Even Summary: Russia in Global Affairs

By Katherine Baughman

On January 18th, the Center for Strategic and International Studies together with Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies hosted a panel discussion on Russian foreign policy following the launch of a special issue of Strategic Analysis entitled “Russia in Global Affairs.” Six of the authors who contributed to this issue were in attendance: Maxim Bratersky, Leonid Grigoriev and Andrei Skryba, professors at the Higher School of Economics; Alexander Lukin, head of the Department of International Relations at the Higher School of Economics; Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics; and Ambassador Mark Entin, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Alexander Lukin began by outlining the nature of the journal in which this special issue was published as well as the particular topics of focus of each article within the issue. He spoke to the significance of Strategic Analysis as an English language publication operating in India, rather than a Western journal published in a country with more strained diplomatic relations with Russia. He then described his school of thought and that of his colleagues at the Higher School of Economics and Russia in Global Affairs as generally centrist —in other worlds, neither inordinately pro-Western, nor pro-Putin in its outlook.

After this brief introduction, Lukin immediately opened up the discussion to questions from those in attendance concerning the wide range of topics addressed in this special issue of Strategic Analysis. The first question regarding how Russia justifies its support of minority rule in Syria was addressed with an explanation of the Russian perception of terrorism as being rooted not in authoritarianism, but rather in the chaos that arises in the absence of a strong state. The panel defined Russia’s goal in Syria as preventing regime change in order to allow for a self-initiated, unimposed political reconciliation, and assured the audience that Russian military involvement would be scaled back once a non-military solution became feasible. The assertion that the situation in Syria could be described as “minority rule” was a point of contention for the panelists.

In discussing the Russian Federation’s involvement in Latin America since the fall of the Soviet Union, the panelists emphasized a transition to economic considerations and cooperation in the region. BRICS summits and Rosneft’s recent cooperation with Venezuela were cited as evidence of this trend, and educational exchange was mentioned as another area of successful Russian-Latin American interaction.

In regard to the question of how this recent pivot to Asia differs from similar cycles and pivots observed throughout Russian history, the panel identified five key points: 1) that China and Russia now operate on the basis of shared values and a common multipolar geopolitical vision; 2) the West is now strengthening these ties in its alienation of Russia and China; 3) the Asia Pacific is now a universally-acknowledged global center of power; 4) China, Russia’s largest trading partner, now is the largest economy in the world; and 5) Russian policy toward China no longer depends on Russia-West relations. According to the panel, these factors make this pivot more likely to be successful than those that came before.

The next round of questions brought an inquiry as to Russia’s goals in the global context: whether and how, in an era where world power status is decided by economic rather than military might, Russia aims to be considered as a first-tier power, and whether it is possible for Russia to become a part of a “global civilization.” Most of the panelists came to a consensus on the fact that though Russia aims to be an independent center in a multipolar world, it cannot be considered a great economic power due to its resource-driven and crisis-stricken economy. However, the contention was made that military power is not in fact irrelevant today, and that current world conflicts necessitate its importance in determining global influence. Whether or not Russia could become part of a global civilization, the panelists claimed, depended on one’s understanding of that term: while Russia is part of a global market and a globalized culture, it is not a part of Western global political civilization, nor does it strive to be.

Next, in answer to a question posed by an attendee on the topic, one panelist asserted that Russia must halt any violation of Finnish, Swedish and other Scandinavian countries’ airspace: though Russia has little leeway for maneuver in its foreign policy, he said, this is an area where it must alter its approach. However, he suggested that calling attention to a perceived security threat serves as a useful pretext for Scandinavian NATO member states to be granted the elevated NATO military presence they have long sought.

On an entirely different subject, Russia’s presence at the recent Paris Peace Conference was characterized by the panelists as a natural result of diplomatic inertia. They posited that a political resolution of the Syrian conflict and U.S.-Russian agreement on the containment of Iran must necessarily preclude Russia’s active involvement in resolving the Arab-Israeli crisis, in which it currently plays a passive role.

Lastly, the panelists addressed a query as to the extent to which domestic policy — and, specifically, President Vladimir Putin’s personal role in policy formulation — should inform our understanding of Russian foreign policy. They put forth the contention that neither the idea of “hostile encirclement” nor the personal worldview of President Putin serve as the source of policy in Russia. Russian policy as they view it is rather rooted in the desires, values and feelings of the Russians themselves. In the panelists’ estimation, the popularity of Putin’s policies — including that of the current anti-Western bent— stems from their correspondence to the mood of the people outside of the major Western Russian cities who make up the majority of the population. In other words, the will of the people, not domestic politics, determine Russian foreign policy.

In its wide scope and in the involved debate that it engendered, this panel discussion provided a unique and important perspective on the issues affecting Russian foreign policy.

Katherine Baughman is a first-year student in the MAERES program. She completed her BA at Middlebury College and interned with CSIS before beginning the MAERES program. She is currently a Graduate Fellow at CERES and is participating in the Center for Global Interests’ Rising Experts Program.

