons and do the hard work necessary to heal. Gratitude for the things she has, not what has been lost will see her through. Eleanor will make you laugh with dry humor completely lost on her. You will cheer her on as she bravely opens the door on her hidden life and faces what has been hiding in the dark all these years. By the end of the book, I got the sense of hope that it was not too late for her. She is my go-to for solid information that is hard to get anyplace else. She offers a lot of information, tips, tricks, and suggestions.

Feel free to choose what interests you and leave the rest or maybe come back to it later. Nonetheless, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause should disavow women of the ridiculous false notions that an ignorant society tries to foist upon us and that alone is worth the read. Title: Lies Author: T. Joe is a loving husband, a great father to his four year old son and a dedicated teacher who loves his subject but has no aspirations to climb higher. Joe is the dominant parent and far more hands on than his wife who is able to come and go as she pleases.

He follows Melissa to a hotel where he witnesses her arguing with the very wealthy husband of her best friend in the lobby. When Joe confronts Melissa later on over the witnessed encounter, she lies to him. Ben then mysteriously disappears and seems to be playing Joe by manipulating his phone data and through his social media.

Joe soon finds himself in the middle of a nightmare that has no end. Lies is about the ease in which people can be tricked into thinking they can trust someone and how deceiving looks can be. As you can imagine the weight of impact of this information on four impressionable children, the oldest just thirteen is immense. It also begs the question, who in their right mind would impart this information on anyone, let alone kids? That question does eventually get answered though the reader will have to make up their own mind whether the answer is satisfactory.

The reader will come to learn about each Gold child as they make their way through life, always with the impending cloud of this knowledge hanging over them and the constant question that follows each of them which is: is life predetermined or do we hold our fate in our own hands? It is a question that all humans consider at one point or another perhaps even shifting back and forth in their belief according to their life experiences. It is the all-important crux of this story and Benjamin does a beautiful job in the telling of it.

The element of magic weaves itself in and out of the chapters providing the reader with an almost otherworldly feeling throughout. As each child travels through their life, the reader gets a birds-eye view of their unique challenges and where the pitfalls are likely to occur.

Book Review: Albion’s Seed | Slate Star Codex

Each sibling tells their own story and commands their own section of the book. Roles are cemented during this time as anger gives way to resentment. Artemis has been her home since she was six years old. Her father, a reputable welder lives there with her while her mother lives on earth along with a close friend named Kelvin. When the opportunity comes along to partake in a life threatening heist, Jazz is intrigued mainly due to the money she will be paid. The atmosphere is dense and I got a real sense of claustrophobia from moon living descriptions but the place that Jazz calls home is beloved in her eyes.

When things go very wrong, Jazz must call upon her closest confidantes to protect the only home she has ever known. Full of snarky wit and completely non-risk adverse, Jazz will need all her skills to save the city she loves so much, the place everyone wants to go. Science fiction is not a usually my first choice in a genre, or even my second, however the buzz about this book had me interested enough to put it on my TBR.

Never underestimate good book publicity. My issue was that it took getting halfway through the book for the story to pick up. The technical aspects were a little hard to follow but you do not need to be mechanically inclined like our heroine and her friends, to get the story. The story is however heavy on the machinery and its applications.

Artemis can read very much like a physics lesson. Good new, there was enough humor and storyline to counterbalance all the machinery. When Amy and her five year old daughter, Emma are chance witnessed by Sarah at an airport. After witnessing the scene between Amy and Emma in the airport, Sarah astonishingly crosses paths with Emma again when Sarah and her crew visit a Montessori school to pitch their product.

Emma is one of the students. This is where the story takes a strange turn. Sarah, an early thirties successful business owner who makes reading kits for school age children bears the unresolved abandonment of a mother who clearly did not want her daughter or her life. Sarah feels that this encounter is fate and becomes obsessed with finding out if Emma is really OK. She stalks the family, finds out where they live and starts to watch Emma from the wooded area beyond her backyard.

One night, she witnesses a disturbing altercation between Emma and her mother and makes a decision so rash, it defies any logic or clear thinking. The book moves forward with back and forth chapters about Sarah and Emma and their life on the run and Amy, a character with zero redeeming qualities. She is written as hateful. Her marriage to Richard, a meek and ineffective individual, is in complete disarray and she harbors untold reservoirs of contempt for her entire family. I have never seen an author with so much disdain for her own character.

