BANGLADESH: Podcasts

National Martyrs’ Monument, Dhaka – Source

I got fooled several times looking for interesting podcasts from Bangladesh – there’s a lot of good stuff out there, but while the titles and descriptions are in English, the podcasts themselves are most often in Bengali – you don’t find that out until you’ve already downloaded and started to listen! While English is used in higher education in Bangladesh, despite/because of the colonial history (see French in Algeria), it doesn’t serve as a lingua franca like it does in India, as the vast majority of Bangladesh’s population speaks Bengali. That means a lot of podcasts and interviews with Bangladeshis in English are from outside sources, especially India or Britain.

BBC History Hour: The Birth of Bangladesh – A really useful primer on the creation of Bangladesh, with interviews and archival news clips. This overview covers Partition, the 1970 Pakistan election and the refusal of leaders in West Pakistan to transfer of power to Sheikh Mujib, Operation Searchlight, the Independence War, the effect on civilians (especially women), and India’s intervention on the side of East Pakistan/Bangladesh.

Cricket with an Accent: Mohammad Isam talks about the Bangladesh Cricket Landscape – I still have only the vaguest sense of the rules of cricket, but this interview with a Bangladeshi sports journalist is less on the game itself, and more on Bangladesh’s struggles to build an internationally strong cricket team, and how money and political influence play a big part in professional cricket and sports journalism in the country.

Naan Curry with Sadaf and Archit: How to eat like a Bangladeshi with Dina Begum – Another cross-border interview, this one between Indian and Bangladeshi food experts. They cover the differences between the cuisines of West Bengal (Indian side, around Calcutta) and East Bengal (Bangladesh), as well as Pakistan, and how options for South Asian cuisine are slowly diversifying in Western countries.

Desi Crime Podcast: Hercules: The Vigilante Killer – If you’re a true crime fan, this podcast covers all kinds of stories from across the subcontinent. This episode looks at the case of a vigilante killer in Bangladesh murdering men who had assaulted young women, with a larger discussion on police corruption, the crisis levels of rape in South Asia, the pressures on victims’ families, and the ethics of vigilantes.

Bangladeshi Trailblazers – Interviews with Bangladeshi entrepreneurs, with a focus on young female entrepreneurs. I listened to the episode Finding spaces in Dhaka with Farhia Tabassum, who co-founded the app Chaya, which is like an AirBnB but for photoshoot locations, and then has expanded into rentals for individuals, especially women.

The World: Tintin in Bangladesh – A short, fun podcast with radio personality Zahidul Haque Apu, who during the pandemic started drawing covers for fictional Tintin books set in Bangladesh. While Tintin never visited Bangladesh (he did go to India, Nepal, and China, among others), these are fun what-ifs. The podcast also touches on comics in Bangladesh, where Tintin is particularly beloved, to the point where people assume it’s a local comic (old colonial stereotypes aside). I loved Tintin comics as a kid – these are just great.

UKRAINE: More podcasts

The Kyiv Tram CafeSource

Part 2 of interesting podcasts from and about Ukraine – Part 1 is here.

BBC History Hour: Ukrainian History Special – An overview from the BBC of major events in Ukraine’s history from the past century, with reporting from the period and modern analysis. It’s particularly the events that are well known outside of Eastern Europe: The Holodomor, Babi Yar, Chernobyl, but also Crimea as a Soviet holiday hotspot.

Remember What’s Next: The History of Ukrainian Jews – A Jewish history podcast looking at the larger history of the Jewish community in what is now Ukraine. Covers the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, the Pale of Settlement, the origin of the shtetl and Hassidism, and pervasiveness of antisemitism in both Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine Without Hype: Russian Imperial AntisemitismUkraine Without Hype is a really good quality Ukrainian-based podcast; the first half covers recent news, including war updates, while the second half is in-depth interviews and discussion. This episode also looked at antisemitism and the war in Ukraine, building off the Russian Foreign Minister’s insane conspiracy theory comments about Jews. The episode looks at the use of conspiracy theory and antisemitism as part of “Russification” and larger Russian expansionist aims into Ukraine.

Krynytsya – The Well: War in Ukraine: Natalie Jaresko talks about what it will take to rebuild Ukraine – An interview with Natalie Jaresko, the Ukrainian Minister of Finance from 2014-2016, on what will be needed to rebuilt Ukraine’s economy once the war ends, and who should pay for it (spoiler: Russian reparations from sanctioned individuals).

Black Diplomants: War in Ukraine with Inna Sovsun – An interview in a Kyiv coffee shop with Inna Sovsun, a Member of Parliament with the opposition Holos Party and university professor. She covers how life has changed since the Russian invasion, both personally and in the workings of the Ukrainian government.

