"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Did you travel to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Congratulations to the Class of 2013

The European Union Center congratulates the MAEUS class of 2013!

Spring 2013 Photo Contest Winners

View the winning entries inspired by this year's theme, "Competition & Cooperation".

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic

The second Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class will travel to the Arctic Circle in summer 2013. Read the articles by students who participated in last year's trip here.

European Union Awarded 2012 Nobel Peace Prize

Perspectives on the award and what it means for the future of the EU.

EU Day 2013

The European Union Center celebrated its twelfth annual European Union Day on February 15. Watch videos and read a recap of the event.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Is Scotland Ready to Fly Solo?: Lack of Preparation Will Lead to Troubling Outcomes if Scotland Becomes Independent

by Caroline Clasby

Image Source
A rally held to promote an independent Scotland
Will Scotland remain part of the European Union if it secedes from the UK? If not, can it quickly obtain membership with the EU? What currency will it adopt? What will be the future of Scottish or the UK’s economics and businesses? Can Scotland survive without the UK? I say that the Scottish government needs to seriously consider these questions and the resulting different outcomes before voting “yes” to Scottish independence.

On September 18, 2014, there will be a vote on whether or not Scotland will become an independent nation from the UK. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has been working to convince the Scottish people that Scotland needs independence and has been promising the continuity of membership in the EU, economic security, and the British Sterling. However, how much of what the SNP actually promises will come true? Is the Scottish government prepared for secession?

The University of Pittsburgh hosted a videoconference on March 18, 2014, titled “English & Scottish Nationalism.” Several experts from England, Scotland, and the United States spoke about the Scottish referendum and how each of the predicted outcomes could affect Scotland and the UK. Throughout the discussion, the main question was: what would happen if Scotland became independent? The overall consensus was negative.

According to Neill Nugent, Emeritus Professor of Politics and Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration at Manchester Metropolitan University, no one knows exactly what will happen and, unfortunately, the Scottish government is not prepared for the outcomes. If we look at the outcomes that the SNP has promised, I believe Nugent’s statement is right.

First, it is likely Scotland will lose its EU membership and have to reapply like all new nation-states. In fact, the European Commission Chief, Jose Manuel Barroso, has stated numerous times that if Scotland becomes an independent state, it will have to follow the guidelines of the Lisbon Treaty and start at the very beginning of the accession process. If this is the case, Scotland is going to have to consider the challenges it will face to rejoin. For example, Spain is not supportive of Scotland separating from the UK because of Spain’s past dealings with Catalonia wanting to separate.

Second, Scotland needs to consider what will happen to its currency and economics. Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, claims that Scotland will be able to keep the current Sterling even when seceding from the UK. Again, this issue has not been clearly thought out. If Scotland wants to become a member of the EU, it would have to adopt the Euro by law. Plus, BBC interviewed UK Chancellor George Osborne during which Osborne clearly stated that the UK would not let Scotland keep the Sterling. A change in currency and a break from an economy in which Scotland relies on so heavily would leave Scotland and many of its businesses in less stable economic conditions.

Since there is no definitive answer to any of these potential outcomes, the Scottish government clearly needs to fully rethink the secession before jeopardizing its people’s lives.

Caroline Clasby is a first year MAEUS student.  She received her Bachelor’s degree in History and French from the University of Illinois in 2012.  Caroline has been awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship to study the Arabic language for the 2013-2014 school year. Additionally, Caroline has spent her last six summers as a technology specialist for her local public school district.  Her hobbies include traveling, shopping, and enjoying a good cup of coffee.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Woman Politician in the Cold War Balkans from Biography as History: The Case of the Bulgarian Communist Functionary Tsola Dragoitcheva (1898-1993)

This blog was originally posted on the REEEC blog on March 10, 2014.

Prof. Krassimira Daskalova
On February 20, 2014, Krassimira Daskalova, Professor of Modern European Cultural History at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, delivered the REEEC New Directions lecture entitled “A Woman Politician in the Cold War Balkans. From Biography to History:  The Case of the Bulgarian Communist Functionary Tsola Dragoitcheva (1898-1993).”

In the beginning of her lecture, Professor Daskalova spoke about the tendency of Eastern European historiography to marginalize gender history and Western gender history scholars’ tendency to marginalize Eastern European gender history. She argued that exploring the gender history of Eastern Europe would expand the scope of historical inquiry, particularly in the fields of social and cultural history, history of everyday life, and transnational history. Professor Daskalova went on to state that political and diplomatic history cannot be regarded as gender-free or merely the realm of male agents, and that even topics like Stalinism, Cold War, or International Affairs cannot be adequately understood without considering gender as a category. Gender historians would greatly benefit from examining the gender aspects of Eastern European history, which would increase the breadth and accuracy of gender scholarship, as it would provide comparative perspective and decentralization.

