Professor Egdūnas Račius: “National Muslim Churches? Churchification of Muslim Religious Organizations in post-communist Central Asia”

The nation states in Central Asia are effectively post-colonial and governance of religion in general and of Islam in particular in them bears heavy traits of colonial (namely, imperial Russian) rule. The former overlord sought to control religiosity and religious authority of minority (in this case, Muslim) faith communities through founding, if not state-run then tightly state-controlled, religious institutions. Those institutions survived the communist intermezzo and in the post-communist era, by the will of local regimes, are being (or, some would argue, have already been) turned into nothing less than national Muslim Churches: sociologically speaking, their organizational structures and modus operandi resemble Churches as they were first analysed and conceptualized by Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch.

Purported churchification of Muslim religious organizations in today’s Central Asia, as indeed anywhere else, is not to be taken for their Christianization – there is no talk about any shift in theology or rituals. Rather, the concerned Muslim religious organizations have become churches (or, at least church-like religious organizations) as they, being institutionalized (legally recognized) religious communities and encompassing the totality of believers of the faith, understood here as a set of dogmas, rituals, and ethics, have ecclesiastical-bureaucratic structures staffed by professional (ordained) clergy and which have a positive relationship and attitude to society and the State. Moreover, they have been made into national Muslim Churches to which the entire Muslim populations of the respective countries have been assigned and whose form of Islamic religiosity has been declared the sole ‘right’ for the country. This churchification of Muslim religious organizations, foremost top-down, by the regimes, but also bottom-up, by the leadership of the organizations themselves, has been having debilitating consequences for the development of Islam in these recently created nation states, as it denies natural heterogeneity of the Muslim commonwealth and the plurality of forms of Islamic religiosity and securitizes those of them deemed ‘deviant’.

An IASH Work-in-Progress seminar, delivered by VMU Regional department Professor Egdūnas Račius (IASH-Alwaleed Research Fellow, March – May 2024):

uk.zoom.us/rec/share/hwQg1FZ2YYdmNM7yuaQ5gyHMLdwnFrs21FEsSIJqI8ctOAPvs0a2J6dq5opsl8fu.ip7qElG_xFwCv9r4

Belarusian Politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Visited VMU

On May 6, 2024,  Belarusian politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited Vytautas Magnus University. During the meeting with the academic community, S. Tsikhanouskaya delivered a speech on Regional Stability: The Role of Democratic Belarus in Ensuring Security in Eastern Europe. The aim of the lecture was to evaluate the role of Belarus in the context of regional stability and security in Eastern Europe, especially considering the country’s political situation and democratization opportunities.

According to Aistė Žemaitytė, vice-dean of the VMU’s Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy, who was organizing the visit, this is a unique opportunity to discuss the role of Belarus in regional stability and possible future scenarios with the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya during the lecture.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is a Belarusian national leader, the head of the United Transitional Government and the president-elect of Belarus, who according to independent observers won the 2020 elections. August 9 presidential election against the long-time dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

After the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, Tsikhanouskaya reformatted the movement’s leadership by creating and chairing the United Transition Cabinet, the movement’s decision-making centre. Belarusian anti-war activists led by Tsikhanouskaya conducted underground resistance in Belarus by sabotaging the railway transportation of Russian troops as well as volunteering for Belarusian-staffed units fighting for Ukraine.
As the leader of the Belarusian democratic movement, she has visited 28 countries, gathering support and advocating for the release of more than 1500 political prisoners and a peaceful transition of power through free and fair elections. In meetings with President J. Biden, Chancellor A. Merkel, President E. Macron, President U. von der Leyen, President Charles Michel, Prime Minister Trudeau and other world leaders, Tsikhanouskaya emphasised the need for a braver response to the actions of the Belarusian dictatorship.

