A FLAS Fellow's Semester Abroad in Amman

Audrey Dombro, an agricultural and consumer economics student and 2019-20 FLAS fellow, reflects upon her experience studying in Jordan.

Master of Arts in European Union Studies

The European Union Center at the University of Illinois offers the only Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) program in the Western Hemisphere. Learn more here.

Reading Contagion through Boccaccio's Decameron

Dr. Eleonora Stoppino discusses the moments of social and ethical breakdown described by Boccaccio, as well as the potential for reconstruction after the plague.

Conversations on Europe

Watch the collection of online roundtable discussions on different EU issues sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh.

COVID-19 and Liberal Democracy in Hungary

Dr. Zsuzsa Gille responds to the "Enabling Act," passed by the Hungarian Parliament on March 30, 2020.

Videos of Previous Lectures

Missed an EUC-hosted lecture? Our blog's video tag has archived previous EUC-sponsored lectures.

Friday, September 14, 2018

US Department of Education Awards Two Grants to European Union Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


The EUC has been awarded funding by the US Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center (NRC) and Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) program. We would like to acknowledge and thank our faculty and partners for their time, effort, and input toward the proposal, which fared exceptionally well in a very competitive funding round. Paired with our now twice successful status as a Jean Monnet Center of Excellence with renewed funding from the European Union only a couple weeks ago, we are very well poised to help foster research, academic initiatives, and outreach about the European Union and transatlantic affairs here on campus, nationally, and internationally.
We are especially delighted to start this academic year with this wonderful news since the EUC will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year! Please visit the EUC Turns 20 and stayed tuned for further details on activities we have planned.

For more information please visit the EUC website at europe.illinois.edu
Contact: Dr. Sebnem Ozkan, EUC Associate Director; 217 244 0570; asozkan@illinois.edu


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Conversations on Gramsci: Revolution and Context

By Alexandra van Doren

A screenshot of Nadim Mirshak and Peter Mayo from the video version of the interview.
This interview with Peter Mayo by University of Illinois Professor and anthropologist Linda Herrera and Univeristy of Manchester Lecturer Nadim Mirshak explores how foundational Gramscian principles can be and have been transposed, translated, and applied across cultures and geography. We begin first by exploring Gramsci’s influence on Professor Mayo and the way in which he, in turn, influenced Dr. Mirshak throughout the course of his Ph.D. program ,primarily through his book Gramsci, Freire and adult education.

Professor Mayo delves into a Gramscian philosophy which he refers to as “the Southern Question.” This question is directly related to geography, which was the theme Professor Mayo found most relatable as a citizen of Malta, as both Malta and Sardinia were islands. He was deeply interested in the political and cultural climates of archipelagoes, how they are formed, and how they participate in or rebel against hegemony, though he argues the two are not mutually exclusive and are invariably intertwined. What sorts of transformations occur in these civil societies and how do they happen? Moreover, he felt Gramsci contextualized his own understanding of revolution in his country and the Mediterranean in general.

Dr. Mirshak reveals his own interest in Gramsci and Professor Mayo’s perspective on such philosophies as stemming from his experiences as a citizen of Egypt. From 2011-2013, Egypt’s participation in the Arab Spring (a term Professor Mayo admittedly avoids) brought about many questions regarding the successes and failures of revolution, the way in which a revolution comes about and is executed, and the failed “hegemony” of Mubarak’s regime. Dr. Mirshak, too, felt Gramsci could help him contextualize the political state of his country as these events were unfolding and in the aftermath as well.

The conversation between the two scholars continues to touch on issues of the importance of critical media literacy and an awareness of misinterpretations of Gramsci’s philosophies, particularly in the Middle East. They acknowledge and discuss the transformation of a text when it is interpreted by and applied to a particular society, which is a reference point for the entirety of the interview. It is fascinating to see the multifaceted uses of Gramsci’s texts and principles as well as its transnational applicability, as evidenced by both Professor Mayo and Dr. Mirshak’s experiences with Gramsci and their home countries. That is to say, all of the observations about each society internalizing Gramsci’s texts in their own way must come with an awareness that the text transforms in some way with each application.

