Olga Sasunkevich: Winter Academy: Beyond History and Identity: New Perspectives on Aesthetics, Politics, and Society in Eastern Europe (Report)

19 Apr 2016

The Winter Academy “Beyond History and Identity: New Perspectives on Aesthetics, Politics, and Society in Eastern Europe” was organized in the framework of Berlin-Brandenburg Ukraine Initiative by Andrii Portnov (Berlin), Anna Colin-Lebedev (Paris), Rory Finnin (Cambridge), Susi K. Frank (Berlin), Olena Haleta (Lviv), Magdalena Marszalek (Potsdam) and Annette Werberger (Frankfurt an der Oder). The 10-day Academy gathered in Berlin doctoral students and post-docs as well as senior scholars from universities and research institutions of the variety of countries including Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, UK, USA. The programme of the event combined the discussions of the participants’ ongoing research projects, the thematic sessions organized around particular academic texts and the number of public lectures and meetings aimed at bringing the issue of new themes and approaches in East European studies to the broader audience. Combining various formats of presenting academic research and discussing epistemological and methodological problems, the organizers of the Winter Academy pursued the goal to establish a fruitful dialogue about the new ways of understanding Eastern Europe after the Ukrainian crisis.

The Winter Academy opened with two introductory speeches by RORY FINNIN (Cambridge) and ANDRII PORTNOV (Berlin) who sketched how Ukrainian studies had been developing in Anglo-Saxon and German academic traditions. Both speakers admitted certain problems with establishing Ukrainian studies as an independent academic field and the “willful ignorance” towards Eastern Europe in the Western academia in general (Rory Finnin). At the same time, both argued about the potential within the Ukrainian Studies to develop the transregional perspective which would be applicable to the understanding of multinational (post-)imperial border regions in Ukraine and beyond it.

The introductory session was followed by the conversation with Ukrainian writers which took place next morning. Besides reading their poetry, ALEKSANDR KABANOV (Kiev), LIUBOV YAKYMCHUK (Luhansk) and MARIANNA KIJANOWSKA (Lviv) discussed what the concept of “national literature” means in today’s Ukraine, how this concept corresponds to the problem of national language and what the relations between translatable / untranslatable in literature are.

In general, literature, art and theater received peculiar attention from the Academy participants. At the session Arts and Ethics they discussed the text by Martha Nussbaum (1996) about poetic justice. Questions were raised on how literature might be related to our understanding of justice and how they influence the practices for establishing justice. As Martha Nussbaum argues, there is the connection between fantasy (imagined worlds in the works of literature) and democratic equality. It makes one think about the role of literature in shaping our societies. Why is literature and are writers / poets in general so important in East European countries? Why “poet in Russia is always more than just a poet”? Does it relate to a genre, to a particular writer, or to the readership? As there cannot be one possible answer to these questions, it is important to keep in mind the specific role of actors we often address in our studies. Furthermore, this role is not given, it is not rigid, it changes in time depending on the changing contexts. [...]Continue reading...