Abandoned Factory Used as Azov Base May Fall Into the Wrong Hands

The short drive from the armed checkpoint to the assigned parking area reveals large abandoned buildings and sidewalks overgrown with grass. Several cars are parked in the area overlooking a training course, a fenced off area and large building with no windows. Another guarded checkpoint offers access to the living area.

Soldiers, trainees and volunteers work digging holes, cooking meals and reconstructing a building. Rubble mixed with glass and wires fill the three-story building where men work to improve their living conditions. A little boy wearing a red helmet helps his father by moving discarded stones into a pile. Right now the group of 50 live in tiny temporary housing with 8 men per room, sleeping in bunk beds and one shared bathroom with limited water.

The new kitchen is almost complete and the temporary kitchen is outdoors and happy to accept food donations. Mechanic volunteers are also welcome to help reconstruct vehicles damaged in the war zone. One section of the old factory is designated for vehicle repair while others act as training rooms for combat, strategic operations and gun handling. Civilians and even other battalions are also welcome to come and participate in training.

Former metalworking factory ATEK has played a significant role since the beginning of the conflict on November 21st 2013. It housed weapons and titushki at the beginning of 2014 before it was leased to the Azov Battalion in December 2014.

The infantry military unit consists of volunteers with right-wing ideals. They belong under the branch of the National Guard of Ukraine and have around 1,000 men. They participate in ATO operations and have participated in many battles in Eastern Ukraine.

Since December 2014 Azov members have worked to transform the abandoned factory into a base where they could live, train and help the Ukrainian military. They also agreed to pay off Atek’s debt in exchange for use of the space. But since July 2015 the state-own Fiscal Service of Ukraine has been trying to quietly hand the factory over to a Russian company KVV. KVV have been affiliated with separatists of the self-proclaimed Donbass People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

AZOV has staged protests to keep the lease. They do not want the space that they been working hard to renovate to fall into the wrong hands. Especially when the new potential owners could use the space to create military equipment that could then be used against the Ukraine military.

This is especially crucial right now because Atek is the birth place of what is being referred to as the most advanced tank in the world. It is being built by Nikolay Stepanov, a well known chief Engineer and former Head designer for the Malyshev Tank Factory, and his son. If mass-produced, it could play an important part in the war in Eastern Ukraine.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/abandoned-factory-used-as_b_8129054.html

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How to Get More out of Your Trip to Prague

Prague is one of the most visited destinations in Europe and has tourists coming from all over the world to discover this beautiful city. Understandably the city is littered with souvenir stores and people offering walking tours, Segway tours and free tours. The typical tours will check off the top few sites and will often lead you into tourist traps – overpriced restaurants or souvenirs that are commonly bought in Prague but are not actually Czech.

Guidilo and Local Artists are two newly opened companies that were born out of passion for the tourism industry but with the goal of doing things a little differently. They have changed the way that people act and feel as tourists and have inspirational goals and stories. They are impressive not only because they are successful startups but because they took tourism, something that is overabundant, and did it differently and arguably better.

Started up in 2014, Guidilo is an on-line marketplace that connects travelers with Prague’s locals to share their interests in a unique way that goes beyond the traditional tourist concept. It is a place where travelers can find and book tours with like-minded local insiders who are eager to share insights and give travelers a chance to explore the local life and experience the authentic spirit of the city.

Local Artists opened their store on the 19th of March in 2015. They believe in creating a new dimension for souvenir sales. The thoughts behind the store are that local artists breathe soul into every product they create which enables the buyer to experience the stories and traditions of true craft production.

Guidilo differs from other tours by gathering interesting locals who want to share the passion for their hobbies and the city. The ‘guides’ are local people with intimate knowledge of the sites, customs and attractions to ensure that travelers get the most out of their visit. There are similar companies operating worldwide but Guidilo is the first of this kind in the Czech Republic.

Local Artists differ from other souvenir in three areas: people, presentation and locally made products. All Local Artists employees bring added value to the atmosphere of the store. They create a certain kind of atmosphere with the way they set up the store and in the way that they make the brands visible. Finally all of their products are made in the Czech Republic and are connected to Czech culture and craft tradition.

The owners of both businesses are very friendly and ambitious, taking part in tours and spending time at their store. Their positive attitudes and personalities resonate in what they have created and are part of the memories that tourists take back from Prague with them.

As a frequent traveler with a collection of both good and bad experiences as a tourist, I was hoping to find out more about these two new businesses and conducted the following interview.