Amy invokes no sympathy while the investigation is underway to find her daughter and it becomes clear over time that she is not sure she even wants her back. It missed the mark of garnering sympathy for this character. Where is that supposed to fit in? The investigation is a relative joke and this book does nothing to foster confidence in law enforcement. Emma might have been better off with Sarah but Sarah committed a huge crime.

That has always been the case. The one character that tried to convey this to Sarah was dismissed. The implications of this book are bigger than the story itself. When Sarah observed Amy and Emma for the first time, she could draw no real conclusions as to what the child was enduring on a daily basis. Amy could have been having a bad day. Does every mother having a bad day deserve to have her child taken by a clueless do-gooder? Though the second observation may have clinched it for Sarah, she had no right to do what she did even though in her mind, she was saving a child that would have likely been failed by the system.

Even so, should Amy and Richard not have been presented with the opportunity to keep their family intact? The questions raised after the ending are ridiculous. The story came across as narrow-minded, idealistic, and ultimately irresponsible.

I also had the ulterior motive of perhaps mastering a few of these recipes. I thought it might be nice to have bread once in a while though I have been fine going without. They tend to be either unpalatable, expensive, or both. Every type of bread imaginable can be found in this book, including quick breads, sweet breads, muffins, and cakes, so if you are gluten-free and wish to make your own, this book might just become your bread bible.

The one thing that makes me wary of completely diving in is the time involved in making my own bread. I have made a couple of the easier recipes. I tried both the Chickpea Crackers pg. Both were easy to make but the tortillas took some time to cook so if you are making for say taco night, do yourself a favor and make them ahead and keep warm wrapped in a tea towel and in a degree oven. They strongly resemble the Moo Shu pancakes at a Chinese restaurant so they would work well recreating that dish too.

I make a similar cracker with almond flour that I prefer. The dough does roll out easy and they are a no brainer if you have garbanzo flour on hand but I would not spend the money on it for just these crackers. Ellgen lets us know up font how many recipes each flour is used in so this book makes it easy to plan ahead. The rest of the stories are about the innermost thoughts and feelings of the types of people that would simply blend into their surroundings reminding each of us that we all have a story to tell and each one is engaging in its own right though not necessarily interesting or exciting.

I felt a decided lack of context and no real connection with any of the characters. That said, Strout is a gifted writer with a strong ability to tease out the essence of a character. The overwhelming sense of depression and lack lent a flatness to these stories. I sense a need for greater context to fully appreciate these characters and their stories.

Bring Me Back is a psychological thriller with a blockbuster ending that is both shocking and tragic. It is the tragic element mixed in with the punch that had me most impressed and makes this novel a genre standout. The story opens with Finn a wealthy finance investor and his girlfriend Layla traveling through France on their way back to London. Finn stops at a rest spot to use the restroom leaving a sleeping Layla in the car.

When he comes back, Layla is missing. Finn witnesses a car leaving the rest spot but retains no identifying information. It appears that Layla is still alive and wants to reconnect but she has certain conditions. Both Ellen and an elder neighbor also report seeing her on two separate occasions though Finn has yet to lay eyes on her. In addition, both he and Ellen start finding Russian nesting dolls in strange places. There is a significance to these dolls between the two sisters so now Ellen also believes that Layla is out there and trying to reconnect with both of them.

But why now? Finn is desperate to meet with Layla and becomes secretive with Ellen. His obsessive-like love for Layla has clouded his current judgment and soon Finn is off on a wild goose chase for the love of his life while no longer knowing who he can trust. Everyone in his mind becomes suspect and his relationship with Ellen is threatened.

In a shocking turn of events, the past comes full circle and Finn is left to suffer a question that can likely never be answered. I like an ending, no matter how outlandish, rooted in believability. However, I quickly came to appreciate the attention to detail and saw the consequences of an obsessive type love so self-absorbing, it blots out who the recipient really is and the life they have led. Fantasy and the ultimate game collide in this magical tale of illusion and reality. Scarlett and Tella are two sisters living on a small island with their cruel and abusive father after their mother has disappeared.

Scarlet, the more conservative of the two has appointed herself the caretaker of her younger sister. In return for her agreement, her sister must be permitted to come live with Scarlet and her new husband. Scarlet has one last dream before she marries and that is to visit Caraval and its famous troupe of performers for an elaborate yearly game. After writing to the mysterious master of ceremonies, Legend, Scarlet and her sister receive a long awaited invitation to Caraval though Scarlet feels it should now be declined.

