Last Thursday the Department of International Relations/International Organization of the University of Groningen (where I study), held its 20-year anniversary conference, dubbed ‘Towards an Autonomous European IR Approach — Relevance and Strategy’. While I hope to come back to this conference some time later, I just wanted – in the context of a previous post – to mention a short discussion I had with one of the invitees, mr. Markijan Malski, the Dean of the Department of International Relations of the University of Lviv, Ukraine.
Being familiar with Lviv’s position in the (far) west of Ukraine and its clearly ‘European’ (as opposed to ‘Russian’) background, I asked him how much he cooperates with similar departments in the east of Ukraine. Not so surprisingly, he told me there was no cooperation at all. While he and his assistant had taken the effort of driving (!) all the way to the Netherlands for a conference on the question of a European approach to International Relations (as a distinct research area), he had not been involved in any cooperative effort with his colleagues in a different part of his own country. Also the teaching staff at his faculty was apparently for 100% from western Ukrainian descent. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily have to mean much in political terms, but it does clearly point to two things: 1. on the academic level, divisions between the two sides of the country do exist; 2. this is of special importance to scholars of IR, as to quite some extent the national divisions are actually primarily about the geopolitical orientation of the country. A Ukrainian’s understanding of the triangular relationship between the EU, Russia and Ukraine is undoubtedly biased by one’s perception of the (geo)political future of the country, and this can only be exacerbated by a split according to the same lines in an academic environment which may be more parochial-provincial rather than national.