Euroculture: The Hidden Gems

By Maeva Chargros

Applying for a master programme is not an easy task; applying for an Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme such as Euroculture, offering eight universities in eight different countries… can be even more complicated. Indeed, during the application process, candidates have to pick three universities they are interested in for the first semester. Of course, the courses taught there, as well as the specialisations of each university or the monthly budget are important; but sometimes, one needs something more personal to be convinced.
This first edition of universities’ presentations is focusing on what we could call the “hidden gems” of Euroculture: the universities you might not think of at first, some cities you could not even place on a map before going there, but they turn out to be life-changing decisions you’ll never regret.

Creativity: a keyword for all three cities

Why would you study in Central Europe? Life there is affordable (or even cheap), with many options to travel. This is what every Erasmus student answers during their first week here. A few weeks later, they still consider the place to be affordable and practical for trips, but the list of good reasons to study here extended slightly. The very dynamic cultural life, for instance, shows up suddenly. Continue reading “Euroculture: The Hidden Gems”

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IP Euroculture 2018: The “Backstage”!

 

As the Intensive Programme 2018 is about to start, the Euroculturer Magazine decided to offer you a sneak peek into the most intense, challenging and exciting part of the programme’s 1st year. Senka Neuman Stanivukovic, from the Rijksuniversiteit in Groningen, and Karolina Czerska-Shaw, from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, accepted to answer a few questions for us…
Indeed, this year’s IP has been co-organised mainly by these two universities – though as you will discover in this article, an IP is never about just one or even two universities’ teams! So, what does the “backstage” look like?

Let’s first look back a few years ago… Can you tell us how and when the Euroculture adventure started in Krakow?
Karolina Czerska-Shaw: “Yes, I remember it well! It started in 2004, when I came to study at the Jagiellonian in the Euroculture programme. It was then a 1-year MA, and the IP was in February. Luckily that year it was in Udine, which was a relief after the very cold winter in Poland… Our Director of Studies (and now the Dean of our Faculty), Prof. Mach, was the man behind the JU’s ‘entrance’ into the Euroculture team, and the rest is history. Well, sort of.

What about the IP, how many times did Krakow and Groningen co-organised or hosted the event? Any funny stories to share with us?
Karolina: “I’m beginning to lose count… 2008, 2014, 2017, 2018. Am I missing one? As for funny anecdotes, funny during or in retrospect? Hmm, there are certainly some, but my mind is a blur. I’m sure the past students have many of their own. Check Facebook!
Senka Neuman Stanivukovic: “I think twice or even three times, I am not sure?! As for anecdotes and funny stories, the IP has nothing to do with fun or funny, it is only hard work, hard work, very hard hard work!

Just in case we were not panicking enough just yet, thank you for the reminder Senka!
But by the way, could you please introduce yourself and the team behind this year’s IP? Continue reading “IP Euroculture 2018: The “Backstage”!”

Why does Ireland have the EU’s strictest abortion regime? Applying and Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution

 

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A mural in Dublin calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, which bans abortion.

Eoghan Hughes

With a significant pro-choice victory in Poland as the country’s conservative PiS government performs a U-turn on restricting access to abortion in the case of incest, rape, fatal foetal abnormality and risk to the mother’s life, it is easy to forget that the EU still has one State in which very few of the above constitute a legitimate cause for abortion.

Last year the Republic of Ireland became the first country to legalise same sex marriage through a popular referendum with an overwhelming victory, which seemed to signal a new liberal turn in a country many people across Europe and the world associate with conservative Catholicism. Yet Ireland, despite calls from the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN, has retained one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, where fatal foetal abnormalities and rape are not considered legal grounds for the termination of a foetus and where, even in the cases where woman’s life would be endangered by seeing a foetus to term, a woman might be denied the necessary treatment. Enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) the Eighth Amendment prevents a woman having an abortion because the foetus is considered to have an equal right to life:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” Continue reading “Why does Ireland have the EU’s strictest abortion regime? Applying and Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution”

The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds

 

Sophie van den Elzen

Recurrent images of the masses of women filing through the streets of Europe’s capitals remind us that the conflict over whether to prioritize women’s right to choose or a fetus’ right to live is one at the heart of many major social debates. Not only does it chafe at the junctions between social progress and tradition, individualism and normativity, encouraging women to exercise their right to self-determination and protecting sacralized family life; the issue also serves as a pin on which politicians hang the canvases they paint of ‘their’ nations as either traditionalist religious countries respectful of their past (such as Poland under PiS) or liberal countries  pragmatically looking to the future (e.g. The Netherlands under VVD).

