Faculty Publications

Mark Steinberg, Director of Graduate Studies, Professor of History, Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, and the Center for Global Studies, published a new book on February 1st of 2017, The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921, was released through Oxford University Press. Steinberg’s book explores a different perspective of the historical period that ranges from the 1905 Bloody Sunday events to the end of the Civil War, all presented through the perspectives and experiences of those who lived through the period. Writing on the key characters of the revolution, including Vladimir Lenin, Lev Trotsky, and Alexandra Kollontai, Steinberg takes knowledge and information from the present and uses it to breath new air into the past. For more information on Dr. Steinberg’s book, follow this link to Oxford University Press.

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

Marek Sroka, Librarian for Central European Studies and Associate Professor of Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, published “American Books to the Rescue: The American Library Association (ALA) and the Postwar Restoration of Polish Libraries, 1944-1948,” in the final issue of 2016’s The Polish Review 61(4), and then published “”A Book Never Dies”: the American Library Association and the Cultural Reconstruction of Czechoslovak and Polish Libraries, 1945-48,” in Library and Information History 33 which was released in 2017.

The Polish Review, vol. 61, no. 4

The Polish Review, vol. 61, no. 4

Dr. Kristin Romberg, Assistant Professor of Art History and REEEC Affiliate, published an anthology, “Tektonika,” in volume 1 of Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism), edited by Serguei Oushakine and published by Moscow and Ekaterinburg: Kabinetnyi uchenyi in the summer of 2016.  Romberg also spoke at The Russian Avant-Garde: Scholars Respond panel at the Museum of Modern Art on February 8th, 2017. The panel was organized in tandem with the exhibition A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde and discussed the how an art object could be revolutionary. Information about the panel is available here.

Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism)

Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism)

Citizens of the World Festival

By Samantha Celmer
On April 8th, the area studies centers, as well as the College of Education, Illinois Abroad and Global Exchange, and Illinois International Programming, brought Oakwood Junior High School to campus to partake in the inaugural Citizens of the World Festival. Part of International Week on campus, the Citizens of the World Festival aimed to expose a young audience to world cultures and to spark their interest in pursuing an international education. The centers created six rooms, each represented a different world region, for the junior high students to rotate through. REEEC organized its own room, the Russia and East European Room.
The Russia and East European Room highlighted four countries from the region: Russia, Poland, Armenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. To begin their session in the room, the junior high students started by hearing a story from a survivor of the Bosnian War, Medina Spiodic. Medina showed pictures of her hometown and family, while relaying the experience her family endured during the early 90s. After Medina’s story, the students were able to visit the other countries, which each had its own special activity. The Poland area had a heritage speaker of Polish who designed language based games so that the students were able to experience the Polish alphabet and try some tongue twisters. REEEC’s Associate Director, Maureen Marshall, brought her archaeological expertise to the Armenia area and showed the students bones and artifacts from her own excavations in the region. The graduate assistants who ran the Russia area shared their knowledge of the Cold War Arms race and utilized an interactive online website in which the user can type in a location and simulate what would happen if atomic bombs of varying size were dropped on said location. Follow this link for the interactive map: http://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/.
After the successful event, REEEC donated several books to the Oakwood Junior High School Library that will continue to expose the students to the region’s unique culture and history. REEEC looks forward to creating new activities for next year’s Citizens of the World Festival. 

Samantha Celmer is the Outreach and Programming Coordinator for REEEC. She is currently finishing her thesis for the MA program which focuses on representations of Russia in children’s media in the 90’s and the problem of international relations in childhood development.

Noontime Lecture: Katerina Capkova, “The Construction of Jewish Identities in Stalinist Poland and Czechoslovakia”

Dr. Katerina Capkova , Research Fellow, Institute for Contemporary History Czech Academy of Sciences

Dr. Katerina Capkova , Research Fellow, Institute for Contemporary History Czech Academy of Sciences

By Bethany Wages

On 12 April, 2016, Katerina Capkova gave a Noontime Lecture based on her book project entitled “The Construction of Jewish Identities in Stalinist Poland and Czechoslovakia.” Capkova is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences. Currently, she is a Visiting Scholar at the Department of History, University of Chicago.

