What future can the project of European integration have in light of the crisis of democracy and the rise of exclusionary nationalism and authoritarian populism across the continent?
In the summer of 2023 (July, 16–22), HIAS organized its first summer school for doctoral students and post-docs. The main theme focussed on a critical challenge to today’s European politics, namely the divide of the continent along the East-West axis. How deep is the alienation between Western European countries and those in Central Eastern Europe (CEE) that have endured Soviet rule during the Cold War era? How has the changed geopolitical reality triggered by the Russian attack on Ukraine accentuated this divide in terms of formative national collective identities and memories?
The underlying issue that provided the intellectual glue for the summer school was the debate on the future of the project of European integration in light of the crisis of democracy and the rise of exclusionary nationalism and authoritarian populism across the continent. On what cultural or political foundation could a shared project of European integration be grounded given the diversity of collective identities and memories across the continent? What future is this project about to face considering the implications of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the resulting crises (economic, energy, security, etc.)? Is there a set of common political principles that could provide stability to the fragile democracies across Europe and a shared orientation for an EU foreign policy agenda?
On what cultural or political foundation could a shared project of European integration be grounded given the diversity of collective identities and memories across the continent?
These issues sparked the interests of doctoral students from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Georgia, Italy, and Poland who joined me for a full—and intense—week of scholarly debates and exchanges on the most recent research findings in the field. The diverse set of experiences, academic and disciplinary backgrounds, as well as familiarity with particular national contexts opened up a space for the most stimulating and engaging encounters. The beautiful premise of HIAS’ office space provided an ideal setting for presentations and debates—including the opportunity to cool off on the terrace or relax during lunch hours at the roof top picnic tables. The highly stimulating part of the summer school was how the participants took up the invitation to share their expertise and to engage in a format encouraging joint learning and intellectual exploration that is not easy to find in the traditional university environment.
The highly stimulating part of the summer school was how the participants took up the invitation to share their expertise and to engage in a format encouraging joint learning and intellectual exploration that is not easy to find in the traditional university environment.
Not too surprisingly, Russia’s invasion into Ukraine was a constant reference point in considering the shifts in Europe’s political landscape, the resurgence of nationalism-populism, and the fate of the European integration project. For one day of the summer school, the group was joined by Alina Cherviatsova from University of Ghent who shared her research on memory politics and practices of commemoration in Ukraine and Russia with us. Her presence underlined in an emotionally moving way the extraordinary challenge of debating the future of Europe during a time when a brutal war of aggression holds the continent in its grip.
Another highlight of the summer school was the all-day conference on the «East-West Divide in Europe—Myth or Reality?» at the Europa-Kolleg Hamburg. The event brought together a high profile panel of scholars (Janusz Reiter, Poland’s Ambassador to Germany 1990–1995 and to the US 2005–2007; Regina Heller, Universität Hamburg, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy; Markus Kotzur, Universität Hamburg, Law Faculty and Director of Europa-Kolleg; Katja Makhotina, University of Bonn, Historical Seminar). Welcomed by the Secretary-General of HIAS, Dorothea Rüland and moderated by myself, the panellists engaged in a fascinating debate on the recent history of uniting Europe after the collapse of Communism and the multiple crises that the European continent currently faces. The participants of the summer school greatly appreciated the opportunity to attend this conference and to engage with the scholars in the inviting, collegial setting of the Europa-Kolleg. Similarly, the event allowed different generations of HIAS fellows to connect. For instance, incoming fellow Tsitsi Dangarembga enriched the debate at the conference with a post-colonial perspective on structures of domination between states that triggered an animated discussion beyond the central European focus.
Welcoming twelve doctoral students and guest speakers to the summer school also meant to introduce them to the captivating ambience of Hamburg as a vibrant port city. Outings to the Hafencity, Elbphilharmonie, the Loki-Schmidt Botanical Garden, the promenade along the Elbe and to Altona gave the participants a glimpse of the flair of Hamburg. One further highlight of the summer school’s program were two guided walking tours. One City Walk was organized by Karen Michels, an art historian and excellent Hamburg expert, and another one was a «Post-colonial City Walk» that led the group to sites reflecting the deep colonial ties of Hamburg. These outings situated the summer school and HIAS in the wider context of the city and all it has to offer as a place of science, culture, and encounter.
Oliver Schmidtke is Professor of Political Science and History and Director of the Centre for Global Studies at University of Victoria. His research interests are in the fields of the politics and governance of migration, citizenship, nationalism, democracy, and populism. His HIAS Fellowship 2021/2022 was provided by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and the federal and state funds acquired by Universität Hamburg in the framework of its Excellence Strategy.
Unsplash / Pavel Anoshin