December 10, 2007

Deadline: Kosovo

Kosovo declared that it would declare independence from Serbia as of today, December 10. Whether or not this happens, it has far-reaching ramifications for relations among Southeast European countries, their ethnic groups, and internationally. Here's a round-up of recent news:

The Economist: "Awaiting Independence"
NY Times/Reuters: "EU Close to Unity on Kosovo"
Time: "At an Impasse Over Kosovo"
CNN: "Kosovo defiant as U.N. talks fail"

This is an interesting article on other geo-political ramifications - this time between Russia and Georgia- of the Kosovo debate:
From The Economist: "If Kosovo goes free"

Glimpse into Russia's future?

The media is reporting on Russian President Vladimir Putin's endorsement of a candidate to succeed him in the upcoming presidential elections in March. It's Dmitri A. Medvedev, currently the First Deputy Prime Minister. See the news:

NY Times: "Putin Supports First Deputy as Successor"
"Excerpts From an Interview With Dmitri A. Medvedev"

Radio Free Europe: "Putin Declares Medvedev His Preferred Successor"

December 3, 2007

Russian election news

The dominating news story coming out of Russia this Monday morning is coverage of the parliamentary elections. Amidst allegations of electoral trouble-making, and oppressive control of media and unequal coverage for all candidates, Putin's party United Russia appears very strong and popular.

Check out these links various sources for coverage:

NPR: "Russia's Putin Helps Party to Landslide Victory" and "Election Monitors Question Putin's Victory"

New York Times: "Russia Vote Criticized; Putin’s Plans Still Unclear"
"Voices From Russia: a Sampling of Voters’ Views"

International Herald Tribue: "Landslide election ushers in questions for Russia"

BBC: "Monitors denounce Russia election"

Transitions Online (this is a great source of news from East Europe and former Soviet Union, and you can subscribe to a e-news bulletin):
"The Easy Way Out"

Midwest Russian Poets

A group of Russian poets who have settled in the Midwest - Gennady Sergienko, Olga Shenfeld, and Lia Chernyakova - made their way to Hyde Park last week. Our friend Sasha Belyi, a student at UC, and DJ at WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago, interviewed them on the radio. I got my hands on the audio file for the show and posted it here:


November 30, 2007

Fulbright to Russia, website update

If you were checking out my last post about CEERES's call for applications for the Fulbright-Hays Summer 2008 Group Project Abroad to Russia, I want to point you to the website on our page where we're posting all of the necessary information.

I keep updating it, so keep checking back. And do not hesitate to contact me with questions.

November 19, 2007

Fulbright to Russia opportunity for K-12 Educators

CEERES is pleased to announce a call for applications K-12 educators to travel to Russia and develop innovative materials to bring back to school districts and classrooms.

2008 Fulbright-Hays GPA Short-Term Seminar in Russia
“Discovering Russia: Challenging Stereotypes and Media Myths”

Download application [MSWord] [PDF]
Download flyer [PDF]
*A full website is forthcoming.

June 19- July 23, 2008 [Tentative Program Dates]:
June 19–23 Pre-departure workshop at The University of Chicago
June 24–July 21 Seminar in Russia

CEERES, in conjunction with faculty at Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal, has submitted a grant application for a Fulbright–Hays Group Project Abroad (GPA) to lead a short-term seminar in Russia on “Discovering Russia: Challenging Stereotypes and Media Myths” for educators. The seminar will take place mainly in the historic cultural city of Vladimir, Russia, followed by trips to Murom, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. The seminar will be preceded by a curriculum development workshop/predeparture orientation to be held at The University of Chicago campus.

For some helpful background information, you check the website of previous similar programs held through University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign here:

Although the Fulbright-Hays GPA grant for this program is still pending (expected notification date: March 2008), we are proceeding with the participant application for the seminar to Russia. Please be aware that the proposed seminar is contingent on the grant funding approval.

Application Deadline: February 22, 2008 (postmarked)

For more information, please contact 773-702-0866, email

Mail application to:
attn Fulbright GPA
5835 S. Kimbark Ave., Rm 323
Chicago, IL 60637

Teaching Science, vis a vis Georgia

I ran into a fascinating article in the Chicago Tribune yesterday, Sunday, Nov 18. It's called "In Georgia, a missing link?", and can be found here.

It's about recent discoveries of pre-historic human and human-like remains in the fertile region below the Caucasus mountains.