According to Capkova, the history of Jews under Communism is often depicted as a story of religious and national assimilation, and also atomization of Jewish society. In her lecture, Capkova questioned this common assumption and attempted to answer the following questions: How was it possible to “be Jewish” in Stalinist  Poland and Czechoslovakia? Why was there a different institutional framework for Jews in the two countries? To what extent did the Communist dictatorship bring change or totally new forms to Jewish institutions and activities, and to what extent may we find continuity with Jewish life from the period before the takeovers and before the Shoah?

Capkova began her lecture by pointing out that she was able to make her arguments based on her perspective of looking to the border lands of Poland and Czechoslovakia. After World War II there was a mass migration of Jews from the main areas of these two countries to their border regions. She started by looking at Czechoslovakia. She stated that there were few secondary works to draw from in her research in this area. The only book that even attempted to cover the same issues she dealt with in her research was In the Shadows of the Holocaust and Communism, by Alena Heitlinger (2006). In this work, Heitlinger interviewed 119 people who identified as Czech Jews as opposed to Slovak Jews. In many cases, this was the first opportunity that these interviewees had the chance to meet other Jews, having only recently discovered their Jewish heritage. However, Heitlinger’s interviews did not look at Jews located in the borderlands and therefore, according to Capkova, perpetuated the distorted image of Jews in the Bohemian lands.

She argued that it was important to look to the borderlands because, according to her research, about half of the total Jewish population in the Bohemian lands were migrants. The archives from these regions provided a totally different picture of Jewish life than what Heitlinger’s study proved. In the case of communist Czechoslovakia, the Jewish communities moved into areas that were populated by German communities before the war. According to Capkova, these migrations were opposed by the Czech government. Because of this, Jewish communities were forced to create new traditions for themselves which were not used before the war. In these regions, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) provided aid and post-war infrastructure for Jewish religious practices.

When Capkova analyzed the case of the borderlands of Poland she found that forty-seven percent of all Polish Jews lived in Lower Silesia in the year 1947. She also discovered dozens of Yiddish schools in this region. In terms of work done on the Polish Jewish population, she cited Irena Hurvic Nawakowska’s research in Zydzi Polscy (1947-1950) which looked at the Jews of Warsaw, Lodz, and Lower Silesia. Nawakowska found clear evidence of differences in language, education, religion, and Jewish culture between the three Polish cities.

Capkova’s main aim was to explore how, in both of these borderland regions, the communist regime influenced how Jewish people met, expressed their religious practices, and how they chose hobbies. She found that in post-war Czechoslovakia the government refused to recognize Jewish rights, meaning that Jews were allowed no political party, no schools, and all Jewish organizations and centers were closed. Until 1989, any meetings of Jewish people had to be officially approved before they could take place. Consently, Capkova argued that the only places where Jewish people could express themselves fully were prayer halls, homes for the elderly, and cemetaries. She argued that because of this separation, Czech Jews felt that they lived in two worlds; a world where one lived as a Czech and a world where one lived as a Jew.

Bethany Wages is REEES M.A. at UIUC. Her focus of study is history. She recently completed her thesis entitled “The Political Evolution of Vera Zasulich: Populist, Marxist, Socialist.” She received her B.A. in Honors/History and English Literature in 2014 at Wright State University and will graduate this May. She will attend Indiana University at Bloomington to study Information and Library Sciences in the fall of 2016.

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.

Modern Greek Studies to screen “Twice a Stranger” documentary

This is a re-posting of an article from the May 7, 2014, issue of The Daily Illini. To view the original article, please see http://www.dailyillini.com/lifeandculture/aroundcampus/article_cd4c646a-d566-11e3-ad9c-0017a43b2370.html. Featured in the article is Dr. Sebnem Ozkan, Outreach Coordinator  at the European Union Center, who is a colleague of REEEC.


Her name was Eleni, and she was just a toddler when she and her siblings fled Turkey barefoot with everything they could carry during the forced migration of the early 1920s.

With her brother at her side, disguised as a girl so the Turks wouldn’t take him, they set off toward boats that were sent to help evacuate her coastline town, Smyrna, and headed to their new life in Greece.

“My grandfather — her husband — was also from there, and he was about 11 when this was happening,” said Hellen McDonald, clinical assistant professor in Social Work. “Her mother dressed him up as a monk so the Turks would not keep him.”

They arrived at Pirea, the main port of Greece and began their new life in a country that saw them as dirty and not Greek. Returning home, where they were also viewed as outsiders, wasn’t an option.

