Workshop "(Re)Thinking the University from, in, and beyond (Post-)Socialist Europe"

Vienna, 27-29 September 2023

Organizers: Elisa Satjukow and Friedrich Cain (local org.)

Program (25 Sept. 2023) | Call for Papers (23 Feb. 2023)

Funded by the Univ. of Vienna, Leipzig University and the Southeast Europe Association, in cooperation with The University of New Europe.

On Wednesday, 27 September 2023 (6-7:30 PM) we invite to the

Public Roundtable Universities at War

to Alte Kapelle, Campus of the University of Vienna (Spitalgasse 2/4, Hof 2.8, 1090 Vienna)

Discussants: Alexander Etkind (CEU, Vienna), Dina Gusejnova (LSE), Kirstine Arentoft Kristensen (Univ. of Vienna), Andrea Pető (CEU, Vienna), Svitlana Telukha (GWZO Leipzig)

Chair: Philipp Schmädeke (Science at Risk, Berlin)

The roundtable will provide a panorama of case studies analysing how universities have been implicated and affected by wars and conflicts from the Second World War and the Cold War. It will conclude with a reflection on the way academic communities are affected by Russia’s war against Ukraine. They have also been sites of conflicts such as gender wars. This panel concentrates on European academic institutions as sites, agents, collaborators, resisters, as well as victims of military conflicts from the Second World War to Russia’s War against Ukraine.

After the roundtable discussion there will be an informal reception.

During the workshop, we plan to critically assess the concept and practice of “the university” in the (post-)socialist scientific systems of Central, Eastern, and Southeast Europe (CESEE). We believe that this focus connects two research areas: on the one hand, it broadens feminist and decolonial perspectives on academic knowledge production, thus helping to expand the historical epistemology of the university in 20th and 21st-century Europe, on the other.

Historically, universities are complex conglomerates of (built) structures, social interaction, and distinction, places of specific material, bodily, and intellectual practices. They have become key places of truth, expertise, and authority in all aspects of learning, both in research and education. As pillars of epistemic order but also epistemological laboratories and sites of revolution, universities (and their members) have they navigated between strengthening and opposing state and imperial powers. In the context of recent discussions about the role of science in democratic societies as well as neoliberal approaches to and populist interventions in higher education, it seems that the ambivalences of the university persist.

The workshop focuses on the history of universities in (post-)socialist Europe. Following the October Revolution of 1917, the academic system was restructured in the newly established Soviet Union. After 1945, universities in the new socialist states had to comply with the principles of Soviet hegemony. Applied research was perceived as the pinnacle of academic knowledge production in the socialist societies of Europe. Universities were conceived of as efficient and highly exclusive places. They were supposed to serve the progress of socialism, especially since science was declared a “productive force” during the 1960s. At the same time, there was the ambition to design egalitarian and hence more diverse knowledge spaces — at least at the intersection of gender and class. In practice, however, universities often continued to perpetuate social inequalities — not only inside the institutions themselves, but also within the asymmetrical power relations of imperial structures.

Apart from reproducing political order, universities were also platforms for counter thought. They were home to reform movements (such as the Praxis School in Zagreb/Belgrade) and hubs for emerging transnational (academic) feminist networks, in and beyond former Yugoslavia, for example. Such semi-secret parallel academic structures developed especially where university politics were particularly restrictive and reactionary. These initiatives were of great significance during the revolutionary upheavals of the 1980s (e.g. the Flying Universities in Poland), and became a decisive oppositional force in many parts of socialist Europe. At the same time, these parallel structures paved the way for the post-1989 academic awakening — away from a limited corpus of politically driven science toward a new freedom of research, at least temporarily.

However, the post-socialist transformation of academia was influenced by the wide-ranging sociopolitical and economic challenges of the 1990s. While strong traditionalist groups prevailed, preserving socialist thought and controlling academic practice, reform movements were forced to adapt their position to new economic and discursive conditions. University employees were confronted with inflation and privatization, many were forced to flee from war and nationalist regimes, some regrouped abroad. At the same time, neo-liberal models were adopted, which fundamentally influenced academic labor markets. The German Democratic Republic (GDR) was a special case in many ways. Here, some academic institutions completely ceased to exist and others were transformed according to West German models, which also resulted in large-scale replacement of former academic staff.

