Regions of Conflict in Eastern Europe

Research Cluster of the Landes-Offensive zur Entwicklung Wissenschaftlich-ökonomischer Exzellenz (LOEWE)

Project Leaders: Prof. Dr. Peter Haslinger (Director Herder Institute), Prof. Dr. Monika Wingender (Managing Director of the Giessen Centre for Eastern Europe)

Administrative Coordination: Dipl.-Phil. Aksana Braun, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen

Funding: Landes-Offensive zur Entwicklung Wissenschaftlich-ökonomischer Exzellenz (LOEWE), The Hessen State Ministry for Higher Education, Research and the Arts

Project Partners: Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (HSFK), Deutsches Polen-Institut Darmstadt, Zentrum für Konfliktforschung an der Philipps-Universität Marburg, Schader-Stiftung in Darmstadt

Duration: 01/2017 – 09/2021

Project Website:

Plakat LOEWE Masterclass 2017
Plakat LOEWE Masterclass 2017

The focus of the initiative is “regions of conflict in Eastern Europe”. The research proposals are thematically wide-ranging and have an interdisciplinary focus; the new emphasis of the LOEWE programme is to conduct analysis, not just of the current Russian/Ukrainian conflict, but also the historical and present day situations in other Eastern European regions that have been affected by conflicts. Who are the active participants and which forms of media play a role in constructing conflicts? How do conflicts come about? What are the dynamics that characterise how conflicts unfold and how can we evaluate opposing interpretations? Researchers across a total of 12 postdoc and doctoral projects are investigating these and other questions. Involved in the projects are the faculties of Eastern European History, Slavic Studies, Turkish Studies, Political Science and Sociology.

The qualification projects are supported by a transfer project, which provides for numerous publicity campaigns and measures such as media partnerships, east-west tandem authorship, and east-west dialogue symposia. Through these means, knowledge can be interpreted and made available for politics and media. Within the scope of the new LOEWE focus there is an aim to make use of the opportunities provided by new digital communication technology and to use appropriate educational activities within the international project network to support ongoing reflection on various competing east/west approaches to interpretation. The research being carried out within the LOEWE framework is of particular importance in view of the fact that the LOEWE focus is bringing about a new level of quality to the work done both by the Leibniz Research Association “Crises of a Globalised World” and by the Leibniz Association and at the University of Giessen, where there is
already a significant level of competence in the area of Eastern European research. The LOEWE focus is also paving the way for further project initiatives to be undertaken in the future.

Plakat der LOEWE-Meilensteintagung 2019
Plakat der LOEWE-Meilensteintagung 2019

Competing Concepts of Governance: The Free City of Danzig and League of Nations between Local and Transnational Conflict Management (1919-1939)

Subproject Leader: PD Dr. Christian Lotz
Project Staff:
Adrian Mitter M.A., Dorá Hollstein

Still today, when a conflict region is placed under international control, there is an expectation that existing confrontations will cease to escalate and, if possible, that peace will eventually be restored. Following the First World War, the participants of the League of Nations, established in 1920, expected the dispute between the Poles and Germans over the city of Danzig to find its way to such a resolution. Until now, the investigation of this situation has primarily focussed on the ideological and propagandistic confrontations relating to the national affiliation of Danzig to the German or Polish states and has also looked at the strategies used by the League of Nations to defuse these conflicts. However, there has been scant attention paid to concepts of governance on the German, Polish and international sides regarding the practical challenges for the free city of Danzig, specifically those of transport, trade, economy and ecology during the interwar years. This subproject therefore uses Danzig as an example with the aim (a) to research the relationship between local, national and transnational capacities for action and concepts of governance, and (b) to analyse how the intertwining of political, economic and ecological factors played a role in intensifying or resolving the conflict.

By using the example of the free city of Danzig, the subproject focuses on a small, defined space, which enables the interrelationship of local and transnational elements to be analysed effectively. This is the only project that deals with the League of Nations, an international organisation that existed prior to 1945, and which has shaped, through its accomplishments and failures alike, the make up of similar organisations established since the Second World War and has significantly influenced their standards relating to various powerful concepts of governance. Finally, a broader spatial perspective has been achieved through the Danzig subproject in so far as the research has not just focussed on a new region, but through Danzigs trade relationships, has also taken into consideration interrelationships with other regions in Europe and beyond.

Projektbild LOEWE Danzig
Danzig (Detail): Map Collection, Signatur K_7_VIII_D_21

Conflicts concerning Loyalty and Minorities in Latvia in the interwar period

Subproject Leader: PD Dr. Heidi Hein-Kircher
Project Staff:
Vera Volkmann M.A.

Because of its multi-layered ethno-cultural make-up and geo-strategic significance, the Baltic is a European conflict zone in which conflicts around loyalties and minorities as well as requirements relating to imperial hegemony continue to manifest in the modern era. At the turn of the 20th century, the German nobility played a socially dominant role in rural areas while the cities were socially dominated by the German middle classes; the autochthonous population lived mostly in rural areas, while the Russian speaking section of the population settled predominantly in industrialised regions and urban areas, or were relocated there either to work for the civil service or the military. The Baltic region was therefore subject to tensions based on various social, political and national processes and shifting loyalties that ran parallel and reinforced each other; these included the introduction of urbanisation, industrialisation, Russia’s efforts to put an end to German-Baltic social dominance and russify the region and, finally, the establishment of national states.

