Religion Class for Every 4th Grader in Russia

Jul 14th, 2012

Religion Class for Every 4th Grader in Russia

A class called the “Basis of Secular Ethics” is popular among the students. (Photo: Matthew Brunwasser) This year Russia required fourth graders across the country to take a religion class. There are six choices: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, secular ethics or world religions. Most Russians consider themselves Orthodox Christians, but most did not choose that class for their children. Matthew Brunwasser reports.

Al RTV, Russia’s First Islamic TV Channel

Jul 13th, 2012

Al RTV, Russia’s First Islamic TV Channel

It’s show time in the studio of the new Al RTV channel. “Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh” says host Rustem Arifdghanov, a seasoned Azeri journalist who also heads the channel. He says the mission is to reconnect Russian Muslims with their faith after 70 years of enforced atheism during the Soviet era.

Russia Remains Divided on the Pussy Riot Case

Jul 11th, 2012

Russia Remains Divided on the Pussy Riot Case

Despite 70 years of atheist Communist rule, Russia remains a deeply conservative society with traditional Christian values. Pussy Riot’s “punk rock prayer” was not received well by most Russians. But the way state and church officials handled the punishment did not go over well either.

In Turkey, President Obama in 55 Layers of Pastry

Jul 10th, 2012

In Turkey, President Obama in 55 Layers of Pastry

What is the size of a large cookie pan, made out of baklava, and looks like a lumpy version of the famous Hope portrait of Barack Obama? The “Baracklava”. The idea was cooked up in the Gulloglu baklava shop in Istanbul. In the shop’s six decades in business, only three other historical figures, all Turks, have been so honored. Owner Nadir Gullu says the portraits require enormous craftsmanship.

Extremism Law Curbs Religious Freedom in Russia

Jul 10th, 2012

Extremism Law Curbs Religious Freedom in Russia

This is what extremism sounds like, according to Russian law. At the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, worshippers start their bible study session with a song. No other religious group has been hit so hard by Russia’s controversial anti-extremism law. In the past three years, the church reports that state authorities have arrested or detained more than a thousand believers, searched 148 homes and buildings, and banned 68 publications.

Black Metal Bassist Elected to Greek Parliament

May 14th, 2012

Black Metal Bassist Elected to Greek Parliament

The election to parliament of a bass player from the Greek Black Metal band Naer Mataron has the Greek media scrambling to find connections between facism and heavy metal. Chaos, as Greeks like to say, is a Greek word. And Greeks might agree that the election of a Black Metal musician to a country’s legislature does not bode well for political stability.

Killings Heighten Ethnic Tensions in Macedonia

Apr 16th, 2012

Killings Heighten Ethnic Tensions in Macedonia

By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER SOFIA, BULGARIA — On Orthodox Easter, one of the most sacred holidays for Christians here, Macedonians mourned the deaths of five Macedonian men amid speculation that their killers were ethnic Albanians, arousing fears of a new bout of intercommunal violence. The men were fishermen, four were in their late teens or 20s and one was 40; they were found dead Thursday night on the shore of an artificial lake near the village of Smiljkovci outside the capital, Skopje. They were buried on Saturday.

Determined to Bring Out the Truth in Kosovo

Nov 29th, 2011

Determined to Bring Out the Truth in Kosovo

By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER PRISTINA, KOSOVO — She cut her journalistic teeth with the BBC as a 22-year-old fixer, helping television crews film in and around Kosovo during the 1999 NATO bombing war against Serbia. Now 33, Jeta Xharra has continued the punchy public interest journalism she says she learned from the likes of Jeremy Paxman, the British broadcaster known as host of the television news program “Newsnight.” In 1999, exposing wrongdoing seemed like an ideal common to most if not all Kosovo Albanians, united as they were by their fight against the authoritarian rule of Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia.

Concerns Grow About Authoritarianism in Macedonia

Oct 13th, 2011

Concerns Grow About Authoritarianism in Macedonia

By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER SKOPJE, MACEDONIA — The ambitious retooling of this small nation’s identity — a Balkan brand of hyper-patriotism accompanied by the trumpeting of Macedonia’s ancient roots — is raising concerns internationally about growing authoritarianism, the silencing of dissent and accusations of abuse of power by the governing party here. The European Commission released its annual report this week on the country’s progress toward E.U. membership, and found that the country was backtracking on protecting media freedoms and that it was making insufficient progress on protecting the rule of law.

Kosovo’s Serbs Pressed to End Autonomy Push

Sep 26th, 2011

Kosovo’s Serbs Pressed to End Autonomy Push

By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER MITROVICA, Kosovo — After years of impasse between the national government of Kosovo and ethnic Serbs demanding autonomy within their northern enclave in the new country, international pressure has intensified on the Serbs. And while the immediate result has been minor clashes, there is new hope for some movement toward a resolution for the last geopolitically unsettled chunk of the former Yugoslavia.