Question: What gave you the idea to start Guidilo and Local Artists?

Guidilo: We came to the idea, when we realized how many of our foreign friends called us in advance to ask about the best places to stay, visit and eat. We always took them to our favorite coffee shops, introduced them to our local friends and to the beauty of the city of Prague. Not everyone is lucky enough to have some friends here, so we created this website to help others experience the magnificent Czech capital from the local’s perspective.

Local Artists: Certainly it was the long-lasting situation in the historical center of Prague. It is full of shows that offer products with no connection to any Czech tradition or custom – which we think is a shame. Prague has a unique atmosphere and when tourists want to take home a memory from Prague – they always find the same soulless souvenirs in every store. ‘Local Artists’ offers a wide selection of authentic and quality Czech products with tradition and a complete story about how and whom they were crafted by.

Question: Why are you passionate about tourism?

Guidilo: We love to discover hidden places and meet new people, discover their culture (especially compare cultural differences and similarities) and share experiences together. Traveling is the best education ever! We prefer to collect moments, not things. Because things can disappear one day, but memories live in our minds forever.

Local Artists: We all love travelling and discovering new countries in their culture. If you run a shop like Local Artist s in the center of Prague, you meet a lot of people from various countries every day. When you speak to them you can learn a lot about their homes – so for us it is a kind of traveling even when staying in your home place.

Question: What are your current goals?

Guidilo: We plan to increase the number of experiences in Prague and expand to other cities in the Czech Republic as well. Speaking from experience – we know that Czechs are friendly people who want to show the best of their towns because they are very proud of them. This is one possibility of how to attract foreign visitors. If you have something special or unique in your town, wouldn’t you want to let other people know about it?

Local Artists: We are creating an oasis in the sea of several full stores downtown. A base for those who seek something really connected to Prague and the Czech Republic and for those who just feel good while visiting.

Question: Has running Guidilo/Local Artists influences the way you act as a tourist?

Guidilo: Totally! Now we are looking for local activities and sustainable travel. Hanging out with locals is always the best way to explore the city. No guidebook can give you all the insider tips and hidden gems that the people living there ever day can offer. From our years of travelling, we’ve learned that a good guide can make the difference between an unpleasant walk and a wonderful lifelong memory.

Local Artists: Definitely. Not only that you cannot be a regular shopping tourist anymore, but you also start to ask for the story behind more things. It just comes naturally!

Globalism has opened up the world and made travel accessible and affordable. Tourism has seen a boom and many businesses have gotten their foot in the door and shaped our expectations for what traveling looks like. However Guidilo and Local Artists have proven that it’s still possible to improve and change the way we travel. Tourists traveling to the Czech Republic now have a wider spectrum of experiences to choose from to make their trip more special and authentic.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/how-to-get-more-out-of-yo_1_b_7760278.html

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15 Breathtaking Photos of the Charles Bridge

The oldest bridge in the very heart of Prague, Charles Bridge, is the top stop on every tourist’s “must-see” list. Rumored to use beer in it’s construction, the bridge was finished in the 15th century by King Charles IV, who brought Prague into the Golden Age. Charles IV made Prague the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and lay the foundations that made Prague the city it is today.

After living in Prague for almost two decades, I am still as fascinated with the Charles Bridge as tourists are seeing it for the first time. During these many years, I have discovered the best spots to photograph the Charles Bridge. Some much less-known than others.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/15-breathtaking-photos-of-charles-bridge_b_7103598.html

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Patriots Punished in Northern Cyprus: A Modern Day Political Occupation

Koray Basdogrultmaci and Cinel Senem Husseyin, a Turkish-Speaking Cypriot couple, were charged for hanging the Cyprus Republic’s flag outside their home and shop in Famagusta in June 2013. They were arrested and put in jail on June 21st 2013 and their original trial was postponed until June 11th 2014.

“Northern Cyprus is legally part of the Republic of Cyprus and the whole world recognizes it this way,” explains Oz Karajan from LINOBAMBAKI organization, “but in 1974 Turkey illegally occupied the area and declared a de facto government that is recognized only by Turkey.”

According to Karajan, there are 70,000 Turkish-speaking Cypriots living in Cyprus and 300,000 living in United Kingdom. “This number shows that Turks made them leave the island,” says Karajan, “Turks are getting rid of Turkish-speaking Cypriots who are owners on the island to achieve full control of the occupied areas.”

