‘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.

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.

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.

Up Close and Personal with… Alena Wilson, Prague’s Queen of LBDs

The LBD or little black dress is an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe. Coco Chanel was the first to make it ever-present in an edition of American Vogue in 1926. It was presented as simple yet elegant and Vogue predicted that it would shape the future…

Alena Wilson is a 37-year-old fashion designer from the Czech Republic. She has two kids, a girl who is six, and a boy who is four. Her husband is American and runs his own business in Prague. They live in a household with two cocker spaniels, black and gold, and two goldfish that were recently bought behind her back by her husband and children… Alena sighs with a smile.

Fact box:

The LBD or little black dress is an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe. Coco Chanel was the first to make it ever-present in an edition of American Vogue in 1926. It was presented as simple yet elegant and Vogue predicted that it would shape the future.

The Bridge: What motivated you to start your company?

Alena Wilson: My passion for fashion. Originally I studied economic foreign trade but I always had a huge passion for creativity since I was 15. I think this is one of my strong positions that I have 16 years of experience in PR and business. I absolutely love the creative process. I did nine years of art school beside my study. That helped me also.

TB: What makes your business unique?

AW: The concept of using real women. I don’t agree with the top fashion world using underweight or photo-shopped models. People misunderstand, I don’t mean fat people; I mean healthy women. My models are size 38+.

TB: What does fashion mean to you personally?

AW: I think that fashion is something that should support who you are. I want women to see the options and choose what suits their body type and personality. For me, fashion is a really strong tool that can help introduce other people to your personality. People always first judge you based on your looks.

TB: Who is your favorite designer and why?

AW: I like elegant, sexy and romantic stuff so I really like Valentino. I really like the detail that he puts into his dresses. He is someone I really look up to. He creates his own materials and patterns. I think that he’s the one. I look at many designers and they inspire me but he’s above all what I really love.

TB: What is an LBD and why is it so important to have (at least) one?

AW: A little black dress is something that I first started with because it was missing from the industry. An LBD is simple and can be worn for many occasions because you can go anywhere in it. Especially in Prague, it is normal to wear an LBD not just for a special occasion. It’s good to have two LBDs in your wardrobe; one very simple dress to combine with a variety of accessories, and a more unique one that’s more fun or sexy.

TB: What did your first LBD look like?

AW: The last kick to starting my own brand was when I was in Boston with my husband at a Harvard black-tie reunion. I always create my own dress for parties so I created a unique LBD. I used lace with Swarovski stones in the back. I got loads of compliments and several ladies asked where I had purchased the dress. That was when I decided to start drawing my first LBD collection.

TB: What inspires your designs?

AW: It’s mainly women’s curves and strong women. A strong woman in the terms of giving birth and managing everything. Their curves inspire me to make them more beautiful in my dresses. I always think of how to show the good things and hide the flaws and that’s what really inspires me.

TB: What is the best place to people watch in Prague?

AW: At night you see what people like to wear when they try to look their best. You can just sit on a bench and watch the chaos. If you really want to see the average cut of what people wear day to day, the best place is to sit in a mall. Pastacafee Lamborgini on Vodičkova in Prague 1 is my favorite café for people watch over my cappuccino.

TB: What is the best accessory?

AW: Hmm trick question. There is one thing that women forget about the most. They go to any big or small event wearing the most fantastic outfit but they have absolutely miserable hair, hanging with no concept to it. Hair is a very important accessory. You should always do something with it, even putting it in a ponytail to give it style.

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.

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.

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.

Prague LGBT Community Supports Ukraine 2014

As a Ukrainian citizen, I was extremely touched by the gesture. This meant a lot more to me than seeing foreigners supporting my country. Although the world is becoming increasingly more open toward the LGBT community, there is still a lot of legal and social discrimination. I was honored that the LGBT community decided to spend the one day a year dedicated to celebrating their own freedom by showing their support for the sovereignty of Ukrainian territory.