Event Summary: Elections Have Consequences

Rebecca Ruhl, MAERES ’17, presents a discussion of “Elections Have Consequences: A Look at Poland,” an event hosted by the Wilson Center.

On Tuesday November 29th, the Wilson Center hosted “Elections Have Consequences: A Look at Poland.” The purpose of the panel was to discuss the 2015 ascendancy of the Law and Justice Party to power in Poland, first winning the Presidency and then 51% of the Parliament. This victory has resulted in changes of direction in Poland, a country that was the poster child for economic and democratic transition as it emerged from the communist period. Current policies toward state security, public media, economic policy and the courts have been politically divisive. The event sought to address the question: “What is the meaning of these changes for Poland’s future, for the group of Central/Eastern countries and for the EU, where Poland has aspired to leadership?” This event—one of the many hosted by the Wilson Center related to our region—featured two sessions. In the first, Leszek Balcerowicz spoke on economic transitions, while Prezemyslaw Zurawski vel Grajewski and Slawomir Sierakowski offered differing opinions on the state of politics in Poland.

The first speaker was Leszek Balcerowicz, a Professor of Economics at the Warsaw School of Economics, as well as former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. Furthermore, Dr. Balcerowicz was a leader in Poland’s own transition to capitalism. He spoke on the topic of good and bad economic transitions, and what differentiates the two. Interestingly, Balcerowicz rejects the idea of a backlash to globalism as a cause for Poland’s current, “bad” economic transition. Instead, he cites “errors” made by the previous political party including political scandals, the poor election campaign of the previous president, the issue of refugees in Poland, and the lack of political competition for the Law and Justice Party.

Next, Prezemyslaw Zurawski vel Grajewski, advisor to the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke from point of view of the Law and Justice Party. vel Grajewski argued against the critics of the current Polish administration, saying that Polish people now have access to a wider variety of media and that the country is in a better position in its foreign affairs. Also on the panel was Slawomir Sierakowski, a Polish sociologist, political commentator, and critic of the current Polish administration. At first, Mr. Sierakowski seemed troubled by the comments of Vel Grajewski, arguing that they were political propaganda rather than part of an intellectual discussion. Sierakowski used his own experience as a commentator in Poland to demonstrate the curtailing of press freedom, saying that he had been barred from speaking on major television channels since Law and Justice’s ascension to power. He continued to explain his take on why Polish politics have changed so drastically. Citing the concept of “social deprivation,” Sierakowski said that people did not feel the effects of Poland’s positive economic indicators, they were driven to vote for the populists.

“Elections Have Consequences” offered a fascinating glimpse at the current political debates in Poland. Particularly in the second panel, the current political polarization in Polish society was on full display. Audience members’ questions showed how that the conversation about Polish politics has great resonance with the recent American elections.

Energy Executives Visit MAERES Class to Discuss Caspian Oil and Gas

Seymour Khalilov, VP for Special Projects at BP America

Energy executives from two of the world’s leading oil and gas companies recently gave talks to MAERES students as part of the course “Caspian Sea Energy Resources: Theory and Practice” led by Prof. Brenda Shaffer. The students heard from Mr. Seymour Khalilov, Vice-President of Special Projects in BP America, about BP’s strategies in the Caspian over the last 25 years. The following week Mr. Ben Priddy, International Government Affairs Advisor in Chevron’s DC office and a MAERES graduate, came to talk about Chevron’s work in the Caspian region, with special emphasis on Kazakhstan.

MAERES Alumnus Ben Priddy Visits MAERES Class
Ben Priddy (MAERES ’14), International Government Affairs Adviser in Chevron’s DC office


My ASEEES Experience

Madina Bizhanova, MAERES 2018, reflects on her experience attending ASEEES for the first time.

Last week I attended the 48th annual convention of the Association for Slavic, East European & Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) that took place in Marriott Wardman Park, Washington’s largest hotel, on November 17-20.

As a student of Eurasian studies, I was looking forward to gain insight into the scholarly society of ASEEES, publisher of the Slavic Review, one of the leading journals in the field. A first-time attendee, I was first struck by a truly grand scale of the convention. Every two hours about 50 panels were taking place simultaneously and the variety of options was almost overwhelming.

Despite ASEEES’ regional focus, the convention took place under the theme of “Global Conversations”, which seems to be an attempt to emphasize the significance of Eurasia as for academicians so for the policymakers. The panels I attended seemed to contribute to this effort, one of them directly addressing the question “How Area Studies Scholars Can Go Global, or Not”, others debating the prospects of the US-Russian relations in the context of the upcoming change in the US leadership. Even the panel on history, “Crossing and Creating Borders in the Postwar USSR”, emphasized the limits of borders in containing political, social, and cultural movements.

Most of the panel discussions evolved like any academic essay. First, the moderator introduces the research question to the audience and explains its importance. Then each panel member summarizes his or her paper and the final speaker evaluates each paper on its own merits and then in terms of its contribution to the panel question. However, unlike in usual essay-writing, panel discussion provides you with an opportunity to ask the authors a few questions before drawing your overall conclusions. It was exciting to see how academic scholarship was advancing forward before your own eyes in a matter of a few hours.

