New East Digital Archive

The best of 2018: our editors share their cultural highlights from the last year

The best of 2018: our editors share their cultural highlights from the last year

2018 has been a relentless year for bad world news, but, thankfully, it’s also been one full of exceptional talent making their mark on the cultural scene. From books and film to new media and fashion, read The Calvert Journal editors’ favourites from a year in New East culture

27 December 2018
Text: Nadia Beard, Samuel Goff, Howard Amos, Katie Davies, Anastasiia Fedorova

Nadia Beard, editor-in-chief
Bride and Groom by Alisa Ganieva and translated by Carol Apollonio (Deep Vellum, 2018)

Russian-Dagestani author Alisa Ganieva had a second book translated into English this year, which for fans of her wildly successful first novel The Mountain and the Wall (myself included), was great news. Bride and Groom follows Patya and Marat, two 20-somethings who return to their native Dagestan from careers in Moscow. Both face the same choice: give into their families’ pressure to marry and live out a traditional life in rural Dagestan forever, or turn their backs on their home and build a life apart.

The book is wonderfully transportive, and while full of beautifully rendered details of North Caucasian landscapes and traditional familial connection, it’s set against the unmistakable backdrop of the post-Soviet world; Marat’s role as a lawyer looking into the ghoulish murder of a human rights activist smacks of specificities that define some of post-Soviet Russia’s darkest moments. Most pertinent of all is the theme of generational divide which undergirds much of the drama between the characters. Though set in the traditional confines of a largely Muslim North Caucasus, this divide is a microcosm for a very real wedge between two distinct generations in Russia today, a wedge that’s become a powerful force in struggles from music consumption and social media, to what the future of Russian politics will look like.

Sam Goff, features editor
I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians, dir. Radu Jude (2018)

With the far-right on the rise across Western as well as Eastern Europe, the need for artistic reflection on the atrocities of the 20th century is as great as ever. With that in mind, Romanian director Radu Jude might be the most important filmmaker currently working in the New East. His most recent films have delved into the kind of dark periods of his nation’s history that are often misremembered, forgiven, or plain ignored; Aferim! (2015) was the first film to tackle to history of Roma slavery in the country. His latest, I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians, which won the Crystal Globe for best film at Karlovy Vary in July, might be his best yet.

In 1941, the Romanian army, in collaboration with the Nazis, captured Odessa from the Soviets. In the days that followed, and under the direct orders of dictator Ion Antonescu, between 25,000 and 34,000 Jews were shot, hanged, and burned alive in a massacre seen as the start of the Holocaust in Romania. Barbarians follows the effort of an artist (Ioana Iacob) as she attempts to stage a reconstruction of these events using volunteer actors on a square in central Bucharest. Throughout, she labours against the casual anti-Semitism and fascist apologia of her co-workers, the ignorance of the wider population as to the nature of the Antonescu regime, and the meddling of a culture ministry bureaucrat pressuring her to tone down the spectacle. Jude’s films have an unparalleled ethical clarity and self-awareness, and they’re not easygoing: this is a long, philosophically dense watch, featuring extended discussion of writers like Hannah Arendt and Isaac Babel. It’s also sickly amusing and viscerally uncomfortable, with one of the most upsetting finales of any film released this year. But that’s precisely what makes it a must-see. As Jude told The Calvert Journal in an interview after the film’s release: “I am only interested in history in which I can find a relationship with today.” Time to start paying attention.

Howard Amos, senior editor
Black Sea: dispatches and Recipes – Through Darkness and Light by Caroline Eden (Hardie Grant, November 2018)

Part travelogue, part recipe book, journalist and writer Caroline Eden’s Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes – Through Darkness and Light is a deep dive into the flavours and history of a body water that has seen the rise and fall of dozens of great civilisations. While she makes a compelling case for a cohesive ‘Black Sea culture’, preserved despite millennia of geopolitical confrontation, Eden focuses particularly on Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, exploring the vibrant culinary traditions of communities from Odessa’s Jews and the White Russians of Istanbul to tea farmers in northern Turkey. Her descriptions of food, landscapes and people are beautifully observed and the recipes scattered through the book are a joy to read, straightforward to make (even for unaccomplished chefs) and deeply evocative.

Katie Davies, news editor
Minsk Not Dead

Type Belarus into your favourite online image search, and you’ll be overwhelmed by three recurring themes: military parades, Soviet era monuments, and many, many maps for all those people who don’t know where Belarus actually is. (There’s also a picture of Steven Seagal embracing two watermelons, but that’s a different story.)

Belarus has struggled more than most to shake off its post-Soviet shackles— and that makes the 2018 launch of English-language travel guide, Minsk Not Dead, especially important. Created by the team at 34Mag, the site is full of audio guides and articles to the side of Belarus that Google doesn’t always show you: the parties, the fashion brands, and the creative scene. There’s also plenty of practical how-to tips which go above and beyond your usual guide book help, such as the frank, honest discussions in navigating Belarus if you’re LGBT. With the Belarusian government’s latest decision to extend visa-free stays for many Western nations to 30 days, Minsk Not Dead is leading the way to showcase Belarus as the upcoming New East destination it could soon be.

Anastasiia Fedorova, photo editor

I always try to keep an eye on emerging talent in fashion from across the New East, particularly after hype over the so-called Post-Soviet aesthetic has started receding. The hype for sure helped to put the region of the map, but it’s great to see new, more nuanced narratives emerging. One of my favourite examples is a Georgian label Situationist known for bold leather pieces and sharp oversized tailoring (occasionally worn by such A-listers as Bella Hadid). Irakli Rusadze’s vision is dark and seductive, and takes subtle cues from his Georgian heritage, be it the strong Georgian women he admires or the tradition of leather craftsmanship.

But more importantly, Situationist channels contemporary Georgian youth culture and its political potential, particularly when it comes to Tbilisi’s rave movement. Rusadze chose to stage his show at Tbilisi’s most prominent techno club, Bassiani, was a vocal supporter of Tbilisi’s rave protests in May and has numerously talked about the meaning of club spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s amazing to see how much the label’s aesthetics evolved this year, but also the way its team seeks to create links with like-minded creatives worldwide, including the people behind Berlin-based cult LGBTQ+ night Herrensauna. For me, Situationist is an example which proves that, as a creative, you can come from a post-Soviet country and be progressive and outspoken, care about your community, offer beautifully made products and diverse casting — and generally be open to the world.