Dr. Paskal Zhelev, “New Trends in the EU Industrial Policy – Implications for Bulgaria”

Dr. Paskal ZhelevOn October 16th, 2015, Dr. Paskal Zhelev, a senior assistant professor at the University of National and World Economy, gave a lecture entitled “New Trends in the EU Industrial Policy – Implications for Bulgaria.”  From the perspective of his background in International Economic Relations, he outlined industrial policy (“IP”) in general before describing the EU’s new IP, the state of Bulgarian industry since its transition to a free market economy, and his prescriptions for the implementation of a new IP in Bulgaria.

Dr. Zhelev remarked that while there is no commonly accepted definition of IP, it can be regarded as “any policy that shapes or influences the competitiveness of a country’s firms and industries.”  IP involves concerted actions on the part of a national government to promote particular economic sectors via policy tools, in order to provide for economic growth. More broadly, IP is responsible for the modernization of an economy.  The result of a successful IP would be improved specialization of high-tech, research-intensive, and skill-based sectors or industries.  Because such jobs provide a higher standard of living, they improve a nation’s economic conditions.  However, because IP involves direct government intervention, it is probably the most controversial issue in economics.

Dr. Zhelev described two conceptions of IP.  The first is a neoliberal approach based on the “Washington Consensus,” which contends that the role of the state should be limited in order to “ensure a stable macroeconomic environment.”  This approach relies on the role of free market forces, and thus prescribes deregulation and privatization of state-owned firms.  The second is a structuralist approach, which places “less trust in free market forces as a driver on dynamic competitiveness and more in the ability of governments to implement effective interventions.”  Depending on the approach, a given IP can have either a “horizontal” (“soft” or “functional”) or “vertical” (“hard” or “selective”) model.

According to Dr. Zhelev, the theoretical basis for IP is the failure of markets to produce optimal economic (and social) results, as well as the importance of the manufacturing industry in economic development.  Examples of market failures justifying IP include information gaps, the existence of dynamic scale economies (which preclude newcomers in certain industries), and the need for government intervention in protecting the environment.  In recent years, there is a general consensus that the question is not whether or not IP should be pursued, but rather how to do so.

The European Union’s IP was incorporated by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 (which also led to the creation of the euro).  It was formulated as a horizontal (or neoliberal) model, meaning that it only put conditions in place for driving the economy.  According to the treaty, while the EU has the power to “support, coordinate, or supplement” the actions of member states, IP is pursued only at the national level.

The European Union has several other policies in place that affect the IPs of member states.  One of these is the Internal Market Policy, according to which member states “cannot restrict free movement of goods, services, and people between themselves for the sake of IP considerations.”  The EU’s Common Competition Policy, which (among other things) prevents businesses from price-fixing and forming monopolies, also affects the IPs of member states.  In principle, state aid is incompatible with the common market – however, there are exemptions that allow member states with lower standards of living (below 75% of the EU average) to promote economic development, which is particularly relevant for former transition economies like Bulgaria.

However, the EU’s economic growth strategy for the present decade (“Europe 2020”) “explicitly encourages” EU-level IP initiatives.  According to Dr. Zhelev, the key features of Europe 2020 include annual reports of the competitiveness of the EU and of member states, easier access to international markets, a “targeted approach” to economic sectors, and promotion of investment in innovation in “six key areas: advanced manufacturing; KETs [Key Enabling Technologies]; bio-based products; clean vehicles and vessels; sustainable construction and raw materials; [and] smart grids.”  The EU has also designated additional funds for the reindustrialization of member states: € 2.3 billion to support entrepreneurship (COSME),  €100 billion for investments in innovation and industrial competitiveness (distributed according to a “smart specialization principle,” whereby each country has to have a strategy showing where these funds will be channeled) (ESIF), and €80 billion for the commercialization of research (Horizon 2020), which has an emphasis on technology and is intended to stimulate innovation.  In the latter case, though, the program is administered by the EU, and entrepreneurs from various member states have to submit proposals in English.  This means that people from Eastern Europe aren’t really on equal footing with English or Western European entrepreneurs, which Dr. Zhelev argues is why so few Bulgarian projects have been approved by Horizon 2020 so far.

Bulgaria’s transition to a market economy in the early 1990s was accompanied by severe deindustrialization, which, according to Dr. Zhelev, was “triggered and exacerbated by trade liberalization and poorly executed policy reforms.”  This deindustrialization included a huge loss of skills in qualification of labor and deterioration in the specialization of the economy.  Additionally, the “adoption of an active IP was regarded as a return to the detrimental former practices of the planned economy” – the Bulgarian government instead adopted a neoliberal economic policy.  As a result of these factors, Bulgaria’s industrial competitiveness has been deteriorating consistently since 1990.