2020-2023 Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya became a symbol of the peaceful struggle for democracy and strong female leadership. In addition to dozens of awards, she is a recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2022. Laureate of the International Four Freedoms Award and the Charlemagne Prize. in 2021 and 2022 She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda and members of the Norwegian Parliament, respectively. A. Tsikhanouskaya was recognized as one of Bloomberg’s 50 most powerful people, Financial Times’ 12 most powerful women and Politico’s 28 most powerful Europeans.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s visit to VMU: regional stability – the role of democratic Belarus in ensuring security in Eastern Europe

On May 6, 2024, Belarusian politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya will visit Vytautas Magnus University (V. Putvinskio str. 23-311). During the meeting with the academic community, S. Tsikhanouskaya will deliver a speach on Regional Stability: The Role of Democratic Belarus in Ensuring Security in Eastern Europe. The aim of the lecture will be to evaluate the role of Belarus in the context of regional stability and security in Eastern Europe, especially considering the country’s political situation and democratization opportunities. The lecture will analyze how internal political and economic factors of Belarus can affect regional stability, as well as evaluate its potential role in the democratic form in Eastern Europe. According to Aistė Žemaitytė, vice-dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences and Diplomacy, who is organizing the visit, this is a unique opportunity to discuss the role of Belarus in regional stability and possible future scenarios with the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya during the lecture. It is expected that the participants of the lecture will actively engage and exchange views in order to gain a deeper understanding of this important issue of regional security.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is a Belarusian national leader, the head of the United Transitional Government and the president-elect of Belarus, who according to independent observers won the 2020 elections. August 9 presidential election against the long-time dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

After the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, Tsikhanouskaya reformatted the movement’s leadership by creating and chairing the United Transition Cabinet, the movement’s decision-making centre. Belarusian anti-war activists led by Tsikhanouskaya conducted underground resistance in Belarus by sabotaging the railway transportation of Russian troops as well as volunteering for Belarusian-staffed units fighting for Ukraine.
As the leader of the Belarusian democratic movement, she has visited 28 countries, gathering support and advocating for the release of more than 1500 political prisoners and a peaceful transition of power through free and fair elections. In meetings with President J. Biden, Chancellor A. Merkel, President E. Macron, President U. von der Leyen, President Charles Michel, Prime Minister Trudeau and other world leaders, Tsikhanouskaya emphasised the need for a braver response to the actions of the Belarusian dictatorship.

2020-2023 Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya became a symbol of the peaceful struggle for democracy and strong female leadership. In addition to dozens of awards, she is a recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2022. Laureate of the International Four Freedoms Award and the Charlemagne Prize. in 2021 and 2022 She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda and members of the Norwegian Parliament, respectively. A. Tsikhanouskaya was recognized as one of Bloomberg’s 50 most powerful people, Financial Times’ 12 most powerful women and Politico’s 28 most powerful Europeans.

Call for 28th Annual Conference of Central European Political Science Association (CEPSA)

Central European Political Science Association (CEPSA) in partnership with Lithuanian Political Science Association and Vytautas Magnus University invites political and other scientists and practitioners from the Central and Eastern European region and beyond to send proposals for paper and panels for the 28th Annual Central European Political Science Association conference titled Twenty years of EU membership: lessons learned, challenges and opportunities. Conference will be held at the Vytautas Magnus University, Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy in Kaunas (Lithuania) on 3rd and 4th of October 2024.

​Call for panels and papers is open until 15 May 2024. Proposals should be submitted to cepsa2024@vdu.lt

The conference aims to bring together political science researchers to engage in insightful discussions, reflections, and analyses on the main achievements, lessons learned from the past, challenges faced, and opportunities ahead for Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, which are members of the European Union, over the past two decades. The conference serves as a platform for interdisciplinary exchange and fostering new perspectives. The conference panels will feature both theoretical and empirical contributions, including comparative or single-country studies, all related to the general theme dedicated to the twenty years of EU membership. We invite papers from various subfields and theoretical and methodological approaches. Please see below for a list of potential panel topics:

  • Comparative Politics (EP elections in CEE countries, Electoral processes in Central and Eastern Europe, Political parties in CEE countries, Populism and autocratic trends in CEE countries, Political Leadership of CEE countries)
  • International Relations (The role of EU in world politics, EU Transatlantic relations, Challenges to the EU Foreign and Security policy)
  • Public Polic (EU enlargement policy from CEE countries perspective, Reforms of EU Migration and Asylum policies, regional integration in the CEE region, Socio-economic development and green transition)
  • Security Studies (Security challenges for CEE countries, The Russia’s war in Ukraine and its implications, Cyber-security threats)
  • Political Communication (Disinformation in International Relations, Disinformation as a threat to democracy, Political campaign communication, social media in political communication)

Panel and paper topics are not limited to the suggested topics mentioned earlier. The conference is open to researchers from all countries with an interest in Central and Eastern European affairs.

