The Bucharest Winter Academy as a Scholarly Contact Zone in Situ
By Nadzeya Charapan
The Winter Academy “Revisiting the Nation: Transcultural Contact Zones in Eastern Europe” brought to Bucharest 19 young scholars and a team of professors with diverse cultural and disciplinary backgrounds to discuss the recent transformations as well as other cultural and political processes in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. The Academy’s primary focus was on the nation and its contemporary far-reaching implications related to regionalism, nationalism, imperialism, as well as community imagination and cultural production. Those topics were discussed from different points of view provided by anthropology, history, literature, political sciences, social psychology and sociology.
The concept of “contact zone” was employed as a theoretical and methodological instrument to probe the ambiguity and the complexity of nation in the East European context. For example, the methodological lecture “Contact Zone vs. Postcolonial Condition: On the Relevance of a Concept from Latin American Studies for Research on Eastern Europe” by Ulrich Schmid (St. Gallen University) discussed the relevance of this theoretical framework for Ukrainian literary and cultural studies. Nadia Bureiko (Ukrainian Prism) presented the results of an empirical study about Bukovyna as a contact zone, scrutinising attitudes and loyalties of minority groups living on both sides of the Ukrainian-Romanian borderland. The contact zone theme popped up equally during the final discussion about international academia, moderated by Andrii Portnov (Prisma Ukraïna), Constantin Ardeleanu (The New Europe College), and Ewa Dąbrowska (Prisma Ukraïna).
Reflecting back upon the academy I realize that besides methodological and theoretical discussions about contact zones, one of the most rewarding aspects of the Academy was the embodied experience of the scholarly contact zone that emerged during the 10-day course of academic debates and extra-curricular activities in Bucharest. In line with the theoretical concept introduced by Marie Louise Pratt (1991) in literary studies our scholarly contact zone developed as a social space where academic disciplines, cultural backgrounds and traditions clashed and intertwined with each other, leading to transculturation and hybridization of scholarship and enabling emergence of new ideas. Through the peer-to-peer discussions, panel presentations and workshops, we probed multidisciplinary approaches to identity, memory and history, challenging our own approaches and methodologies. As a result of the discussion of my ongoing project about ethnographic open-air museums, I was inspired to invite new theories of nationalism into the study and to visit Ukrainian open-air museum in Kyiv.
The dynamics of the scholarly contact zone was also prompted by the venue of the winter academy – eclectic Bucharest, a symbolic meeting point of diverse architectural styles, memories and meanings where, according to the Lonely planet’s guide, “still-unreconstructed communism meets unbridled capitalism”. The vivid example of the hybrid marriage of socialism with capitalism was captured during the visit to the immense Parliament palace or the so-called “People’s House” – a contested heritage site of Ceausescu’s dictatorial regime that is currently used not least as a venue for commercial activities. For example, we passed by the central hall filled with electronic music and disco lights that was rented by the Bucharest Real Estate Fair. The clash of epochs, meanings, and styles that we experienced so vividly fostered further discussions about destiny and memorialization of the traumatic communist heritage in Eastern Europe…
For the duration of the program, the Winter Academy functioned as a scholarly contact zone in situ grounded on shared academic interests, personal concerns and deep attachment to the region. I hope its synergy will promote further professional networking and academic cooperation among progressive young scholars of Eastern Europe.
 Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria. Online access: https://books.google.ee/books?id=wnAqDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT74&lpg=PT74&dq=still-unreconstructed+communism+meets+unbridled+capitalism&source=bl&ots=tenchz7Irs&sig=ul4uXZiDru65VZkM4dkQZB2_i2o&hl=lt&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiXzr3hvKbaAhWBLFAKHdB-ArIQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=still-unreconstructed%20communism%20meets%20unbridled%20capitalism&f=false