Anca Baicoianu: The Berlin Winter Academy in 5 Words…and 5 Concepts
As it has been repeatedly emphasized during the general discussion that concluded the Berlin Winter Academy “Beyond History and Identity: New Perspectives on Aesthetics, Politics and Society in Eastern Europe”, the program was a rewarding experience for everyone involved. Thanks to the well-thought format, the participants could benefit both from the sense of cohesion developed during the project presentations within small set groups and from the diversity of theoretical perspectives deployed during the open thematic discussions. At the same time, the organizers’ initiative of adding to the program a series of public events and project presentations taking place in a variety of institutions, from the Humboldt University and the Free University in Berlin to the Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), and from the Forum Transregionale Studien to the Centre Marc Bloch, presented the participants to the Winter Academy with the opportunity of meeting a wide range of international scholars working on topics related to the main research interests of the Academy itself. On a more personal note, I also think that it is worth emphasizing not only the Academy’s role as a framework for fruitful intellectual exchange, but also as a space encouraging close dialogue and personal commitment. For ten intense days, we have discussed sources and materials, concepts and approaches, while at the same time tackling sensitive issues and putting forward new questions designed to advance our understanding of the region in a global context. For the duration of the program, the Academy functioned as a close-knit research unit held together both by common intellectual interests and by shared human concerns, which will undoubtedly form a solid basis for building new institutional and professional networks. The warmth and camaraderie surrounding this event left me and my colleagues with the feeling of being part of a vibrant scholarly community, and I am inclined to see this as one of the greatest achievements of the program.
The Berlin Winter Academy in 5 words… and 5 concepts
1. Openness In the case of the Winter Academy, the notion of openness covers two different yet interrelated realities: an organizational principle and a state of mind. In terms of organization, it led to the creation, alongside the small groups (A, B, C) intended as stable frameworks for the presentation of the individual research projects, of open thematic discussions and plenary sessions favoring the interaction between members of different groups. A step further in increasing the feeling of openness and exchange was the participation of the Winter Academy attendants to various public and private events ranging from project presentations in Berlin and Frankfurt/Oder to an exhilarating meeting with young Ukrainian poets, from individual lectures (such as Jane Burbank’s) to seminars (see the discussion about “EuroMaidan Tahrir” at the Forum Transregionale Studien, fueled by Mayssun Succarie and Nataliya Gumenyuk and chaired by Cilja Harders). In terms of communication, openness reflected in the participants’ willingness to share and discuss their personal, intellectual and institutional experience both inside and outside the boundaries of formal sessions; the passionate, sometimes heated debates were always conducted in an atmosphere of camaraderie made possible by the common understanding of the fact that we were there to learn from each other.
2. Freedom Many of us have had at some point the experience of working within strict disciplinary, institutional or even political boundaries. The Berlin Winter Academy was the exact opposite: for ten intense days, it has provided a space of freedom where such boundaries could be critically examined. By gathering together scholars from different countries and with different backgrounds, it helped encourage cross-disciplinary interrogation and thorough historicization of the case studies under scrutiny.
3. Dialogue Dialogue has become a sort of catch phrase tirelessly repeated in all kinds of contexts, from the political to the academic. Nevertheless, what goes by this name is oftentimes a succession of competing monologues. Against this background, what made the Berlin Winter Academy a genuine conversation was the participants’ willingness to listen as much as to speak, and thus to let their research be inflected by the productive encounter between different positions and perspectives.
4. Cooperation This dialogic dimension turned the Berlin Winter Academy into a truly collaborative event. The participants’ commitment to the main goal of the program, which could be broadly defined as an attempt to deconstruct essentialized categories and definitions by measuring them against grassroots experiences, emphasized the importance of the comparative perspective in furthering our understanding of the social and cultural transformations in East-Central Europe. Based on the sense of community created by the participation to the program, future collaborative projects started to take shape, which promise to carry the echoes of this initiative well beyond the limits of the event itself. At this point, it is worth mentioning that the Berlin Winter Academy has provided not only the setting but also the tools for an ongoing conversation: the Trafo Hub and the blog will undoubtedly prove useful in exchanging information and materials and advertising future events in our home institutions.
5. Responsibility For scholars of East-Central Europe, the five concepts I have selected among the most frequently used during the program – namely, history, identity, violence, boundaries, and transgression – are not only intellectual constructions but also harsh realities. Therefore, dealing with entangled histories and notoriously complicated identities poses a double challenge: on the one hand, it points to the need to find adequate means of conceptualizing heterogeneous, multi-layered facts; on the other, it raises the question of positioning oneself with regard to complex, ambiguous issues. To put it differently, finding new vocabularies and approaches able to address the overlapping historical legacies as well as the current developments in East-Central Europe is anything but idle intellectual talk. The political instrumentalization of such concepts and the persistence of the rhetoric of ethnic nationalism call for a discriminate reflection which, in the long run, might help devise means of defusing regional and transregional conflicts