She married at 16 and moved to a makeshift home that the community built for all of the migrants.

“The community built these huge apartment complexes for them and that’s where a lot of the refugees — they don’t like to be called refugees — a lot of the individuals that came from Smyrna settled in,” McDonald said.

She lived in a town called Peristeri until her death in 1999. In English, Peristeri means dove, the symbol for peace.

The Greek-Turkish exchange, German-Polish exchange, Partition of India and Cyprus Crisis are all events of forced migration in the 20th century, when millions of people were forced to leave their homelands, largely never returning.

The documentary “Twice a Stranger” combines video testimonies, rare film archives and photos from survivors to bring their stories to light. The film will be shown by Modern Greek Studies at 6 p.m. on May 8 in the Lucy Ellis Lounge of the Foreign Languages Building.

Dr. Stefanos Katsikas, director of Modern Greek Studies, will begin the screening with a short introduction to provide background on the historical events being highlighted.

“Twice a Stranger” premiered at an exhibition in the Benaki Museum in Athens and was highly successful, Katsikas said. He had to receive permission from the museum to show the documentary, making this the first time it will be screened in the Midwest.

A conflict between Greece and the Ottoman Empire in 1919 led to a war over control of the region around Smyrna. The Greek army was granted a mandate after World War I to exercise control of the region for five years followed by a referendum which would determine the future status of the area, Katsikas said.

Greek authorities took advantage of a strong presence of ethnic Greeks in the area. The outcome of the referendum would be in Greece’s favor and the region would become Greek territory. This was not seen favorably by Turks who wanted this region to be part of the Ottoman Empire or any succeeding Turkish nation state.

Greece lost the war, and its troops withdrew, which sparked a negotiation between the two sides over the territorial status of Greece and Turkey, ending the signing of the Lausanne Peace Treaty. Part of this treaty was a protocol which provided for the compulsory exchange of populations so that all Muslims living in Greece moved to Turkey and all Greek-Orthodox people in Turkey would head to Greece. It was believed that a population exchange would guarantee peace and security between the two states.

A conflict between Greece and the Ottoman Empire in 1919 led to a war over occupying territory in Turkey. While Greece was granted a mandate after World War I to occupy the region, Greek authorities in Smyrna were working on a five-year referendum that would determine the fate of the same area.

Greece lost the war and its troops were forced to leave, which sparked a negotiation: the two states would exchange populations so that all Muslims living in Greece moved to Turkey and all Greek-Orthodox people in Turkey would head to Greece.

“In order to be a Greek, you need to speak a Greek language and be Greek-Orthodox. In Turkey, the established view was to be a Turk, you had to speak Turkish but also be a Muslim,” Katsikas said. “This resulted in one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the beginning of the 20th century – 1.5 million Greek-Orthodox and half a million Muslims leaving their homelands.”

Katsikas said one of the problems with this was many Muslims couldn’t speak Turkish and many of the Greek-Orthodox couldn’t speak Greek, causing them to be viewed as outcasts.

Today, McDonald’s extended family still lives in the suburbs of Athens. Eleni and her husband were able to move out after buying land and building a new home.

“My grandfather was able to put aside money – he did all sorts of jobs that weren’t originally accepted. They were considered dirty and like not real Greeks,” McDonald said. “They really struggled with assimilating, but through the years, I think they proved them wrong.”

McDonald remembers her grandmother as quiet and not very talkative, but she was strong in her values.

“Now that I’m in social work, I have a better understanding of why,” she said. “It might have been too traumatic to talk about it.”

On the other side of the conflict stood Esma, a Turkish woman who was forced to flee Greece with her five children. The hardships they encountered took the life of one of her twins. Sebnem Ozkan, outreach coordinator at the European Union Center, said her great-grandmother remembered packing all of their belongings and taking the trip to Turkey.

“She always remembered Greece as a nice place,” Ozkan said. “She always talked about her neighbors there, both Turks and Greeks, and she would tell stories about how everybody got along really well, there wasn’t really tension or any fighting … it was the politics and the government who were really messing up things.”

Esma and her family migrated to Sakarya, Turkey, where they ran an olive business to support themselves. Economic hardship after migrating was common because not all belongings could be taken with them, Ozkan said.

The migration didn’t happen in a single day. Political tensions had been brewing and the people knew they would have to leave, but they kept a separate identity, Ozkan said, although that identity has been withering away with each generation.

