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The report on Jo Cox and Brexit is from the beginning of the show. I’m interviewed from 5:30 to 10:00. The video of the show is available here:
IMG_9740The following is a rough outline of what I said (it doesn’t correspond exactly to the words used but is close and gets the meaning across) – for those who can’t pick up the English over the Czech interpreter. The questions from the interviewer are followed by my answers

The death of Labour MP Jo Cox – the motive is yet unclear – but there are speculations that it could be political, even connected with #Brexit. If that were true – does it show, how divided and emotional the country is before this crucial decision?

  • Let me first say that my sympathies – as I am sure all of our sympathies tonight – are with Jo Cox’s family and friends. This is a truly awful event and unprecedented in recent British political history.
  • It’s not clear yet what the motive behind the attack was, but what is clear is that an increasingly hostile and tense atmosphere that have been propagated by anti-migrant and anti-Europe politicians from both the far right and the far left in the run-up to this referendum.
  • That’s not to blame or to smear the leave campaign that would be a disrespect to Jo Cox who said in her first speech to parliament “our communities have been enhanced by immigration … we have far more in common than that which divides us”. That can be understood in terms of the referendum debate as well.
  • Rather, it is a warning to those politicians, in this country, around Europe and around the world – who use the politics of hatred – when you use the politics of hatred you are playing with fire and when you play with fire there is no telling who will get burned.

According to what will Brits decide? Are the newspapers, celebrities, a bigger influence than the actual topics, like the economics?

  • Well, it’s interesting, there is the form and the substance. In terms of the form, indeed certain newspapers, such as those controlled by oligarchs like Rupert Murdoch the media have had a huge influence in spreading the lies, falsehoods and other scandalous statements primarily from the leave campaign.
  • Despite the fact that the remain campaign clearly has the better arguments and more evidence and so on, it doesn’t seem to be having quite the impact that we might expect. So people are perhaps engaging more emotionally
  • But on the substance, if there is one issue more than anything else, then it is migration.
  • Now, many people fear for their jobs, their security their families, friends and so on. That’s perfectly legitimate and it doesn’t make them racist in any way. However, to link those fears, without any grounds to migration or indeed to the European Union is wrong and it is those lies and that hatred that has been spread by the Murdoch media.
  • However it falls on fertile ground in the UK. There is poor education about the EU, the political class have failed to make the case for the EU, no one has made the big, positive case for it.
  • Britons experience Europe in a different way than continental Europeans do. Partly its geography – being an island – but mainly its mentality – being an island nation and having an oppositional relation to Europe. This makes the way that people deal with all these issues more about emotion than about analysis

Both camps – leave and remain – suspended campaigning today. But the polls are tight, and what’s more – they can all get it wrong. Still – is the remain camp of the pm Cameron getting nervous?

  • Definitely, but its not just David Cameron, we have to remember that the Remain campaign spreads across the political parties, across the political spectrum of Centre-Right and Centre-Left.
  • I think that anyone who, like myself, supports Britain remaining in the European Union is definitely getting nervous.
  • However I think that David Cameron is probably more nervous than most because his job is certainly on the line whatever the result of the referendum.

Did David Cameron make a big mistake in calling for referendum?

  • No, because it is important that people have a say on what is a very important and relevant issue for the UK, but it does raise questions about why, having called the referendum he has run such a dismal campaign. Cameron has failed to make any kind of good campaign whatsoever, or to make the big positive case for Europe – none of the politicians have – which again reflects the difficulties that Britain has in understanding the EU in its complexities but also in the big ideas
  • Mostly this referendum campaign has been a quarrel inside the Tory party, a squabble between cynical populists like Nigel Farage and self-promoters like Boris Johnson. It has showcased the worst rather than the best of British democracy.
  • This is not a proud chapter in the history of British politics, nor of our nation and it does raise questions about how referendums are managed.

Obviously 5 minutes is nowhere near enough time to say all that could be said on these issues but in the context of contemporary news media I’m grateful to Horizont for giving me that much time – and asking great questions!

It may seem odd that many British people want leave the EU, but to a Brit living in the Czech Republic it comes as no surprise. The low quality of the Brexit debate shows that for too many Brits, Europe is still a strange and distant place.


The outcome of the British EU membership referendum is likely to come down to a few key factors: the weather (which affects voter turnout), the registration of young voters (who are less likely to vote but more likely to vote to remain), whether Boris Johnson can reign in his ego (and stop comparing the EU to Hitler’s project to “unite Europe”), and which way the country’s corrupt media Barons tell their newspapers to lean.

To steal a phrase from Neville Chamberlain, “how horrible, how fantastic, incredible” it is that such an important issue, which could see one of the most populous and potentially powerful European countries leave the world’s most exclusive and desirable political club, should be at the mercy of such superficial and arbitrary considerations.

For any Czechs and others still in thrall to the UK as the cradle of modern democracy or as an example of an independent voice to look up to in Europe, this state of affairs may come as a something of a shock. For me, however, having grown up in the UK but spent most of my adult life on the continent and most of my career working in the study or practice of politics and government, including for the EU, it comes as no surprise.
You can read the full article in English at the Reporter website  

This article was originally published in Czech in the June edition of Reporter Magazine 
and in Czech and English on their website.

By Benjamin Tallis

As the situation in Ukraine swung from hopeful to horrific and then from tentative victory for people power in Kyiv to Russian power play in Crimea, it has been difficult to keep pace with events. Excellent reportage from brave journalists has, as usual, come side by side with witless simplification and reprehensible cynicism. However, with the media understandably chasing the storm, it is too easy to get caught in the whirlwind where ‘high’ politics and low morals blur some of the most important factors that led Ukraine into this situation, as well as obscuring potential ways out. As well as offering my own analysis, I provide links to insightful or informative commentaries on recent events and try to draw out the wider or deeper points they raise.  Based on my long-standing interest in and experience of Ukraine, as well as on academic and journalistic writing and research, the following issues stand out amidst the maelstrom of information and ideology circulating in both traditional and social media.

These four, linked yet distinct, pieces address different aspects of the crisis that has arisen in Ukraine.

  • The first looks at the achievements and significance of  EuroMaidan and how they have been traduced by prejudiced or ideologically blinkered commentators. I argue that  we must reject these analyses and nurture the new post-Maidan Ukraine that is emerging.
  • The second piece challenges the fixation with Ukraine’s ‘territorial integrity’ arguing that it ignores issues of legitimacy and obscures the symbiotic relationship between borders, identities and orders. It asks whether Ukraine’s long-term interests would be best served by being more flexible about its borders.
  • The third piece examines the ignorance that has characterized much of the commentary and reportage on Ukraine and arguing that this has been politically exploited by the Putin regime.
  • Finally, the fourth piece looks at the role of the EU in the crisis, arguing that while it could and should have done more, it should not change its overall approach, but rather should re-affirm its belief in its own values and methods and its commitment to Ukraine as a European country.

In each piece, embedded links connect to freely accessible articles that are mentioned in the piece or which provide interesting substantiation, elaboration or contextualization of the themes discussed.

1. EuroMaidan is a triumph for the power of the ‘powerless’ & must be supported not smeared

In the face of a brutal crackdown by a repressive government, propped up by an even more brutal Russian regime, the protestors of the Maidan made a mockery of the asymmetry of the means at their disposal. By staying true to the principles that sustained their protest through the freezing nights and fiery days since November and by refusing to be intimidated they have shown the cracks in the façade of Putinism. As Vaclav Havel argued in ‘The Power of the Powerless’ authoritarian regimes depend both on the illusion of their own invincibility, which makes resistance seem futile, and on the de facto complicity of large numbers of the population, to sustain their power through conformity and the small, everyday actions that performatively re-affirm the regime’s grip.

