CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND RECONCILIATION IN SOUTHEAST EUROPE

Workshop 3 - Report

The third annual workshop for Junior Scholars' took place in June 2003 co-organised by the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe (CDRSEE) and the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS). The CAS is an NGO based in Sofia aimed at promoting advanced scholarship and academic cooperation (more information below). This workshop was sponsored by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Out of the forty-three applicants, twenty were chosen to participate in the workshop. Members of the Board of Eminent Scholars graded the applications; the scholars with the best grade were invited to present their doctoral research at the workshop.

Each scholar prepared a 5-page paper on their doctoral projects, including information on their sources and research. All participants received the papers well before the workshop in order to familiarise themselves with each others projects. The participants were asked to prepare a 20-minute presentation on their doctoral research, as well as a brief critique of one of the other doctoral projects. In the programme, one hour was dedicated to each doctoral project, including a presentation, a peer-critique, and an open discussion.

The procedure of the workshop proved to be very successful and the Junior Scholars found the experience very useful. Many participants were eager to have the opportunity to learn about other doctoral research going on in their field, as well as to receive so much feed-back on their own projects. They stated that this type of contact is missing from their studies and is very valuable during this early stage of their research.

The 20 Junior Scholars who participated were:

  • Angelov Angel, Sofia
  • Dimitrova Anna Georgieva, Sofia
  • Dimou Augustina, Athens/Braunschweig
  • Fisher Omer, Milan/Glasgow
  • Georgieva Miroslava, Sofia
  • Gigova Irina Dimitrova, Sofia
  • Hirt Sonia Anguelova, Sofia
  • Leanka Gabriel, Bucharest
  • Lozovanu Dorin, Bucharest
  • Miloradovic Goran, Belgrade
  • Nastasache Cristina, Bucharest
  • Petric Hrvoje, Zagreb
  • Plamen Petrov, Sofia
  • Rachieru Silvana, Bucharest
  • Sistek Frantisek, Prague
  • Sotirovic Vladislav, Vilnius
  • Stancu, Eugen, Bucharest
  • Vucetic-Mladenovic Radina, Belgrade
  • Vuletic Aleksandra, Belgrade
  • Wien Markus, Florence/Munich

The six participating professors were:

  1. John Lampe (University of Maryland, USA)
  2. Diana Mishkova, CAS Executive Director (University of Sofia, Bulgaria)
  3. Zarko Puhovski, CDRSEE Board Member (University of Zagreb, Croatia)
  4. Maria Todorova, Chair of the CDRSEE Academic Committee ( University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign , USA)
  5. Peter Vodopivec (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia)
  6. Alexandru Zub (Institutul de Istorie "A. D. Xenopol", Iasy, Romania)

Four staff members organised the workshop:

  1. Sheila Cannon, CDRSEE Projects Manager
  2. Dimiter Dimov, CAS Project Co-ordinator
  3. Athanasios Mavroulis , CDRSEE Project Co-ordinator
  4. Maria Nicolaidou, CDRSEE, Secretary

The Centre for Advanced Study in Sofia (CAS) is an independent non-profit institution set up for the promotion of advanced scholarship and academic cooperation in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The idea of creating a small "centre of academic excellence" in Sofia draws upon the traditions and the practices of the Institutes for Advanced Study in the US and Europe. The CAS vision is rooted in the belief that an intellectual community is a natural breeding-ground for critical thought and in the recent conviction that scholarship in the contemporary world is increasingly becoming an interdisciplinary, collective and global endeavour. For more information, see www.cas.bg.

Some of the Evaluations by participants

Dimou Augustina

I found the workshop very productive for several reasons and on several plains. Certainly the most useful aspect of the seminar was to be able to discuss one's own work with competent and intelligent people. Secondly, to get to know colleagues from other Balkan countries and get updated on the research being done there. This reinforces not only the possibility of cooperation but also the possibility to get an overview of the state of the research done in the region and to think in more comparative historical terms. The atmosphere was relaxed and the board of scholars had an overall positive attitude and were good-willed, which contributed essentially to the facilitation of communication and exchange.

For the researchers at the beginning of their research it was certainly rewarding for they were able to present their projects and get comments at an early phase of their work, a circumstance that is very important at the initial stages of a project since it helps structure a thesis and the major questions that drive it. Moreover, it can prevent a researcher from doing unnecessary labour and go into fruitless analytical paths. For researchers at a more advanced stage like myself, it was particularly useful in order to test results and hypothesis and even more to in order to conceptualise new possible directions of discussing or framing the thesis. Or in order to think of new additional and potential directions to carry the research after the completion of the thesis, how to make a publication out of it for example.  It was even useful as a simulation exercise for a future defence. Additionally, it is useful as a network of communication, the more so since the exchange of know-how between the various southeastern countries has traditionally been rather low.