Nash Holos: Ukrainian Roots Radio – A regular podcast focused on the Ukrainian-Canadian community. There’s episodes of Ukrainian music and culture, artists and exhibits between Ukraine and Canada, book reviews, and updates on the war and helping Ukrainian refugees get to Canada.

UKRAINE: Podcasts

There’s a LOT of podcasts on Ukraine available right now, mainly focused on the the Russian invasion and analysis about Ukraine’s future. As always, I’m trying to prioritize podcasts that by Ukrainians or feature Ukrainian voices, though there’s plenty of good material out there otherwise – understandably, Ukraine has been on everyone’s mind lately. Here’s what I’ve been listening to over the last few weeks:

BBC: Ukrainecast – A daily podcast that the BBC started when the Russian invasion happened, focusing just on stories, interviews, news, and analysis on Ukraine and the war.

Highlights from Ukraine – To bolster the previous podcast, Highlights from Ukraine is a short summary in English of what’s in Ukraine’s media that day. It’s run by Ukrainians, and gives even better coverage of internal politics that may not make it into foreign reporting.

UkrainianSpaces: Queer Pride – UkrainianSpaces is an English language podcast that gets into discussions on Ukrainian life, culture, and reality that may be missing from foreign narratives. This episode is both on and by Ukraine’s LGBTQ community. The hosts speak with one of the organizers of Kyiv Pride, who has been getting requests from foreign media to comment on how the war has affected them and the community. However, the media has been asking for stories of suffering, and ignoring the stories of Queer Ukrainians fighting the invasion, or how Ukraine had been making significant strides for the community before the war. Really interesting and introspective podcast.

Fighting For Ukraine – Short daily updates from Yuriy Matsarsky, an Ukrainian journalist who is actively fighting in a civilian militia. Warzone updates, what he’s seeing on the ground, and what he’s feeling as a Ukrainian fighting for his homeland. He also has a GoFundMe up to help support him and his family – they’ve left the country and like all fighting-age men, he is staying.

The Conversation: The history and evolution of Ukrainian national identity – A really interesting podcast with discussion on the creation of Ukrainian identity out of both the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, and how it waned during the Soviet years, and is now being recreated – pushed by opposition to Russia.

Deconstructed: The War Over Ukrainian History and Identity – An interview from the Intercept with an Ukrainian sociologist that takes a bit of a different spin from the above podcast. It’s a more non-nationalist interpretation of Ukrainian identity looking at how the Ukrainian government is structuring identity, and the problem of corruption and oligarchs in Ukraine that has rarely been spoken about since the invasion started.

UKRAINE: In Isolation: Dispatches from Occupied Donbas by Stanislav Aseyev

Stanislav Aseyev is a Ukrainian journalist and writer from Donetsk, who first gained notice for writing for Ukrainian papers about the reality on the ground in the Russian-backed breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic. He was jailed in 2017 by separatist militants, tortured, and was eventually released in 2019 as part of a prisoner exchange. In Isolation: Dispatches from Occupied Donbas is a collection of his writings from 2014 to 2017, the last piece “A Knack for Losing Things” written while being held captive. After his release, he wrote his memoirs about the ordeal in The Torture Camp on Paradise Street.

The translation and release of In Isolation into English last month is extremely timely, not just because the world’s attention is on Ukraine, but because this gives some well-needed nuance and complexity to the war. Aseyev himself is pro-Ukrainian, and watched how propaganda, economic desperation, and a nostalgia for the Soviet past turns his friends and neighbours from Russian-speaking Ukrainian nationals to ardent supporters of the DPR as a breakaway republic. It’s an incredible study of shifting identity and the re-establishment of the idea of “Novorossiya“, while showing the absurdity of war – little old ladies crossing monthly back into Ukraine to double up their pension, voting in in the DPR’s “primaries”, the merging of Orthodox Christianity with old Soviet holidays, and the lives of separatist militias shaking down cars at checkpoints for cash.

The ominous part of the book is that it lets you extrapolate what’s now happening in the Donbas, where the Ukrainian-Russian war is now centred. Repelling a Russian invasion from proudly Ukrainian locations is one thing, but fighting over parts of Ukraine that have felt cut off (and have cut themselves off) from “the mainland”, have been building a pro-Russian identity for almost a decade, and have been living in a state of war for just as long? Unfortunately, no matter how else things fall between Russia and Ukraine, things are going to stay ugly in Donetsk for a while.