Ukrainians have refused to be governed like that, believing that another way is possible, expressing themselves peacefully but defiantly and ultimately demonstrating their willingness to die for this cause. The crucial defections of police and military forces to the side of the protestors were triggered by the steadfastness of Maidan’s belief, the attraction of its hope and the practical example it set. In a country where for far too long too many have lived without hope, the fact that the protests could topple the government is a highly significant and welcome development. It is no wonder that Andrew Wilson described a new Ukraine built on these foundations as “Putin’s worst nightmare.” If Ukrainians can do it, Russians can too. It is no wonder therefore that Putin’s response has been to significantly up the ante, in his latest attempt to disguise weakness as strength.

Predictably however, not everyone has recognised or celebrated the success of the EuroMaidan for what it is. This failure stems from two main sources: anti-Eastern European prejudice and ideological blinkering. Chrystia Freeland exhorts us to treat this as 1989 all over again and make sure we are on the “right side of history” but, as Andrew Wilson points out, narrow-minded scepticism surrounding intra-EU migration and further EU enlargement means that it might be like 1989, but with an overwhelming response of cynicism rather than hope, as if it was Nigel Farage rather than Vaclav Havel setting the agenda.

The archipelago of prejudice against Central and East Europeans extends from the distorted debates about mobility in the EU as well as the Union’s hesitancy over confirming that Ukraine would, as any European country, have the potential to join the EU in the long run. The liberal broadsheets are not immune to this prejudice; Boyd Tonkin patronizingly dismisses the history of Ukrainian independence as “a primitive peasant throwback” and one wonders if he would be comfortable describing Irish or Scots nationalism as “backwoods chauvinism.” This prejudice has also made fertile ground for the slurs thrown at the EuroMaidan, primarily in relation to the supposed dominance of far-right groups.

Highly selective and sensationalized reporting has bought into Putinist propaganda and grossly exaggerated the role and prevalence of right wing groups in the protests. That nationalist parties with some extremely distasteful views are present is undeniable, as is the use by some extremists of Nazi or fascist insignia. However, Timothy Snyder and Anne Applebaum, both scholars of the holocaust and the latter with Jewish roots, have strongly criticized the disproportionate reporting of these elements. BBC Newsnight seemed to make special efforts to seek out teenagers espousing views that would not sound out of place in the fringes of ‘eurosceptic’ parties in the UK. Moreover, it says much about the Maidan that its broad church has remained just that, with only those who support the Yanukovych and Putin regimes excluded. The vast majority of the millions involved in EuroMaidan are not right-wing and certainly not extremists. It is a disgrace that their courage and dignity has been dragged through the mud by others who are prejudiced or, at best, gullible.

Aside from the contemptible ranting of the Putin-regime and its media puppets, further criticisms of EuroMaidan have come from the left. One form of this is a critique of the goal of closer integration with the EU, which is interpreted as merely a neoliberal stitch-up. There is serious merit to the critique of unfettered neoliberalism – the economic crisis of the last 6 years should have convinced anyone who previously held any doubts about that – but the EU is about much more than neoliberalism; it certainly is to the majority of Ukrainians who support integration, even if it needs to do a better job of showing this. Even the avowedly left-wing activists that I interviewed, while highly critical of the neoliberal aspects of the EU still saw integration as the best option for Ukraine and highly valued its guarantees of rule of law and freedom of movement.

Apparently the left critics of Maidan either don’t care about the views of the majority of Ukrainians who support integration with the EU, or they patronizingly see them as dupes of false consciousness, one of the great dead-ends of left-leaning analysis. Another is dogma, which, to paraphrase the geographer Derek Gregory, too often serves to do the victims of injustice the indignity of making them the objects of theory. Sadly this is not confined to the fringes, with journalists like Seumas Milne and academics such as Immanuel Wallerstein reducing Ukrainians to mere pawns in their ludicrous interpretation of the greater games they see being played. Dr. Lee Jones, pronounced on twitter that “both sides [Euromaidan and the Putin regime] are equally ugly” and called for a “plague on both their houses”. This inability to distinguish between people coming together to overcome a repressive regime in order to seek a better future and the murderous, repressive kleptocracy of Vladimir Putin is shocking but not surprising. Dr Jones cites as backup for his claims, particularly an article branding EuroMaidan as a “right-wing, reactionary” movement and thus “unsupportable from a radical, libertarian communist point of view.

This speaks volumes for the confusion that occurs when dogma replaces reflexive thought as it has also done in claims that the changes brought by Maidan are merely the switching of one oligarch guard for another. It is simply too early to tell if this is the case and it will remain so until after elections have been held. Ukrainians are not blind to this danger. They saw a stolen election followed by a stolen revolution ten years ago. Nonetheless, the way that that the temporary, transitional government has gone about its business, the distinctly frosty reception given to Yulia Tymoshenko’s release from prison and the presence of many left leaning and highly critical groups in the Maidan gives cause for optimism in this regard. However, optimism is one thing that the cynical contemporary Western left seems to struggle with; it will be an all too predictable shame if it continues to provide useful idiots for Putinism.

At the time of writing, as we wait anxiously to see what follows the illegitimate invasion of Crimea, it is too early to tell what the final outcome of the revolution born at EuroMaidan will be. It will be easier to tell after the elections in May, if they go ahead. However, what is certain is that what has been achieved should be celebrated as a triumph in the face of adversity. The victory of the EuroMaidan should be cherished and nurtured and has come as a timely reminder to the EU of what it stands for. In order to deliver on its promising start and ensure it does not succumb to the fate that has befallen previous attempts at progressive change in Ukraine, we must stand with Ukrainians and their Maidan.

2. Self-determination & legitimacy, not ‘territorial integrity’ are key to Ukraine’s future

As any scholar of Ukraine knows, the name of the country means ‘Borderland’. Orest Subtelny begins his majestic history with this and Anna Reid used it as the title for her journey through Ukrainian history, to give just two examples. Ukraine’s borders are again the subject of much interest, but one possibility hasn’t been seriously considered – that for Ukraine to have a sustainable future as more than a borderland, it may need to change its borders.

Much of the opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has come on the basis of respecting guarantees about Ukraine’s territorial integrity. This territorial integrity is based on borders that, like those of other countries, are not natural, but rather are distinctly political constructs. This does not mean they are not ‘real’ or important, but it does mean that they are neither permanent nor sacrosanct. Borders are intimately related to Identities and Orders; reflecting and reinforcing who the people within them are and how they live with each other. US ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock is only the latest  – although surprising – addition to the long list of those to point out that US and EU respect for the principle of territorial integrity  – and national sovereignty – has been distinctly flexible in the past. Border change should not be ruled out in this case, but only if it reflects the democratically expressed wishes of Ukrainians.

Crucially, much of the legitimacy of the Maidan protests has been based on the desire to live differently. The protests were sparked by the desire of many Ukrainians to intensify integration with the European Union, which Yanukovych (backed by Putin) so callously disregarded. However, as Timothy Snyder has compellingly argued, they developed into a more general protest against a corrupt and violent governing elite and in favour of democracy, the rule of law and accountable government acting for the population rather than for itself. That these are values generally embodied by the EU, for all its faults, is no coincidence. Many of the Ukrainians who disagree with this approach and have stated that they don’t want these things have identified with Russia and some have openly called for Russian intervention to ‘save’ them from the new regime growing out of the Maidan. These people have the same right to self-determination as the people of the Maidan and should also be able to choose how they want to live.

Calls for a referendum on the status of Crimea have been widely denounced, with one comment on facebook comparing it to being asked to vote with a gun to your head. However, it could instead be used as a way to help find a long-term solution to some of the problems Ukraine currently faces. A referendum could be held in each region of Ukraine posing a simple question asking whether the people want their region to be part of the state of Ukraine. It is possible that this would mean that several regions – probably in the South and East – would choose not to be part of Ukraine. They would then be free to choose their own future, potentially allowing them to seek integration with Russia. This would indeed challenge the integrity of Ukraine’s territorial borders in their current form, but more importantly it would massively boost the viability and legitimacy of the newly bordered state and give a clear mandate to a post-election administration in Kyiv to govern for the people who chose to be live on its territory. It would also let people who – rightly or wrongly – feel threatened in post-Maidan Ukraine to leave and put the lie to claims that they are being kept in the state against their will.

