Visiting Fellows Research Seminars



Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar Series features the work of the outstanding scholars who have been invited to conduct their research within the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Programme. The scholars’ topics cover a wide range both geographically, and with regard to methodology, discipline, and focus. The seminars are a platform for advancing and sharing knowledge of the present, past, and future of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe, and Eurasia, and each session has ample time for questions and discussion. All students, scholars, and other interested audiences are warmly welcome to attend!

You can follow updates to the seminar programme on this page, on our Facebook page and in our monthly Newsletter. Along with the Visiting Fellows Research seminars, join Aleksanteri Alumni Talks, online seminars with Visiting Fellow alumni!

The Visiting Fellows Research Seminars are streamed online and can be watched on our  YouTube channel for a two-week period after the presentation, in c. a week’s time from the seminar. To get a video link for viewing a presentation after that, contact Anna Korhonen.

Predestined for Greatness: Sense of Mission in post-Soviet Russia’s Foreign Policy

Messianism is often referred to as one of the inherent features of Russia’s culture and politics. It functions almost as a self-evident truth, i.e., everybody knows about Russian messianism and there is therefore no need to elaborate on it. The annexation of Crimea, the war in Ukraine and the so called “conservative turn” in Russian politics have revived talk of Russian messianism. Some have interpreted these developments as a manifestation of the revival of Russian messianic imperialism.

Considering the increasing prominence of messianism in the contemporary debate on Russia, it is surprising how little substantial data and analysis has been produced concerning the contemporary dynamics of this phenomenon. In regard to the fundamental issue whether contemporary Russian foreign policy is messianic, experts’ opinions are divided. Some hold that messianism disappeared with the fall of the USSR. This is also the position with which most of the Russian political elite would agree. Others, however, insist that the sense of mission is an indispensable part of the Russian worldview. In my talk, I will present the main findings of my research whose main goal was to characterise messianic motifs in the foreign policy of the Russian Federation (2000-2018).

Speaker: Alicja Curanović, Associate Professor, University of Warsaw. Read more.

Chair: Sirke Mäkinen, University Lecturer, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki


Visiting Fellows Research Seminars 22 Feb 2022

Remembering Eternity: Open Hearts, Saints and Pilgrimage in Russia’s Muslim Urals

This paper addresses different dimensions of remembering Muslim traditions in Russia’s Urals by exploring how remembering past Muslim figures becomes a spiritual practice in a Bashkir Sufi circle. Here, remembering the prophets, saints, and martyrs (awliya and shuhuda) does not simply mean revisiting the past and celebrating a Muslim heritage as in a secular and “horizontal” conception of time. Rather the connection with “dead” saints, prophets, and mythical figures such as the Bashkir hero Ural Batyr is also “vertical” in the sense that these holy figures intimate the living to become aware of the eternity that awaits them after death and that they can also glimpse in this world. These practices of remembering also translate into the reawakening of pilgrimage sites and a sacred geography. Although tangible and material, the revival of pilgrimages at the saints’ graves and construction of new mosques become an invitation to open one’s heart to the presence of God in this life, going beyond an immanent plane of existence. I connect my exploration of remembering as a spiritual practice to recent debates in the anthropology and sociology of religion on mediation, materiality, divine presence and the religious self. In particular, I want to foreground Muslim ontologies and epistemologies to propose new ways of approaching the relationship between human life and the divine and between immanence and transcendence.

Speaker: Lili Di Puppo, Aleksanteri  Visiting Fellow
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Chair: Judith Pallot, Research Director, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki; Professor Emerita, University of Oxford  


Between Dictatorship and Anarchy: State Censorship and Media Resistance. Dagestan Case Study


At a time when the Russian state increasingly restricts journalistic freedoms, it is crucial to understand the ways in which Russian journalists push back against state pressure. My current book project explores the daily resistance tactics that journalists in Chechnya and Dagestan utilize to circumvent state-imposed censorship. My project draws from the data I collected over nine months of ethnographic fieldwork in the North Caucasus (2014- 2017), digital ethnography, and over a hundred interviews.

For this seminar, I will focus on discussing journalistic resistance practices in the republic of Dagestan. I will provide an overview of the Dagestani media field, and will explicate how Dagestani journalists employ creative resistance techniques and establish three distinct forms of resistance: textual, behavioral, and conceptual. I will particularly focus on the tactic of creating “safe spaces,” both physical and digital, by Dagestani journalists and activists, and speak about how these digital safe spaces contest the concept of “echo chambers.” I will also discuss how creating interconnected online safe spaces by journalists who work within an authoritarian environment is relevant to the understanding of the concepts of social media ecosystems and the highly debated role of the on-line technologies in resistance and protest movements.

Speaker: Elena Rodina, subject matter expert at MS in Communications, Northwestern University
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Chair: Olga Dovbysh, Postdoctoral Researcher, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

Register your participation to get the meeting link

Mobilizing the Past: Russian School History Textbook Narratives and Political Legitimation Strategies

For any given regime, the power to control the official interpretation of national history is considered to be an important and efficient instrument for nation building and nation maintenance purposes. As pointed out by Michael Billig, “nations do not typically have a single history, but there are competing tales to be told” (Billig 1995: 71). Thus, historical narratives are subject to construction, re-construction, and contestation. School history textbooks—and the educational system in general—represent important locales for such struggles between competing historical narratives. 

As history books, school history textbooks represent a special genre. Complicated issues are as a rule reduced to undebatable “shared truths” ready for student consumption. In this context, the past is first and foremost meant to provide meaning to and legitimation of the present and to help staking out a common course for the future. With their near universal reach to entire cohorts of youths, school history textbooks are a powerful tool for spreading the message of the current regime of who and what the nation should be—and for legitimizing the powers-that-be.

In my paper, I examine continuity and change in how some key moments of Russian history are being presented in school history textbooks in the Russian Federation in order to explore changes in the understanding of the national self. Since textbooks have to be preapproved by the authorities to get on the list of recommended textbooks, these books can be taken to represent the official view on how these key moments are reinterpreted to fit the current approach to national history, and, thereby, also the current understanding of the national self.

I rely on Soviet school history textbooks in use in the early 1980s (pre-Perestroika) as a “baseline”. Then I trace how the narration of the same key events have been depicted in two sets of post-independence school history textbooks: textbooks that were in use in the mid-1990s (the first generation of post-Soviet textbooks), and the late 2010s (those currently in use), respectively. What historical “facts” remain constant? What has changed? And what can these shifting interpretations of historical events tell us about changes in the evolving understanding of the national self—and about the regime’s legitimation strategies?

Speaker: Helge Blakkisrud, Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
Mobilizing the Past: Russian School History Textbook Narratives and Political Legitimation Strategies

Chair: Markku Kangaspuro, Director, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki   

Register here for the Zoom link.