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SISP Conference 2023

SISP2023 Sections and Panels

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Section 14 - Reconsidering Post-Soviet Transitions: Until When? To What? (Jolly)

Managers: Alessandra Russo, Sorina Soare

Read Section abstract
This Jolly Section seeks to contribute to enhancing the epistemic community engaged in innovative studies of post-Soviet countries and societies, questioning even the meaning of "post-Soviet" itself and reconsidering the way knowledge about the "post-Soviet" is produced and organized. Moreover, it intends to discuss the restructuring of the post-Soviet space, according to a multi-disciplinary discussion that could bridge the fields of Comparative Politics and International Relations, on the one hand, and Area Studies, on the other.
The section chairs welcome proposals for "conventional" panels as well as one or two round-tables possibly devoted to "teaching the post-Soviet field" and/or methodological controversies (data collection and problematisation, knowledge production and circulation in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine).
Possible themes for the panels include:
1) Overlapping institutions and projects in the Eurasian spaces: reflecting on the role of international and regional organisations
2) The enlargement of the Enlargement and the perspectives of a Wider Eastern Neighborhood
3) Regime stability, survival and successions in the framework of illiberal and hybrid political orders
4) Post-Soviet as the New Post-Colonial?
5) The War in Ukraine and the changing character of armed conflicts, political violence and security in the former Soviet area.
 

Panel 14.1 The Left in Post-Communist Europe (I)


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked back the interest in Eastern European left-wing parties.
A letter coming from the Polish Left warned Western leftists: “Dear Western Left, we are not asking you to love NATO, but Russia is not the actor under threat and in danger here”. On the opposite side, communist successor parties in Bulgaria, Moldova and Serbia ranged from supporting the invasion to opposing to any help for Ukraine. Back in Russia, the communists have lost any ambition of asserting their own party identity and, despite some internal disputes, have fully supported Putin’s war.

In the aftermath of the transition, scholars of party politics have been interested in communist successors’ adaptation and survival strategies, as well as in their ideological rebranding. Along with EU accession, research has later focused on Europeanization of party system and political parties.
Thirty years after the democratic transition of Communist Europe, communist successor parties still play a critical role in most of the region and represent one of the main legacies of the old Communist regimes.

Today, successor parties keep very contrasting profiles: the Czech communists still stick to Marxism-Leninism, while their Hungarian and Polish fellows do not differ from Western social democrats; in Southeastern Europe, communist successors are often catch-all parties, while in Russia and Moldova they have embraced pragmatism; elsewhere, and for instance in Latvia, they are relegated to represent the Russian ethnic minority. Electoral performances vary extensively too: in some cases, like in the Czech Republic, they are no more represented in parliament, while in Romania they still are the main governmental party.
New actors on their Left are meanwhile trying to create their own political niche, in particular in the post-Yugoslav space, challenging communist successors’ monopoly on the Left.

The aim of this panel is to provide a broad picture of today’s Left in the post-Soviet space, as well as in Central and Eastern Europe. We welcome proposals touching one or more of the following points:
- The Left and the war in Ukraine: between support and condemnation;
- Legacies of the Communist past on successor parties thirty years after the transition;
- Divergent paths of adaption of communist successor parties: conservatism and social democracy;
- The disappearance of the Left in post-Communist Europe;
- The emergence of a progressive Left?
- Foreign policy.

