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News

New stage of cooperation: the HSE University and the FU Berlin

In March 2021 the HSE University and Freie Universität Berlin (FUB) were awarded an institutional partnership grant from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to foster cooperation between these two institutions and to involve in it a broader group of younger fellows and doctoral students. On May 27th this project will start with a digital workshop "Varieties of Populism in East and West" (deadline for submission is April 23rd; for more info about the workshop see the link at the end of the news). We interviewed Professor Dr. Katharina Bluhm, director of the Institute for East European Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, about the goals of this project and prospects of cooperation between the HSE University and the FUB.

- The Institute for East European Studies has many established partners. Why did you choose to work on the Project with the HSE University? 

You are right, we have many established partners, but since one of our major research focuses is Russia, we need institutional partners supporting us in our academic work. We have been partners with the HSE University for quite a while. In our view, the HSE University is one of the leading universities in Russia but also in Central and Eastern Europe, especially in Social Science. We have student exchanges and double degree programmes. We commend the quality of teaching at the HSE University, and we have built strong trustful ties with colleagues in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These aspects are very important for the project.

- Populisms and Conservatism are trendy in modern research, what do you expect as outcomes of the project? What are the envisaged results?

We have expectation both on conceptual and empirical levels. On theoretical and comparative level, we expect to clarify the difference between overlapping concepts, their strengths and limits. First, we have a concept of populism, a “thin-centered” ideology or, as some people say, just a communication strategy. Then we have nationalism, we have a new kind of national or social conservatism that I call “illiberal conservatism”. These concepts grasp different aspects of the same movement against the globalization or “hyper-globalization” that we have been observing for the last 20 years, almost 30 years now.

We also want to compare Europe and the Post-Soviet space in the larger extent. One thing is when we have populism as populist parties in the democratic parliamentarian system trying to win competitive elections. The other thing is when these people are in power and use populism as their tools for authoritarian leadership in order to stay in power. Some people call this phenomenon “populist authoritarianism”.

Another important point for us is to establish an institution partnership, promoting young scholars, post-docs and PhD-scholars to be a seedbed for our new research. Research network is one of our major issues. Today many people in Europe are studying populism, but they often use Poland and Hungary as typical cases for Eastern Europe. I think that if we widen the range of geography of our research and include Russia, we will grasp the phenomenon better.

- There are many scientific foundations in Germany and Europe supporting different kind of joint activities. Why have you chosen to work the Alexander von Humboldt foundation?

This kind of partnership with the Alexander von Humboldt foundation we had in mind for a long time. As I said the HSE University is the important asset for our Institute. The Humboldt foundation programme is the most suitable for this project because it allows an open format for exchange and networking. In our project team we also have two research ambassadors of the Humboldt foundation, Andrei Yakovlev and Alexander Chepurenko, so we could use their reputation and establish such a collaboration.

- Your Institute is approaching its 70th anniversary this year. What are your expectations of the IEES activities and its profile after the pandemic ends? Will the cooperation with the HSE University sustain?

Our Institution was founded in 1951, it was a first central institute at the brand-new Freie Universität in West Berlin. We were, actually, a cold war Institute with many ups and downs. In early 1990s, many believed that this kind of research was not needed anymore. This has again drastically changed. Berlin is a major hub for East European and Russian studies in Germany and Europe, and our goal is to make sure that the East European Institute at the FUB plays here a leading role. This means not just to do research on the region but do it together with scholars from the regions in question.

Right now, we have almost finished a generation change at the professors’ level and we have constituted a new team running the Institute. Hence, I have high expectations about our future prospects. We will deepen our research on Russia and Eastern Europe by adding new comparative and transnational perspectives which go beyond traditional East European political space. Three major research clusters will guide or teaching and research activities: Eastern Europe as a region of competing development models; Eastern Europe transnational: Order practices, multiethnicity and imperial legacies, social practices, protests and social movements.

I think we will have a lot of new research projects in the next couple of years and further develop this profile. As long as political circumstances allows it we will keep and strengthen our relationship with the HSE University. This Fall we are opening a new double degree master’s programme with the School of Philology at Saint-Petersburg campus of the HSE University. So we work hard on intercultural understanding and academic exchange.

 

More information about the digital workshop can be found here.