Spring 2016 Honors

REEEC would like to congratulate the following student award winners:

2016 Yaro Skalnik Prize for Best Student Essay

Graduate Student – Matthew Klopfenstein for his essay, “Modernity and the Task of Ozdorovlenie: Russian Doctors and the Discourse of School Hygiene” written for HIST 594 – Introduction to Historical Writing (Spring 2016) taught by Tamara Chaplin and Nils Jacobsen (paper adviser, Mark Steinberg).

Summer 2016 FLAS Fellows

Graduate Students

  • Jeffrey Castle (Germanic Languages and Literatures) – Czech
  • Frederick Miller (Music) – Russian
  • Tyler Dolan (Slavic Languages and Literatures) – Russian
  • LeiAnna Hamel (Slavic Languages and Literatures) – Russian

Undergraduate Students

  • Sharadyn Ciota (Political Science) – Russian
  • Ariel Glaviano (Applied Health Sciences) – Russian

REEEC would also like to congratulate the following graduating students:

M.A. in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

  • Emily Lipira
  • Bethany Wages

B.A. in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

  • Gabriella Repala


Kate Butterworth’s Summer in Georgia

This past summer, I had the opportunity to study in Tbilisi, Georgia. I spent the time learning the Georgian language, and becoming acquainted with the culture and society. Georgia is a unique place, situated in one of the most geographically and linguistically varied regions of the world. The Caucasus mountain range serves as a natural border to Russia, separating the South and North Caucasus. Aside from Russia, Georgia is situated between the Black Sea, portions of Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. It has been a crossroads of many different cultures and empires throughout its history. These influences are evident in the current culture and language. While Georgian is the most prominent language in the Kartvelian group, it has been influenced by Greek, Russian, different stages of Persian, and now increasingly, English, particularly in government language. Regarding the separatist regions, Abkhazians and South Ossetians are ethnically and linguistically distinct from Georgians. Their claims for self determination predate the Soviet period and were vocalized prominently during the Russian Civil War.

I lived in Nadzaladevi with a very welcoming and generous couple. On the back streets of the neighborhood, there are small hole-in-the-wall shops accompanied by stands of fruit and vegetables. Walking up the steep and narrow cobblestone streets behind the apartment blocks, there is a clear view of the city and the mountains beyond. Tbilisi is home to the National Archives and a number of museums. Among them is the Museum of Soviet Occupation and the National Art Gallery, which has a number of pieces by Georgian artists. A few metro stops away is Old Tbilisi, where there are a number of outdoor cafes, bars, markets, a botanical garden, and the banya, which sits below the Narikala Fortress. That fortress has stood there since Tbilisi’s founding. Old Tbilisi is a nice historical part of the city and attracts many tourists. I took language lessons through the Language School there. Lessons were engaging, and I was fortunate to learn from a very good teacher.

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Aside from lessons and the commute to and from, I was able to travel. At one point, I went with a friend to Stepantsminda, in the Kazbegi district of Mtkheta-Mtianeti. It lies just south of the Russian border along the Georgian Military Road. It is a very popular destination for many people, especially in the summer, because, aside from its beauty, it is considerably cooler. In the remoteness of the mountains, there is a scattering of villages and livestock ambling about, often paying no heed to cars making hairpin turns up the winding road. In stark contrast to this scene, is Batumi on the Black Sea. Home to casinos, oil refineries, and a beautiful coastline, it is quickly becoming an economic hub in Ajaria.

Spending time in Georgia not only provided more depth to my studies, but also afforded me the opportunity to build relationships with people, which would not have been possible otherwise. Living with hosts added another valuable dimension to my experience and gave me ample time to practice speaking.

Kate Butterworth is a Master’s student in the REEEC program. Her research interests include ethnicity and identity in the North and South Caucasus as well as the efficacy of socio-economic policy in Georgia.  She received her BA from SUNY Brockport in 2011.