Karajan explains that the Turkish occupation is affecting people’s daily lives and this specific case shows their misuse of legislative power.

On June 20th 2013, Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, had flown the Cypriot flag during the opening ceremony of the Mediterranean Games in Mersin, Turkey. There was no problem with him doing this so the couple wanted to protest his hypocrisy so they hung up three flags.

“Why is it free to open Republic of Cyprus flags in Turkey but not in my own country?” says Cinel Senem Husseyin who is outraged by the hypocrisy. “By doing this demonstration we wanted to remind Turkey’s role here,” Hysseying explains.

According to Karajan, the area where the couple lives and works, Turkish-speaking Cypriots were forced to move into the Northern area of Cyprus to show that the occupation is legitimate. “But these people aren’t ethnically or culturally Turk,” says Karajan, “they don’t like to live under Turkish authorities and they want to reunify with the Republic of Cyprus again.”

Karajan refers to the situation as, “systematic and well engineered oppression in 40 years and leave their homeland to illegal occupation authorities and their illegal settlers.”

“We believe that the island is one and can’t be divided and it can’t be joined to another country,” says Husseyin speaking for her husband and herself, “We believe that the Republic of Cyprus belongs to all Cypriots and the landscape belongs to all Cypriots.”

The court hearing keeps getting postponed for a different reason each time. On April 9th in 2014, a new judge asked the couple to apologize and in turn they would only receive a small fine. However they refused, facing a greater fine and potential imprisonment. The most recent hearing was postponed because of a missing witness. The next court hearing will be held on April 13th 2015.

The couple and their friends, including Tina Adamidou, have tried to contact authorities in Cyprus and the European Court of Human Rights with the plea to dismiss the charges of public disorder. They sent letters to:

– EU Parliament President, Martin Schultz
– EU Parliament Social & Democratic Leader, Hannes Swoboda
– EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood, Stefan Fule
– EU Parliament co leader of the Green Party, Daniel Cohn-Benit
– Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Ahmet Davutohlu
– Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon
– President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasides
– Leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community in Cyprus, Dervis Eroglu

None of these people responded and the couple continues to fight fort their cause with little support. They have an online petition and hope to gain at least some support. Koray and Cinel truly believe that they have done nothing wrong and worry about what will happen to their two young children if they get charged with time in prison.

The Petition.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/patriots-punished-in-nort_b_6993574.html

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November 17th 2014 – Romanians and Czechs Choose Democracy

In London, Madalina stood yesterday in the queue outside the Romanian Embassy for eleven hours and was among the last group of ten voters to be allowed into the Embassy to vote – with thousands left outside who were not able to vote…

“A minor miracle occurred yesterday,” wrote Frank Fischer in an email on November 17th, “(it) marked a significant victory for democracy and justice in Romania’s long march from the end of the Communist regime.”

Fischer is an Englishman who transferred to work in Romania as a Regional Sales Manager for Central and Eastern Europe in 2003. Before that he spent most of his career working in senior positions in the hydropower and wind power industries. He lived in Romania for the past 11 years and married a Romanian woman three years after moving there. Since he retired in 2009 he has become increasingly interested in Romanian culture and politics.

Romania is indeed a little-known country. But especially with the political events going on in Europe right now, this event was very important. November 17th was an important day in the Czech Republic too. It was a national holiday and the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolutionwhere Czechoslovak students, led by playwright and later renowned president Vaclav Havel, gathered to stand up against Communism. This fueled a series of events that toppled the regime and changed the country. During the celebration, there was a speech by the current Czech president Milos Zeman. He is a former Communist and he has been known for leaning towards the East. Thousands of Czechs held out red ‘penalty’ cards in protest as he spoke, and the peaceful protest turned into booing and boiled-egg throwing as he said the following three things:

– The revolution that was being celebrated had not played a role in ending Communism, nor was there any violence from the side of the police on November 17th, 1989.
– Tibet is part of China.
– There is no Russian involvement in Ukraine.

His speech was considered very insulting to many people, especially on the day that ultimately gave the Czech Republic and Slovakia freedom. But people united against him in the same spirit that they united against their non-representative government in 1989.

