A UACES Microgrant Report
Europe has been facing a decade of crises. From the financial and refugee crises of the early and mid-2010s, to the Covid pandemic opening the new decade and the looming threat of climate change. These are some of the recurrent topics at the CES 29th International Conference of Europeanists, hosted by the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. The theme of the event, Europe’s Past, Present and Future: Utopias and Dystopias, invited multidisciplinary reflections about the successes and failures of European integration, as well as finding a way forward.
Hungary and Poland and their stance toward Russia
Arguably, Europe finds itself at a crossroads. Democracy has been in steady decline in multiple countries, nationalist and populist narratives have been dominating the political discourse and shifting priorities on pan-continental cooperation, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has once again brought war on European soil. My research focuses on the European Union, and in the paper I presented at the conference, I discussed the effect of democratic backsliding in Hungary and Poland on the EU’s response to Russia’s war of aggression. Analysing the diverging responses of these two member states’ governments highlights the pitfalls and contradictions of their ideologies. Hungary, for example, has remained aligned with Russia, spreading Russian disinformation and validating narratives of a perceived Western responsibility in the conflict, despite itself being a NATO and EU member. Poland, on the contrary, has staunchly condemned Russia and provided an unmatched level of aid to Ukraine, urging its Western allies to up their efforts accordingly. Nevertheless, the leading PiS party and government continue to erode democracy at home and have instrumentalised the conflict to claim that EU institutions are weak and serving Russian interests in an attempt to justify their rejection of supranational oversight.
“In Europe, Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit”
These are only some of the paradoxes of nationalism as seen in Hungary, Poland, Russia, and on the rise in other European countries, which was itself a central theme of the CES conference. In the opening keynote speech, the President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson offered some enlightening remarks on the topic “In Europe, Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit. Presidents and Academics, Nationalism and Objectivity.” As an academic turned head of state, President Jóhannesson provided his personal account about the need to reconcile national interests, unity and pride, with the objectivity of academic rigour and both the freedom and duty to be critical of past mistakes.
Thanks to the UACES microgrant, I was able to attend three days of panels and discussion which greatly nurtured my own research, as well as being able to present my paper and receive feedback from esteemed academics and fellow early-career researchers. With both, the invasion of Ukraine and the rule of law crisis being popular topics across multiple disciplines, this was an exceptional opportunity that would not have been possible without the support of UACES. I am confident that what I have learned and the connections I have made will enrich my research and will help inform my future teaching endeavours. For that I am very grateful.