Summer Homecoming to Bosnia-Herzegovina

I was born in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. My family fled to Chicago, Illinois, right after my seventh birthday. I could say that most of what I remember from my childhood occurred in Chicago; my memories from Bosnia became more distant as I embraced my life in America. The first time I returned to Bosnia was 13 years after leaving my hometown of Srebrenica, in the summer of 2013. However, I only spent a week and a half there, not nearly enough time to reconnect with my past and to explore my mother country. I was privileged enough to return this past summer (summer 2014) to study the Bosnian language through a FLAS fellowship from the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center. This opportunity exposed me to the beauty of the Balkan region, Bosnia’s mentality and the dissipating energy from the war.

Bosnia was very different from what I had imagined it to be. I was looking forward to living with a host family, which I hoped would allow me to expand my circle of friends. Indeed, I did establish new friendships and became exposed to the daily life of many Bosnians from different socioeconomic backgrounds. In my first week there, I came to a realization that a “middle class” who lives moderately was very rare. There was a strong divide between the haves and have-nots. I either came across individuals and families that were well-off and chose to brag about their prosperity, or those that earned just enough to get by and complained about their circumstances. The stark division between the two highlighted the country’s economic issues. The corruption and disorderly political structure affected every facet of life. Those that earned a “good” salary by Bosnian standards were unsatisfied because they felt that they should be earning more by global comparisons. Bosnians that could barely get by liked to complain about the system and its flaws because of the difficulty of bringing in a stable income for their families.

My second realization was the unwelcoming attitude that Bosnian residents have towards the Bosnian diaspora. This, by far, came as the biggest shock to me since I imagined a warm welcome and acceptance since I was, after all, Bosnian. However, residents weren’t really favorable toward the diaspora due to their bragging of living in a different and “better” country. Bosnia has a larger diaspora population than the population of the country itself. Summers tend to be packed with the diaspora throwing their money away on food, presents and family members. As a result, the diaspora’s snobbish tendencies agitate the Bosnian residents, who see those tendencies as a way to show off income status. Establishing good friendships with Bosnians revealed their true feelings towards the diaspora. It was extremely entertaining to hear the remarks they made about the Bosnian diaspora.

My third and final realization revolved around the multi-ethnicity of Bosnia. Bosnia consists of three major population groups: Bosnian Muslims (also called Bosniaks), Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats. The first thing that struck me was that people stuck close to their origin. There still existed hatreds among the groups. When I visited Mostar, I was astonished to learn that there is a high school which is subdivided into two high schools: one for Bosnian Croats and the other for Bosniaks. During the first game that Bosnia played in the World Cup, half of Mostar (a city in Bosnia) was cheering for Bosnia, and the other half of Mostar was booing it and throwing around insulting remarks. The literal division of the Bosniaks and the Bosnian Croats is the Old Bridge in Mostar. To drive through Bosnia and experience the division of the different ethnic groups was interesting. Each town or village is usually composed of one of the ethnicities. Larger cities, such as Sarajevo, consist of all three, but the division between the groups is still apparent.

My summer in Bosnia was a growing experience that not only developed my language skills, but also widened my perception of the Balkan states and America.

Medina Spiodic is a junior at the University of Illinois, double majoring in Economics and Communication with a minor in REES. Her expected graduation date is December 2015.

Ryan Eavenson’s Summer 2014 Experiences in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic

My summer in Eastern Europe was a challenging, exciting, and rewarding experience.  I had the opportunity through a FLAS to study Czech language at the intermediate level in Prague.  As a student with a serious interest in Czech history in addition to Czech language, I couldn’t have been happier!  But my journey did not begin in Prague.  I decided to travel to some additional countries in Eastern Europe before the start of my intensive Czech language course.  I wanted to take the opportunity to further advance my knowledge of this part of the world by exploring the culture and seeing in person the places I had read and heard so much about.