The various grievances voiced by different groups, often in different parts of the country reflect to some extent the shifting borders that characterized Ukraine’s pre-independence history. Even though divisions in Ukraine are often exaggerated or wrongly identified (see 3), speculation about them has been a significant source of instability, which has been ruthlessly exploited by the Putin regime. Giving Ukrainians the chance to choose would remove this possibility either by confirming that they don’t exist or, if they do prove insurmountable, by giving them legitimate political expression. Ukrainians across the country voted for independence in 1991 and now it’s time to check again. If post-Maidan Ukraine is to stand a chance, it needs a solid foundation based on not internal mistrust and division and destabilization from outside.

Clearly these plebiscites would raise many practical issues, but none that are unfamiliar or irresolvable in a democratic context. They would in fact give Ukraine the chance to prove that it can deal with difference by p the rights of Russian speakers who want to remain part of Ukraine. Such a vote would also provide the platform for real public debate, a comparison of the options on the table, and as such would give Ukrainians a very good reason to cut through what Snyder calls the ‘haze of propaganda’ that has distorted the debate. If having done so, some people still prefer Putin’s tender mercies to life in the new Ukraine, then good luck to them. They will need it.

3. Useful Idiocy: Western Ignorance is a significant obstacle to a new Ukraine

The sheer level of ignorance about Ukraine in the West has been one of the most striking features of the media coverage of events in Ukraine since November. From Evan Davis’ astonishment at the size of Ukraine’s population, to the repeated confusion of Yanukovych and Yushchenko and Germaine Greer’s identification of Ukraine as a Northern, Baltic country, basic, yet indicative ignorance abounds.

There are other levels of ignorance that are equally damaging, such as the uninformed prejudice and general stereotyping as well as the willfully ignorant and innumerate smearing of the Maidan (See 1). However, it is also ignorance that fuels the claims about linguistic and ethnic division repeated ad nauseum across so much of the mainstream western media and in supposedly critical commentaries such as those of Immanuel Wallerstein. This supposed schism might fit nicely with the new-cold-war and Russia vs. the West narratives that infuse much of the reporting on the issue but do little justice to the complexity of the lives lived by most Ukrainians, ignoring them in favour of the seductions of ‘the great game’. The eagerness to switch the discussion to the geo-strategic level and to focus on the role of Russia is perhaps another symptom of ignorance born of the (relatively) greater familiarity with Russia, and of a press-corps based in Moscow rather than Kyiv who feed information to their often simplifying and sensationalist Western hubs.

As discussed in point 2, this is not to say that there are not divisions, but that they are not necessarily and certainly not exclusively along the ethno-linguistic lines that are normally given. Thankfully, more nuanced analyses are available. Peter Pomarantsev’s explanation of Ukrainian linguistic complexity gives substance to claims such as those made by the eloquent Ukrainian translator who explained to her hosts on the BBC’s Weekend Live that growing up, her family had spoken Ukrainian at home but that she had gone to a Russian speaking school and was comfortable with and happy in both languages. Ellie Knott’s research in Crimea also complicates the clear narratives coming out of the propaganda machines and questioning the simplistic analyses offered up by much of the media. Age, relation to current and previous regimes, material and financial benefits and possibilities, desire for certain types of lifestyle or other forms of preference and prejudice play significant roles in producing a political spectrum that straddles ethno-linguistic divides.

As Mary Dejevsky points out, it also underplays the ties that unite Ukrainians across  ethnic or linguistic lines. This rings true from my own experience in Ukraine when, in the course of living, working and subsequently researching I found significant commonality between the young people I met, regardless of whether they spoke Ukrainian or Russian as their first language. I also found significant difference between them, but this was the kind of difference that one could find between people in any country, a sign of healthy plurality of opinion and not determined by ethnicity or language. As Anne Applebaum has pointed out, Ukraine’s differences – like those of countries elsewhere – are primarily political and Pomerantsev is right when he says

“The big winner from the conceptual division of Ukraine into ‘Russian’ and ‘Ukrainian’ spheres may well be the Kremlin. The idea that Russia is a separate political and spiritual civilisation, one which is a priori undemocratic, suits the Kremlin as it looks to cut and paste together an excuse to validate its growing authoritarianism. So every time a commentator defines the battle in Kiev as Russian language v. Ukrainian, a Kremlin spin doctor gets in another round of drinks.”

4. The EU should stick to its (lack of) guns

For many people, the development of what is now a crisis in Ukraine has been an indictment of the EU as a failed foreign policy actor and a sad confirmation that old fashioned power politics will inevitably trump the values, laws and standards that lie at the heart of the most successful peace and prosperity project in European history. Andrew Wilson, author of many of the best-informed and insightful commentaries on Ukraine, coined a catchy phrase in this regard when claiming that the EU had ‘brought a baguette to a knife fight’. Indeed, for anyone who believes in the potential of the EU to be a force for good in Europe – within and beyond the Union’s current borders – closely watching the unfolding of events since November has been a deeply painful process. The guarded, hesitant support; the words rather than actions; the missed opportunities and slow response times highlight significant problems in the way that the EU has conducted itself as well as about its attitude to Ukraine and Ukrainians.

However, properly analyzing and identifying these shortcomings is essential if EU Foreign Policy action is to be improved – both generally and specifically to offer real and effective support the emergent post-Maidan Ukraine. Rather than being a problem of strategy or tactics, the main problems relate to belief and commitment: EU belief in its own ability to act effectively and a commitment both to its own values and to recognising Ukrainians as Europeans.

The Eastern Partnership, launched after the Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008 sought ostensibly to deepen integration between the EU and its Eastern neighbours, including Ukraine. However, despite the negotiation of the association agreement  – rejected by Yanukovych, prompting the EuroMaidan revolution – progress on opening up the benefits of the EU to Ukrainians was too slow. A ‘Deep & Comprehensive Free Trade Area’ had been negotiated but not enough progress had been made on visa liberalization or on other measures that matter directly and deeply to Ukrainians. Dubious security concerns had come to dominate the mobility agenda and a general climate of populist hostility to Central and East Europeans in the gutter press was reflected in the lack of official EU recognition of a membership perspective for Ukraine in the long term. This is something that I have written on before, and which is a central concern of my research. Tim Judah also examines this and one of his interviewees, Hanna Shelest, a researcher at the Ukrainian National Institute for Strategic Studies put it succinctly when explaining her reasons for supporting the association agreement “it is a question of self-identification. Sometimes we don’t feel ourselves European but what is worse is when Europeans don’t see us as European.”

The key to effective EU policy in Ukraine is confidence in its own attractiveness that would allow for a combination of commitment to its own standards with the principled openness that allow these to be shared with other Europeans. This is not asking for a lowering of standards to fast-track Ukrainian membership – it is precisely these standards that make the EU so appealing to Ukrainians – but rather for a clear demonstration that Ukrainians belong in Europe. A good way to show this in the short term would be to offer visa-free travel and in the long term to make clear that Ukraine does have a chance to join, but only if it reaches the necessary standards. The former will also help in achieving the latter.

However, the EU can  – and belatedly has – taken other actions in regard to Ukraine, but again it could go further and could have acted sooner. Travel bans, sanctions and asset freezes are crucial sticks to add to the carrots mentioned above. Canadian MP Chrystia Freeland, quotes a Russian joke about Putin seeming to want to rule like Stalin and live like Abramovich and that this is facilitated partly by allowing others (like Abramovich), to live like Abramovich. As Freeland notes, the EU and its member states, particularly the UK, are complicit in this and could take action to limit the activities of Russia’s super rich, which would lessen the appeal of their tacit support for Stalin-like rule.

