Keynote speakers

The 20th Annual Aleksanteri Conference has a pleasure of presenting six distinguished scholars as keynote speakers.
Minister of the Interior, Maria Ohisalo

Maria Ohisalo has served as Minister of the Interior, which is the ministry for internal security and migration, since 6 June 2019. She is Chair of the Greens of Finland since 15 June 2019. She was elected as a member of the parliament in April 2019. She has a PhD on Sociology. Title of her thesis is “Crumbs at the Bottom of a Welfare State. Charity Food Aid and Subjective Well-Being of the Disadvantaged”.

She has been the Vice-Chair of the Greens of Finland in 2015-2019 and worked as a researcher on issues related to social exclusion. She is a council member in Helsinki City Council and was a Helsinki City Board Member in 2017-2019.

Maria Ohisalo has a background in youth athletics and she is an active cyclist. She lives with her spouse in Helsinki.

Professor & Academic Director Ulf Brunnbauer

Ulf Brunnbauer is Academic Director of the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies in Regensburg, Germany, and Professor of Southeast and East European History at the University of Regensburg. He earned his PhD in history from the University of Graz, Austria, in 1999, and his habilitation in Modern and East/Southeast European History from the Free University of Berlin in 2006. In 2008, he joined the faculty in Regensburg, where he also serves as one of the coordinators of the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies and board members of the Center for International and Transnational Area Studies. He held fellowships in Berkeley, Paris, Uppsala, Leicester and Sofia, and did extensive research in Bulgaria, former Yugoslavia, and Russia.

Migration and the “Development” Conundrum in the Balkans. A Longue-durée Perspective

In the mid 1970s, when the possible accession of South European countries to the European Economic Community became a matter of debate, the British developmental economist Dudley Sears warned that “EEC membership might lock a country like this into dependence on exporting labour”. For the Balkan countries, this would become a prescient prediction. For the last decades, Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia, and the non-EU members of the region as well have been experiencing a massive outflow of labour. This raises fear of depopulation, but also stimulates efforts to turn outmigration into a source of development. In my talk, I will approach the (questionable) link between emigration and development from a longue-durée perspective, highlighting continuities in migration patterns and their political framing. Already early 20th century policy makers in the Balkans thought to regulate emigration in the name of state development. I will highlight linkages between emigration and immigration policies as parts of social engineering efforts. Yet, the question remains: why did a century of mass migration from the region not lead to income convergence with Western Europe? The bigger issue, thus, is: what do these migrations tell us about inequality in Europe?

Research Professor & Director Marlene Laruelle

Marlene Laruelle, Ph.D., is Director and Research Professor at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES), Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University. At IERES Dr. Laruelle is also Director of the Illiberalism Studies Program, of the Central Asia Program, and a Co-Director of PONARS (Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia).  She has recently published Memory Politics and the Russian Civil War. Reds versus Whites (Bloomsbury, with Margarita Karnysheva), Is Russia Fascist? Unraveling Propaganda East and West (Cornell University Press), and Central Peripheries. Nationhood in Central Asia (University College London Press).

Rethinking Russia in Eurasia: Migration, Empire, and Post/Neo-Colonialism

In this presentation, Marlene Laruelle will discuss how existing research on migration helps us renew our discussion of Russia as an empire and the issue of Eurasia’s post-colonial situation and/or Russia’s neocolonialism in Eurasia—depending on the lens taken. How is labor migration confirming Russia’s role as a regional hegemon while simultaneously deeply transforming its urban identity at home? How do labor migration to Russia and its mirror image, emigration from Russia to the broader West, contribute to blurring the symbolic borders/boundaries of Russianness? What lessons can we learn from migration from the Mediterranean basin to Western Europe that might inform Russia’s future relationship with “sending” countries? How is migration reshaping memory of the Soviet century? This presentation aims to bring several bodies of literature—on migration, on Russia’s postcolonialism, and on memory issues in Eurasia—into dialogue.

Associate Professor Franklin Obeng-Odoom

Franklin Obeng-Odoom is Associate Professor of Sustainability Science with Development Studies and the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science, both at the University of Helsinki in Finland where he is the current Chairperson of the Finnish Society for Development Research. Previously, he taught at various universities in Australia, including the University of Technology Sydney where he was Director of Higher Degree Research Programmes.

Franklin's research and teaching interests are centred on the political economy of development, cities, and natural resources. His books include Property, Institutions, and Social Stratification in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2020), The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty (University of Toronto Press, 2020), and The Political Economy of the Global Migration Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2021). Obeng-Odoom is Editor-in-Chief of the African Review of Economics and Finance and Series Editor of the Edinburgh Studies in Urban Political Economy. He serves on the Executive Council of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics and leads the Helsinki School of Critical Urban Studies. 

Global Migration Beyond Limits

In this talk, I will talk about my new book: Global Migration beyond Limits. The book takes a critical approach to mainstream economic accounts of migration, environment, and inequality. Drawing on a range of case studies from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas, Obeng-Odoom argues that much of the crisis of migration can be understood as a reflection of cumulative stratification at different scales in the global system, though the form of migration is conditioned by more than economic forces. Examining the experiences of migrant farmers, street workers, refugees, international students, and many more, this book shows that the so-called migration crisis is an expression of a political-economic system in which socially created value is privately appropriated as rents by a privileged few who use institutions such land and property rights, race, ethnicity, class, and gender to keep others in their place.