Eavenson - Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest (Image Source)

A plate of chicken paprikash (Image Source)

A plate of chicken paprikash (Image Source)

First, I flew to Budapest, Hungary, arriving in the mid-morning after a long flight from the United States.  I was very tired, but excited to have finally arrived in Europe!  I spent my first day getting acquainted with the city by walking around.  I really enjoyed the experience of simply observing my surroundings and studying the amazing architecture of Budapest.  Some of my most enjoyable experiences were venturing across the famous Chain Bridge, and stopping to admire its unique design and lion statues that greet you upon entry.  This bridge provides a wonderful view of the Hungarian Parliament Building, which sits on the bank of the Danube.  I walked down Andrassy Street, the historic main street of the city, and before leaving, I also made sure to eat a traditional Hungarian meal of chicken paprikash at a small local restaurant.

After a few days in Budapest, I traveled by train to Bratislava, Slovakia, where I arrived in the late afternoon.  Eager to explore, I immediately walked down to the old historic district as the sun was beginning to set.  With my knowledge of Czech, I found that I was able to read many of the Slovak signs throughout the city.  This gave me a greater understanding of the close similarity between these two languages.  In Bratislava, I visited the well-known castle  which rests on a large hill over looking the city.  Nearby, I stopped to see St. Michael’s gate, which is a very old and important landmark.  My last night in Bratislava was exceptionally memorable.  I had the chance to observe a traditional  Slovak folk dance at the main town square.  This was an event that truly presented to me the essence of Slovakia’s rich culture and tradition.


Main square in Bratislava

Main square in Bratislava (Image Source)

The final part of my journey took me to Prague.  Traveling by train allowed me to see the extraordinary countryside of Moravia, a part of the Czech Republic defined by clear lakes and dense forests.  After a long trip from Bratislava, I finally arrived at my dorm.  I immediately knew the moment I checked in that this was going to be an enriching summer because the receptionist only spoke to me in Czech.  In Prague, I embarked on a demanding Czech language course while simultaneously experiencing Czech culture by visiting both museums and many historic locations.  I found the Czech food to be excellent, and there were so many different meals to try.  My favorite foods included beef goulash, potato dumplings, and the wide variety of freshly baked bread.  Having a particular interest in post World War II Eastern Europe, I visited the Museum of Communism, where I was exposed in detail to the nature of life in the Czech lands during this period.  My dorm was within walking distance of the Prague castle, a truly amazing structure.  Through a walking tour, I gained a greater appreciation for the importance of this castle and its place in Czech history.  The cathedral in the castle complex is exceptional both for its size and design.  In addition, I spent a great deal of time on the Charles Bridge, a place  with tremendous historical significance and one of the most notable symbols of Prague.  I was amazed by the exceptional detail of the numerous statues that line the bridge.  Close to the Charles Bridge, I visited the Franz Kafka Museum.  There, I had the unique chance to see some of the actual writings of this famous author while also learning new information about his life.  Overall, it was wonderful to be able to constantly use and improve my Czech everyday during my time in the Czech Republic, and I am certain that I have developed a deeper understanding of Czech culture.  I had a wonderful experience in Eastern Europe this summer, and I hope to return in the near future and continue to learn more about this unique part of the world.

The Franz Kafka Museum in Prague (Image Source)

The Franz Kafka Museum in Prague (Image Source)

Ryan Eavenson is a MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.  He is particularly interested in communist development in Eastern Europe.  His additional interests include Imperial and Soviet Russian history, Czech history, and Russian and Czech language.  He received a AB in History/Russian and East European Studies from Lafayette College in 2010.  After graduation, he hopes to find employment focusing on international affairs and then continue his education.

Summer 2014 FLAS Winners

Congratulations to the recipients of the Summer 2014 FLAS fellowships to support language study!