According to Professor Daskalova, material scarcity has been an essential factor seriously affecting every aspect of women’s experience in Eastern Europe including women’s integration into the workforce, the struggle against male domination, as well as other crucial factors of gender history scholarship. In her opinion, women played an extraordinarily active role in building state socialist economies, but their perceptions of the meaning of women’s participation in societies differed sharply with the perceptions of Western gender scholarship.

Professor Daskalova noted the increasing importance of oral history, as it reveals that women had embraced new socialist identities which gave them positions of authority in their respective societies, where socialism was not simply an abstract ideology or a failed experiment, but an uplifting experience. Though we can indeed see oral history as an interesting field of study that enriches our understanding of the historical record, I would argue that the scholarship on oral history in post-1944 Bulgaria should include the accounts of the many victims – male and female – of the communist regime. A good start would be Atanas Kiriakov’s documentary on the survivors of the Bulgarian communist forced labor camps entitled The Survivors: Camp Tales, available at the REEEC Library as well as online

(with the accounts of female inmates at 36:17 and especially at 50:00).

With the Bulgarian communist regime’s human rights record and economic performance in mind, it seems unclear to me how the building of state socialism in Bulgaria could be considered an uplifting experience in any respect, except for officials like Dragoitcheva. While Nazi terror and crimes have been universally condemned, the Eastern European communist regimes’ state-organized terror practices and crimes against humanity are still little known. In addition to the above-mentioned documentary, there are some texts from western scholars who have examined the 1944-1955 experience in Bulgaria, such as the account of the Ethridge Mission in Bulgaria1, as well as John Horner’s article on Nikola Petkov’s trial and execution in 19472, although this period generally remains under-researched.

Professor Daskalova noted Tsola Dragoitcheva’s involvement in the 1925 terrorist bombing of the St. Nedelya Church in Sofia, but not the fact that the incident is one of the worst acts of terrorism of the early 20th century with over 150 dead, mostly among the civilian population, and hundreds of wounded. In addition to Ms. Dragoitcheva’s direct involvement in the bombing, she was among the executioners of communist assassinations prior to the September 9, 1944 Coup, as well as one of the main leaders of the Bulgarian Communist Party and government after that. The anti-Fascist German journalist Wolfgang Bretholz reported that she had taken pleasure in her direct participation in one of the most horrific mass killings after the People’s Tribunals’ kangaroo trials – the mass execution of 25 regents and ministers, eight counselors, and sixty seven former representatives in parliament in February 1945.3

Professor Daskalova defended an anthropological approach that treats people as individuals, rather than as members of groups and organizations, which would allow historians to better understand the reactions of men and women to historical events. While I agree with this point, I would add that research from a gender studies perspective on this period of Eastern European and Bulgarian history should not exclude the numerous accounts of the regime’s female victims. Certainly, Professor Daskalova’s work on Tsola Dragoitcheva represents only one part of her larger project, but the conclusions she draws and the sources she consulted (including the official archives of the Bulgarian People’s Women Union, the Bulgarian Communist Party, and Women’s International Democratic Federation, along with the published memories of Tsola Dragoitcheva) regarding the emancipator aspect of communist policies toward women would likely alter with a broader range of sources. Further research into oral history and biographic sources would bring to our attention other, less compromised female historical figures who were not involved in mass killings and official communist politics like Ms. Dragoitcheva. Their accounts examined in comparison with Tsola Dragoitcheva’s case would give us a broader and more accurate picture of women’s changed roles in post-1944 Bulgaria.

Hristo Alexiev is an M.A. student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. A native of Sofia, Bulgaria, he has pursued Balkan Studies and East European and Eurasian Studies at the Sofia University, North Harris College, University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a graduate of the Music Department of Sofia University. Before being accepted into the MA program at REEEC on a FLAS fellowship in 2012, Hristo worked in Kosovo for five months in 2011, providing linguistic support to the US troops in KFOR. A recipient of the FLAS 2012 Summer Fellowship and the Boren Fellowship, Hristo studied in Turkey at Boğaziçi University during the 2012-2013 academic year. His acceptance of the Boren Fellowship includes an obligation to work for one year for the federal government. He hopes to pursue a career in the foreign service.