The convention was not only an academic event. Like any major gatherings of professionals of one field, the convention provided the attendees with networking opportunities. Some of the ‘special events’ included roundtables on careers of the Eurasian Studies graduates, such as “Lessons Learned: Initiatives on Careers beyond the Professoriate” chaired by the director of my program, Benjamin Loring, and “Careers in Think Tanks and Policy Institutes”, chaired by a prominent author on Central Asia, Anna Grzymala-Busse, from Stanford University. These careers panels were followed by Eurasian program receptions, such as my own at Georgetown University, which brought together graduates of these programs with current students, allowing the latter to find out various career paths they could opt to follow.

MAERES Students Visit Embassies of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan

MAERES students recently visited the Embassies of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan as part of the course “Caspian Sea Energy Resources: Theory and Practice” led by Prof. Brenda Shaffer. The students met with the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United States, H.E. Elin Suleymanov, and in a following trip met with the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Kazakhstan embassy, Mr. Yerkin K. Akhinzhanov. Students got a chance to hear firsthand of recent developments in the Caucasus and Central Asia regions, the energy resource development strategies of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, and discussed U.S. relations with the two states. Prof. Shaffer’s course examines the main trends in Caspian oil and natural gas production and export, and looks at the influence of Caspian energy production on the political, social, economic and environmental developments of the Caspian region and their global implications.

Azerbaijan Embassy Visit
MAERES students meeting with the Ambassador of Azerbaijan, H.E. Elin Suleymanov
Azerbaijan Embassy Visit
MAERES students meeting with the Ambassador of Azerbaijan, H.E. Elin Suleymanov
Kazakhstan Embassy Visit
MAERES students meeting with the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Kazakhstan embassy, Mr. Yerkin K. Akhinzhanov.
Kazakhstan Embassy Visit
MAERES students meeting with the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Kazakhstan embassy, Mr. Yerkin K. Akhinzhanov.

Event Summary: Central Asian Fighters in Syria

Kate Baughman (MAERES ’18) attended an event hosted by the Central Asia Program at George Washington University entitled “Central Asian Fighters in Syria: Classification, Factors, Scale Assessment” on Monday, September 19. 

On September 19th, Yerlan Karin, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of Kazakhstan, spoke about his organization’s findings on Central Asian fighters in radical Islamist groups in Syria at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He began by outlining the sources of information used in the investigation, namely official data disseminated by Central Asian governments, foreign research, radical Islamist groups’ websites and social media, and most intriguingly, interviews with Kazakh fighters who had been imprisoned for terrorism upon their return from Syria. Official data can be suspect, Karin said, as authorities in countries such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are reluctant to admit the presence of their citizens among these groups in Syria, while leaders in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan tend to exaggerate figures in order to emphasize the need for increased defensive measures.

Compared to past conflicts in Afghanistan, Karin argued, the radical Islamist cause in Syria is much more conducive to Central Asian involvement. Logistical factors such as sophisticated weapon supply structures, organized training systems and relatively quick and simple travel to the Syrian border have attracted unprecedented levels of Central Asian would-be jihadists. What’s more, many Central Asian governments have debated the merits of restricting the movements of these fighters, preferring that potential terrorists perish abroad rather than create problems at home. Karin argued that these authorities are mistaken in their thinking, as the absence of radicals in Central Asia does not preclude the potential of their presence in Syria to inspire terrorist acts at home.

According to Karin, there are marked differences between the presence and role of Central Asians and those of other ethnic and national origins within radical Islamist groups in Syria. ISIS and Al-Qaeda view Central Asia as recruiting grounds, not as a theater for jihad itself. Central Asians are often more ideologically invested than other groups, and as such are promoted to higher positions in greater proportions. Many Central Asians also attempt to create ethnic substructures within ISIS and Al-Qaeda. The exclusively Uzbek “Jamaat of Imam Bukhari” is one example of this type of subgroup. Lastly, unlike fighters from other regions, Central Asians often bring their wives, children and other family members with them to Syria. This last trend creates a unique set of problems, as the death of fighters in battle leaves many of these family members stranded abroad. Many of the Central Asian women and children left widowed or fatherless by the conflict are then funneled into Islamist training camps in order to become the next generation of fighters.

Interviews with former fighters in Kazakh prisons shed light on the varying motivations and circumstances that lead Central Asian men to leave for Syria to fight. Karin identified three categories of Central Asian men that go on to join ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Syria. The first two, which he terms “hostages” and “deceived believers,” are the most common types of Central Asian fighters within radical Islamist groups in Syria. Hostages are driven abroad due to monetary or legal troubles, most often falling under the influence of radical groups while working in Russia as migrant laborers. Deceived believers are those who flee to Syria expecting to find a fully-developed and unified Islamic society. This is often followed by disillusionment with infighting among Islamist groups in Syria, and many deceived believers attempt to leave for home within weeks or months of their arrival. The last category of fighters, “fanatics,” are well aware of the circumstances of the war in Syria and are committed to participation in the cause regardless of these factors. With very little resources dedicated to the rehabilitation and reintegration of returning fighters and their families, the increasing numbers of desperate and disillusioned former extremists attempting to return home to Central Asia are already posing problems for governments in the region.

