Keynote Speakers

The 18th Annual Aleksanteri Conference has a pleasure of presenting seven distinguished scholars as keynote speakers.
Professor Grzegorz Ekiert, Harvard University

Short biographical note: 

Grzegorz Ekiert is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Government at Harvard University, Director of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, and Senior Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. His research and teaching interests focus on comparative politics, regime change and democratization, civil society and social movements and East European politics and societies. His current projects explore civil society development in new democracies in Central Europe and East Asia, state mobilized contention in authoritarian and hybrid regimes and patterns of political and economic transformations in the post-communist world. He is the author or editor of six books, edited volumes and special issues of journals. His papers appeared in numerous social science journals in the US, Europe and Asia and in many edited volumes. He is also Member of the Advisory Board of Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin fur Sozialforschung, External Examiner in Politics, Public Administration and Global Studies at the University of Hong Kong and Member of the Club of Madrid Advisory Committee.

Abstract of the keynote speech:

From Communism to Authoritarianism via Democracy. The Puzzle of Political Transformations in East Central Europe

During the first two decades after 1989, countries of East Central Europe experienced a swift and successful democratization process and a relatively painless transition to a market economy. Consolidation of liberal democracy and working market economy opened the door to their accession to the NATO and the European Union. By 2004, it seemed that these countries became “normal” European democracies with respectable economic growth and that any concerns about the stability of their newly established democratic rule could be safely put to rest. Yet, the third decade of post-communism has brought to power nationalist governments that have presided over the striking erosion of democratic commitments and liberal principles. FIDESZ in Hungary and PiS in Poland have begun deliberate assault on the rule of law and fundamental values of European integration, ignoring concerns of their European partners. The increasing shift to authoritarian rule and away from Europe is especially puzzling since these two countries were leading reformers under the communist rule, led the region in transition away from communism and were considered the success stories of post-communist transformations. This talk will focus on the current political developments in the region and on possible ways to understand the unfolding authoritarian turn. 

Watch the plenary session (Grzegorz Ekiert's presentation at 35:21)

Professor Stephen Hutchings, University of Manchester

Short biographical note:

Stephen Hutchings is Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Manchester. He worked previously at the University of Surrey (1996-2006) and the University of Rochester, New York (1990-1996). He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, and former President of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies. He was a member of the RAE 2008 subpanel for Russian and Slavonic Languages and Cultures. Stephen is Associate Editor of the Russian Journal of Communication and is on the editorial boards of Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media, and IAFOR Journal of Cultural Studies. His research interests are in contemporary Russian media, film and cultural studies. He has won over £6 million in research grants since 2000. His most recent monograph, co-authored with Vera Tolz, is Nation, Race and Ethnicity on Russian Television: Mediating Post-Soviet Difference (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015).

Abstract of the keynote speech:

Reframing Russia for the Global Mediasphere: From Cold War to ‘Information War’?

The period that our conference is asked to reflect upon traces the extended trajectory of what was the defining event of the late 20th Century: the Cold War. Yet despite the persistence of tensions (and the tropes bred by them) over this time, the period we are considering does not form a closed cycle. Nor, however, is it a trajectory with free speech and democracy as its ultimate destination.

Focusing on the most recent point in the trajectory, I argue that the ‘information war’ that Putin’s Kremlin is purportedly waging against the West is conducted under conditions far distant from those of the Cold War. Aside from significant differences between the Soviet and post-Soviet Russian states, technical innovations since the late nineties have  produced a hyper-networked, multi-platform global mediasphere in which propagators of state media narratives struggle to adjust to the proliferation and democratisation of information flows.

The reality of the global mediasphere requires multiple ‘reframings’ of Russian state activities within it: the reframing of conventional, linear propaganda models that emphasise the Kremlin’s agency but ignore structural constraints; the Kremlin’s own struggles to reframe and contextualise both its domestic and its international propaganda operations; the ability of participatory media audiences to reframe state narratives in unexpected ways. I will address four issues derived from these reframings: (i) tensions between the official discourses prevailing in domestic Russian state television news and popular idioms pervading distinctly post-Soviet genres such as the talk-show; (ii) the significant recalibrations that Russia’s domestic state media narratives undergo  when adopted by its international broadcasting arm; (iii) the reconfiguring of ‘information war’ battle lines within highly heterogeneous Russophone social media communities; (iv) the dialogic, recursive logic of an information war conducted across the competing narratives facilitated by global media networks.

Relying on ‘media event’ theory, I will explore these issues through analyses of three major international incidents: the scandal over Russia’s exclusion from the 2017 Eurovision song contest; repercussions from the innovative project launched by international broadcaster, RT, to mark the centenary of the 1917 revolution; the Salisbury spy poisoning incident in March 2018 and its ongoing aftermath.

Watch the plenary session (Stephen Hutchings's presentation at 39:40)


Professor emerita Marju Lauristin, Tartu University

Marju Lauristin is an Estonian politician, and former Member of Member of the European Parliament and Minister of Social Affairs. She is a member of the Social Democratic Party, part of the Party of European Socialists. Lauristin is currently a member of the Tartu city council and a professor emerita of Social communication at Tartu University.

