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Pulitzer Center Update March 24, 2014

This Week: Russia's Political Theater


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Image by Boryana Katsarova. Ukraine, 2014.

Edging to the brink of civil war, Crimea has turned into a geopolitical crisis, perhaps the gravest...

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Crimea's Tatar minority are 'little fish that swim with the sharks.' Image by Boryana Katsarova. Ukraine, 2014.


Politics in Russia has always made for interesting theater, the current crisis in Crimea being no exception. So we were hardly surprised when Pulitzer Center grantee Dimiter Kenarov, who has been covering the drama for Foreign Policy, told us that he spent a recent evening in Simferopol at a performance of Nikolai Gogol's "The Government Inspector." It is a classic story of corruption, duplicity and how provincials always come out the losers.

"All Crimea's a stage and all Crimeans merely players: from the pro-Russian 'self-defense units,' who strut up and down the streets in their mismatched fatigues and red armbands, to the local teenagers who never spent a day in the USSR but guilelessly wrap themselves up in red Soviet flags and listen to Soviet marches, to the Crimean Tatars who try to stage a kind of counter-theater with their own rather defenseless self-defense units," Dimiter writes.

"The referendum itself, which took place on Sunday and resulted in over 96 percent support for a union with the Russian Federation, was nothing more than theater-of-the-absurd: A group of people pretending to make a choice and others pretending to scrutinize the objectivity of that choice, while in fact there was no choice at all. In a sense, even we, the journalists reporting from Crimea, are at times complicit in that theater by pretending we are covering a real event—as problematic as the term 'real' is—rather than a staged one."

Unfortunately, Dimiter did not get to watch the whole performance of the Gogol play. During an intermission, he checked his Twitter account and learned that masked men, armed with automatic weapons, had barged into the hotel where most of the international journalists covering the referendum were staying. Dimiter grabbed his coat and ran out to cover a live drama.


Saturday was World Water Day, and Pulitzer Center grantee Sam Loewenberg marked the occasion with two timely reports. In a video and article from Kenya for The Lancet, Sam makes the point that "water and sanitation are arguably two of the most crucial factors in health and nutrition, and yet they are among the least addressed, often falling into the cracks between the humanitarian and development portfolios."

Sam notes that issue is only becoming more urgent. "By 2025, two-thirds of the world's population could be living in 'severe water stress conditions,' according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. Seven hundred eighty-three million people do not have clean water and 2.5 billion lack hygienic sanitation."

In a piece for Al Jazeera America, Sam looks at how an innovative project in Uganda linking entrepreneurial opportunity and simple technology to overflowing latrines holds promise for other developing countries.

The technology is the "Gulper," a 2-meter-long PVC and stainless steel hand pump used to empty out pit latrines. The brainchild of a British engineer, the Gulper is inexpensive, easy to operate and can navigate the narrow lanes and alleys of Kampala's slum districts that large sewage removal trucks can't.

"The idea of turning sanitation into a small business in Kampala originated with Water for People, a Denver-based non-profit that brought the Gulper to the city by contracting with a local manufacturer to make and sell it," writes Sam. "Now the non-profit is working with the entrepreneurs to try and set up an association and certification scheme. After just one year, the businesses in Kampala are self-sustaining, or at least trying to be."





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