The interview ends on an intentionally positive note with a phrase Gramsci borrowed from Romain Roland, “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” What is optimistic about this interview is its exchange of ideas about not only how Gramsci can help us understand our own political and social contexts, but also how social worlds can be constructed “from below” in a grassroots fashion to combat repressive regimes, a concept critical for the Global South. The interview itself illustrates the importance of intercultural educational exchange and the ways in which two vastly different societies can find themselves linked by various forms of literature and philosophy.

You can watch a truncated version of the interview on YouTube, or read a longer transcript on the openDemocracy website.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

European Union Awards Prestigious Research, Teaching and Outreach Grant to the European Union Center at the University of Illinois


Champaign, IL, August 7, 2017

The European Union Center (EUC) at the University of Illinois (UI) has been awarded its second Jean Monnet Center of Excellence grant. This program funded by the European Union (EU) promotes greater study and understanding of the EU and transatlantic relations in the US. The competition was quite high with only nine Centers in the U.S. receiving this prestigious designation out of 344 eligible applicants worldwide.

The EU has designated the EUC as a Jean Monnet Center of Excellence for 2018-2021 for its project “Re-imaging Identities and Institutions for a Stronger Europe (RIISE).” This prestigious designation acknowledges excellence in the EUC’s teaching, research, and outreach programs. The EUC will use the funds to continue to serve as the campus focal point for outreach, research, and teaching related to the EU. The EUC will also reach local, regional, and national communities through strategic outreach activities.

In particular, the grant will strengthen transatlantic dialogue by building on UI expertise and international partnerships through delivering seven research projects including a scholar-in-residence program; six new courses; refereed publications and an e-book; unique virtual platforms for transatlantic dialogue among educators; extensive academic and outreach programming, including conferences, speaker series, a European journalist-in-residence program, competitions for high-school and college students; and impactful high-visibility public events. The project will explore historical roots of European populism; the EU as an actor in international institutional order; legislative careers in EU institutions; European parties and elections; EU cultural programs; social inclusion and the linguistic integration of migrants in the EU; gender politics focusing on Eastern Europe; and EU enlargement.

The EUC, under the leadership of the Center Director Carla Santos, will administer the program in collaboration with distinguished project faculty from across disciplines: William Bernhard, Jake Bowers, Xinyuan Dai, Carol Leff, Konstantinos Kourtikakis (Political Science); George Deltas (Economics); Zsuzsanna Fagyal and Emanuel Rota (French & Italian); and Zsuzsa Gille (Sociology, Global Studies).

Prior to becoming a Jean Monnet Center of Excellence in 2015, the EUC was the only American institution to have simultaneously coordinated two successful Jean Monnet Modules to teach team-taught courses on “Europe and the Mediterranean: Transnational Spaces and Integration,” awarded in 2011 and completed in 2014, and “Eastern Europe and European Integration,” awarded in 2013 and completed in 2016. Besides the course offerings, the Jean Monnet Modules reached other EUC stakeholders through conferences, lectures, publications, radio/TV broadcasts, webcasts, and workshops. In addition, the EUC previously secured three Getting to Know Europe grants from the EU (2008-09; 2011-12; 2015-17) to explore the multi-faceted economic, social, cultural, and environmental connections between the state of Illinois and the EU through study tours, conferences, lectures, competitions and digital media.

The University of Illinois European Union Center (EUC) was established in 1998 with support from the European Union, as one of the ten original EU Centers in the United States. In 2003, the US Department of Education designated the EUC as a Title VI National Resource Center, a title the Center has held successively. In 2011, the European Union recognized the EUC as a European Union Center of Excellence. In 2015, the European Union recognized the EUC as a Jean Monnet Center of Excellence for the first time.

For more information please visit the EUC website at europe.illinois.edu
Contact: Dr. Sebnem Ozkan, EUC Associate Director; 217 244 0570; asozkan@illinois.edu


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Dialogue: A Polish-Jewish Film Series screens Shimon’s Returns

By Cassia Smith

A poster for Dialogue: A Polish-Jewish Film Series for Spring 2018 (now completed). Includes a still from the film Scandal in Ivansk as well as basic location and sponsor information and screening dates for the films Shimon's Returns, Border Street, and Scandal in Ivansk.
What would you expect from a story about a Holocaust survivor returning to Poland as an old man? What wouldn't you expect? In this blog post by Lizy Mostowski, creator of the Illinois Polish-Jewish film series Dialogue, we hear her perspective on the 2014 film Shimon's Returns. She discusses the expected and unexpected directions the film takes. She also provides insight into the reasons why that film was chosen and her goals with the Dialogue film series overall. If you missed the screening, or would like to learn more about the goals and ethos of the Dialogue film selection process, this blog post will fill you in.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Conversations on Europe Videoconference: "May 1968: Legacies of Protest in France"