Graduate Students:

  • Benjamin Bamberger (History, Georgian)
  • Kathryn Butterworth (REEEC, Russian)
  • Ryan Eavenson (REEEC, Czech)
  • Kyle Estes (Political Science, Russian)
  • Adrianne Gorbachik (Incoming REEEC, Russian)
  • Anna A. Harbaugh (History, Yiddish)
  • Alana Holland (REEEC, Polish)
  • Eastman A. Klepper (REEEC, Turkish)
  • Emily Lipira (Incoming REEEC, Russian)
  • Scott Maltby (Slavic, Russian)
  • Thornton Miller (Music, Russian)
  • Alejandra Pires (Slavic, Russian)
  • Peter Wright (History, Turkish)

Undergraduate Student:

  • Medina Spiodic (Econ/Comm/REEEC, BCS)

Ukraine: Why Maidan Matters

After Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovich, decided not to sign an association agreement with the European Union in November 2013 after years of negotiation, chaos broke loose on Kiev’s main square, officially named Maidan Nezalezhnosti.  The main square, known to locals simply as Maidan and now also as Euromaidan, has been a place to gather for both fests and protests, from New Year’s celebrations to political reorganization.  Among other things, Maidan has stood as a symbol of freedom since the Orange Revolution in 2004 and now, after the recent protests, ever more so.  But what do the results of the current protests mean for the freedom of Ukraine’s people?

A view of the Maidan camp, a tent with a wood workshop

A view of the Maidan camp, a tent with a wood workshop

Although the Euromaidan protest movement started strong and attracted more people than any other protest since the Orange Revolution, after Yanukovich’s decision to accept a $15 billion loan and oil agreement from Russia, the protest attendance slowly died down.  Now, Maidan is home to a camp of political activists with their own organized system of services, almost living as a state within a state.  The camp has closed off the whole square and restricts business and tourism in the area, and without an organized goal, the movement appears to have no forward momentum.

What is missing from the Euromaidan movement is a leader and an organized goal.  Yanukovich’s decision to completely reject the opinion of his protesting citizens and hardly even acknowledge them shows a lack of respect for his constituents and a restricted freedom for the citizens of Ukraine.  The Ukrainians want a better standard of life, and are finally ready to strengthen Maindan’s symbolic meaning and stand up for themselves.  Improved international acceptance as a reputable state, integration as an equal partner on the global business scene, and better overall awareness of Ukraine’s wealth of resources and potential are all included in the vast list of overarching goals on the road to more freedom for the Ukrainian people.  The younger generation’s participation in the protests show a form of “social enlightenment,” but without direction, the potential unfortunately diminishes.

Even though the loan agreement with Russia helps in the short term, the European Union Association Agreement, even with its imperfections, would have been a big step forward toward achieving the ideals of a freer Ukrainian population and a better life for the Ukrainian people.  The reforms required by the agreement with the EU would have proved to be difficult at first but, in the long run, would have achieved a more democratic environment and forward movement at the global scale, exactly the real unwritten goal of the Euromaidan movement.  As the protest turnouts have shown, there are already willing participants.  Although not specifically stated by the protesters, an end goal to Euromaidan exists.  Now all that is needed is a leader to organize the movement and outline the needed steps toward reform. Success is an option.

What exactly does Maidan mean for Ukraine and its people?  Maidan stands as a magnificent symbol of freedom, hope, and a better future.  The fact that the main square has been used as a protest location for a number of different movements and is now, after almost two months of protest, still occupied by protesters shows the significance of Maidan Nezalezhnosti.  The Euromaidan movement may not have been as great of a success as hoped for, but rest assured that in the future, any other large scale protests will take place at Euromaidan. Results will be achieved.  The more the Ukrainian people make their desires known, the more the world will know what they want. With Euromaidan as the center of action, the possibilities for change are within their reach.

A view of one of the barricades blocking off access to Maidan

A view of one of the barricades blocking off access to Maidan

Additional Reading:

Zachary Grotovsky is an MA candidate in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Upon graduating in May 2014, he hopes to find a position where he can take advantage of his German studies, and his experiences in Ukraine and Poland to help people realize how much knowledge of other cultures puts them ahead. He became interested in Poland and Ukraine through contact with the people from those countries while traveling, and now frequents Ukraine as a favorite travel destination.