The Romanian presidential elections are also important in relation to Ukraine. Everyone has heard about the situation. Just over a year ago, on November 21st, 2013, Ukrainians stood up to make a change away from the East. They showed the world that they wanted democracy, rule of law and trade with Western partners. Since then they have shown that they are willing to die for these ideals as well as to protect their country. This seemingly small victory in Romania gives a lot of hope to East European countries who are trying to develop and move forward (Westward). It also creates a great example for Ukrainians – it shows them that democracy can be achieved if people come together, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

Below is the letter that Fischer sent to his family members, including his wife’s daughter, Madalina. Madalina then contacted me with the request to spread this information that brings a very important and positive message: change for the better is always possible.

Hello to you all!

Yesterday marked a significant victory for democracy and justice in Romania’s long march from the end of the Communist regime in 1989 towards the accepted values of Western Europe and North America. Against all expectations and despite the truly Machiavellian machinations of the ruling party, the underdog candidate, a Romanian from the Saxon minority and a Lutheran to boot, in a staunchly Orthodox country, won the second and final round of elections for the new President of Romania by a substantial majority. I realize that for most of you Romania is a little-known country more than a thousand miles away in a remote corner of south-eastern Europe, where events are generally of little interest to the inhabitants of the British Isles. But Romania is important to Europe. With a population of around 22 million, it is the third largest country in Eastern Europe (excluding Russia, which my father always said was an Asian country!) after Ukraine (55 m., and going down rapidly) and Poland (48 M.). This means it is an important trading partner. Its proximity to Moldavia and Ukraine give it major strategic importance in the current political situation of those two countries. In this context, Romania also has significant international value through its membership of the European Union and of NATO.

The favorite to win the elections that ended yesterday was Victor Ponta, the current prime minister and president of the ruling PSD (the Socialist Democratic Party, formerly the Communist Party). He is an accomplished liar, cheat and fraud. In the two and a half years since he became prime minister, he has supported the passage of numerous laws aimed at curbing the freedom of the media, promoting the interests of the oligarchs, facilitating vote-rigging in favour of the ruling party, and re-orientating the country away from Western Europe and towards Russia and China: all indications of a return to the country’s totalitarian past. Yet PSD has a strong following, based mainly on a system of patronage that makes local administrators beholden to the central government and therefore obliged to ensure that at election time, votes are steered towards the PSD.

In the first round of the elections, earlier this month, there were 14 candidates, partly because the parties of the center and right were unable to agree on a single candidate to oppose the left-wing Ponta. After that vote, the two leading candidates were Victor Ponta and the candidate put forward by an unholy alliance of the PNL (National Liberal Party) and the PDL (Democratic Liberal Party), who until recently were sworn enemies, but decided that opportunism was more important than principles. Their candidate was Klaus Iohannis, the mayor of Sibiu (formerly Herrmanstadt, once a large Saxon settlement). He is a dour, rather humorless and slow-witted but seemingly decent man who claims to be more interested in deeds than in words, which would be a refreshing contrast with Ponta. In the first round, Ponta won about 40% of the votes and Iohannis 30%. Ponta famously said that the second round of voting was not important for him, as the result was clearly predictable, so he would stay at home and eat popcorn in front of the television on election night. So Ponta and Iohannis faced each other in the final, second-round elections yesterday.

How wrong Ponta was. A minor miracle occurred yesterday. The people of Romania turned out to vote in numbers not seen since the 1990s and emphatically voted against Ponta. That’s really the point: people did not vote so much for Iohannis as to ensure that Ponta did not become president. All the numerous tricks employed by the government to ensure that they won the election (which included, for instance, bagging poverty relief aid from the European Union and distributing it as gifts from the PSD!) failed because of this surge of anti-Ponta sentiment. People had simply had enough of Ponta’s despicable trickery. Against all the odds, Iohannis won.

We were amazed and delighted by this result. The scenes of exuberance and jubilation in the major squares of central Bucharest as the election results became known were quite extraordinary, unlike anything I have ever seen anywhere else. In the run-up to this election, Gabi and I had seriously discussed selling up in Romania and moving to perhaps the south of France if Ponta won. Now the situation is different. Our move may still happen, but not under the pressure of political events.