The fourth annual Prague Pride Parade, held on Aug. 16, ended with a festival in Letna Park. What made this year’s event special was the Ukrainian flags spotted in between the extravagant costumes and rainbows. The largest LGBT event in central Europe chose to share their special day with Ukraine.

Just recently, on the night of Aug. 14, Russian military convoys were seen crossing the border. Some thought that this would be the official beginning of a war. This happened right in the middle of Pride week in Prague, and although the conflict in Ukraine didn’t escalate as much as people had feared, Ukraine felt a jolt of vulnerability.

As a Ukrainian citizen, I was extremely touched by the gesture. This meant a lot more to me than seeing foreigners supporting my country. Although the world is becoming increasingly more open toward the LGBT community, there is still a lot of legal and social discrimination. I was honored that the LGBT community decided to spend the one day a year dedicated to celebrating their own freedom by showing their support for the sovereignty of Ukrainian territory.

Today they showed that they truly believe that freedom belongs to everyone.

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Originally posted here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/prague-lgbt-community-sup_b_5684607.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.

Czechs on Water – When Ahoj Means Ahoy

I was greeted warmly at Kemp Višňová and I set my tent by the river alongside many others. People were swimming in the river fighting joyfully against the strong current. Later in the evening campfires popped up all over the campsite and everyone gathered to drink beer and roast sausages. The pubs around weren’t allowed to sell raw meat but the friendly campers were more than happy to share. You could recognize the experienced campers in the positioning of their tent and balanced a string across paddles to dry laundry…

Floating down the Vltava river I encountered many interesting personalities. An elderly man canoeing in solidarity with his big brown dog occasionally leaning over to lick the water. Smiling strangers roping their canoes together to chat while the current moved them along. Families with laughing children splashing each other and hugging their inflatable water toys.

Canoeing is the epitome of Czech culture – the Czech Republic is known as the most atheist country in the world but Czechs treat weekends, holidays, sports and spending time outdoors in an almost religious manner. Czech families have cottages in the countryside which they abandon city life for at every chance they get. As soon as it gets too warm for skiing they begin preparing their canoes and tents.

Living here for most of my life compelled me to finally join in on this traditional Czech pastime. So earlier this August I bit the bullet and traveled north of boisterous Prague to a camping ground in a small town. Roztoky isn’t easily accessible without a car so I had to hitchhike from the train station. I wasn’t used to the friendliness of town people and was taken aback when an off-duty train conductor offered me a ride.

I was greeted warmly at Kemp Višňová and I set my tent by the river alongside many others. People were swimming in the river fighting joyfully against the strong current. Later in the evening campfires popped up all over the campsite and everyone gathered to drink beer and roast sausages. The pubs around weren’t allowed to sell raw meat but the friendly campers were more than happy to share. You could recognize the experienced campers in the positioning of their tent and balanced a string across paddles to dry laundry.

Next morning I had arranged to be driven down the river to canoe for 10 kilometers. The weather was perfect and the current was strong enough to float me down the river without paddling. In the beginning, all I saw were houses along the bank but I slowly left civilization behind me. I passed fishermen on little boats; children swimming in calmer areas, and other people canoeing and kayaking.

I passed mountains and bent over trees whose leaves grazed the water. I had to carry my canoe to avoid a serene man-made waterfall where people sunbathed and dragonflies were in abundance. Right before reaching camp I stopped by a sign beckoning hungry water travelers with the promise of refreshments. The cheap food stand sold cheap meals and cold beer. Feeling refreshed I paddled back to camp around six hours after beginning the trip.

Experiencing what the Czechs do every summer brought me closer to understanding them and their wonderful culture. I only went for two days but some Czechs spend weeks traveling from camp to camp along the river. The best part of the trip was seeing strangers express friendliness and trust and hearing strangers exchanging ‘ahojs’. ‘Ahoj’ is the word that Czechs use to greet friends and family. Tourists frequently joke about this small landlocked country using a word meant to signal ships and boats. But observing their love of water makes this phenomenon a little less of a mystery.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/czechs-on-water-when-ahoj_b_5678876.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.

