by Indra Ekmanis
More than 30 scholars of various disciplines participated in the 19th Annual Northwest Regional Conference for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies on April 27. Hosted by the University of Washington’s Herbert J. Ellison Center and Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, the conference covered themes across time and space under the heading, “From Symbolism to Security: Politics, Literature and Imagery in Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.” Academics from as far away as Ukraine, Lithuania and Russia presented alongside local scholars, contributing to cross-cultural, as well as cross-disciplinary discussions.
The plenary session, chaired by Ellison Center Director Scott Radnitz, focused on security issues in the Black Sea, Caspian Sea and Arctic regions. Speakers Volodymyr Dubovyk (Odessa Mechnikov National University), Scott Montgomery (UW), and Vince Gallucci (UW) engaged the concept of security from various perspectives, including the potential for violent conflict in the region, as well as the importance of energy security and environmental preservation. The influence of Russia’s hard and soft power was a common theme, sparking a debate on the reasoning behind Russia’s attempts to control the region. Is Russia an ideological bully, or simply taking advantage of opportunities in the same manner other countries would?
Discussions on the current state of affairs in the region continued in multiple panels. Public policy in the Russian forestry sector and public-private partnerships in Kazakhstan traced current economic developments in the region. Post-Soviet demographics initiated a panel discussion focused on social and language integration in Latvia and Lithuania, and included visiting scholar Meiulte Ramoniene (Vilnius University). A simultaneous panel discussed new approaches to development theory and practice in Moldova and the Balkan region, as well as current trends in the Russian school system. Imagery and guerilla street art was analyzed in the context of Russian political protest. Themes of navigating the past and present appeared in discussions on literature, where Ukrainian and Estonian debates on the effects of Soviet rule were tackled through the works of individual authors.
Panels on the post-Soviet space were balanced by several discussions covering the region over a span of centuries. Russian expansionism to Central Asia prompted an analysis of Kazakh-Russian diplomatic documents, which was paired with a presentation of the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. The curious history of youth censorship in interwar Latvia sparked humorous discussion, while a different presenter covered the role of trickster in Soviet animation and Russian folklore. Literature analysis covered a substantial time frame, as presenters honed in on the themes of irony, identity and enlightenment from the origins of Muscovite theater in 1672 to the reappearance of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s village prose in the work of post-Soviet writer Natalya Klucharyova. Other panels included work on Soviet poetry and nursery rhymes.
The Conference ended with a reception, facilitating more discussion among panelists, as well as moderators and audience members. This annual event was initiated by Professor Dan Waugh in 1994. The conference highlights local and regional expertise in the REECAS region and is free and open to the public. Those interested in learning more about the 19th Annual REECAS Northwest Conference are invited to browse abstracts and full papers here.