Melikian Faculty Affiliates

Photo of Oana Almasan
Oana Almasan
International Letters and Cultures
PhD, Valahia University, Romania
Research Interests:
Participatory community politics, culture and society transformation, and Romanian language.
Hannah Barker
Assistant Professor
PhD, Columbia University
Research Interests:
Ideologies and practices of slavery in the medieval Mediterranean, especially the slave trade from the Black Sea to the markets of Cairo, Genoa, and Venice during the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries

Current research: Hannah Barker is an assistant professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies. Her research interests center on ideologies and practices of slavery in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. She has a new book out, That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500 (University of Pennsylvania Press),  which examines the process of exporting slaves from the Golden Horde to Mediterranean markets on the basis of archival sources from Genoa, Venice, and Cairo. Her next project will consider the use of the term “Tatar” as an ethnic or racial category in the context of the late medieval slave trade.

That Most Precious Merchandise

Stephen Batalden
Emeritus Professor
PhD, University of Minnesota
Research Interests:
Russia and Eastern Europe, particularly Modern Russian Religious and Cultural History
Volker Benkert
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.

Visar Berisha
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
Shahin Berisha
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
Steven Beschloss
Journalism and Mass Communication
Professor of Practice
MS, Northwestern University

Current Research: Steven Beschloss is Senior Director for Narrative Development and founding director of the Narrative Storytelling Initiative at ASU that’s focused on expanding the quality and capacity of writing and nonfiction storytelling by faculty, students and other intellectuals. In addition to this initiative across the university, Beschloss is leading narratives work for the Global Futures Laboratory, which includes examining societal issues that affect responses to the climate crisis, such as nationalism, income inequality, and technological over-reliance. He’s also studying the impact of sea-level rise on cities; how survivors of extreme weather events have remade their lives and are rethinking their climate future; the growing reality of displacement and climate refugees; envisioned futures; and the kind of stories that can influence behavior change. In that regard, he’s co-directing a multi-year faculty seminar on “Apocalyptic Thinking, Climate Change and the American Imagination.” He’s also currently co-producing a television series on American assassins based on his book, “The Gunman and His Mother: Lee Harvey Oswald, Marguerite Oswald, and The Making of an Assassin.” His most recent essay for Times Higher Ed: “Scholars Need to Act with Greater Urgency.” 

Vladimir T. Borovansky
Emeritus Professor
M.L.S., Ph.D., Charles University, Prague
Research Interests:
Collection Development
Josef Brada
Emeritus Professor
Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Research Interests:
East-West Trade/Technology Transfer
Lenka Bustikova
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.