Ukraine 2014 – Life During Crisis

It was volunteers who did the most at the protest, but politicians were necessary too, especially to help get people out of jail. The politicians also offered the protesters organization and helped them raise their demands. But although some politicians tried, “politicians couldn’t lead the revolution.”

The crisis in Ukraine began on November 21st, when the former president, Yanukovych had refused to sign an agreement with the EU that he had been promising to sign for over a year. He wanted instead to form closer ties with Russia. Students went out to Independence Square known as Maidan, to protest. The police used violence to disperse them, which brought a lot more people out onto the streets. More and more gathered to protest, and stood there through freezing temperatures and violent conditions. They are still standing there today until there are a new government and order in Ukraine. I applied for a grant from the Prague Freedom Foundation to go make a difference in Ukraine. In Ukraine, I spoke to Olga, Irina and Eduard. Their stories were originally published on my blog, www.olenakaguiukraine2014.wordress.com.

Olga:

Olga Azzuz, a dentist at one of the field hospitals describes what happened in Kiev as “the scream of the soul of the nation.” In her opinion it is important for Ukrainians to deal with this issue by themselves, however, “if the West can help out, then they should.” She spoke coldly about Yanukovych and his people, calling them bandits. She said that they “traded their bandit clothing for suits when Yanukovych was elected and stole money from the nation.” They then put this stolen money into Western banks. “They confused their own pockets with the nation’s pocket,” she said.

At the beginning people just wanted to go talk to those in power, “but when people went to the government, their way was blocked,” which angered them. According to her, there is no proof that it was the protesters who started the violence but violence did begin after almost 3 months of peaceful protesting. A lot of outrage came when the government enforced strict laws against protesting. Azzuz was particularly angry about this, saying “If we continued to live that way (following those laws) we would live as slaves in a dog house on a leash, seeing the sky only through bars.”

Before the protests even began, inflation was getting really bad; people could no longer afford food. After rent and food were taken care of, they had no extra money to spend on clothes or anything else. The gap between the poor and the rich expanded.

This revolution was a revolution of educated and intelligent people who had diplomas, who ran their own businesses, explains Azzuz, “it was the people who had something in their lives and wanted to defend it.” These protesters had no rights in the eyes of the government, and that was the problem.

The amazing thing about Maidan was that the self-organized volunteers came where they were needed. They would do whatever they were capable of to show support – cook, fight, draw, speak or pray. All the necessary ‘positions’ were filled by people who had those particular skills. The volunteers would meet and they greeted each other like family. There was a real sense of unity.

It was volunteers who did the most at the protest, but politicians were necessary too, especially to help get people out of jail. The politicians also offered the protesters organization and helped them raise their demands. But although some politicians tried, “politicians couldn’t lead the revolution.”

Azzuz then told me that everyone at Maidan worked together to keep it clean. When it snowed, they would clear snow from the paths and use the snow to build and enforce barricades. At one point the garbage collectors refused to come to Maidan. So the protesters gathered all the trash, filled up several cars and brought the trash bags straight to the dump. They demanded that next time the trash collectors came, and they began coming regularly again.

There was a big problem with taking protesters to hospitals because the Berkut would stop ambulances and harass the injured – Azzuz’s word of choice to describe Berkut’s behavior was “sadistic”. So volunteers decided to organize their own field hospitals and used regular passenger cars to transport the injured to protect them.

