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Required Reading

This list of books was created to provide you with the tools to understand the history of Ukraine and the factors that have led to today. Most of the titles selected are more recent works that take into account pivotal moments from the last couple of decades. Perhaps most importantly, it aims to provide a balanced discussion, offering some of the different perspectives interwoven in the country’s complex history. As providers of free access to information at the Library, we hope the books in this list empower you to form an educated understanding of Ukraine and the role that it plays in a broader region.

Washington media has a long history of cooking up overbaked puff pieces on murderous autocrats — especially when those autocrats are key U.S. allies. The Atlantic’s April cover story, “Absolute Power,” about MBS — which was written by Graeme Wood and included interviews conducted along with the magazine’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg — is part of this tradition, a case study in everything that is wrong with access journalism and the immoral fixation on powerful, brutal men.

Early in the article, Wood performs intellectual gymnastics to try to justify the lengthy whitewashing to come. “I’ve been traveling to Saudi Arabia over the past three years, trying to understand if the crown prince is a killer, a reformer, or both,” Wood writes.

The piece checks all the boxes of everything wrong with so much journalism about Saudi Arabia under MBS. There are the attempts to make MBS relatable (“The crown prince was charming, warm, informal, and intelligent”; “he eats breakfast every day with his kids”). We learn insightful details such as how he prefers “Game of Thrones” (a show with a heavy doses of palace intrigue and medieval brutality? Who knew!) to “House of Cards.”

I recorded the interview, but when I searched for the file a few days later, it was gone! I ran the search engine a dozen times, used third-party software to scrape my hard drive, and even paid an Apple specialist to perform a more advanced search in hopes of restoring the deleted files. Still, nothing. Someone told me this was bound to happen since Mercury was in retrograde. Perhaps. But a similar thing happened exactly twenty years ago, when I recorded a conversation between Grace Lee Boggs and me and the cassette tape — my only copy — was lost in the mail.  

Just as I was about to break down in tears, I thought about something Waajeed said during our interview. He spoke about the need to go back to ancient technologies, to recover ways of knowing that can more effectively plumb the power of human intelligence and creativity. Invincible echoed these sentiments a couple years ago: “Sometimes the best technology is our human technology of relationships and communication, our human technology of understanding what our body and our spirit need, and what our creative practice requires that might not correlate with having a certain tool.” Losing the recording forced me to do the hard work of engaging the ideas and intentions of Complex Movements, to dig deeper into their archive, and to interpret and write their story in order to fully comprehend their journey.

  • Artist Emilie Lemakis, who is also a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, makes work about her own salary at the museum. Writing for the New York Times, Colin Moynihan reports:

In January, she began making buttons for herself and fellow guards that state how long they’ve worked at the museum and how much they are paid per hour. Hers reads “27 Years $22.65 HR.”

Though the buttons present as a gesture of activism for the guards, whose union is in the midst of contract negotiations, Lemakis said she did not begin handing them out as part of any campaign to sway management. To her, the buttons constitute an art project: a commentary on time and money, and a statement that people are not defined by their incomes.

“I had this fantasy of everyone who worked in the museum wearing a button,” she said recently, adding: “A lot of people feel ashamed by what they make and I think that’s wrong.”

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In its annual report, released Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center said it identified 733 active hate groups in 2021, down from the 838 counted in 2020 and the 940 counted in 2019. Hate groups had risen to a historic high of 1,021 in 2018, said the law center, which tracks racism, xenophobia and far right militias.

The number of anti-government groups fell to 488 in 2021, down from 566 in 2020 and 576 in 2019. Such groups peaked at 1,360 in 2012, the year former President Barack Obama was elected to a second term.