I thought this might be of special interest to middle school and high school science teachers looking to bring a bit of international areas into their teaching. But it's also interesting in terms of the economics and state of research in the region.

November 14, 2007

Spotlight: Worldview

Chicago's excellent National Public Radio station WBEZ 91.5 FM produces a valuable and unique show on international issues, current, hot, and historic. In case you don't know about it, it's called Worldview. They cover all world regions, and put out a great show every day of the week. Here:

All of their shows are archived and downloadable, which means you can listen whenever it's convenient for you, wherever it's convenient. And, I think that makes for a very dynamic resource for teachers to use in the classroom.

I just want to highlight a few of their recent programs on the CEERES region. You can see the topics are pretty diverse:

The current crisis in Sakashvilli's Georgia, 11/8/07:

Steve LeVine on Central Asian pipeline politics and his book The Oil and the Glory [mentioned here numerous times!], 11/1/07:

The Perils of Gay Activism in Russia, 10/3/07:

November 12, 2007

new media @ CEERES

As CEERES grows and defines itself as a resource on The University of Chicago campus, and a resource for teachers everywhere, as well as for the general community, we're developing new programs and offerings. Part of the tactic is to put out materials on the web, and this blog is one of those means of conveyance of resources and information.

Today, I'd like to use the blog to highlight a couple of new items that we just posted on-line. We just finished our Bi-annual newsletter CEERES News. It's at press now, but you can get your advance copy in PDF form on our website at

We also contribute to CHIASMOS at the UC. CHIASMOS is an archive of video and audio of many of the public international and area studies events that our partner centers and we put on. It's at A few recent events that took place here this fall that are now available for viewing on CHIASMOS are: the talk by Robert Amsterdam, the legal counsel for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, entitled "Preparing for the Post-Putin Period", and the opening talk the photography exhibit "Time and the Sacred" delivered by the artist Pance Velkov. Soon to appear will be Steve LeVine's discussion of his new book "The Oil and the Glory."

I think I've also managed to stream a couple of radio interviews off of our website. One is an interview with Pance Velkov. The other is an interview with Heather Roberson, the writer of "Macedonia: What does it take to stop a war?", which she did with Harvey Pekar. [N.B. the beginning of each interview recording includes the end of the previous radio show, you get a special treat of music. Thank you to Martha Nicholas and Sasha Belyi for doing these interviews and providing the files). If you try to listen to these interviews and they give you trouble, please let me know.

In house, we're developing quite an eclectic collection of research materials on the various countries of our region, mainly through acquiring faculty collections over time. We're working on building a database of these materials right now, and at that the public will be able to search through what we have.

November 5, 2007

Cinema times

As I've noted often before, the CEERES region is well-represented in Chicago. Not just in its well-known ethnic populations and neighborhoods, but also in its constant cultural offerings. So much so, that I just can't keep up with the events before they've even begun.

Such is the case with the Greek immigrant film festival, concluding now at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown. It began in mid-October and is concluding tomorrow. But, there's another shot to catch a full run of films from our region at the Siskel. This Friday (Nov. 9 through Nov.15) the Lithuahian film week begins. Check it out.

October 30, 2007

It's time for Polish films

The Polish Film Festival in America is starting this week in Chicago, on Saturday Nov. 3, and continues through the month until November 18. Check it out here -

October 29, 2007

Kasparov's Day

Once again, here is a short post to report that this Monday morning's interview on NPR's Fresh Air will be with Gary Kasparov, the long-time chess grand champion, and now head of Other Russia (Drugaya Rossiya), an out-spoken opposition party campaigning against Putin's Kremlin. I recently posted a link to an interesting profile of Kasparov, his career and his political aims, in a recent issue of The New Yorker.

I think there is something very special about a country that celebrates a chess champion such that his fame would propel (and hopefully protect) him in a political career.

October 25, 2007

Steve LeVine on Fresh Air: "Parsing Petro-Politics in the Caspian Sea"

In my last post about Russia, I mentioned that journalist and blogger Steve Levine ( will be joining us at The University of Chicago to discuss his new book The Oil and the Glory next Thursday, November 1 at 6pm at International House. I just heard that he is going to be interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air this morning, Oct. 25. The show is called "Parsing Petro-Politics in the Caspian Sea." Fresh Air episodes are available as podcasts, so if you miss or want to listen to it often, look it up at

October 18, 2007

Russia Risen

It's not news today that Russia has risen to be a dominant political and economic power, both in its region and globally, since President Vladimir Putin has taken control of the country. Partly due to the dramatic rise in the cost of natural gas and oil resources, for which Russia is the number 1 and number 2 producer in the world respectively (oil went from $25 to over $80 per barrel in this period, and that price seems to be sustainable), Russia was able to pay back its multi-billion dollars in aid loans that were used bolster it after the collapse of the USSR, and Moscow now boasts as many resident billionaires as does New York City.

