Encouraging debate and better policy in Eastern Europe | University of Oxford

Encouraging debate and better policy in Eastern Europe

Extensive field-work by an Oxford academic has helped disseminate knowledge and develop institutional capacity in a rapidly evolving and fluid part of the world.

Encouraging debateThe flag of Ukraine.

The Ukraine crisis burst upon the Western world’s consciousness in November 2013, when President Yanukovych suspended preparations for a closer association with the EU in favour of greater co-operation with Russia. By the end of the month, 100,000 people had demonstrated in Kiev; in early December, 800,000 gathered in the city.

The ensuing descent into conflict soon preoccupied the Western media, with alarmists predicting a renewal of the Cold War as the United States, Russia and the EU all adopted differing positions on the crisis. But amid the sound and fury, Dr Gwendolyn Sasse, of the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations, remained a measured and authoritative source of unbiased and crucial expertise.

Dr Sasse’s research work for the past 20 years has seen her travel extensively in Eastern Europe, interviewing members of the region’s economic and political elites. Her knowledge allowed her to put Russia’s annexation of Crimea into context.

It has also contributed significantly to Western policy making, improvements in professional practice and to institution-building in this rapidly evolving and fluid part of the world.

“My research has focused in particular on ethnic conflicts, the EU’s eastward enlargement and neighbourhood policy, and Ukraine’s protracted transition,” explains Dr Sasse. “It led to my appointment as deputy editor of the United Nations Development Policy (UNDP) newsletter in 2005.”

The newsletter was published in electronic form, entitled ‘Development and Transition’ (2005-11). Its aim was to inform and improve professional practice in UNDP field offices throughout Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and Turkey. Widely read and, while published in English, also leading to local language spin-offs in a number of countries, the newsletter played a vital role in stimulating critical policy debate.

Dr Sasse’s research also led to her appointment to the Sub-Board of the Open Society Foundations’ Think Tank Fund (2008-12), which provides support for policy research institutes in different parts of the world, while her book, The Crimea Question: Identity, Transition, and Conflict, won the Alexander Nove Prize for the best book in the field of East European Studies in 2008.

The Crimea Question remains the standard reference book on Crimea, and Dr Sasse has published a number of articles on post-communist conflicts. Moreover, Dr Sasse’s recent Ukraine analysis led, in 2014, to her appointment as Non- Resident Senior Associate at Carnegie Europe.

Her work has engendered changes in educational and pedagogical practices in two political science/ International Relations departments at the two main Bulgarian universities under the Open Society Foundations’ Academic Fellowship Program, which aims to reform university structures in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Dr Sasse’s ongoing diligence and field-work – she travels as extensively as ever in Eastern Europe, interviewing key players and speaking at conferences and workshops – makes for a powerful counter to the lack of information or indeed misinformation in the media about Eastern Europe.

Funded by: ESRC, the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy, and the John Fell Fund