Chairs: Jeanmichel De Waele

Discussants: Gianmarco Bucci

Imperial Past and the Shadow of War: Frontiers of a Delayed Decolonization in Latvia
Aleksandr Shishov
Abstract
The start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has arguably marked a new turning point in European history, plunging the continent into a series of security, economic and political crises which are yet to fully unravel. At the same time, the new phase of the conflict has prompted active discussion both within the public sphere and academics regarding the nature and causes of the war. One popular way of understanding the invasion has been to conceptualize it as an imperial war of conquest, with one strain of commentators emphasizing the reluctance of Russia’s political leadership and the society in general to critically engage with Russia’s imperial past as being among the causes that made the conflict possible by providing the discursive opportunities for its justification. On the other hand, the war has also revitalized public reflections in countries of Eastern and East Central Europe regarding their place in the European cultural and geopolitical imaginary in the context of their past relationship with Russia. At the same time, it should be noted that regional scholars, and especially those situated within the field of cultural studies, have long made attempts to draw conceptual parallels between the post-Soviet and post-colonial experiences (with one of the first seminal works in this direction being a 2006 volume edited by Violeta Kelertas explicitly titled “Baltic Postcolonialism”). These attempts, however, have received insufficient attention from the mainstream of political and social sciences, and were largely unnoticed in the public discourse. Yet, with the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 the post-colonial frame has violently entered the public imagination, and, in Latvia specifically, was most notably utilized in narrating and justifying the attempts to purge anything, which might be reminiscent of Russia or its former influence over the country, from the public sphere. Among other things, these attempts included: the demolition of Soviet-era monuments, renaming of streets and the extrusion of Russian language (still native to more than a third of the population and widely used) from public and business communication. More importantly, the outbreak of a full-scale war in Ukraine has provided radical-right and nationalist actors, the only ones who had previously utilized the concept of ‘Soviet colonialism’ in mainstream political communication, with opportunities to steer the newly emergent public discourse on decolonisation as it relates to the evaluation of the Soviet legacy. Considering these developments, the following paper attempts to provide a preliminary theoretical reflection of the phenomena and frontiers of a new wave of decolonisation ‘from the right’ in Latvia by examining two cases: the grassroots campaign and online social movement ‘Atkrievisko Latviju!’ [De-Russify Latvia!], and public discussions surrounding the removal of the Soviet-era Victory Monument in Riga. Analysing the framing strategies employed in relation to the discursive opportunities afforded by the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and drawing on the works of both local scholars, such as Violeta Kellertas, Benedikts Kalnačs, Epp Annus and others, as well as classics of post-colonial theory such as Frantz Fanon, the following paper attempts to provide a framework for understanding the emergence, discourse and expression of the new wave of ‘post-Soviet decolonization’ in Latvia. Furthermore, the paper aims to call for a revised understanding of the ‘post-Soviet’ as ‘post-colonial’ by connecting the examined phenomena to broader developments in Eastern and East-Central Europe related to memory, trauma and public discourse on 20th century history.
Anti-government mobilisations in Georgia: new spaces for the progressive left?
Clara Weller
Abstract
This paper seeks to explore the emergence of progressive left ideas in the anti-government mobilisations since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. From then on, the Georgian government has been facing eventful protests contesting both foreign and domestic policy. Drawing on the theoretical framework of contentious practices (Baća, 2022; Beissinger, 2002; Della Porta, 2018), this paper presents the first findings to understand the spaces in which alternative ideas to the right-wing hegemony in the Georgian political landscape emerge. It also draws from the literature on mobilisations and civil society in the post-socialist region. Since the Rose Revolution in 2003, a paradigm has indeed been established in the Georgian political landscape: neoliberalism is regarded as a role model for the country. Although two political parties polarise the debate – the United National Movement and, the current ruling party, the Georgian Dream – they both equate the free market economy with democracy. The neoliberal view coincides with today’s ruling party strengthening stance on traditional values. This widely accepted narrative has recently been challenged by some socio-environmental movements that range from grassroots initiatives resisting development projects upon environmental grounds to a vocal LGBT+ movement against discrimination as well as the increasing involvement of the youth in mobilisations. These anti-liberal critiques have been marginalized in the past and now enable debates outside the neoliberal paradigm. Empirically, this article is based on qualitative data collected in 2023 including interviews with activists, members of grassroots initiatives and civil society actors to gain insights into their motivations, strategies, and political socialisation. The inductive analysis allows for uncovering key ideologies underpinning anti-government mobilisations.
Conceptualising movement party formation through the notion of ‘core strategic change’: Cases from Slovenia and Serbia
Karlo Kralj
Abstract
Over the last decade, the literature on left-wing movement parties has provided new insights into movement parties’ organisational structure, action repertoire, and framing. However, research on cognitive processes and mechanisms that motivate some left-wing social movements to transform into political parties, remains scarce. Instead of observing a social movement’s decision to form a political party as a straightforward strategic adaptation, in this paper, I analyse movement party formation through the notion of ‘core strategic change’. Different from usual changes in strategy, ‘core strategic change’ exposes movements to the liability of reconstituting themselves into new actors. Based on two longitudinal case studies of left-wing movement party formation in Slovenia and Serbia, I show how both long-term and short-term processes of cognitive change within social movements explain how movement activists move from non-electoral or even anti-electoral strategy towards entering the electoral competition.
Who supports the Left? Evidence from post-Yugoslav successor states
Valentina Petrović
Abstract
This paper looks at the cleavages and conflict lines in Croatia and Serbia, trying to answer who supports the Left in the two post-Yugoslav successor states. The recent local success of left-wing parties (ie Možemo and Moramo) in both cases pose an excellent opportunity to analyse the voting behaviour of citizens. In order to address this question, I rely on original survey data, which was collected in 2021 as part of the Horizon 2020 project titled INVENT in Croatia and Serbia. In addition, I also look at the recently published ESS data from 2022, with the goal to explore the social structures around Left-wing voters (vs. Right-wing ones) via correspondence analysis.
 

Panel 14.1 The Left in Post-Communist Europe (II)


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked back the interest in Eastern European left-wing parties.
A letter coming from the Polish Left warned Western leftists: “Dear Western Left, we are not asking you to love NATO, but Russia is not the actor under threat and in danger here”. On the opposite side, communist successor parties in Bulgaria, Moldova and Serbia ranged from supporting the invasion to opposing to any help for Ukraine. Back in Russia, the communists have lost any ambition of asserting their own party identity and, despite some internal disputes, have fully supported Putin’s war.

In the aftermath of the transition, scholars of party politics have been interested in communist successors’ adaptation and survival strategies, as well as in their ideological rebranding. Along with EU accession, research has later focused on Europeanization of party system and political parties.
Thirty years after the democratic transition of Communist Europe, communist successor parties still play a critical role in most of the region and represent one of the main legacies of the old Communist regimes.