In its unique, multi-vector approach, the investigation outlined by Yerlan Karin provides an important perspective on the motivations, experiences and characteristics of Central Asian fighters within radical Islamist groups in Syria.

“The Evolution of Cities in Polish Poster Art,” a project by Natalia Kopytnik

The following is excerpted with permission from Natalia Kopytnik’s digital project “The Evolution of Cities in Polish Poster Art,” completed for REES 577: Socialist and Post-Socialist Cities. Natalia Kopytnik, MAERES ’16, writes that she has always been interested in art as a political tool. Examining decades of Polish posters shows that even though some art forms were born of unfavorable historical circumstances, the poster’s role in politics, society, and design could evolve into something greater than mere government propaganda; it could even become a source of national pride.


The Polish poster phenomenon might be hard to understand to outsiders. It matured in unfavorable historical circumstances when artistic creation was often treated as an instrument for furthering political agendas. Unlike other disciplines, the poster succumbed to the restless ebb and flow of history. The poster was active in the creation of history, it influenced the course of events, and often fell victim to its own manipulation.

Examining the life, death and resurrection of Polish cities (concurrent to Polish history) Polish poster art provides a summary of the country’s aesthetic preferences, artistic tendencies, and political temperaments. Posters are like a portrait; they show a frozen reflection of the nation’s state of consciousness and mentality, attitudes to tradition and universal cultural heritage.
Multilayered in meaning, full of allusions, insinuations, and able to speak about grotesque and funny things, posters provoked serious reflection on both serious and trivial topics.
The birth of Polish poster art dates back to 1899. From the start, posters were a relatively cheap, and therefore accessible form of art. Throughout the 20th century they served as a barometer of changes, tensions, and public sentiment.

At times the state issued posters as reminders of tradition, weaving in the information, and advertising folk and regional motifs. Furthermore, Polish posters served as calls to action, mobilization for war, and mobilization for reconstruction. Looking back, one can see that they were a reflection of Polish trends and styles, as well as ideas about city space and identity throughout each decade.

For the purposes of this project, I chose to focus specifically on the way in which cities and places in Poland were portrayed in Polish poster art. The number of posters produced in this category is vast, thus I chose only the most visually arresting works. I started in 1910, and examined works from each decade, until 2016.



In January 1945, Warsaw lay in ruins–the devastation of the city, which had been home to over 1 million people before the war, was almost complete, and the new Communist authorities even considered moving the capital elsewhere. According to one plan, Warsaw was to be left the way it was – a lunar landscape of ruins – as a war memorial for future generations. However, the decision for the reconstruction of the capital prevailed, launching an nation wide effort to resurrect the city from the ruins.

Erik Lipinski 1948/1952
Erik Lipinski
Erik Lipinski 1952
Erik Lipinski
Erik Lipinski
Erik Lipinski

After the rumble left behind by WWII was cleared, Polish cities in the 1950s became a clean slate, ready for reconstruction. The government wanted to mobilize and engage the entire nation in rebuilding Poland’s city, and most importantly to rebuild the destroyed the capital. During 1940s and 1950s posters depicting Warsaw were focused on unity and strength. Erik Lipinski’s posters from 1952 show depict scenes of reconciliation against the backdrop of Warsaw’s ruble. Cranes resurrect the fallen city, and patriotic themes can be seen in throughout the majority of the images. Banners of red and white, bricks, and doves of peace abound. In order to aide in the reconstruction, the government shipped building materials derived from rubble in cities all over Poland. Through this sort of imagery, the reconstruction of Warsaw, and the nation, was painted as a collective effort, dependent on the efforts of all Poles.

Tadeusz Trepkowski 1954
Tadeusz Trepkowski
Waldemar Świerzy 1953
Waldemar Świerzy
Tadeusz Trepkowski 1950
Tadeusz Trepkowski
Artist Unknown 1950
Artist Unknown
Erik Lipinski 1952
Erik Lipinski
Roman Cieslewicz 1956
Roman Cieslewicz
Maria Garbyś Oblowska 1959
Maria Garbyś Oblowska
Jan Leninca 1955
Jan Leninca

In the 1960s, Poland achieved relative political autonomy from the USSR, and culture began to play a larger role at the center of public life. The state, as both patron and controller of the arts, gave formal recognition to the poster as a legitimate art form. It was the state’s patronage that was responsible for the poster’s widespread successThis encouragement took many forms, including establishing educational programs in poster design at Polish colleges of art, and organizing national poster competitions throughout the country. During this period, poster design became a well-recognized profession, attracting artists from various disciplines including print making, photography, illustration, sculpture, and painting. Artists working during this time reinterpreted the nature of the poster, opening it up to the imagination and aimed to distanced themselves from the from conceptual regulations of the past. The 1950s and 1960s represented the emancipation of the poster as an art form, and posters became known as vehicles for individuality rather than mere tools of mass propaganda. Despite uniformity in most aspects of life under communism, the poster remained a vibrant outlet of individual expression.