Organizing committee of the conference:
Ingrida Unikaitė-Jakuntavičienė, Chair of the committee, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Miro Haček, President of CEPSA, University of Ljubljana/Slovenia
Petr Just, General Secretary of CEPSA, Metropolitan University Prague/Czech Republic
Sima Rakutienė, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Aistė Žemaitytė, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Rimgailė Kasparaitė, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Robertas Eismontas, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania

The Young European Ambassadors presentation

The Young European Ambassadors (YEAs) initiative is a non-political, voluntary, vibrant network connecting and building bridges of friendship among young people from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and the EU Member States and the United Kingdom. The aim of the network is to raise awareness about the EU’s cooperation with its Eastern partner countries, showcase the tangible results of this cooperation, contribute to policy dialogue on various topics, help increase civic activism and work together for a better future.

Come to offline presentation in the VMU where Young European Ambassadors from Ukraine and Belarus introduce you with their ways to membership, share their ideas of new projects for this year in the EU and our region in particular and describe how to apply and become one of them soon.

When: 23 05 2023, 15:00 p.m.

Where: V. Putvinskis str. 23 – 110

We hope to answer all questions that you will prepare for us!

More info about presenters:

https://euneighbourseast.eu/young-european-ambassadors/ambassadors/usevalad-lahun/

https://euneighbourseast.eu/young-european-ambassadors/ambassadors/sofiia-bohdanova/

Public lecture by prof. Hannu Nieminen – Why has the EU been late in regulating social media platforms? 

Public lecture by prof. Hannu Nieminen – March 3, 13:00 o‘clock at Putvinskio st. 23, room 106.

Why has the EU been late in regulating social media platforms? 

In 2021 and 2022, the European Union (EU) launched a series of proposals aimed at improved internet regulation, benefiting both European industries and services, as well as European consumers or internet users. These measures have been watched from around the globe because they can be seen as a first attempt to create a ‘meta-level’ regulatory environment for the digital economy that effectively challenges the domination of the Big Tech conglomerates of the US and China.

However, even if the new EU regulation proves effective, how effective can they be in challenging the fundamental dynamics of the internet and digital economy that the internet enables? I the lecture, I will discuss why the EU has been late in regulating social media platforms, which play a central role in the internet-based digital economy. I will base my argumentation on a critical reading of the history of the internet and its regulation from its early days to the 2020s.

The lecture is based on an article on the same title by Hannu Nieminen, University of Helsinki & Vytautas Magnus University, Claudia Padovani, University of Padova, and Helena Sousa, University of Minho, to be published in Javnost/The Public in spring 2023.

Documentary “Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Quest for Freedom” about the war in Ukraine

The U.S. Embassy in Lithuania together with Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) invites university community, Kaunas residents and guests to a free screening of documentary Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Quest for Freedom”, on February 28, 11:15 a.m. at V. Putvinskio st. 23, room 106. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with film director Evgeny Afineesvky. The film is in Ukrainian and Russian languages with subtitles in English.  The screening is hosted by the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy. The moderator of the screening is a doctoral student of the faculty, Ukrainian Dmytro Iavory, the discussant of the discussion with the audience and the director is prof. Gintautas Mažeikis.

Documentary “Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Quest for Freedom” tells the story of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and takes a sweeping look at a humanitarian crisis, amplifying the views of children, mothers, soldiers, doctors, artists, volunteers, clergymen, and journalists who are transformed while witnessing ceaseless destruction and bloodshed. With harrowing images being released ever since February 24 of 2022 and exclusive interviews with people affected by the ongoing war, “Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Quest for Freedom” reveals how the spirit of unity strengthens morale even amid the country’s darkest hours and challenges the international community to oppose tyranny together.

“By releasing the film now, I hope I can bring immediate clarity to viewers confused by the deliberate misinformation campaign surrounding the current events in Ukraine.” says Afineesvky. According to the director, one of his goals was to detail the struggles associated with reporting from the front lines of a warzone. The film whose one of the main characters is journalist Natalija Nagorna, “is dedicated to storytellers who risk danger to give voices to the voiceless.”

