[Aaus-list] Conference at The New School

Bohdan Vitvitsky bohdanvitvitsky at gmail.com
Mon Oct 6 18:07:48 EDT 2014

I attended the conference at the New School last Friday.  Since Vitaliy
asked that anyone who attended share his/her impressions, mine follow.

As I was listening to the various round table presentations, it occurred to
me that the conference, titled "Grounding Theoretical Reflections in
Politics:  Ukraine as  Mirror of the Political,"--whatever that is meant to
mean, could also have been titled the "Magic Trick" conference insofar as
it posed the followed query or challenge:  is it possible to hold a
conference related to a subject that is both distant and somewhat opaque,
in contrast to something much more proximate and transparent, such as an
American presidential election, without making much or actually any effort
to describe or at least preliminarily illuminate what that something has
been/is, i.e., what in the instant case has for better or worse come to be
called the "Ukraine crisis."  My initial response would have been a
resounding "no," but I was proven at least partially wrong in that, for
example, there were two speakers who cheerfully admitted to not knowing
much of anything at all about Ukraine or the Ukraine crisis that
nonetheless managed to share some interesting information/reflections about
how what has been happening between Russia and Ukraine, whatever that has
been, has or has not affected the relations between China and Russia.

But there were too many speakers who acknowledged not knowing anything
about Ukraine.  And, somewhat more problematically--given the odd
conception for the conference whose organizer explicitly wrote about the
conference that it was *not *the point of the conference to "engage in
event [i.e., Ukraine crisis] analysis," there were some speakers who did
know something about Ukraine and who made various statement to that effect,
the accuracy or insightfulness of which the rest of the participants and
audience were not in much of a position to judge.  Thus, e.g., there were
some of the usual silly statements about Ukraine being a divided country
(happily, this was rebutted by Tim Frye), a short exchange about Bandera
and Bandera statues in Ukraine during which Tarik Amar expressed his usual
affection for "Ukrainian nationalism," and one of the presenters began her
talk during the "Narratives of Legitimacy" round table that she devoted to
the Crimean referendum by citing and relying upon the "official" voter
participation and voter support figures for said referendum without being
aware that the credibility of these numbers has been under serious

Yet despite the free floating nature of the conference's design, in the
fourth round table the chairs of the first three round tables, Nancy Ries,
Andreas Kalyvas and Mark Beisinger, managed to offer some interesting
reflections such as, e.g., that events in Ukraine can paradoxically provide
Europe, which has seemed to become somewhat tired and worn, with a new
legitimacy because of the Ukrainians' willingness to sacrifice for what
have traditionally been imagined to represent European ideals.

-Bohdan Vitvitsky
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