“And I Believe in Signs”

Soviet Secularity and Islamic Tradition in Kyrgyzstan

25 March 2024

In his new article „And I Believe in Signs: Soviet Secularity and Islamic Tradition in Kyrgyzstan“ Bucerius Fellow Usmon Boron analyzed the conceptual and affective aspects of Soviet forced secularization in Central Asia.The present essay is about non-observant Muslims in (post-)Soviet Kyrgyzstan, and it aims to think about both secularism and tradition from the perspective of
Soviet history.


„Costs of non-enlargement“

Foresight Report EU Enlargement and Neighborhood published

07 March 2024

“In contrast to past enlargement phases, the upcoming EU expansion is a proactive Union response to mitigate instability in the neighbourhood and address global tensions arising from armed conflicts, climate change, demographic challenges and democratic backsliding. Europe faces a pivotal moment which will redefine the political space of shared values and geostrategic resilience.“

The report describes four different scenarios for the future enlargement and neighbourhood policy of the European Union and formulates policy recommendations.  It focuses on the political and social costs of potentially missed opportunities to manage stability, prosperity and multilateral relations in the neighbourhood. The paper presents the results of a foresight project conducted by Visegrad Insight - Res Publica Foundation and ZEIT STIFTUNG BUCERIUS together with a group of more than 40 scholars and fellows of both organisations.

You can read and download the report here


New Project: Trajectories of Change

Strategic Foresight for EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood

20 March 2023

The ZEIT-Stiftung partners up with Visegrad Insight and Res Publica Foundation to launch a major initiative “Trajectories of Change – Strategic Foresight for EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood”. The project fosters exchange between academic and policy networks in Europe and provides policy briefs and recommendations related to the dynamics of EU enlargement with a particular focus on Southern and Eastern Neighbourhoods.

The initiative aims to facilitate the constructive input of academic networks in the upcoming debate about the long-term vision on the future of Europe. It seeks to overcome an image of recalcitrance associated with the Southern and Eastern Neighbourhoods by elaborating on concrete proposals through extensive workshops, consultations and policy interventions on the future of Europe from the perspective of civil society stakeholders. By means of extensive discussions, horizon-scanning, and trend analysis, it gives voice to actors that may not be heard through conventional and state-led channels. 

The project begins with two-day workshops with leading policymakers and stakeholders at the heart of European policymaking in Brussels. These inter-disciplinary and multi-university workshops will be conducted with a particular focus on the Southern and Eastern neighbourhood regions. Throughout those two days, participants will be plugged into strategic foresight planning under the guidance of experts in the field. 


Germany's Feminist Foreign and Development Policy

An exploration of the need for changes in relations with the South Caucasus

19 March 2023

Following a corresponding affirmation in the 2021 Coalition Agreement, Germany’s Federal Foreign Office and Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation are developing the first comprehensive guidelines for a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP). Sonja Schiffers, director the South Caucasus Office of the Böll-Stiftung and Bucerius-fellow, explores earlier efforts for gender equality oriented foreign policy, the contents of the new FFP paradigm and the possible practice of a feminist foreign policy in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. (Picture: © Makalu/Pixabay)

"The German government is in the process of spelling out a feminist foreign and development policy. This article, aimed at contributing to policy changes based on the new paradigm, suggests how Germany’s policy towards Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, whose political relevance has increased for Berlin due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, could become feminist. It recommends that Germany steps up its support for civil society and human rights in the region, ensures feedback loops to its policies from diverse local groups, becomes a strong ally for gender equality and LGBTQI rights, and puts its political weight behind the promotion of lasting peace.

The 2021 coalition agreement between the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the Liberals (FDP) stipulates that together with its partners, Germany "want[s] to strengthen the rights, resources, and representation of women and girls worldwide and promote social diversity in the spirit of a Feminist Foreign Policy." Now, the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development are developing corresponding guidelines. The Foreign Office plans to apply a 3R+D approach to promote "the rights, representation, and resources of women and marginalized groups, as well as to enhance diversity." The Development Ministry uses more comprehensive and political language, stating that "feminist development policy is centered around all people and tackles the root causes of injustice such as power relations between genders, social norms, and role models." Moreover, Development Minister Svenja Schulze announced plans to "increase the share of bilateral Development Ministry funding that contributes to gender equality as a principal or significant objective – from its current level of about 60 per cent to a level of 93 per cent" and to "double the share of projects that pursue gender equality as their principal objective." Since the two ministries' feminist strategies are still in the drafting process, it is yet unclear how exactly their policies will be spelled out."