To convey a comprehensive narrative of the war, Afineevsky structured the film around personal testimonies by Ukrainians whose lives have changed dramatically since 2014 – “I wanted to show how war affects people in different parts of the country.” However, his biggest goal is to call the world to action. Afineesvky hopes that Ukraine and its allies will continue fighting together against threats to freedom of speech and expression, human rights, freedom, and democracy. Featuring narration from Oscar-winning Dame Helen Mirren, the film has received awards at the Hamptons International Film Festival, SCAD Savannah Film Festival, and Mill Valley Film Festival, and received the Kineo Award and a nomination at the Stockholm Film Festival.

Russian-born American director Evgeny Afineesvky has previously visited Lithuanian with his Oscar-nominated documentary “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Quest for Freedom”. Afineesvky’s films have premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, Telluride International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Rome International Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival, and his work nominated for the Oscars, Emmys, and the PGA Awards.

The screening at VMU is an exclusive opportunity to see the 2022-made film which premiered at the Toronto International and Venice Film Festivals, and received the Kineo Award.

 

Mariupol State University Representatives Visit in VMU

From 1st to 9th of July 2022, VMU partner, the delegation of Mariupol State University represented by Vice-Rector for Research and Teaching (International Relations), Professor Olena Pavlenko, Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Associate Professor Hanna Trifonova, Associate Professor of the Department of Economics and International Economic Relations Olga Bezzubchenko visited Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas (Lithuania).

During the visit, members of delegation from MSU met with representatives of the Institutes of Foreign Languages and Innovative Studies, the Faculty of Economics and Management, the Faculty of Humanities and held a number of meetings with the University management. During the meeting, VMU’s Rector Juozas Augutis expressed support for Ukrainian researchers and students and highlighted all possible ways of cooperation regarding students and staff mobility, designing double degree programs, free study programs for students, technical support programs, etc.

MSU delegation also visited VMU Botanical Garden in Kaunas, where multifunctional botanical garden consists of three departments: Science, Expositions and Collections, and Service and Education.

Ukrainian colleagues find it interesting to get acquainted with the experience of the partner university in organizing the process of teaching foreign languages to the trainees involved in the educational process. Colleagues talked about the possibilities of attending courses in 30 modern and classical languages, with native speakers and language practitioners engaged to provide teaching and learning focused on the communicative competence in business, professional terminology in oral and written speech as well as on lexical and normative base of international documents. The thing that also awoke our special curiosity appears to be the practice of forming a foreign language study group where not only students, but also teachers and members of the public who want to improve their proficiency in any foreign language can be enrolled.

The University created a fund to help students who suffered from Russian aggression.

The delegation from Mariupol State University also held a meeting with the Director of the UNESCO International Bureau of Education (IBE-UNESCO) Yao Ydo, IBE-UNESCO senior expert Renato Opertti, who visited Vytautas Magnus University and discussed with their Ukrainian colleagues all possible ways of support the university community.

The representatives of the two higher education institutions showed a deep interest in cooperation and offered a plan to further implement their joint initiatives.

The delegation from Mariupol State university visited Vytautas Magnus university within the framework of Erasmus+ program. Aistė Žemaitytė, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy organized the guests’ first visit to Kaunas. MSU is an associate partner of the T4E alliance. Meeting with Ineta Dabašinskienė, Institutional Coordinator of Transform4Europe Alliance allowed to discuss further work plans on alliance.

VMU signs Memorandum of Understanding with Mariupol University

During the meeting of the Rectorate of VMU on 4 May, The Rector of Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) Prof. Juozas Augutis signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The Rector of Mariupol State University (MSU) (Ukraine) Prof. Mykola Trofymenko. With this memorandum, universities undertake to carry out joint study programmes, including double diplomas, to develop international projects, to share scientific material and good academic experience, to conduct bilateral exchanges of academic staff and students.

MSU Rector Prof. M. Trofymenko, who participated remotely in the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with VMU, thanked the Rector of VMU and the university community for their expressed willingness to cooperate with this Ukrainian higher education institution. “I am very happy that today we will officially give meaning to our cooperation. I hope this will be a great start to something new. You know exactly what is happening in our country and city. After weeks of hellish siege of Mariupol, our colleagues and students finally have the opportunity to evacuate a city that has been completely destroyed. Currently, our university is located in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. We are grateful that you have agreed to cooperate, build new connections and participate in projects in the future. You were the first to contact the representatives of our higher education institution as soon as the war started, to take care of how your colleagues were doing here in Ukraine, with whom you worked on joint international projects,” the rector of Mariupol State University expressed his gratitude to VMU.

