On Saturday, April 30 the University of Washington’s Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies (REECAS) and the University of Puget Sound (UPS) partnered to hold the twenty-second annual REECAS NW conference. Students and scholars came together from the University of Victoria, Stanford University, Seattle Pacific University, UPS and UW to present on issues facing the REECAS region, exploring such topics as identity, democracy, culture, and diplomacy.
The wide variety of panels throughout the day was enough to engage the interests of anyone who attended the conference. University of Puget Sound Professor Ben Tromley and University of Victoria graduate student Matthew Miskulin opened the conference with papers on the Russian exile community in mid-20th century Europe, a topic that was further explored for the 21st century by UW Information School visiting scientist Oot Toomet, who gave a paper analyzing Russians and ethnic segregation in modern Estonia using cell phone data. Simultaneously, another panel addressed the Balkans and the larger implications this region has for the West and for Russia. The panelists presented on Kosovo-Serbia reconciliation, similarities and differences between independent Kosovo’s emergence from Serbia and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the cultural and political currents that run in the Balkan region. It proved thought-provoking, with a lively question and answer session that engaged members of the audience.
Following the morning panels, conference organizers held a special screening of “Oleg’s Choice,” a documentary film about the fighting that broke out in eastern Ukraine in early 2014. The film explores how two young Russian men were driven by propaganda and adventure to fight in the Donbass region and in addition were able to give perspective on what this war meant to them. The film was followed by an animated discussion with Carol Williams, former Moscow Bureau Chief for The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press. She said of the film: “The documentary film shown during lunch was a particularly good choice as it vividly illustrated the conflicts of identity and nationality confronting those fighting in eastern Ukraine. Journalists tend to see the war through the lens of each side’s political objectives whereas the film explored the very personal motivations and inner conflicts of the volunteers.”
Panels resumed following the film and included scholars exploring ethnography and environmental policy of modern Russia, Poland, and Central Asia. Topics ranged from monitoring men’s alcohol consumption in Russia to illegal game hunting by the Russian elite, to environmental protection in Poland, and finally to water rights in Central Asia. Other panels explored the Cold War as manifested in Fidel Castro’s 1963 visit to Moscow, a trial over uranium mining in 1950s communist Czechoslovakia, and the outcomes for nuclear weapons following Mikhail Gorbachev’s and Ronald Reagan’s historic summit at Reykjavik
Michael Brinley, a second-year MA student in the UW REECAS program, said of the event: “The conference was a great experience…the opportunity to present my paper and receive the input of great scholars and veteran policy makers was a true honor.”
Panels on ethnic minorities and democratization in the Post-Soviet states, as well as on Slavic identity, helped to close the day-long conference.
Robert Jaeger, a member of the audience, has been attending REECAS events and conferences since the 1990s and commented that “this particular conference was a great example of bringing together graduate students and scholars from several local schools in a beautiful place for a very collegial series of presentations.” He added that he looks forward to attending more conferences and events in the future, emphasizing the important role this event has on highlighting the “current and future geopolitical significance of [the REECAS region].”