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 +3) except when stated otherwise. 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!

‘Cultural branding’ meets feminism in Russia: Reebok’s #BeMoreHuman campaign

Reebok, the global sportswear and footwear brand, launched its #BeMoreHuman campaign in Russia in 2019. The campaign turned to be controversial and caused 'online firestorm' among the consumers, marketing professionals, fashion industry representatives, activists, influencers, and other actors. The use of acute social issues in advertising campaigns by brands is known as ‘cultural branding’. In case of the Reebok’s campaign, the company offers a particular view on gender identity. Yet, the gender identity has a contingent character. We show how and why this contingent character of gender identity should be taken into account when global brands enter various national markets. Drawing from poststructuralist discourse theory of Laclau and Mouffe’s (2001) and applying it to the discussion around Reebok’s #BeMoreHuman campaign in Russia, the presentation will analyze the online firestorms that it triggered. The discussion will revolve around different meanings of gender identity that various actors articulate. The talk is based on a work in progress for an article co-authored with Tatiana Romashko from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

Comments: Olga Dovbysh, Postdoctoral Researcher, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

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

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Energy Threat or Energy Temptation? Russian Energy Chains from Siberia to Ukraine to the European Union

Scholars have often asked: how has Russia used energy as a weapon and element of threat against post-Soviet states such as Ukraine. Yet we cannot understand the threat of Russia’s energy power without also understanding the temptation Russian energy also means for many within these states --from the temptation of corruption-related profits to transportation fee income to subsidized prices-- benefits that are acquired through participation in the value chains of Russian energy exports.  It is this tension between energy threat and temptation in the arch between Vladivostok and Brussels that creates the puzzle that the book presented here -- Russian Energy Chains: The Remaking of Technopolitics from Siberia to Ukraine to the European Union (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021) -- seeks to solve.

Following three energy molecules (a natural gas molecule, an oil molecule, and a coal molecule) traveling from production jn Siberia to final use in Germany via Ukraine, the book analyzes how the physical characteristics of different types of energy, by shaping how they can be transported, distributed, and even stolen, affect how each is used―not only technically but also politically. Both a geopolitical travelogue of the journey of three fossil fuels across continents and an analysis of technology’s role in energy politics, this book forces us to rethink our view of “energy power” and how it can be used. (For more details see

Comments: Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen, Professor in Russian Environmental Studies, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

Moderator: Margarita Zavadsakaya, Postdoctoral Researcher, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki



Stuck in Transition: Rebranding Post-socialism as the Global East?

Post-socialism as the main frame for understanding change in countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the FSU has been criticised as no longer relevant and oriented towards the past rather than the future. Yet, a new conceptual frame is still in the making. As diverging transition paths have led to variegated outcomes, including democracy, authoritarianism, and some ‘in between’ cases, the early-stage optimism gave way to growing scepticism about the validity of the transition paradigm. The multiplicity of post-socialisms does not fit easily into any overarching concept such as ‘transition’, ‘democratisation’, or ‘democracy with adjectives’. Hence, there have been attempts to rethink, revive, or rebrand the debates seemingly stuck ‘in transition’.

Human geographers also contribute to these debates by seeking to conceptually frame this part of the world that was defined as the ‘Soviet Bloc’ or ‘the Second World’. Attempts to find a new synthesis have formed around three arguments. First, framing diverse processes in the former socialist countries as part of totalising process of the installation of the global neoliberal order (Golubchikov 2016). Second, developing a post-colonial critique of transition and expecting post-socialist societies to “speak back” to the hegemonic core (Borén and Young 2016). Third, conceptualising the Global East as a de-territorialised phenomenon (Tuvikene 2016), an “epistemic space – a liminal space in-between North and South” (Müller 2020). While these conceptualisations try to overcome the limitations of the transition paradigm and offer new promising perspectives, many questions remain unsolved. Can democracy and market be a universal ideal? Can dividing the world into the Global North, South, and East be a way forward? What can/should be expected from countries ‘stuck in transition’?

Comments: Professor Sanna Turoma, Tampere University; Aleksanteri Institute colleague from 2009 to 2020. See Sanna’s research profile here

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


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


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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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