Eve Conant

Stories by Eve Conant

  • Remaking The Army

    Sinking submarines, desertions within the ranks, suicides, corruption, decay and dissolution. Russia's generals are no longer running a superpower's military, but they still think Army life is fine--and are fighting fiercely to stave off anything that smacks of change. ...
  • Repairing A Broken Culture

    In the basement of Afghanistan's culture ministry, a statue's broken foot and part of a skirt lie discarded in the corner. A lion's paw peeks out of a pile of rubble; a small rock turns out to be part of an elephant head. They are all that's left of the thousands of sculptures smashed to bits by the Taliban. And as workers frantically sort and label the surviving fragments, they inadvertently crunch more shattered remains underfoot. Wearing thick eyeglasses and sporting a dusty, gray turban, 63-year-old Mirgolam Nabi, a museum archivist, works at breakneck speed, cataloging the relics. "When the Taliban came here they had guns; how could we stop them?" he asks. "I suffered through this as if I were watching my father be killed. This was our history." ...
  • First Person Global

    While driving through Kabul in November, I saw two women leaning against a stone wall, chatting with each other. They were both enveloped head to toe in light blue burqas, but that didn't seem to get in the way of their conversation, as they touched each other on the shoulder. One leaned back, it seemed, to laugh. I wasn't expecting to be able to notice so much humanity hidden under so much cloth. But again and again I was surprised by how much character these women could convey despite what seemed like a disguise. Her voice may be muffled, but if you stand close to an Afghan woman as she talks, you can see her eyes through the netting. You can tell whether she is smiling, crying or angry. Once, as I left an interview in Kabul, two teenage girls (I've gotten better at judging age) hovered near my car and giggled nervously as I turned to look at them. I waved. Keeping her hand underneath her blue burqa, one of the girls waved back. The women of Afghanistan have learned to do much...
  • Why Afghans Don't Know Their Ages

    Ask Afghans how old they are, and most will scratch their heads and look to their friends for guidance. NEWSWEEK’s house here in Kabul is something of an anomaly, because most of our staff here say they do know their ages.Or do they? Take our driver, Akhbar. Akhbar, who wears dark, round sunglasses even at night, was born in 1969 and is 30 years old. But how does that explain that one of our stringers in Kabul was born in 1971—and is also 30 years old. “Things are different here,” says Akhbar, twisting around from his driver’s seat.That’s for sure. When I interview local residents, I’ve learned to ask them how old they think they are. A lot of time also is taken up with simply trying to agree on when certain events took place. The reason: most Afghans think in terms of the Islamic solar calendar, which puts this as the year 1380. But when the Taliban took over five years ago, they imposed the Islamic lunar calendar—which says its now 1422, and will be under March 15, 2002.There are...
  • Art In Exile

    On the wall of the Nukus Museum, a crazed-looking bull with pointed horns stares out at visitors. The picture was painted by a man named Lysenko. Art historians don't know his first name, or much else about him--except that he was forced to enter a Soviet mental institution for his depiction of that bull. After all, it doesn't conform to the Soviet straitjacket style of "socialist realism"; the bull is light blue. Hanging nearby is a masterful, gentle painting by Mikhail Kurzin simply entitled "Dumplings." But that work isn't as innocuous as it first appears, either. When Kurzin painted his mouthwatering rendition of the traditional Russian dish pelmeni, he had just been released from prison and was in exile, suffering from malnutrition. He painted each dumpling with loving care, using hard brushes and low-quality paints, because he was desperate to eat them.Nearly all the gulag-era works in the museum share a similarly wrenching story. And there are more than 30,000 of them,...
  • Exploiting A Jihad?

    A group of about 100 armed Islamic guerrillas, some wearing balaclavas, gather in a circle in an unidentified forest in Chechnya. In a grainy scene from a videotape found by Russian intelligence agents, they are shown in the middle of a meeting led by Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev, some time after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. A black-bearded Basayev tells his soldiers, "We are under pressure to finish the jihad. We must be more organized, more disciplined." The men nod in agreement.In fact, the Chechen fighters--or terrorists, as the Russians call them--are already well organized. What began as an anti-Russian movement for self-determination mutated over the course of the 1990s into a jihad with the aim to Islamicize and liberate the Caucasus from Russian rule. Although that goal has not been met just yet--Russian troops have once again occupied Chechnya and small-scale battles are a daily occurrence--the organization and support from Islamic regimes...
  • His Big Gamble

    Vladimir Putin has been enjoying the limelight. He's been lionized by NATO and feted by Tony Blair. His speech to the German Parliament got raves. Even President George W. Bush seems to be taking a softer line on Moscow's military campaign in Chechnya. But outsiders don't always understand a blunt fact of Russian political life: popularity abroad can be dangerous at home.Like Blair, Putin sees his world at a turning point. The international war against terror offered a choice: traditional go-it-alone Russian isolation, or fully embracing the West. He chose the latter, to the cheers of the United States and its allies--and the consternation of both allies and enemies at home. Putin's new thinking is far ahead of the average Russian's. (Polls show nearly half think the attacks "served the Americans right.") And it's light-years beyond the military and intelligence circles that he depends on for power. A backlash could compromise his leadership--and prompt him to pull back from the new...
  • A Social 'Neutron Bomb'