Some of the above information comes from a fascinating article in The New Yorker last week by David Remnick, author of "Lenin's Tomb" among many other non-Russian volumes by him, entitled "The Tsar's Opponent".

This renewed economic importance is soon to be felt here in Chicago. As if a direct symbol of renewal, American Airlines has just announced a non-stop flight from Moscow to Chicago to begin in June 2008. A conference on Russian business was held about a year ago here in the city. And the Moscow-Chicago sister city partnership is also being re-articulated. The International Sister Cities program, once an expression of good-will and cultural appreciation in the face of the cold war and the guarantee of mutually-assured destruction, seemed to lose traction and direction overall for its projects of diplomacy since 1992. Now a new focus may give the organization a realm for activity: the Chicago-Moscow committee has recently convened a Russian Business Forum. I received an email from the group just today, announcing a panel discussion entitled "Real Estate Development and Investing in Russia", on Tuesday, Oct. 30. [The cost to attend is $50. FOr more info, call 312.742.8497 or email]

Russian economic prosperity is only half the story. Under Putin, a former KGB spy, the state has re-centralized vast energy and media resources, degraded the heretofore fledgling democratic structures and developing civil society in Russia, and a new virulent strain of nationalism has taken the nation [and propelled Putin to remarkable approval ratings, up around 80%]. The Chechen war continues without regard for basic human rights, while international media attention strays farther and farther from the tragedy. Journalists that dare to report news in opposition to Kremlin prerogatives are routinely threatened and murdered (notably Anna Politkovskaya, for whom the one-year anniversary of her murder just passed).

Here at The University of Chicago, we were lucky to hear a talk given by Robert Amsterdam on October 2. Amsterdam is legal counsel to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the deposed Russian oil oligarch and former head of Yukos Oil, once the largest and most-profitable oil company in Russia, and who now resides in a Siberian prison, serving out an 8-year sentence on charges that are terribly difficult to unravel (basically, tax evasion), in a trial that was largely understood to be a show trial. Robert Amsterdam, friend and counsel to Khodorkovksy, is intimately acquainted with machinations of the Kremlin, and is quite out-spoken as a critic and in his fears for what these details portend for the Russia and indeed for the international community. This talk was part of UC's World Beyond the Headlines series, and will soon be available as audio/video podcast on CHIAMOS.

The next talk in the WBH series will be with Steve LeVine on November 1 [6pm, International House]. He will be discussing his newly released book "The Oil and the Glory". See for a bio, details on the book, and most interestingly, Steve LeVine's blog. Steve LeVine has been reporting on the politics and economics of the Central Asian region for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times since the fall of the USSR, and he is well-versed in the power politics and struggle for control of the vast energy resources contained in Russia and former Soviet regions, which still pay much attention to Moscow. This talk will also be made available on CHIASMOS.

Other than the economic ties that I mentioned are impacting US cities like Chicago, why should we as Americans keep paying attention to Russia, Putin and the internal politics there? Especially when Putin's presidential term is constitutionally limited and will end next May? Russia's regained economic power has emboldened its impact in global affairs. Unlike the US, Russia will speak to Iran. They have a relationship with North Korea. On top of vast natural resource exports (Europe is largely powered by Russian pipelines, which the Kremlin can shut off at will), Russia also exports military arms and nuclear technology. Though Putin and Bush seem to enjoy a special friendship, that does not curtail diplomatic stand-offs, such as we are witnessing with Bush's plans to install a missile-defense shield on Russia's doorstep, Poland. Today's headline in The New York Times is "Putin Warns U.S. Over Missile Shield."

Please join CEERES for these talks and keep looking us up for new resources. We are currently in the planning stages for a program that could possibly take up to 15 K-12 teachers to Russia. This is an important period in time to keep paying attention to and learning as much as we can about this country. I should never fail to mention that, while the politics can be daunting and frightening, Russia is ever a country of exceptional people, dazzling culture, and globally important and beautiful natural lands.