A major part in Ponta’s failure was played by the Romanian Diaspora. Roughly three and a half million Romanians live and work outside the country. They generally tend to vote massively for right-wing candidates, so the left-wing PSD government did everything it could to limit the voting at polling booths in other countries. They were so successful that thousands of Romanians in many European countries, including the UK, were unable to cast their votes. This also affected Madalina, who stood for many hours in the cold and rain on 2 November in London but didn’t get to vote. This result caused widespread indignation and major protest meetings in most big cities in Romania. It was probably the spark that ignited the fury that compelled people who might otherwise not have done so to go out and vote against Ponta. After the debacle of the failed first-round vote outside Romania, the responsible minister was forced to resign. His replacement said that the second round of voting would not have the same result, but he lied. In London, Madalina stood yesterday in the queue outside the Romanian Embassy for eleven hours and was among the last group of ten voters to be allowed into the Embassy to vote – with thousands left outside who were not able to vote.

So – a historic event occurred, one that I will remember for a long time as a superb example of how close hubris and nadir can be in the world of politics! As the television pointed out, while Ponta was at home eating popcorn, his rival was being received in royal style in Piata Unirii, Bucharest’s biggest public square. I hope Ponta’s popcorn stuck in his craw.

A great day for democracy. Now it will be truly interesting to see what happens next!

Much love to you all – Frank & Gabi

Originally published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/november-17th-romanians-a_b_6213870.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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‘This Place’ Exhibition in Prague in DOX

“I can’t call it Israel,” says photographer Gilles Peress while referring to flying to the location, “I call it Israelstein. It’s a combination of the two.” Peress’s photos are very clear; they show the different perspectives of one community. He remarked that in Israel and Palestine everything happens meter by meter, room to room. “You see stores disappearing one by one, I return to the same place again and again,” Peress explains his process of watching the changes. His pieces in this exhibition try to explore the reason why people don’t see the similarities between each other – “Desperate lives,” he sighs, “looking for differences.”

This Place is the name of an International exhibition currently shown in the DOX gallery in Prague. The DOX Center for Contemporary Art, Architecture and Design has been organizing and hosting exhibitions for six years now. It has presented over 120 exhibition projects and is ranked among the most progressive artistic institutions in the Czech Republic.

The exhibition shows the photographs of twelve artists, each with a unique angle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The exhibition of over 500 photos opened on October 24th and will be on display until March 2nd, 2015. After Prague, the exhibition will move to Tel Aviv for six months. After that, it will be exhibited in the Norton Museum of Art followed by the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The exhibition will officially end on June 5th, 2016. There are also thirteen original books produced for the exhibition – one with photos of each individual photographer and one comprehensive catalog. On Saturday, October 25th, I saw four of the artists talk about their experience of creating This Place.

“I can’t call it Israel,” says photographer Gilles Peress while referring to flying to the location, “I call it Israelstein. It’s a combination of the two.” Peress’s photos are very clear; they show the different perspectives of one community. He remarked that in Israel and Palestine everything happens meter by meter, room to room. “You see stores disappearing one by one, I return to the same place again and again,” Peress explains his process of watching the changes. His pieces in this exhibition try to explore the reason why people don’t see the similarities between each other – “Desperate lives,” he sighs, “looking for differences.”

The content of Wendy Ewald’s project differed greatly from those of her colleagues. She explored what different communities in the area considered most important. Ewald had a total of fourteen different mini-projects exploring the lives of groups that ranged from women attending an orthodox military school to elderly villagers. She taught them seminars on photography and observed: “how education forms the country.” Ewald taught these groups of people to take photos of what impacted their lives and taught them to use metaphors. Then she compared what different groups concentrated on in their photography.

Fazal Sheikh, like all the other photographers, had issues with photographing in the region. “I prefer an open perspective,” said Sheikh, “Israel is extremely constricting.” His project was about the transformation of the land. He visited a village that is now unrecognizable. It was transformed into a forest and the people who once lived there became displaced around the country. He decided to fly over the desert after spending time in a protest tent overlooking the dry barren land that would become a dense forest. He coupled taking photographs from a helicopter with listening to stories from combatants on both sides.

Joseph Koudelka, a Czech photographer, talked about originally denying Frederic Brenner‘s invitation to cooperate with this project. “I bought my own ticket,” said Koudelka, “to avoid having any obligation.” He was born in 1938 and experienced the German occupation of his village. Later he witnessed the Russians first liberating the Czechs and then occupying them. “I grew up behind the Iron Curtain and always wanted to see the other side,” Koudelka expressed his sympathy for the people in the area. His book doesn’t always show the people, but you can see the impact of mankind in every photograph.

The subject of the title came up in the discussion. All the books and the project itself avoid naming the area that has had so many in its past. Art can be a tool of propaganda and the Israel-Palestine topic is a sensitive one with extremists on both sides. A name that didn’t lean to either side of the conflict seemed the most appropriate and most objective to allow the viewers to interpret the meaning.