With Europe’s eyes glued to those countries with the most ostensibly hostile public opinions to the right to legal abortion, it is perhaps also important to glance over at those in which a woman’s right of choice is most firmly established. Continue reading “The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds”

The Czarny Protest: Poland’s Government faces revolt over new strict Abortion Bill

This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily representative the views of The Euroculturer, the management and editorial staff of The Euroculturer or contributors to The Euroculturer

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Emma Danks-Lambert

The Czarny Protest- Women in Poland don black to protest the loss of their dignity and security in rallies held outside of parliament buildings and in town squares across major cities in Poland.

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Czarny Protest in Krakow

They are wearing black to protest the introduction of new abortion laws which would see victims of rape and incest forced to give birth to the result of their violations, whilst those whose fetus has severe or permanent impairment, those who would be at risk of long-term health complications from carrying their child to term, will have no choice in the matter. Soon Poland may see a law passed that restricts abortion in all but the most clear cut life and death situations.

The abortion law in force now, was passed in 1993 and restricts abortions save for cases of risk to the mother’s life, impairment of the fetus, and children conceived through rape and incest.

Women are being told by the Polish Parliament that their life, their place in Polish society, the fact that they are theoretically equal citizens before the law, matters less than what their womb can produce.

Pro-life activists, backed by the Catholic Church, were the ones who submitted this new law for the consideration of the Parliament, asking for the complete restriction of abortions save for life or death situations and gathered half a million signatures, four hundred thousand more than was necessary for submission.

The Law and Justice Party (PiS) who is currently in power and considering these further restrictions, are a national right-wing conservative party but even the main opposition party Civic Platform- a liberal-conservative party, has refused to consider liberalizing abortion laws.

If the anti-abortion bills become law, women and female children who do undergo abortions for any reason short of life and death situations will risk between three months and five years in prison. Whilst doctors who seek to perform these unauthorized abortions will face increased prison sentences. The Gazeta Wroclawska quotes one protester stating that :”It’s a cruel and inhuman law. It will endanger all of us. We do not want to live in a country where the bed of a pregnant woman is surrounded by armed police officers and a prosecutor, where every abortion ends in investigation, where raped girls are forced to bear the children of their rapists ” (Translated from Polish)

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Czarny Protest in Gdansk

Pro-choice activists have tried to counter with their own initiative by producing a bill called ‘Save the Women’, which would allow abortions for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.Within a very short time the bill had collected215,000 signatures but has since been ignored by the Parliament.

The reasoning behind the Black Protest movement is described by the organizer of the Lublin branch, Catherine Babis, as – “(We) organized the protest, because we are tired of being treated like objects in the ideological controversy. It is easy to talk about sacrifice and holiness of life, if it applies to sacrifice someone else. We do not agree with forcing women to be heroic in the name of someone else’s ideology and someone else’s beliefs. We can see how it ends in countries that have introduced similar laws, countries dealing out sentences for miscarriage, and the doctors looking idly on the death of women who could be saved. We do not want Poland to be turned into a hell for women. We want dignity and security for us and for our families.”

Click here for more by Emma Danks-Lambert.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

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“The EU as a Democratic Role Model for the U.S.? Comparing representation in the EU and the U.S.” by Sabine Volk

The European Union’s ‘Game of Thrones’: Who Will Be The Next President of The European Parliament?

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EU Parliament in session

Bastian Bayer

Who will be the next president of the United States of America seems to be the big question of 2016, but in the European Parliament another game of thrones has begun.