October 5, 2007

East Europe at Chicago Film Fest

The Chicago film fest began this week, and it runs until Oct. 17. There looks to be a strong showing of films from our region of the world (mostly central Europe; though a disappointing lack of films from the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia), so I decided to run through the program and list the films from our region in order to save you that step.

The full program is available here. The locations are spread throughout the city, and the program is rich with material.

There's an especially extensive list of films from Hungary, as well as an-person discussion with famed Hungarian film-maker Istvan Szazbo (Mephisto). The Romanian film 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS & 2 DAYS has already been generating great reviews for a year, and I hear that the Czech film I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND (OBSLUHOVAL JSEM ANGLICKÉHO KRÁLE) will be really good.

Below, I've culled the films from the CEERES region:

Director: Aleksei Mizgiryov
First-time director Aleksei Mizgiryov, who picked up the Best Debut prize at the Sochi Open Russian Film Festival, looks at the stark reality of Moscow through the eyes of Anton, a young war vet from the countryside. Anton’s rosy vision of the city, fueled by memories of a lost love, is quickly squashed on his first encounter with the city’s crooked cops. 82 min.
Wed 10/10 | 9:45pm | LM3 | EHHD1
Thurs 10/11 | 6:45pm | LM2 | EHHD2
Mon 10/15 | 7:15pm | AMC9 | EHHD3

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, 4 Months combines documentary-style camerawork with naturalistic acting to draw viewers into a raw, realistic world. It’s 1987, at the tail end of the Ceausescu era in Romania, and college roommates Otilia and Gabita live in fear and oppression. Gabita is pregnant, and together they prepare to meet with a cruel abortionist who asks them for more than money in return for his dangerous and illegal procedure. Romanian with English subtitles. 113 min.
Sun 10/7 | 6:00pm | AMC4 | EMWD1
Tues 10/9 | 8:45pm | LM3 | EMWD2

Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev
The power of The Banishment, like director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s previous film, 2004’s Golden Globe®-nominated The Return, lies in the information that is withheld from the audience. Alex hurries his wife, Vera, and two children from an anonymous city to the stilly, bucolic countryside, where Vera reveals to Alex a shocking secret—she’s pregnant, and the child isn’t his. Russian with English subtitles. 150 min.
Sun 10/7 | 7:30pm | LM4 | EBAN1
Mon 10/8 | 8:15pm | LM3 | EBAN2
Tues 10/16 | 4:30pm | AMC4 | EBAN3

Director: János Szász
Based on the infamous writings of Hungarian psychoanalyst Geza Csath, Opium peers inside the chilling confines of an experimental institute for the mentally ill in the early 20th century. Though the film offers plenty of hair-raising glimpses of archaic instruments and barbarous medical procedures, the focus is on the increasingly symbiotic relationship between a morphine-addicted doctor and one tormented patient, whose voluminous diaries offer a window into her ravaged brain. Hungarian with English subtitles. 110 min.
Wed 10/10 | 6:45pm | AMC4 | EOIM1
Thurs 10/11 | 9:30pm | AMC7 | EOIM2
Tues 10/16 | 4:15pm | LM7 | EOIM3

Directors: Krzysztof Krauze, Joanna Kos-Krauze
Savior’s Square, which has already racked up five top awards from the Polish Film Festival and four more from the Polish Film Awards, offers a devastating glimpse into a family’s struggle to stay afloat in post-Communist Poland. After losing his money in an apartment scam, Bartek is forced to move his wife and sons into his mother’s tiny Warsaw apartment. Personal hostilities within the apartment come to a boiling point as family values disintegrate. Polish with English subtitles. 105 min.
Tues 10/9 | 4:45pm | AMC4 | ESSQ1
Wed 10/10 | 7:00pm | LM3 | ESSQ2
Thurs 10/11 | 7:00pm | LM4 | ESSQ3

Director: Jirí Menzel
Czech Republic / Slovakia
Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, this irreverent black comedy blends razorship wit and blunt tragedy into a no-holds-barred social commentary. The King begins in the 1950s with Jan Díte (Ivan Barnev) being released from a 15-year imprisonment imposed by the Communists. Flash back to the ’30s, when womanizing Jan, an ambitious go-getter who longs to be a rich hotelier, hooks up with a fervent Aryan as the Nazis begin to invade. Czech and German with English subtitles. 120 min.
Wed 10/10 | 9:00pm | AMC9 | ESKE1
Thurs 10/11 | 6:30pm | AMC7 | ESKE2
Tues 10/16 | 5:00pm | LM3 | ESKE3