Banning autocrats and their oligarchs from travelling, studying, banking and partying in the west poses no such dilemma. We don’t need to allow autocrats to outsource the domestic demand, and their own desire, for the perks of democratic capitalism. Without them, they may find that ruling like Stalin loses some of its allure.

Timothy Snyder goes further,

“Soft power can hurt. General restrictions on tourist visas, a few thousand travel bans, and a few dozen frozen accounts might make a real difference. If millions of urban Russians understood that invading Ukraine meant no summer vacation, they might have second thoughts.

However, while this may be effective, the ethics of punishing people for the actions of a regime they may not support need to be seriously considered here. Targeted focus on the elite would seem a fairer way to proceed. By contrast, the oligarchs and their entourages, who maintain the Putin regime and conspicuously enjoy its trappings, at the expense of others, must however bear their share of responsibility for the crisis that is unfolding. As Ben Judah compellingly argues, the EU and its member states need to their game in enforcing their own laws and upholding their own standards rather than kowtowing to the obnoxious wealth of this toxic plutocracy. UK politicians (and population) might wish to consider the nature of the real migration problem from Eastern Europe – the

Both the EU and Ukraine must be careful not to slide into anti-Russian rather than anti-Putin stances. Doing so would only be grist to Putin’s mill and would alienate ordinary Russians, many of whom also suffer under the current government. Given the views of Navalny, et al on Ukraine, it is not surprising that the Russian opposition has not made more of the current crisis. It is perhaps, slightly wishful thinking, but it would certainly be refreshing to see a broader based opposition movement emerge in Russia, as the practical contrast between authoritarian nationalism and the way chosen by Ukrainians becomes clearer. As in Ukraine, punishing ordinary people for the sins of a regime they have little connection to is not only unjust, but also ineffective in securing support for change.

Notwithstanding the slings and arrows of the twittersphere, arguing for EU engagement to support the goals that it purports to share with the EuroMaidan is not the same as war-mongering. As Andrew Wilson observes, the EU does not do geopolitics in the classic sense, and nor should it. Some, like Robert Cooper, have suggested previously that it should, patronisingly stating that “Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle” while advocating the creation of a ‘post-modern imperium’.

Such an approach would if course undermine the EU’s own values and thus its legitimacy, but we should also ask if there would have actually been a better outcome if the EU had brought a knife or a gun to the fight, or had thought of the issue as a fight in the first place? The EU’s very credibility (and indeed its success) rests on eschewing those tactics and the perspectives that underpin them. The Union has the whip hand in soft power in the region, something that Putin also knows – otherwise he would not have resorted in desperation to hard power. If only the EU were as confident in itself and as willing to live up to its principles and goals in order to do well by doing good in Ukraine.

Review by Benjamin Tallis


Jessica Serran’s conversations with Czechs about their identity tell us much about their individual interests and concerns, about where they come from and are perhaps going to, but also point to ways of exploring wider notions of both ‘Czechness’ and identity itself. The sensitively pitched inquiries that Serran makes to her (generally) sympathetic subjects and their responses to these promptings provide both the raw material for the work and the mainstay of its documentation. However, this documentary material, as well as the paintings that interpret it and the other images that punctuate it, draws attention to its porous, yet still constitutive borders, reflecting in its form the theme and stake of its inquiry. Clearly comfortable in her company, many of the interviewees reveal insecurities alongside fond memories, as well as hopes for and frustrations with others with whom they are grouped by nationality. From recollections of a Teplice childhood and the fulfillment of a happy home life to post-89 gender trouble and the ambiguous possibilities of travel.

The Field Guide captivates as it illuminates.


Although she explicitly rejects the mantle of the sociologist, Serran has created something akin to a cleverly-bounded, yet open-ended aesthetic anthropology. The artist makes no claim that her ‘Field Guide to the Czech Psyche’ is representative, but far from robbing the project of socio-anthropological purchase, this reflexivity actually enhances it. Serran spoke at length to Czechs of different ages, in small Bohemian towns as well as in Prague. As she sought these peoples’ reflections upon themselves, she was introduced to friends and family and allowed access to minor mnemonic treasure troves; to personal archives of pictures, letters and stories. This process opened up a rich seam of experience and expectation particularly at intersections between the particular and the common.


Edited versions of the conversations are buffered by photographs of both the artist and the participant – separately – considering the painting that ensued from their discussion. This formal device both highlights Serran’s presence in the work and makes a more general point about the inter-subjective construction of identity – we don’t do identity on our own, we do it in relation to others, rendering it dynamic and fluid, yet still authentic over time. The conversations repeatedly touch on different facets of this inter-relationality: of the participant and their family; across frontiers and between different nations; between Czech generations and across different societal groups; between ideas of ‘I’ and its various communities imagined or otherwise – shifting constellations of us and them.

Serran often guides the conversations to her interests, noting how long before or after the velvet revolution each participant was born and asking many of them specifically about the experience or impression of communism and its legacy, as well as inquiring about their relation to feminism. However, the conversations also escape these frameworks, allowing deeper and wider insight into the lives and concerns of the people involved. This is typical of the work as a whole, which recognizes both the utility and futility of categorization and generalization. At the thankful expense of a clear, unifying narrative, Serran’s work rejects simplification in favour of nuance and complexity. Her participants get to tell their own stories in their diversity as well as similarity, from which emerge the narratives they each rely on, as we all do, in making sense of and giving meaning to our lives and the ways this is made and given to us by others. Serran too, locates her work in an overlapping, uneasy relation with a personal myth of return to lost heimat, part of her family having left the Slovak countryside for Canada two generations previously.


The pleasingly solid book, which documents the project, contrasts with the ethereal paintings, the swirls of rich yet muted colours, revenant images and deceptively simple words, that form Serran’s visual ‘translation’ of each conversation. The book includes images provided or suggested by the participants, ranging from family photos to the logos of state-owned enterprises from the communist period. These personal snapshots are like pearls on the string of the narratives woven through the conversations. Snatched glimpses exceed their framing like Tarkovskian polaroids, drawing us in, inviting to look deeper; to come closer. Other photographs, of landscapes, historical objects and events, ground the work, giving it the particular sense of place that allows Serran to reject a unifying notion of Czechness, while justifying the specificity of the Field Guide. 

Serran’s translations are painted mediations and connectors, which, like their subject matter, confound facile categorizations, rendering highly particular combinations and permutations of traits and fates recognisable yet mysterious and open-ended, redolent with possibility. Seemingly blank space is as important as figure and abstraction; elsewhere and elsewhen haunt the here and now. The participants’ questioning of supposed moral and historical certainties, their steadfastness and hesitance, passion and fragility provide a resolutely human counterpoint to many of the received wisdoms of the post-communist period and its dominant politics of memory. Real, lived experiences of Czech society both before and after the velvet revolution tell us something about the high-politics of transition, but more about the politics of the everyday and how people relate to it, to each other and to themselves. Serran’s work is a valuable – and beautiful – contribution to a burgeoning field of inquiry in post-communisms.


Too often, supposed political or social engagement provides a superficial crutch for poor art, but Serran deftly and potently combines responsible social inquiry with arresting aesthetic expression and exploration. The combination of words and images, pre-existing pictures and newly created paintings emphasizes the dynamism and diversity of this work, which manages to be sympathetic and comforting as it destabilizes and disturbs preconception and prejudice. Serran’s ‘Field Guide’ pushes boundaries yet still gives borders – of self as much as state – the respect they deserve. She has, to paraphrase one of her participants, struck upon a compelling combination of logic and magic.


by Benjamin Tallis


A tourist strolling down the right bank of the Vltava, contentedly absorbing the gothic and baroque splendour of Malá Strana and the Hradčany, might, a little further down the river, be forgiven for thinking ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ Downstream of the decorative Hanavský Pavilon, something that looks like it could be a modernist hermitage nestles in the trees at the Northern end of the Letna park, its minimal chic obtrusive among the expressive edifices of downtown Prague.


