Professor Haslinger, you are the Director of the Herder Institute for Historical Research into Eastern Central Europe at Marburg and - together with your colleague from the Slavic Studies Department at Giessen, Prof. Dr Monika Wingender – the spokesperson for the LOEWE Cluster entitled “Regions of Conflict in Eastern Europe”. What would you like to achieve within the four-year research funding period? Politicians and the media often said that Eastern Europe had ceased to be a region of great conflicts when the Cold War ended, the EU was enlarged through new members from Eastern Europe and rapprochement took place between the West and Russia in the 1990s. The wars accompanying the breakup of former Yugoslavia appeared to be the exception in what were overall gratifying developments. Many other regional conflicts therefore hardly attracted the necessary attention at that time. The annexation of Crimea turned this theory on its head. Within the LOEWE Cluster, we are aware that there is an enormous need to clarify matters. We do not want to just feed more information about individual conflicts into discussions here, but also provide the knowledge to interpret situations. We want to demonstrate how it is possible to lift the lid on extremely complex causes and factors that fuel regional conflicts and how background issues can be categorised. We are placing great emphasis on the cultural dimension, which the media often fail to evaluate properly, and we want to raise an awareness of long-term developments. All this is being done on an equal footing with our long-standing partners in Eastern Europe and includes projects involving digital teaching and curriculum development for universities.
In your opinion, what significance and impact do you think this conflict region will have on world politics in the coming decades? As the multilateral world order has increasingly crumbled during the last 30 years, Europe’s eastern flank has once again turned into a geopolitical fault line. In some places, such as Ukraine and Georgia, we cannot talk about a peaceful and stable situation and fighting is continuing in eastern Ukraine. Eastern Europe - and I am explicitly referring to Russia here - merits our undivided attention. Crucial decisions will be made here and in the transition zones to the Middle and Far East during the next few years and they will be crucial for the future of our continent. In my view, concentrating solely on the major players - the USA, the EU, Russia, and possibly Turkey - is the wrong approach. The countries in the region need to emerge from the shadows and play a greater role in all the plans.
You were born in Innsbruck, studied and worked in Vienna and Budapest, and have now been living and working in Marburg and Giessen for many years. Do you think that your career has left its special (European) mark on you? I think so. I experienced the division of the world during the Cold War just before it came to an end, but I saw it with my own eyes. I spent 1988/89 as a scholarship holder at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Hungary and experienced the beginning of the collapse of the communist systems first-hand. During my studies in Vienna, I understood that cultural diversity can not only be regarded as part of your own history, but also as a positive recipe for society - even if I now view the Austrian imperial nostalgia associated with Sissi in a very critical way. I would therefore first of all describe myself as a European, because I have learned to appreciate and love the diversity within Europe. However, I now believe that a common set of values and common perspectives on central issues are just as necessary to preserve the peace project in Europe for future generations.
What are your wishes for the future, especially with regard to developments in Eastern and Central Europe? First of all, I am increasingly concerned by the new wave of policies reflecting national interests and national identities. This is creating a new style of politics, which will promote conflicts within Europe in future, because a return to thought patterns involving "age-old animosity" is almost inevitable. That is why I also believe that formulas such as illiberal democracies or a Europe of fatherlands are a disaster. At the same time, I am opposed to hastily "writing off" countries like Hungary or Poland as examples of unsuccessful integration. It was already clear to me immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall that we could not expect things to develop in a streamlined manner. Despite all the justified criticism of social fault lines in the new EU partner countries, I still think that eastern enlargement has been one of the greatest success stories in fairly recent European history. However, the hopes associated with EU membership have so far only been fulfilled in part. I therefore call for patience, a readiness to empathise and great sensitivity on the part of the Western partner countries, where ignorance and disinterest are often still the order of the day. However, I am also in favour of uncompromisingly adhering to the values that have made Europe what it still is, in my view: a comprehensive peace project with mechanisms to ensure that armed conflicts cannot even be allowed to develop.
- Director of the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, Marburg