Watch the plenary session (Marju Lauristin's speech at 16:35)


Dr Maria Mälksoo, Brussels School of International Studies, University of Kent

Biographical note: 

Dr Maria Mälksoo (PhD in International Studies, Cantab.) is Senior Lecturer in International Security at the Brussels School of International Studies, University of Kent where she convenes the MA in International Conflict and Security and serves as the Director of Research and Ethics. She is the author of The Politics of Becoming European: A Study of Polish and Baltic Post-Cold War Security Imaginaries (Routledge, 2010) and a co-author of Remembering Katyn (Polity, 2012). Her work on European security politics, transitional justice, liminality, memory wars and memory laws has appeared in leading international studies journals and various edited volumes, most recently in International Studies Review and European Security. Before joining BSIS, Dr Mälksoo worked as Senior Researcher in International Relations at the University of Tartu in her native Estonia. She has held post-doctoral research fellowships at the Centre for International Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, and the University of Tartu. Dr Mälksoo has policy experience from the Estonian Ministry of Defence, International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn, and the Office of the President of Estonia. She is a member of the editorial boards of Journal of Genocide Research, Contemporary Security Policy, International Political Anthropology and ​New Perspectives, and currently serves at the CEEISA Executive Committee and the EISA Governing Board.

Abstract of the keynote speech:

 The Return of ‘Eastern Europe’ as a Normative Threat

After intense decades of Europeanization and democratization, eastern Europe as Europe’s historically defined ‘less-Self’ has re-emerged as a normative challenge in the public, political and academic discourse, particularly in relation to the rise of illiberal democracy in Hungary and Poland, along with popular (and populist) reactions to the recent migration crisis in Europe. The 1990s’ trope of the ‘barbarians at the gate’ has given way to a subtler ‘barbarians within’-discourse. In various guises, ‘eastern Europe’ has reappeared as a challenge to the European normative order and the EU’s sense of security. 

In this talk, I will offer a discursive dissection of ‘eastern Europe’ as a subtly subversive challenge to Europe’s security of ‘self’, entailing a fear of being overrun by an ‘Other’ perceived as endangering one’s particular normative and cultural order. Proceeding from Ingrid Creppell’s (2011) notion of normative threat, ontological security and liminality theorisations in International Studies, I argue that the reappearance of ‘eastern Europe’ as an ontological insecurity trope points at a set of deeper anxieties within Europe, some of which are systemic (doubts about the efficacy of integration and the legitimacy of the European Union) and some more contingent (vacillation about defending the European political order from populist upsurge amidst ‘resurgent nationalism’). I posit that the normative threat of eastern Europe manifests as a fourfold phenomenon: eastern Europe is purportedly endangering (i) liberal democracy as a constitutive norm of the European community; (ii) solidarity as a core value of the European Union; (iii) European security by allegedly being the ‘weakest link’ of NATO vis-à-vis Russia; and (iv) welfare of individual Western European countries by eastern Europeans’ alleged encroaching of their jobs and benefits.

Watch the plenary session (Maria Mälksoo's presentation at 6:20)

Professor Susan E. Reid, Loughborough University

Biographical note:

Susan E. Reid is Professor of Cultural History in the Department of Politics, History and International Relations at Loughborough University. She has published widely on painting, visual and material culture, gender and consumption in the Soviet Union, with a focus on the Khrushchev era and Cold War, and has a special interest in exhibitions and their viewers. Recent publications include: “Still Life and the Vanity of Socialist Realism: Robert Fal’k’s Potatoes, 1955,” The Russian Review 76, no. 3 (July 2017); «Как  обживались в позднесоветской модерности» (“Making Oneself at Home in Late Soviet Modernity”) in Anatoly Pinsky, ed., Posle Stalina  (After Stalin: Subjectivity in the Late Soviet Union (1953-1985),  St Petersburg University Press, 2018: 352-97; “Cold War Cultural Transactions: Designing the USSR for the West at Brussels Expo 58”, Design and Culture (2: 9, 2017); “Cold War Binaries and the Culture of Consumption in the Late Soviet Home," Journal of Historical Research in Marketing 8/1 (2016): 17-43 (Emerald Publishing Literati Awards for Excellence Outstanding Paper Award winner for 2016); and “Makeshift Modernity: DIY, Craft and the Virtuous Homemaker in New Soviet Housing of the 1960s,” International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity 2, no. 2 (Autumn 2014): 87-124

Abstract of the keynote speech:

’Palaces in Our Hearts’:  Caring for Khrushchevki

In Putin’s neoliberal Russia today, plans to demolish the khrushchevki—the standard prefabricated housing blocks built across the USSR in the late 1950s and early 1960s—and to replace them with new luxury apartment blocks for those able to afford them, have elicited passionate opposition from residents along with highly emotional expressions of love and appreciation. The khrushchevki have not always been celebrated as exemplars of modern urbanism, however. Western observers viewed them through Cold War lenses as the epitome of everything they thought wrong both with state socialism and with modernist social housing; monotonous, ugly, mean and basic, these prefabs allegedly spoke of shortage, de-individualization, lack of choice or of room for agency and participation (in the material environment as in the social and political sphere) and a lack of care for the comfort of ordinary people. Should we then dismiss the outpourings of love for the khrushchevki today as mere nostalgia—a highly selective, idealized reconstruction of the past as paradise lost, produced by the tribulations of the present—with nothing useful to tell us about the past?