By Paul Myers

This conversation on Europe focused on the mark left by, but also the influences of, the student, and trade unions protests in the May 1968, remembered for youth clashes with police and other apparatuses of governance in the streets of Paris. While the immediate offshoot was seemingly the solidified power of the De Gaulle regime, as he won office with greater majorities later that summer only to replaced by an acolyte the following year, the protest themselves were and remain emblematic of a social and political shift. The conversation opened with a brief visual introduction by Dr. Jae-Jae Spoon, including some of the poster images displayed in this blog.

A two-tone brown and cream illustration showing the silhouette of a man in a broad-brimmed hat standing behind a young teen boy. The boy is wearing a white collared shirt and suspenders, and the silhouette man has his hand over the boy's mouth. To the left of the two figures is text reading "Sois Jeune et Tais Toi."
Figure 1
The panelists (Dr. Chris Reynolds, The Nottingham Trent University; Dr. Salar Mohandesi, Bowdoin College; Dr. Daniel Gordon, Edge Hill University; Dr. Giuseppina Mecchia, Department of French and Italian, University of Pittsburgh), moderated by Dr. Jae-Jae Spoon, began their discussion considering what May 1968 had meant. Dr. Reynolds noted that the answer to that query was highly dependent upon to whom it was posed. That is, the month and the history which both shaped and came from it, was understood differently, especially upon theoretically uncomplicated binary divisions like left and right, young and old, as well as urbanite Parisian and their rural counterparts. The panelist agreed that positionality and privilege very much shaped the varying lenses by which the protest of the month were viewed. Dr. Mecchia noted that ‘’68 does not start in ‘68’, but arrived on the tides of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movements that were formed in response to perceptions of de Gaulle’s regime by non-insignificant portions of the French citizenry. Agreeing and augmenting, Dr. Salar offered that not only does ’68 not start in ’68, but it doesn’t end there either. The labor unrest and crises that would occur in the 70s were tinged with characteristics of the protests of ’68. Yet, he also noted that varied views of ’68 also included the resentment of present day protesters that identify ’68 as a space of arrested development in the French popular consciousness, and thus the slogan “F**k May ’68, Fight Now” has appeared not only in France, but across Europe and the world, including the black block protests at the 2009 G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, as a rallying cry for a present revolution that doesn’t nostalgically lionize the past. A part of this disavowal is predicated on generational differences as the “kids” of ’68 came of age and now find themselves comprising the present middle classes and in places of power that bring into question their commitments to change—exposing them to being impugned by younger generations as selfish. In the eyes of today’s youth, those “kids” are now sellouts.

Black and white image of a cartoon hand writing a declension of the French verb participer, ending in the phrase "ils profitent", which is underlined.
Figure 2
Dr. Gordon contested the emphasis on generational differences in scholarship and the popular imagination, explaining, that ‘Not all youth [in ‘68] were radical, and not all radicals were young’. That is, today’s youth critique operates in oversimplifications and mischaracterizations of yesteryears’ youth. That to impugn the present lack of a cohesive radical spirit of the now-adult kids of ’68 implies that there was one previously. Gordon went on to explain that factory workers were on strike for significant periods of time before the protests of 1968 became a part of the zeitgeist. He closed with the consideration that maybe the protest that were so remembered had now become a cliché to today’s youth protestors, only offering them the frustration of an ill-conceived analogy.

Drs. Salar and Spoon closed this portion of the discussion noting that the comparisons of protest, especially made by the older generation, depersonalizes why people protest. Underscoring this point, Dr. Spoon noted how often the protestors of the time, now speak of being “there”, and how they were deeply impacted by space, place, and each other. She then moved to point out that the events of the year were transnational and multifaceted. Interestingly, Dr. Gordon noted that former French President Nicholas Sarkozy got his political start attempting to be a part of the counter-protest. He also explained that the faces of French labor at the time were indeed multinational and in desire of some semblance of protection. Over time, even though the protests are still remembered, they’ve been whitewashed and nationalized towards a less complex fabrication of French identity. Dr. Salar similarly expressed that though many of the protestors were French and male, that it would be an incomplete recollecting of the protests to not include women, queer rights activists, prisoners, and migrants who were attempting to invert or reconfigure presumably fixed social assemblages.

