Research Areas

Societies between Stability and Change

Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse

Concepts such as ‘democracy’ and ‘authoritarianism’ suggest clear defining criteria and boundaries, but they fall short of capturing the nature of political and social reality. Both concepts and the societies they seek to describe are in flux—in Eastern Europe and beyond. This research area focuses on the grey zones and overlaps between these often rigid classifications. The two concepts of stability and change highlight, on the one hand, the dynamics of social, political, economic, and cultural changes and, on the other hand, the processes that prevent or limit change. A range of local, national, and international actors are examined against a backdrop of societal and institutional structures. Centre stage are contested spaces—areas in which political, normative, and historical claims and expectations, as well as identities and memories, are disputed. The projects in this research area are multidisciplinary and cover a wide range of political and cultural themes that have been under-represented in academic and public debates. This research area also analyses, among other issues, the dynamics of social protests, the relations between state institutions and societal initiatives, local politics and processes of decentralisation, the Orthodox Church between its internal values discourse and politics, and the political content of Russophone literature outside Russia.

Conflict Dynamics and Border Regions

Coordinator: Dr. Sabine von Löwis

The disintegration of the Soviet Union led to the creation of not only the fifteen successor states but also a series of de facto states. At the same time, the relatively permeable borders between the Soviet republics became international frontiers. These changes fundamentally altered the way people lived together in the region. More recently, events in Ukraine show that the post-1991 territorial order in the post-Soviet space has proven less stable than previously assumed. For the region’s inhabitants, as well as for regional, national, and international actors, new political realities have emerged.

This research area is dedicated to the study of local state and non-state actors and structures that are affected by, and influence the further development of, conflicts. These actors include refugees from conflict regions, populations of disputed areas, and local decision-makers. The research considers the many changing interactions between local and external actors and investigates the ways conflicts are caused and managed, social-spatial dynamics, the actions of affected populations, and the effectiveness of those actions.

Of particular interest are the many new and old territorial orders connected with changes in borders. These range from contested border demarcations to changes caused by entry into, or association with, economic and/or political organisations. Such shifts trigger uncertainties about individual and societal expectations of economic, social, and political futures and associated social and spatial mobility. Ongoing processes of nation building in the newly created post-Soviet states generate additional tensions.


Dr. Sabine von Löwis
Everyday Life in Conflict Scopes of Action and Coping Strategies in De Facto States

Dr. Sabine von Löwis and Dr. Beate Eschment
(De-)bordering and (re-)bordering in the post-Soviet space

Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse
The influence of war, annexation and displacement on political identities in Ukraine

Dr. Nadja Douglas and Prof. Dr. Stefan Wolff (University of Birmingham)
Confidence-building and conflict settlement in the case of Transdniestria

Migration and Diversity

Coordinator: Dr. Tsypylma Darieva

Migration and diversity issues are closely interconnected, but the extent to which life is transnational and the different forms this takes in the case of individual migrants and societies shaped by migration are not yet fully understood. This ZOiS research area considers the simultaneity and multidimensionalism of personal identities, networks, practices, and political engagements. It focuses, on the one hand, on migrants in Germany with an East European background and, on the other hand, migratory processes and their effects on migrants within Eastern Europe. The internal diversity of so-called migrant groups, the varying conditions and dynamics of spaces shaped by migration, and non-linear integration and identification processes over longer periods of time are critical issues in this regard.

Youth in Eastern Europe

Coordinator: Dr. Félix Krawatzek

Youth plays a key role in the constant changes that politics and society undergo. On the one hand, young people may become politically active, on the other hand, youth provides a highly contested imaginary of a country’s experiences and expectations. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, young people across Eastern Europe have experienced radical changes in their living conditions including the educational system, economic opportunities, and political conditions. These changes have implications for the relationship between young and old and the role young people play in Eastern Europe today as agents for change or stability. This research area aims to study not only political activism and generational change but also cultural practices, the identities of young people, their economic status as well as government initiated youth policies. The individual projects draw on different methods, such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, discourse and text analysis, and network analysis.


Dr. Félix Krawatzek
Youth as Political Actor and Social Imaginary

Dr. Félix Krawatzek and Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse
Surveying the attitudes and behaviour of youth across Eastern Europe