Aleksanteri Alumni Talks



Series of open online seminars where alumni of the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Programme present their research on Russia, Eurasia, and Central and Eastern Europe through lenses of a broad range of disciplines and methodologies, and topics ranging from large societal, political and cultural questions to micro-level analyses, in the present and past times.

The monthly talks are held on Zoom, and take place in the afternoon, at 15:00 Helsinki time (UTC +2). The presentations are followed by comments given by Aleksanteri Institute’s researchers and scholars from among the Visiting Fellow alumni, and a Q & A session. See below for details and how to register for the sessions!

Regional Governors as Putin's Agents or Stakeholders? The story that COVID-19 pandemic tells about center-regional relations in Russia

The COVID-19 crisis has provided an opportunity to re-evaluate how federal relations work in today’s authoritarian Russia. In particular, the talk will demonstrate that the crisis has confirmed that the regional governors are an integral part of maintaining stability of the non-democratic regime in Russia. Because the whole system, and thereby the political careers of the incumbent governors, depend on Putin's popularity, the governors have an interest in maintaining this popularity – even at the expense of their own popularity in the eyes of their regional populations. This, in its turn, means that they are in fact not just agents, but also stakeholders in maintaining the authoritarian status quo in Russia.

During the course of the pandemic, regional governors have demonstrated their loyalty and willingness to shield President Putin from taking political responsibility for unpopular measures associated with COVID-19.  Further, the talk will show that the tasks that Moscow assigns to the regions during the pandemic are consistent with the goals of maintaining regime stability but create no incentives for improving the quality of governance in the regions.

The most recent manifestation of the regional authorities’ loyalty was a large-scaled campaign to prevent youth protests launched in response to January 2021 protests in support of Alexei Navalny.

Comments: Vladimir Gel’man, Professor of Russian Politics, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

Moderator: Anna Korhonen, Head of International Affairs, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

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Witchcraft in Russia and Ukraine, 1000 to 1900: The Power of Magic

In her talk Dr. Worobec will provide an overview of what the systematic study of witchcraft laws, references, and eventually trials in Russia and Ukraine between 1000 and 1900 reveal about the evolving political ramifications of witchcraft beliefs, the place of magical practices in daily life, and the extraordinary power of magical words. She will highlight differences and similarities between Ukrainian and Russian practices as well as the ways in which Russian and Ukrainian witchcraft persecutions differed from their European counterparts. The talk is based on Worobec's latest publication, Witchcraft in Russia and Ukraine, 1000-1900: A Sourcebook (Northern Illinois University Press, an imprint of Cornell University Press, 2020), co-edited with Valerie A. Kivelson (University of Michigan).     Comments: Anatoly Pinsky, Visiting Professor, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki (Visiting Fellow at the Aleksanteri Institute in 2016) 

Moderator: Anna Korhonen, Head of International Affairs, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

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Varieties of Russian Activism today

In this presentation we reflect on a critical question in Russian politics that lies at the heart of our co-edited book project for Indiana University Press forthcoming in 2021: how do Russians act together to pursue shared goals through civic activism? This question demonstrates our break with existing studies in which Russian society is alternatively depicted as either passive—content with the strong leadership of President Putin—or nationalist and supportive of new Cold War policies. On the contrary, our contributing authors show Russians acting together to educate, inform, or engage fellow citizens, providing new insight into the continual change occurring in Russian politics and society. Common themes that link our studies are the accumulation of shared grievances, the role of identity and shared information, and the influence of opportunities, and resources. Considered together we highlight the dynamic nature of Russian society and civic organization as social forces gain experience and resources to make demands of governmental, economic, and cultural leaders.

Comments: Margarita Zavadskaya, Postdoctoral Researcher, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki
Moderator: Anna Korhonen, Head of International Affairs, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki


Counter-Enlightenment populism in post-socialist European Union: ‘Village-fascists’ in Slovakia

Dr. Juraj Buzalka will address the post-socialist populist movements in East Central Europe, and in Slovakia in particular. In his recent ethnographic research, Buzalka probed into the phenomenon that he calls village fascism, the radical version of Counter-Enlightenment populism. He shows how the combination of socialist modernization, agrarian legacies of pre-socialist and socialist eras, mobilized by the politics of memory, produce political movement challenging the liberal European project. The presentation focuses on the relatively prosperous citizens of post-socialist European Union who show an ardent support for radical politics. He employs a perspective of ‘cultural economy of protest’ that helps to understand the paradox of the European project as an actual societal progress and at the same time a cultural trauma for post-peasants, the bulk of post-socialist citizens who are connected to the countryside and feel that real power in society shall be defined and based there.

Comments: Katalin Miklóssy, Head of Discipline in Eastern European and Balkan Studies, University Lecturer, Aleksanteri Institute

Moderator: Anna Korhonen, Head of International Affairs, Aleksanteri Institute.

Neo-Eurasianism Kazakhstani-style: foreign policy, power and identity in the Nazarbayev era

Luca Anceschi researched for almost a decade the many ways in which ideas and constructs associated with Eurasia influenced the making of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. This talk will present the key findings of this long-term research project, focusing mostly on the Nazarbaev era [1992-2019] while also shedding light on possible foreign policy avenues for post-Nazarbaev Kazakhstan.

The talk will illustrate the many narratives whereby the Nazarbayev regime articulated its visions for Eurasia and described Kazakhstan’s role in the wider Eurasian geopolitical space, touching upon the complex relationship that Kazakhstan established with Russia both bilaterally and within a series of multilateral organisations, including the highly controversial Eurasian Economic Union. Presenting the regime’s domestic power considerations as a key driver of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy-making will represent one of the talk’s main discussion points. The talk is based on Luca’s latest book, Analysing Kazakhstan’s Foreign Policy—Regime neo-Eurasianism in the Nazarbaev era (Routledge 2020).

Comments: Anna-Liisa Heusala, Head of Discipline in Russian and Eurasian Studies, University Lecturer, Aleksanteri Institute

Moderator: Anna Korhonen, Head of International Affairs, Aleksanteri Institute