A lot of the patients who were stopped by Berkut were never seen again. There was one particular patient who Azzuz treated; he had very serious injuries, broken teeth, ripped lip and broken bones in his face around his nose and eyes. He told her that a Berkut officer was beating him in the face yelling “I will rip your head off.” He was one of the patients who a random stranger took to a hospital in his car. Azzuz called hospital after hospital asking about him. He had lost his passport and they hadn’t had time to give him fresh clothes before they had to run, and she was very worried about him. After very many phone calls, she reached a nurse who told her he was recovering from surgery to reconstruct his face. She reassured her that they are taking care of getting him a new passport and had been given clothes that were donated to the hospital. Azzuz thanked her and was relieved to hear that at least his story had ended well, considering the circumstances. During those times, any good news added a little hope and pointed towards a better future.

Irina:

“We are women but we can still help, at least morally,” said Irina, who’s been working in the Cossack kitchen for three months. She is a student in Kiev and when I asked her why she came, she looked at me like it was a crazy question, “all my people are here… I live here so I’m going to stand here until the end.”

I asked her if she was scared. “Sometimes,” she said, “especially that night.” She referred to the night when Berkut stormed Maidan. But she didn’t let her fear stop her from doing what she believed was right. She found a way to help her people, like everyone else at Maidan. Politicians and their parties are often mentioned when people speak about Maidan, but they usually have a hidden (or a not so hidden) agenda, it is ordinary people like Irina who are the true heroes of Ukraine.

Eduard:

I really wanted to speak to the Afghan war veterans, who were very active at the protests. But the man who had the authority to speak for them wasn’t there yet. So Eduard Kryhov offered to tell me his story and show me one of the field hospitals.

He was in and out of Maidan since it began, alternating between spending time with his wife outside of Kiev, and living in the veteran tent. He helped out a lot at one of the medical points, and one night, they were told that Berkut was about to storm them. He has had a knee problem at the time and knew he wasn’t able to help carry injured men out to safety. Instead, he grabbed a hand-grenade and walked up to where the Berkut could see him. The 64-year-old man showed them what he was holding and said, “Look at me; I have seen all there is to see, I don’t care anymore, if you come in here, we will all die together.” The Berkut did not attack the medical point; Kryhov had saved several lives with his bravery.

Kryhov took me to one of the field hospitals at Maidan, where people were still coming to get treated. One man needed stitches removed from his lip and eyebrow, he looked badly beaten. Others came to get dental work done, or to treat a fever or a sprained arm. Kryhov took me into an empty room, made me some tea, offered me bread and showed me pictures of his friends and asked me to put them online. He told me about how he used to live in Prague 9 and Brno and about his wife. He made me see what everyone meant by Maidan uniting people when we parted ways we hugged each other like old friends.

I was very lucky to meet such a wonderful and kind man. He had helped save the country not once but twice – first in Afghanistan and now at Maidan. He taught me that one person can make all the difference in the world.

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.

Fake News and Social Media Journalism

Jones believes that journalism must continue to evolve to remain relevant, and newspapers can no longer depend solely on print to be profitable. His newspaper had to recently start charging their readers for their online content to avoid losing money. In addition to this, “traditional news organizations must now redefine what makes news,” said Daniel Moore, editor-in-chief of the Kent State University newspaper. As entertainment and traditional blend together it is important to pose the question, ‘Does a Twitter trend equal news?’

Sharing information and stories is something that’s been natural to humans since the very start. It is one of the ways that we distinguish ourselves from animals. For centuries the distribution of news stories has been developing in speed and convenience. Today we use a variety of platforms to communicate news to the rest of the world. With the discovery and growth of social media journalism are more instant than ever before. These changes affect the way we create, share and interpret information and they have given new power to information warfare.

Susan Zake, assistant professor at Kent State University is one of the people who applaud these developments, while Raymond Johnston, editor-in-chief of the Prague Post stands with the more critical. “Social media is changing the essential nature of how news reaches an audience, particularly younger people,” said Zake, “It speeds up the delivery of news and increasing its immediacy.” According to her, Facebook, Twitter and the use of smartphones have changed people’s behavior, “audiences demand a conversation from journalists now, instead of the old dynamic where journalists made the informed choices for their audiences and delivered them.”

