Thursday, 7 December

Public lecture and discussion


Charles Clover

Putin and Xi: Is There a New Model of Authoritarian Emerging?

The award-winning journalist, former Financial Times Moscow office director and currently FT Beijng correspondent, author of Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism (Yale UP 2015), will talk about the parallels between Putin and Xi Jinping model of rule and will raise a question whether we are seeing some sort of new Eurasian authoritarian emerging.

Venue: Faculty of Arts, Nám. Jana Palacha 2, Praha 1, room 301


Friday, 8 December

Venue: Oettingenský palác, Josefská 6, Praha 1


Official Opening

Mirjam Fried, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University


Keynote Lecture

Rachel Murphy (University of Oxford): Area Studies and the Analytical Advantages of Context: Insights from Case Study Approaches

In both Area Studies scholarship and in projects using a case study approach researchers often face challenges in claiming wider relevance for their investigations into relatively bounded phenomenon.  Specifically, criticisms of both area studies and of case studies from scholars embedded in certain epistemological traditions and disciplines centre on their particularity. By contrast, advocates of a variety of case study approaches – structured approaches, analytic narrative approaches, the extended case study method – all stress the importance of “context” to generating robust analysis.  I argue that many area studies projects tend to be case studies by default and that the in-depth and holistic understanding of context afforded by an area studies specialism produces invaluable empirical and conceptual insights that complicate and diversify our “mainstream” scholarly understanding of human experience and of globalisation.  One reason is that people’s experiences are integral to case study data and the case study researcher listens to and contextualises these different kinds of experiences as part of explaining them, elucidating regional dynamics in the process. Another reason is that increasingly projects in area studies are carried out with in-the-region partners or by regionally-based scholars themselves, shaping the frames of analysis. I offer some examples from research on China in order to illustrate the value of in-depth contextualised analysis to the disciplines and to interdisciplinary fields. I conclude that area studies have much to contribute to an academia that has been so dominated by generalised models, and to a world where events and groups of people in other regions are often represented in simplified terms and where the increasing interconnectedness of people and places mean such events have implications for us all.


Coffee break


Panel 1: New Approaches to the Study of Strategic Regions

Chair: Pavel Barša (Charles University)


William R. Thompson (Indiana University) Thomas J. Volgy (University of Arizona), Whither the Regional Subsystem Concept in International Relations: Gone but Not Forgotten or Still Limping Along?

Analysts working in different academic disciplines have differential appreciations for the role of geographical regions.  For example, a distinctive tradition emerged in the late 1950s in international relations.  In reaction to macroscopic arguments that treated the world as a single system, area specialists argued that their own regional focus behaved differently than the generalizations then being proffered about international systemic behaviour.  Regional subsystems had their own capability distributions, regardless of whether the international system was considered bipolar or multipolar, and, for that matter, great power capabilities could not be extended into most subsystems at full strength.

Almost a half century ago, Thompson (1973) reviewed the emergence of the regional subsystem literature focusing in part on how these regional subsystems were conceptualized.  Different authors emphasized different combinations of referents from a long list of 22 conceptual elements.  The conceptual disarray raised the question of whether analysts were working with similar or dissimilar units of analysis.  Decades later how have things changed?  Is there more or less conceptual uniformity and does this make a difference to our understanding of regional behaviour?  Does the regional subsystem concept, in general, have a stronger academic foundation in the 21st century than it did in the second half of the 20th century? That is, is it more accepted now or did it represent a brief revolt to over- generalization about the parameters of systemic behaviour?  The era of U.S. unipolarity probably worked to submerge regional distinctions.  In the aftermath of this era, is regional subsystem analysis thriving? Alternatively, did the revolt against systemic over-generalization collapse as analysts moved on to embrace other topics?