Tadeusz Jodlowski 1968
Tadeusz Jodlowski

Since the opening of the Polish Poster School in the late 1950s and its rise to prominence throughout the 1960s, the Poland became increasingly known for “wall and board” art, and the country hosted the first International Poster Biennale in 1966. Two years later, the world’s first poster museum was opened in Warsaw in 1968. After a decade of social realism’s dominance in the art of the Soviet Bloc, 1960s Polish poster art seemed like a breath of fresh air. The colors, patterns, and subject matter became much more exciting and seemed to promise a much brighter future.

Waldemar Świerzy 1969
Waldemar Świerzy
Waldemar Świerzy 1969
Waldemar Świerzy
Jan Mlodozeniec 1969
Jan Mlodozeniec
Waldemar Świerzy 1965
Waldemar Świerzy
Waldemar Świerzy 1968
Waldemar Świerzy
Waldemar Świerzy 1961
Waldemar Świerzy
Wiktor Górka 1961
Wiktor Górka

By the late 1960s, cities and places were portrayed more as bucolic playgrounds than industrial masterpieces. Furthermore, humor became incorporated into the definition of Poland as a place. After over a decade of reconstruction, the country seemed to be back at it’s feet. For example, Wiktor Górka’s iconic print “Hunting in Poland” reverses the roles of the hunter and the hunted, humorously echoing the 1930s tourism advertisement posters touting Poland as a “hunter’s paradise.”

To view the rest of the digital project, please visit: http://nataliakopytnik.georgetown.domains/ 

An Interesting Summer in Istanbul with Professor Sylvia Önder


CERES Professor Sylvia W. Önder has been in Istanbul, Turkey throughout this tumultuous summer as Project Director for the U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays GPA with the American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT) for Advanced Turkish Language at Boğaziçi University.  This year, the program selected 18 ARIT-BU Fellows from around the U.S. for the full packet of funding — including undergraduate and graduate students and one faculty member.  With two terrorist attacks against tourists in Sultanahmet on January 12, and in the Taksim area on March 19th, the lead-up to our orientation in Turkey was stressful.  Various other summer programs were cancelled or moved out of Turkey.  As our program takes place in the bucolic campus setting of the former Robert College (founded in 1878 by American Protestant Missionaries), far north of the center of Istanbul and behind the castle built by Mehmet the Conqueror, we were happy when classes could begin as usual.  Our 18 ARIT-BU Fellows were a significant and highly-qualified addition to the total of 37 summer language students.

Our first security meeting took place the day after the Atatürk airport bombing on June 29th, which killed more than 40 people.   Since we all had been through that airport recently, and since many had guests planning to come during the summer, the airport attack was a hard blow to morale.  The horrific attack that killed 84 in Nice, France on the 14th of July made it clear that terror is not confined to a single place, but was not reassuring to the families of our participants.  Life took on a tinge of paranoia as social media outlets created and bounced about theories about which national security advisories meant the next attack was imminent.

And then came the night of July 15th, a Friday at the end of a long week.  A friend called from Ankara – “Are you OK?” “Sure, why?” “We have jets flying over and I can hear explosions” “No, nothing like that here…” Until the jets started flying over and the TV announcer began to read in a strained voice a statement from coup plotters that the government had been taken over.  Social media, which remained available to any who had a Virtual Private Network (VPN), was alive with photos of clashes on the Bosphorus Bridge, reports of explosions at the Parliament Building in Ankara, and speculation about what was unfolding.  One of our undergraduate ARIT-BU Fellows living close to Taksim Square called at about 3:30 a.m. to ask me what I thought they should do – stay put even though the glass on neighboring buildings was shattering from noise and a chanting crowd had formed in Taksim?  Leave everything and run down to the edge of the Bosphorus?  As I was getting more information from him about what he could see in the streets below, a military jet blasted over my head in the direction of Taksim.  I heard a massive boom on his end of the telephone… my worst fears seemed possible… were military jets being used on civilian targets?