Prof. M. Trofymenko stressed that this Memorandum of Understanding with VMU will contribute to the restoration of Mariupol State University in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, where the university’s academic community is currently concentrated. “Here in Kyiv, we will have to rebuild our university anew based on the best international examples, such as VMU, one of the best universities in Lithuania and Europe. I’ve been to Kaunas before. At your university, I was particularly impressed by the platforms and practices used for distance learning. I believe that this MoU will be the beginning of many new and productive projects. Thank you for your help and support for Ukraine. I hope that this cooperation will contribute to our country’s victory in the war against Russia at the information and educational level,” prof. M. Trofymenko thanked.

MSU Vice-Rector Prof. Olena Pavlenko also participated in the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding at the meeting remotely, together with Rector Prof. M. Trofymenko, who thanked VMU for the continued cooperation between VMU and MSU, which started back in 2017, and the attention our university paid to their university at this difficult time.

MSU is a valued partner of VMU Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy, with which the faculty carried out a project Rethinking Regional Studies: the Baltic-Black Sea Connection. “Working together with Mariupol State University has created great scientific potential for further work. At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, I was very concerned about the situation of my colleagues in Mariupol. Although the hostilities in Ukraine, and especially in their city, paralyzed the normal life of the citizens, they were surprisingly quick to show their strength and dedication to work and to resume the work of the university on April 18, at a distance from Kyiv. These are people, patriots of their city, country, university, with whom it is an honor to work with”  says the Vice dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy Aistė Žemaitytė.

At the time of signing the agreement, VMU Rector Prof. J. Augutis also expressed his support for Ukraine, which is fighting against the Russian occupiers and defending the sovereignty of the whole of Europe. “It is an honor to sign such a document. I think this is a great start to the collaboration between our universities. We have many plans for the future. Be brave and good luck,” the VMU Rector wished his colleagues in Ukraine.

Public lectures by foreign partners of the faculty

The Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy invites to public lectures by foreign partners of the faculty. During Erasmus Teaching Exchange Week ( May 2 – 5)  lecturers from Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Japan, Mexico and Romania will give lectures at the faculty:

Visiting professor University Country Lecture Data Time Place
Dr. Ruth Elizabeth Prado Perez ITESO, Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara Mexico The role of criminal violence on forced migration from the Northern countries of Central America. 2022 05 02 15:00-16:30 Putvinskio str. 23-311
US response to immigration 2022 05 06 11:15-12:45 Gedimino str. 44-303
Life on the Mexico-US border, life after crossing 2022 05 03 10:00-11:00 Putvinskio str 23-312
Assoc. prof. Ishimatsu Hiroyuki Saga University Japan Japan-EU relations 2022 05 05 11:00-12:00 Gedimino str. 44 – 303
Japanese social policy of foreign workers under the trend of low birth rate and high aging population 2022 05 03 11:15-12:45 Putvinskio str. 23 -312
Prof. Lejla Ramic Mesihovic University of Sarajevo Bosnia and Hercegovina Prospects for European integration of the Western Balkan countries and the relations of these countries with the EU 2022 05 02 16:00-17:30 Putvinskis str. 23-106
Dr. Jahja Muhasilovic University of Sarajevo Bosnia and Hercegovina Security and conflicts in the Balkan region 2022 05 06 16:00-18:00 Putvinskis str. 23 – 106
Dr. Iryna Panina Vasyl’ Stus Donetsk National University Ukraine Ukraine-EU relations. 2022 05 02 16:00-17:30 Putvinskis str. 23-106
Assoc. prof. Marianna Gladysh Ivan Franko National University of Lviv Ukraine New security architecture in Europe 2022 05 06 17:00-18:30 S. Daukanto str. 28 – 101
Regional alliances – strengthening or weaking European security 2022 05 05 11:15-12:45 S.Daukanto g. 28, Small Hall
Dr. Natalia Virginia Cuglesan Universității Babeș-Bolyai din Cluj-Napoca. Romania Romania’s membership of the European Union: achievements and their academic evaluations. EU enlargement and the Europeanisation of Romanian public administration 2022 05 03 17:30-19:00 Putvinskio str. 23-312