Our editors' picks for 2011 take in political corruption, ambitious teenagers, forsaken orphans, endangered communities, embattled arts, and a fading lion of the right. As we look them over, we see that most share themes that TOL contributors explore time and again: survival, recovery, and growth.
Those impulses persist in even the perilous situation of middle-aged Uzbek women left alone to defend their homes against dangerous and well-armed enemies. Or in the struggles of a Srebrenica native to find justice for murdered loved ones while trying to remember the hometown he knew before it became synonymous with horror. Or in the dreams of a few teenagers in rural Kazakhstan to someday see the world and have a better life than their parents.
We won’t pretend that these 10 articles capture the breadth of life in the 30 countries that TOL covers, or that they say something universal about the people who live there. But we do think they tell gripping stories.
As Osh residents continue to flee the city, women are often those who stay behind to safeguard family homes. First in a series.
by Gulayim Myrzaeva
12 January 2011
OSH, Kyrgyzstan | The tragic and violent events of June changed the lives of hundreds of Osh families. Besides rebuilding their homes, Uzbek and Kyrgyz families alike have a mountain of pain and suffering to overcome, while recovering their trust in each other. And for many a fundamental question remains: do they want their children to live on their ancestors’ land? Read more.
Across Poland, local officials use public coffers during the campaign season to let the people know what a good job they’re doing. A TOL Special Report.
By Marcin Kacki
26 January 2011
POZNAN, Poland | In Jarocin, central Poland, Mayor Adam Pawlicki and Stanislaw Martuzalski, a top provincial official, clashed on the occasion of Teachers Day in mid-October.
Martuzalski, who was running to unseat Pawlicki, invited educators to a secondary school where he divided up 18,000 zlotys ($6,000) as a reward for “outstanding achievements.” Two of the eight recipients were standing as candidates for a local council on the same electoral list as Martuzalski. When asked about the propriety of giving his running mates the money, Martuzalski said it was simply a coincidence and suggested that a reporter check into what his rival candidate was doing. Read more.
Those dreadful, Soviet-era orphanages still exist in Lithuania, thanks in part to that country’s so-called pro-family policies.
By Violeta Davoliute
9 February 2011
At 9 years of age, Lina, not her real name, has lived in a residential school for abandoned children for as long as she can remember. And as far as anyone can predict, she will stay there until she turns 18. By that time, she will likely have been abused, become addicted to alcohol or drugs, lost what remains of her self-confidence, and prostituted herself for money or from a desperate loneliness. Read more.
The country’s theater is becoming popular, and provocative, again.
by Salimjon Aioubov
31 May 2011
DUSHANBE | At the heart of the old city center in the Tajik capital, a bulldozer is razing to the ground what once was a monumental market building. Called Barakat, meaning opulence, the Soviet-era market was once the most convenient place to shop for the city’s residents.
Now workers are demolishing the food stalls, knocking down the walls, and removing the fences.
Passers-by look on disapprovingly at the demolition work, but for others it’s a promising development. For on this site soon will rise the first theater to open in the city since 1977. Read more.
One man’s personal journey away from his Bosnian birthplace leads to a hope for reconciliation.
By Hariz Halilovich
28 June 2011
Possibly the only way to explain who you are is to remember who you were, and to take a mental journey into your very intimate past, to the place you left many years ago but you know you will always belong to – though you may never actually return, knowing as you do that the place and the people who made the place won’t be there.
This sentence came into existence in 2007, at a writing boot camp run by a historian who asked me to describe in one sentence how I saw the relationship between place, memory, and identity, a topic of my long-term research and a personal interest. Since then I have not only often returned to this sentence, but have made attempts to return to the actual place I left many years ago, which has proven to be a much more difficult task than re-reading my written thoughts. Read more.
Artists were unshackled by the enormous changes of 20 years ago, but that didn’t necessarily mean they thrived.
By Irena Jurjevic, Nino Chimakadze, Grigore Brinza, and Ksenia Korzun
17 August 2011
The relationship of politics to culture, but also the relationship of politicians to artists has been almost unchanged in this part of the world for an entire century. … Here, every regime requires that the artists serve them without complaining. Under communism in Yugoslavia we felt confined as artists and as humans. But the situation today is the same, and it’s even paradoxical. In today’s democracy, as an artist you’re undervalued and forgotten. Under communism the official [state] artists were rewarded and appreciated. People paid attention to their words and their work. Today, we’re allegedly free, but without any value or esteem. So you’ll never hear a party leader at any occasion mention some artist’s name, or say that art serves any purpose. And power is, as it was … in the past, in the hands of a small number of individuals who have infiltrated all institutions and get fat paychecks to make decisions that affect everyone. Read more.
The names of public spaces can pronounce who we are, what we believe, and who won. In some places, that means they change all the time.
by Uffe Andersen
22 August 2011
BELGRADE AND SARAJEVO | Residents of Lazarevo in northern Serbia are fighting to have their village renamed Mladicevo, after the former Bosnian Serb general who was arrested there in May on suspicion of war crimes.
For them, it’s a dream; for others it would be a nightmare, bearing the name of an accused mass murderer. So it is all over the former Yugoslavia, where place names come and go on the tides of war and politics. Read more.
TOL slide show: High up in the Caucasus, one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited settlements may be destined to disappear.
By Abbas Atilay
28 September 2011
KHINALUG, Azerbaijan | With the peaks of the Greater Caucasus providing a spectacular backdrop and a history stretching back 5,000 years, it's little wonder Khinalug has become a tourist destination. But while ethnographers and adventure travelers have come to prize this remote mountain village in northeastern Azerbaijan, daily life in Khinalug seems to be slowly dying out. Read more.
Six students and their Peace Corps teacher in a fading village make a bold try for something better.
By Dariya Tsyrenzhapova
15 November 2011
KYZYLZHAR, Kazakhstan | The clock was ticking, and Asemgul Maratova’s mind raced to solve 16 multiple-choice questions within a quarter of an hour. It was a Saturday morning in October and she was sitting with more than 700 14- to 16-year-olds from Kazakhstan’s northwestern Aktobe province, competing for a chance to live and study in the United States for a year.
The odds against Maratova and her five classmates were long – seemingly even against their making it to the exam room. Read more.
The aging standard-bearer of Russian nationalism appears to be on his last political legs.
By Aleksander Kolesnichenko
2 December 2011
MOSCOW | Elena Chinkova is a graduate student in political science at Moscow State University. Her thesis is on Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the old lion of Russian politics, and she is planning to defend it next year. But Chinkova says she is being urged to hurry.
“Wrap it up quickly,” she recalled her adviser saying. “Vladimir Volfovich was on TV today. He doesn’t look well at all." Read more.