    Elena Yaskevich hunches over her desk and lights up another cigarette. Her office phone, one of Moscow's few drug-addiction hot lines, rings once again. She begins yet another round of questions, the same as the last. "How old is your daughter?" Pause. "I see, 17. Vich?" the Russian word for HIV. Solemnly, she nods as she gets the mother's expected reply.Even pros like Yaskevich have been blind-sided by the tidal wave of HIV that's hit Russia over the past two years. "This is a serious threat," she says, likening it to a "neutron bomb." That bomb has already exploded among intravenous drug users. The question is when it will go off in the general population. Officially, Russia has diagnosed 129,261 new cases of HIV over the past year and a half, including this July. That's the highest rate of infection in Europe, making Russians seven times more likely than their Western counterparts to contract the virus. And the real number of new cases could be anywhere from five to 10 times...
  • In Search Of The Gods

    Azov is hardly the kind of place where most people would look for adventure. Life is slow in this postcard-pretty Russian town on the delta of the muddy river Don. No one has bothered to tear down the statue of Lenin in the main square. Azov used to be a busy port. But that was before the river's channel shifted, leaving the town in sleepy solitude.Until Thor Heyerdahl showed up. Half a world and more than half a century away from the route of his famous Kon-Tiki expedition, the Norwegian explorer is pursuing the most wildly ambitious quest of his life. Conquering the Pacific on a balsa raft was kid stuff. This time his goal is nothing less than to find Asgard, the fabled home of the Vikings' gods. Its remains, he believes, are here in Azov, buried eight meters or more underground. Most experts on Norse history stop just short of calling the whole idea insane. But Heyerdahl, 86, is so confident, he has put up $100,000 of his own money in search of Asgard.His dream began when he was...
  • The Dinosaur Fish

    The dinosaurs may all be dead, but at least we still have the sturgeon. When it appeared during the age of the big dinosaurs 200 million years ago, it was covered with an armor of shiny interlocking scales. These are now gone, but in every other respect the fish is downright Jurassic. A bony plate covers its skull, and spikes run stegosaurus-like down its back. Instead of a spine, it has a flexible rod of cartilage. Its size--some species reach 2,500 pounds and 15 feet--makes it robust but also requires constant and efficient feeding. Four long whiskers--more like taste buds--probe the bottom muck for snails, crawfish, insect larvae and other morsels, and a snorkel-shaped mouth sucks them up. Evolution created 27 species of sturgeon, but none differs much from this basic model, exquisitely engineered for survival.One evolutionary adaptation is looking unfortunate these days. Sturgeons are efficient procreators. A female can carry 5 million eggs, up to 20 percent of her body weight....
  • Scarred For Life

    Nina Ungureanu is tired of having visitors come to her gate. "They all want the same thing," says the Moldovan housewife, 40. That is, to join the ranks of the other seemingly lucky villagers, like Ungureanu, who have mortgaged their bodies to buy a roof over their heads. Recently a shepherd stopped by, demanding information on how to sell a kidney. Before him came a man asking how to sell one of his eyes. He had heard someone in Europe was looking for a blue one.Many of the impoverished citizens of the former Soviet republic are looking to score a windfall by selling an organ to a wealthy recipient, often relying on criminal middle-men to secure the deal. "At first I didn't agree," says Ungureanu, recalling her trip to Istanbul in December 1998 to sell a kidney, "but then my relative told me I'd get $3,000 if I did the operation." Thus began a complicated odyssey that would take her twice to Turkey, once to the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, and once to a hospital in Tbilisi,...
  • Heading For An Early Grave

    White males may be king in most places, but not in Russia. In addition to rampant alcoholism, men there face rising AIDS and tuberculosis rates, as well as the stresses of unemployment and the military draft. The average life expectancy for Russian men is now 59.8 years, down from 64 just before the fall of the Soviet Union. (For women it's 72.2.)"The main problem is what we call 'unnatural causes'," says demographer Sergey Yermakov. "That includes murder, suicide and, of course, alcohol." Suicide rates among Russian men are 2.5 times higher than in Europe. The average Russian citizen drinks more than four gallons of alcohol per year, compared with two gallons a year in Britain. And 70 percent of adult Russian males smoke.Birthrates are falling nearly as fast as male mortality. That means Russia's population is expected to shrink from 146 million today to 115 million in 50 years. Dead white males may be an issue of curricular debate for Western universities, but in Russia keeping...
  • Moldova's Red Revival

    This is a revolution!" exclaims Ivan Ursu, a lifelong communist, surveying the banquet tables at the Inauguration of Moldova's new communist president. "And there wasn't even any shooting!" ...
  • In The Name Of War

    With his close-shaven head and his small, feral eyes, Yuri Budanov, 37, is not the kind of man to inspire affection. Yet he's got plenty of fans. Outside the courthouse in southern Russia, where Budanov's case is being tried, demonstrators hold up placards proclaiming his innocence and calling for his release. When the trial started, supporters brought flowers--and chased away a man who held up a banner proclaiming death to criminals. ...
  • 'This Is A Wake'

    It's 3 a.m. local time at Mission Control outside Moscow. Soon the first "impulse" will be given, and Mir will begin its irreversible descent. In the smoke-filled, crowded hallways here there is little time for sentimentality. ...