Peace talking versus peace making

'Now Ukraïne continues to succesfully regain occupied territories Putin seems willing to negotiate. [...]'

14 November 2022

In his article Peace talking versus peace making published on 14 November 2022 in a short time after the liberation of the strategically and symbolicaly important city of Kherson from the Russion occupiers, Advisory Board Member Mykola Riabchuk discusses possible ways resolving the 'Ukrainian question' and shows what alternatives exist. And says: 'Russia fights the collective West, of which Ukraine is believed to be just a proxy; it fights for an equal status with the U.S. – a status Russia thinks it is entitled to (with its duly assigned spheres of influence) but is unjustly denied; Russia fights for a new world order where might makes right and brutal force and nuclear blackmail reigns supreme.'


Policy Study

Digital Surveillance, Master Key for MENA Autocrats

31 May 2022

In his article entitled Digital Surveillance, Master Key for MENA Autocrats published as part of a joint political study Liberty’s Doom? Artificial Intelligence in Middle Eastern Security by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, Žilvinas Švedkauskas, Bucerius Ph.D. Fellow, examines how the uptake of AI-enabled technologies has boosted digital surveillance, including machine learning for clustering, speech recognition, natural language processing, image and video generation and autonomous decision-making.


Analysing change

A Relational Approach to Digital Sovereignty

31 March 2022

In his new article "A Relational Approach to Digital Sovereignty: e-Estonia Between Russia and the West" Bucerius Fellow Stanislav Budnitsky explores the cultural logics underlying national digital sovereignty, defined here as statecraft relating to information and telecommunication technologies.

"[T]he article traces how Estonian governing elites’ constructions of Russia and the West as negative and positive Others have informed the state’s digital institutions and discourses. It shows that Estonia’s nationwide digitization, self-branded “e-Estonia,” has been intrinsic to its existential goal of integrating into the Euro-Atlantic community and distancing itself from its Soviet past and the Russian state. [...] By illuminating how sovereign powers wield digital technologies according to
their national identity constructions, this study ultimately reveals the continued
significance of nationalism in the digital age." 


Analysing change

Russian invasion: The fatal blindness of the West

01 March 2022

In the ZEIT Online article, Advisory Board Member and one of Ukraine's most renowned intellectuals Mykola Riabchuk analyses the West's missed chance to perceive Russia's great power aspirations in time, while Russia's words and deeds spoke a clear language.

“[…] Is Ukraine (as well as Moldova, Georgia, etc.) a sovereign state - as sovereign and internationally recognised as Russia? If so, do they have the same rights in international law and intergovernmental agreements? Are their "security concerns" less important and justified than Russia's? Yes, why are the security concerns formulated according to Russian understanding, from Russia's perspective, and not theirs? […]”


Disinformation and Lies

Truth, Freedom and Peace

27 February 2022

Advisory Board Member Mykola Riabchuk titled "Russia’s War" in his article first published under the title "Calling a Spade a Spade: the Rogue Essence of the Kremlin Regime" in Desk Russie and on 27 February in EUROZINE, discusses: 'When war becomes a reality, time is of the essence. Slow political responses raise questions about underlying reasons for reluctance. And as Russia wages war on Ukraine, how the situation is described at distance also matters. How can Putin’s position be pulled back from the black hole of media and political acquiescence?'


"In Search of the “Political”: Law’s (Il)legibility between Violence and Care

Working Group for Advanced Ph.D. Students and Early-Career Researchers

14 February 2022

Titled “In Search of the ‘Political’: Law’s (Il)legibility between Violence and Care”, the virtual interdisciplinary working group brings together 13 advanced graduate students and early-career researchers to discuss narratives, processes, and institutions through which the law is produced and contested. It seeks to draw attention to the entanglement of violence and care in modern law and to the global judicialization of politics.


