Meet Leena Malkki, the Director of the Centre for European Studies

Leena Malkki has a long history of involvement with the ENS programme and is now leading the Centre for European Studies. Her own research focuses on terrorism and political violence in post-war Europe.

My research interest on terrorism and political violence goes back to the late 1990s when I was doing my master’s degree. I was pretty much the only one in Finland who was interested in doing research on terrorism back then. I was just starting my PhD studies when the 9/11 attacks happened. I thought I had picked up a really marginal research topic, but that changed almost overnight.

I have followed closely the development of radical Islamist terrorism in Europe and also led two research projects on its relation to Finland. My own research has, however, mostly focused on more historical forms of political violence in Europe. I am particularly interested in the so-called New Left wave, the previous major wave of terrorism, in Europe, that took place in the aftermath of the student and protest movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I have interviewed people who were involved in terrorist activities of that time in Europe and the United States… What happened back then was that several like-minded small far-left groups made targeted terrorist attacks against politicians, judges, companies and security agencies that they saw as capitalist and imperialist forces. If you have ever heard of the German Red Army Faction (aka Baader-Meinhof gang) or Brigate Rosse, those were some of the most important groups of this wave.

Right now, my research focuses on understanding why political violence does not happen. Research on political violence has understandably focused mostly on cases in which political violence has taken place, but studying cases in which it has not been the case, can also be productive. We tend to focus much more on dynamics that drive the escalation of political violence and much less on dynamics that may restrain and provide resilience to it. 

I am also actively engaged with more contemporary research topics and policy questions related to radicalisation and countering radicalisation. We have a team of researchers at the CES which participates in a large EU-funded project INDEED which aims at developing evidence-based evaluation of initiatives that seek to prevent and counter violent extremism or support deradicalisation. This is very much needed. During the last fifteen years, many kinds of initiatives have been introduced to counter and prevent radicalisation, but so far, we know little about what really works and under which conditions.

The Centre for European Studies is a great place for a researcher like me who is driven most of all by a curiosity about a certain topic and wishes to study it using multidisciplinary approaches. It is for this same reason that I have really enjoyed teaching in the ENS programme. The programme is very dear to me because I was the University Lecturer responsible for its first nine years of existence. Some of the former students of the programme are now my PhD students. I still teach in the programme, and I am available for supervising master’s theses on my research topics.