Melikian Faculty Affiliates

stephen.batalden
Stephen Batalden
HISTORY
Emeritus Professor
PhD, University of Minnesota
Research Interests:
Russia and Eastern Europe, particularly Modern Russian Religious and Cultural History
Volker Benkert
HISTORY
Assistant Professor
D.Phil., Universiät Potsdam
Research Interests:
20th Century German History, particularly the process of transformation in East Germany after 1989

Current research:  Volker Benkert is an Assistant Professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. His research focuses on the impact of sudden regime change on biographies after both totalitarian regimes in 20th century Germany. He is the author of Glückskinder der Einheit. Lebenswege der um 1970 in der DDR Geborenen (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag 2017) [Communism’s last Children. Biography, Socialization and Generation in East Germany before and after 1989]. The book traces the biographies of East Germans born between 1967 and 1973 as the last age cohort to receive its childhood and adolescent socialization in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) whereas the process of transformation shaped their adult lives after unification. East Germans responded very differently to what only superficially appeared to be a monolithic upbringing in state socialism and, thus, also met the challenges of transition after 1989 in diverse ways. Based on narrative interviews, this work identifies seven types of socialization employed by this age cohort; submission, resistance, creative adaptation, obstinate negotiation with the state, conformity, cynicism and adoption of authoritarian ideals. Given the diversity of socialization types, no common generational identity emerged in this age group.

Benkert’s new research project explores memory of the Nazi past in Germany through recent public television miniseries. Despite great strides to acknowledge the horrors of the Holocaust miniseries such as “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter” (Generation War) still include highly apologetic and redemptive narrative traits.

Shahin_Berisha
Shahin Berisha
MELIKIAN CENTER
Adjunct Faculty
PhD, University of Prishtina
Research Interests:
Training programs in cooperation with Kosovo and Albania; science, math, and technology with particular interest in renewable energy
Visar Berisha
SPEECH AND HEARING SCIENCE
Assistant Professor
Ph.D., Arizona State University
Research Interests:
New machine learning and statistical signal processing tools to better understand and model signal perception; projects with Kosovo
Vladimir T. Borovansky
UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES
Emeritus Professor
M.L.S., Ph.D., Charles University, Prague
Research Interests:
Collection Development
Josef Brada
ECONOMICS
Emeritus Professor
Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Research Interests:
East-West Trade/Technology Transfer
Lenka Bustikova
POLITICS AND GLOBAL STUDIES
Assistant Professor
Ph.D., Duke University
Research Interests:
Political extremism, ethnic conflict, clientelism, comparative politics, methodology

Current research: 
“Polarization and Democratic Decay in Central Europe”
(Lenka Bustikova and Petra Guasti)

Is polarization a cause or a consequence of democratic backsliding? We ask whether polarization precedes democratic decay or whether polarization accelerates after the initial steps were taken to dismantle liberal democracy. On October 19, 2017, a 54-year old chemist set himself on fire in Warsaw to protest the dismantling of democracy in Poland. Piotr Szczęsny died from his injuries ten days later. His death symbolizes the decay of the democratic order in the so-called Visegrad Four (V4)—the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia—the symptoms of which include declining trust in democratic institutions, emboldened uncivil society, the rise of oligarchs and populists as political leaders, assaults on an independent judiciary, the colonization of public administration by political proxies, increased governmental control over media, civic apathy and nationalistic contestation. These processes signal that the liberal-democratic project in these polities has been stalled, diverted or reversed.