What is said to be only a game turns out to be far more than either sister bargained for. Caraval is an all-encompassing sensory explosion through enchantment, confusion, pain, and integrity. Erin and Mark seem like the perfect couple however even early in their relationship signs appeared that these two people are not who they seem to be. The main issue I had with this story is the utter lack of believability leading up to the dramatic end. It was absurd. Unless you are not paying attention, it is easy to figure out the ultimate outcome, especially after the opening chapter. No surprises there.

The ending meant to be provocative or cryptic failed to tie the story together. It was awkward and out of place. None of her experiences rang true and though fiction, readers like a certain amount of reality mixed in. We were reminded over and over how physically attractive Mark is however none of his attractiveness comes through. Something in the Water is a quick and somewhat entertaining read however there are far better written books in this genre. I would suggest giving this one a pass.

Title: Spark Author: John J. Ratey, M D Sparkling Health This book is all about aerobic exercise and its compelling positive impact on mood, memory, stress, disease prevention, mental circuitry. One study shows exercise to be as effective as antidepressants are purported to be. The copyright date is and a lot has changed since then. We also need to allow for the roughly seventeen year discrepancy between conflict free cutting edge science and clinical practice. Ratey makes several statements throughout the book in terms of the benefits of typically prescribed medications for anxiety, depression, and ADHD and their usefulness.

I do appreciate that this is a book about exercise being scientifically shown to be at least as useful a tool as these medications are believed to be and in some cases can be used solely to treat a number of afflictions. I take his clinical experience on using medications with a big grain of salt. For more cutting edge non-guild scientific information regarding long term use of the types of medications Ratey recommends to some of his patients, please go to madinamerica.

The allure of aerobic exercise for health benefits cannot be refuted but please note, Ratey is only referring to aerobic exercise. Very scant research exists on anaerobic exercise. Weight lifting or training not only has not been studied nearly enough to glean its benefits but is also subject to poor study design.

If you are strictly hands off with the cardio, Spark may just get you to change your mind and add in a bit of aerobic conditioning. I understand that weight training may offer a small cardio benefit but this book has convinced me that where anxiety, stress, attention deficit, and depression are concerned, it will likely be worth the effort to add several cardio sessions in a week in addition to whatever weight training protocol you are using.

Also, a walk after your workout is so uplifting, a bonus. Spark makes a valuable contribution a well as reminds us of the power of simple lifestyle choices in managing some pretty devastating mood disorders. Lifestyle interventions should ALWAYS be tried first in cases of mild to moderate mood disorders, or where the individual is still functioning adequately.

Not all doctors would agree and for this a well as other reasons pertaining to their training, prescribing physicians are the first ones who need to read this book and get on board. Our bodies were made to move. Our health depends on it. Title: The Family Tabor Author: Cherise Wolas Publication Date: July 17, Atonement Dig beneath the surface of the seemingly perfect Tabor family and you will see a major chink in its armor, one that is only known by the two heads of the family, one unconsciously and the other intuitively.

Therein lies perhaps one of the most fundamental tenets of living. The thing he does may seem extreme however nothing will stop him from his mission. His wife Roma, their three children, and two grandchildren are all present this night to share his accomplishments and celebrate the great man that Harry is believed to be. Meanwhile, each of the Tabor children are hiding secrets of their own which Roma accurately intuits though she is overwhelmed with who and where to start. Roma is guided by a historical intuition however life is throwing her curves left and right. Roma suffers from conflicting emotions and her own cognitive dissonances.

Deeply prophetic with strong religious yet ultimately spiritual underpinnings.

How College Summer-Reading Programs Are Failing Our Students — and Our Culture

How can boring, everyday life be this much fun? Essays on the mundane minute of the moment in the hands of Crosley are just that, tons of fun. So perhaps all our lives are far more exciting than we think. I think it just depends on the way you look it at. The effects of said pollution on the human animal are deadly accurate. I have A LOT of personal experience to draw from here. Truth told, I picked this book up solely for this story and it does not disappoint. Her ultimate revenge is nothing short of spectacular. She figu5res out a way to shine a light on their brutish and uncivilized existence.

For this, Crosley is my hero. Guess she changed her mind. I can forgive her this and you well might feel the same. Observation meets perspective meets wry humor equals hilarity. She has only gotten better with time. I always review everything I read with the exception of maybe two books which I read and promoted but decided not to review for personal reasons.