The specificity with which this new technology is able to determine individual origins is staggering. For example, one of us, Henry Louis Gates Jr., knows, purely through his DNA, that he is descended from an Irish American man who fathered his great-great-grandmother’s oldest son, because Dr. Gates’s y-DNA signature is one that he shares with a ton of men in Ireland. CeCe Moore, a well-known genetic genealogist, has identified that forebear’s name and biographical details, long a mystery in the Gates family, by analyzing the family trees of all of the people with whom Dr. Gates shares DNA in publicly available databases. On his mother’s line, he is descended from a white woman, most likely from England, who had a child with a man of sub-Saharan African descent at some point during the time of slavery, though their identities have been lost.

It would be an understatement to say that he was astonished to learn that his recent ancestral mutations trace back equally to sub-Saharan Africa and to Europe. As a friend of his joked: Who could have guessed that a Black scholar who has spent so much of his professional life searching for his long-veiled African ancestry would finally find it — only to discover that he’s half a white man. That friend’s joke allowed him to make a point: There is no category for white in genetic analysis; half of his ancestry traces back to regions in Europe. We should never forget that whiteness, like Blackness, is just another social fiction.

If you’re not accustomed to the culture of Bukharians, you’d probably assume they were Russian. Like Russians, their style dress code is flash-centric but also modest, according to hairstylist Yana Nek of @hairbyyananek. “If you want to talk about Bukharian women specifically, we like to go all out; we are into extreme things sometimes; we like to stand out,” she says. Tonight, she looks like an inky-haired Old Hollywood star with her red lips and a fur shawl. “I am big into vintage; I like to mix the old with the new and make it my own style,” she says. “I would say they [my sisters] learn from me.” During our 10-minute talk, we are interrupted by three men at three different times who come to introduce themselves. We’re the belles of the ball-echka.

While the styles of Bukharian dress are mostly modern leaning, there are some slight echoes of the past world. Many of the older women are religious and some wear the traditional remoll, a head covering often worn in Uzbekistan. There is an air of modesty here, something that is common within Bukharian communities. Religious figure and matriarch Hana Layliev, whose hair is covered out of respect and whose nails are painted to perfection, tells me that everyone is here for one purpose and one purpose only: “It’s our mission to help people.”

  • There appears to be some backlash in Russia against the artistic elites, and a new song by a Leningrad band (Sergey Shnurov and Zoya) pokes fun at the fleeing artists and others (apparently thousands of artists have fled to neighboring countries) who have left Russia:

Generally, no, but it depends on what they’re screenshots of. For example, if someone takes a screenshot of someone’s profile picture or post, Instagram won’t notify you. However, if someone takes a screenshot of a disappearing photo or video sent privately to them through a direct message, then that’s another story.

ISD found at least ten accounts operated by RT on TikTok. Until 16 February, one of the most active channels, a Russian-language account with 16,900 followers, was used to post daily one-minute, edited round-ups of RT’s main headlines, with little mention of Ukraine. Since then, the account has changed tack to focus solely on Ukraine content and instead of daily news summaries, is now used to publish individual news clips about Ukraine, including videos featuring remarks from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and conflict footage from Donbass. 

One such video features footage which RT claims to show Ukrainian forces setting up Grad rocket equipment within a residential area, which the outlet alleges is designed to provoke return fire on local residents. Following an EU ban on Russian state media on 28 February, all videos on this TikTok account were geoblocked within the European Union.

One of RT’s largest English-language accounts, with 96,000 followers, has not completely focused on Ukraine, with recent videos covering US news events such as the populist anti-mandate convoy. 

The most popular video from the account, posted on 27 February and viewed 6.5 million times in two days, is a recent post featuring footage of what are said to be Ukrainian soldiers from Snake Island “who laid down their weapons and voluntarily surrendered” and are seen being provided with food and water. The post continues; “the same soldiers were recently reported as dead at the hands of the Russian military, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.” Another popular video, detailed in a later section, features the opinions of sympathetic (to Russia) American citizens who appear to be indifferent towards the conflict. As of 28 February, this account is also geoblocked within the EU.

  • The jokes around the freezing of Russian assets in the West were a little uncomfortable and weird this week, and this real estate TikToker‘s attempt at making light of the situation is no exception:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.



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