Black and white illustration of a woman in a full coat and narrow-legged pants tossing a boxy shape (that might be a brick) toward the viewer. Text above and below the figure reads "La Beauté Est Dans La Rue."
Figure 3
The conversation, drawing to a close moved out from France, with the scholars speaking on how the French saw themselves on the periphery of movements occurring in the United States and global South held in response to desires for worker, civil, and equal rights, as well the end of war. However, the protests also were influenced by the lack of closure from World War II. Those unhealed wounds and imagery were reflected and reconstituted in protests (note the SS symbol in the image below).

The panel also considered if the ’68 protests could be thought of in any way as a harkening back to French Revolution or a harbinger of today’s populist movements. The panel was largely in agreement that comparisons to 1789 were out of line, but that other revolutions had been influential. Regarding present, ongoing movements, Dr. Reynolds offered the idea that populism, unlike the progressive protest of ’68, is inwardly driven with yearnings for a contrived past. Countering, Dr. Salar explained that the protest of ’68 fostered the neoliberal 1970s. Thus, today’s populism is a second order effect, as the agreements and solutions of neoliberalism are being challenged by empirical experiences and ideology. Closing the conversation, Dr. Gordon stated that the populism of today is anachronistic by some measure. There seemed to be some agreement that though populism may be a part of the contingent history that includes the protest of ’68, that there are a multitude of issues that must be thoughtfully considered by scholars when placing the two eras in conversation—either in comparison or contrast.

A blue and white illustration of a policeman in a helmet. He is brandishing a long, thin club in his right hand, and holding a large, round shield in front of him with two white zig-zags that could be stylized S's.
Figure 4
Figure 1: https://www.flickr.com/photos/plashingvole/5786785112

Figure 2:

Source : Gasquet, Vasco. 2007. 500 affiches de mai 68(Bruxelles : Aden), p. 55

Figure 3:

Figure 4: http://sylvainrenard.info/public/crs.jpg


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Speak Truth to Power: Civil Disobedience Past and Present

By Cassia Smith

A few decades apart, two men sat in jail and wrote letters to their colleagues, describing their visions for effective and ethical protest under unjust rule. On March 14, 2018, one of these men joined other activists and teachers to discuss nonviolent protest past and present.

A black and white photo of Martin Luther King, Jr gripping a lectern with both hands and leaning toward them and toward the viewer. His gaze is up and to the left, and his lips are slightly pursed as though he is about to speak.
Martin Luther King, Jr in 1964
(Source: Library of Congress via Wikimedia)
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in response to a letter he had received from a group of white pastors who objected to some of his actions and rhetoric. This letter has become one of the classics of the American Civil Rights movement, as it briefly but clearly describes both King's point of view and the moment in which he was working. Decades later, in 1985, King's writing would also inspire a democratic activist imprisoned under communist rule in Poland: Adam Michnik. Michnik wrote a letter that was smuggled to his fellow underground activists and eventually made its way to the editor of the New York Review of Books, who published it under the title "Letter from the Gdansk Prison." Building off King's legacy of nonviolent protest and love for his fellow man, Michnik advocated against a continuation of violent protest against the communist regime and for a program of civil disobedience similar to King's strategy.

On March 14 of this year, Michnik spoke by videoconference to students at the College of Lake County on the influence King had on his idea, on the legacy of his own letter, and on protest in the current political climate. Professor Cathy Colton spoke on the history and ideas of King's original letter, and young activists working in the area of nonviolence today rounded out the program. This event was organized by the Center for Nonviolence at the College of Lake County and co-sponsored by the European Union Center, the Jan Karski Educational Foundation, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, the Peace Exchange, and the Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training.