Professor of Social Anthropology Madeleine Reeves

Madeleine Reeves is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, where she researches the anthropology of politics, space, labour and im/mobility. She has published extensively on everyday practices of ethical and legal reasoning in contexts of migration and precarious labour in the post-Soviet space. She is the author of Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia (Cornell, 2014), which was awarded the 2015 Joseph Rothschild Prize, and the co-editor, most recently, of The Everyday Lives of Sovereignty: Political Imagination Beyond the State (Cornell, 2021, with Rebecca Bryant). Between 2015 and 2019 she served as Editor of Central Asian Survey. Personal website:

The Empty House: Towards an Anthropology of Insecure Migration in Eurasia

Migration has been identified as a strategy of exit in contexts of conflict and protracted insecurity in Central Asia, particularly for minoritised populations at times of inter-communal violence (Ismailbekova 2014, McBrien 2011). Yet studies of labour migration in the post-Soviet space have tended to pay little attention to the ways that existential insecurity can inflect decisions about the timing and organisation of exit, the duration of migration, or long-term plans about (non-)return. In the region of rural Batken where I have conducted research periodically since the early 2000s, insecurity about periodic border violence morphs into broader concerns about the viability of making a liveable life for one’s family and creating ‘roads’ (joldor) for one’s children in times of economic uncertainty and multiplying debt. Such migration is not usually framed, in policy or scholarship, as ‘forced,’ yet exit to Russia was often spoken of by my informants as a compelling necessity (majbur), even as its consequences—captured in the figure of the ‘empty house’ abandoned by all of its human habitants—were the focus of intense deliberation and moral commentary. This paper asks how we might account, ethnographically, for the experiential force of debt-driven migration in situations where departure has become integral to the imagination of life itself. It develops the analytic of insecure migration as an entry-point for a critical interrogation of the epistemological and institutional boundary-work that separates the analysis of ‘forced migration’ from migration that is putatively ‘free.’

Associate Professor Caress Schenk

Caress Schenk is an Associate Professor of political science at Nazarbayev University (Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan) with teaching and research expertise in the politics of immigration and national identity in Eurasia. Her new book, published with the University of Toronto Press, is called Why Control Immigration? Strategic Uses of Migration Management in Russia. Current and previous research has been funded by the American Councils for International Education, Nazarbayev University and the Fulbright Scholar Program and has been published in Demokratizatisya, Europe-Asia Studies, and Nationalities Papers, and in edited volumes published by Edinburgh University Press and Oxford University Press (some forthcoming). Dr. Schenk is a member of the Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia (PONARS Eurasia). Personal website:

There is Fear Enough for All

When the politics of fear touches on themes of immigration, analysis tends to focus on the fear of the citizenry, often with the goal of assessing the impact on electoral outcomes. In many studies, xenophobia is identified as a key variable in the study of increasing political pressures across the developed world to limit immigrants and refugees and in the rise of populist movements and governments. This keynote address turns the discussion to consider the role of fear in the lives and work of state actors and migrants. While the fear, discrimination, and exploitation of migrants in Eurasia is often the focus of analysis, how migrant fear can scale up to have political implications is less often considered, especially in the context of authoritarian politics. Likewise, when state agents such as police, bureaucrats, and lawmakers are framed as exploiters, there is little analytical space to explore the fear that may drive their decision-making. The address explores the relationship between informal practices and institutions, a shifting legal landscape, and the human experience of state actors and migrants as they navigate the uncertainties of migration systems in Eurasia.

Professor Teivo Teivainen

Teivo Teivainen is Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki, where he was previously Head of Political Science Department and Research Director of the Center of Excellence on Global Governance. His academic work has been awarded internationally with Hopkins Award of the American Sociological Association and Amartya Sen Prize of Yale University. In between, he has received Academy of Finland Recognition Award, Pro Feminism Award, JV Snellman Public Information Award, and Ovet Award for advancing knowledge about Russia in Finland (a theme he sometimes explores through World Political City Walks that he organizes in Helsinki). He regularly appears on TV and radio programs, and his interviews range from the New York TimesFinancial Times or Xinhua Newsto smaller media outlets in various parts of the world. He currently leads Academy of Finland project on transnational social movements. Personal website:

Construction of Whiteness in Finland vis-à-vis Border with Asia, Natives in the North, and Migrants from the South

The struggles for the independence of Finland took place in a time when racial classification was a relatively respectable endeavor for European elites. In many of these classifications, that since the 19th Century mixed linguistic and racial divides, Finns were initially often considered non-whites or not-fully-whites and connected with “Asian” or “mongol” races. Stories circulated on how the territory of Finland might be colored yellow in schoolbooks of Germany or the United States.   

One way for the Finnish elites to claim membership in ethnically white Europe was to highlight the non-whiteness of nearby people. A perhaps more obvious target consisted of the Sámi people in the North. Toward the Sámi, still today recognized as the only indigenous people of the European Union, the Finnish attitudes had a long history of colonial practices, whether or not one classifies it as a case of formal colonialism. Toward Russia, however, the independence struggles implied a more ambivalent mix of fighting a colonial master and at the same time expressing coloniality toward it.  

In the Finnish literary and journalistic production of the 1920s and 1930s, Russia was repeatedly portrayed as belonging to “Asia”. The opening lines of a famous poem by Uuno Kailas in 1931 express the idea that the boundary between Russia and Finland and Russia marks a division between the East and the West: “The frontier opens like a lane across the ice but it's broken up/ In front is Asia, the East/ Behind what is the West and Europe”.  

The presentation will explore Finland’s role in the racial stratification of the world-system in the past and investigate how it may still influence Finnish practices today. Analysis of the earlier othering of Russia and Sámi will be complemented, compared and contrasted with reflections on the more recent encounters with global migration.