This subproject analyses the repercussions of political turning points and phases of transformation which led to processes of separation and establishment of sovereignties (the revolution of 1905, world war/revolutions in 1917, the establishment of nation states as well as democratisation and socio-economic transformation and the establishment of authoritarian regimes). The project looks at how these factors manifested at local and regional levels and how they affected social dynamics across the region; it also explores how new loyalties formed and thus how the relationships between and within ethno-sectarian groups changed at a local level.

Projektbild LOEWE Lettland
Latvia (Detail): Map Collection, Signatur 46IID2_11

The Politics of Memory, Identity Economics and Concepts of Integration as constituent factors of the Russian/Ukrainian crisis (1945-2015)

Subproject Leader: Dr. Anna Veronika Wendland

Project Staff: Irena Remestwenski M.A., Anastasiia Lytvynenko

Conflicts around the sovereignty of interpretation in Ukrainian history have continued to play a major role in the modern history of this country since the establishment of the modern Ukrainian national movement. Since Ukrainian territories belonged to either the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union for many years, these conflicts always relate back to interpretations of the interwoven Ukrainian and Russian history. Russian/Ukrainian history contains areas of unresolved tension, within which some forms of historical memory are privileged and others discriminated against, depending on political constellations and associated integration projects. Historical-political controversies around the role  Ukraine in a Russian dominated Eurasia, or in a new European context that is still being defined, in turn spark geopolitical discourse on the persistence of global and cultural lines of conflict in Eastern Europe.

In view of project’s main objective to provide interpretations relating to the mechanisms of the genesis of conflict areas in Eastern Europe, the aim of the subproject is to form two working hypotheses concerning the role the politics of memory plays in the creation of the Russian/Ukrainian conflict. These are empirically and systematically reviewed. Hypothesis 1 states that cases of conflict relating to the politics of memory can be grouped according to particular terminological fields, which act as compressors and markers for controversial content. These relate in turn to different concepts of political integration and include
1) the imperial self-concepts of the “Little Russians” (maloross) in the 19th century and those of the Soviet peoples in the 20th century, which were both mutually influential and yet also mutually antagonistic forces. Related to this is also the national cultural self-concept of Ukrainians,
2) the unresolved tension around Ukrainian statehood and territorialism due to various factors including the attempt to create a nation state (1917-1920), the Soviet Ukraine (1922-1991) and national independence since 1991,
3) the eruption of war and violence between 1930 and 1945 and the friction created by the interrelated experiences of victims and perpetrators, resistors and collaborators (with regard to Nazi occupation) and the tension around emancipation and occupation (with regard to the restitution of Soviet rule), and lastly
4) the Soviet-Ukrainian experiences since 1945 as modernisation versus russification. Hypothesis 2 proposes that political players exploit these areas of tension and controversy, either with the goal to participate in political power or to retain their power and to fortify their own agendas. The aim is to provide historical interpretations relating to the fracture zone between Ukraine and Russia.

Projektbild LOEWE Ukraine
Putin als Dieb des 2.-Weltkriegs-Gedenkens. Ukrainisches Plakat in russischer Sprache zum 70. Jahrestag des Kriegsendes. Text: „Stop! Diebe und Schmarotzer, Hände weg vom Tag des Sieges!“ Hier unterlaufen Ukrainer die russische Monopolisierung des Gedenktages und fordern ihren Anteil am Siegesmythos ein. Abbildung: Pjotr Verzilov, Gruppa Vojna,

Media Representations of inter-ethnic and commemorative Conflicts: West Ukraine, Transylvania, Southern Slovakia since 1980

Subproject Leader: Prof. Dr. Peter Haslinger

Project Staff: Dr. Eszter Gantner (bis August 2019), Dr. Tatsiana Astrouskaya (ab April 2020), Iryna Dolnytska

Today we can still find numerous examples in Eastern Europe of the dynamic interrelationship between political, inter-ethnic and commemorative cultural conflicts. In these areas, questions relating to minority groups must be negotiated together with competing interpretations of historical development as well as foreign and geopolitical orientations. In the light of this, the aim of the subproject is to investigate how the history of regions affected by conflict can be best presented both in scientific literature and in popular histories within the context of an ever-shifting science and media landscape. The idea is to seek clarification for the overall objective of the LOEWE initiative on how interpretations and interpretive knowledge may be provided in cross-border dialogue situations and in adverse interrelational circumstances; a further aim is to clarify how this information may be presented for the media. Some of the representative examples will look at mass media contexts (newspapers, television, internet sources).

The project will focus on three key regions, namely West Ukraine, Transylvania and southern Slovakia, all of which exhibit the following characteristics: 1) During the 20th century, they each became the object of fierce territorial disputes between neighbouring states due to their position as inter-ethnic melting pots; they are are also characterised by, in some cases dramatic, demographic changes (culminating in deportations and massacres). 2) These topics have been investigated and re-examined by experts with increasing intensity in the years since, however sometimes using conflicting methods or frameworks and in other cases with recourse to new approaches in international research. 3) Since the 1990s, there has been a re-evaluation of regional multi-ethnicity in all three regions, in particular a rediscovery of Jewish regional history, but there has also been a shift in focus towards ethnicities that continue to fade away or have been suppressed (for example, in the case of the Roma people and their history). 4) During the years that make up this investigation period, these regions became the focus of popular depictions in the media, due in part to the fact that the media landscape underwent profound changes along with shifts in the political, economic and technological environments (transformation, pluralisation and digitalisation).

Projektbild LOEWE Ungarn
ungarian-russian border near Körösmezö, Image Archive, Inv-Nr. 216139