Like Eleni, Esma and her family also had trouble assimilating and were not welcomed. Even though they spoke Turkish, a difference in customs made them look suspicious. She never returned home but also never expressed the desire to.

“She was still sharp,” Ozkan said. “If somebody told her there were people from this town in Greece from Vodena where she was from, she would insist to go and find them. She was still very committed to her birthplace and she just kept talking about it until she died.”

Esma lived to be more than 100 years old despite facing so many challenges in life, including losing her husband in the war.

“It is quite a lot to deal with, but she never complained,” Ozkan said. “She just thought, ‘This is life,’ and you do the best you can do under the circumstances and you just move forward, stay positive, and I think that was one of the reasons why she lived such a long life.”

Partition of India

As the British left India, the question of whom to transfer power to was imminent. South Asian Muslims worried that if power transferred to the Congress party, there would be a Hindu majoritarian rule, leaving Muslims no say in politics.

“Around 1946, I think the British decided enough is enough,” said Tariq Ali, assistant history professor. “They wanted to cut their losses and run, which meant they needed a quick solution.”

The quickest solution was partition: dividing the country into one Muslim state and one Hindu state.

“This was a solution that no one really liked,” Ali said. “But it’s the solution the British were willing to give.”

Ali said hardly anyone foresaw the enormous violence that would ensue after 20 million people were forced to move. An English lawyer then drew abstract lines on a map and India and Pakistan were born.      When Pakistan gained independence in 1957, the new borders had still not been announced. People celebrated without knowing what country they were in, Ali said.

“What happens is we have Hindus and Sikh militias and Muslim militias going on killing rampages against the other religion,” Ali said. “The death toll was horrific.”

A large number of people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have family across borders today and still have memories of the homes they left behind, Ali said.

Nishant Makhijani, senior in Engineering, remembers his grandparents sharing stories from when they were forced to leave Pakistan during the partition.

Once they heard the news, they packed up their belongings and precious metals, mostly gold jewelry, and left.

When they arrived in India, they stayed in refugee camps until his grandfather’s brother found a job as a police inspector in a small town five hours outside of Mumbai.

“They didn’t know that they were leaving Pakistan for good,” Makhijani said. “They didn’t know that they were never going to see their houses again.”

German-Polish migration

During World War II, Germany had the intention of wiping Poland off the map, said history professor Peter Fritzsche.

What was left of Poland was turned into a military region occupied by Germany. Germany pursued three policies: to move in German settlers, to get rid of all the Jews and to move Polish people out.

“There was an ethnic cleansing,” Fritzsche said. “There would not be any German communities left in Eastern Europe, and so whoever didn’t flee in 1945 was basically kicked out in 1945 to 1947.”

Roughly one third of Germans were on the road without a home, but resentment and bitterness remained moderate, Fritzsche said.

“People made new lives,” he said. “Most Germans realized they started World War II, and they didn’t necessarily say they deserved their fate, but they understood their fate.”

While there were some groups that wished to return home, it was not possible, and as more generations were born, that desire vanished. Today, Europe is more homogenous than it was 100 years ago, Fritzsche said.

Interview with 2013 SRL Participant and Published Translator Ross Ufberg

Nellie Manis, a 2013 graduate of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center at the University of Illinois, and a current Fulbright grantee, sat down with 2013 Workshop in Scholarly and Literary Translations from Slavic Languages participant Ross Ufberg to learn more about his recent publications. Ufberg is a current graduate student at Columbia University and co-founder of the publishing house “New Vessel Press.” His translation of Moldovan author Vladimir Lorchenkov’s book The Good Life Elsewhere was just published in February 2014.

Ross Ufberg

Ross Ufberg

Nellie Manis: Your translation of Vladimir Lorchenkov’s book The Good Life Elsewhere was published in February. Can you tell me a little about this project?

Ross Ufberg: The Good Life Elsewhere is a really funny, satirical, and fast-moving novel. One of the reasons I was so attracted to it is because it’s very different from what we in the West, or in the United States, think of as “Russian” literature. I know Russian literature is every bit as quirky and fun and whacky, and oftentimes even as concise as American literature. Dostoevsky and Tolstoy aren’t the whole picture. I wanted to share that unexpected aspect of Russian literature with people.

