Upcoming and past events in the Black Sea Studies Series

Upcoming Events

  • Digital Humanities and Russian & East European Studies Symposium

    Saturday, November 12, 10 am – 8 pm | Yale University (451 College St.)

    • 10:00-12:00. Panel: “Digital Humanities and Russian & East European Studies session I.”
      Chair: Marijeta Bozovic.
      Panelists: David Birnbaum, Elise Thorsen, Jessie Labov, Natalia Ermolaev.
    • 12:00-2:00. Catered lunch.
    • 2:00-4:00. Panel: “Digital Humanities and Russian & East European Studies session II.”
      Chair: Molly Brunson.
      Panelists: Ann Komaromi, Joan Neuberger, Kelly O’Neill.
    • 4:00-6:00. Roundtable: “Black Sea Networks.”
      Chair: Marta Figlerowicz.
      Panelists: Valentina Izmirlieva, Alex Gil, Bradley Gorski.
    • 7:00. Conference reception and dinner.
 More information on the Yale University DHREES site.

  • Symposium in Black Sea History at Columbia University

  • Spring 2017 | Convened by Catherine Evtukhov

  • Black Sea Film Festival at Yale University

  • March 31–April 1, 2017

  • Symposium on Crimea at Cambridge University

  • Convened by Rory Finnin

  • Black Sea Days in Istanbul

  • May 2017 | Co-convened with Columbia Global Centers—Turkey

  • Two-day international conference “Black Sea Networks and Cultural Capitals”

  • September 2017 | Hosted by the Harriman Institute

Past Events


    A Public Lecture by Ivan Krastev
    September 23, 2016 | Columbia University

    text by Sophie Pinkham

    On September 23rd, Ivan Krastev kicked off the Black Sea Networks initiative with a lecture entitled “The Imitation Imperative: Making Sense of the Crisis of Black Sea Europe.” Krastev, an expert on Eastern European democracy, called for a re-examination of the post-1989 world order, arguing that the model of universal imitation of Western liberal democracy has become a source of renewed nationalist and anti-globalist sentiment. Today, he argued, the most urgent question is not how the West is transforming the rest of the world, but how the West itself is being transformed. These questions are especially pertinent in the Black Sea region, at the intersection of the three empires—Habsburg, Ottoman, and Russian—that constituted the European order until the end of the First World War.

    According to Francis Fukuyama’s influential concept of the “end of history,” there were simply no alternatives to liberal democracy; the post-1989 world would be premised on imitation of the American model of democracy. But this “imitation paradigm,” Krastev argued, proved risky for both sides. It has been harmful for the imitated—especially the US--because it has brought a loss of critical distance, a constant self-congratulation that inhibits self-improvement. Meanwhile, imitators have come to see the paradigm as a form of humiliation, a negation of national identity.

    Many of the supposed advantages of the post-1989 world have turned out to be disadvantages. Open borders have fuelled radical nostalgia, as countries like Bulgaria experience such high levels of emigration that they feel that they are disappearing as nations. The use of English as the international lingua franca has discouraged Americans from learning foreign languages, limiting their experience and understanding of other countries. “America is becoming transparent to the world, but the world is not transparent to America,” Krastev said.

    The imitation imperative has also engendered a certain cognitive dissonance. In the 1990s, Eastern European countries longed to be “normal”—i.e., like the West—but this discourse of normality carried a problematic double meaning. On one hand, “normal” is used to indicate what is morally right. On the other hand, “normal” means commonplace. In a place like Bulgaria, for example, to give and take bribes has remained commonplace—“normal”—while being the opposite of the normative Western model promoted by the imitation imperative.

    This sense of contradiction has fostered more cynical types of imitation of the West, with Russia offering some of the most striking examples. Putin has used rigged elections not to establish legitimacy in the eyes of the West, but to persuade the Russian public that there is no alternative to his rule. When he lied about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea in 2014, he did not expect anyone to believe him. Instead, he wanted to compare his own lies to Western ones—for example, about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In Putin’s hands, Krastev said, the imitation imperative becomes the idea that “I will do to you what you did to me, in order to show you that what you call order is really disorder.” Meanwhile, American anxiety about Trump as Putin’s Manchurian candidate follows Russia’s conspiratorial logic: every domestic problem is perceived as the result of an external threat. By playing into this reasoning, Krastev argued, Americans only aid Putin in his efforts to position himself as a powerful leader.

    Today, imitation can no longer be understood as unilateral and purely beneficial. The post-1989 world order must be understood not only in terms of the Cold War, but in terms of what came after it. The Black Sea Networks initiative, Krastev said, will seek to reimagine the last 25 years in a way that will allow a better understanding of the present.

    Watch the full lecture here:

    Ivan Krastev is one of the most visible public intellectuals in Europe today and an expert on Eastern European democracy. The Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria, he is a founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Crisis Group (2016-2018). His books in English include Democracy Disrupted: The Politics of Global Protest (U Penn Press, 2014), In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don't Trust Our Leaders? (TED Books, 2013), The Anti-American Century (CEU Press, 2007), and Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on the Politics of Anticorruption (CEU Press, 2004). Krastev is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. He is currently working, in collaboration with Stephen Holmes, on a book on Russian politics.

  • LeftEast Summer Convergence

    August 15–19, 2016 | Boğaziçi University, Istanbul

    The Peoples' Movements Summer Convergence this July in Istanbul took place under uniquely arresting circumstances: amidst an unsuccessful military coup and its immediate aftermath. While we had chosen Istanbul as the site of our convergence in part out of recognition of the city's centrality to current conflicts and in solidarity with Turkey's deeply embattled leftist community, none of us could have guessed just how germane our plan for discussion would be to current events.

    Read more about LeftEast's summer 2016 convergence and its political context here.

    We would like to thank the Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE), Columbia University’s Black Sea Networks Project, and individual members of the LeftEast editorial board, who all financially contributed to the travel expenses and dormitory costs of the participants.