1 Stone, D. R. (2006). The 1945 Ethridge Mission to Bulgaria and Romania and the Origins of the Cold War in the Balkans. Diplomacy & Statecraft, 17(1), 93-112, available through the UIUC Library multi-subject search tool.
3 Cited in Troanski, H. (n.d.). The Communist St. Bartholomew’s Massacres. In Stanilov, V. (2004). The international condemnation of Communism: The Bulgarian perspective: excerpts from the reports presented at the Colloquium in Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria, 24-26 September 2004. Sofia: Vassil Stanilov Literature Workshop. Available at URL: http://www.decommunization.org/English/Communism/Bulgaria/Massacres.htm for another account of the February 1945 killings and communist terror in post-1944 Bulgaria, see Black, C. E. (1979). The start of the cold war in Bulgaria: A personal view. Review of Politics, 41(2), 163-202. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/38283571?accountid=14553

Less Commonly Taught Languages Program Making an Important Impact on Campus

Ercan Balci is an EUC-affiliated faculty member. Since 2003, the European Union Center has also provided substantial support out of our US Department of Education Title VI grants towards instruction of European Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) programs as described in the article below. 

This article was originally posted in the Spring 2014 School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics Newsletter.

The University of Illinois Department of Linguistics’ Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) Program packed fall semester with events, including a wide variety of language courses, a film series, conversation tables, and two short-term winter study abroad courses.

Ercan Balci
These less commonly taught languages—Arabic, Hindi/Urdu, Modern Greek, Persian, Swahili, Turkish, Uzbek, and Wolof—are alive and well within the auspices of the School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics. And, through the tireless efforts of Ercan Balci, director of the LCTL Program, and its talented and dedicated faculty, more students are becoming aware of those languages and what they can offer to graduates in the emerging global job market.

Balci explained that the emphasis is on instruction in a “fun, proficiency-based way that includes extracurricular activities, cultural conversation tables, film series, and potlucks.

“We emphasize the acquisition of grammar and vocabulary as necessary tools for spontaneous, creative, and meaningful communication and as a part of the four skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking,” he said.

Classroom activities, conversation, small-group problem solving, and other tasks that simulate real-life uses of language are all encouraged, he added.

Outside the classroom, extracurricular activities include conversation tables, a film series, social hours, potlucks, and picnics. These help students practice the target language by learning about the culture where it is spoken.

The LCTL program capped their offerings for the fall semester with two sections of short-term study abroad courses that focused on culture. Taught in English, the following sections were led by experts in their countries and languages:

  • Conflict and Post-Conflict Resolution, Cyprus (Dr. Stefanos Katsikas) 
  • Cultural Diversity, Istanbul, Turkey (Dr. Ercan Balci) 

To learn more about these languages, the LCTL Program and its faculty, visit: lctl.linguistics.illinois.edu.

In addition, in 2014 the department will be offering its sixth Summer Institute for the Languages of the Muslim World (SILMW, for which Balci is also the director). The program is carried out in collaboration with the U of I’s Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; Center for African Studies; Center for International Business Education and Research; Center for Global Studies; European Union Center; and Russian, East European and Eurasian Center. The institute, which continues to grow in popularity each year, will be held from June 16 to August 9. Intensive courses are being offered in a variety of Muslim world languages, including Arabic, Urdu, Persian, Swahili, Turkish, and Wolof. To learn more about the institute, visit: silmw.linguistics.illinois.edu.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Understanding the Ukrainian Maidan: Between Russia and the EU

This blog was originally posted on the REEEC blog on February 28, 2014.

David Cooper, Director of REEEC, introduces
the panelists Kostas Kourtikakis, Carol Leff, and Oleksandra Wallo
Ukraine has been in a state of turmoil since November 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union.  The refusal to sign the agreement served as the catalyst for ongoing mass protest and revolt in Kyiv, and across the country.

On February 14, the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center, the European Union Center, and Pi Sigma Alpha co-sponsored a roundtable discussion concerning the protests and the greater political situation in Ukraine.  The roundtable was comprised of three speakers: Carol Leff (Associate Professor, Political Science), Oleksandra Wallo (Lecturer, Slavic Languages and Literatures) and Kostas Kourtikakis (Lecturer, Political Science).

Carol Leff began the discussion by providing an economic, political, social, and transnational context for the situation in Ukraine.