Miranda Wickham Feels at Home in Istanbul, Turkey

For the past three months, I have been studying abroad in the beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey.  I study at Bogazici University, which is located in a residential area of Istanbul, and overlooks the Bosphorus.  As a political science major at Bogazici, I am taking a variety of courses.  My schedule includes Introduction to European Integration, which is very interesting to learn about in Turkey, as the pending addition of Turkey to the European Union is a main theme of the class. I am also enrolled in Turkish Literature in English Translation.  In this class, we are reading everything from classical and modern Turkish poetry to The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk, and A Mind at Peace by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar.  In the course, we learn about Turkish history and also modern Turkey through literature.  Additionally, I am taking two language courses, Intermediate Turkish and Advanced German Literature.

The two main campuses are North and South Campus.  The South Campus has a beautiful view of the Bosphorus, which is called the overlook.  Turkish and international students spend many hours at the overlook, just talking or doing homework, and enjoying the Bosphorus.  Additionally, the university has its own beach campus, with a free shuttle that leaves from the main campuses.

At Bogazici, I have met students from all around the world.  I live with three Turkish girls, which has been a great way to practice my Turkish.  Through classes and different events held by the university, I have had the opportunity to get to know the Turkish students.  There are also around 500 international students studying at Bogazici.

It is especially interesting to be in Istanbul, during Turkey’s current political situation.  Experiencing what is happening in Turkey, though the eyes of university students has been very enlightening.  I have talked for hours with different Turkish friends, all of whom have different opinions about what is taking place in their country.  There are demonstrations at the University, and the main set of stairs is painted in rainbow colors as a sign of protest, because many students believe that Erdogan only sees things in black and white.

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Two very important parts of Turkish culture include Chi (tea) and Kahvalti (breakfast).  In Turkey, people drink many cups of Turkish tea a day.  There are many small café’s that just serve tea, where people spend hours, and drink cup after cup of tea.  Turkish breakfast or brunch is also a very important part of the day.  On the weekends, people will spend hours enjoying a delicious Turkish breakfast by the Bosphorus.  A Turkish breakfast usually includes olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, boiled eggs, white and yellow cheese, menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs), and different types of Turkish bread.  The cafeteria at Bogazici offers a traditional Turkish breakfast for only 75 cents.

I have also been able to travel a lot throughout Turkey.  During Bayram (a religious vacation), I traveled with a group of friends to Izmir, Ephesus, Pamukkale, and Konya.  Izmir is one of the largest cities in Turkey and is along the coast.  We spent two days in Izmir enjoying the large shopping Bazaar and castle ruins, and took a day trip to Cesme, a small seaside town.  Then we went to see Ephesus, which is the ruins of  an ancient Greek city.

Next, we traveled to Pamukkale.  Pamukkale is a national park, located just outside of a city called Denizli.  Pamukkale means,“cotton castle.” Pamukkale formed from travertine, which was deposited by water from hot springs.  The terraces of Pamukkale look like snow, but are actually hard, with many hot springs.  At the top of Pamukkale, there are ancient ruins, including an amphitheater.

After Pamukkale, we headed south to the city of Konya.  Konya is a much more traditional, conservative, and religious Turkish city.  The renowned poet and philosopher, Rumi, is buried in Konya.  Konya is also very famous for the Mevlevi Sufi order of Islam, now known as the whirling dervishes.  The whirling dervishes perform a religious ceremony, which people travel from around the world to see.

Throughout my time in Turkey, what stands out to me most is the hospitability of the Turkish people.  If you ask someone for directions and they are not sure about where something is, they immediately pull out their phones to find out or look it up on the internet.  Meeting a new friend at a café can turn into an evening at his or her house, learning about Turkish culture and drinking tea.  My efforts at speaking Turkish are always rewarded with excitement, as I try to have conversations and learn the language.  Istanbul really has welcomed me, and become my home.

Miranda Wickham is a  junior in Political Science and German at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is very interested in the political situation within the Middle East, especially in Turkey, and also Turkey’s relationship with Germany.