At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, the conservative EPP and the social democratic S&D made a deal and signed a written agreement that meant that Martin Schulz, the S&D candidate, would become president for the first half of the legislative period and  that the EPP would pick the president for the second half.

Now with the first half coming to an end in January 2017,  the current president Martin Schulz does not seem to be willing to leave office, despite the EPP insisting on the instillation a new president from among their own ranks.

The face of EU policy

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Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament

Schulz has been, with interruptions,  president of the EP since 2012 and a Member of the EP (MEP) since 1994. He is often portrayed as a down to earth politician, ingrained and diligent. He is said to have strengthened the position of the European Parliament and even critics say he has made the EP more visible to the European public and the world.

He is considered to be the most influential president in the history of the European Parliament.

However his path to power and appreciation was rocky. The son of a police officer, he wanted to become a football player in his youth but a knee-injury made a professional career impossible. As a result this crushed dream Schulz became an alcoholic in the mid-70s which saw him lose his job and almost get thrown out of his own apartment.

However, despite this inauspicious start, Schulz eventually overcame his addiction with the help of his brother.

What followed is a remarkable career.  After a career  as a bookstore manager Schulz became mayor of his home town, Würselen, following his first engagement in the German Social Democratic Party. In 1994 he was elected member of the European Parliament and became its president in 2012. He reached a high point of his career when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize together with van Rompuy and Barroso on behalf of the European Union.

In 2014 Schulz wanted to become president of the EU Commission, but in the European elections the Conservatives became the largest party and their candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the Commission, a post he still holds to this day. Nevertheless, this setback did not stop Schulz from being re-elected as President of the EP.

Power play in the middle of the greatest crises in the existence of the EU

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Tusk, Schulz and Juncker

Schulz’s future, however, is unclear, as the first half of this legislative term comes to an end. According to the agreement, Schulz will be replaced by EPP member. However, for some, the agreement does not fit the new circumstances Europe finds itself in.

The S&D argues that with Juncker as President of the Commission and Tusk as President of the Council, already two of the key positions are held by EPP members; and to keep the balance between the largest EU parties, the presidency of the EP should stay with the S&D.

Even a prominent EPP politician and former competitor supports the idea of Schulz retaining the presidency after January 2017, with the simple reason:

“We need stability.”

Just recently Juncker spoke about the many challenges the EU faces in his ‘State of the Union’ address. Brexit, the refugee challenge, economic stagnation and youth-unemployment among many other things.

“Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.” said Juncker.

To keep stability in these difficult times, Juncker would like to keep the leadership of the institutions as they are, namely, Schulz as president. It is no secret that Martin and Jean-Claude work closely together, Der Spiegel has even accused them of mutually securing each other’s posts.  Juncker said:”The relationship between the Commission and the Parliament has probably never been as good as it is now”, so “Why change a reliable team?”

However the EPP has made it crystal clear that they will not have Schulz for the next half of the legislative period. Schulz has been heavily criticised for not sticking to the agreement and the same critics have claimed that he has made the representation of the European people a one-man-. These critics claim that “if Schulz gave the parliament a face, it is primarily his face”.

On the other hand, if Schulz id removed; whom is the EPP going to nominate? For an internal primary on 12 December candidates need to be found. However, they lack strong candidates:

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Antonio Tajani

So far the Italian Antonio Tajani, the French Alain Lamassoure and the Irish Mairead McGuinness have been mentioned as possible successors to Schulz. However Tajani is weakened by being close to former Italian PM Berlusconi, who has been disgraced by many scandals.  Also as former commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, he supposedly involved in the emission scandal and has already been summoned before the investigation committee. All of this means that he is seen as unenforceable in the parliament.

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Alain Lamassoure

The other candidates have similar shortcomings. Lamassoure has the reputation of being uncontrollable and prideful, some say thinking of himself as the French president. McGuinness, as a woman, current EP vice-president and a representative of a small EU Member State, seems to have the best chances of getting  a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless she is perceived as a rather plain Jane candidate and has not excited much attention.