More information can be found on their website: http://www.dox.cz/cs/vystavy/this-place

Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/this-place-exhibition-in-_b_6095398.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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Czechs Celebrate Independence Day by Protesting Rusia’s War on Ukraine

The greatest surprise came when we got to the castle. When we got to our destination there was a man wearing a large paper-mâché mask reassembling Russian president’s Vladimir Putin’s face. He was holding a puppet with Zeman’s face on it. The group stopped by the puppet while the group leader, wearing a Putler shirt, explained through a microphone that the group was pro-democratic and against Putin’s influence in the Czech Republic. The speaker was Czech like most of the organizers and attendees.

October 28th is the Czechoslovak Independence Day. In 1918 it was the day that Czechoslovakia was created and it continues to be celebrated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia today. All students and most adults have the day off, some have the entire week. While most Czechs celebrate the day outside of the city, with their families or relaxing at home, today a handful of Czechs attended a protest in support of Ukraine.

Every weekend such events are held at the famous Old Town Square by the group Prague Maidan. There are concerts, speeches and people gathering signatures for pro-Ukraine petitions. This holiday had a special agenda. A lot of Czechs, especially those living in Prague, don’t support the president and his policies. President Milos Zeman is often called a communist by those who oppose him.

The fliers advertising the march from Old Town Square to the Prague Castle had slogans such as:
– Demanding a pro-democratic president, and
– We don’t want Putin’s puppet living in the castle.

There between 30 and 40 people in total – a mixture of Czechs, Ukrainians and even one or two Americans. Right away we were told that there will be people protesting against us and that we are not to interfere verbally or physically. Before we even left the square, a Russian-speaking woman dressed in yellow pants and a blue jacket started arguing with one of the protesters wearing Ukrainian ‘nationalist’ colors, black and red. She was arguing that we shouldn’t be protesting against anything but rather for something. The protester said a few words back but the march proceeded as planned.

The group had Czech flags, Ukrainian flags and several anti-Zeman and anti-Putin signs in Czech. People on the street called out at us: some yelling insults and others voicing their support. At least ten police officers walked with us and interfered when people approached the group in an aggressive manner. There were also two police cars and one police van that helped us cross roads safely and escorted us the entire way. There was one particular park on the path up to the castle where a group of pro-Russians was gathered with signs and a Russian flag. The signs were illegible from where we walked. The group was slightly smaller than ours and yelled out unintelligible words.

The greatest surprise came when we got to the castle. When we got to our destination there was a man wearing a large paper-mâché mask reassembling Russian president’s Vladimir Putin’s face. He was holding a puppet with Zeman’s face on it. The group stopped by the puppet while the group leader, wearing a Putler shirt, explained through a microphone that the group was pro-democratic and against Putin’s influence in the Czech Republic. The speaker was Czech like most of the organizers and attendees.

After the organizers’ speech, a Czech man yelled from the castle saying “shame!” Everyone responded by laughing saying, “yes, shame on Zeman!” Before marching back to Old Town Square, a Russian man stepped forward. He pulled out his passport to prove that he was truly a Russian citizen, before delivering an anti-Zeman speech. He referred to him as a ‘man who gets drunk with Russian buddies’ and expressed his discontent with both Zeman and Putin.

Everyone in the group was very friendly and despite the several anti-Ukrainians around us, the atmosphere remained friendly and peaceful. I didn’t follow the group back to the square for the concert that was to follow, but I was grateful to have experienced the march. I look forward to reporting on any other events that Prague Maidan organizes.

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Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/czechs-celebrate-independence-day_b_6064436.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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Prague vs. Amsterdam: Clenliness, Transportation & Alcohol

So Prague has much cheaper public transportation with gaps in enforcing everyone to pay. There have even been big groups of people who form in order to ride illegally and chip in when a member gets fined – according to them it is cheaper than everyone having to buy a pass. In Amsterdam, there is no possibility of doing this and the system tracks how long you are traveling for and which routes you take. This information can be very useful for innovating public transportation to make it more convenient and altered to travelers needs.

Prague and Amsterdam are two very different cities that are often compared to each other by tourists. Prague is the heart of Europe known for having beautiful architecture, pretty women and cheap beer. Amsterdam is known as a place with a crazy nightlife, legal prostitution and legal drugs. But of course, there is so much more to each city. After living in Prague my whole life and visiting Amsterdam for over a week I made a few interesting comparisons when it comes to cleanliness, transportation and alcohol.

