Three decades have passed since the so-called Eastern Bloc crumbled and people across the region – be it Warsaw, Tallinn, Chishinau or Tbilisi – are starting to get tired of being bundled together just because of a shared traumatic past.
Yet many media continue to cover the region as if it was a quasi-homogeneous land of tractors, vodka and repressive politics, a depressing yet romanticized Wild East of Europe.
Outriders is a non-profit media start-up based out of Warsaw is now trying to change that with Unblock – a Facebook group turned digital magazine for Eastern European countries to cover their processes and problems. The name is based on the idea of Unblocking them.
“Outriders is launching a new magazine about Belarus, Ukraine and FSU countries. Among the authors, the fabulous Piotr Andrusieczko, 2014 journalist of the year in Poland, and myself.” Hanna Liubakova, one of the authors, announced on her Facebook, promising “Much more to come”.
The project was launched just days ahead of the rigged Belarusian elections, following which the country has witnessed wide scale violence and internet shutdowns [Editor’s note: follow @hannaliubakova and @outriders for latest developments].
The idea was born out of a Polish-language Facebook “Telegram z Ukrainy”, in which the Kyiv-based Andrusieczko would provide some political news mixed in with a lot of commentary about life and ordinary people in Ukraine in a somewhat intimate setting.
Unblock follows in that same anti-parachute journalism vein, telling the story through the eyes of locals for a specific niche, but global audience in both English and Polish. In parallel to the main site, a private Facebook group helps involve the audiences and have more direct discussions.
Why one would launch a magazine dedicated to a Bloc of countries, while at the same challenging the existence of that Bloc is a thorny question without a clear answer, as the team admits themselves.
“Unblock is a new magazine about Ukraine, Belarus and Russia as well as other countries of the Eastern Bl… Well…,” the project’s description starts with a hint of self-irony. Digging a bit deeper, it lays out how East and West are concepts constantly being redefined, which requires a fresh start in understanding the region.
“[We] want to look and write about „Eastern Europe” in a different way,” the Unblock team concludes.