Analysing change

“Normality” and “Crisis”: encounters, memories, and new beginnings between Germany and Syria

14 February 2022

In the new ZMO working paper, Advisory Board member Katharina Lange analyses how Syrians remembered their “normal lives” through daily interactions with each other, in neighbourhoods, institutions, or families, as well as routine encounters with the state.

"This paper argues for a perspective that does not essentialize (and generically flatten) people as “refugees” despite the distinct and specific legal and political regimes that shape their condition and set them apart from other categories of migrants. Rather, their experiences must be seen in the context of longer-term trajectories that encompass Syrian and German realities as intertwined and linked in many, often unexpected, ways."


Analysing change

Beyond Borderland Conference: 30 Years of Ukrainian Sovereignty

08 February 2022

The Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program (TCUP) is a bridge between the scholarly and policy communities with the goal of promoting a deeper understanding of Ukraine in the world. The TCUP conference’s second panel, “Digital Transformations,” moderated by Bucerius fellow Tetyana Lokot*, addressed the question of how the internet influences sovereignty in the twenty-first century. The panel drew together experts on media studies, as well as journalists and a practitioner working in digital governance, to examine the question of digital sovereignty from multiple angles. 


Analysing change

The wondrous life of legal documents. Transformations and continuities in the encounter of Syrian papers with German bureaucracy

31 January 2022

Bucerius Fellow Veronica Ferreri analyses the ambiguous role of official documents in the life of Syrians in Germany:  

“This working paper traces the trajectory of Syrian official documents across Syria and Germany in times of political upheaval, flight and integration. Documents issued by the Syrian state continue to be a fundamental element in the life of Syrians in Germany as they are still needed for certain mundane, yet crucial, purposes. Syrians are therefore forced to engage with Syrian state bureaucratic apparatuses at a distance.”


Analysing change

High noon in Ukraine: who blinks first

22 January 2022

Advisory Board Member Mykola Riabchuk on “Ukraine crisis” and the long-term Kremlin’s concerns about Ukraine.  

“The Kremlin doesn’t understand the quintessence of Ukraine. Therefore Putin’s interventions since Euromaidan backfired: Ukraine is more orientated towards the West than ever before. But Putin invested so much in his confrontational politics, that he cannot simply retreat.”


Analysing change

Kazakhstan unrest

07 January 2022

In her new article „Kazakhstan unrest: another regional headache for Vladimir Putin“ Bucerius Fellow Liana Semchuk analyzed the impacts of the deployment of peacekeeping troops from of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) on January 6 in response to a plea from the country’s embattled president, Kassym-Jormat Tokayev.

„Ultimately – and thanks to the intervention of CSTO forces – the Tokayev regime’s chances of restoring control have notably increased. But the presence of foreign troops in the country could also fuel further public resentment. This may galvanise more protests, raising the question of whether the regime’s survival will hinge on continued – and maybe even greater – Russian support." 


Analysing change

The grand return of the troops

29 December 2021

In her newly published paper „The grand return of the troops. Militarization of COVID-19 and shifting military-society relations in Visegrad“, Bucerius Fellow Weronika Grzebalska (and her colleague Zuzana Maďarová) analyze the militarization of COVID-19 through a comparative exploration of how the pandemic was handled in Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.

„[W]e argue that rather than serving as a ‘portal’ for civilian resilience, the pandemic constituted an unprecedented ‘return of the troops’ to Visegrad states and societies in terms of its size, scope, and duration, thus strengthening the pressure for re-militarization in the region that has been recorded in the last decade.“


Analysing change

My personal history of independence

23 August 2021

On the 30th anniversary of Ukrainian sovereignty, Advisory Board Member Mykola Riabchuk recounts a personal history of how independence was conceived, formed and defended.

„Independence is not only a story of great expectations and disappointments, but also of great insistence, as exercised by a quarter of the population, a minority that has managed to influence the majority-driven post-Soviet politics. It was this committed minority that prevented Ukraine’s backsliding into dictatorship – as it happened in Russia and Belarus.“



Analysing change

“Struggle in the West, Humility in the East” Aleksandr Nevskii in Russian History Policy

01 August 2021

In his recently published article “Struggle in the West, Humility in the East” Aleksandr Nevskii in Russian History Policy Advisory Board Member Benjamin Schenk examines the highly contested figure of Aleksandr Nevskii in Russian history policy and current culture of remembrance.