Director: Bollók Csaba
Beautiful compositions of a criminally unfortunate way of life make for an eye-opening, dramatic experience in Iska’s Journey. Daily, poor young Iska must salvage enough scrap metal from the trash heaps to keep her witchy mother in booze and cigarettes. One day she and a lovestruck fellow ragamuffin decide to escape to the place of Iska’s dreams, the seaside—but the journey could lead to an even worse fate. Hungarian with English subtitles. 92 min.
Wed 10/10 | 8:45pm | LM7 | EIZJ1
Thurs 11/11 | 9:15pm | LM7 | EIZJ2
Sat 10/13 | 12:00pm | AMC4 | EIZJ3

Director: Béla Tarr
Hungarian master filmmaker Béla Tarr follows 2000’s award winning stunner Werckmeister Harmonies with another black-and-white masterpiece that is at once dreamy, genuine, eerie, and breathtaking. After witnessing a murder, railway worker Maloin’s quiet life of seaside isolation changes forever. Forced to examine his thoughts on crime and punishment, Maloin begins to question his own worth and the meaning of his existence. Hungarian with English subtitles. 132 min.
Thurs 10/11 | 4:15pm | LM3 | EMFL1
Fri 10/12 | 6:30pm | LM4 | EMFL2
Sun 10/14 | 8:45pm | AMC9 | EMFL3

Director: Károly Esztergályos
Middle-aged Tibor, unhappy in his marriage and career, never considered bisexuality, but a manipulative 19-year-old male prostitute pursues him and ignites a sexual passion and artistic inspiration that Tibor feared he’d lost forever. Bold and affecting visuals lead us through a rocky relationship plagued by the human fear of aging as well as the potentially tragic interplay between love and sexuality. Hungarian with English subtitles. 94 min.
Fri 10/5 | 10:00pm | AMC9 | EMIN1
Mon 10/15 | 9:45pm | LM3 | EMIN2
Tues 10/16 | 7:30pm | LM3 | EMIN3

Director: Jim Loftus
Against the backdrop of a high-stakes Bulgarian election, this dense political thriller finds an ingenuous, low-level CIA officer and her disgruntled boss trying to strike a dangerous deal with the prime minister’s top political officer, who desperately needs to finance his campaign. In a world where information buys money and money buys power, everyone along the trade routes faces questions of duty and betrayal. English and Bulgarian with English subtitles. 117 min.
Fri 10/5 | 9:30pm | LM2 | ETRR1
Sun 10/14 | 12:15pm | AMC9 | ETRR2
Mon 10/15 | 9:45pm | AMC7 | ETRR3

István Szabó
Friday, October 12 6:45 p.m.
Landmark’s Century
Centre Cinema
2828 N. Clark St.
The always entertaining Hungarian director István Szabó (Sunshine, Being Julia) spends an evening at the festival speaking on the intimacy and the insight that can be achieved with the use of the close-up in film. Szabó has said that film has “one singular quality that no other art form can supply. The moving picture is capable of showing us a living human face in close-up: this ability is the source of its special energy.” In his carefully cast films, Szabó perceptively uses close-ups to convey what he has called “life’s beautiful changes, the constant movements of the human expression in the most intimate moment, in the moment of its birth.” Szabó received an Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film for Mephisto, one masterpiece in a trilogy that includes Colonel Redl and Hanussen. Now is your chance to get up close and personal with one of the world’s great film artists.

October 4, 2007

a whole world of graphic novels

One of the most dynamic forms of narrative expression- be it fiction or memoir- is the graphic novel. And I'm not talking about superhero comic books, though those are great, too. There are a whole slew of graphic novels now, and many of them are illustrating intense personal and historical situations from our region of the world.

As a reader, I find graphic novels-with their mix of whimsy, intimacy-to be a unique and often gripping way to express moments in our lives. I also think this form would be a great resource for teaching in middle and high schools about certain historical circumstances. As resources, these books and often their websites provide great contextual information for learning and teaching about these regions and themes.

Perhaps because the recent history of East Europe has been so tumultuous, and often hard to describe only utilizing traditional forms of narrative (novels, history books, films), there now seems to be a boom in graphic novels trying to make sense of, or at least represent the memory of, this region's events.