The possibility to discuss ones work with versed and experienced scholars is always very productive. I certainly profited from the discussion on my methodological choices, for example why I framed comparison in this specific manner, or what historical reasons account for the similarities and differences in the adaptation of socialist paradigms in the three countries I analyse etc. I consider incorporating some of these elements in the future publication.

Gigova Irina

The conference provided an opportunity to learn about new directions in the historical research of Southeastern Europe. I enjoyed in particular the conversations I had - during and off sessions - with the other young historians. As graduate students and assistants, we are familiar with the work of the established scholars but rarely aware of each other's research that is often extremely original and innovative. I believe it is a worthwhile and productive initiative to bring together the future generation of Balkan historians so early on in our professional careers, when we all need intellectual support, feedback, and encouragement. I also like the fact that the organizers invited young scholars regardless of where they come from, and thus deliberately erased distinctions between schools of training, countries of origins, and places of study. With its spirit of inclusiveness and intellectual curiosity, the Workshop is truly a great way to meet colleagues, hear about their work, and, of course, present your own.

In many ways my reply to the first question answers this one as well. I would like to add here that as somebody who studies and works in the United States, it is often the case that I speak about my research to people who have no background knowledge in the field of Southeastern Europe. Therefore, I found the meetings very useful in terms of providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and concerns grounded in specific and detailed knowledge. For me personally, the chance to speak to regional senior scholars was invaluable, and I am sure the same bears truth to the interaction between Western scholars and locally-based students. I do think that there needs to be a continuous interaction and greater cooperation between Southeastern, Western European and American scholars on equal terms. I believe even Professor John Lampe in his opening address talked about the current lopsided nature of this relationship, with local historians amassing the hard-core factual knowledge, and Westerners using it to support larger theoretical claims. Meetings such as this are one way of departure from the existing unbalanced relations.

Since most of my project has been developed in the United States, it has been purposefully articulated to appeal to a larger audience. The downside of this drive for generality is that sometimes I am insecure about making overall claims and observations. The workshop allowed me to test some of my conclusions, particularly those regarding East European intellectual and cultural development as a whole. Although I am acutely aware that significant differences exist between the Bulgarian case and the developments in other Balkan countries, the dearth of relevant scholarship in non-native languages has hampered my ability to draw larger, regional comparisons. Conversations with colleagues in a way have served as a substitute (unsatisfying as it is) for access to such secondary literature. They give you an idea of what kind of problems scholars across the border work on and how their investigations relate and speak to mine.

In all honesty, I do not think that anything major would change in the formulation or structure of my work. I am, however, more aware of the kinds of questions I should be prepared to address in my writing. The full hour of discussion my project underwent made me cautious about the political and intellectual implications of my arguments but also confident that I can defend my position.

Eugen Stancu

This conference was a unique opportunity for me to learn from the interesting and valuable scholarly projects that were presented. I had the opportunity to "test" the assumptions of my PH.D project by getting the feedback of the participants and of the senior scholars that were invited. I've met extremely interesting and smart people with whom I am now in contact and change ideas.

This conference I think has succeeded to tackle an important problem, namely the lack of scholarly exchange, and ultimately lack of socialization between Juniors Scholars dealing with the history of the region. Because the problem was not approached in a provincial way, (the presence of internationally recognized scholars who were commenting on the presentation, the range participants, the very good organization) made on my opinion the conference extremely useful.

First of all, every presentation gave me an idea, so that at the end, the problem was to sort out and to choose those ones that could be indeed helpful for my research. As pertaining to my thesis, I was partially interested in those projects dealing with literature and popular culture in Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia, where I discovered few new theoretical insights and empirical facts, I was not aware of. The particular configuration of the Bulgarian literary intelligentsia (and its national identity agenda) after the second WW, the distinct blend of cultural influences that were shaping the Communist Yugoslavian cultural landscape as well as the theoretical tools to approach these phenomena, ranging from literary to historical and cultural studies methods, are only a few examples.

The major criticism I've got (Although I was partially aware before of this shortcoming, the conference proved me that it was indeed a problem), was about the way in which I use the concept of "social imaginary." Starting from this, I will try to define better my conceptual framework. Moreover, I will set up to strengthen my arguments by enlarging the comparative dimension of my dissertation.


Everyone posed for a group photo in downtown Sofia


Maria Todorova (center), Chair of the CDRSEE Academic Committee, led the first session of the workshop, during which Eugene Stancu (left) presented


(left to right) Prof. Alexandru Zub, Gabriel Leanca, and Prof. Peter Vodopivec listen attentively to the presentations.


Aleksandra Vuletic (left) presented, while Prof. Diana Mishkova moderated.


the Centre for Advanced Studies, co-organiser of the workshop, hosted a welcome reception for the participants and for the USAID mission in Sofia (project donor).