Today, successor parties keep very contrasting profiles: the Czech communists still stick to Marxism-Leninism, while their Hungarian and Polish fellows do not differ from Western social democrats; in Southeastern Europe, communist successors are often catch-all parties, while in Russia and Moldova they have embraced pragmatism; elsewhere, and for instance in Latvia, they are relegated to represent the Russian ethnic minority. Electoral performances vary extensively too: in some cases, like in the Czech Republic, they are no more represented in parliament, while in Romania they still are the main governmental party.
New actors on their Left are meanwhile trying to create their own political niche, in particular in the post-Yugoslav space, challenging communist successors’ monopoly on the Left.

The aim of this panel is to provide a broad picture of today’s Left in the post-Soviet space, as well as in Central and Eastern Europe. We welcome proposals touching one or more of the following points:
- The Left and the war in Ukraine: between support and condemnation;
- Legacies of the Communist past on successor parties thirty years after the transition;
- Divergent paths of adaption of communist successor parties: conservatism and social democracy;
- The disappearance of the Left in post-Communist Europe;
- The emergence of a progressive Left?
- Foreign policy.

Chairs: Jeanmichel De Waele

Discussants: Gianmarco Bucci

Party programmes, political positions and the crisis of the left in the Visegrad Countries.
Mattia Collini, Michel Perottino
Abstract
With limited exceptions, traditional left-wing parties have been facing a complex crisis across Europe for some time, both in terms of electoral results or capacity to mobilise members and/or sympathisers. These challenges are even more severe if we focus on Central and Eastern Europe, where the crisis of the left often started earlier, and for several years it was considered much deeper than that of their counterparts in the West. Indeed, if we look at the current status of left parties across Eastern and Western Europe, the gap has been reduced mainly because the crisis has become more profound in the West and not for a resurgence of left-wing politics in the region. The four Visegrad countries (V4: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) represent, in particular, a very relevant ‘laboratory’ for studying and comparing the evolutions of the left and its main challengers, as they have relatively similar but also rather different systems and political traditions. In recent times, the case of the Czech Republic is emblematic, where both the social democratic left and the communists did not achieve parliamentary representation at the last elections after having enjoyed strong and stable support for decades. In other countries like Poland and Hungary, the crisis of the left has deeper roots, and the rise of populist parties led to a democratic backsliding. In addition, in Slovakia, it was the centre-left SMER during the Fico governments that evidenced some illiberal tendencies. In this context, we aim to analyse comparatively if the crisis of the left can be tied to shifts in party positions and policy proposals alongside the emergence of challenger parties. Indeed, some potential explanation for the causes of the crisis might be traced to the peculiarities of the concept of the left in the region, compared to Western Europe, and the changed nature of several mainstream left-wing parties in the region, which abandoned more traditional left-wing stances, losing voters to emerging challengers, particularly in the form of populist parties. In terms of methods, the analysis is based mainly on quantitative research, examining electoral data and data on the political orientation of parties (GALTAN positions and economic left-right), issues’ salience and their programmes from the Chapel Hill Expert Survey and Manifesto Project. The time frame is between the first election prior to the (2009) European economic crisis and the most recent legislative elections (2023). This time span allows us to observe the evolution of the various pirates through the many crises we faced in recent years: the 2009 economic recession and its aftermath, the 2014 migration crisis, the Covid pandemic and more recently, the war in Ukraine. The last two crises will constitute a secondary focus, dedicated to assessing comparatively how left-wing parties tackled the COVID pandemic regarding policy responses, stances on vaccinations and protective measures, and their positions concerning the war and sanctions against Russia. In short, the paper aims to contribute to understanding the new structure of political competition in CEE, and the crisis of the Left, by focusing on the political position and programmes of both mainstream and radical left parties (alongside their main populist and welfare chauvinist competitors).
The Fall and Rise of the Lithuanian Social Democrats: Lessons for the Post-Communist Left in the Region?
Liutauras Gudzinskas
Abstract
In 2016, the Lithuanian Social Democrats, the major ruling party in the country, experienced a crushing defeat in the Lithuanian parliamentary elections, and in the consecutive legislative elections in 2020, they performed even worse. However, unlike the centre-left counterparts in some other countries in East-Central Europe, they avoided a full-scale disintegration and more recently re-emerged not only as the major power at local level but also as clear leaders in the national polls. Since 2016 the party also underwent a significant reorganization process with new leaders also seeking to make the party more in tune with the progressive values promoted by the social-democratic forces in the Western Europe. A tentative recovery of the Lithuanian Social Democrats looks thus like an antidote to much more gloomy stories of many centre-left parties in the region that could not resist the challenge of unorthodox-populist parties and eventually fell into the fragmentation or even came under the electoral threshold. The paper will thus argue against certain structuralist accounts that tend to emphasise the importance of the general socio-economic and political traits of the East-Central European polities in determining an eventual demise of the democratic left forces in the region, sooner or later. Instead of such accounts, the paper will show how internal democratization reforms as well as strategic choices of party elites at the national and local level may pave the way for gradually regaining trust of the voters. The paper will also try to assess how the case of the Lithuanian Social Democrats can be transferable to other