Witty, wry musings make this a must read for essay lovers everywhere. Three American women ranging in age from sixty to seventy meet by crazy chance at a retirement community open house. All of them are feeling the itch of their second act contrasting with the societal push towards the carefully curated and controlled death march that is assisted living in any of its iterations. Longing, even yearning for something more, these three spouseless women embark on a European adventure, renting a Tuscan villa and awakening their very souls.

Already firmly ensconced in the Italian lifestyle, Kit, the oft narrator of the story at large, is a twenty year younger counterpart of Camille, Susan, and Julia. She lives in the house next to the rented villa. She becomes fast friends with the three along with her partner Colin. Kit is writing a biography about an enigmatic trailblazing woman named Margaret, someone Kit knew and admired and whose voice permeates this novel as a strong posthumous character.

The women all come alive is this vibrant and loving community and are instantly accepted as family. Each woman brings to the Italian table her own unique talents and artistry. There were instances where it all seemed to be a little too good to be true but I did love the hopeful message. The women did not age, at least not in the narrow-minded Western version of aging, in this place because there was no emphasis on age and deterioration just endless possibility amidst those with endless checkbooks.

The story moves forward with interchanging voices that were sometimes difficult to decipher. Interestingly, it is the youngest woman whom I found to be the least interesting. Much of the novel is about food, wine and locale. The women find life, love, and over the top success on their pioneer adventure which again seemed over the top as nothing adverse seemed to occur in this time frame. The women also seemed to eat and drink incessantly with no ill effect. This was rather hard to buy though foodie readers should appreciate this aspect. Overall, the book is well written and offers a hopeful message to those over the age of 40 or 50 living in American society which sends the absolute worst messages to aging women.

Perhaps in this respect, the story needed to lean heavy in the opposite direction. She takes the mundane minutiae of life, unpacks it and puts it all neatly away in its desired place. She does it with style, determination, and best of all thoroughness. She is really good at what she does which is making the inhabitable habitable. Better Than Before is about habits, making them, breaking them, upholding them and modifying them according to our unique needs.

It will come as no surprise for Rubin fans that habit formation is based upon The Four Tendencies which is about dialing in your personal motivators that drive your behavior. I am a Questioner with a strong streak of Rebel running through me. Knowing this about myself makes my own habit management infinitely easier. I had so many relatable moments while reading this book which is something I love to encounter especially when reading non-fiction. The book is full of great examples and additional references to make the most out of your daily habits. Make them serve you. This book is the place to start.

A scandal involving their high school son Finch causes an uproar in the family and places each parent on opposite sides.

Nina is at a crossroads causing her to reassess the life she has chosen and most everyone in it. Lyla attends the same prestigious private school as Finch though her family is working class. As she struggles to make her mark, some of her decisions have adverse consequences as those without a conscience prey upon girls like her. The consequences of one bad night come back to haunt her and her single parent father who is doing his best to raise his only child.

The implications of this, especially on Nina are clearly stated. Instead, it is a magnifier, enlarging what is already there. Life lessons abound regarding wealth, privilege, class wars, and what money really buys. The mystery lies in how the kids turn out. This will keep the reader turning the pages till the end. Who has the biggest influence on the child that receives such conflicting messages from either parent? What happens to the girl that wants so badly to believe the best in people that she makes one bad decision after another? What are the reverberations of bad decisions and exploitation in the digital age and how is justice meted out?

Read it to find out. Author: Robert M. By reading this book, you will learn a lot about what goes on inside our bodies and why it is happening. Perhaps using the book as a reference or reading small chunks at a time would help but you will need your own copy for that. Important takeaways include knowing that context is key and not all stressors affect all of us in the same way. Also, know your audience.

Telling someone who is suffering from extreme poverty to start thinking positively and drinking a green smoothie every morning is insulting and makes the teller look like an asshole. There is a lot of bad news but also some good news. Yes, outlook matters but perhaps not as much as we think it does. Some of us live a hard life and no amount of glass half full-isms are going to help.

Modern life manufactures most of the stress we deal with on a daily basis. Our biology did not evolve to handle this and modern lifestyle related diseases are proof of it. This book reminds all of us that the science of stress can look totally different than cultural beliefs and that the cookie cutter advice that is so prevalent in our society may not amount to a hill of beans. Also, the science behind certain truisms such as the power of prayer are weak at best. In other words, there is no such thing as death.

Through various case studies in reincarnation, out of body experiences OBE , near death experiences NDE , and mental and physical mediumship, we see example after example of life surviving death of the body and or the brain.