Michal Semian (Charles University) et al.: Region and its many Identities: Dealing with the Variability in Regional Conceptualizations

Contemporary regional geography paradigm is characterized by emphasizing abstract nature of regions. Region is being conceived of as a dynamic phenomenon; its shapes and meanings ascribed to it are changing over time. The so-called social-constructivist approach can be viewed as a reaction to the (still) dominant grasp of a region as a static category fixed either between local and state level, or in supranational level. However rich have discussions on the conceptualization of region been, universal conclusion has not been reached. Common and exclusive conceptualization of region valid across disciplines and representing various approaches is probably neither possible nor desirable. Much of the recent discussion on the processes of formation and institutionalization of regions has been occupied by the new regionalism paradigm, in accordance with growing importance of new regions and territorial identities in regional development. Recognition of the significance of activation of endogenous resources and potentials for sustainable future development of regions and localities is one of the most vital parts of such discussions. This deepens the multi-layered character of territorial identities as well as a fuzzy character of their borders. The proposed paper draws on the more than two-decade-long research interest of KUHIG members in regions, processes of their institutionalization and identity formation. It attempts to present the theoretical conceptualization of region that should enable to bridge the duality of region; addressed as an “animate”, constantly changing, phenomenon which also makes it a resource for regional actors to meet their particular goals, one that people may perceive and feel attached to while further mediating their images thereof. It is argued, that any complex approach to region must incorporate three levels of region: “given” (practice of region), “made” (representation of region) and “perceived” (idea of region); and acknowledge the influences originating from different scales. To clarify these issues, it is necessary to facilitate mutual understanding among regional researchers from wide scope of disciplinary background. Theoretical claims will be illustrated with various examples coming from researches conducted by the KUHIG team members. However, the theoretical concepts are verified predominantly on microregional level, they appear to be valid and portable throughout the scale levels.




Panel 2: Central Europe and its Regions

Chair: Kateřina Králová (Charles University)


Frank Hadler (Leibniz-Institut für Geschichte und Kultur des östlichen Europa), Always in Between and Never in the Center: Reflections on East Central Europe’s Strategic Position

One can find ample indications that there is to single out a region in the East of the Center of Europe. The most advanced attempt might be observed in historiography calling for East Central Europe as a historical region based on the assumption of particular characteristics reaching as back as to the Middle Ages. The label East Central Europe was coined after World War I once the multinational Empires ruling over the Center of the continent collapsed and whole set of new “national” states emerged. In order to come to terms with that new situation the losers of the war showed a strategic interest in region-building – in preparation of the territorial revenge, temporary realized during World War II. Afterwards under the condition of the global Cold War a strategic use of East Central Europe was virulent in West in order to stress the distinctiveness of the region from the dominant superpower in the East. After the Cold war was brought to an end by the peaceful revolutions in East Central Europe, for the first time within the region a strategic interest arose to act regionally. The Visegrad Group, formed in order to conjointly join NATO and the EU, proved to be successful.  Nonetheless East Central Europe being an ambivalent mixture of external constructs and on-site findings remains worth to be debated in the context of regions global entanglements.

Christian Voss (Humboldt Universität Berlin), Spatial Turn and Slavic Studies – A Contradiction in itself?

Slavic Studies until the second half of 20th century are determined by two contexts of its academic institutionalization: the genetic and positivistic approach of Indo-European Studies and the emerging national movements drunk on the antiquity and dignity of Old Church Slavonic. This tradition hampered the emancipation from the historical-comparative paradigm and the dialogue with on-going trends and paradigmatic turns in the humanities like the “linguistic turn“ and the “spatial turn“. Instead, Slavic Studies until today and all over the world are divided in three parts, namely West, East and South – without factual basis in cultural history or in contemporary politics, but only according to the Protoslavic sound laws developed in 19th century. This definition of the discipline as the scholarly administration of the Slavic language family is intrinsically anti-regional. Nevertheless – and maybe inspired by the EU-integration of Central Europe – Slavic Studies are opening up for areal approaches: In Literary Studies, concepts like “geopoetics“ and recodifications of mental and geopolitical topography are intensively discussed, whereas in Linguistics the Balkan linguistic area („Balkansprachbund“) is getting deessentialized by the introduction of new comparative approaches like Eurolinguistics. Collaborative and interdisciplinary research groups like “Phantom borders“ in Berlin, too, challenge the self-referentiality inherent to Area Studies and test the limits of transregional comparability.

