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The History and Design Behind Prague's Concrete Apartments - Bloomberg

The real push for fully industrial building methods came from a speech by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, who specifically called for the use of concrete panel construction as an efficiency measure in a bloc-wide drive for more and better housing. Despite the Soviet incentive, the housing produced to meet this call was nonetheless not fundamentally different from much being constructed in the West at the time. The internal layouts of paneláks, and their arrangement into planned, self-contained neighborhoods, had clear contemporary counterparts in Western Europe , where Sweden, France, West Germany and Britain were also building mass housing projects on a grand scale. In keeping with this exchange of ideas across the Iron Curtain, the name given to this 1950s new wave of Czech architecture and design was “Brussels Style,” after Czechoslovakian architects gained international attention for their designs at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. What was markedly different, however, was the paneláks’ delivery method, and the social aspirations behind them. The idea in Czechoslovakia was to rapidly urbanize the country through buildings that could be reproduced using the same prefabricated components, creating not just new homes but entire neighborhoods and even cities. Catering to all levels of society and allocated by need rather than ability to pay, these new quarters wouldn’t be public housing along the Western model. Because there was no private housing to counterbalance them, they were simply — well, housing.  For their new tenants, these panelák homes often represented an improvement. Coming from tenements heated with coal stoves and often lacking hot water or reliable plumbing, many residents were relieved to move in. These new units offered central heating, balconies and much more light than you might have gotten in Prague’s existing courtyard buildings (akin to Berlin’s Mietkasernen). They also had more modern conveniences than the cramped cottages previously occupied by migrants from the countryside.

World War II's Warsaw Ghetto Holds Lifesaving Lessons for COVID-19 - Scientific American

Residents’ medical organizations and citizen self-help networks within the Warsaw Ghetto taught health education courses, and the lectures sometimes attracted more than 900 people. An underground university taught medical students. Scientific research on starvation and epidemics was even carried out. The model Stone and his team used for the epidemic’s trajectory indicated that without steps to fight the disease, the number of people infected would have been two to three times greater.

The human chain that unshackled the Baltic nations

That August day 30 years ago, Vaičekonis joined hands with almost 2 million people in what was then the longest human chain in history, a mass demonstration that brought the Baltic countries closer to freedom after 50 years of communist rule. Today, it offers a relevant, nonviolent template for pro-democracy groups fighting for human rights.

Auschwitz Memorial Asks Visitors to Stop Taking Playful Photos

“When you come to @AuschwitzMuseum remember you are at the site where over 1 million people were killed. Respect their memory,” the memorial tweeted. “There are better places to learn how to walk on a balance beam than the site which symbolizes deportation of hundreds of thousands to their deaths.”

Polarization in Poland: A Warning From Europe - The Atlantic

If you believe, as my old friends now believe, that Poland will be better off if it is ruled by people who deserve to rule—because they loudly proclaim a certain kind of patriotism, because they are loyal to the party leader, or because they are, echoing the words of Kaczyński himself, a “better sort of Pole”—then a one-party state is actually more fair than a competitive democracy. Why should different parties be allowed to compete on an even playing field if only one of them has the moral right to form the government? Why should businesses be allowed to compete in a free market if only some of them are loyal to the party and therefore deserving of wealth?

Polarization in Poland: A Warning From Europe - The Atlantic

Unlike Marxism, the Leninist one-party state is not a philosophy. It is a mechanism for holding power. It works because it clearly defines who gets to be the elite—the political elite, the cultural elite, the financial elite. In monarchies such as prerevolutionary France and Russia, the right to rule was granted to the aristocracy, which defined itself by rigid codes of breeding and etiquette. In modern Western democracies, the right to rule is granted, at least in theory, by different forms of competition: campaigning and voting, meritocratic tests that determine access to higher education and the civil service, free markets. Old-fashioned social hierarchies are usually part of the mix, but in modern Britain, America, Germany, France, and until recently Poland, we have assumed that competition is the most just and efficient way to distribute power. The best-run businesses should make the most money. The most appealing and competent politicians should rule. The contests between them should take place on an even playing field, to ensure a fair outcome.

Polarization in Poland: A Warning From Europe - The Atlantic

In a famous journal he kept from 1935 to 1944, the Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian chronicled an even more extreme shift in his own country. Like me, Sebastian was Jewish; like me, most of his friends were on the political right. In his journal, he described how, one by one, they were drawn to fascist ideology, like a flock of moths to an inescapable flame. He recounted the arrogance and confidence they acquired as they moved away from identifying themselves as Europeans—admirers of Proust, travelers to Paris—and instead began to call themselves blood-and-soil Romanians. He listened as they veered into conspiratorial thinking or became casually cruel. People he had known for years insulted him to his face and then acted as if nothing had happened. “Is friendship possible,” he wondered in 1937, “with people who have in common a whole series of alien ideas and feelings—so alien that I have only to walk in the door and they suddenly fall silent in shame and embarrassment?”