Dr. Zhelev argues that the laissez-faire approach didn’t provide the needed results – therefore, the “national interests of Bulgaria rely on the political elite realizing the need to develop a coherent, long-term strategy.”  He contends that this will require “adopting a systematic approach to integrate and coordinate efforts” in the fields of science, technology, and innovation policy, foreign direct investment (FDI) policy, human capital policy, as well as in the administration and allocation of resources provided by EU funds.  According to Dr. Zhelev, such an approach will “support a new type of economic growth model, sustainable in the long run, that is pro-investment and export-oriented,” and will “achieve a gradual shift in the industrial structure from resource-based and low-tech activities to medium- and high-tech industries.”  Ultimately, he contends, the adoption of a more active IP will set Bulgaria on the path towards reindustrialization.

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2015-16 academic year for the study of Russian.

Visiting Scholar Highlight – Paskal Zhelev

Dr. Paskal Zhelev

Dr. Paskal Zhelev

REEEC welcomes Dr. Paskal Zhelev, a visiting scholar from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, Bulgaria.  He received a Fulbright research grant to study at the University of Illinois through the fall semester.  His research interests include industrial policy, international competitiveness, foreign trade relations, and European economic integration.  He has published extensively on Bulgarian industrial competitiveness and the effects of Bulgaria’s European Union accession, and has participated in many state- and EU-funded research projects on related topics.

Dr. Zhelev received his Ph.D. in International Economic Relations at the University of National and World Economy in 2009.  His thesis topic was “European Integration and Export Specialization (on the Example of Bulgaria’s Integration with the EU).”  It assesses Bulgaria’s competitiveness in the European division of labor, and provides policy recommendations for the improvement of Bulgaria’s position.  During his doctoral studies, he received an Erasmus grant and an Ernst Mach grant, which enabled him to study at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Warsaw and the European Institute at Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, respectively.

He is currently a senior assistant professor at the University of National and World Economy, where he has been teaching since 2009.  He has taught courses on “International Economics,” “European Integration,” “Contemporary Issues in the Global Economy,” and “Bulgaria in the Global Economy,” among others.  Dr. Zhelev is a member of the Commission on Industrial Policy at the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association, the Union of Economists in Bulgaria, and the Association of Lecturers in Economics and Management of Industry.  He initiated the University of National and World Economy’s membership in the Virtual Institute of the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development, and serves as a core coordinator.

Dr. Zhelev’s Fulbright research topic is entitled “The Manufacturing Imperative: New Trends in the Industrial Policies of the USA and EU, and Implications for Bulgaria.”    The project, which builds on the extensive research undertaken for his Ph.D. thesis, has been in development for over a year; it has already resulted in some publications, as well as new contacts with NGOs.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Bulgaria went from one economic extreme to another: from a heavily planned economy to a post-communist laissez-faire approach to economic development.  The transition to a market economy proved to be a difficult process, particularly because it was accompanied by severe deindustrialization.  Despite the extremely negative social and economic effects of deindustrialization, the Bulgarian government – adhering closely to the neoliberal prescriptions of the “Washington consensus” – did not develop any industrial policy to counteract this process in the first decade of transition.  According to Dr. Zhelev, everything connected with state control of the economy was considered a regression to the old days.  In addition to this taboo against government intervention, there are certain economic constraints associated with EU membership – for example, EU member states governments cannot set tariffs, or limit the outflow and inflow of capital and people.  Furthermore, because we are now in the era of globalization, it is difficult or impossible to implement some of the successful industrial policies from the past (e.g. those of East Asian countries).

A major economic problem for Bulgaria is that the transition has led to a huge deterioration of the trade specialization of the country, which is still predominantly specialized in labor-intensive and raw material-intensive goods, rather than research-intensive goods. The discrepancy between Bulgaria and the more prosperous EU nations in terms of production and export structure is reflected in its comparatively low standard of living (measured in terms of GDP per capita).  Despite the fact that Bulgaria began its European integration process in the 1990s and has been a full EU member since 2007 – which many believed would be the silver bullet – it is still by far the poorest country in the EU.  Additionally, Bulgaria is in a demographic crisis: partly due to access to more affluent markets in the EU, the country has experienced a huge “brain drain” in recent years.

For Dr. Zhelev, the question is one of finding ways to strengthen Bulgaria’s economic position in the EU, and therefore – by improving Bulgaria’s international competitiveness – to improve the standard of living of the population.  The ultimate objective of his project is to provide insights on industrial policies that could be implemented in Bulgaria for successful reindustrialization (and accordingly, economic growth).  One of his goals is to undertake a comprehensive appraisal of the current trends in conducting industrial policies in the USA and the EU, and subsequently to find applications for Bulgaria.  He believes that results based on research conducted in the United States (which has the world’s largest economy), particularly on a topic susceptible to ideological opposition, are more likely to be adopted by the Bulgarian government.

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2015-16 academic year for the study of Russian.

European Community – Yugoslav Relations: Documents that Mattered (1980-1992)

Branislav Radeljic (Associate Professor of International Politics at the University of East London) gave the first Noontime Scholars Lecture of the summer on June 16. Entitled “European Community – Yugoslav Relations: Documents that Mattered (1980-1992),” his lecture explored the complicated interactions between the European Community (a precursor to the European Union) and the former Yugoslavia as reflected in the archives. Official relations between Yugoslavia and the European Community were established in 1978, making Yugoslavia the first Eastern European country to have an ambassador to the European Community. While Yugoslavia primarily viewed a relationship with the European Community in economic terms (as a key source of financial aid during difficult economic times), the European Community approached its relationship with Yugoslavia in political terms.