Jan Krajíček (Charles University), Modernization of an Underdeveloped Central European Region through the Technocratic Project: Bohemian-Moravian Highlands in the 20th Century

During the 20th century, besides many regions of fragmented Central Europe, Bohemian-Moravian Highlands has risen from underdeveloped, poor and remote hilly area on the periphery of both Bohemia and Moravia to the centralised region of high relevance as an (supra)national traffic axis as well as a region of many natural resources vital for the whole Czech state.

Originally, this divided periphery was omitted by the central-established supportive initiatives. In addition, its completely negative natural and socio-economical characteristics were seen as the major obstacle to modernization. Total turnover in this approach occurred just before WWII, when influential regionalist and hydrology expert František Radouš came up with completely contrasting view of the Highlands. In his technocratic project published in 1939, he saw the conditions of region as an unmissable opportunity to modernization. Radouš urged to build up the region’s strategic relevance upon its water resources and traffic infrastructure. He planned detailed projects (dams, hydroelectric stations; roads, highways and railways) and proposed to establish the centralized regional headquarters in order to coordinate these projects. Despite of his impressively complex concept of regional modernization, Radouš has never worked on this topic again and his proposals haven’t been broadly reflected after the war. Nevertheless, these visionary plans came in fact almost completely true lately, in the changed political and economic context of the socialist state and nearly in the same way Radouš suggested. In the 2nd half of the century the region was actually centralized, main infrastructural projects were really built and finally, the rising Highlands became one of the strategic regions of Czechoslovakia.

Proposed paper will outline the situation of the region in the first few decades of the 20th century and most of all will examine Radouš’s specific technocratic vision of the Highlands, with the stress on the changing aspects in the perception of regional development options which meant that the region acquired strategic importance in the post-war Czechoslovak modernization. Nowadays, Radouš’s technocratic approach seems to be very visionary. Were his plans so logical and inevitable, or were they just “rediscovered” by the following planners of the regional development?


Coffee break


Panel 3: Geographical Regions in the Study of Global Problems

Chair: Olga Lomová (Charles University)


Martin Slobodník (Comenius University in Bratislava), Tibet in Chinese Strategy: A Case Study of the Changing Notion of Strategic Relevance

Tibet has been recently defined by Chinese leadership as one of its “core national interests”. Due to its strategic location (connecting continental East Asia with South Asia) and rich natural resources (water, among others) Tibet plays an important role in current Chinese strategic thinking. The contribution will provide the changing notion and role of Tibet in the Chinese foreign policy during the tumultuous 1400-years long history of Sino-Tibetan relations. It will illustrate a variety of perceptions and approaches towards Tibet from the Chinese Imperial (and later Republican) government.

Matthias Middel (Universität Leipzig), Africa as a Strategic Region for Central Europe?

The question whether the one world region is of more strategic interest than any other or not, remains of course a matter of dispute, depending on who defines strategic interest. What a historian can probably contribute to such a topic is on the one hand some glimpses of how such interest may have emerged in the past and on the other hand how the notion of world region has been developed in an interdisciplinary literature. The paper will focus on how Africa has been perceived in East Central Europe and what its importance might have been over the 20th and at the beginning of the 21st century. The recent political crisis in many parts of Europe caused by different opinions on how to react to migration from both the African and the Asian continent inspires new interest in this relationship. At the same time this crisis has shaped a new period in the long and complex history of East Central Europe’s self-perception as a distinct region where it is worth insisting on internal similarities and a series of features that makes the region different from other parts of Europe and the world.


Coffee break


Near East Roundtable

Chair: Ondřej Beránek (Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences)

Closed session




Saturday, 9 December

Venue: Oettingenský palác (Oettingen Palace), Josefská 6, Praha 1


Panel 4: Regions and Belonging in (and out of) late Ottoman Spaces: Geographical and Intellectual Considerations

Chair: Petr Kučera (Universität Hamburg)


Benjamin Fortna (University of Arizona), Regions in Flux: Geography, Identity and Belonging in the Late Ottoman Empire and the “Modern Middle East”