The boom, it turned out, was a sonic one, not caused by explosives.  We hunkered down for the rest of the night, all glued to our tv sets and Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp accounts.  We fielded concerned messages from friends and family.  The airport was clearly the worst place to go, since it had changed hands more than once and was where President Erdoğan was arriving from his interrupted vacation in Marmaris, calling supporters into the streets from his telephone as he flew.  The U.S. State Department recommended we shelter in place.  Because of our various forms of communication, I was in touch with all program participants — except one — by dawn.  The last participant had slept through everything and e-mailed me when she woke up later in the morning. Things were quiet during the day on Saturday, except in the media, where eye-witness reports and breaking news swirled in a tornado of speculation.  As the sun went down, though, flag-waving crowds chanting “Allah-u Ekber” (among other slogans) marched through neighborhoods on the way to the main squares, as requested by President Erdoğan.  There were reports of the beheadings of soldiers on the bridge, countered by opposing reports of civilians and police taking pity on the conscripts who seemed to have thought they were in a routine exercise rather than a coup attempt.  It seemed best to stay out of any crowds…Turkey 1

After consulting with the Boğaziçi University staff, we decided to call our second security meeting of the summer for Monday morning.  We wanted to get everyone together, go over the events, make sure everyone had the proper advisories, see if anyone wanted to move to the dormitories, and resume classes to calm nerves.  The government seemed to be firmly in control of the public sphere at this point, with a few areas of unusual activity such as in the area around Erdoğan’s vacation hotel where a small team of would-be assassins was pursued, and alarming comings and goings from Incirlik Airbase in the South East.  But in Istanbul, businesses and museums were open, public transportation was made free-of-charge to encourage citizens to get back to normal life, and the Turkish flag appeared with pro-democracy slogans on all billboards and many homes and businesses.  The slogan that appeared right away everywhere was “Hakimiyet Milletindir” a slogan used by the government of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923 to mean that governance (or hegemony) belongs to the people.  In the commentary of many pro-government voices, the participation of the public in the prevention of the coup on the night of July 15th serves as proof that the people are finally able to protect their own democratic control of government from attacks by factions in the military and from evil-doers like Fetullah Gülen.

The Gülen network, until 2013, was operating in concert with Erdoğan’s A.K. Party in the realms of education, foreign policy, law enforcement, the judiciary, and others.   The opening of 37 Turkish embassies in the continent of Africa, for example, was coordinated with the educational and charitable work of the network.  Diplomatic relations with and media coverage in the United States have been heavily influenced by the network, which runs at least one charter school in at least half of the states of the U.S.A.  When the “break-up” came, both powerful men, each accustomed to total loyalty and unquestioned obedience, embarked on a quest to eliminate the other.  For American students studying abroad in Turkey, it became essential to understand that an overwhelming majority of Turkish citizens believe that the US government itself, or at least the CIA, was involved in, or at least supportive of the coup attempt.  And that the word “Pensilvanya” has come to stand for the Gülen network, since Fetullah Gülen lives in a small town in the state of Pennsylvania.  The official Turkish government term for the network is now the “Fetullahçı Terör Örgütü (FETÖ) which comes from an ending on the first name of Gülen, creating a meaning like “Gülenist Terror Organization”.

Fethullah Gulen and Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Source: http://static.birgun.net/resim/haber-detay-resim/2016/01/21/fethullah-gulen-in-hashasi-davasi-reddedildi-106406-5.jpg)
Fethullah Gulen and Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The continuing suppression of media and academic freedoms, begun long before the coup attempt, gained steam in its aftermath.  One result is that the Turkish citizenry has an ever-narrowing range of analysis of events in the Turkish media at the same time as a growing awareness that foreign press is almost exclusively negative about recent events in Turkey.  This split awareness is made possible by the near universal use of the internet and a wide range of social media.  Although they are usually on holiday by this point in the summer, Turkish academics are following with a sense of dread the wholesale sacking of university deans and the call back of academics from outside the country to their public universities where they must sign statements that they have no connections to FETÖ.

On Sunday, August 7th, there was a massive rally at Yenikapı (the name means “New Gate” and the organizers used this to suggest the start of a new period characterized by unity between the political parties although the pro-Kurdish and liberal HDP was conspicuously not invited), and a Turkey with “one heart”.  At the end of the rally, President Erdoğan asked the crowd to affirm his wish that the nightly “protection of democracy” rallies in main squares around Turkey be discontinued as of Wednesday.  This means that our ARIT-BU program will end together with the nightly rallies.  It has certainly been an interesting summer…



Further Reading:

Being Different in Turkey: Religion, Conservatism and Otherization by Binnaz Toprak, İrfan Bozan, Tan Morgül, and Nedim Şener (PDF)

Interview with Dr. Jenny B. White as coup was unfolding: “How Turkey Came to This”

An insightful piece on the shake-up before the attempted coup by Reuban Silverman: “Some of the President’s Men”

A political view from the soccer pitch: “Erdogan vs. Gulen: Power struggle comes full circle in Turkish soccer”

Dani Rodrik’s blog: “Is the US Behind Fethullah Gulen?”

Al-Monitor “Is Erdogan really stronger after failed coup?”

“Turkey Chooses Erdogan” by Christopher de Bellaigue

A (Mid)summer in Sweden by Valentino Grbavac


When I found out back in February that I had been selected as one of three Wallenberg Fellows from Georgetown University, I jumped up and down for joy. Ever since I had heard about this amazing fellowship, I had dreamed of becoming a fellow. After the first few moments of complete euphoria and sheer happiness, I started wondering and asking questions. What will the summer be like? Where will I intern and what will I do there? What places will I visit during those three months? What will my first Midsummer celebration look like? I had so many questions, and later on as I packed my suitcase and left DC for Stockholm, so much planning and so many expectations.