Prof. Branislav Radeljic giving his Noontime Scholars Lecture

Prof. Branislav Radeljic giving his Noontime Scholars Lecture

The focus of Prof. Radeljic’s lecture was on the content available in the European Union archive in Brussels, Belgium, which traced the relationship between the European Community and Yugoslavia during the two decades before the 1992-1995 war that resulted in the breakup of Yugoslavia. In the 1980s, especially after the death of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, discourse about the links between the European Community and Yugoslavia became more explicit. Political cooperation was necessary for a stable economic relationship. However, the European Community’s perception of Yugoslavia was confusing as it knew very little about the country. It increasingly viewed its relationship with Yugoslavia with skepticism. Yugoslavia’s serious troubles in the 1980s led some members of the European Parliament (the legislative assembly of the European Community) to claim that Yugoslavia was an “artificial” entity that would fail. Though the country kept requesting aid, it never managed to reform. As indicated in the archive documents in Brussels, Yugoslav official visits (and the documents describing those visits) became longer in an effort to convince European Community authorities to support Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia sought additional economic aid, the European Community kept Yugoslavia as a partner mostly as a way to preserve the Yugoslav state. Even as a partner, Yugoslavia was in a weaker status, demonstrated by the high presence of guest workers in Western Europe and the difficulties for Yugoslavia and its successor states (such as Serbia) to export products to the European Union.

Politically, the European Community was unable to form a solution to the Yugoslav crisis. Although European Community officials acknowledged the problem of the 1981 Kosovo conflict (Kosovo’s first declaration of independence, in which the Yugoslav army quelled riots and demonstrations in the country’s poorest region), they did not pay enough attention to the conflict and only exacerbated their own communication problems. Aside from the debate whether the Kosovo Serbs or the Kosovo Albanians were the were the real victims of the conflict, the problem of Kosovo was largely ignored. Additionally, the European Community tried to ensure that if any Yugoslav republics declared independence, they would not seek territorial claims toward their neighbors (specifically, those neighbors that were part of the European Community). In response, Slovenia (an economically well-performing republic that did not like sending money to the central Yugoslav government to distribute to poorer republics) argued that it “deserved” to be recognized as an independent state or else a conflict would occur along the Community’s borders. Croatia, another well-performing republic, also argued that it “deserved” to be independent and belong to Europe.

Prof. Radeljic’s lecture importantly used archival records to examine the relationship between the European Community and Yugoslavia prior to the crisis and subsequent war that tore the country apart. Very few scholars have studied that relationship before the war, despite Yugoslavia’s significant amount of contact with and reception of aid from the West during the 1970s and 1980s. Those two decades were also when Yugoslavia experienced political and economic crises that would eventually result in its dissolution. Prof. Radeljic’s research effectively fills a hole in the existing scholarship about the former Yugoslavia and brings up issues that would be beneficial in analyses of current European Union policies toward Eastern Europe.

Stephanie Chung is a Ph.D. Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests are in Soviet literature and culture, Russian women’s writing, and Czech literature. She received her B.A. in Plan II Honors/Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 2007; and her M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 2009 at the University of Texas at Austin. She plans to write a dissertation on Soviet women’s memoirs as literary and media texts.

Backlash in East-Central Europe? What Happened to the Promise of 1989?

On February 27, 2015, John Feffer, the director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, gave a talk that was part of the European Union Center’s Jean Monnet lecture series and co-sponsored by REEEC entitled “Backlash in East-Central Europe: What Happened to the Promise of 1989?” As the title of his lecture suggests, he attempted to explain the disillusionment with the post-socialist system that is taking place in several countries of East-Central Europe, such as Hungary, Bulgaria, and the successor states to the former Yugoslavia. Many of these countries are now members of the European Union and NATO. In terms of economic growth and democratization, the post-1989 transformations  have been remarkable. Yet many in the region – politicians and everyday citizens alike – perceive the promises of 1989 as unrealized, and there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current system. In the face of broadly emerging Euroscepticism, some leaders – most prominently Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary  – have blatantly acted to undo aspects of the post-1989 transition to economic and political liberalism.

John Feffer describing the difficulties of the post-socialist transition in East-Central Europe

John Feffer describing the difficulties of the post-socialist transition in East-Central Europe

Mr. Feffer attempted to put these developments in context. He had traveled to the region in 1990, and interviewed over 250 local leaders and activists on the changes that were happening, specifically concerning the Roma, women and the workplace, and Yugoslavia. In order to gauge public perceptions of change, he traveled back to the region in 2012-13 as an Open Society Fellow to re-interview those with whom he had originally spoken, as well as many new people from civil and political society.