This paper addresses the crucial but historically malleable notion of region through the lens of the life trajectory of a highly peripatetic late Ottoman officer. Tracing his story from his Circassian family’s refugee origins in the Caucasus to his upbringing in the milieu of the Ottoman palace in Istanbul, through a series of exiles, assignments and far-flung wars in North Africa, the Balkans and the Levant and Arabia, the paper reflects on the contingent and changeable nature of regional imagining set against the backdrop of imperial demise and Great Power influence. It focuses on two separate but interrelated phenomena affecting the links between individuals and their territory.  First, it considers the role of institutions and technology in affecting—and altering—a sense of geographical belonging. The new educational institutions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially the military ones, were crucial in forging a sense of common geographical identification. The newly available technological devices enabling rapid transportation and communication further transformed the individuals’ relationship to the land, defined both politically and in lived experience. Secondly, the study addresses the ways in which the political desiderata that lay behind the political definition of geography was changing and the consequences that flowed from that change, both at the macro and micro levels. It considers some examples of the ways that the nationalist imagination imposed (or in some cases tried to impose) a new, direct identification between nation and territory. This was, of course, not as straightforward as claimed, for demographic and other practical concerns. Nor was the reduction from imperial to national identification easy, natural or, in some cases, even possible for the individuals concerned. The paper concludes by reflecting on the tension between territorially-defined and politically defined geographical regions in the “modern Middle East.”

Stefano Taglia (Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences), The Intellectual Environment as a Strategic Region for the Development of Modernity

There is much debate surrounding the roots of modernizing thought in the late Ottoman Empire. Positions crystallize, mostly, between two main camps: those who emphasize the strategic importance of Europe as a region for its practical involvement and cultural transfer onto Ottoman society and those who, instead, focus on the Islamic roots of Ottoman political though as a strategic area for the development of modern, inclusive and representative political and social ideals. This paper takes a mid-way in the explanation of the source of the Ottoman modernizing ethos. A substantial part of the history of the late Ottoman Empire is represented by the emergence on the political scene of the Committee of Union and Progress, better known in Europe as the Young Turk organization, either as part of the opposition to the regime represented by Sultan Abdülhamid II or as the dominant force after the Revolution of 1908. This paper focuses on the early history of the Young Turk movement, during its intellectual phase between 1890 and 1902, and analyses how the intellectual exchanges that its members, in self-imposed exile in France and elsewhere in Europe, contributed to shaping a specific type of reforming ethos that emerged from contact, discussions and confrontations with and among intellectuals coming from disparate areas of the world, the so-called West, East and Latin America. In particular, this talk will follow a slice of the intellectual life of Ahmet Rıza who, through his affiliation with the Positivist Society, came into contact with other members of the organization whose experiences of modernity had been shaped by very different events and realities. These intellectual exchanges, taking place in strategic regions defined by ideas rather than locality, allowed Rıza to formulate a specific, albeit rigid, path to the modernization of the Ottoman Empire which, to different degrees, encapsulated all of the views he had been exposed to and gave birth to his particular reading of Ottoman modernity. Even though Rıza’s ideas ultimately failed to bear fruit, they nevertheless provided a blueprint for successor members of the Young Turk organization who took power a few years later, as well as for early republicans. What emerges is that the existence of this strategic intangible space of intellectual encounter that was crucial in the formation of a formative and exclusively Ottoman reforming ethos.

Jitka Malečková (Charles University), Locating the Late Ottoman Empire and Early Turkish Republic on the Czechs’ Mental Map

This paper approaches regions from the outside, focusing on the interplay between politics and culture in the Czechs’ views of the late Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic. Czechs perceived the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Ottoman Empire in various contexts, as belonging to the East, Asia, occasionally Europe, and—often concurrently—to “the Orient.” The paper examines whether and how these views were shaped by changing political borders, focusing on two situations: the first case concerns Bosnia-Herzegovina, which, after the Austro-Hungarian occupation in 1878 and annexation in 1908, had become a part of the Habsburg monarchy, i.e. belonged to the same state as the Czechs. The paper asks whether and in what ways Czechs continued to consider Bosnia-Herzegovina “Oriental” even when it ceased to be under Ottoman rule. The second case concerns the effects of the dissolution of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires, which enabled the Czechs to see the Turkish Republic as a modern(izing) state, which was leaving behind its “Oriental” past. Did the changing circumstances—especially the emergence of the two republics—lead to a reinterpretation of Turkey’s location vis a vis Europe? And what were the effects of the political changes on the attitudes towards the Turkish Republic in the new Czechoslovak state?