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Mairead McGuinness

Currently, Schulz is fighting to forge a coalition with Liberals, Greens and EPP renegades. Yet it seems to be unlikely that he will cobble together enough votes without the backing of the EPP.

So what is next for him? Luckily another throne, perhaps a greater one, is up for grabs. In Berlin, some people would like to see Schulz as chancellor- the candidate for the SPD in place of the unpopular Sigmar Gabriel, to challenge Angela Merkel in the elections for the German parliament 2017 Regardless, it looks like Schulz has only begun to play.

For more by Bastian, click here.

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“Who Polices the Internet? Content Removal v. Freedom of Speech” Julia Mason guides us through the trenches of the internet’s most contested battleground and asks is ‘Hate speech’ the same as ‘Freedom of Speech’.

“Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK migration work post-Brexit” Eoghan Hughes examines the promises, pledges and pitfalls surrounding the UK’s immigration policy in a post-Brexit reality.

 

Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK Migration work Post-Brexit?

 

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Johnson and May, although on opposite sides pf the referendum campaign, have both promised to reduce immigration post-Brexit

Eoghan Hughes

Months after it helped convince citizens to vote to leave the European Union (EU), migration remains at the heart of post-referendum politics in the UK. One promise of the Brexiteers was that a points system would be brought in to gauge the usefulness of various applicants for immigration. Another promise was that the freedom of movement of EU citizens into the UK would stop. However the newly minted but not so shiny Prime Minister Theresa May’s has made the decision to rule out introducing a points-based immigration system to the UK following the referendum result which has stirred media attention in Britain as the debate about the UK’s future immigration policy rages on.

May’s immigration blunder

May made the initial comments before her journey to Beijing to attend the 6 September G20 summit earlier this month, largely an exercise in trying to keep the UK relevant on the international stage and assure international partners that Britain would not become a disconnected island. The points-system referred to is modelled after the Australian immigration system which sees immigrants being given points for their various skills, qualifications and backgrounds, as well as behaviour, as the basis for their potential residency in the state.  May’s statement that there was not yet any proof such a system worked, emphasized that there was no “silver bullet” solution to reducing immigration to the UK. Upon her return, the British cabinet confirmed that the points system would not be part of their immigration policy. May promised, however, “some control” over immigration.

This seems a softer message following May’s 31 August pledge to her cabinet, that restricting immigration will be at the heart of any Brexit negotiations. So far there are less bullets, silver or otherwise, coming out of Westminster, and more vague promises. Continue reading “Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK Migration work Post-Brexit?”

The Back Office: New Students

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Albert Meijer

If someone asks me what my favourite part of working for Euroculture is, I get an emotional, teary look in my eyes and tell them: “the students”! Fresh faces every semester, eager beavers waiting to be filled with information. Students coming from all corners of the world, all sharing that Euroculture-gene of being triggered by intercultural affairs, with mouths that start foaming by hearing words like ‘Brexit’, ‘transnational’ or ‘identity discourse’. Being in charge of the general euroculture@rug.nl e-mail account, I’m often the first person an interested student talks to. It’s my duty to talk them into entering that great programme of ours.
                But with great power comes great responsibility, mostly in the form of a never-ending cascade of e-mails from students who just write ‘I want scholarship please I need it can I start tomorrow?’ and then expect us to transfer huge sums of money into their accounts. No joke. This happens. A lot.
                Even worse are those students who have enough brains and punctuation skills to trick us into believing they are genuinely interested in a position in our programme, who ask us to guide them through the application procedure, upload reference letters for them, prepare invoices and insurance certificates, and spend valuable time into ensuring a smooth transition into Euroculture studenthood, but who back out at the last moment by saying ‘sorry I’m not coming anymore, I’m going to Laos instead on a spiritual journey to find myself’.
                It’s time-consuming and annoying, but my bitterness never lingers – partly due to the great coffee bar in the vicinity of the consortium headquarters, but mostly because of that sweet sweet sound of a fresh new student knocking on my door, asking where they can find accommodation or how to open up a bank account. “Try the mobility office”, I tell them smilingly.