Mr. Feffer began his lecture with two stories illustrating contradictory experiences during the transition from communism. One was of Bogdan from Poland, who experienced a typical progression of shock, adjustment, and prosperity – or the “Golden Age” of the post-transition period. Mr. Feffer countered Bogdan’s story with that of Miroslav from Bulgaria, who had been a minority rights activist but left the country after facing extreme political isolation and disillusionment with the transition. Together, their stories create a picture of two co-existing worlds in today’s East-Central Europe – one of prosperity and a successful transition to economic/political liberalism, the other of widespread disillusionment and dissatisfaction complemented by strong anti-liberal trends.

Several factors indicate this latter world, which Feffer referred to as the “non-Golden Age.” One factor consists of public opinion polls, in which people say that their experience is worse today than it was under communism. There are also problems associated with mass emigration from these countries, often of the young and educated (i.e., those most capable of enacting further change). Coinciding with these trends is the rise of intolerant nationalistic parties, who take advantage of disillusionment in the region. Mr. Feffer lastly described the new push towards “illiberal democracy,” in which some countries have seen polar transitions from liberal ideas and parties towards models based on Russia or China.

If the above serve as indicators for what has happened, the following attributes of the transition help contextualize the situation that exists now. Mr. Feffer described disappointment (i.e., failed expectations), economic hardship (i.e., shock and unemployment), justice deferred (i.e., neglect of rule of law and immunity to those who benefited from insider privatization), and political backlash (i.e., a leftist critique of economics mixed with far right politics). Mr. Feffer argued that the left has been largely discredited in the region today because of its communist connections and conduct after 1989, while those from the far right have become the main actors on a stage of bad economics and politics. One such example is the rise of anti-Islamism in the region. Those who are not necessarily racist still often support overtly racist parties because of other unrelated hardships.

Even though most of the countries in the region are now full members of the EU, Euroscepticism is on the rise. Superficial images of progress (e.g., infrastructure development and EU membership itself) belie local disenchantment with the European Union and the perception that the expected benefits of EU membership have not manifested. Another important point Mr. Feffer made is that many of these countries are relatively conservative, and therefore, their stance on issues such as women’s and gay rights lead Western Europe to regard them as fostering “social illiberalism.”

Mr. Feffer did not try to argue that the liberal project has completely failed in East-Central Europe because the people there now have a degree of agency which they previously lacked. Rather, he suggested that there were flaws in the liberal project to begin with – even with Poland, considered the EU’s success story. In Poland, Mr. Feffer learned from his interviews that even those who favored the Balcerowicz Plan of rapid liberalization still admitted that the plan should have paid more attention to those left behind. Those who were left behind the most in the region were the Roma. Mr. Feffer described their situation as simply being a process of “uninterrupted shock,” consisting of widespread discrimination and extremely high unemployment.

However, Mr. Feffer concluded by arguing that these trends – disillusionment, economic problems, and a return to conservatism – are ultimately not peculiar to East-Central Europe. Instead, he saw them occurring throughout Europe, especially concerning debt issues and austerity. Furthermore, Euroscepticism and disaffection with politics are also happening in Western Europe, not just in the former socialist states. He described those sentiments in terms of a “pendulum swing.” Whereas there was wide support for liberalism in the 1990s, the pendulum now swings the opposite way and will likely shift again in the future. This was his larger argument, but the trends have been particularly acute in the places where a significant many perceive the promises of 1989 and the post-socialist transition to be currently unrealized.

To see a video recording of Mr. Feffer’s discussion, please follow the link to the EUC article on their website: http://eucenterillinois.blogspot.com/2015/03/backlash-in-east-central-europe-what.html

Alana Holland is a second-year MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests include the Holocaust, modern Russian and East European history, memory studies, and the post-socialist and post-Soviet transitions. She is currently writing her thesis on themes related to the Soviet liberation of the Majdanek concentration and death camp, and will pursue her PhD in History in fall 2015.

EuroMaidan, World War II Parallels, and “Feelings from the Past”

This is a re-posting of a blog post by Illinois alumna Areta Kovalsky. To view the original post, please see http://shadowsofaforgottenworld.blogspot.com/2014/04/euromaidan-wwii-parallels-and-feelings.html.


This post is dedicated to EuroMaidan and the Ukrainians’ never-ending struggle to be free. These past few months, as I experienced a revolution and war for Ukraine’s freedom and integrity, I have often thought of my ancestors and how they must have felt during WWII (and earlier liberation movements) and the partisan struggle to liberate Ukraine from totalitarian powers. I’ve always been fascinated by WWII and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), but never in my life did I think I would feel what they felt, get a taste of war, death, and the fight for freedom, such uncertainty, and love for Ukraine in a context similar to theirs. Tying into the theme of my blog, this particular “shadow of the past” is one that I have felt rather than seen. I have encountered what I will call “feelings from the past.” These sentiments which were felt by Ukrainians in WWII have been transferred to a new generation of Ukrainians who are reliving the liberation movement, re-struggling for a free, prosperous, and democratic Ukraine. Of course, EuroMaidan and Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine in no ways compares to the scale and consequences of WWII, and I don’t pretend to believe I understand the extent of the suffering that the people felt at that time (especially as I wasn’t in Kyiv during the bloodiest days), but nonetheless, I can’t help but draw certain parallels.