A black and white photo of a thin white man in a plaid shirt and jeans. He is standing slightly above the photographer in a stairwell, and leaning slightly back and to the side to grip the railing. He is smiling slightly while squinting against a bright light.
Adam Michnik in 1991
In his main remarks, Michnik states that one of the things he found most useful in King's writing was that King faced two opponents to his work: The government-sanctioned oppression of Jim Crow segregation and other systematized racism; and the widespread acceptance of these practices by the public. Michnik felt he also faced two similar opponents: The oppressive, anti-democratic communist government on the one hand, but also the "stupidity" and populism that he saw feeding into widespread consent to Soviet rule. At the time he was imprisoned, violent protest against the Communist Party was common. However, he felt this was leading to an ineffective vicious cycle of violence on both sides. He made the analogy that they knew how to turn an aquarium into fish soup, but now he and his colleagues needed to understand how to make fish soup back into an aquarium. They needed to learn how to make dead things alive again. Michnik felt that King's policy of nonviolence and love toward his oppressors was the answer to this conundrum.

Towards the end of his talk, Michnik spoke of disappointing turns in the politics of both Poland and the United States. Though he did not have a positive opinion of recent political developments in either country, Michnik said that he was an optimist. Speaking through an interpreter, he said, "I know one thing: if we decide to follow in the steps of Martin Luther King, we are sure not to be defeated. Maybe we will not have political success, but we will win as people. And is there anything more important than to live one's life in accord with oneself?" He referenced Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech and urged those present not to give up on their dreams.

You can listen to the entire program by downloading the wav file. (Mac users may need to use the free media software VLC Player in order to view the video.) The video quality is poor due to the limitations of the web conference software used to facilitate the live event, but aside from some crosstalk when Michnik joins the video conference the audio is fairly good. In addition to the remarks from the scheduled speakers, there is also a question and answer period where audience members ask for Michnik's perspective on recent Polish legislation denying Nazi collaboration, advice for young protesters, and Catholicism under communist rule. The entire recording is about an hour and forty-five minutes long, and provides a range of perspectives on and experiences in nonviolent political activism.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Conversations on Europe: European Cities in the 21st Century

By Jessica Mrase

This month’s Conversations on Europe conference focused on issues faced by city developers, city leaders, and residents of European cities. The discussion, titled “European Cities in the 21st Century,” probed hot topics such as how European cities are employing strategies for resilience against climate change, how technology is used to create “smart” cities in regards to transportation and energy grids (see last month’s post on Energy Policy), as well as sharing best practices learned from urban development within the networks of the European Union. Moderating the discussion was Director of European Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh, Jae-Jae Spoon. Participating panelists included Katrina Kelly (University of Pittsburgh), Alistair Cole (Po Lyon), Marco Bontje (University of Amsterdam), and Ali Madanipour (Newcastle University).

The conference began with Spoon acknowledging that although European cities are becoming greener and more sustainable, the EU must do more to combat the challenges of climate change and unemployment. The floor opened to the panelists to provide their insight on the topic. Madanipour commented that there is no “single” European city. More often than not, larger, iconic cities are considered being “European.” They have identifiable trends such as cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, high sustainability, and great public transport. The medium-sized cities are stable, but smaller cities are losing population. So what can cities do to counteract these problems and progress?

Kelly offered her expertise in energy as being the greatest case. On the city level, the European ideal for cities to aim for is alternative energies and focus on the advancement of the electrical grid. There is also contest in as European and reaching for a unified “continental” goal is similar to admitting that you are not a nationalist. Moreover, in the current political climates, there has been an inward pull to reclaim national roots and pride in the country. On the flipside of this, cities tend to be locations that are more liberal. The balance between politics and urban advancement is difficult to achieve since they currently contradict one another.

In light of recent events, Spoon wanted to redirect the conversation into a more positive mindset. Bontje allowed for recognition towards cities’ progress in mobility, for instance improved facilities and infrastructure. Madanipour mentioned that a key theme for this topic is a very strong and positive feeling towards urbanity. European city dwellers are presently pushing for aesthetic improvement of the city as a way to improve their quality of life across the EU. Cole agreed with these points, but he did pull the conversation back to the other side of city development. In larger cities, some neighborhoods are worse off than others are, and conscientious developers must ensure that vulnerable populations are not displaced via gentrification. Though this practice seems counterintuitive to overall city growth, it seeks to balance the city as both a space of justice and economic progress.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Consent and Refusal of Consent: The Century of the Body

By Caitlin Brooks

The reprint of Geneviève Fraisse’s book “Du consentement” was supposed to be a quiet event. Fraisse assumed that no one would notice, she would stay at home and work quietly and the book, first published in 1989, would appear in updated form in academic circles and on the shelves of book sellers in France. Then in October 2017, the same month as the book’s reprint, the #metoo social media hashtag took off and, according to Fraisse, the conversation changed. “I have no choice, I have to follow the story…. Suddenly there really was a lot of demand about my work, so I stopped to write what I was writing and took up the question of consent.”