To this day, the relationship between “Eastern and Western European” universities is characterized by structural inequality. This applies as much to financial resources as to a perceived epistemological inferiority of academic institutions in CESEE. Yet, so far, post-socialist Europe has been a blind spot in postcolonial critiques of university knowledge production. Drawing on the recent debate on decolonizing universities and decolonizing ‘Eastern Europe,’ our workshop tackles the utopia and practice of the university from, in, and beyond (post-)socialist Europe.



Thursday, 28 September 2023

10:00–10:30 Introduction

Elisa Satjukow (Leipzig Univ.), Friedrich Cain (Univ. of Vienna)


10:30–12:00 Panel 1: Universities during WW II and Repercussions

Chair: Dietlind Hüchtker (Univ. of Vienna)

Comment: Anna Echterhölter (Univ. of Vienna)

Olena Dobosh (SoftServe, L’viv): The Impact of Territorial Shifts and Political Censorship on University Place Memory. A Comparative Study of L’viv, Wroclaw, and Vilnius Universities

Friedrich Cain (Univ. of Vienna): University Projects in Occupied Poland, 1939–1945

Dina Gusejnova (LSE): Internment Universities During the Second World War


12:00–13:30 Lunch Break


13:30–14:00 Interlude: Baltic Worlds – The Journal and its Guidelines

Ninna Mörner (Baltic Worlds, Editor in Chief)


14:00–15:30 Panel 2: From Late Socialism into the 1990ies

Chair: Julia Anna Tyll-Schranz (Univ. of Vienna)

Comment: Claudia Kraft (Univ. of Vienna)

Vedran Duančić (Univ. of Klagenfurt): What’s the Point of Higher Education in Late Self-Managerial Socialism? A Collective Autobiography of Yugoslav Universities

Irina Antoshchuk (Univ. of Amsterdam): Late Soviet Universities: Embeddedness in Scientific Networks and Its Effects

Mitchell Ash (Univ. of Vienna): “As in the West, so on Earth”? Theses (or Remarks) on the Transformations of Higher Education in Eastern Germany after Unification


16:00–17:30 Panel 3: New Projects between Democracy and Privatisation

Chair: Dorine Schellens (Leiden Univ.)

Comment: Alexander Dmitriev (EPF Lausanne)

Elisa Satjukow (Univ. Leipzig): (Re)making Postsocialist Academia – The Case of CEU

Matei Gheboianu (Univ. of Bucharest): The Private Higher Education System in Romania after 1989. The Case of the “Spiru Haret“ University

Andrei Ilyin (Moscow): Founding New Universities in the “New” Russia in the 1990s: Innovation and Continuity with Soviet and International Legacies


19:00 Joint Dinner


Friday, 29 September 2023

9:00-11:00 Panel 4: Backlash: Neoliberalisms, Conservatisms, Authoritarianisms

Chair: Rebekka Pflug (Univ. of Vienna)

Comment: Jan Surman (Masaryk Inst. and Archives, Prague)

Iuliia Gataulina (Tampere Univ.): De/re/composing Authoritarian-Neoliberal Assemblages: Ethnography of Russian Universities and Beyond

Pavjo Gjini (Graz Univ.): The Autonomy between the University and Neoliberalism: The Case of Albania

Ádám Havas (Univ. of Barcelona) / Ágoston Fáber (Budapest): The Rise of Heteronomous Academia on the EU’s Borderlands

Ingrid Verebes (ELTE, Budapest): The Rise and Institutionalization of Family Science in Hungary


11:30-13:30 Panel 5: Re-Conceptualisations: (New) University Practices

Chair: Jan C. Behrends (Europ. Univ. Viadrina, Frankfurt an der Oder)

Comment: Ellen Rutten (Univ. of Amsterdam)

Alla Morozova (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa): A Pedagogy of Equity and Cooperation among Dissenting Educators of post-Soviet Russia: Revisiting the ideas of Alexander Bogdanov and Paulo Freire in Contemporary Pedagogical Practices – the Case of the Free University Moscow

Victoria Pardini (Wilson Center, Washington, D.C.): The Case of DOXA in Critiquing Academic Freedom at Russian Universities

Nikola Lero (Univ. of Sheffield): From a college dropout to a Fulbright Scholar: Memories of Academic Charlatanism and Academic Failure in post-war Bosnia

Lidia Yatluk (Univ. of Groningen): Coping with Moral Dilemmas During War Censorship in Russian Universities


13:30-14:00 Closing Comments