In my memory, what really launched the form of the graphic novel as a literary tool with deep emotional impact, was Maus: A Survivor's Tale, which was set in Poland during the Holocaust. Maus is written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman, and it depicts his relationship with his father, and his father's story of living to tell the tale of Holocaust. [In a turn of brilliant metaphoric graphic depiction, the Jewish Poles are mice, while the Nazis are cats]. When I was a high school student, the film "Schindler's List" was the chosen media to discuss the Holocaust in my school. I think Maus is at least as compelling, and perhaps more personal and accessible.

A recent publication has me excited, but I'm kicking myself for missing the chance to meet the artist. And it sort of picks up at the point of history in East Europe where Maus leaves off. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by the famous Czech graphic artist and MacArthur Fellow Peter Sis, was launched last weekend in Chicago. This is story of life in communist Czechoslovakia under the thumb of the Soviets.

Fast forwarding to more tragic events in Europe, we have Joe Sacco's account of the Bosnian war - "Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, 1992-95". Can't make sense of this complex conflagration? much less teach it? Here is a work of journalism and comic illustration that might be a useful tool, and is a great read as well. This is a genre that Sacco excels at. In 1996, he was awarded the American book award for a two-volume graphic novel account of the West Bank and Gaza strip, "Palestine".

Another very popular graphic memoir is Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. It's the story of an Iranian woman growing up at the time of the Islamic Revolution. It's actually going to be released as a film this year.

As a sort of instructive, optimistic, if still harrowing addendum to "Safe Area Gorazde", we have this year's "Macedonia: What does it take to stop a war?" I mentioned this book in an earlier post about the Republic of Macedonia (and I'll probably mention it again, because we're going to be hosting the creators of this book down here in Hyde Park!). It's co-written by important American comics writer Harvey Pekar, and Heather Roberson, a peace worker who spent time in Macedonia when the country was on the brink of civil war; and illustrated by Ed Piskor. Heather's website and blog about the book, and peace work in general, raises a very valid point - why do we focus on war and the history of those countries afflicted by war so frequently: in our media, and in our classroom teaching. Why shouldn't we work for, document, write about, teach, and celebrate peace, whenever, wherever, and however it occurs?

I am especially excited because Heather Roberson is going to be visiting Chicago this month. She'll be talking to schools; and down here at the University of Chicago, we'll have a chance to meet her (of course, this is free and open to the public, so anyone can come). She'll give a talk at UC on Monday, Oct. 15 at 3:30pm. Check the events list on the CEERES home page for more details. Hope to see you there. For a sneak peak at the author, this is Heather over here on the right, as illustrated in her book by Ed Piskor.

song and dance

After the summer festivals, fall seems to be the opening of the performance season in the city. Perhaps it feels like that to me since I'm writing from a university campus; all of the students have returned, their sports teams and a cappella groups have reconvened. But it's more than that in Chicago.

Here's a few entertainment options coming up in Chicago that could be of real interest to you if you're interested in culture from our region.

Georgian State Dance Company will be performing at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on October 6, 2007 at 7:30pm. The costumes will be authentic, and the acrobatics will be explosive. In the CEERES office, we actually have $5-off discount vouchers, so if you're on campus, come by and see us and we'll pass this on to you.

October 13 is the Macy's Day of Music, with performances by a wide range of groups and artists, including a few performing music from our region, not to mention the Chicago Symphony Orchesta with Branford Marsalis, and the legendary Tortoise. The entire event is free and open to the public - yeah! A pdf of the day's schedule and locations is available here. Performers of our region include-
  • University of Chicago's very own GOLOSA, a Russian folk choir.
  • LIRA SINGERS will perform traditional music in authentic costumes from various regions of Poland
  • CHICAGO KLEZMER ENSEMBLE, founded by clarinetist and music director Kurt Bjorling
Yuri Yukanov's Romani (Gypsy) Wedding Band will play at the Old Town School of Folk Music, October 26, 2007. One of my first blog entries was about gypsy culture and music- if you were interested in that, definitely put this on your calendar.

There's a World Music program at Symphony Center that is putting on "Spiritual Sounds of Central Asia", on Friday, November 9 at 8:00PM. This will feature music performers and ensembles from six countries of the region. Student tix are a reasonable $10, and the program will include some multi-media documentaries and text feeds to contextualize the performances.

For more music from our region, check out some of the programming happening at our local radio station down here in Hyde Park, WHPK 88.5 FM in Chicago. They have an expansive international music interest, whose centerpiece is Marta Nicholas' "Music Around the World" show on Thursdays at 4pm. Marta picks a rainbow of music and topics, and does some complementary interviews. Also, UC students Ksenia and Sasha have a hot little show on Tuesday's at 5pm that they are calling "Not Necessarily Russian". Poslushai!

