Tuomas Forsberg, professor of international relations, is happy to begin serving as the director of the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies at the University of Helsinki. He is returning to a familiar environment.
“The University of Helsinki is my alma mater, and in recent years, I have been in particularly lively contact with the Aleksanteri Institute. So I am already familiar with the University from within.”
However, a lot has changed during the decade that Forsberg spent working elsewhere.
“I have the same feeling as a child starting school. Lots of unfamiliar faces and new things to learn,” Forsberg laughs.
The new director has a clear notion of the role and mission of the Collegium at the University.
“This is a place where people have time to focus on research, a place that offers a multitude of international contacts and networking opportunities in the humanities and social sciences.”
Forsberg wishes to highlight the significance of the Collegium as a propagator of the joy derived from research work and a culture of success in the University community. That doesn’t originate in the place itself, but in its people and community.
One of the founding principles of the Collegium is the fact that it hosts scholars at various career stages, starting from postdoctoral researchers. According to Forsberg, this is enriching for the community.
“Even though people bring to the Collegium their individual projects, we are aiming to create a coalition of researchers that will provide new ideas and contacts through collegiality.”
Forsberg aims to keep the Collegium from turning into a clique. The Collegium is targeted primarily at researchers, and its mission is to conduct research of a high standard, but it also has a lot to give to the University and the wider society.
“High researcher turnover is of course a factor that affects operations. On the other hand, no one should begrudge other scholars their longer research periods, since people come and go all the time. What is most important is that everyone will have a certain period of time to focus on their research.”
A wealth of data on relations between Russia and the West
Forsberg himself is well known for his expertise in EU–Russia relations. What is his view on their current state?
“They are in a bad way,” says Forsberg without a second thought.
“After the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine, not much has happened in three or four years.”
How long the status quo can be preserved is another matter.
“Significant strides require changes in the domestic affairs of one or the other party. A lack of trust remains the biggest obstacle. Despite the meeting between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin and their ability to cooperate at a certain level, distrust is great on both sides,” assesses Forsberg.
He thinks Finland’s attitude towards Russia is middle-of-the-road among EU countries. Its opinions are not amongst the most anti-Russian, yet not the most accommodating either.
“In issues important to Finland, there are aspirations for cooperation. I find it rather wise that President Niinistö has tried to maintain a link of communication with the Russian leadership. This provides breathing space for our nation.”
Forsberg’s primary role in his new position is to promote research conducted by others, but he also has ideas for projects of his own.
At the moment, Forsberg is participating in a project funded by the Academy of Finland that is extensively investigating various sectors of Russian culture, as well as the construction and strengthening of its national image through, among other things, arts policy, science and sport.
Another topic of interest for this scholar of world politics is the return to the origins of Cold War’s end, clearly influenced by archives from the period finally becoming available.
“It would be fascinating to examine critical periods from that era and what kind of political decisions were made based on the information available at the time.”
Forsberg believes that a research design based on historical data could, at best, provide solutions to the causes underlying current problematic relations between Russia and the West.
“Russia’s treatment in the early 1990s surely had its effect. If we wish to improve international relations in the future, we must evaluate whether there is anything to learn from the events that followed the end of the Cold War.”
“In the history of the world, even small decisions often have great structural consequences,” says Forsberg.