Economically, Ukraine has been in a state of sustained economic crisis and under performance.  Due to a lack of international trade and international investment, Ukraine suffers from low GDP and GNP.  Professor Leff espoused that this economic failure was also a political failure.

Politically, Ukraine is divided between Western Ukraine and the Eastern Ukraine.  These divisions have created distinct orientations towards Western Europe and the European Union, or towards Russia and the Customs Union.  The political divisions also echo regional and linguistic divisions, i.e. the Ukrainian-speaking West and Russian-speaking East.  The East/West orientation was clearly seen in the 2004 Orange Revolution and in the 2010 Presidential Elections.

Carol Leff discusses the linguistic
and ethnic divisions in Ukraine
The political and social division of Ukraine is important in understanding the protest trigger in November 2013.  As Professor Leff explained, Yanukovych did not sign the Association Agreement with the European Union because was facing immense pressure from Russia to join the Customs Union.  His stated reasoning behind not signing was to protect the national security of Ukraine and trade relations with Russia.  Russia also guaranteed a $15 billion loan to Ukraine in return for not signing the Association Agreement.  Western Ukraine, and those Ukrainians oriented towards Western Europe and the European Union do not share Yanukovych’s belief in a Russian-oriented Ukraine.

When the protests began in November 2013 they were primarily concerned with the issue of joining the European Union.  As the protests intensified and the police began to violently crackdown, people began to fight and protest concerning the larger issues at hand (such as the rampant corruption of the Yanukovych regime).

Oleksandra Wallo spoke on the protests specifically, and addressed the questions of who is protesting, how are they protesting and resisting, and the popular attitudes of protesters.

Oleksandra Wallo discussing
the Ukrainian protests
Dr. Wallo explained that the initial protest was mainly students.  Other people rapidly joined the protests in response to the crackdown upon the students, and to relieve the Orange Revolution.  The protests are made of men and women, and have generally been a younger, university-educated demographic.

The protesters took over many buildings, including the Kiev Central Administration Building, which served as a sort of headquarters for the protesters.  There has also been an elaborate systems of barricades erected by protesters to their territory from police attacks.

Dr. Wallo described the protests as a “self-organizing” organism.  Doctors have volunteered medical services, chefs have volunteered to cook food for protesters, and a Self Defense Unit was created to protect the protesters.  Artists and musicians have also been involved with protesting, providing inspirational art and music.

Dr. Wallo also explained the method of resistance the protesters undertook.  A barricade system has been in place as a means to protect protesters, and deter the police from attacking.  During the more violent clashes with police, protesters have started large fires and burned tires.  To actively defend against the police, protesters have utilized Molotov cocktails, slingshots, and cobblestones.

Kostas Kourtikakis was the last speaker, and he discussed Ukraine and the European Union from the perspective of the European Union.  He focused on the current relationship between the EU and Ukraine, the future of the EU’s relationship with Ukraine, and the implications for other countries.

He began by explaining the two frameworks (bilateral and multilateral) that the European Union uses in creating relationships with countries.  Bilateral agreements include an Association Agreement to promote economic integration into the EU.  Multilateral frameworks include the European Neighborhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership.  Professor Kourtikakis explained that the countries that have these types of agreements with the EU are usually never going to be full EU members.

The European Union has a strategic interest in Eastern Europe.  They want to create stable political environments around EU member states, increase trade, and keep gas pipelines from Russia flowing.  However, due to the current situation in Ukraine, there is a changing discourse on the possibility of Ukraine’s membership in the EU.  The future of other countries’ Association Agreements are now also on hold.

Russia has a vital interest in Ukraine, and Professor Kourtikakis stated that Russia is essentially competing with the EU for Ukraine.  Although Russia would greatly prefer that Ukraine join the Customs Union, along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, instead of signing an association agreement with the EU, it seems doubtful that Ukraine will join the Customs Union.

Kostas Kourtikakis explains the EU’s Eastern Partnership

At the time of the roundtable, protesters were still fighting in the streets.  On February 18, massive street battles broke out between protesters and the police, with estimates of 70-100 killed and hundreds wounded.  Within several days, protesters re-took key buildings, Parliament voted to return to the 2004 Constitution,  Yulia Tymoshenko was freed from prison, elections were scheduled for May, and Viktor Yanukovych was chased out of Kiev with a warrant for his arrest.

Tori Louise Porter is a former logistics specialist in the U.S. Marine Corps. She is currently an undergraduate student in REEES.  She loves bacon, maple syrup, and ice hockey.