countries in the region and beyond. In particular, it will discuss how the electoral fortunes of all the mainstream parties have been shaped by the high level of securitization of political system in the wake of increasingly aggressive Russia, which tends in turn to supress certain anti-establishment and Eurosceptic sentiments in the country. It will also consider how the party at the level of territorial divisions is organizationally robust enough to ensure a greater resilience in highly volatile electoral politics. The case study will apply process tracing and will rest on extensive literature review, use of both primary and secondary material, as well as draw insights from the participatory observation. The author of the paper, in addition to teaching and researching at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University, belongs to the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party, and since 2021 is one of its deputy chair responsible to steer its analytical activities.
The Romanian left and the legacy of sexual nationalism: the Social Democratic Party and the 2018 “Referendum for Family”
Alexis Chapelan
Abstract
In October 2018, Romania held a referendum to establish a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. It was championed by the governing Social Democratic Party (PSD), in an apparent stark departure from the social-democratic ideological canon. A comparative European perspective highlights that the Romanian left is almost unique in its resolute and unambiguous involvement in an anti-gender coalition, articulating a stronger opposition to same-sex unions than its regional counterparts or even most of its right-wing rivals. Despite the failure of the referendum, the topic is still relevant for multiple reasons. Firstly, it allows to fine-tune the theoretical framework for understanding anti-gender movements in Eastern Europe, where traditional left-right dichotomies are not always applicable (De Waele 2004) and where cultural and social conservatism is diffused across the political spectrum. The Romanian case empirically tests the most recent scholarship on anti-gender mobilization, which is keen to emphasize ideologically ambiguous elements, such as claims of “anti-elitism” or “anti-colonialism” (particularly in non-Western settings) that act as potential bridgeheads between left-wing populism and right-wing populism (Korolczuk and Graff 2018, Kovats 2018, Kovats 2021, Melito, 2022). Secondly, we consider PSD’s involvement in the referendum campaign as an insightful vantage point into the complex ideological dynamics which shaped the post-communist left in Romania. Conservatism was embedded from the beginning into the political identity of the PSD, a communist successor party which appealed to the economic and cultural losers of the transition (Kitschelt 2001, Rovny 2004). The Romanian Social Democrats opted for a mixture of two adaptation strategies during the transition era: the pragmatic-reformist strategy and the national-patriotic strategy (see Bozóki and Ishiyam 2002). The former approach predominated in economy and foreign policy, while on social and cultural issues a populist, exclusionary and nativist discourse continued to infuse the Romanian left. At times, that led to the formation of red-brown coalitions, such as the 1992-1995 “Red quadrilateral”, the alliance between social democrats, the far-right Great Romania Party (PRM) and some smaller nationalist formations (Andreescu 2003). High-ranking members of the defunct PRM, such as Lia Olguta Vasilescu or Codrin Stefanescu, also transferred to PSD. Without overlooking crucial sociological insights (the PSD’s electoral base is largely rural, and these constituencies are naturally more traditionalist), we explore a blind spot in the literature on anti-gender populism in Eastern Europe: the ideological legacy of communism. Building on Kitschelt’s (2003) and Pop-Elesches’ (2007) insistence on legacy effects, we argue that the Ceausescu regime’s pro-natalism and sexual nationalism (Kligman 1998, Verdery 1991) bequeathed a form of conservative morality politics which seeped into the worldview of post-communist political elites. The PSD’s strategy of channeling the nostalgia of the losers of the transition includes a cultural dimension, which was enacted through an appeal to an idealized moral “Golden Age”, endangered by Western “corruption”. The communist genealogy of this discourse is often obscured by denunciation of “cultural Marxism” or “sexo-Marxism”. Other aspects of party culture are also thoroughly examined. Political personalization, typical of post-communist successor parties (Kitschelt 2001; Bozóki and Ishiyama 2002; Grad 2020), have exacerbated in 2018 the social conservative bias of the PSD. Liviu Dragnea’s takeover of the party was marked by a populist, conspiratorial and anti-European ideological inflection in its political style (Chiruta 2021; Pintilescu and Magyari 2020). The support for the referendum can be seen through the lenses of a coalition-building strategy aimed at recruiting new allies such as the Orthodox Church or the conservative intelligentsia. Thirdly, we will focus on the impact of the failure of the referendum for the social democrats. PSD’s robust support for the initiative meant that the referendum appeared to some as a “vote of confidence” for the party, which a hostile majority of the electorate rejected (Norocel and Baluta 2021). Sensing that the PSD could become a liability, grassroot conservative actors tried to distance themselves from Dragnea and his party, going as far as accusing the PSD of having covertly sabotaged the referendum. The rift created by the failure of the common project of the referendum enacted the ideological divorce between the PSD’s social conservatism and grassroot “insurgent conservatism” (Margarit 2020). Capitalizing on this dynamic, a new far-right party emerged, the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), which threatens to chip away at the rural traditionalist base of the social democrats. We argue therefore that vocal support for the referendum was a strategically poor strategy, but which was coherent with the ideological biases of the PSD, inherited from the communist legacy of sexual nationalism. We hypothesize that, faced with the rise of a powerful and credible conservative challenger, the Romanian left is at a critical juncture: it can try to evolve in a more social-democratic direction in search of new constituencies amongst educated urban middle classes, or it can double down on its conservative and nationalist tropism and try to wrestle back from AUR the traditionalist religious electorate.
 