September 20, 2007

All About Macedonia

This comics panel is from the new graphic novel "Macedonia, What Does is Take to Stop a War?", written by Harvey Pekar (of American Splendor, both the comics and the reknowned film) and Heather Roberson (that's Heather in illustrated form to the left), and illustrated by Ed Piskor. I just found out about this book and am very excited to read it, and this leads me to the theme of my post today. It's All About Macedonia, and for some reason it's converging on us here in Chicago.

That's great news for people who want to learn more or teach about a small republic of the former Yugoslavia that is little known, gets little media attention (which is sometimes good if that means that there's nothing too bad happening to report about), and whose language is little studied outside of its borders - a LCTL, or a Less Commonly Taught Language, in Education's parlance.

But a lot seems to be happening here in Chicago, and at The University of Chicago.

This is one of the few institutions where a student can actually receive instruction in the Macedonian language, one of the south Slavic languages that are in fact all LCTLs, and many of which are taught here.

Next Friday, September 28, 2007, we have the opening of a photo exhibit called "Time and the Sacred". It's a collection of photographs by Pance Velkov, a Macedonian photographer and cultural preservationist, who has documented sacred spaces and frescoes that often date back to the 11th century, and in many cases have been used alternately by Muslims and Orthodox Christians throughout their histories. The exhibit has found an impressive and appropriate home at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the U of C campus, and will run from Sept. 28 until Dec. 24, 2007. On Sept. 28, the artist will join us for the opening, and will give a talk on "Photographing Heritage: Art or Documentation." The picture above is one of the 37 images on display. The opening is open to the public, as is the Rockefeller Chapel every day of the exhibit from 8am-4pm.

This past spring, CEERES convened a workshop "Rethinking Crossroads: Macedonia in Global Context", which offered a venue for the new research being conducted in and on the Republic of Macedonia. The idea behind the title is that, often, Macedonia is defined externally, by the notion that it is a crossroads of other cultures and peoples and their attitudes; rather, the conveners of the workshop sought to address how is Macedonia defining itself, situating itself in its own global context. Paper titles and presenters at the March 31, 2007 workshop can be found here.

In the past, we've sponsored a showing of Macedonian film-maker Milcho Manchevski's Oscar-nominated film "Before the Rain" at Doc Films. The buzz is that he has a forth-coming film "Senki", or "Shadows", and once it's out, I'll bet we'll try to get it shown on campus.

If you'd like find out more about the Republic of Macedonia for the sake of personal interest, or if you're looking for resources to supplement classroom instruction on the region and the language, I suggest you start with SEELRC's Webliographies, which are available for 24 of our region's languages and countries.

Be sure to keep checking back here for more news about Macedonian-related events and resources. First, I'm going to pick up "Macedonia" by the Heather Roberson and the legendary Pekar and give it a read...

September 14, 2007

Film Fest Friday

I'm learning that Chicago is a city of festivals. Especially in the summer, one finds dozens of large and small neighborhood street fairs, cultural heritage festivals, art fairs, and music festivals. Even when it gets cold here, one form of festival is a staple of the Chicago cultural landscape - films.

Given the city's ethnic heritage(s) and appetite for the arts, Chicago plays home to many fine film festivals and series dedicated in whole or part to films coming out of East Europe, Russia and the rest of the 28 former Communist states of our region. Even under repressive Communist regimes, the level of film production was very high in many of these states, especially in Russia, Czechoslovakia (as it was then), and Poland (some may even claim that often because of the repression, the quality of art was higher), and that tradition continues. Internationally acclaimed films are now coming out of many of these states, including Romania, Bulgaria, the republics of the former Yugoslavia, the Baltics, and Mongolia.

Here are some current and upcoming film events. [This is by no means a comprehensive list]

Cultural Film Festivals
Film Series
  • Lech Majewski’s Landscape of Dreams, Gene Siskel Film Center, September 8-October 4, 2007. One of the strengths of the state-of-the-art Siskel Film Center is film series of directors' ouvres, regional films, and thematic runs. They also are able to show rare and remastered prints of films you could not find anywhere else. Recent examples of eclectic series at the Siskel include the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski; and annual EU film series; and Russian SciFi films.
Film Festivals
  • The 43rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival, October 4-17, 2007. This competitive film festival hosted at multiple venues in Chicago is sure to feature the latest films coming out of such countries as Russia, Poland, Romania, and indeed out of all corners of the globe.
Lastly, I need to mention that Doc Films, the venerable and venerated student-run screen at The University of Chicago has just posted its upcoming calendar. At Doc, each day of the week is part of an ongoing series throughout the quarter, and on the weekends they tend to show the latest popular releases. I haven't seen a detailed description of the films for this quarter, but if there are films related to the CEERES countries, I'll try to include something about them in this space.