Combining analysis of authoritative contemporaneous representations in the Soviet media of the 1960s with archival records of local organizations and with oral history, this paper probes the historical origins of the emotional attachment to khrushchevki in relation both to material interventions in built space and to discourses of socialist democracy, happiness and care, which mediated them when they were first built and occupied. Focusing on “care”—a richly multivalent word that encompasses material and mental work, love and maintenance, affect and action—this paper will explore the exercise of care in relation to architecture and democracy, in the sense of participation. Care for the environment of public housing, I will argue, motivated participatory urbanism, underpinning a limited exercise of democracy at the most local level and fostering a sense of community and attachment to place.

Watch the plenary session (Susan E. Reid's presenation at 36:35)

Professor Katrin Voltmer, University of Leeds

Biographical note:

Katrin Voltmer is Professor of Communication and Democracy at the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds. Her main research interests focus on the role of the media in emerging democracies. Her research has received funding by national and international research councils. Most recently, she was Principal Investigator of the international project “Media, Conflict and Democratisation” (, funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme, 2014-2017. Her book The Media in Transitional Democracies (2013, Polity Press) won the 2017 book award of the International Journal of Press/Politics. She has also widely published on the changing relationship between politics and the media in established western democracies.

Katrin Voltmer is a Global Fellow of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), member of the Editorial Committee of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Associate Editor of Communications. European Journal of Communication Research. Between 2012 and 2016 she was member of the governing body (Bureau) of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA).

Abstract of the keynote speech:

What democracy? Democratic narratives and the construction of democracy in everyday experience

Over the last quarter of a century, we have witnessed an unprecedented spread of democracy across the globe. However, the path many new democracies have been taken suggests that democracy is understood and practiced in different ways, frequently deviating markedly from what is regarded as the ‘original’ model of western liberal democracy.

To date, research in the field has mainly focused on institutional and systemic changes to analyse the diverse outcomes of democratic transformations. However, this approach often overlooks that democracy is more than a fixed set of structures and procedures: it is first and foremost what social theorists would call a ‘social construction’, brought about through a collective discursive endeavour of interpretation, re-interpretation, adaptation and transformation. As Ezrahi (2012) puts it, democracy ‘must be imagined and performed by multiple agencies in order to exist’. Thus, to better understand the different pathways emerging democracies are taking it is important to understand how people ‘imagine’ democracy: What are their hopes and objections; what are the values and norms employed to evaluate the changes; how does democratic transition affect everyday life?

I elaborate this idea by drawing on qualitative interviews with political activists and journalists in South Africa, a country that struggles to find its way between western prescriptions of democracy and the search for indigenous ways of imagining and practicing democracy. I explore how participants experience and interpret the changing relationship between citizenship and power in the context of recent conflicts over social delivery and political accountability. While these narratives revolve around a core of shared ideas that seem to be universal, they are combined with and embedded in home-grown practices and aspirations. The findings point beyond the particular case explored here. They remind us that democracy is an ‘open-ended and multi-faceted process’ (Whitehead 2002) which, to remain a viable option beyond western democracies, has to adapt to new circumstances and cultures.


Ezrahi, Y. (2012) Imagined Democracies. Necessary Political Fictions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Whitehead, L. (2002) Democratization. Theory and Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Watch the plenary session (Katrin Voltmer's presentation at 1:07)

Professor Veljko Vujačić, European University at St. Petersburg

Biographical note:

Veljko Vujačić is Professor of Sociology at both the European University at St Petersburg and at Oberlin College. Professor Vujačić obtained his BA from Brandeis University (1985) and Ph. D from UC Berkeley (1995). A specialist in the comparative-historical sociology of nationalism and Russian and East European Studies, Professor Vujačić is the author many research and review articles and two books: The Sociology of Nationalism (Beograd: JP Službeni glasnik, 2013; in Serbian), and Nationalism, Myth, and the State in Russia and Serbia: Antecedents of the Dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (Cambridge University Press, 2015). His current project deals with the relation among charisma, nationalism and tradition in five cases from late communism and post-communism.

Abstract of the keynote speech:

The Persistent Appeal of Nationalism

The current appeal of nationalist (more often called populist) parties is often explained by contextual factors (immigration, alienation from technocratic elites and policies, the effects of globalization). Without denying the importance of these factors, in this speech I look at four sources of nationalist appeal: 1) national myths, narratives, and collective memories; 2) the importance of status honor (national or ethnic honor); 3) rational economic and political interests in the context of the nation seen as a culturally homogenous moral community; 4) the power of ressentiment. Whereas some of these factors are interrelated to and can be activated to the above mentioned contextual factors, they operate on a deeper historical-sociological plane and thus deserve more consideration by scholarly and political elites.

Watch the plenary session (Veljko Vujačić's presentation at 4:52)