Last week, researchers from numerous universities, both in Sweden and abroad, visited Södertörn University to attend the CBEES Annual Conference – two days of talks and discussions on current research. The conference was the biggest and most well-attended in CBEES’ history.
The research that was presented covered everything from the role of museums in the war and how religious imagery is used in communication, to the significance of the war for the Caucasus region and European energy supplies.
“The great interest and the substantial programme demonstrate the importance of arenas where researchers can meet and discuss current issues in research and society, and that civil society can also be involved. It is clear that CBEES is an important actor here, and that our researchers and expertise can provide critical reflections on contemporary challenges,” says Per Bolin, CBEES’ director.
Barriers to peace negotiations
One of the conference’s two keynote speakers was Andreas Umland, political scientist from the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies, at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. In his presentation, he talked about the barriers that he sees to peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. These include both countries’ constitutions, their domestic politics and the situation in Crimea.
Peace negotiations almost always entail compromises. In his presentation, Andreas Umland highlighted how these compromises can – to some extent – be difficult to achieve because they involve changes to the countries’ territories. Giving up land to an enemy can have a significant impact on public opinion, but may also contravene the constitution and thus make negotiations harder.
Alar Kilp, political scientist from the University of Tartu, was one of those listening with great interest.
“Andreas Umland’s lecture brought up many new thoughts, and the issues it brought up about how we can’t always be objective, not always see everything. We have a similar conference at my university, they are a complement to each other,” he says.
A new Ukrainian diaspora
The conference’s other keynote speaker was Tatiana Zhurzhenko. Her research focuses on borders and borderlands in post-Soviet nations and memory politics in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. In her presentation, she talked about the growth of a new Ukrainian diaspora, what it means that many Ukrainians are leaving the country, and Ukrainians now living in Russia.
She also talked about the difference between earlier periods in which many people left the country, where the reasons for migration are an important difference. The diaspora that is now found in many places, particularly in Europe, supports it homeland and shares that same narrative, values and geopolitical direction. At the same time, they contribute to the communities they moved to. Ukrainians who left during the Soviet era often did so due to political repression. These differences means that another identity is emerging among the groups who are now outside the national borders.
As so often, when people with similar interests meet the coffee breaks and lunches are filled with lively conversation and exchanges. Sofie Bedford, a political scientist from Uppsala University, was among those who had travelled to Södertörn University. She works at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies and participated in a panel on the Russian invasion’s significance in the Caucasus.
“The great thing about conferences like this is usually the networking, meeting new and old acquaintances and chatting. There’ve been many interesting discussions and these are obviously issues that affect people, not just professionally. The conflicts in the region stir up emotions. Based on the discussion, I think I can see and increased interest in China’s role,” she says.
The task of academia
The driving forces behind this year’s conference were Julia Malitska, PhD in history, Yulia Gradskova, docent in history, and Irina Seits, PhD in aesthetics.
“When Yulia and I launched the call for papers this April, we had no idea the interest would be so huge. We’re living through a time of rapid change and transformation. Our task as academics is to capture and explain these changes, to have difficult and challenging conversations and so provide meaning for society. This entails continual examination and revision of our academic tools and approaches, so we can capture and explain the reality behind the doors and walls of academia in the most meaningful way possible. For me, this was one of the main reasons for this conference,” says Malitska.
Strong research environment
Research into the Baltic Sea region and Eastern Europe plays an important role at Södertörn University, and has been conducted at all of the university’s academic schools since the university was founded in 1996. Researchers who examine, explain and actively participate in analyses of ongoing change in the region, using different disciplinary perspectives, are all gathered under one roof.
“This is a well-established research profile and our researchers possess a great deal of expertise, which illuminates and explains developments in the region from multiple perspectives, both now and in the past. This is apparent through the interest and enthusiasm for the conference,” says Gustav Amberg, vice-chancellor of Södertörn University.