The eleventh Conference on Baltic Studies in Europe took place in Marburg, Germany, from September 7-10, 2015. The host, the Herder Institute, and its partners, the Justus Liebig University of Gießen and the Philipps University of Marburg, welcomed 195 participants from seventeen countries to discuss “Traditions, Transitions, Transfers.”
The opening event took place in the magnificent ballroom of the Landgraves castle, which sits on top of the mountain overlooking the medieval city and the valley of the Lahn River. The series of welcome addresses by Peter Haslinger, the director of the Herder Institute, Egon Vaupel, the mayor of Marburg, Benedikt Stuchtey, the dean of the Faculty of History at Marburg University, and Joybarto Mukherjee, the president of Gießen University, was interspersed with musical deliberations by Aivars Kalejs (piano) and the most delightful Martina Doehring (soprano) introducing and singing pieces by the composer of Baltic descent Ella von Schultz-Adaïewsky (1846-1926). Theodore Weeks of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale lifted spirits with his highly enjoyable keynote speech “On the Edge: The Historical and Present-Day Importance of the Baltic Region.”
The most common – and somewhat perennial – themes this year included the history of the religious (mostly Jewish and Orthodox) and ethnic minorities (mostly Germans and Russians) in the Baltic region, the diaspora, émigrés and exiles throughout the twentieth century. Additionally, this year’s CBSE marked the return of biographies (almost exclusively of men) to illustrate larger, historical phenomena and developments. Noteworthy, too, was the increasing number of presentations that dealt with financial and economic issues. This timely trend seems to come at the expense of the erstwhile dominant “memory studies.” Although they did so laudably, only few addressed the end of the Cold War and the (singing) revolutions of 1989-91. Words of criticism were heard about the inconsistent quality of some presentations and the lack of time discipline.
The CBSE 2015 did not fall short of social events. Monday afternoon, participants were invited to tour the different collections of the Herder Institute. Tuesday evening, one could either listen to the concert “Balticness Meets Balticnoise” in Marburg’s City Hall or watch the documentary film “Over the Roads, Over the River.” One of its seven directors, Bettina Henkel (Academy of Arts, Vienna) whose research the Herder Institute had supported, introduced this assemblage of views and stories about Riga. On Thursday, the organizers offered the choice of three tours either to Marburg’s historic landmarks, the Elisabeth Church, the old “Oberstadt” and the Castle or to the State Archive.
The conference concluded with a roundtable discussion on “Rethinking Europe in the Crisis: The Baltics and Eastern Europe in Transition,” which took place in the university’s courtly Old Auditorium. Alfons Brüning from Radboud University, Nijmegen, challenged his guests Andrea Garwich of Gießen University, Anna Veronika Wendland of the Herder Institute, and Andres Kasekamp, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute and Professor of Baltic Politics at the University of Tartu, to relate the Ukrainian-Russian crisis and invasion of the Crimea to the Baltic states. Mrs. Garwich opened the discussion with a skeptical assessment of German public opinion and criticism of German foreign policy. Mr. Kasekamp made his audience chuckle with comments like “giving the Baltics Deutsche Welle is… nice but not a strong signal,” while he reproached journalists for “asking [the Russian minorities in the Baltics] the wrong questions.” Kasekamp, who volunteered to be “the hawk,” insisted on a clearer commitment to Article 5, NATO’s principle of collective defense, a position which Mrs. Wendland supported. Both, however, refrained from whipping up fears of a Russian invasion. Instead, Mrs. Wendland, an expert on Ukraine, reminded her audience of the crucial difference between Ukraine and the Baltic States: in contrast to the latter, Russian patriotism cannot be conceived without Kyiv and the Kyivan Rus. The evening ended with another appetizing buffet and an open bar, so that the courtyard of Marburg’s Old University rang with laughter well into the night.
By Dr. Victoria Harms, Postdoctoral Fellow, Leibniz Graduate School
Herder-Institut für historische Ostmitteleuropaforschung – Institut der Leibniz-Gemeinschaft