Originally used in 2006 by social activitist Tarana Burke to help survivors of sexual assault realize they are no alone, it was popularized last year by actress Alyssa Milano who encouraged women to tweet it to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The #MeToo hashtag spread virally across social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) during October 2017 on social media posts in which women self-identified as experiencing sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. Thousands of specific stories were told along with the hashtag and millions more women simply posted “#MeToo” in solidarity with the movement.

In the United States, the movement became so wide sweeping that Time magazine named the “Silence Breakers” the Person of the Year for 2017. “The hashtag #MeToo (swiftly adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and many others), which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories, is part of the picture, but not all of it.”

Fraisse, the Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS, France), had been writing about consent and sexual violence for decades before the #MeToo campaign took off. According to Fraisse, “Our [French] political geography is a little moved by this story. It had unexpected geopolitical consequences.”

Talking in the Foreign Languages Building on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, Fraisse explored the history of feminism in France is one of the individual body. “It's the bodies and the many bodies of women just came up in the public space and said ‘it's enough,’” Fraisse said. “It's interesting for me because it means that these bodies are at the disposal of men, and that's not safe. The bodies after all this gain of rights and also for the bodies when divorce, contraception, abortion. But it's just rights for individual people, it's not the change of society.”

But with the #metoo campaign and the recent public outcry over sexual assault in Hollywood and Olympic gymnastics, “This time it is a collective with the body who said that it’s enough, it's enough and we go outside and we took the floor.”

“What was happening was that there was a sexual contract and no one was talking about it. The notion that female bodies are not for themselves but are also at the disposal of men,” she said.

“Is consent a political question? It’s very important for me: the definition of individual consent is not the political question. The question is: how do you intervene in society? If it's a political argument, then it means that you propose your consent as argument for the world of tomorrow. But consent, as a word, is problematic. It is not possible because it’s too ambiguous a word and it's too complicated.”

Instead, she proposes, what we are talking about is not refusal of consent on an individual basis, as the stories in the #metoo campaign illustrate, but a collective refusal, as the campaign as a whole represents. “It's saying ‘No.’ facing this social contract where women are not exactly members as men,” Fraisse said.

The end of Fraisse’s talk and book explore the real discussion on consent that began two centuries ago. “Behind this screen, you have the real discussion [about freedom, equality and relationship to the state] and it began two centuries ago. I think that what is going on today is, even if you don't know the foreign story, it's really very interesting. It’s at the core of the evolution of this question. The 21st century will be the century of the body, sexual identities, reproduction, and violence against women's bodies. Probably the century of ‘what is a body in a society’.”

Fraisse’s visit to campus was co-sponsored by the European Union Center and the Department of French and Italian.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Energy Policy As A Step Towards An ‘Ever Closer Union’?

By: Jessica Mrase

The latest installment of the Conversations on Europe series kicked off the spring semester with a discussion on clean energy in Europe. Hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s European Union Center (EUC), the conversation was held via video conference entitled “Wind, Water, Sun: Clean Energy in Europe.” Participating panelists included Shanti Gamper-Rabindran (University of Pittsburgh), Espen Moe (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Jonas Meckling (UC Berkley, and was moderated by Michaël Aklin (University of Pittsburgh).

The conference examined the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive that sets rules for the EU to achieve a target of 20% renewables for final energy consumption by 2020. Member states have already agreed on a new renewable energy target of at least 27% of final energy consumption in the EU as a whole by 2030. The European Commission has also set goals for a clean energy transition that would mark a step towards the creation of a European Energy Union. Several questions arise from these projections, however Michaël Aklin set out three guiding questions in which to direct the panelists. The first asks what explains the European success in energy. The next question was in regards to the EU’s transatlantic relationship and whether or not it should be pessimistic about the US. Finally, the scope broadened globally asking what the situation in the rest of the world is.

