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New institute calls for Europe to look to history
Matt Pickles | 01 Jun 12
From the collapse of the Greek economy to the rise of right-wing extremism in Hungary and the ongoing debate about Turkey’s wish to join the EU, events in central, eastern and southeastern Europe are rarely off the international news agenda these days.
Amid this climate, the Cantemir Institute has been established in Oxford University’s History Faculty – and according to Institute director Dr Marius Turda, the timing could not be better.
‘The recent, dramatic political developments in central, eastern and southeastern Europe show exactly why studying the history, politics and culture of these regions is so vital,’ he says.
Taking the example of Hungary, the Movement for a Better Hungary is the second-largest opposition party in the legislature and has gained support for its pledge to fight 'Gypsy crime' . The party is growing in support and some of its themes are reflected in policies of the current government.
‘The reasons for this rise are both political and cultural,’ says Dr Turda. ‘After a period of economic prosperity during the 1990s a lot of people have been left outside the mainstream; now economic problems are coupled with political debates on Hungary’s history of suffering, losing territories and disputes with neighbouring countries.
‘Looking at the language being used by some right wing politicians in Hungary, most of it resembles the one used in the 1930s. The problem is that young people in Hungary today are rarely aware of this similarity, so it’s very important that scholars demonstrate where this type of political discourse comes from.’
But can academic study actually have any effect on the situation on the ground? ‘We hope so,’ says Dr Turda. ‘We want to work with universities and institutions in these region who realise what is going on and want to alert people to what has come before.
‘We also want to invite people from central, eastern and southeastern Europe to come to Oxford and engage with scholars here, which will expose them to a different dialogue about the history of these regions. Students from Russia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have applied to our first studentship positions and we hope to have applicants from all over Europe in years to come.’
The output from research, lectures and seminars at the Cantemir Institute will also tackle some of the other big questions facing modern Europe, one of which is the proposed limit to EU membership. In the debates about whether Turkey should be allowed to join, many opponents pointed to the separate history and religion of the country to the rest of Europe.
Dr Turda says this does not add up. It’s very hard to argue that Turkey and the Ottoman Empire have not played a significant role in shaping southeastern, eastern and central Europe,’ he explains.
The Institute’s engagement with Turkey begins in earnest when the outspoken public activist and historian Halil Berktay gives a lecture to the East and East-Central Europe Seminar on 12 June 2012.
Dr Turda says: ‘We are really keen to invite speakers to the Institute who are not just renowned academics but who, like Halil Berktay, have had first-hand experience and involvement in the events we are studying.’
More information about the mission of the Cantemir Institute and its upcoming events can be found on the website.
Top image: an anti-government protest rally in Hungary in 2006 (Bujatt); Bottom image: Istanbul's 'Blue Mosque' (Radomil)