Albert Meijer works with the Erasmus Mundus Master of Excellence in Euroculture: Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context, one of the most successful Erasmus Mundus programs. To read more of Albert’s work, click here. 

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(Europe needs all its voices to weather the challenges faces it today. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need to stand up for your Europe. Join the FREE online course, European Culture and Politics’ starting September 26.)

To find out more about the Euroculture program, visit their website here

Internship Experience and Advice 2015-2016

Debora Guanella
Edited by Ann Keefer

Galicia Jewish Museum
September, 2015-January, 2016 Kraków

Since the very beginning of my MA Euroculture experience, I have made very clear my intention of pursuing the Professional Track to address the lack of study-related working experience in my CV. Within the wide range of topics covered during the first and the second semester, I was particularly interested in questions of cultural memory and heritage, their preservation and their role in building national / group identities. These were the two main reasons that led me to move to Kraków during the third semester to work as full-time intern at the Galicia Jewish Museum.

The Galicia Jewish Museum is an innovative cultural institution opened in April 2004 in Kazimierz, the Jewish district of Kraków, Poland. It is a registered charitable foundation in Poland (Fundacja Galicia Jewish Heritage Institute) and it was founded by the British photojournalist Chris Schwarz in collaboration with  Anthropology Professor Jonathan Webber. The Museum’s mission is not exclusively to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but also to present and to celebrate the Jewish contribution to the history and culture of Polish Galicia with its two permanent photographic exhibitions Traces of Memory and An Unfinished Memory. One of the Museum’s main goals is to challenge the widespread misconceptions regarding the Jewish presence in Poland and to promote the contact  between Jewish and Polish cultures. In order to achieve its aims the Museum also hosts conferences, panel discussions and workshops on Jewish history, Jewish culture, antisemitism, Holocaust studies and intercultural dialog.

My work at the museum primarily consisted of giving tours of the permanent exhibition Traces of Memory and welcoming visitors at the reception desk. The role of the guide is not only to tell the story behind some selected photographs or to suggest possible interpretations, but also and especially, to explain to the visitor how to read the exhibition’s sections in combination with one another. Further tasks may vary depending on the interns’ individual skills and on what is going on currently  at the Museum. The other tasks I carried out for the Education Department included preparing reports of feedback surveys, translating texts from English into German, organising ice-breaker and entertainment activities for visiting groups, leading workshops and training new interns.

Overall, working at the Galicia Jewish Museum has been a very positive experience. The atmosphere was relaxed and stimulating, the museum’s staff helpful and, most important, the interns’ work was valued and trusted by everyone.

Based on my personal experience as a third semester Euroculture intern, here are some suggestions I would like to share with those MA Euroculture fellow-students wishing to follow a placement at the Galicia Jewish Museum or at a similar institution: Continue reading “Internship Experience and Advice 2015-2016”

Playing by two different playbooks: John Mearsheimer on Ukraine, the students of Krakow on John Mearsheimer

Eoghan Hughes
Edited by Elizabeth White

I had not realised just how controversial Professor Mearsheimer was going to be until he delivered this line:

“The conventional wisdom in Europe is that the US is a benign hegemon.”

Looking at the smirks scattering across the room, I got the feeling that Mearsheimer would have been quite surprised by what the students were actually thinking. Later, when he suggested that the Ukraine embrace its role as a ‘buffer’ state, nestled between the EU and the Russian Federation, the scowls could have peeled paint from the walls — but that, Mearsheimer explained, was something he had expected.

