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Story January 12, 2015

This Week: Art and Politics in Occupied Crimea


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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Alexander Griboyedov’s 'Woe from Wit,' at the Crimean Academic Russian Drama Theater, three days before Crimeans voted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia. Image by Boryana Katsarova. Ukraine, 2014.


"I have called you together, gentlemen, to communicate to you a most unpleasant piece of news: an Inspector is coming to visit us," says the corrupt mayor in Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector, one of Russia's most beloved plays. "I'll tell you what it means," replies another of Gogol's characters. "Russia…is meaning to go to war, and the ministers, you see, have sent an official to find out whether there is any treason here."

There are knowing chuckles from the audience at the Russian Drama Theater in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. It's not so much a case of life imitating art, observes Pulitzer Center grantee Dimiter Kenarov, it's "as if art and life were indistinguishable from each other."

In a perceptive feature for the Virginia Quarterly Review, Dimiter and photographer Boryana Katsarova capture the moment in Crimea this spring when clumsily disguised Russian troops made their first appearance: "Two performances seem to be taking place in parallel: one inside the theater and another one in the streets outside, where soldiers in green balaclavas and no recognizable insignia—incognito, so to speak—have just arrived."


Oil is cheap these days, but it's not exactly flowing the way it once did. As Pulitzer Center grantee Jessica Hatcher observes in Newsweek, "the more oil we suck out, the harder extracting it becomes. Today, we're coaxing out sloth-like treacle, and going to great pains to move it anywhere after that."

The most famous example of this, of course, is the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would tap the Alberta tar sands in western Canada, but Jessica reports that East Africa is emerging as another key target area "despite its particularly waxy crude and the challenging socio-political operating environment, with corrupt governments, inter-communal conflicts, and cultural and environmental sensitivities."

Jessica has been writing extensively about plans to exploit 600 million barrels of oil that sit like glue beneath the arid land of Kenya's archaeologically and ecologically sensitive Lake Turkana region. "In Turkana, a large quantity of water will be required, which will be pumped in to displace the oil. But where will that water come from?" she asks. The aquifer that was supposed to provide the answer is proving hard to find. Other options include bringing water from the sea, a thousand kilometer, week-long drive away, or using the dwindling resources of the lake itself. "Clearly neither is ideal," she says.


Two months ago it seemed unimaginable, but last week it happened. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who remained enormously popular among the country's Sinhalese majority despite evidence that he was complicit in serious war crimes against the Tamil minority, was defeated in an election.

Pulitzer Center grantee Callum Macrae, whose powerful film, "No Fire Zone," documents the atrocities against the Tamils, anticipated the election outcome in an analysis for Britain's Channel 4. But Rajapaksa's defeat, says Callum, has little to do with the massacres at the end of Sri Lanka's long civil war. "Instead it is growing concern over nepotism and corruption and, in particular, the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of his brothers and, increasingly, his son Namal."

In February, the Pulitzer Center will be hosting a series of screenings of "No Fire Zone" with Callum on several US campuses, including Campus Consortium partners American University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of San Diego and Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor



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