The 2012 Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum, “Political Spaces in Eurasia: Global Contexts, Local Outcomes” (organizer and chair: Richard Tempest), continued the tradition of multi-disciplinary, international conferences that have been held under this rubric in recent years. This Forum brought together literary scholars, social scientists, psychologists, psephologists, journalists, and political consultants from all over the United States and nine other countries who study the fault lines and interruptions in the political, social, and cultural spaces of the greater Eurasian region. Conference participants, who included established faculty members, as well as graduate students, framed the discussion transnationally and globally, while providing intellectually rigorous perspectives on individual societies in that part of the world. The behaviors and discursive practices of governments, parties, and oppositions were a common theme. Important public events such as the protest movement in Russia, the gathering crisis of government in Romania, and the uses and abuses of online media in political and social life across the region were addressed and conceptually framed. Several speakers analyzed the self-presentation of prominent political figures. Among them were Russia’s former, current, and future president, Vladimir Putin, and Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borisov, the only charismatic government leader in the European Union.
Central to these discussions was the notion of global, regional, and national space, conceived in political and cultural terms. In his keynote address, Professor Bruce Newman (DePaul University), the founder of the discipline of political marketing, discussed the worldwide phenomenon, whereby open, semi-authoritarian, and authoritarian governments — and their oppositions — employ quantifiable instruments of political analysis and control, in which many of them were pioneered in the highly developed political marketplaces of Western Europe and the United States. These electoral and PR methodologies are adapted, and sometimes mis-adapted, with intriguing, and often, highly revealing results that shed light on the tensions engendered by globalization locally and nationally. In their two joint papers, Andrzej Falkowski and Wojciech Galina (Warsaw School of Social Sciences & Humanities, Poland) applied the concepts and methodologies of behavioral psychology to the study of voting behavior in Poland. Ieva Dmitricenko (University of Applied Sciences, Latvia), Jolán Róka (Budapest College of Communication, Business & Arts), Cristian Andrei (Romanian Political Marketing Association), and Lilia Raycheva (Sofia University, Bulgaria) looked at the political, cultural, and media components of recent elections in, respectively, Latvia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Ülle Toode (International University Audentes, Estonia) analyzed the use of IT in the Estonian political process. Tiffany Winchester (Deakin University, Australia) compared voting behavior in Russia to the patterns of consumer behavior in that country. Richard Tempest (University of Illinois) and Gregory Simons (Uppsala University, Sweden) examined Vladimir Putin’s modus operandi during and after the recent Russian elections, with particular reference to on- and off-line refractions of his physical self. Volodymyr Chumachenko (University of Illinois) investigated the dynamics of the political process in Ukraine under President Viktor Yanukovich and the implications of the narrowing of the political spaces there for the region. Oana Dan (Harvard University) offered a comparative analysis of notions of EU citizenship in “Old” and “New” Europe. Sergei Markedonov (Center for Strategic & International Studies) considered the democratization process in Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, while conceptualizing the emergence of these de facto states on Russia’s periphery. Francis Boyle (University of Illinois) identified the internal institutional and external diplomatic factors that make the continuing existence of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state, an uncertain prospect.
The presentations engendered vigorous, and sometimes passionate debate, particularly on topics that related to the Caucasus and the Balkans. The audience included University of Illinois students and participants in the REEEC Summer Research Lab, as well as members of the Urbana-Champaign community, including students from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.