In general, the panelists agreed that Europe is entering a new age of energy politics. Jonas Meckling mentioned that necessary change would be systemic in nature, that there is the challenge of coordination. In order for transmission lines to be constructed and carried throughout the continent, state-to-state coordination is essential. With energy grids spanning large geographical areas, national utility companies are limited to their state business models. The renewable revolution is a challenge for the companies, and they cannot go bankrupt. Therefore, the core, international problem lies within the hands of these companies.

The discussion then turned to the US and China. The US faces the flipside of the EU’s problems. Shanti Gamper-Rabindran argues that the states must have benefits to the local market, for example offering direct subsidies and other incentives. However, what would the payment schemes for these land orders look like? Grids are not on a state level, so while EU countries have had a stable support system, the US is much more ‘start-stop’ in moving forward. Espen Moe introduced China as the real record-breaker in the race for clean energy. The nation is going very deliberately for solar and winder power. Despite the, as Moe put it “atrocious,” air pollution in Beijing, China realizes it will take a massive hit by global warming, so it is finding balance.

The conversation concluded that the story for renewable energy is not a clear one. What is the gain? What is the political story? Will the goals for 2020 and 2030 be met? As Europe strives for a world of clean energy, it is clearly a global effort that must be achieved internationally.

Monday, February 5, 2018

New Directions Lecture: Akos Rona-Tas and Payment Card Markets in Europe

By Cassia Smith

Last fall, Dr. Akos Rona-Tas, professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego, gave a lecture on the Illinois campus on the topic of payment card markets in post-Communist countries and Europe. His lecture framed national payment cards as a trend in conflict with globalization, and focused on specific examples in Denmark, China, and Russia. Madeline Artibee, an MA student in REEES, discusses his arguments in more depth on the REEEC blog. If you missed the lecture or want to compare notes, Artibee's post provides a good overview.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Revolution at the Museum: History Now! Visits the Chicago Art Institute

By Cassia Smith

The Art Institute of Chicago's exhibit “Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test” just finished its run on January 15th. If you missed it, there's a writeup on the REEEC blog highlighting a visit by the History Now! class from the Urbana-Champaign campus. The blog includes a brief description of both the exhibit and the History Now! course, as well as photos of the class interacting with the exhibit. There is also a link to the Art Institute's site for additional information.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ben Lough Receives International Achievement Award

By Cassia Smith

EUC affiliated faculty and Executive Committee member Ben Lough has been recognized by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Illinois International Programs with the Sheth Distinguished Faculty Award for International Achievement. The Sheth Distinguished Faculty Award for International Achievement is presented to an Illinois faculty member with profound international accomplishments in teaching, research, and public service. In addition to his work with the European Union Center, Dr. Lough has worked for the United Nations and in various appointments in South Africa, American Samoa, Armenia, and Georgia. His research interests include volunteering, civic engagement, community development, and non-profit management.

Congratulations to Dr. Lough!

Attending Tom Stoppard's Travesties at Illinois

By Cassia Smith

Last fall, the Theater Department at Illinois staged a production of Tom Stoppard's play Travesties. Slavic Languages and Literatures PhD candidate Alejandra Isabel Otero Pires attended a performance and wrote it up for the REEEC blog. Her post includes a brief description of the themes and structure of the play as well as her own reflections on the performance. Though the run of the play has now ended, the reflections make an interesting companion to the play itself.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Revolutionary Film Series: The Commissar

By Cassia Smith

Revolutions, where lofty goals meet complicated reality, are often left to grapple with the ethics and practical implications of their ideology. In her writeup of the Soviet film The Commissar for the REEEC blog, Comparative and World Literature grad student Lizy Mostowski discusses the ways this film tackles the less savory implications of the Russian revolution. In particular, she highlights Professor Harriet Murav's introduction to the screening, which outlined the film's relationship with suffering, violence, and anti-Semitism, as well as its unfriendly reception by the Communist Party. Whether you attended the screening yourself or want some context before watching the film on your own, the blog serves as a great companion to the viewing experience.