"In 2021, Russia will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the birth of Aleksandr Nevskii, both saint and national hero. The state, the Orthodox Church, and the Military-Historical Society will honour him with monuments and exhibitions. In the cultural memory of the 1990s, the Novgorod prince was present in diverse forms, as a figure of local historic significance or someone who formed a regional identity. Today, a state-serving, patriotic reading dominates. In Russia’s current culture of remembrance, Alekandr Nevskii is regarded as a guarantor of “Russian statehood”, a defender of Russia’s “autonomy”." 


Normalisation and Realignment in the Middle East:

A New, Conflict-Prone Regional Order Takes Shape

28 July 2021

Advisory Board Member Muriel Asseburg and her co-author Sarah Ch. Henkel about regional security and conflict management in the Middle East


New at TRAFO Blog

06 January 2021

“Constitutional Capture in and around the Contested Neighborhood” – Blog entry by Žilvinas Švedkauskas shows how autocratization affects both the EU and its neighbouring countries

“Scholars of area studies and policymakers have been “dividing” the neighborhood, narrowing their respective research questions and policy problems into “eastern-” and “southern-”, country-, and region-specific issues. Though compartmentalization simplifies research and policymaking, I believe it turns our attention away from gradual changes occurring on both sides of the contested European border. Let us consider the contemporary script of autocratization, which I aim to explore in my doctoral dissertation.” 

Analysing Change

A Green Gambit: The Development of Environmental Foreign Policy in Morocco

28 December 2020

Bucerius Fellow Katharina Nicolai explores the function and significance of environmental sustainability policy of Morocco:

“I argue that Morocco’s expanding reputation as a posterchild of environmental sustainability is not merely a product of specific need, but an instrument of broad governance realignment whose drivers and purpose go significantly beyond concerns over the environment and energy security.” 


New at TRAFO Blog

16 December 2020

“Trajectories of Change: New Research Projects on the European Neighbourhood” – Introduction to the new blog series by Anna Hofmann

“The revolutionary moments of the Arab Spring in 2011 and the Ukrainian “Euromaidan” in 2014 called for a remarkable rise of public and academic attention towards regions in the east and south of the European continent. Protests, repressions, regime changes or authoritarian reinforcements were closely followed by international media. They resulted in debates about the changing political, social and economic situation in the region, the resilience of the authoritarian regimes, the prospects for liberalisation and democratisation as well as economic outlooks for countries in turmoil. In these circumstances, novel academic inquiries have also arisen, and new research projects have been developed. They have been increasingly questioning prevailing assumptions about the historically founded inertia and path dependencies in the political and social developments at Europe’s margins, within the so called “European Neighbourhood”. 

„Trajectories of Change“ series at TRAFO Blog

15 December 2020

Since December 2020 TRAFO Blog for Transregional Research hosts articles originating form 
“Trajectories of Change” programme.  The series attempts to combine the critical revision of regional and transregional geographies with studies in entangled histories. It examines complex change trajectories in the East of Europe, the Middle East as well as in the Maghreb and Sahel regions.  more

Analysing Change

03 December 2020

Bucerius Fellow Regine Schwab and her colleagues Hanna Pfeifer and Clara-Auguste Süß on “Who are these ´Islamists´ everyone talks about?! Why academics struggles over words matter”:

“Politicians, the media, and social media users alike have framed recent attacks in Europe as instances of “Islamist” violence. The current debate often remains superficial and uses the umbrella term of “Islamism” to describe a diverse spectrum of actors, ideologies, and activities.”



“Trajectories of Change” addresses historical and current transformation processes in the European neighbourhood. Between 2014 and 2018 the programme awarded 92 stipends and fieldwork grants for Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences studying political and social change in Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East as well as Central Asia. Conferences, workshops and joint publication projects following these funding activities concentrate on the interdisciplinary exchange. 


Peace talking versus peace making

'Russia fights the collective West, of which Ukraine is believed to be just a proxy; it fights for an equal status with the U.S. – a status Russia thi

In his article Peace talking versus peace making published on 14 November 2022 in a short time after the liberation of the strategically and symbolicaly important city of Kherson from the Russion occupiers, Advisory Board Member Mykola Riabchuk discusses possible ways resolving the 'Ukrainian question' and shows what alternatives exist.