Johnston believes that the types of stories have changed and lost news value, “you can’t even really call them stories in many cases – they are just a cute photo and some almost random words.” He noticed that even for bigger issues, the text is shorter. “People almost never share a 1,000-word story,” Johnston says, “as it would be rude to expect someone to actually read that much.” He agrees that it’s great that people can get news faster, but he believes that the depth is very poor.

Johnston worries that in the future news will get even shorter and eventually video will take over text. One reason is that our technology is getting smaller, “could you read an in-depth article in your Google glasses while you walked around?” he asks. Zake agrees that the speed and the abilities to capture and distribute news have improved – the spread of news is almost instantaneous. However, Zake is concerned with the accuracy of the news we read and share. “There are mistakes made in reporting too fast and without verifying information,” she said, explaining that this is a big issue in breaking stories.

Gordana Knezevic, head of the Balkan department at RFE/RL believes that “Thanks to social media and new technology we can sit at home and watch a live stream” from any place in the world, “getting the first-hand experience of events.” She agreed that the speed at which information is spread through social media is fascinating. However, she does believe that it makes a journalist’s job more complex and more important because they have a greater level of responsibility towards their audience. “How was it possible to be a journalist before Google,” Knezevic asks herself sometimes.

“Social media has totally changed the way we cover news, gather information and disseminate,” said Michael Jones, a news reporter at Observer-Reporter in Washington. He emphasized the improved outreach and a new accessibility to sources that wasn’t even possible before. Like Zake, Jones mentions that communication between journalists and readers is now involved in writing a story. Twitter and social media can act as sources and exchange platforms for information. “We are all mobile journalists who can take their own photos, email them to our editors and write from a coffee shop or the driver’s seat of a car,” said Jones. Knezevic agrees that it is now is possible to conduct interviews quickly over the phone or email, but she believes that interviews are better when done in person. “There is a body language which is important as well as spoken words,” she said.

Social media and modern technology have changed the actual creation of stories, not just their reception. Jones agrees with Zake’s concern for factual errors. They are increased with the habit of sharing posts without verification. “We have to be careful about which sources we trust,” said Jones.

Jones believes that journalism must continue to evolve to remain relevant, and newspapers can no longer depend solely on print to be profitable. His newspaper had to recently start charging their readers for their online content to avoid losing money. In addition to this, “traditional news organizations must now redefine what makes news,” said Daniel Moore, editor-in-chief of the Kent State University newspaper. As entertainment and traditional blend together it is important to pose the question, ‘Does a Twitter trend equal news?’

“Social media can create ethical pitfalls for a journalist,” said Moore who worries that if everyone is a journalist then it is harder to determine credibility. He agrees with Jones when it comes to changing the format of journalism so that it doesn’t cease to exist. Moore believes that “social media has shown incredible potential to initiate true and meaningful change throughout the world.”

As Moore pointed out, the change in social media and technology has also impacted modern politics. Information warfare has developed and is now something that countries need to be constantly wary of. Moore speaks about information warfare from a journalism perspective: “We must protect our sources and the information we collect from cyber-attacks and other technological threats that didn’t exist even 10 years ago,” he said. Flaws in modern establishments include dependence on internet and technology to function – a simple technological failure can shut down an electrical grid, bank accounts, and other critical information systems. “Information warfare can absolutely be more socially devastating than a military attack,” said Moore, “because it has the potential to impact more people.”

“Social media has helped fill the gap for traditional media in certain conflicts,” said Zake, “particularly when the journalistic community is repressed or controlled.” She believes that it makes it harder for a controlling government to use propaganda as an effective tool. Johnston doesn’t quite agree: “Anyone with access to the internet can put up a blog and claim to be an expert on what is going on,” he said, “in the past, only government officials could spin propaganda.” Johnston mentioned astroturf groups who get paid to write and say things on the internet while masquerading as concerned citizens. Zake explains that journalists can’t ethically engage in ‘warfare’, but like Johnston, she believes that it has become increasingly more difficult to know exactly who is putting out information and what their point of view is.