John Mearsheimer, a professor of the University of Chicago and one of America’s most influential theorists on international relations, cut an odd figure at Krakow’s Uniwersytet Jagielloński. He delivered his lecture, “Why the West – not Putin – Is Responsible for the Ukraine Crisis”, to a full house in the main hall of the Collegium Novum, surrounded by images of Polish kings, Copernicus and the rich blues and reds of the room’s intricate décor. Scrutinised by students from the East and West, from Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany, Ireland, the US and more, you could almost believe he had forgotten who his audience was, with his talk of the aggressive expansion of NATO, the ‘peeling’ of Ukraine from Russia, and the sound logic of Putin’s decision to annex the Crimea. Yet Mearsheimer was well aware of his audience, and past experience had taught him what to expect.
Just a few weeks previously, in Warsaw, he had been confronted by several Ukrainian women, who were “so mad” that he had been afraid that they “might kill [him]!” He said this with an easy laugh that characterised the good humour with which he approached this grave topic. That wasn’t the first time he had made people angry, and it won’t be the last.

Mearsheimer’s argument tends to get him in trouble, he concedes.

 

The intricacies of Mearsheimer’s arguments are well beyond the scope of this piece, as they span several articles, lectures and books, but a sketch of his major points might give you some idea of the trouble he can find himself in.

The central idea underlining Mearsheimer’s theory is that Great Powers are very paranoid about their security: if a perceived threat intends to expand towards the border of Russia, then, in realist terms, Russia as a Great Power must do all it can to prevent this from happening. An advocate of the ‘Great Powers’ school of thought, Mearsheimer thus contends that the Ukraine crisis has its roots not in any delusions of Vladimir Putin, but in a concentrated policy by the EU and US of gradually expanding eastwards towards Russia. This expansion was fueled by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, which allowed for Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland to join the military alliance in 1997. Russia, under Yeltsin, opposed NATO expansion but they had little power to prevent it. According to Mearsheimer, NATO “got away with it” because of Russian weakness, not because the nature of the country’s politics had changed.

In 2008 a NATO proposal to allow Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance caused a powerful backlash from the recovering Great Power. Russia under Putin had regained international maneuverability and would go to great lengths to prevent further expansion. Months later the Russo-Georgian war scuppered any immediate plans for accession. This conflict served as a stark prophecy of what was to come for Ukraine.

The EU, comprised of many NATO nations, is considered yet another envoy of the alliance. Therefore, EU expansion in the Ukraine, made all the more likely by the Association Agreement, would have constituted a direct threat to Russia’s borders. Putin, according to this theory, was given little choice but to annex the Crimea and destabilise eastern Ukraine, when the Ukraine-EU Association treaty came close to fruition, bettering the country’s prospects for membership of NATO and of abandoning its age-old function as a buffer between Russia and Western Europe. According to this reasoning, Mearsheimer claims, Putin is a “rational actor,” not the “second coming of Adolf Hitler”, and this action in the Ukraine, far from being expansionary, is in fact reactionary. Russia, being a declining power in terms of population and economic significance, has no resources for a long-term war, and knows very well that an invasion of the Ukraine would be self-destructive.

“In the modern world, conquering and occupation are a recipe for disaster” says Mearsheimer, referencing the Afghan war and the occupation of Iraq. Putin, he claims, is a strategist and knows well that such an effort would end badly. Instead, to maintain Russian security, Putin has decided to “ruin” the Ukraine: a strategy which, even if it is morally reprehensible, still makes sense on the part of Russia. Putin, as Mearsheimer puts it, is playing politics according to the rules of Great Power theory, the playbook of the twentieth century.

This is what he pinpoints as the major flaw in the western assessment of the crisis. NATO and the EU are playing by a different playbook to Russia; they are playing by the book of international law and the ‘new world order’ established by the fall of the USSR. This has allowed NATO to position itself as a benign entity, and sell its expansion as something more political than military. Yet Putin and Russia do not buy this, and have made clear in the past, according to Mearsheimer, that NATO expansion will be treated as an aggressive act.

Mearsheimer’s critics, when not addressing his logic, tend to focus on his moral position. One Ukrainian observer later commented that Mearsheimer’s point of view showed a lack of integrity or concern for the democratic will of the Ukrainian people, something the scholar himself denies.

