Geopolitics

Ukraine, Putin's Thick Red Line

Putin is doing everything to not be remembered by history as the one who "lost" Ukraine. Mother Russia's imperial face is on the line.

Putin and Yanukovych share not common religious roots
Putin and Yanukovych share not common religious roots
Wacław Radziwinowicz

MOSCOW — Under no circumstances, it should be clear, can Vladimir Putin let Ukraine slip outside the Russian sphere of influence. If Kiev chooses Brussels over Moscow, it would dim the glory of the “leader of the nations.”

Russians see in Putin a ""sobiratiela ziem russkich"" (the one who gathers scattered lands of Russia), a title that the current president shares with such Russian personalities as Ivan I of Moscow, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Joseph Stalin.

Sobiratiel” is the highest title that history may honor a Russian leader with. And today, the lands to be gathered are the former republics of the Soviet Union.

Even if Russians mock the independence of the three tiny Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) they have acknowledged that this ship has sailed west. Many Russians, recalling holidays spent in Soviet resorts in Lithuania or Latvia, admit that they never felt at home there.

The fate of the Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) is not an issue. Russians are persuaded that those poor countries governed by satraps with Communist origins, and threatened by the radical Islamists, will crave Russian protection anyway. In the end, a large portion of the income of Tajikistan’s population comes from money sent by their compatriots who clean the streets of Moscow or build the Olympics sports hall in Sochi.

Asians “will not escape from a submarine in the middle of the ocean,” as Russians like to say. But they may be mistaken since both China and the underestimated Turkey are very active in the region.

But it is most of all the two Slavic brothers that give Russians their biggest headache. According to Fyodor Lukyanov, a specialist on international politics and the editor-in-chief of the magazine “Russia in Global Affairs,” the western borders of Ukraine and Belorussia are for both the Kremlin and ordinary Russians a thick red line not to be crossed by other foreign powers.

Carrots and sticks

Minsk or Kiev do feel like home: the Orthodox churches look “Russian” and the overall architecture recalls the mix of imperialism and Stalinism seen in Moscow. Many Russians, if not the majority, do not even consider Ukrainian a different language, but rather a sort of “broken Russian.”

In July, during the celebrations of the 1025th anniversary of Christianization of the historical Rus region, Putin and the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill recalled that Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians come from one “Dnieper font,” and should therefore stay one big family instead of trying their luck elsewhere.

Putin has invested much in Ukraine. In his political career, there was no bigger humiliation than the one during the Orange Revolution, in 2004. He came to Kiev to support Viktor Yanukovych during the presidential elections and congratulated him twice on the victory over Viktor Yushchenko. And yet the latter finally emerged as the winner. Back then it was not just about ambitions and cold calculations. Personal emotions were involved as well.

Russian-Ukranian joint Navy exercises in 2012 (Kremlin)

Now, Putin is busy doing everything to stop the Ukrainian accession to the European Union. (On Thursday, he got some welcome news as Ukraine's parliament rejected a bill that would have led to the release of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, which may scuttle a key trade deal with the EU.)

The Russian borders have closed for products imported from Ukraine. The pro-Russian lobbyist like local communists, Viktor Medvedchuk (the former Head of Presidential Administration of Leonid Kuchma) and industrialists doing business with Russia work full speed to do Moscow's bidding. Russian TV channels available in Ukraine spread the vision of the disaster which joining the EU would bring on Ukraine: loss of the eastern market, poverty, unemployment, the end of independence.

Just in the last few weeks alone, Putin has met Yanukovych three times. The last meeting was secretly held at “one of the airports near Moscow” last Saturday, a Putin spokesperson confirmed.

Between the threats and temptations, the Russian president probably evoked an economic blockage or presenting his own candidate during the Ukrainian presidential elections in 2015. Cheap gas, loans and political support for Yanukovych would sweeten the eventual separation with the EU.

There is no such price he would not pay for going down to history as a sobiratiel.

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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