NM: Your translation of Lorchenkov’s article “Is Moldova the 51st State?” appeared in The New York Times on December 26, 2013. Can you tell us more about how this came to be?

RU: “Eastern Europe” is a massive place. “The Former Soviet Union” is, in fact, one-sixth the entire world. But often the media speaks in broad terms about changes that occur in various places around the world. Kiev is a very different place from Chisinau, and Lviv is different from Tiraspol. Part of why Lorchenkov wanted to write an op-ed in the Times is, I believe, he wanted to say, “Hey, things are complex here. It’s not as easy as it seems. And no, the answer to all of our problems is not always to just join with Europe. We are part of a very distinct geographical region with its own histories and motivations. That must be considered. Also, don’t blame Russia. At least not ALL the time.

NM: How did you get involved with Vladimir Lorchenkov? Can you describe your relationship with him?

RU: I have never met Vladimir in person. But we have emailed quite often. Even his emails are full of snares and traps, a joke or a pun or a witty remark lurking around every comma, period, parentheses. He was quite helpful when I was working on the translation. Up to now, I’ve translated dead prose authors (with the exception of Anna Frajlich, a Polish poet, who is very much alive!), so when you’re stuck, you’re stuck. You can’t ask the author what he meant. But with Lorchenkov, I asked a million questions and got a million answers, and ultimately, I believe it made the translation better. Not only more accurate, but more full of life, because when you enjoy working on something, and when the author is a personality you connect with, it shows.

NM: This past summer, you participated in the Workshop in Scholarly and Literary Translation from Slavic Languages at the University of Illinois. Tell us about the pieces you were working on during the workshop. Have you been able to publish any of them?

RU: This summer, I worked on the poetry of the Polish poet Anna Frajlich. I have had some luck placing Anna’s poetry, and I’m still waiting to hear back from a few places. My translations of her work have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, Habitus, and other places. She’s a poet of rare beauty. Her work is concise, unadorned, yet still lustrous and pitch-perfect. It’s an honor to work with her.

NM: What were the most useful experiences to you during the workshop?

RU: Being able to work one-on-one with the wonderful translator Joanna Trzeciak. To sit with her and watch her take apart one of my translations – it was like handling an old clunky thing to a master watchmaker and watching as the expert made the timepiece run so much more smoothly.

NM: You are one of the founders of a new publishing venture, “New Vessel Press.” What made you want to start your own publishing house?

RU: I have always loved translation, and then, a few years back, a friend, Michael Wise, and I got to talking seriously about starting a publishing house. We had spent so much time with each other talking about the works of literature we’d read from around the world, which we loved, and many of which were mutually unavailable to us. Michael reads French and German. I read Polish and Russian, but the only common language we have is English. And literature is something we’re both passionate about. Plus, it’s an incredibly interesting time to be in the book industry. So much is changing. Nobody knows what might be around the corner. But one thing is clear: there is more being published in the U.S. today from around the world than there ever was before. And I think that trend is going to continue. America is slowly opening up to the world. It’s nice to think New Vessel could have a part – even if only a very small one – in that.

NM: What kind of works is New Vessel interested in publishing? Is it specifically a publication outlet for works in translation? Can translators submit materials to the house directly?

RU: We are always looking for good literary fiction and nonfiction. More broadly speaking, I’d say we like books with a healthy sense of humor, books that have real literary merit yet don’t take themselves too seriously. We accept submissions at http://newvesselpress.com/contact-us/.

NM: How do you balance the academic demands of your program at Columbia, your professional obligations, and your translation work?

RU: Hmmm. I try to sleep less. And it also helps that I really love what I do. I love teaching, writing, translating, bringing books to press. So it’s work, yes, but it’s all love.

NM: Are you currently working on any translations?

RU: The short answer is, yes. The long answer is, I am not sure which of the fifteen projects floating around in my mind I’ll end up sticking with. One thing, though, is that I’m going to continue working on Anna Frajlich’s poetry. It’s good for my blood pressure.

NM: When considering whether or not to translate a work into English, what kinds of characteristics do you look for?

RU: I don’t know that there are any specific characteristics. A good story is a good story is a good story. Beyond that, why make rules? Who would put parameters on grand entertainment?

NM: What are your plans for the future as concerns your career and, more specifically, translating?