Coffee break


Panel 5: Peripheral Regions at the Centre of Global Developments

Chair: Markéta Křížová (Charles University)


Radek Buben (Charles University), Fashions, Passions, and Abandonings in Academic Production: The Case of Central America

The paper will deal with the problems, causes and consequences of the uneven and unstable distribution of the academic and public attention dedicated to the study of different regions and countries at critical historical and political junctures, and after them. The case study is Central America during the turbulent 1980’s, with emphasis put on Nicaragua, a country that had been largely neglected by vast majority of Latin Americanists only to be over-studied, over-analysed and over-debated after the victory of the Sandinista Revolution in the 1979. From that moment to the early nineties, the country got huge attention from both contending camps in the Cold War, being studied by scholars, analysed by journalists and visited by activists. The sudden and unexpected end of the FSLN’s government and the breakdown of Communist Bloc led to the equally sudden virtual disappearance of Nicaragua from academic mainstream and from public attention. The same happened to the rest of the region, with the peace processes of peace and superficial settlement of its main problems.

The paper will analyse both processes, the rise to the importance of Central America and Nicaragua and their following fall into virtual oblivion, will consider the consequences of such development and will compare the Central American case with other cases of such uneven waves of academic and public attention (i.a. Portugal after revolution in 1974).

Ulf Brunnbauer (Universität Regensburg), The Globalized Periphery of Europe: What the Balkans can Tell us About the World

The Balkans is certainly not the most important region in the world – although Balkan peoples tend to hold their region to be of crucial importance. But it has immense heuristic value: the study of the Balkans helps us to understand the world better, in particular the triangular relation between interconnectivity – power – inequality.

In this talk, I want to rehabilitate the allegedly outdated concept of “world systems theory”, as developed by Immanuel Wallerstein. I find it particularly useful for reflecting about the local political and socio-economic outcomes of increased global entanglements. Do these ideas help us to understand the seemingly paradoxical concurrence of globalization on the one hand, ethno-national parochialization on the other hand? The Balkans is a prime example for a region, whose very essence – if a region had such a thing – is characterized by connectivity and transfers. Yet, these did not lead to convergence.

So, do we need a new vocabulary instead of thinking in unidirectional temporal terms, such as “backwardness” and “catching-up”, or binary geographic terms, such as “East” and “West” that have often been used to describe the Balkans? My argument is that the dynamic conceptualization of a region in terms of its integration into specific networks of communication and interaction (which are always framed by power hierarchies) helps to overcome spatial and temporal dichotomies.




Panel 6: The Expiration of a Regional Construct: Theoretical (re-) Considerations of ‘the Middle East’

Chair: Andrew Newman (University of Edinburgh)


Eberhard Kienle (Ifpo Beirut and CNRS/Sciences-Po, Paris), The Middle East: Region or Illusion

Historically, the ‘Middle East’ has been delineated and defined in a variety of ways. There was some agreement on its central constituent parts, including the Levant and Egypt, but far less on other areas, such as Morocco, Sudan or Afghanistan. Historically, the ‘Middle East’ has also had to compete with other notions – and concepts – such as the Near East, the Arab World, or, indeed, the presently almost forgotten Levant. Built upon such an intellectual and conceptual base, a large body of literature rather uncritically assumes that the Middle East forms a ‘region’ that stands for more than rhetorical convenience. Polemically one might add that some of these writings have been touched by the saving grace of imprecision that leaves the boundaries of the region as vague as the criteria that is supposed to define them.

None of the areas that are accepted to collectively constitute the ‘Middle East’ adhere to anything that could be called an all-inclusive and yet all-exclusive criterion, such as language, religion, life style, exchanges, interactions, etc. A closer look reveals that some of the notions and associations attached to the ‘Middle East’ have originated in the areas of competence allocated to parts of the British or US bureaucracies. After all, the ‘Middle East’ was closer to London than the ‘Far East’. Incidentally, the vocabulary of the languages spoken in the area does not help define it as a coherent region either: the Arabic ‘al-sharq al- awsat’, for instance, is the literal translation of ‘Middle East’ by people who – like the inventors of the English term – should have thought of themselves to be at the centre.