I remember one day in late February I was walking toward the Old Town from work. It was dusk and as I walked along the cobblestone streets, in the distance between the Austrian-era buildings I saw on the city hall tower’s the Ukrainian flag flapping in the wind. I immediately thought about how much Ukrainian blood had been spilled for it to be there. I couldn’t believe that in the year 2014 Ukrainians yet again had to fight for their freedom, fight against a new type of feudalism, new type of Russian imperialism, a new totalitarian power. Ukraine had been independent for just over two decades – the longest it has been a free country since the Middle Ages, the longest a blue and yellow flag had been able to fly safely on Ukrainian land – when again its sovereignty was being threatened.

The flag flies proudly in Lviv, but during the revolution, displaying the yellow and blue banner was an anti-government act, and my mother was even worried for my safety in Lviv because I had a yellow-blue ribbon on my purse and she told me to be careful at night in case some gave me trouble for it…

Kovalsky 2 - Ukrainian FlagLooking at the flag, I thought about all the people who had fought for a free Ukraine throughout the ages, but in particular about the heroes of the Heavenly Hundred who had just been shot down in the center of Kyiv. The heroes, mostly young men, couldn’t sit home while their future was being robbed. I heard so many stories from WWII about families being torn apart, about lost husbands, fathers, brothers. Was it really happening again, in the twenty-first century? Never in my life did I think I would be re-feeling some of what my grandparents felt when they were close to my age, re-living a similar struggle. It all felt so surreal.

I sometimes think that the main reason I moved to Ukraine, the reason I am so drawn here, pulled here by some forces, is because I needed to return to Ukraine in place of my grandparents who were forced to leave their beloved country, and who themselves were never able to return. I feel that I was guided to Ukraine because the love for and attachment to Ukraine was passed down from my grandparents, and as they couldn’t return, I am doing it for them. To me it really does feel like I returned home even though I was born and grew up in a completely different country and culture.

However, within a few months of obtaining my permanent residency, settling into a promising new job, feeling ready to settle down, Ukraine was caught it yet another war for its independence. It started as a peaceful revolution, first for closer ties with the EU, then against corruption, lack of rule of law, and a totalitarian government. Eventually the center of Kyiv became a real battlefield, a frontline between Ukrainians who just wanted a better a future and the paid government police and hired thugs defending the money and opulence of the government.

Barricades at Maidan in Kyiv (December 2013)

Barricades at Maidan in Kyiv (December 2013)

My grandparents’ generation fight for freedom didn’t succeed, there was no independent Ukraine after the war, and so being intelligentsia and having taken part in the liberation struggle, my relatives would have been persecuted under the Soviets. Thus in 1944 when the Soviets were again approaching western Ukraine, my grandparents had to flee west. During EuroMaidan, I remember thinking that one of the reasons that EuroMaidan had to succeed was so that the active members would not be persecuted. Many people took risks by defying the government, like the mayor of Lviv, the administration and many of students of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, etc, and they would have all have been punished for it in one way or another…

A Sunday national assembly on Maidan in Kyiv in December

A Sunday national assembly on Maidan in Kyiv in December

I remember even when the revolution was just beginning, and all the organizing that was taking place, when people were finding food and shelter for people who wanted to go to Kyiv and protest, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the way families in the villages sheltered and fed the partisans during WWII. Eventually sotnias (defense/military units) were formed during EuroMaidan and I couldn’t help but think that the last time sotnias were formed was during the war by the UPA.

Barricades in the center of Lviv - probably the last time Lviv was barricaded was during WWII

Barricades in the center of Lviv – probably the last time Lviv was barricaded was during WWII

The UPA slogan “Glory to Ukraine” and response “Glory to the Heroes” as well as UPA songs sounded from maidan’s across the country, and the black and red UPA flags flew next to the yellow and blue ones. There are in fact a lot more parallels between WWII and EuroMaidan/the Russian invasion…


And once we finally had a taste of victory, finally ousted the corrupt president, finally felt we had a chance to completely reboot the country, root out the Soviet mentality once and for all, put an end to corruption, we realized we were up against something potentially a lot more serious and even more unpredictable – the superpower to our north-east. Although our taste of victory was bittersweet, as it was tainted with the grief we felt for the heroes who lost their lives, we felt that the country had changed for the better, that more was accomplished in those few months than the 20 plus years of Ukrainain independence. After the Yanukovych government was disbanded, I felt as if I were living in a new country, it felt easier to breath, things were starting to look up, and I felt like the deaths were not in vain. But less than a week after the government was overthrown we were faced with war. Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and currently Russia’s attempts to destabilize Ukraine are only increasing. The situation in eastern Ukraine is very serious and it seems Putin has no intention to stop the aggression.