RU: Well, there is one Polish writer I’m NOT working on but dream of it – Edward Stachura. But I admit it, I’m afraid. Stachura’s language is so incredibly difficult, so beautiful, I don’t know that I’d be able to tackle it. Translating Stachura is like trying to climb a craggy mountain made of cotton balls.

NM: Is there anything else you’d like to add or comment on?

RU: I am so grateful to REEEC for the time I spent in Urbana. To be so far away from home, without any of the worries of the everyday, and to be able to really dig into a project – that was a gift of incredible value. What I did in a week at REEEC would have taken me a month at home, simply because I had so many experts so close at hand and such concentrated periods of time to do real work.

Ross Ufberg’s translation of Vladimir Lorchenkov’s article “Is Moldova the 51st State?” can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/27/opinion/moldova-the-51st-state.html?_r=0. Information about New Vessel Press can be accessed at http://newvesselpress.com.

To learn more about the Workshop in Scholarly and Literary Translation from Slavic Languages, to be held June 16-20, 2014, at the University of Illinois, please see http://www.reeec.illinois.edu/srl/programs/translation.html.

GlobalFest 2014

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On March 1, several graduate students affiliated with the Russian, East European, Eurasian Center, including myself, participated in GlobalFest 2014 in Normal, Illinois. This is an annual event that celebrates world languages and cultures, and encourages middle and high school students to make connections with the global society. It was amazing to see such a large group of young people take an interest in the world beyond their classroom walls. Several languages and cultures were represented, and of course, we did our part to teach kids about Russia and Eastern Europe.

Natalya Khokholova and Devon Lechtenberg taught Russian and Polish language classes, respectively. Each of them taught four sessions of about 20 minutes each, covering basics like the alphabet, some pronunciation, and greetings. They were also able to talk about the countries and their cultures. For example, Natalya discussed the Sochi Olympics with her groups of students.

Undoubtedly, the most popular event REEEC offers at GlobalFest is Russian Horror Stories. Stephanie Chung, with the help of Zsuzsanna Magdo, introduced Russian Horror Stories to 70 students; it was standing room only in the small classroom! Stephanie read “Baba Yaga and the Runt” from Sibelan Forrester’s translation of Baba Yaga: the Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales, available in REEEC’s Multimedia library. Students discussed their favorite horror stories and films, and then compared the main elements from them with common themes found in Slavic horror stories. Stephanie introduced several common characters in Slavic folk literature, including the most famous of all, Baba Yaga.

A new addition to GlobalFest this year was the board game Kolejka or Queue. Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance developed the game to teach players what life was like under a centrally planned economy during socialism. Zsuzsanna introduced the game by comparing it to the origins of the game Monopoly, which was not originally intended to give capitalism a glamorous name. We had three games set up for a total of 15 players. The students were very patient, as the game is quite complicated.

In Kolejka, each player has a shopping list they must complete in order to win the game. It is not possible, however, to just go to the store and buy everything at once. Each player’s five pawns stands in different lines, not knowing whether there will even be a delivery that day. Shortages were quite common in 1980s Eastern Europe, including Poland. Hence, it was possible to stand in line for hours and not be able to buy anything, the store having run out of items several people before you in line. In the game, players can jump the lines and switch places according to a number of action cards. These range from snitching on a neighbor to the police and throwing them out of line, or borrowing someone’s baby to skip the line completely and be able to buy what is in the store first. Zsuzsanna and I stood close to answer any questions, and there were definitely many questions!

At first, the students did not like the idea of sabotaging their friends in order to get ahead in line, but they quickly learned that it was the only way to get all the items on their shopping lists. Another foreign idea that took some getting used to was dealing in the black market. In Poland, people might buy things they did not actually need at the time only to use them to trade in the black market for things that they did need. The game represents this practice very well, since the black market is always stocked, while the stores receive irregular shipments of goods that might not fit in your list. Overall, the students seemed to enjoy the game and their trip to 1980s Poland.

By participating in the sessions REEEC organized, along with the rest of GlobalFest, students were able to experience a host of different cultures and languages. They were open to new experiences and gave insight to our own perspectives on the world.

Urszula (Ula) Biegaj Lechtenberg is a second-year Master’s student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. She graduated with a REEEC MA in 2012. Her interests include Slavic librarianship, academic libraries, and instruction. She works as a Graduate Assistant in the cataloging department at the Library, and holds an hourly position at the Slavic Reference Service.