It may make sense to subdivide the world into smaller parts that can subsequently be analyzed by academics or addressed by practitioners, such as politicians and business people, for purely practical and pragmatic reasons. Such practical reasons should not, however, be confused with a supposed homogeneity of the area concerned. Attempts to prove any such homogeneity are futile and doomed to failure. The Middle East is neither purely Arabic speaking, nor purely Muslim; nor can it be defined by exchanges or interactions such as trade, migration, or investment. Even the ‘Arab world’ is no more than an area within which certain exchanges are facilitated by a – more or less –common language. However, in some places Arabic has to compete with English (GCC), French (Maghreb, Lebanon), Kurdish (Iraq, Syria), etc. More importantly perhaps, the ‘Arab world’ is inexistent as an entity in terms of economic exchanges or political alignments.

The consolation is that the Middle East is no less problematic an entity than other ‘regions’ including Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, etc.

Ali Ansari (University of St Andrews), Rethinking Iranshahr

We have become accustomed to thinking about the ‘Middle’ East in categories that have been invented and reimagined by Western policy makers and intellectuals since the nineteenth century, with variations on a theme derived from a thoroughly Western perspective. Lately the term of preference has been Western Asia though this has had a mixed reception, not least by those within the region it purports to describe. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the reopening of Central Asia, another term has re-entered popular usage to describe what we might understand as the ‘Persianate’ world (as opposed to the Arab World), a term common in the late antique and medieval world which is now enjoying a renaissance—Iranshahr.  Famously used by Peter Christensen in his study of the ‘decline’ of Iranshahr, the term denotes a cultural and economic unit of interest that stretches form the Oxus to the Euphrates, and from the Indus to the Caucasus, transcending long accepted categories and distinctions.

This presentation will argue that the concept of Iranshahr provides a better explanatory framework for the geopolitical realities of the modern ‘middle’ east, as they are currently unfolding. Indeed, the reshaping of realities following the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq at the turn of the twenty-first century and the emergence of Iran as a regional force cannot be understood without an appreciation of this particular regional dynamic.

Ebru Akcasu (Charles University), The Vocabulary of Regions: Linguistic Devices at the Service of Hegemony

‘The Middle East’ conjures territories and peoples that have historically been designated alternative ‘regional’ affiliations. The expansion and contraction of regions, drawn around territories by powers competing for ascendancy within them, is a multifaceted phenomenon. As argued in this paper, one manner of approaching the question of how these regions have been defined and negotiated—historically, both at the policy and popular level—is through an analysis of the linguistic devices that have been utilized to admit or deny authentic belonging of political entities in imagined spaces. In the discourse that accompanies such partitioning, the symbolic value of certain localities is boosted. Ottoman Istanbul was one such place.

As this paper will discuss, the Ottoman capital was frequently described as the Tower of Babel. The city was therefore associated with the ancient account of the endeavour of humankind, united in language, to build a tower that would reach heaven. According to Genesis, God interrupted this seemingly rebellious enterprise by confusing the language of mortals and dispersing them across the face of the earth. The varieties of human races and languages are thus explained; many of them could be seen and heard in Ottoman Istanbul. Though the city resembled how some of its observers had imagined Babel, there were noteworthy distinctions. While the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel stresses God’s power to confuse mortals to a point of not being able to comprehend one another, for example, the linguistic landscape of Ottoman Istanbul does not suggest the existence of fixed or strictly compartmentalized zones of circulation and intended comprehension. Perhaps more importantly, while Babel has a single signifier, Ottoman Istanbul had many.

Linguistic devices are indispensable in the construction, fortification, and maintenance of imaginary boundaries between regions that are defined in civilizational terms. This paper discusses this phenomenon through the example of how Ottoman Istanbul’s signifiers were semiotic tools in the service of various hegemonic aims over the critical years that spanned the Hamidian and Young Turk eras.


Coffee break


Closing Remarks: Olga Lomová (Charles University)


pdf version of the conference program here