Big cities are never perfectly clean. The major differences between Prague and Amsterdam are where you find the trash and how it got there. A lot of streets in Prague are covered in chewing gum that has been permanently stomped into the ground. The gum stays no matter how much Czechs clean – men and women in orange suits sweeping and picking up trash are seen regularly. With the large flow of tourists and the abundance of events held throughout the city, trash cans are often found overflowing with trash piled all around the bins. Otherwise, Prague is pretty clean and trash cans are on every corner, Amsterdam is a little different. It seems to have fewer trash cans than Prague, but the area around them is almost always spotless. The trashcans in residential areas have large areas underneath them so there is always more space and trash doesn’t get left on the side. However walking through the city and its outskirts, there is a lot of noticeable trash in areas in and around bushes and trees; wrappers, empty bottles and cups. Whether it’s the lack of trashcans or lack of fines for littering, like in Prague, there is more stray trash on the streets of Amsterdam. However, Prague has more visible trash in concentrated areas.

Both cities have reliable, safe and clean public transportation. But the price and method of paying are quite different. In Prague, you can buy a single-use pass around one euro, just under for an hour and just over for 90 minutes. There is also a one day ticket for 4 euros. In Amsterdam, the tickets are much more expensive with a one time pass costing 2.8 euros and a daily pass costing 7.5 euros. After purchasing the tickets there is a different process for validating the tickets. In Prague, one-day tickets are validated in machines right before entering the metro, or right on the tram or bus. There is also a possibility of buying a mobile ticket. Since some people have monthly passes they don’t need to validate them when they get on it creates the possibility of people sneaking on without paying. This is why Prague and especially the busiest stops have people who stop you and check your ticket with a fine of almost 30 euros for not having one. In Amsterdam, it’s different because you have to validate your ticket every time you get on public transportation and every time you leave. There is either a system that stops you from entering without placing your card on a sensor or there is a person watching everyone who enters.

So Prague has much cheaper public transportation with gaps in enforcing everyone to pay. There have even been big groups of people who form in order to ride illegally and chip in when a member gets fined – according to them it is cheaper than everyone having to buy a pass. In Amsterdam, there is no possibility of doing this and the system tracks how long you are traveling for and which routes you take. This information can be very useful for innovating public transportation to make it more convenient and altered to travelers needs.

Finally, there’s alcohol. It is one of the things that draws many tourists to both Prague and Amsterdam. Prague is known for its cheap and very tasty beer that is sold for around a euro in large pints. Prague has pubs on almost every street, and almost every shop or street vendor sells beer along with other alcoholic beverages. In shops, beer is sometimes less than half a euro. Amsterdam is quite different. Beer is more expensive, three euros on average if you’re drinking out. It is also served in smaller quantities, usually in 0.33 glasses. Beer is also not as accessible as in Prague. Gas stations and small street vendors rarely sell beer so you have to go to a supermarket or restaurant to buy it. However, the stores who do sell beer for around a euro and there are beers with a much higher alcohol percentage than in Prague. Neither city has strict enforcement against public drinking and beer consumption is high in both places. The final difference is that Czech pubs offer fewer beers, usually one or two alcoholic and one non-alcoholic. While many Dutch pubs have a much richer variety.

These are just a few comparisons that stood out during my visit to Amsterdam. Prague and Amsterdam are two very different and amazing cities and both are definitely worth a visit.

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Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/prague-vs-amsterdam-photo_b_5981986.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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100th Anniversary of WWI – DOX Front Line Exhibition

Today many nations are suffering and thousands of people are being killed. The major current conflicts with headlines all over the media include Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. While some conflicts remain mostly regional, others like Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia are becoming a threat to global peace. Obsessing over protecting the economy and continuing harmful trade cycles keeps preventing the success of peace talks and finding concrete solutions. Now more than ever we can see that history repeats itself. This is why we need to refer to the past when building a better future. That is the reason that DOX organized this exhibition…

“In 1914 the Great War began… and has lasted ever since.”

This quote can be found at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague the capital of the ‘heart of Europe.’ August 4th, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The Front Line exhibition tells the stories of several Czech men from all over the country who had to leave their home and went to fight at various war fronts. Many powerful quotes written by Czech soldiers cover the walls of the exhibition:

“The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings…” – Aldous Huxley from the Austrian front.