The arcing glass and shining steel of the kidney-shaped, elevated gallery grab the viewer’s attention from the riverside, with the subtle grace of the glazed pedestal only becoming apparent upon closer inspection. In answer to the tourist’s question, this light triumph came from Brussels, although, despite the flags fluttering in front of it, this building has nothing to do with the EU. It dates from a time before the Belgian capital became synonymous with the administrative HQ of the European political project, when Brussels hosted the World’s Fair: Expo ’58.

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This cold-war Expo was a highly politically charged event, a symbolic showcase for the superpowers, keen to trumpet their technical prowess and trump the progress of those on the ‘other side’ of what had yet to become a wall. The ’58 Expo was also the first major international exhibition to be held since the end of World War 2 and, despite being planned in the dark days of the 1950s, it was a modernist materialisation of hope, giving snatched glimpses of better futures.


Although held less than two years after the both the Suez crisis and the crushing of the Budapest uprising, the World’s Fair came in during a brief thaw in open hostilities, the lull before the storm of the proxy war in Congo and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Briefly it seemed that the cold war could be won by science and culture, by those who could not only divide heaven, but who could also harness technological progress to deliver better living.

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This was the time of both Sputnik and Saarinen, of Laika and the Lever Building; a time when Mad Men set about bringing the gains of Mutually Assured Destruction and the space race into mid-century living rooms. In the soviet bloc, Khrushchev’s 20th Congress denunciation had opened a narrow window of opportunity for architects and designers, as they were called upon to provide visual and material distance from the stodgy confections with which Boris Iofan and others had tried to sugar-coat tyranny.


In Czechoslovakia, many of the golden generation of interwar architecture found under the new regime that they flew too close to the sun and so this rare possibility to reconnect to the international style was an alluring one. With the accent firmly on the modern, visitors to the Expo were invited to spend ‘One Day in Czechoslovakia,’ in an exposition that cracked the western-manufactured façade of communist-era culture being uniformly dull and grey.


The light and voluminous spaces of František Cubr, Josef Hrubý and Zdeněk Pokorný’s pavilion set the scene for the most striking avant-garde theatre of the Expo. Josef Svoboda’s Polyekran (multiscreen) and Laterna Magika (magic lantern) combined projection and performance to stunning effect and stood proudly alongside the Corbusier –inspired Poeme Electronique as highlights of the festival. Function was not forgotten amidst these effervescent forms, with the pavilion’s elegant lines providing the backdrop to the best of contemporary Czechoslovak public and interior design, such as the classic T3 tram seat (heater included for those cold Prague winters) and the Hedgehog tea set.

While the political focus was on the potential standoff between the neighbouring American and Soviet showgrounds, it was the Czechs and Slovaks who took home the prize for the best pavilion. But that wasn’t all they took home, as the beautiful, curving structure that now sits in the Letna orchards, was the pavilion restaurant, where millions of visitors made sure that their one day in Czechoslovakia included a pint of the original and best Pilsner.


The Saaz-laden suds of Bohemia’s best-known export undoubtedly helped things go with a swing, but it was in successfully marrying such traditional craft with cutting edge technological achitecture, that the comfort with which interwar Czechoslovakia had ascended to the world’s cultural top-table.

Unlike the American pavilion which rejected the “anonymity, uniformity and all the things that go to make up modernism[1]” or the confused Soviet pavilion which encased a thoroughly retrograde exhibition in a steel and glass shell, Czechoslovakia showed how modern architecture could both spur new socio-cultural possibilities and accommodate more traditional pursuits.


At the end of the Expo, the restaurant was transported back to Prague and fulfilled this function throughout the communist era, including the repressive period of normalisation, where it must have been a mirage-like reminder, a sleek, shimmering and somewhat unreal reminder of what Czechs came to know as the Bruselský Sen (Brussels dream). In 1991 a fire destroyed the interior and like so many buildings realised under the socialist regime, it was not properly valued in the heady tumult of what followed.


Today, although it is well signposted in the park, visitors cannot enter the restaurant building, as it is now the offices of an advertising company. The company found itself embroiled in controversy in 2008 when it ran the Prague Mayor’s unrealistic vanity campaign to bring the Olympics to Prague under the slogan ‘We are all on the National Team.’ This was parodied on the ‘Art Wall’ under the Expo restaurant by artivists Guma Guar who used the same artwork and slogan, but instead of lauding faux-noble equestrians perched ludicrously atop mountains, they applied it to well known Czech criminals.


Is it too much to hope that the advertising agency would seek to show that they too are part of the national team and return this beautiful building to public use? In doing so, they would gain their greatest PR success and provide a welcome reminder of a time where modernist substance triumphed over superpower spin.

The text for this piece originally appeared in The Modernist – Issue 6: ‘Cuppa’ in December 2012

[1] ‘Citizens and Architects’, Architectural Forum, 110: January 1959


by Benjamin Tallis

Appropriately sited on the corner of Aleja Jerozolimskie (Jerusalem Avenue) and Nowy Swiat (New World St), a red-hued mosaic celebrates the heroic resistance of the doomed 1944 Warsaw Rising, while its accompanying inscription offers a post-war rallying cry of unity “Caly Narod Buduje Swoja Stolica” (The Whole Nation Builds Our Capital). The familiar narrative of a shattered nation pulling together to rebuild in the aftermath of Second World War destruction is particularly poignant in Poland, where one in five people were killed, and especially visible in Warsaw, where nearly ninety percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed.

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However, although the capital did rise, phoenix-like, from the rubble in the spirit of the inscription, this is a deceptively simple cipher through which to read Warsaw’s urban form. The mosaic betrays the fault-lines which underlie the ‘miracle on the Vistula’ and which continue to cleave its urban canvas.

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It is too often imagined that communist-era urbanism must equate to grey uniformity, but anyone expecting Warszawa to offer monochrome monotony will be disappointed: this has always been a more diverse and upbeat place than Bowie’s Low lament might suggest. The particularity of Poland’s war experience and its aftermath, the periodic expansion and contraction of the meshes of communist power, internecine arguments over the past and the future and relations with the outside have all left their mark on Warsaw’s cityscape.

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Resentment towards the Red Army, which watched from across the Vistula as Warsaw was ripped apart, gave the post-‘Liberation’ communist regime a precarious hold on public affections. Rapid rebuilding was one way to cement the Party’s grip on power, inspiring Stakhanovite efforts from workers dreaming of providing “a home for everyone in Poland,” as Mateusz Birkut, the still-naïve hero of Andrzej Wajda’s film Man of Marble movingly relays. The whole nation also (re)built the capital in another way – bricks salvaged from the rubble of other Polish cities were sent to warsaw in order to accelerate the reconstruction of the ‘old’ town.[1]



Histories of wounded pride and the prominent position of the Catholic church ensured that Warsaw’s old town rose from the ruins in record time. Even today however, the old-town churches don’t quite smell old enough. Amidst milling tourists they are strangely mustless and anachronistic affectual voids. The rebuilt ‘old’ reveals little about competing postwar visions of the ‘new’ apparent elsewhere in the city. As Architectural Historian Iwona Kurz notes, this was explicitly recognised at the time ” In the good, old film Adventure at Mariensztat, (directed by Leonard Buczkowski, 1954)  a leading female character dressed up in a folk costume, who has freshly arrived from a small village is sightseeing in Warsaw and she is bored to death with the sight of the reconstructed old town and Krakowskie Przemiesce. She prefers to go to a construction site which is bustling with activity.”[2]

The concurrent construction of the ‘Smyk’ department store and the Marszalkowska residential district showcased the competition between Modernist and Socialist-Realist styles that betrayed wider struggles. Smyk’s six elegantly glazed floors, with beveled, floating corners were unlike anything that had been built in Poland when it was unveiled in 1951. Amidst widespread condemnation from party hacks and their useful architectural idiots, it is a wonder that the Central Department Store was actually built. In Architektura, Jan Minorski wrote “This is an architecture devoid of any educational capacity [which] … just like the non-ideological architectural decadence of Loos’ and Corbusier’s Art Nouveau [shows] the ideology of ruling classes when their days are numbered.”[3] ‘The People’ however seemed to disagree, with 80,000 of them visiting the store in its first three days of opening.