Panel 14.2 Data Collection in Post-soviet Regimes: challenges and opportunities


Data Collection in Post-soviet Regimes: challenges and opportunities

Since the end of the Soviet Union, a host of questions has been raised about how to deal with the deep and wide political changes occurring across the post-communist bloc. While the literature has initially focused on the theoretical arguments offered for explaining these changes and, more specifically, on understanding the what, why, and how of the post-1989/1991 transitions, the issue of the data to be used has increasingly moved under the spotlight. This is far from being a context-specific matter, and yet collecting data in research settings characterized by authoritarian regimes or pervasive security actors, diffused/structural violence as well as armed conflicts, socio-demographic challenges, unbalanced economic development and distribution of wealth has become a relevant strain on the development of research agendas. When they are anchored to quantitative methodologies, much of the available data is filtered by politically-driven decisions; in the qualitative field, the difficult access to (sometimes saturated) fieldwork sites and more limited opportunities for applying common site-intensive techniques of inquiry may hinder the scientific disclosure of that region. This raises additional ethical questions about knowledge production in social sciences and the way in which academic findings might provide governments with opportunities to sanction people that contributed to the research or to further blur the data availability.

The panel thus seeks to bring together papers aiming to contribute to a discussion on research practices and methods undertaken when the knowledge about the “post-Soviet” is (re-)produced and (re-)organized.

Chairs: Sorina Soare

Discussants: Giorgio Comai

20 years of LIO contestation(s): how the concept of “world order” has changed its historical meaning to Russia
Adriana Cuppuleri
Abstract
Russia is a contester of the liberal international order (LIO). However, Russia’s interpretation of the LIO and the derived strategies to cope with it have been characterized as pluralistic across the time depending on sources of foreign policy and posture toward the LIO. Can these diversified strategies of LIO contestation be detected from large bodies of text? I argue that understanding contemporary Russian contestation of LIO requires an understanding of how the architecture of the concept “world order” has changed over time according to Russian policy makers. To answer this question, I applied computational text-as-data methods to help me make sense of uses of “world order” in a sizeable corpus (6779 documents including speeches, addresses, interviews and statements) from the President of Russia (2003-2023) and the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs (2004-2023). Tracking the semantics of a word through computational text analysis appeared promising as a method not only to study changing historical meanings of political concepts but also help quantitative scholars to understand, and possibly explain, foreign policy of post-Soviet authoritarian regimes.
Data collection of protest politics in Eastern Europe: a meta-analysis
Ivaylo Dinev
Abstract
Research on protest politics in Eastern Europe has become increasingly important in recent years due to rise of significant protest mobilizations and the great political, social, and economic changes in the region. However, conducting such research is fraught with challenges, particularly in terms of data collection. Furthermore, social movement and civil society research in the region is still theoretically led by a perspective based on Western democracies' experience, but new patterns of protest mobilization in post-communist Eastern Europe appear to follow their own logic. This paper aims to provide an overview of the challenges involved in the data collection process during protest movement and mobilization research, examining the types of data used in studies on the topic, the obstacles and challenges encountered when collecting and analyzing such data, and the need for data triangulation and mixed-methods approaches. To achieve this aim, I conduct a meta-analysis of existing research on protest politics in Eastern Europe by searching articles from academic databases such as Web of Science and Scopus to identify relevant studies. Then, the paper examines these studies to identify the types of data used, the obstacles and challenges encountered during data collection and analysis. Despite the range of data sources utilized in research on protest politics in Eastern Europe, gathering and interpreting such data has presented significant obstacles. One of the most serious issues is the lack of media freedom in many Eastern European states, which can lead to distorted or controlled coverage of protests. This makes obtaining meaningful quantitative information about protest events and dynamics challenging, especially in countries where the media is closely controlled by the government. Another problem is the presence of authoritarian governments, which may deliberately suppress or crush protests, making fieldwork and data collection difficult. Another challenge is the difficulty of conducting fieldwork during times of armed conflicts. In the second part of the paper, it suggests strategies for triangulating various forms of data and using mixed-method research, which integrates quantitative and qualitative data, when possible, to create a more comprehensive, context-sensitive knowledge of protest politics in the region. Overall, the work contributes to the literature on protest politics in post-communist Eastern Europe by identifying both challenges and opportunities for research in this field.
Decolonising Ukraine: A critical assessment of academic and political agendas
Kateryna Pishchikova, Francesco Strazzari
Abstract
Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine has reinvigorated theoretical and methodological debates across multiple sub-fields, including at the intersection of Area Studies and critical post-colonial IR. Can Russia-Ukraine relations be studied from a “decolonial” perspective and if so, what are the regional specificities that matter in this context? The impetus for this discussion has come not only from scholars and intellectuals but also from the Ukrainian leadership that has increasingly framed its political agenda in terms of decolonization and struggle for independence and proposed several domestic policies that add substance to such claims. In this paper, we offer a conceptual framework that brings together post-colonial literature and studies of the post-Soviet region by making several distinctions on the nature of the “empire” and the “region”, of center-periphery relations, and of the imperial collapse and irredentism. We apply our framework to the analysis of Ukrainian political discourse that has emerged over the past months, including key speeches by Ukrainian political leadership, its de-russification and decolonization policies as well as opinions and declarations of Ukrainian civil society and intellectuals. We also explore the political implications of these discursive constructs for Ukraine’s relations with its key interlocutors from the wider region.
Public opinion on the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union: An exploratory study in the regions of Kazakhstan.
Gabit Gabdullin
Abstract
My research theses seeks to explore the existing narratives among the general population of Kazakhstan with regard to Kazakhstan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union (further EAEU). More specifically, the research aim is to explore the extent to which patterns and problems of EAEU membership have differed in terms of perspectives across urban and provincial areas and whether there have been any differences in the kinds of narratives that were developed in these regions. Important to this matter is also the diversity of these regions, not only in terms of ethnic composition, cultural and linguistic features but also in terms of economic activity and infrastructure. To collect data, two main research methods are selected: survey questionnaires and interviews. The total sample of ordinary people for the survey is 661, and for the interview, it is 122. Also, six in-depth interviews with high government officials were added. To capture the differences in the narratives field research will be conducted in cities in the North, South, East, and West Kazakhstan regions as well as the cities of Almaty and Nur-Sultan. In this paper, I would present the synthesis of the preliminary fieldwork findings from the surveys and interviews, and challenges that I faced during the data gathering in Kazakhstan.
„We are at war“: Reflections on positionality and research as negotiation in post-2022 Ukraine
Vera Axyonova, Katsiaryna Lozka
Abstract
This article presents reflections from hybrid research on expert knowledge production in Ukraine, conducted by the authors in the first year after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion. Relying on reflexive interviews with representatives of Ukrainian think tanks, our study examined the impact of the war on the roles of Ukrainian experts as knowledge producers and opinion makers in domestic and international settings. Throughout the research, we encountered a range of ethical, emotional, and methodological challenges that prompted us to engage in a (re)negotiation of our positionalities as researchers, including our social identities, perceptions of power relations, and emotions. Through our reflections on these experiences, this article provides insights into the complexities of conducting research in highly volatile and war-torn environments, emphasizing the importance of emotional sensibility and active reflexivity in the ethics of research as intervention.
 