UKRAINE: Jewish Chernobyl

The ruins of Chernobyl’s synagogue – Source: Pierpaolo Mittica

The town of Chernobyl didn’t just spring out of nowhere on April 26, 1986 – it was a long-standing town in northern Ukraine. Chernobyl the town is about 15km south of the power plant (most plant workers lived in Pripyat, the company town built around the reactor). The town has a deep Jewish history, and has been a site of Hasidic pilgrimage for decades – there still is the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty today.

The Jewish community in Chernobyl, like other Jewish communities in what was the Pale of Settlement, faced pogroms and violence through the centuries. The majority of the Jewish population was murdered during the Holocaust. After the war, the surviving Ukrainian Jews faced the repression of organized religion in the Soviet Union, and many left for Israel or North America. Those who emigrated over the years still feel deep ties to the region, like the Twersky family of Chernobyl Hasidic lineage (warning: Holocaust footage):

When the nuclear disaster happened in 1986, the town of Chernobyl was evacuated and abandoned, with the Ukrainian and Jewish populations scattering across the Soviet Union. Most of the USSR’s Jewish population would later emigrate to Israel, the US, and Canada at the end of the Cold War, though there still is a solid Jewish population in Ukraine today, including Ukrainian President Zelenskyy.

Ukraine still remains an important site of pilgrimage for Hasidic Jews, including the Chernobyl dynasty’s tombs (as well as the location of many family graves). For a personal account of reconnecting with Chernobyl, I’d recommend the article “Why Chernobyl’s Jewish History Still Matters — 31 Years After The Accident” by Anna Khandros, plus Pierpaolo Mittica’s photoessay “Chernobyl before Chernobyl: The Hasidic Jews’ Pilgrimage“.

If you’re interested in learning about other Jewish communities in the former USSR, I covered the Bukharan Jewish community in Uzbekistan last year.

ECUADOR: The Ecuador Reader

When I covered Chile last year, I came across The Chile Reader – turns out there’s a whole series of these useful books on different Central and Southern American countries. The Ecuador Reader is a great big tome of short primary and secondary documents following through Ecuador’s history – historic letters, poems, academic texts, travel journals, and more, all with explanations giving historical context and tying it all together.

As a smaller country that’s been pulled into different neighbours’ orbits (especially Peru and Colombia) and one with three extremely different regions – the coast, the highlands, and the Amazon, Ecuador doesn’t really build up the same coherent national narrative that Chile does. Instead, those internal and external tensions make up so much of Ecuador’s story – and how politics, capitalism, labour and Indigenous movements try to bridge those gaps.

The influence of Indigenous people in Ecuador’s history is particularly interesting – about 25% of the modern population is of Indigenous origin, while another 50-60% are of mixed European and Indigenous background. However, like most other places in the Spanish Empire, Indigenous people were so thoroughly marginalized that for a while they were not even counted on the census or as citizens. That drove a lot of separation from identity and a process of “othering” that still is not undone.

ECUADOR: Real life on the Galapagos Islands

Lonesome George in 2006 – Source

The Galapagos Islands are famous for being an incredible untouched wilderness with some of the rarest and most endangered species in the world; species that gave Darwin the insight into developing his theory of evolution. These islands were uninhabited by humans initially and only visited by whalers and explorers until the 19th century, when it was annexed by Ecuador.

The human impact on the Galapagos’ ecosystem has been immense – the introduction of goats (leading to Project Isabela and the use of Judas goats), invasive species and diseases, consumption of tortoises and other wildlife for food, permanent human habitation, the massive tourism industry that has grown over past decades, climate change, and plastic pollution.

Radiolab made an incredible podcast on the reality of the Galapagos – asking how and if conservation can actually work, and if we can ever really return nature to a “primeval” state. They also touch on Lonesome George, goats, Darwin’ finches, but also the politics in Ecuador, including with voters permanently living and working on the Galapagos. Listen here.

For those living on Galapagos, the reality isn’t too rosy either – there’s deep poverty and a sense of being ignored by the central Ecuadorian government, while trying both to support a livelihood and not destroy the wilderness that provides this livelihood.

As for the rare and varied wildlife itself, there’s a lot of classic and current documentaries, with the BBC / David Attenborough ones clearly setting the gold standard for nature docs. However, I wanted to share a REALLY old school one from the 60s, narrated by Prince Phillip, of all people.

GABON: The CFA franc

Building on the last post about la Françafrique, another element of France’s neo-colonial influence on Africa remains the CFA franc. The franc is actually two interchangeable currencies, one for West Africa (XOF) and one for Central Africa (XAF).