Meanwhile, only a few blocks away, between Plac Konstytucji and Plac Zbawiciela, a capital of capitals was rising. The thickset bombast of the Marszalkowska district would not look out of place in Kyiv or Moscow; hulking, sandy-coloured edifice complexes, decorated with classical colonnades and scant reliefs of workers, soldiers and peasants. This is the imagined community of the ‘whole nation’ that built the capitals atop the classical columns and which lend the area all the elegance of a borrowed suit.

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A similar conflict  plays out on Defilad Square, dominated by the massive Palace of Culture and Science (1955), – a ‘gift’ to people’s Poland from Josef Stalin. This Iofan-style wedding cake (locally nicknamed the ‘elephant in lingerie’), cuts an impressive and threatening figure, but softens as it is reflected in the windows of the Wars, Sawa and Junior shopping centres. These sleek ripostes to monumental folly were conceived in 1956 for “a Warsaw of the future, full of cars, helicopters, scooters, [of] quick life.”[4] Ironically however, delays meant that the shopping centres were only completed in 1970, as was the nearby Emilia furniture store, with its beautifully corrugated roof – an abstract wave topping out elegant linearity.

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Opening in the same year as the state massacre of protesting workers that precipitated the fall of Gomulka regime, these buildings seemingly presaged the relative openness of the Gierek period, with Western money and technology helping shape the beige banality of the Hotel Forum as well as the dramatic, swooping curves of the Central Station. Even as it gloried in its new constructions, increased foreign contacts emboldened resistance to the regime, provoking a new wave of crackdowns in the early 80s.

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The solidarity of workers, church and intellectuals in the face of martial law cracked the communist façade and the process of ‘transition’ opened the floodgates for Western capital to shape Poland’s capital, threatening to drown Warsaw’s modernist babies as it flushed out the socialist bathwater. The Palace’s skyline dominanace is now challenged by a crop of identikit office towers that signal a certain kind of belonging in the world of global flows and which blend into undulating CADishness at ground level. Everything is neon-sponsored, even the former party headquarters.

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Hipsters congregating in the colonnade bars of Marszalkowska render the columns more ironic than ionic, as yesterday’s worker-heroes look on uncomfortably between the adverts, while in Solec and Powisle, modernist buildings provide the backdrop for cool bars with endearingly warm welcomes. Yet this apparently easy coexistence belies the continued conflicts that will shape Warsaw’s future. In the shadow of the bland new skyscrapers, low-rise Emilia stands out, yet faces an uncertain future as developers wanting to destroy it compete with curators who have set about revivifying the space. Staging the exhibition ‘Warsaw under Construction’ (2012) in Emilia provided a focal point for resistance to the erasure of Warsaw’s socialist era modernism and has seen artists, activists and academics joining forces in the next battle for Warsaw: the battle for more nuanced memories of both the communist period and its modernist architecture.

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A version of this piece was originally published in ‘The Modernist’ issue 7 ‘Capital’ in March 2013 in Manchester.

[1] I am grateful to Stuart Shields for reminding of this!

[2] & [4] As quoted in Jerzy S. Majewski’s (2010) ‘Book of Walks: Landmarks of People’s Poland in Warsaw” which has been inspirational and invaluable for this piece.

[3] Architektura (1956), quoted in Majewski (2010).

Border Research Overview

Posted: July 25, 2013 in Uncategorized




Research Context: Borders Beyond Borders

The EU’s Eastern enlargement and the creation (and subsequent extension) of the Schengen ‘borderless zone’ seemed to embody the inclusive, globalising zeitgeist of the post-cold war era. However, rather than de-bordering, both projects may actually be part of a complex re-bordering that is indicative of modes of EU governance and trends and developments in European societies. EU bordering in Central & Eastern Europe (CEE) is seen as uniquely contingent, but also as indicative of wider border trends, in that its bordering policy and practice is now ‘extra-territorial’, rendering it socially, spatially and temporally complex.

The increased complexity of EU borders that have slipped the territorial leash has made them no less significant for understanding the EU’s ‘identity’ and for the ways in which it creates, maintains or alters societal orders, as well as for its positioning in relation to ‘Neighbours’, ‘Partners’ and in the wider world. Similarly, extra-territorial borderings are seen to be just as significant as ‘traditional’ borders in the impact that they have on negotiations and performances of identity, being and belonging in Europe today (e.g. Lapid, 2001).

However, as borders have moved beyond traditional, territorial, understandings of what and where they are, it has been necessary to develop new modes and methods of inquiry in order to understand how they are made and the impacts they have. Developing a new modes of looking for (and at) borders and bordering and employing interpretive methodology this project examines three key sites of contemporary European bordering: within the Schengen zone; at the external, territorial frontier; and in neighbouring countries (the ‘Eastern Partners’ of the European Neighbourhood Policy). In each case, this research project seeks to avoid the polarised views and fetishisation of extreme cases that have become common in discussion and analysis of borders and bordering (e.g. Vaughan-Williams, 2007). Rather, this research looks for the logics and experiences of many groups involved in constituting and contesting contemporary European bordering. It is hoped that this project will not only make an academic impact, but that it can also contribute to better communication between these participants, thus raising possibilities for fairer and more accountable, yet secure bordering policy and practice. This explicitly aligns the research with a “critical pragmatism” (Kurowska & Tallis, 2013) that seeks to put academic sophistication in the service of producing “useful knowledge” (Friedrichs & Kratochwil, 2009).

Research Sites (I): Free Like Schengen?

The apparent removal of borders in the Schengen zone may actually restrict some of the very freedoms that it claims to promote (Bigo, 2002; Walters, 2002). A growing body of academic research points to the tension at the heart of Schengenland which, while it has facilitated freer movement for many people, has also created what, in effect are “trans-European networks of control” (Walters, 2006). If border functions can now potentially take place at any point on road or rail networks, in towns, cities and at the airports that serve them, this suggests that internal, de-territorialised borders now run throughout the Schengen zone. The activities of mobile Customs units attempting to detect contraband or drugs, roving Border Guard teams trying to interdict ‘illegals’ and the urban actions of Police and other public and private agents are indicative of such analyses (e.g. Walters, 2006). However, what is equally clear is that millions of people enjoy the benefits of the freer movement that Schengen and are willing to agree to security measure claimed to facilitate this movement. It is the relationship between the securities and mobilities of the various groups and people who (attempt to) traverse the Schengen zone that this project seeks to understand (Guild, 2009; Cresswell, 2010). Therefore, as the functions that were traditionally located at the nation-state border are distributed to various agencies in many locations, it is now necessary to hunt the border in the ‘borderless’ zone.

Research Sites (II): Final Frontier of Fortress Europe?

The accession to the EU of ten Central and East European (CEE) states pushed its formal, territorial border Southward and Eastward, drawing a new curtain through the Postcommunist world. While ‘Eastern’ enlargement has formally ‘included’ some people(s) in the officially sanctioned category of ‘EUropeanness’, this has also meant excluding others who have been deemed unworthy of membership and effectively declared to be ‘non-EUropean’ (on the EU’s terms). This questions the interplay of desire and denial in relation to hierarchical delineations of belonging, which are contested by, yet operate through, particular identities and political subjectivities (Kuus, 2004; Zaoitti, 2007; Jeandesboz, 2007; Jansen, 2009). In contrast to the seemingly relaxed, yet opaque situation in the Schengen zone, the clearly demarcated external frontier is a closely guarded ‘hard’ border with tight controls, extensive physical barriers and camps for detaining ‘illegals’, all designed to filter the authorised wheat from the undesirable chaff (Newman, 2006). The architectures and practices of border control at this frontier also tell us much about EU border making, which remains as much about facilitating certain kinds of mobility as well as preventing others in the name of security (CASE, 2006; Green, 2009). This project thus looks to examine the complex relation between the EU (including agencies such as FRONTEX) and the newer Schengen member states responsible for maintaining the EU’s territorial frontier. This inquiry looks at and for the logics and understandings that underpin the negotiation of security and mobility and how these play out in policy and practice as well as how they are experienced by people ‘inside’, ‘outside’ and in the penumbra of the EU and the Schengen zone.