When the invasion first began, my foreigner friends and I were often asked if we planned to leave Ukraine. I never considered it for a moment. My mom told me I could stay with my parents’ friend’s parents in Poland if I did have to leave. And just the other day she said her friends in the States asked her if I have an exit strategy. I don’t think the conflict will ever physically reach this part of Ukraine, but it was and still is a scary time to be in Ukraine. If the conflict did spread, I, like my grandparents, would have to make the difficult decision of deciding whether to stay or leave. Of course my move wouldn’t be nearly as difficult as theirs was – I wouldn’t have to make a fresh start in a country where I don’t know the language, leaving behind close relatives and the only life I had – but it would still be heartbreaking for me.

Almost every time I talk to my mom she tells me to think about what I would take with me if I needed to make a quick escape from Ukraine. It made me think about what my grandparents took with them when they left Ukraine. Very few things of theirs from their lives in Ukraine have survived. They couldn’t take a lot with them and a lot was lost, stolen, or broken along the way. They took photos, documents, a china set (only one mug survived with a broken ear), some embroidery (pillow cases, portières), kilims, jewelry, wedding rings, a balsam wood cross from Jerusalem. My mom said to make sure I take my antique embroidered blouses.

Center of Lviv after the bloody events in Kyiv

Center of Lviv after the bloody events in Kyiv

Spring has arrived in Lviv, the summer terraces have been built, on the weekends the center is packed with tourists and locals – life goes on, but we are all still very worried about what is happening in the east of our country and no one has any idea how things will end…

And we have not forgotten about the fallen heroes – memorials, graffiti, shrines, billboards commemorating them are found all over the city. Now in addition to the Heroes of UPA Street, Lviv has a street named after the Heroes of EuroMaidan. Just as the heroes of WWII have not been forgotten, they live on in the people, memories, urban landscape, hearts, so to the heroes of EuroMaidan live on.

One of the first shrines in Lviv to the fallen heroes

One of the first shrines in Lviv to the fallen heroes

I hope one day these particular feelings from the past will stop being passed on to new generations, and instead only the feelings of love and pride will be passed on.

Areta Kovalsky graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a major in International Studies and an undergraduate minor in the REEEC degree program. She went on to get a master’s degree in Eastern European Studies from the University of Toronto. The last couple of years, she has been living in Lviv, Ukraine, working as a translator and for various IT companies.


The EU’s Big Bang and Beyond: A Decade After Eastern Enlargement

On February 26, 2014, the Consuls General from Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania visited the University of Illinois campus from Chicago to participate in the roundtable “The EU’s Big Bang and Beyond: A Decade After Eastern Enlargement,” an event organized by the European Union Center and the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center.  Prior to the  roundtable, they met informally with students to introduce themselves, discuss foreign service careers, and answer any questions about their countries or about the European Union in general. Robert Rusiecki, Deputy Consul General of Poland, has been in Chicago for three years.  He is not a career diplomat, but started out in banking. In 2008, he began a foreign service career. Marijus Gudynas is the Consul General of Lithuania. His consulate encompasses 28 states, more than half the United States. He calls Chicago the “second largest Lithuanian city.” George Predescu, Consul General of Romania, joined the foreign service in 1990. His first diplomatic posting was in Washington, D.C. One of the highlights of his career was helping Romania become a member of NATO. Not only does his office serve the 60,000-100,000 Romanians in Chicago and others who live in the 12-state area that his consulate covers, but it also tries to promote Romania in the region. Simeon Stoilov is the Consul General of Bulgaria. He joined the foreign service 2.5 years ago from the private sector. He calls Chicago “the third-largest Bulgarian city.” In his work, he find opportunities for cooperation and partnership between the U.S. and Bulgaria. The visit was his second to the University. During the meeting, the Consuls General and students engaged in conversation on a wide variety of topics such as EU agricultural policy and foreign service careers.  Each of the Consuls General agreed that it is a “great honor to serve your country” and encouraged students who are interested in embarking on such careers to do so.  To succeed in the foreign service, they emphasized the importance of knowing one’s country well, but also understanding the needs and demands of the host country. From personal experience, they stressed that a person must really have passion to pursue a foreign service career because diplomats and consuls are “nomads,” though “well-paid.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Shortly after the meeting with graduate students, the Consuls General gathered for the roundtable.  Anna Stenport, Director of the European Union Center, gave the introduction. Following her remarks were those of Bryan Endres, Interim Associate Provost for International Affairs and Director of International Programs and Studies, and those of Carol Leff, Associate Professor of Political Science, who was the moderator.

Marijus Gudynas gave the first presentation. He began with a brief history of Lithuania, highlighting its ties to Europe. He mentioned that Lithuania was the first of the former Soviet republics to separate from the Soviet Union. In 1991, the country became a part of the United Nations. It applied for EU membership in 1995, and became a member of the EU and NATO in 2004. Most recently, it held the EU presidency in 2013. Gudynas noted Lithuania’s highly educated and multilingual population, and its strong economic growth as an EU member. At the conclusion of his presentation, he encouraged the audience to follow him on social media and visit Lithuania.