We investigate two conditions that contribute to democratic decay: executive aggrandizement and contestation of sovereignty. Our primary objective is to untangle whether attempts to expand executive powers (and subsequent weakening of democratic structures) precede cultural (non-economic) polarization. Is polarization is reactive and fabricated by entrepreneurial elites? Alternatively, polarization creates an opening for illiberal political entrepreneurs and ‘causes' decay. Aggrandizement refers to an increase in the concentration of political power (Bermeo, 2016). It undermines the constitutional order and reduces checks and balances. Unresolved sovereignty leads to polarization. If sovereignty becomes contested, often with the help of populist appeals, ethnic, religious and social minorities can face exclusion from the sovereign, which limits pluralism. When sovereignty becomes contested, support for radical right parties often follows. An illiberal swerve cannot be accomplished without access to power, which is limited for most niche parties. Radicalized mainstream parties, on the contrary, are in a prime position to combine exclusionary identity politics with executive aggrandizement. However, if mainstream parties are perceived as having betrayed the sovereign, new, niche parties gain support. This implosion manifests itself in a decrease in support for existing political parties and the emergence of new, populist parties (e.g., ANO 2011, SMER). Attempts to concentrate power are not new to the V4 region. In Slovakia, Mečiar’s attempt at establishing a nationalist, centralized and illiberal political system failed. In the Czech Republic, one episode of a failed power grab is particularly important: the Opposition Agreement of 1998, an attempt by two major parties to strengthen the majoritarian character of the Czech polity. This gambit failed due to political opposition and the Constitutional Court (2000). Similarly, Constitutional Tribunal blocked the first PiS-led government’s illiberal swerving in Poland (2005–2007). All four V4 political leaders (Babiš and Kaczyński) and Prime Ministers (Fico and Orban) differ in the degree to which they embrace executive aggrandizement and emphasize sovereignty. Orban and his party FIDESZ have been able to concentrate power gradually over the past seven years, and have successfully reshaped the Hungarian polity. Orban’s playbook has provided a blueprint for the other V4 countries, particularly for Poland. While the governments of Poland and Hungary share a similar desire for a power grab, Kaczyński is an ideologue aligned with the church, whereas Orban is a corrupt ideological entrepreneur aligned with oligarchs. The project is based on a variety of publicly available data sources: public statements, public opinion surveys, datasets on party positions and parliamentary transcripts and original data collection of political statements that relate to sovereignty issues in V4 countries.

Ellon D. Carpenter
MUSIC
Emeritus Professor
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
Research Interests:
Russian Musical Aesthetics, Composition
Anna Cichopek-Gajraj
HISTORY
Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Michigan
Research Interests:
Modern East European history (in particular Poland and Czechoslovakia/Slovakia), modern Jewish history, comparative and social history, theories of ethnicity, violence, nationalism, and the aftermath of genocide.

Current research:

Letter from a displaced person

Anna Cichopek-Gajraj is currently working on a book project tentatively titled In Transit: Polish Catholic and Jewish refugees’ postwar journeys (1945-60). After the Second World War, millions of Polish citizens, both Catholic and Jewish (more than 200,000), found themselves outside of Poland’s borders or left them within fifteen years. This project examines their journeys westward out of Poland. Although many Polish and Polish-Jewish refugees ended up in the United States, their destination was often a matter of chance, the result of several coincidences, family connections, economic opportunities, and last-minute decisions. She explores the temporariness and permanence of their life “in transit” as well as their connection or lack thereof to Poland in the first months and years after departure. She also explores how they negotiated the Polish and/or Jewish “portion” of their identity in their new environments. This project will mainly be based on case files of aid organizations, personal papers and letters, newspapers and magazines, memoirs, and recorded testimonies. She will also incorporate my interviews with Polish Jews and Catholics who came to the United States either as children or teenagers in the first fifteen years after the war. Her emphasis on the transatlantic journey will make it the first such study in the field of postwar Polish history. It will be only the second book-length study which explores the postwar migration of Polish Jews and Catholics not as two distinct phenomena but as one inclusive story.

Professor Cichopek-Gajraj shares about her research

J. Eugene Clay
RELIGIOUS STUDIES
Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Chicago
Research Interests:
Eastern Orthodoxy, Russian Religious Dissent

Current research: J. Eugene Clay is currently completing a book manuscript provisionally entitled “The Woman Clothed with The Sun.”  This monograph explores the experience of Russian Spiritual Christians, whose spiritual vision of pacifism and human equality challenged the social hierarchies of both the Russian empire, where they originated, and the United States, where some of them eventually immigrated beginning in 1904. In both countries, the Spiritual Christians, who believed in the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, defied the inequalities of both American democracy and the Russian imperium. In Russia, the Spiritual Christians were persecuted and exiled for their religious beliefs; in the United States, they suffered for their commitment to pacifism and their unwillingness to register for the draft. By examining how Russian and American social categories of religion and race operated as tools of social control, this study sets in bold relief the ways that Russians and Americans understood their societies. It also tells an important and heroic story of ordinary people who, at great cost, remained true to their ideas of equality and peace.  The Melikian Center has supported research trips to major archival repositories and manuscript collections in the Russian Federation in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Pages