September 5, 2007

Gypsy Wednesday

Gypsy Caravan

What really got me thinking about getting this CEERES Blog up and running is the incredible cultural entertainments and events happening in Chicago.

Last night, the Associate Director of CEERES, Meredith Clason, and myself (Jeremy Pinkham, Outreach Coordinator) took a field trip to the historic Chicago theater the Music Box to see the documentary film Gypsy Caravan.

Gypsy Caravan at the Music Box Theater

The documentary follows the Gypsy Caravan, a 2002 concert tour in the U.S. made up of 5 Romani musical groups from Macedonia, Spain, India, and Romania. I'd like to comment on some of the more interesting, eye-opening elements of the film. For one, the music, and variety of musical traditions, coming out of Rom culture is extremely rich and varied. I, for one, was not aware that flamenco music and dance, so associated with Spain, actually has its roots in the Spanish gypsy population. Nor was I aware that an old population of Rom still lives in India (in Rajastan, the supposed ancestral homeland of Rom peoples), though on second thinking it makes perfect sense. The film received favorable comparisons to Bueno Vista Social Club, and I only wish that we were shown more music throughout the course of the film.

There is much talk among the musicians in Gypsy Caravan about the commonalities still shared by these geographically isolated yet culturally linked populations, and about the common soul and rhythm of the gypsies. Something even more interesting to me are the elements that we are shown in passing that give context to the lives of the Romani in the places they live. We get the idea that the success of some of these musicians in the west provides the only income for some of the families and villages back home. One fascinating scene has an interview with a gypsy war refugee from Kosovo, who has found acceptance and assistance from Romanis in Macedonia.

Of note: one of the featured performers in Gypsy Caravan, Esma Redžepova of Macedonia, provided the single Čaje Šukarije for Borat.

I'd recommend this film for a number of reasons: experience great music; find out about a group of people scattered by time, diplacement, and prejudice, but nourished by their community and traditions; visit the wonderful Music Box theater.

[By the way, without meaning any insensitivity, I use the term gypsy, which is often regarded as derogative, interspersed with the more acceptable ethnic terms Rom, Roma, and Romani, because the use of the various terms show how identities are constructed, reinforced, and questioned over time.]

A little more on Gypsies

Watching the film also reminded me that there are other media resources about Rom music that I've been meaning to share. Influences of Balkan, Slavic, Gypsy, punk, jazz, and rock are fusing in lots of different bands in Europe and especially in the U.S. One of the more increasingly well-known bands is Gogol Bordello, based out of NYC, and who seem to be touring across the states all the time. The are fronted by Eugene Huts, a Ukrainian who grew up in the USSR and is a survivor of the Chernobyl disaster. Recently, I heard a couple great pieces of radio about the band and their music. These resources are available online and as podcasts:
That's all for Gypsy Wednesday. I'm sure there's lots more news, events, and bands I could profile in this space, but this media came to my attention, and I hope it's a jumping-off point.


Welcome to the new blog of The University of Chicago Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies. Check out the CEERES website for full details about what we do. Basically, we are situated at The University of Chicago and have funding from the U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Centers program to educate and encourage interest and scholarship about the wide region of the world which we represent. Our goal is to reach out beyond the University - to Chicago Public Schools and all the K-12, community college, and other university teachers and students in the Chicago area, to cultural organizations, to people who love music and art, to anyone who needs to know even a little bit about our region of the world to make sense of their own.

The CEERES Blog will serve as an informal, but hopefully informative space for students, teachers, and community members to find out about events (conferences, lectures, concerts, films - you name it) in the Chicago area and on the U of C campus in Hyde Park that are related to our region. We will also use this space to highlight news and cultural events that come to our attention and that we think should be shared - bits of information that are uniquely interesting. Hopefully you'll see what mean.

Your respectful comments and appropriate information to share with us and our readers are welcome and encouraged. This blog will generally be informative and objective. When opinions are shared, they are by no means indicative of the point of view CEERES or The University of Chicago, but are the sole opinions of the posters themselves.