Next was George Predescu, who spoke about Romania. He emphasized that Romania’s EU experience has been very important. EU membership had been a “national goal.” In 2007, Romania joined the EU, along with Bulgaria. Predescu described EU enlargement as a “key factor in the democratization of Europe.” Enlargement is a “significant pillar” to a free and hopeful Europe. Although he acknowledged that EU membership is difficult to attain, it pays in the end because it is a “stimulus for economic reform.” He wholeheartedly showed support for the integration of the western Balkans and solidarity among European states.

Following Predescu was Simeon Stoilov of Bulgaria. He opened with the comment that EU integration was “not a big bang” for any of the countries represented at the roundtable. Rather, joining the EU was a long process that affected a country’s “total environment, its industry, culture.” Like Gudynas’ presentation on Lithuania, Stoilov began with a brief history of Bulgaria. The country was established in 681 A.D. and had always been called Bulgaria. Though the country is at a crossroads between diverse cultures, he asserted that Bulgarians have “always believed our place is in Europe.” Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007. Stoilov expressed Bulgarians’ pride in standing firm with the policies of NATO and the EU, and in Bulgarian becoming an official language of the EU. In conclusion, Stoilov affirmed how the EU values of freedom, respect for human rights, equality, democracy, and rule of law are essentially Bulgarian values. Different ethnic and religious groups peacefully live together. To Bulgarians, equality means uniting because of similarities.  Like Predescu, Stoilov promotes EU expansion as a way to overwhelm economic and cultural crises. To those who believe that the EU will fail, Stoilov asserts that “everyone is sure the EU will survive and expand further.”

The final presenter was Robert Rusiecki. He began with a brief history of Poland, noting how Poland and Lithuania formed a commonwealth in 1569 which had the first written constitution. In 1989, Poland became a democracy; in 1999, it became a member of NATO. Rusiecki called the big bang the “biggest single enlargement of the EU,” when 10 countries joined the organization, in comparison to the average admission of 3 to 4 countries. According to him, the objective of the EU is to “ensure peace and political stability, secure greater prosperity, further democracy, and reinforce Europe’s role internationally.” Speaking specifically about the Polish case, Poland has made a “great leap forward” with EU membership. Economically, it has experienced fast growth and was the only country to avoid a recession in 2008. The relationship between Poland and the EU is a “success story.” However, Poland still has problems that it needs to address, specifically its population decline, which is also a challenge for other EU member states. After 10 years in the EU, Rusiecki proclaimed that 78 percent of Poles support EU membership and 74 percent consider themselves European as well as Polish.

After all the Consuls General presented, they answered questions from the audience. Since the crisis in Ukraine was on many people’s minds, the Consuls General addressed that topic. Marijus Gudynas called Ukraine’s integration into the EU “stolen at the very last moment” by former president Victor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement. Other questions audience members asked were about nationalism and far-right parties in Europe, EU funds and economic aid, and further EU expansion. All three Consuls General advocated for full EU membership for countries who meet all admission criteria. They agreed that EU membership is “work,” but it is certainly worth the effort.

Stephanie Chung is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests are in Soviet literature and culture, Russian women’s writing, and Czech literature. She received her B.A. in Plan II Honors, and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 2007; and her M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 2009 at the University of Texas at Austin. She plans to write a dissertation on Soviet women’s memoirs, with a particular focus on the writer and translator Lilianna Lungina.

Ukraine Update, Part 1: “The only thing that is certain now is uncertainty”

Protesters on Kiev's Maidan Sqaure

Protesters on Kiev’s Maidan Square (Image Source)

When Ukraine’s one-time president, Viktor Yanukovych, decided in late November 2013 to scrap agreements that would bring the country into closer partnership with (and possibly lead to eventual accession into) the European Union, it is certain he was naïve to the eventual consequences. The sequence of consequences began with a peaceful and festive pro-EU and anti-Yanukovych protest in Kiev’s Maidan Square, resembling in many ways the 2004 Ukrainian Orange Revolution—a political protest movement inveighing against the shady electoral practices of, who else, Yanukovych. Over time, however, decisions made by the government in dealing with the protesters, along with escalatory measures taken by some factions within the protest movement itself, led the cauldron of the EuroMaidan to overflow: an unstable truce between the Yanukovych government and regime opponents broke down last week, leading to dozens of deaths and hundreds of serious injuries. Fearing for his liberty, if not his life, Yanukovych has fled, and armed oppositionists now control the palatial, ostentatious presidential palace. The only thing that is certain now is uncertainty.

Ukraine's former president, Viktor Yanukovych

Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych (Image Source)

Ukraine (nee “the Ukraine”) is an often-overlooked country with a geographical location that has placed it in the middle of much of the important action in Western history. In fact, the name “Ukrayina” [oo-kra-yi-na­] can be translated to mean “borderland,” suggesting Ukraine’s historical position at the intersection of powerful multiethnic empires, including the Russian Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire at the start of the 20th century. Ukraine today is, in geographical terms, larger than European powers such as France and Germany, and occupied by close to 45 million residents, more than Canada or Australia.

