Soviet Streets

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Hungary lost nearly three-quarters of its territory (including five major cities and seaport access) as well as more than half of its population in the Treaty of Trianon. In contemporary Hungary, a shared memory continues to build and solidify around nostalgia for this pre-1920 Hungarian state, which the Nazi-collaborating fascist government tried to restore during World War II. Jobbik, a far-right political party holding 12.2 percent of parliamentary seats, has effectively incorporated the Trianon rhetoric into its party platform. This graffiti of pre-1920 Hungary, depicting the utopian memory of an idealized nation-state, is found throughout Budapest in many different forms; this particular instance was observed near the Tuzrakter artist collective on the Pest side.

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As we found out on our travels through Prague, it can be considered ill-mannered to speak Russian to a stranger on the street. But it's not just about residual linguistic or even cultural dominance from Soviet days: Czechs are cautious of Russia's continued influence in the region -- the personality cult of Vladimir Putin being of particular interest.

Not far from the city's historical downtown center, we found a wall brimming with images and provocative political claims, such as "Isaac and Ishmael Were Brothers," and then this stencil describing a "Putin totality." It remains unclear whether this particular artist sought to depict Putin as a "total" dictator or rather as merely an aesthetically pleasing subject -- like United Russia campaigns presenting the political leader as nothing short of easy on the eyes. The chip off his nose poses a threat to Putin's political legitimacy, at least as perceived within this back alley near the Prospekt Mira metro station.

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The Group of Change, a St. Petersburg graffiti gang, posts political stencils across the city, an act that many Russians find to be an offensive desecration. Walking with a graffiti artist through Ploshad Vosstaniya, we came upon one of the group's many stencils, this one reading, "Modernization or Death." We asked whether the group offered a viable oppositional movement in Russian politics. According to this artist, in the eyes of a young, progressive Russian, political change was not imminent, nor was it even a present goal. People are looking for more incremental changes, like educational reform, governmental transparency, and a stop to everyday corruption, especially in the business and banking sectors. The goal of the Group of Change and others like them is not to completely overthrow the system but to inspire people to reclaim their rights, slowly, thoroughly, and from below.

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