“If there’s a hostile government in place, it’s difficult for information alone to overpower a concerted military response,” said Zake, “but I think it can mobilize populations and empower them to make changes.” Johnston believes that information warfare can have more impact than military warfare. “A war where you send an army to kill people is an outdated model,” said Johnston, “it wasted resources, ravages potential markets and disrupts trade.” He believes that convincing people to support your cause even if it is not to their benefit is “the wave of the future”.

“I don’t think information can necessarily be used as a weapon”, opposed Jones, “but it can most definitely be used to promote political changes in countries.” He believes that it can be used to unite and mobilize people to join a single cause. “It is not unusual to see websites nowadays that have the appearance of news pages, but are really tools to push an agenda,” explains Jones. According to him, it is important for cities and countries to have a free press that is independent of the government, corporations, political factions and special interests.

According to Knezevic, a good example of information warfare is propaganda in politics. She believes that some people don’t make the necessary distinction between journalism and propaganda. She believes that “if the information offered by authorities is based on existing prejudices, it tends to demonize “others” while making one’s own ethnic group look good.” She believes that recent events have shown that, “the pen can be as dangerous as the sword.”

There is a wide range of opinions on the changes that social media have brought to journalism and the development of information warfare. Not everyone is satisfied with how journalism has developed, but there is the mutual agreement that changes must be made in order to sustain the need and use for news reporting. Due to our dependence on technology, information warfare is a growing threat to countries during times of conflict but also in everyday situations. The world keeps developing new platforms and technologies that allow readers to attain current news and information. Journalists and news organizations must adjust accordingly in order to remain not only relevant but profitable.

Suzan Kirkman Zake:

Susan Kirkman Zake is an assistant professor in Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is the former Managing Editor for Multimedia & Special Projects at the Akron Beacon Journal, where she began work as a staff photographer in 1986. Over a 20-year career, she worked as an assignment editor, picture editor, graphics editor, assistant metro editor and assistant managing editor.

She is the recipient of numerous awards for her photojournalist images, the photography, graphics and design staffs under her supervision have been recognized locally, nationally and internationally for the quality of their work. She shares in three Pulitzer Prize team awards; for coverage of the attempted takeover of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.; for A Question of Color, which examined local attitudes toward race; and for coverage of Hurricane Katrina as part of a Knight Ridder editing team working for the Biloxi Sun Herald.

Mike Jones:

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working as a multi-media staff writer at the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pennsylvania, he also has spent time at the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginiaand Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

Gordana Knezevic:

Gordana Knezevic is the Director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service. Before coming to RFE/RL in March 2007, Gordana worked as an online editor with Reuters News Agency in Canada, occasionally contributing to the Toronto Star and CBC Radio while there. Before relocating to Canada, Gordana lived in Bosnia, where she was the Deputy Editor of Oslobodjenje, the internationally recognized Sarajevo-based daily paper – which never stopped publishing during the Bosnian War. For her work there, she was honored in 1992 with the Courage in Journalism award from the Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation. Gordana was an elected member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Board of Directors.

Daniel Moore:

Daniel Moore has worked for the Kent State University paper The Kent Stater for four years now. He’s worked as a reporter and editor since his first semester at KSU and he will graduate next month. He had only become editor-in-chief this semester. KSU is known for having one of the best departments of School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the United States. In March, Daniel went to Helsinki on a reporting trip.

Raymond Johnston:

Raymond Johnson has been in Prague since 1996 and he worked for the Prague Post in 1997 and again starting in 2013. He also worked at Czech Business Weekly and Czech Position (Ceska Posize). Right now Raymond is the editor-in-chief of the Prague Post.

Originally printed in Youth Time Maganize.

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.