Instead, Mearsheimer claims that the Ukraine is caught between “two gorillas”: the western alliance comprising NATO and the EU to the west, and the Russian Federation to the east. He believes that the current policy of sanctions and a soft power approach won’t work because Russia is concerned with its security, not its economy. A Great Power, he claims, can be willing to “absorb” a lot of damage in the interests of its security. Instead, the West must change its tactics.

For Mearsheimer, the most important aspect of a new plan towards the Ukraine crisis is for it to be realistic. A realistic approach would involve abandoning the sanctions against Russia, putting a stop to the expansion of NATO and the EU eastwards and focusing on building a cooperative partnership with Russia, something Mearsheimer believes will be necessary to deal with the crises in the Middle East, as evidenced by the Syrian situation, and against an expansive China.

On top of that, he believes the Ukraine, instead of seeking to become a member of either the EU or the NATO alliance, should optimise its placement as a buffer between the two ‘gorillas’, seeking financial partnership from both, and reap the benefits of serving as a meeting point between East and West, akin to Austria’s position during the Cold war, where it served, in Mearsheimer’s theory, as a meeting point for the two sides.

Knowing this, one student asked, why would NATO or the EU seek to add the Ukraine, a country with little to no strategic value in military or economic terms, to the West?

“I don’t understand what we are doing!” Mearsheimer replied, throwing his arms and casting a look upwards. He may think of Putin as a rational actor, but he certainly has his doubts about the ‘West’.

 

Mearsheimer’s talk was always going to be controversial, and the student reaction was diverse and telling of the audience. Aside from the aforementioned comments from some Ukrainian students, other students, generally from European countries with a longer history of European integration, had a variety of responses, from the negative to hearty praise. One commentator, fellow Euroculture student Galina Thieme had this to say:

”I experienced Professor Mearsheimer’s lecture on the current crisis in Ukraine to be refreshingly honest and rational as opposed to most mainstream intellectual and medial opinion makers, who constantly blame Putin and offer uncritical support of Poroschenko. Instead of pouring more gasoline into the fire, in my opinion Mearsheimer provided feasible solutions, taking into account Ukraine’s critical geographic position and the divide of its society in ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians.”

For others, Mearsheimer’s theories relating to Russia failed to account for its actions, or at least did not convince them as to why it would be wise to change strategy vis-à-vis EU and NATO expansion, which was seen by one Polish student, who would prefer not to be named, to be the best strategy for “containing Putin”.

A student of European politics from Portugal, on the other hand, found Mearsheimer’s talk interesting, but was troubled by his seeming lack of understanding of current European thought on these issues, especially in the way he perceived the average European’s opinion on US foreign policy.

This gap between the students and Mearsheimer manifested itself in a number of ways. Indeed, in addition to a cultural gap, there seemed to have been a significant generational gap.

During the Q&A, Mearsheimer responded to a question on security by alluding to the slim but real possibility that a cornered Russia may resort to nuclear warfare. He compared the current policy, involving sanctions and doubling down on the Eastern Neighbourhood Policy, as placing a single bullet in a gun with a thousand chambers, and then putting the gun to our head and pulling the trigger.

For many students, the nuclear scare of the cold war isn’t a memory, but a note in a history textbook. For Mearsheimer, however, who had earlier referred to himself as a “dinosaur” of twentieth century politics, this threat has as much importance as any crisis of modern Europe.

Mearsheimer’s lecture was revealing in two very different ways; both in the provoking perspectives it offered on this defining crisis of EU foreign policy, and in the way it highlighted certain gaps that exist — between the perspectives of the United States and the European Union, between the world views of different members of Europe, and between the concerns of one generation and the next. Mearsheimer offered an important alternative to the narrative adopted by the West and challenged a new generation to think seriously about this crisis on their own terms, rather than relying on the conventional wisdom espoused by the current world order. Playing by different playbooks we may be, but as long as universities like Jagiellon continue to offer a platform to speakers from the entire political spectrum, and promote a dialogue about their views, our different playbooks do not have to mean that we are playing for different teams.

The opinions expressed in this essay do not necessarily represent the views of The Euroculturer.