“… we could write anything, just not the truth.” “What is fear. Fear is man. Man fears only man.” – Frantisek Seda also from the Austrian Front.

“If the soldiers were hungry, the town’s civilian population was hungrier still.” – Jan Vit from the Russian Front.

The quotes written by Czech soldiers reflect the hardships that war inflicts on the soldiers, their families and on the human psyche. But there are also quotes from famous global figures who touch on the cause and nature of wars:

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” – Voltaire

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein.

The total number of civilian and military deaths during WWI is estimated to be around 40 million. The war devastated Europe and tensions lingered long after the war. The drive of each country to rebuild their economies and recreate normalcy in a post-war society led to mistrust and political unrest – the second world war began only 21 years after the first ended.

The exhibition includes bits and pieces of the belongings of the Czech soldiers. The letters they wrote, the medals they won and the photographs they took; all reveal the horror of war. But the stories that the soldiers and their families pass on are more than memories of the past – they are a warning message to our generation and those that will follow.

Today many nations are suffering and thousands of people are being killed. The major current conflicts with headlines all over the media include Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. While some conflicts remain mostly regional, others like Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia are becoming a threat to global peace. Obsessing over protecting the economy and continuing harmful trade cycles keeps preventing the success of peace talks and finding concrete solutions. Now more than ever we can see that history repeats itself. This is why we need to refer to the past when building a better future. That is the reason that DOX organized this exhibition:

“(So) that some recollections of these ugly and horrible days be preserved for future generations, so they guard well against the ambitions of ‘dangerous lunatics’…” – Josef Lacina

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Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/100th-anniversary-of-wwi-_b_5698759.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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The Politics Behind the Chinese Exhibition in Prague 2014

Looking at the two mighty soldier statues evoked respect and admiration for Chinese culture and history. It is clear why Zeman hopes to gain economic insight and profit from cooperating with China. But adopting some great ideas can lead to also adopting less desirable ones — and if Czech respect for human rights ends up traded for money, then more people will begin looking at both statue and flesh-and-blood soldiers in fear instead of awe…

The beautiful and renowned Prague Castle in the Czech Republic is currently exhibiting the “Treasures of Ancient China” — including two statues of warriors from the Terracotta Army. There are over 90 exhibited objects that show the development of China over 5,000 years, starting with the Neolithic period and going through the very last ruling dynasty. The pieces for the exhibition come from several different museums in China that loaned them out for the exhibition, which opened Aug. 8 and will run through Nov. 9.

I attended the exhibition and found the art breathtaking and the history fascinating. However, recent developments in Chinese-Czech relations are even more interesting than ancient artifacts.

The Czech Republic and China began their diplomatic cooperation 65 years ago. Milos Zeman, who took office as the president of the Czech Republic on March 8, 2013, has been trying to improve relations with China. Zeman met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 7 in Sochi during the Olympics. They spoke about beginning a new relationship and cooperating in a variety of fields, from manufacturing to medical care. They also spoke about potential investments.

Zeman wants to cooperate with China “on the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity,” which includes not interfering with internal issues of the other. According to the Prague Post, Lubomir Zaoralek, a foreign-affairs minister, visited Beijing and stated that the Czech Republic doesn’t support Tibet’s independence and believes it to be indivisible from China. Zeman will be visiting China again in October.

Karel Schwarzenberg, the former foreign minister who ran against Zeman in the 2013 presidential election, had said that the Czech government traded the protection of human rights for money. He said this due to the human rights that are violated all over China. He is not the only one who has this opinion. It is undeniable that cooperation with China and Chinese investments could do wonders to the Czech economy, but the price might be steep.

So although the Chinese exhibition — located in the most important building in Prague and the entire Czech Republic — is wonderful and educational, there is a bigger picture here. The Chinese loan has a deeper meaning than just sharing their culture with Czechs. The presence of China will remain even after the exhibition is over, and as the relationship develops, their influence here will intensify.

Looking at the two mighty soldier statues evoked respect and admiration for Chinese culture and history. It is clear why Zeman hopes to gain economic insight and profit from cooperating with China. But adopting some great ideas can lead to also adopting less desirable ones — and if Czech respect for human rights ends up traded for money, then more people will begin looking at both statue and flesh-and-blood soldiers in fear instead of awe.

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Originally published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/the-politics-behind-the-c_b_5699143.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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