Now, after more than half of my summer in Stockholm is over, I have to say that this experience has surpassed even my wildest expectations. It has been full of fun, adventure and above all, learning. I could have not imagined a better experience, and I am eternally grateful to the Wallenberg family, and everyone else involved, for this unique opportunity.

In May, I started working at Ericsson’s PDU Radio Products unit in Kista, a suburb of Stockholm often called “Sweden’s Silicon Valley.” Most of Ericsson’s R&D facilities are in Kista, and it has been exciting to work with the brilliant people who are developing 5G technology there. When I began my work, I had some a trouble communicating with my co-workers, to be completely honest. I have no background in engineering, and almost everyone around me has an engineering degree and speaks mostly in technical abbreviations and industry-specific lingo. Every second or third word I heard was an industry-specific acronym. During some meetings, I wondered if the person presenting was indeed speaking in English. Still, step by step, and with help from my gracious co-workers (who gave me a crash course in radios, hardware development, lean engineering and agile development) I learned so much. In what seemed like no time at all, I was able to speak the secret language of the ITC engineers. This experience made me realize the true value of MAERES courses. Through these, I have developed analytical skills and the critical thinking required to succeed in any field. After gaining these skills, with a bit of background knowledge, I am able to easily jump from analyzing Russia’s foreign policy to analyzing organizational structure and performance at a big international company. The vocabulary might be different, but the grammar is the same.

Ericsson’s PDU Radio Products Office Building in Kista where I spent most of my days this summer.

After becoming acquainted with PDU Radio Products, I began to work on projects. My first big task was to provide outsider feedback to help the unit transition to Ericcson’s new business model which is based on lean engineering. Another project I was tasked with was to find a better way to measure the efficiency of hardware development and the overall productivity of the R&D unit. I also explored the effectiveness of different agile methods, such as cross-functional teams, Kanban boards, “war rooms” and PULSE meetings. All of these projects, together with day-to-day operations, made me realize that I really enjoy operations consulting. Thanks to this experience I may pursue a career in this field.

What I have enjoyed most about the experience, apart from it being an immense learning opportunity, is how open and accommodating the company is and how kind and interesting my co-workers are. I have not been treated like intern, but rather, as an equal. In the US, it is unlikely that an intern would end up in a meeting with senior management to discuss strategy and trajectory. This is exactly what happened to me here in Sweden. My co-workers are not only a source of information about the technical side of the job, but also great guides to Swedish culture.

When we were not talking about the UEFA European Championship, they were telling me all about their favorite museums, the must-see places in Stockholm, about Swedish cuisine and culture, and about the best places to celebrate Midsummer. I took their advice and explored much more of Stockholm than I would have simply by following guidebook recommendations. For Midsummer, I took the advice of one of my colleagues to be adventurous and see out how Danes celebrate the holiday (even though, he reassured me, Swedish Midsummer festivities are the best ones in all of Scandinavia). I spent my Midsummer in the historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, somewhat sad about Croatia being kicked out of Euro Cup by Portugal, but nonetheless enjoying my first Midsummer festivities.

The historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen was not only gorgeous, but also a great place to celebrate Midsummer in a traditional Scandinavian way.
The historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen was not only gorgeous, but also a great place to celebrate Midsummer in a traditional Scandinavian way.

In July, it seems like all of Sweden migrates to the sunny beaches of Southern Europe. Most of my coworkers took a month-long vacation, so I also had some time off. I managed to visit some of my closest friends from the high school I attended in Italy. I visited Turkey, Macedonia and Romania and caught up with my friends in their home countries. It feels good to be back in Eastern Europe. It was very interesting to see architecture in each city and to experience the way that Istanbul, Skopje and Bucharest function, especially after having taken an excellent course on socialist and post-socialist cities by Professor Smith. I would recommend this class to all of my fellow MAERES students. It was also exciting (and at times scary) to be in the region during the failed coup attempt in Turkey and to receive first-hand information and insight from my Turkish friends about the subject.

Rested from this trip, I returned to (a still mostly empty) office to wrap up my projects and get ready to leave for home in the middle of August. I know that I will miss Stockholm once I am back in DC. It has truly been a fulfilling experience outside of my comfort zone of Eastern European politics and history. I hope to make the most out of the few weeks I have left here. It has been an incredible summer filled with learning, fun and both personal and professional growth. All that happiness and excitement I felt back in February has been more than justified by my experience thus far.

 A view of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia taken during my summer vacation.
A view of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia taken during my summer vacation.


Valentino Grbavac is a rising second-year MAERES student.