The Communist Cookbook Responsible for Prague’s Slow Culinary Comeback - Gastro Obscura

Cooks that wanted to deviate from these recipes had to get approval from the Ministry of Health, a request that could take years to go through. Most people opted for the easier route, which is how thousands of nearly identical menus came to be established across the country. Paired with limited ingredient diversity, the nation suffered a creative drought: It wasn’t just that all the same dishes were served, but the dishes were prepared exactly the same way, resulting in identical versions of dishes, too. Each bite was calculated as a means of productivity, and dining for pleasure was considered extravagant. “Special” meals were no longer considered, and the scope of Czech cuisine shrunk. Yet as NYU Prague sociologist Vanda Thorne points out, people were eating outside the home more than ever before. Children ate at school cafeterias, and parents dined at work cantinas. Since prices were controlled and salaries were largely uniform, everyone could afford restaurants. “Meals at home were often prepared from prefabricated components as there was a noticeable lack of fresh produce,” Thorne says. Though homemade meals weren’t as strictly regulated by the state, there was still little opportunity for originality there.

The Communist Cookbook Responsible for Prague’s Slow Culinary Comeback - Gastro Obscura

When communists came to power in 1948, citizens were hopeful they could return to a life containing more prewar luxuries. Though the quality of food improved, life under socialist ideas still proved restrictive. Twenty years later, when liberalization started to gain traction, the party saw a need for even stricter control. In an effort to consolidate power, they purged reformist officials from the government and established a range of restrictions on everyday activities. Eating was no exception. The state Restaurants and Cafeterias company soon issued a national cookbook entitled Receptury teplých pokrmu, or Recipes for Warm Meals. Dubbed “normovacka,” or “the book of standards,” it dictated what cooks in the country could serve in 845 recipes. Ladislav Pravaan, curator of the Gastronomie Muzeum of Prague, explains that the book even specified sources and serving styles for everything from sauces to side dishes.

Leaving in hordes: Emigration from Hungary – Hungarian Spectrum

It turned out that the number of Hungarians who since 2006 have tried their luck in the richer countries of the European Union is much higher than earlier estimated–close to a million. Determining how many subsequently returned home is close to impossible, but according to numbers provided by host countries of immigrants from Hungary, about 600,000 Hungarian citizens might currently be working abroad.

Piketty Thinks the EU Is Bad for Eastern Europe. He's Half Right. - Bloomberg

A billionaire owner of a private German company might stash them in an investment account in some offshore area or they could be reinvested in the Polish subsidiary that made them, pretty much from anywhere. What matters for a country is its ability to tax these profits adequately. In their race to be competitive foreign investment destinations, most eastern European countries don't overburden the corporations. And, given the prevalence of foreign companies -- as Piketty points out, they account for more than half of corporate assets in eastern Europe -- the foreigners end up contributing less to the construction of east European social safety nets and infrastructure than they do in their own countries. Instead, the local populations, who already earn less because relatively low wages are what attracts investment to the region, contribute more than people in wealthier countries in the form of consumption taxes.

Red Famine by Anne Applebaum — enemies of the people

Red Famine balances erudite analysis of political processes at the top with fluent storytelling about their impact on ordinary people. But the most interesting section comes towards the end of the book, when Applebaum deals with the question of whether the term “genocide” applies to the famine. She draws a distinction between Lemkin’s original definition — a process aimed at the destruction of national groups — and its subsequent rendition in international law after the second world war, when it became more narrowly defined as the elimination of ethnic groups. At the drafting stage of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Applebaum shows how the USSR lobbied to ensure the definition was associated with the race theories of Nazi-fascism, rather than its own attempts to liquidate national political groups in Ukraine and elsewhere. Applebaum accepts that the Holodomor does not meet the UN criteria for genocide. But she is right to say that it fits perfectly within Lemkin’s original definition. Readers of this compelling book will surely agree with her.

Grow up in a fog and you'll believe mysterious, malign winds move the world

Földi’s favorite theme is that Europe is at war. A war that was started by the United States and her allies and that by now has reached Europe in the form of the influx of migrants. They are foot soldiers sent by ISIS to destroy Europe. He is convinced that there is a whole intelligence network behind the refugees whose members organize the movement of the people. “This is a consciously planned, built-up system in which everybody to the last man is channeled in.” All of them receive instructions from the organizers. Földi believes that the intelligence agencies of European countries are fully aware of all this and that, if the fence is not enough, “if necessary even weapons must be used.”

Obscure German Tweet Helped Spur Migrant March From Hungary - WSJ

On Tuesday, Aug. 25, at 1:30 p.m., a government agency in the southern German city of Nuremberg posted a sentence on Twitter that would change the lives of tens of thousands of desperate people. “We are at present largely no longer enforcing Dublin procedures for Syrian citizens,” said the note, posted on the account of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

Congressman: 'synagogues open, all is well is Hungary'

Chairman Rohrabacher got many of his facts wrong, and many dangerously so, but, since he controlled the chair, no witness could challenge them.For example, he denied all evidence of officially stoked anti-Semitism in Hungary, following the Hungarian government’s line that it is open-minded and tolerant while only the far-right Jobbik party is anti-Semitic. In response to an attempt by witness Tad Stahnke from Human Rights First to explain that the Hungarian government is rewriting Hungarian history through monuments, textbooks and museums to say that the Germans alone were responsible for the Holocaust in Hungary, Rohrabacher mocked the witness and pointed to the existence of open synagogues as the only evidence that was necessary to show that charges of anti-Semitism are baseless.

