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REECAS NW Redux | Ellison Center hosts lively discussions on East-West identity, opportunity, security

Discussion on East and West identity

May 15, 2015

This post is part of a series on the 2015 Northwest Regional Conference on Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies. This annual event was hosted by the Ellison Center at the University of Washington.

By Valentina Petrova

Thirty-five presenters and session chairs convened at the Simpson Center at the University of Washington on the first Saturday in May for the 21st Annual Northwest Regional Conference for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies (REECAS NW). Nine panels – packed with presentations ranging from teaching Russian language to heritage speakers, to literature, politics, arts, architecture, ethnicity, religion, to gender identity and women’s role in society – sparked the interest of almost 50 Conference attendees.

Associate professor at the Jackson School, Chris Jones, discusses “Legacies of the Warsaw Pact.” Oleksandr Fisun, Carnegie Fellow at UW (background), chaired an afternoon panel titled “Reflections on the Cold War, Warsaw Pact.”

This year’s theme was “Between East & West: Identity, Opportunity & Security in the Post-Communist World.” The plenary session, moderated by the associate professor and Ellison Center Director Scott Radnitz, took on the East-West topic by focusing on the Ukraine conflict with an engaging discussion between Oleksandr Fisun, a Carnegie Fellow at UW and political science professor at Kharkiv National University, Christopher Jones, associate professor in the Jackson School, and Volodymyr Lysenko, research scientist and lecturer at UW’s Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity.

“It was useful to hear various scholars’ takes on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, from various perspectives, including deeper historical perspectives,” said Tiffany Grobelski, a PhD student at the Geography department of UW and REECAS NW audience member. “Many of the talks were quite pertinent to current events, and that was interesting to consider.”

Local teachers and other audience members focus on the opening panel discussion about engaging and motivating Russian language students. The session featured two experts from the Moscow State Pedagogical University.

Some presenters traveled far to participate in the conference this year. Two Russian language teaching experts from Moscow State Pedagogical University flew in from Russia for another UW-hosted event and shared their insights at one of REECAS NW’s morning panels. They spoke on teaching bilingual children and motivating students to a lecture hall full of Russian language teachers from the Pacific Northwest.

Alexandra Dvoriantchikova, an independent scholar affiliated with Florida International University, traveled all the way from the east coast.

“Russia and Central Asia are not very popular areas of research in South Florida, where much attention goes to South America followed perhaps by Middle East,” Dvoriantchikova said. “The interest in them is growing, however, but at this time there is no equivalent of the REECAS [NW] conference here. REECAS [NW] allowed me to participate in a conference focused entirely on my area of study. Therefore the feedback I got on my research came from other scholars who are very well versed in my field.”

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Sarah McPhee (l), MA student at REECAS, UW, presents her thesis “The Competition for the Ukrainian Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Rosatom, Westinghouse, and Implications for Nuclear Energy in the Near Abroad” at an afternoon panel. Jennifer Carroll (r), PhD student in the anthropology department, UW, followed McPhee’s talk with her own presentation on the conflict in Ukraine.

Local scholars who have attended REECAS NW in years past continued their involvement. Veronica Muskheli, a PhD student at UW’s Slavic Languages and Literatures department, presented her paper Gender and Genre: Formulaic Detective Stories Aimed at the Female Audience in Contemporary Russia. She appreciated the opportunity to hear about the current work of researchers she had met at previous REECAS NW conferences – such as Michael Seraphinoff whose presentation was part of an art and architecture panel Muskheli chaired.

“This was the first time I chaired a session, so for me, that was the most important and memorable about my experience at the conference,” Muskheli said. “It was a milestone of my development as a researcher.”

Grobelski, who is considering submitting her research for next year’s conference, found the conversations at REECAS NW panels to be dynamic and engaging.

“I think the most valuable aspect is that participants come from many different disciplines,” she said. “I learned a lot about how linguists are studying the region, for example, that actually has some relevance to the work social scientists like myself do. I wouldn’t get this kind of exposure if I went to a more ‘closed’ disciplinary conference. I also like the collegial atmosphere; even though there are accomplished scholars in attendance, they don’t feel the need to use intimidating jargon or treat any question as any less important than others. Instead the atmosphere is open and intellectually curious.”

Michael Brinley, MA student in the REECAS program at UW, takes questions from the audience after his presentation “The Cult of Literature and the Collapse of the Soviet Union: Ideology and Art Among Gorbachev’s Top Advisors.”

Presenters, as well as attendees, found the opportunity for networking with fellow scholars interested in the REECAS region, to be among the most valuable takeaways from the day-long event. Muskheli found particular value in the experience for graduate students.

“As a grad student, you should participate in REECAS [NW] because it is a validation of your research, because you can get tremendously insightful comments, and because it gives you a great sense of camaraderie and allows you to establish meaningful contacts with other researchers,” she said.