Revolutionary Film Series: I Am Cuba

By Cassia Smith

How do you evaluate a film that failed to achieve its ambitious political goals at the time it was released? What if it went on to be embraced by other factions for other purposes long after it first flopped? How do you evaluate a screening of a film that was rejected by the very revolution it tried to valorize? And how do you do that in the context of contemporary politics? History PhD candidate Franziska Yost wrestles with these questions and more in her thoughtful, in-depth discussion of the November screening of the Soviet film I Am Cuba. Read her write-up on the REEEC blog to learn more about the film's complicated past and how local audiences responded to the screening.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The 1917/2017 Symposium: First Decades, Global Reverberations

By Cassia Smith

Over the course of the fall semester, the European Union Center joined other campus units in sponsoring the Ten Days That Shook the World event series, which highlighted revolution past and present. In early November, this series featured a symposium titled "First Decades, Global Reverberations" that explored these topics with a focus on the aftereffects of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The keynote, delivered by Professor Boris Kolinitskii of the European University at Saint Petersburg, brought the topic to the present. Titled "100 Years Later: Memories of the Revolution in Contemporary Russia," it focused on how the memory of the 1917 revolution functioned in contemporary Russian politics and culture. You can read an in-depth write-up of the keynote by Slavic Languages and Literatures PhD student Marija Fedjanina on REEC's blog. The symposium itself took a more global and varied approach to the topic, considering the effects of the 1917 revolution on Brazil, South Asia, and the current labor movement, among other topics. You can read a summary of the symposium presentations on REEEC's blog as well, written by Lucy Pakhnyuk, an MA student in REEES, and Nadia Hoppe, a PhD student in Slavic Languages and Literatures.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Maple Razsa’s Participatory Documentary Film “The Maribor Uprisings”

By Cassia Smith

What would you do during a popular uprising? Where would you choose to go? What would happen next? Madeline Artibee, MA student in REEES, got to explore these questions in a unique way while attending a screening of the participatory documentary The Maribor Uprisings. This documentary allows audience members at screenings to decide at key moments which aspects of the protests the documentary will follow. Madeline describes the protests covered by the documentary and the experience of participating in a screening on the REEEC blog. You can also learn more about the film on the documentary's website.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Now is Not the Time for the EU to Become Ukraine-Fatigued

By Katherine Brown

They’ve been dealing with the ‘Ukraine issue’ for several years now, spent billions of dollars in aid and investment, and asked for reforms that are slow to appear. The European Union, and more specifically its people, have grown tired of the topic. ‘Ukraine Fatigue’ has been on the rise since September 2015 – less than two years after Euromaidan. The Minsk II Agreement has not been fulfilled and fighting continues in the east. Discontent with the glacial pace of reforms has frustrated the EU but is near boiling point with Ukrainians. For all the frustrations, now is not the time to grow weary and look away from Ukraine. Here’s two important reasons the European Union needs to drink a cup of coffee and wake up: Russia isn’t Fatigued.

Vladimir Putin is going to win another term, and he doesn’t show any signs of growing tired of the issue. The Ukraine issue is actually quite popular in Russia – Russians by in large have patriotic sentiments surrounding Ukraine and most believe former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukoyvch was illegally ousted in a coup. While sanctions certainly hurt, being relevant in the international scene feels pretty good. While its certainly up for debate how much control Vladimir Putin has over the separatist’s leaders, he’s contributed to the maintenance of a status quo in the East, preventing the implementation of the Minsk II and keeping the fighting going.

The US Might Want In…at the EU’s Expense

Is there room for the US in this fight? Some in the US government think so. At the end of 2017, US President Donald Trump approved a plan to send lethal arms to Ukraine to aid in the fight against Russia (something former President Barack Obama danced around and ultimately left office without doing).1 While current assistance is by no means enough to put Ukraine on the offense, it’s a step closer to offensive aid. That’s especially concerning for the European Union – particularly for France and German who have invested so much time and money into pursuing a non-violent end to the conflict. The prospect of US offensive aid naturally invokes concerns of a proxy war, and diminishes the EU’s ability to manage the conflict as a ‘European issue’. The EU should feel nervous about offensive aid…it would pit US-backed Ukraine against Russia. Both the US and Russia are used to sparing no expense on weaponry…and a full-scale conflict to end the conflict is probably too close to the EU border for comfort. It would also put Germany and France in an uncomfortable position – allies of the US but likely to be very offended and angry at such an undertaking near EU soil.

If European nations feel uncomfortable at the prospect of US involvement, they might want to wake up, smell the coffee, and pay close attention to Ukraine. They’ll also need to listen to the Ukrainian people, and ease their frustrations with the EU before Ukrainians turn to the US for help.



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