Panel 14.3 Rethinking Protracted Conflicts


Events in 2022 in the EU's Eastern neighborhood prompted a renewed debate on the nature of armed conflicts and political violence in the former Soviet area at large. While we certainly acknowledge that the lethality and destructiveness of Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine are unprecedented, in the last years new escalations and casualties occurred in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as new concerns spilled over Transnistria and, more broadly, separatisms in the region. The panel thus aims at gathering studies on the protracted conflicts punctuating the Eastern neighborhood, considering different political and social implications such as the sustainability, resilience, legitimation of old and new forms of de facto statehood; extra-legal networks and the hybrid governance of grey zones; forced displacements; circulations and mobilities of non-state armed actors, paramilitary formations and foreign fighters. We invite contributions that problematise the definitional and conceptual flaws of “frozen”, “intractable”, “deep-rooted”, “law-intensity” conflicts; analyse the role of external actors and brokers, international/regional organisations, as well as of local communities, informal groups and societal networks; examine the emergence and functioning of “protracted conflicts” economies; investigate the impact of identity politics and material configurations of power on mechanisms of conflict (self-)reproduction.

Chairs: Alessandra Russo

Discussants: Margherita Belgioioso

Mediator, Facilitator and Partner of the Peace Process
Nargiz Azizova
Abstract
On 27 September 2020, a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted over Karabakh, which lasted 44 days and was brought to an end on 10 November 2020 with Russian mediation. The end of the war resulted in new regional circumstances and a new reality on the ground. This became the backdrop against which talks on a peace treaty to end a decades-long enmity between Armenia and Azerbaijan is being conducted. To this can be added the new geopolitical situation that has arisen since the onset of the latest Russia-Ukraine war. As a result, both Armenia and Azerbaijan have needed to change their respective security paradigms, creating challenges but also opportunities for intensified peace negotiations. Today, more than twelve years later—notwithstanding the outcome of the Second Karabakh War and the new geopolitical realities resulting from its outcome, as well as developments in other theaters in which global powers have interests. The United States continues to see itself as a “partner, supporter, and advocate” for a peaceful settlement between the two belligerent sides. Terminology here is important: Russia sees itself as a “mediator” while the European Union sees itself as a “facilitator.” When the Second Karabakh War ended, Russia was clearly seen as the most significant external actor in a peace process. Although the United States and the EU being perceived as withdrawing from the region in the immediate wake of Second Karabakh War—with Russia gaining a seeming monopoly of influence over regional security issues (and Türkiye gaining a small but significant foothold)—they have increased their respective engagements in the South Caucasus in the past year or so. This is partly due to both the quality and scope of Moscow’s disengagement given its strategic distraction caused by the onset of Russia’s own war in the Ukraine theater. At the same time, the two parties to the conflict itself—i.e., Armenia and Azerbaijan—are learning to live with this new and still evolving situation, notwithstanding a certain degree of Russian pushback, which seems, for the moment, to be directed more towards the EU than towards either of the two parties to the conflict. This is due at least in part to the fact that the EU-led process has produced more concrete results in the past year than the Russia-led process. In this paper the author will try to examine the role of the external actors (global powers) such as Russia, European Union and the United States in the postwar peace negotiations process.
Constrictive Memory: a new measuring tool for socio-political instability in protracted conflicts
Angelica Vascotto, Damir Kapidžić
Abstract
This paper intends to present a new methodological approach within the field of Conflict Studies. The design of a new research item so called “constrictive memory” offers a new way to analyse the impact of war memories and experiences in protracted conflicts. The union of two theoretical concepts, such as memorialization and proximity to violent events, creates this new unique idea. Thanks to an operationalization process, it has been possible to effectively measure the influence of war memories in the socio-political instability of an area. In order to support the new theoretical framework, the article will present also a very interesting case study. Vukovar, a strongly symbolic city for the Croatian narrative during and after the “Homeland War” (Domovinski rat) of the Nineties offers valuable theoretical and empirical reflections in relation to the hypothesis advanced in this research. Through the analysis of a number of variables concerning local constrictive memory and socio-political issues still persisting in the area, it is possible to establish the impact of war-related memories on the current Croatian context. The methodological approach of this research has been carried out by a combination of literature review and the elaboration of empirical data acquired along fieldwork activity.
Mainstreaming structured analysis of web contents in post-Soviet area studies: find the needle, characterise the haystack, and build community
Giorgio Comai
Abstract
Scholars of area studies working on contemporary affairs often rely on information found online through all stages of the research process. Indeed, in post-Soviet spaces substantial evidence is often available on the publicly accessible Internet even in authoritarian countries, conflict areas, peripheral regions, or rural contexts. Structured analysis of online contents is however still uncommon in this context, and almost exclusively found in research that explicitly focuses on content analysis or media studies. The technical complexity that is still associated with creating and processing textual datasets represents an obvious hurdle to the mainstreaming of these approaches. Costs, licensing issues, and scarcity of relevant ready-to-use corpora represent additional obstacles. In this paper, I argue that, as a community of scholars working on the same region, we can overcome many of these issues. I will first outline briefly some of the ways in which structured analysis of online contents offers significant advantages over the serendipitous approach to finding evidence online that is more prevalent in area studies, focusing on use cases relevant to scholars working on post-Soviet spaces. Indeed, targeted and purposeful analysis of circumscribed sections of the internet can offer a more satisfying way of finding specific pieces of evidence, of characterising narrative or socio-political trends, and of explaining how and why information has or has not been found, increasing both transparency and replicability of the process. I will clarify how this approach can be applied to research efforts that do not rely on content analysis or quantitative methods: in the right context, this can be used to provide a piece of evidence that was missing or to convincingly summarise a trend. In other words, depending on the use case, this approach can help researchers in finding the needle or