Research Sites (III): Inside the Outside?

In the context of the foreseeable end to enlargement, and conscious of the ramifications of this new insider-outsider topography, the EU developed the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and, subsequently the Eastern Partnership (EaP) to ameliorate the divisive and disruptive effects of this new curtain, with the Union’s interests couched in the language of partnership and technical assistance (EUBAM, 2006; Chandler, 2006). Such developments are seen to impact on belonging and subjectivity, with particular identities fostered (through bordering), to the detriment of Other ways of being and becoming, which remain unrecognised as ‘European’ or ‘EUropean’ (Chandler, 2006; Kuus, 2004). As well as exporting border policy and practice, ENP (and EaP) also physically dislocate the border through visa regimes and readmission agreements, which put the policing burden on agencies in (e.g.) Ukraine who increasingly use profiling, risk modelling, databasing and analytical software exported by the EU. This research thus looks to investigate the ways in which EU border policy and practice have been dislocated by being exported to the neighbourhood and the relations that this creates between the Europeans and ‘EUropeans’

Research Contribution

This research project extends previous analyses of Schengen (e.g. Walters, 2006) to newer EU members and considers the de-territorialised bordering within Schengen and the neighbourhood as part of a border continuum that also includes the territorial frontier and the EaP. Treating the three research sites as part of a single (yet complex) border regime rather than as separate borders (or not seeing them as borders at all) links the EU’s internal and external bordering policy and practices, allowing for a newly comprehensive examination of contemporary EU bordering in CEE. Taking insights from different academic disciplines, this project re-imagines how and where borders are made and, ultimately ‘what’ and ‘how’ they are, yet remains ‘regionally particular’.

In order to deal with the complexity of multi-sited, extra-territorial bordering, this research project analyses EU border policy and practice through 3 facets of a specially designed ‘border prism’: (1) Socio-Political – how the conflicting or complementary needs of security and mobility are managed and how this gives rise to and/or depends on certain modes of power and the production of certain subjectivities; (2) Spatial – where and how borders are made as well as how these places are known and experienced; (3) Temporal – how history, collective memory and ideas of ‘progress’ particularly in relation to ‘transition’ and ‘Europeanness’ shape the border regime. The combination of these aspects of borders allows for consideration of the ‘Borderscape’ (Perrera, 2007) – the zone of practice and experience in which delocalised, fragmented borders are created and contested – and what this means for contemporary Europeans and the societies they live in. This project ‘operationalises’ the notion of the Borderscape through the ‘mobilisation’ of Michel Foucault’s (1980:194, cited in Bigo, 2007) ‘Dispositif of Security to create a Security-Mobility Dispositif comprising Data, Discourses, Practices, Expectations & Experiences, Architectures & Spaces, and Laws. The dispositif provides the framework for flexible, interpretive gathering of ‘data’ which can then be analysed through the aforementioned border prism. The project claims that notions of security and mobility remain crucial to extra-territorial borders, allowing for empirical research to be conducted at sites of their intersection. Furthermore, the project sees that socio-spatio-temporal analysis of the various facets of security-mobility can illuminate the CEE borderscape and enhance understanding of its contingencies and consequences.

Main Research Question

 How and where does the EU make its borders; why does it do so in the way(s) and locations that it does; how is it able to do so; and how does this relate to security, mobility, subjectivity and governance in the EU and its Eastern Neighbourhood?

 Sub Research Questions: Breaking Down Borders

  • Which actors are involved in EU bordermaking in CEE and how do they experience these processes and relations?
  • What relations of security-mobility exist between the various elements of the security-mobility dispositif with regard to EU bordering in CEE
  • What socio-political relations underpin and emerge from EU bordermaking in CEE, with particular regard to security and mobility
  • Where do EU borderings take place and what spatialities are involved in and emerge from the processes of bordering in CEE?
  • What are temporalities underpin and emerge from EU bordering in CEE and how do they relate to the socio-spatialities of EU bordering?


Research Methods: Interpretive Geopolitical Ethnography

Taking a multi-sited approach, this project aims to more comprehensively understand how the EU makes its borders, why it does so in the way it does, and what the consequences of this are. It examines the genesis, implementation and impact of the EU’s border policy and practice: internally in a newer Schengen state (Czech Republic), at the frontier between Poland and Ukraine (part of the territorial edge of Schengen and the EU) and externally with Ukraine in the context of ENP and EaP.

In order to investigate the broad questions posed by the literature review/ theoretical component of this research, the fieldwork component of this project focuses on the discourses, practices, and experiences of policy makers, border professionals and moving (and dwelling) people. In addition to deskwork and textwork (reading, analysing and interpreting) documents, the project uses the following fieldwork methods, which align it to interpretive methodology (Schwartz-Shea & Yanow, 2012).

–       Interviews with border users, practitioners and policymakers, as well as with NGOs and other organisations working with migrants or on border issues (broadly defined) in CZ, PL and UA.

–       (Participant) Observation of border practices, processes, places, practitioners and users in each case study location. Facilitated through contacts in International Organisations (for PL-UA and UA case studies) and with NGOs (CZ).

–       Representational Elicitation: Use of photographs, documentary and feature films, literature and reportage of borders and border crossings to facilitate broader and deeper responses from interviewees.

–       Photography: to complement other methods to examine and convey the portrayal, experience and materialisation of contemporary European border making and usage


Indicative Bibliography

Bigo, Didier (2002) “Security and Immigration: Toward a Critique of the Governmentality of Unease”, Alternatives, 27, Special Issue, pp.63-92

Bigo, Didier (2007), ‘Detention of Foreigners, States of Exception, and the Social Practices of Control of the Banopticon’, in Rajaram, Prem Kumar & Carl Grundy-Warr (2007), Borderscapes: Hidden Geographies and Politics at Territories Edge, pp. 3-34.

C.A.S.E Collective (2007), Critical Approaches to Security in Europe: A Networked Manifesto, Security Dialogue 37(4): 443- 487

Chandler, David (2006), Empire in Denial: The Politics of State Building, Pluto Press, London

Cresswell, Tim (2010), ‘Towards a Politics of Mobility, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28: 17-31

EUBAM (2006), Annual Report 2005/06, European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine, Odessa (UA)

Friedrichs, Joerg & Kratochwil, Friedrich (2009), ‘On Acting and Knowing: How Pragmatism Can Advance International Relations Research Methodology’ International Organisation, 63: 701-31

Green, Sarah (2009), ‘Lines, Traces and Tidemarks: Reflections on Forms of Boderli-ness, Eastbordnet Working Paper, []

Guild, Elspeth (2009), Security and Migration in the 21st Century, Cambridge: Polity 

Jansen, Stef (2009), ‘After the red passport: towards an anthropology of the everyday geopolitics of entrapment in the EU’s ‘immediate outside’’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 15: 815-832.