The politics of Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1991, can be argued to be more or less salutary (more open than its neighbor to the north, Belarus, but quite a bit less so than the Baltic countries, the most politically “reformed” of the 15 post-Soviet states). The former Soviet apparatchik Leonid Kravchuk was elected the country’s first president in 1991. He was followed in 1996 by Leonid Kuchma, known for supporting the creation of a new Constitution along with various forms of oligarch-aiding and electoral corruption (and notorious for the “Cassette Scandal,” in which he is heard on a recording to order the disappearance of a troublesome journalist who was later found lacking a head). As alluded to above, the fraudulent results of the 2004 election for president, between Western Europe- and western Ukraine-leaning Viktor Yuschenko and Russia- and eastern Ukraine-leaning Yanukovych led up to the peaceful Orange Revolution, and Yuschenko’s eventual taking power and a period of rule that was seen by some as favoring one region of the country and one grand historical narrative (“Ukraine as victim”) over all others.

Both the Orange Revolution nearly a decade before and the as-yet-unpigmented contemporary revolution point up important divisions in Ukraine at large. Most divides map onto a regional split between western (and to some extent central) Ukraine and southern Ukraine. Contemporary western and central Ukraine is characterized by relatively widespread usage of either the Ukrainian language or the Ukrainian-Russian hybrid termed surzhyk. Further, the economy of this region seems to be upwardly mobile, or at least moving in the right direction, with Lviv serving as a burgeoning IT hub and Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, a focal point of commerce. The east and south of Ukraine, most particularly the autonomous region of Crimea (the present-day location of the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet), are largely Russian speaking, with many having closer ties to Russia than they do to Ukraine or “Europe,” as it is now discussed. The economy of this region might be compared to our own “rust belt”: a once-thriving area of heavy industry now characterized by poverty and hopelessness among many of those who cannot or will not leave for greener pastures. While the differences between these two regions do not of necessity predict unrest or, as some have suggested, partition of the country, the outcomes as regards these divisions are contingent upon the actions of the new political regime. Anecdotally, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) very recently removed Russian as a state language alongside Ukrainian, an inflammatory move that has brought criticism even from cooler heads in the west of the country. The new regime must practice diplomacy in order to maintain stability, even after their momentous victory over the corrupt and authoritarian Yanukovych regime.

Arsenyi Yatsenyuk

Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Image Source)

Beyond regional differences, Ukraine as a whole is suffering from monumental economic woes. Indeed, Yanukovych’s initial decision to drop talks with the EU was bought by Russia with the promise of cheap energy flows and a $15 billion loan, few (explicit) strings attached. With the ouster of Yanukovych, Russia has halted its economic largesse and the new head of the Ukrainian National Bank has announced that his main goal will be to secure a loan from the Western-oriented International Monetary Fund (IMF). Officials have suggested that the country needs close to $35 billion in order to turn the economy around. Even if such a loan is granted, the IMF will doubtless require significant cutbacks in expenditures and other austerity measures, which will decrease the popularity of any new government rather expeditiously. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, of newly-freed Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party and one of the favorites for the position of prime minister, suggested that for this reason anybody playing a key role in the new government would be “committing political suicide,” perhaps going some way towards explaining the delays in forming such a government. Further pain may follow, as Russia has the option of pressuring Ukraine economically both through increased energy prices and trade sanctions: Russia remains Ukraine’s most important trading partner, making up a greater portion of Ukrainian trade than the European Union as a whole.

While there is hope that the long-term outcome of the Maidan protests is in the hands of those who have sacrificed so much to change the status quo in Ukraine, there is much to suggest that Ukraine’s domestic and geopolitical fate lies substantially outside of its own control. On the one hand, Ukraine can accept the immediate and clearly-delineated sacrifices that accompany an IMF loan and eventual closer relations with the European Union. Many in the country do in fact feel themselves to be “European,” but how much are they willing to give up in order to join the club? If it were not for the country’s dismal economic state, Ukraine might choose to “go it alone,” pragmatically navigating a middle course between the EU and Russia. With this being an impossibility, the most likely outcome is Western patronage and domestic austerity, with all of the reactive tumult that this might entail. The most that the new regime can do is try to soften this blow as much as possible with inclusive social policies (e.g., allowing Russian as a second state language), a program of reducing state corruption, and persistent reminders that the struggles will be “worth it.” The Putin regime, it should be said, will quite rationally be waiting to take advantage of any backlash these likely hardships might produce. We should expect a great deal of propaganda spouting forth suggesting a conspiracy against Ukraine and the idea that Ukrainians, as a part of the historic Slavic family of “Kievan Rus,” should never have trusted “the West” in the first place. All of this entails that to guide Ukraine into Europe will be a more than normally difficult task, and the EU, along with the US, will need to take into consideration the possible consequences of pushing Ukraine and its people too hard and too fast. For now, though, we can be thankful that there is peace on the Maidan.

Kyle Estes is a Ph.D. Candidate in political science at the University of Illinois. His focus is on the former Soviet Union, and especially issues of identity politics in the region. His dissertation looks into the causes and dynamics of the 2010 ethnic rioting in southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Upon completing his dissertation, he hopes to find a job at a university in warmer climes.