While a single currency does help trade between the 14 countries using it, and it is pegged to the Euro for stability, it is a deeply unfair deal. Each country must put 50-70% of their foreign currency reserves into France’s treasury, and to use their own money, France will loan it back to them at fixed commercial rates. I’d suggest the below video for an excellent look at the CFA franc and how it continues to disadvantage these countries:

There has been movement from West African countries to ditch their side of the CFA franc and start their own monetary union with a currency called the Eco, but the countries of the Central African half of the CFA, including Gabon, have not signed on. An African monetary union is definitely a point of discussion, and definitely seems like the CFA franc it can’t continue on in its current form. There’s differing viewpoints – I read an article by Gabonese economist Mays Mouissi calling to keep the franc, but reform it so France is not controlling access to funds and to un-peg it from the Euro: “Gabon: monnaie unique, non, évolution du CFA, oui“. I’d also suggest the interview with Togolese activist Farida Nabourema about France’s influence and the CFA franc.

GABON: La Françafrique

Presidents Omar Bongo and Jacques Chirac – Source

While the period of decolonization in the 60s and 70s held dramatic changes for all European colonial powers, France has remained deeply engaged in its former colonies – militarily, politically, and economically. This gave rise to the term “Françafrique” – where France agreed to the sovereignty of its colonies, while still retaining a level of informal control over the new countries’ politics (including vetting leaders) and continuing to extract resources. France had just been forcefully expelled from Algeria at the start of the 60s and did not wish to repeat the experience, especially as it had lost access to Algeria’s oil. (Check my Algeria month for more on their war for independence.)

The need for a new source of oil brought Gabon squarely to the middle of France’s neo-colonial attention. As with other former colonies, France aimed for a stable and friendly government in Gabon – they supported the first Gabonese president, Léon M’ba, including directly intervening militarily to stop a coup, and then supported Omar Bongo‘s one-party rule after M’ba’s death, as well as ensuring Ali Bongo’s smooth transition to power after his father’s death. France still runs Camp de Gaulle, an active military base in Libreville, which was installed in order to stop the first coup.

There’s a couple great articles in English on this -“Gabon and the Enduring Legacies of France’s Françafrique System in Francophone Africa” and “Françafrique: A brief history of a scandalous word, plus this brief news report in French on Gabon and Françafrique:

If you understand French, I’d strongly strongly recommend the 2010 documentary film, Françafrique, which includes testimonies from many involved in French Africa in the 60s and 70s, including French political chiefs and oil executives. It’s available on Youtube, but embedding is disabled so I can’t post here. It focuses particularly on Gabon, opening with French presidents’ Chirac and Sarkozy (sitting at the time) attending Omar Bongo’s funeral in 2009. Gabon’s oil, timber, and uranium, make it immensely valuable to France, and the documentary really lays bare the amount of influence France has had over the country and how much wealth France continues to extract.

This isn’t just a relic of history from a bygone era – in 2010, details surfaced through Wikileaks of Gabonese officials embezzling funds from the Bank of Central African States and donating to the two main French political parties – led by Chirac and Sarkozy.

GABON: Biodiversity and wildlife

Gabon has some of the most richly biodiverse forests and ecosystems, with a stunning variety of wildlife. Most of these forests are in a relatively untouched state, and are home to many endangered species. Here’s what was seen by just one camera trap along a trail in a nature reserve near the town of Nyonié – forest elephants, jaguars, gorillas, chimps, miniature deer, pangolins, and more.

The same photographer who sets these camera traps, Xavier Hubert-Brierre, went viral for setting up a mirror along a trail and watching the wildlife’s reaction to it. There was everything from silverback male gorillas trying to fight their rival in the mirror, elephants and jaguars trying to seduce their reflection, and a team of chimps that had realized it was their own reflection and mourned the loss of the mirror when it was taken down.

Gabon is home to the majority of the critically endangered African forest elephant, the smallest living elephant. Human encroachment, climate change, and conflicts in neighbouring countries have put huge pressure on the species.

There’s a lot of work happening in Gabon to protect the forests. Here’s a great spotlight on Gabonese ecologist Andréa Minkwe and the work she and her team does to protect Gabon’s wildlife and nature.

Gabon is also hoping to build up an ecotourism industry, which would both create jobs and investment, and protect and manage forest – right now logging is the main economic “use” and is putting unsustainable pressure on the forest.

There’s also a really interesting quirk of geography – in the far southeastern corner of Gabon, there is the Batéké Plateau, which is shared with the Republic of Congo. This is a spot where the thick equatorial rainforest that covers most of Gabon runs smack into the northernmost point of the savannah that stretches down over southern Africa. This is the only known place where the habitats of gorillas and lions overlap.