Jeandesboz, Julien (2007), ‘The genesis of the European neighbourhood policy: alternative narratives, bureaucratic competitions’, mimeo

Kurowska, Xymena & Tallis, Benjamin (2009), ‘EUBAM: Beyond border monitoring?’ European Foreign Affairs Review: 14 (1): 47-64  

Kurowska, Xymena & Tallis, Benjamin (2013), ‘Chiasmatic Crossings: A Reflexive Revisit to an Encounter in European Security Research’, Security Dialogue, (44): 73-89

Kuus, Merje (2004) ‘Europe’s eastern expansion and the re-inscription of otherness in east-central Europe’, Progress in Human Geography 28(4):472–489

Lapid, Yosef (2001), ‘Introduction. Identities, Borders, Orders: Nudging International Relations Theory in a New Direction’ in Albert, Matthias, David Jacobson & Yosif Lapid (eds), Identity, Borders, Orders: Rethinking International Relations Theory, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Perera, Suvendrini (2007), ‘A Pacific Zone? (In)Security, Sovereignty and Stories of the Pacific Borderscape’, in Rajaram, Prem Kumar & Carl Grundy-Warr (2007), Borderscapes: Hidden Geographies and Politics at Territories Edge, pp. 201-227

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine & Yanow, Dara (2012), Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes, London: Routledge

Vaughan-Williams, Nick (2007), ‘The Shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes: New Border Politics?’ Alternatives 32: 177–195

Walters, William (2002a), ‘Mapping Schengenland: Denaturalizing the border’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 20: 561-580

Walters, William (2006), ‘Border/Control’, European Journal of Social Theory 2006; 9; 187-

Zaiotti, Ruben (2007) ‘Of Friends and Fences: Europe’s Neighbourhood Policy and the ‘Gated Community Syndrome’’, Journal of European Integration, 29:2, 143 – 162

I was interviewed for the programme ‘Cizinci’ (Foreigners) on Cesky Rozhlas (Czech Radio).

The full programme (in Czech) is available here: (broadcast 20/07/2013 – in czech -title – ‘Zase pasy? Reforma Schengenu a politika hranic EU).

The comments that I make are part of the responses that I gave to a series of interesting and well-researched questions from the journalist Daniela Vrbova and which relate to my research on EU border making in Central & Eastern Europe

English versions of Interview responses are available on demand – email me at or if someone advises me of a site I can share them on without having to pay for an upgrade (as I would have to on wordpress!).


On Saturday 4th May, the 2nd Prague Security Conference took place at Anglo-American University. The conference, which featured leading academics as well as local students, focused on issues relating to Terrorism and Political Violence, Human Security and Humanitarian Intervention as well as on Urban, Spatial and Architectural politics.


Academic Papers were presented by international experts Dr. Xymena Kurowska from Central European University (Budapest) (with Benjamin Tallis) and Dr. Japhy Wilson of University of Manchester. Kurowska & Tallis presented a version of their paper ‘Chiasmatic Crossings’ which was recently published in leading journal Security Dialogue and looks at new ways of understanding and methods of conducting political research and the production of useful knowledge in European security.


Japhy Wilson presented a paper in response to Chiasmatic Crossings, which looked at the politics of conducting fieldwork in development research. The audience were captivated as a tale that sounded more like it came from a spy novel than a textbook combined charges of ‘Sabotage of Development’ with Lacanian pschology to understand contemporary neoliberalism in Africa.


Further details on the guest speakers, as well as on the papers, which showed the breadth and depth of academic research into politics as well the ethical issues involved, are available below.

In addition to sharing the latest in their cutting-edge political research with a diverse Prague audience, Dr. Wilson and Dr. Kurowska also provided expert feedback on four panels of student papers.




Students from the AAU Upper Level Bachelors and Masters classes on ‘Terrorism & Human Security’ prsented in the morning and the members of ‘Power Structures: Architecture, Politics and the City’ in the afternoon. The morning session featured presentations ranging from ‘Mad, Bad or Misunderstood: Anders Breivik and the Depoliticisation of Political Violence’ to an examination of the case for Humanitarian Intervention in Syria.


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The afternoon session started off closer to home, looking at Prague architectures in and beyond transition and how they work, asking questions such as who is the city for and are Panelaks the new Versailles? The relevance of such approaches beyond the Czech capital was shown by other papers that looked at global issues on cycling, hollywood representations of the city and the policing of movement in the West Bank.

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AAU faculty members Prof. Don Fuller (Dean of School of IR & Diplomacy), Dr. Bill Eddlestone (Head of History) and Daniela Chalaniova (Lecturer in Politics) were on hand to see the quality of the students’ work and, along with Dr. Francesco Giumelli of Metropolitan University Prague, they engaged with the students work and provided valuable feedback.


The conference provided a chance to students to experience a real academic conference and get high-level and diverse feedback from leading academics. The papers given by the guest speakers introduced sophisticated and significant new ideas and research findings to students and staff. The presence of members of the public only helped to confirm the significance of these issues beyond academia and the importance of research into them.


At the end of a intense day, the group retired to less formal surroundings to continue their discussions, which went on long into the night.

Conference Programme

Guest Speakers

Zeman Billboard

Official Zeman Billboards. Photo- Hospodarske Noviny

Schwarzenberg’s Credentials Tested as Czech Election Gets Nasty

The Czech presidential election is hotting-up as the second and decisive round of voting approaches. A series of stinging attacks and negative attack adverts have sharpened the distinctions between candidates Karel Schwarzenberg and Miloš Zeman as voters prepare to go to the polls on 25th and 26th January. With just days to go, Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg has been on the defensive, but has the chance to use his rival’s attacks to his advantage.

Billboards showing the contrasting styles and substance of the two campaigns have mushroomed across the country. Schwarzenberg’s posters bear the slogan “Czech Republic is the Heart of Europe. Go for it!” whereas Zeman’s betray a negative turn, appealing to voters to “Stop Kalousek getting to the castle” in a reference to Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, Schwarzenberg’s deputy in the Top ’09 party.

Having realized that they cannot tarnish Schwarzenberg’s impregnable integrity, which sets him apart from the majority of other Czech politicians, the Zeman team and their allies, including current President Vaclav Klaus, have identified two perceived weaknesses – his alliances and his principled internationalism – and have begun their assault on the Prince.

Both Zeman and Klaus have attacked Schwarzenberg over his position on the notorious Beneš decrees – the disappropriation and forced expulsion of ethnic Germans from the Czech lands in the aftermath of the second world war. Schwarzenberg, who famously went into exile in Austria during the communist period and became a leading international human rights campaigner, said “What we committed in 1945 would today be considered a grave violation of human rights and the Czechoslovak government, along with president Beneš, would have found themselves in The Hague,” referring to the international criminal court.

Rather than acknowledging Schwarzenberg’s identification of what amounted to ethnic cleansing, Zeman accused Schwarzenberg of “speaking like a Sudeten German, not like a president.” Outgoing president Klaus, who recently pardoned a number of people imprisoned for corrupt practice during the Zeman government of 1998-2002, added “I consider these remarks and these attitudes as scornful of Czech history and as a Czech, I feel threatened by them.” Klaus’ wife Livia had also attacked Schwarzenberg’s Austrian wife Therese, stating that she didn’t want the next first lady to only speak German.

Schwarzenberg has refused to stoop to the level of these personal attacks, which merely demonstrate how out of touch the Zeman-Klaus cohort are, especially with young Czechs, who are increasingly multilingual, internationally experienced and globally concerned. Rather, Schwarzenberg launched an effective critique of the façade of politics created by the supposed opposition between Zeman on the left and Klaus on the right, which has for years masked their common interests (and those of theirbackers) and effectively shut the Czech people out of political life. Breaking the hold of this tight-knit group who act out a sham Punch-and-Judy politics for the benefit of themselves and their shadowy backers would be one of Schwarzenberg’s greatest achievements.

However, the threat to Schwarzenberg posed by his association with Kalousek who is widely disliked and has a distinctly murky reputation, is real, as Zeman’s team have realized. If the Foreign Minister is to be able to realize his dream of “moving away from a Europe of small minds” as he told Spiegel Online and, to become the President who is able to put Czechs firmly at the heart of Europe, then he will have to consider his relationship with his deputy.

If someone were to offer advice to the Prince, it might go something like ‘stick to your guns, defend your principles – they are ours too – but ditch Kalousek. Stick with him and you compromise your credibility and chances of winning. Inflict all your cuts at once, ditch him and you can win the election and change Czech politics and Czech lives.’


Schwarzenberg Campaign Material.