Summer in Tbilisi by Sofia Bachman

View of old Tbilisi from Bethlehem Church
View of old Tbilisi from Bethlehem Church


I stepped off the plane and went to get my suitcase at the Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport baggage claim. The airport was crowded with newly arrived passengers, and after a few minutes, the luggage efficiently swished in on the beltway. Stepping out into the crowd of people searching for their friends and relatives amongst the masses, I met the Georgian who had come to take me to my host family. As we drove through Tbilisi, he pointed out different areas and landmarks in the city, and he took a slightly longer route to show me more sites. Modern buildings were sharply lit against the dark night and shone as if it were mid-day. However, the older areas harbored cobbled streets, pre-Soviet architecture, and dim golden lamps, as if in a Dickens’ novel. My first impression of Georgia was a delightfully incongruous medley of Soviet apartments, modern sky-high structures of glass and metal, and centuries-old churches tucked into pockets here and there. While people scurried down side streets carrying groceries and returning home at the end of the day, in the car the kindly driver talked about his family to me in a mix of Georgian and Russian. Then, we arrived at my host family’s apartment, and I stepped out of the car to greet them.

Train station marketplace, Tbilisi
Train station marketplace, Tbilisi

According to legend, in the late 400s King Vakhtang Gorgasali took a hunting party out from the current capital of Kartli, Mtskheta. They had been travelling for a few days when the king released his falcon to catch a pheasant nearby. Both birds disappeared for a while, but the hunting party did not worry. Finally, Vakhtang Gorgasali took a party with him to search for his prize falcon and subsequent pheasant dinner. They discovered both birds dead in a boiling natural sulfur spring in the area of what is now central Tbilisi. The king ordered a city built on the spot, and made it the nation’s capital. In order to commemorate such a miraculous event as finding boiling water coming out of the ground, Vakhtang Gorgasali named the new city “Tbilisi,” stemming from the Georgian adjective for “warm,” “tbili” (თბილი). When I was told this story during a language class one morning, I learned two new words essential to its telling, pheasant (khokhobi, ხოხობი) and falcon (shevardeni, შევარდენი). Nowadays, these natural hot springs are the site of the city baths, where one can go to enjoy the company of friends, steaming water, and a good scrubbing.

The round domes of the Tbilisi baths
The round domes of the Tbilisi baths

I came to Georgia to study the Georgian language and all of its particularities. Here I would like to briefly introduce you to a few interesting facts about Georgian, and a basic grammatical structure so that you have the tools to create your own basic Georgian phrases. Georgian, part of the Kartvelian language group, emerged a few thousand years ago. While the writing, word usage, and structure has changed slightly over the years, Georgian in its original form is still intelligible to modern speakers. Imagine if the English of Beowulf were still in use today! Georgian, asides from having some fascinating, and equally challenging to pronounce, ejective consonants, is also famous for its consonant clusters. For example, the word brts’q’invale (ბრწყინვალე), which means “brilliant,” involves a cluster of four consonants, the ejectives being marked by the apostrophes. Let us begin our introduction with the two basic structures “How are you?” and the answer “I am well.” “How are you?”(formal) is “rogor khart?” (როგორ ხართ?). The response “I am well” is “k’argad var” (კარგად ვარ). Notice that in both instances the subject is left out, as the corresponding verb already clearly shows its owner. One last fun fact that I will leave you with in this short language lesson is that the word for glad, “mokharuli” (მოხარული), and the word for boiled, “mokharshuli” (მოხარშული), differ in Georgian by one consonant. Now you are close to being able to create the phrase, “Here is the boiled pheasant” (აქაა მოხარშული ხოხობი)!

A quote by poet Shota Rustaveli on the route to Q’azbegi
A quote by poet Shota Rustaveli on the route to Q’azbegi

While my main objective in Georgia was language and culture study, I also investigated what it means to different people to be Georgian. The answers of the various Tbilisi locals I spoke with were unanimously positive towards their country. Of course, not everybody listed the exact same qualities or combination of qualities of innate “Georgianness.” To some, being Georgian involved a deep connection with the land itself. To others, it was having Georgian as a birth language. Some said it was growing up in Georgia. A few named a connection to Orthodoxy as being part of what makes a Georgian a Georgian. Others referenced knowing and singing Georgian folk songs. Various people said it was about being part of thousands of years of history. A couple of people of people said that a deep part of being Georgian was staying intact as a people over centuries of invasion and territorial infringement. One unifying sentiment of “Georgianness,” despite differing opinions on how to achieve this, was that Georgia and being Georgian is all about being welcoming, embracing friends, family, and bringing outsiders in. Among such variety as a market-stall lady, a taxi driver, a communist, a tour guide, an architect, a university student, and a mother, innate Georgian hospitality was always at the top of the list. I would like to add that, from an outsider’s perspective, the tales of Georgian warmth are no myth but certain reality.

Myself and peer mentor Natia’s polylingual son at Tbilisi Sea
Myself and peer mentor Natia’s polylingual son at Tbilisi Sea

Sofia Bachman is a rising second-year MAERES student. She is spending the summer studying Georgian in Tbilisi with American Councils.