characterising the haystack, as well as more cogently defining the boundaries of the haystack if needed (e.g. define the case selection). As long as the limitations of the method are kept in consideration, this approach is often more adequate for research purposes than stubborn reliance on commercial search engines or on gut feelings about, for example, the timing when the haystack actually took a given shape. Fundamentally, this does not demand any sort of epistemological rethinking, as the researcher can then move on the core of their inquiry relying on different research methods, and indeed, their core research skills and instincts. I will then proceed to present relevant use cases based on textual datasets created by this author, and made available for download and/or through publicly available web interfaces. Examples will relate to post-Soviet spaces and will include official sources, mainstream media, fringe media, as well as sources that are relevant for scholars working on sub-national or local contexts. I will then point at some of the limitations of this approach, as well as some of the issues that are common to textual corpora based on online sources, referring to examples from different post-Soviet countries. These include: limited availability of data for earlier years, language issues, internal inconsistencies in the sources, and ephemerality of online sources. Ethical issues will be briefly discussed, making references in particular to hacked and leaked batches of contents which have become increasingly common in recent years. Finally, I will point at structural obstacles to mainstreaming structured analysis of web contents and suggest possible ways to overcome them. Indeed, structured approaches to the analysis of web contents should not remain the preserve of the technically (and often, quantitatively) inclined. Potential initiatives substantially reducing barriers to access include sharing pre-processed datasets, allowing exploration of textual corpora through web interfaces, and even just sharing annotated metadata on selected data sources. However, as I will highlight in the conclusions, fostering community may be more important than technical prowess in mainstreaming structured approaches for the analysis of online contents among scholars of area studies working on post-Soviet spaces. This paper draws on studies on post-Soviet spaces using (or not using) relevant techniques, literature on content analysis, as well as the author's own experience, most recently within the scope of a project co-financed by the Italian MFA: "Text as data & data in the text - Studying conflicts in post-Soviet spaces through structured analysis of textual contents available on-line". https://tadadit.xyz/ The metaphor on the needle and the haystack has previously been used by Hopkins and King (2010, 230). Hopkins, Daniel J., and Gary King. 2010. ‘A Method of Automated Nonparametric Content Analysis for Social Science’. American Journal of Political Science 54 (1): 229–47. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5907.2009.00428.x.
"Maybe he's thinking something on the inside but isn't showing it to us": the neighbourliness’ negotiations in the Azerbaijani-Armenian neighbourhoods of Georgia.
Klaudia Kosicińska
Abstract
This paper focuses on Azerbaijani and Armenian inter-ethnic minority relations in ethnically mixed places of Georgia. The fact that Azerbaijani and Armenian minorities constitute two biggest non-Georgian ethnic groups and live side by side in Kvemo Kartli region and other places makes this particular topic important. Georgia's diverse ethnic composition, history and political circumstances have allowed the development of coexistence strategies and relationships that allow both ethnicities to intermingle as well as taking care to distinguish themselves from the other communities, like during the second Nagorno Karabakh war. Of particular interest in this respect is the situation of the Marneuli district in Georgia – a borderland area of great communication importance in Kvemo Kartli region, situated close to the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia. Azerbaijanis together with Armenians are the largest minorities there, which leads to local strategies for maintaining peaceful interethnic relations and produces unique phenomena, making the location particularly interesting for research. Drawing on intensive ethnographic field research and participant observation conducted between 2018-2023, this presentation presents what are the factors and limits influencing Armenian-Azerbaijani relations in Georgia. I look at and analyse my interlocutors' personal attitudes and choices regarding their relations with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as visual self-representations of minorities and activism in public space. References: Aivazishvili-Gehne, N. (2022). Experiencing the Border, Encountering the States. The Ingiloy at the Azerbaijani-Georgian Borderland. B. Eschment, S.V. Lowis (Eds.) Post-Soviet Borders: A kaleidoscope of shifting lives and lands. Routledge Anchabadze, Z. (1959). Iz istorii srednevekovoi Abkhazii (VI-XVII vv.). Sukhumi.
Coene, F. (2010). The Caucasus. An introduction. London.
Dziekan, M., M. (2007). Cywilizacja islamu w Azji i Afryce. Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza. Geostat. (2016). National Statistics Office of Georgia, Statistical Yearbook of Georgia, Tbilisi. Jalabadze, N. (2016). The blood feud in the Georgian lowlands. In S. Voell (Ed.) Traditional law in the Caucasus. Local legal practices in the Georgian lowlands. Marburg: Curupira.
Kosicińska, K. (2018). Mniejszość azerbejdżańska i Gruzini na terenie Gruzji – obrazy współistnienia, "Między Wschodem a Zachodem, między Północą a Południem”. Warszawa (post- conference publication). Lordkipanidze, M. (1974). Istoriya Gruzii XI – nachala XIII wieka, Tbilisi. Lubańska, M. (2012). Synkretyzm a podziały religijne w bułgarskich Rodopach. Warszawa: WUW. Mataradze, T. (2015). Rural Locals, Distant States: Citizenship in Contemporary Rural Georgia, PhD thesis, Tbilisi: Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University. Mikeladze, T., Arjevanidze, N. (2020). Cultural Domination and the Signs of Minority Culture Erasure in Kvemo Kartli Region, Tbilisi: Ethnic Minorities Center. Rayfield, D. (2013). Edge of Empires. London: Reaktion Books. Rohoziński J. (2016). Gruzja, Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie. 2016.
Roux, J.-P. (2002). Historia Turków. Narody i cywilizacje, tłum. D. Kołodziejczyk. Gdańsk.
Suny, R., G. (1989). The Making of the Georgian Nation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press; Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. Print. Shiriyev, Z., Kakachia, K. (2013). Azerbaijani-Georgian Relations: The Foundations and Challenges of the Strategic Alliance. SAM Review 7–8: pp. 1–120.
Shnirelman, V. A. (2001). The Value of the Past: Myths, Identity and Politics in Transcaucasia. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology. 
Tabachnik, M. (2019). Citizenship, Territoriality, and Post-Soviet Nationhood: The Politics of Birthright Citizenship in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova. Palgrave Macmillian.
Wheatley, J. (2005). Obstacles Impeding the Regional Integration of the Kvemo Kartli Region of Georgia, European Center For Minority Issues. Derived from: https://www.ecmi.de/publications/ working-papers/23-obstacles-impeding-the-regional-integration-of-the-kvemo-kartli-region-of- georgia
Volkova, N. (1978). Etnicheskie processy v gruzinskoj SSR. In N. Volkova (Ed.) Etnicheskie i kulturno-bitobiye processy na Kavkaze (pp. 3-61). Moskva.
 