Stalin pauses

In December 1941 Churchill sent his foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, to Moscow. The German advance forces had stopped short of Moscow but gunfire could even be heard beyond the Kremlin wall. Stalin said to Eden: “Hitler’s problem was that he does not know where to stop.” Eden: “Does anyone?” Stalin: “I do.” Those two words were not entirely devoid of truth. In November 1944 Churchill came to see De Gaulle in Paris. De Gaulle berated the Americans for letting Russia take over all of Eastern Europe. Churchill said, yes, Russia is now a hungry wolf. “But after the meal comes the digestion period.”* Russia would not be able to digest most of Eastern Europe. And so it was to be.

Is the birth of Novorossiya the death of Central Europe?

In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. […] Russian soldiers will have to create this state — how many of them depends upon how hard Ukraine fights, and who helps them — but eventually Russia will need more than soldiers to hold this territory. […]A few days ago, Alexander Dugin, an extreme nationalist whose views have helped shape those of the Russian president, issued an extraordinary statement. “Ukraine must be cleansed of idiots,” he wrote — and then called for the “genocide” of the “race of bastards.”

Ivan Klima's library

As he explains all this, Klima goes to the bookshelves that line his living room and starts pulling down thin volumes, typed double-sided on air-mail paper. "This is one of Havel's plays, this is a volume of Jaroslav Seifert's poetry." A neatly bound history of dissent. "In the end we managed about 300 titles in 18 years," he says. At first the police tried to confiscate individual samizdat copies during house searches but the words spread too quickly; they could not cope. It was a secret policeman's worst nightmare. "It was also," says Klima, "really what kept us going."

Ivan Klima recalls the early 70s

Klima began to fight back against these privations straightaway. "I organised a reading the week after we got back," he says. "I invited about 45 guests, which I'd worked out was the most I could get into our living room. And I prepared meatballs, 'Klima-balls' as they came to be known. There was some wine, and somebody read something that was newly written. That was how it went on, every week. I remember Havel read two of his new plays; Kundera, who was still in Prague at that point, came and read some things." After about a year, Klima's friend Ludvik Vaculik (the author of A Cup of Cof fee with my Interrogator ) brought along a man from Ostrava to one of the gatherings, a writer who had spent a year in prison. The man, who later committed suicide, had signed an agreement in prison to work with the secret police and he passed on the names of everyone who was there, and pictures were taken of people coming in and out. "So from that point," Klima says, "we were known." The writers were followed, and their houses searched. Meetings became more difficult but, Klima says: "We were determined to be in close contact." Someone suggested circulating typewritten pieces of writing, and books, as a way of continuing to spread ideas - samizdat ("self-published"). Novels or poems or plays were typed up - originally by Vaculik's girlfriend - copied, and circulated among the friends, to begin with in editions of 14 copies, later 50 or 60 and eventually, in an underground network of printing and binding and copying, several thousand.

Havel tidies, waits for the end

Late in his life, he remarked that he was moving about his country house, all alone, a battered old man, tidying up, making sure that his table was orderly, all the books piled just so, “fresh flowers in the vases.” Why, he wondered, was he doing this? Or rather, for whom was he doing it? It’s as though I were constantly expecting someone to visit. But who? … I have only one explanation: I am constantly preparing for the last judgement, for the highest court from which nothing can be hidden.

Havel needs a beer

By the 1980s, before Gorbachev and glasnost, Havel sensed his growing authority. When the American Embassy in Prague gave parties, visiting writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Albee, and Philip Roth sought him out. When Havel ran out of beer at a gathering in his Prague apartment, the cop assigned to surveil him volunteered to go to a nearby pub to refill his jug. This was when he knew that power was flowing his way.

Czechoslovakia in the 70s

In January 1969, Jan Palach, a philosophy undergraduate, burned himself to death in Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet invasion. Unlike most of his fellow dissidents, Havel did not react to Palach’s death with tears, desperation, or hopeless rage. Instead, like the politician he was to become, he gave a television interview in which he declared, with strange—and up to this point uncharacteristic—bravado, “There is just one road open to us: to wage our political battle until the end … I understand the death of Jan Palach as a warning against the moral suicide of all of us.” Moral suicide—taking a job with the regime, informing on your erstwhile dissident friends—became a standard if depressing mode of collaboration in the 1970s. The parallel polis collapsed, leaving the few remaining dissidents to face the full pressure of the regime alone. Of that long decade, Zantovsky writes, “few … can imagine the twilight mood, the torpor, which resembled a state of semi-anaesthesia.”