Panel 14.5 Crises and conflicts: a close look from academics on the move


Wars come with forced displacements, including of scholars and students. At different times and at different latitudes, expatriated or exiled intellectuals and academics have been at the forefront of processes of knowledge production and circulation about a multitude of crises and conflicts, including the current war in Ukraine. Since February 2022 Italian universities have activated initiatives of academic solidarity and several scholars on the move have joined our departments. This panel aims at creating a collegial moment of exchange between incoming mobility scholars and the community of political scientists convened at the SISP Annual Conference.

Chairs: Alessandra Russo

 

Round table

Panel 14.6 Teaching the Post-Soviet between Political Science and Area Studies


Teaching the post-Soviet indeed may mean to account for different forms of orientalism and essentialism vis-à-vis the region, and for calls for "decentering" and "decolonising" the syllabi beyond the Western traditions. In recent years, it also means to bring to the classroom contentious and controversial topics that are under the spotlight of policy and media debates. This roundtable aims at discussing the opportunities and challenges of delivering university courses about the politics and international relations of countries of Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus and Central Asia.

Speakers:
Luca Anceschi - University of Glasgow
Stefano Costalli - Università di Firenze
Aude Merlin - Université Libre de Bruxelles
Mara Morini - Università di Genova

Chairs: Alessandra Russo