Research Clusters

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 cluster 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 cluster are multidisciplinary and cover a wide range of political and cultural contexts that have been under-represented in academic and public debates. This research cluster also analyses, among other issues, the dynamics of social and political movements, the relations between state institutions and societal actors, local decision-making processes, values discourses at the interaction of religion, society and politics, memory and the politics of memory as well as the role of language and literature for cultural and political identities.

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 cluster 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. Regina Elsner                                                                                                                                Orthodox Peace Ethics and Militarisation in the Post-Soviet Space

Dr. Sabine von Löwis
Everyday Life in Conflict Scopes for 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

Dr. Sabine von Löwis and Thomas de Waal
Engagement without Recognition – Higher Education in De Facto States

Dr. Sabine von Löwis and Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse
Political Orientations and Identities in De Facto States

Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse
The Influence of War and Displacement on Political Identities in Ukraine

Dr. Nadja Douglas and Prof. Dr. Stefan Wolff (University of Birmingham)
Confidence-Building and Conflict Settlement: The Case of Transdniestria

Migration and Diversity

Coordinator: Dr. Tsypylma Darieva

Migration and diversity are closely connected issues, but the extent and forms of transnational life and cultural diversity in East European and Eurasian societies are yet understudied. This research cluster considers the simultaneity and complexity of personal identities, networks, and the mobilisation of social and political engagement in transnational fields.

It focuses, on the one hand, on migrants in Germany with an East European background and, on the other hand, on migratory processes and their effects on societies within and outside Eastern Europe. The internal diversity of so-called migrant groups, different conditions and forms of living together in spaces shaped by migration, non-linear integration and identification processes over longer periods of time, and mutual dynamics of transnational relations are important issues in this regard. This research cluster also examines questions of religious and ethnic diversity, drawing on the examples of East European and Eurasian cities.

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 cluster 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.

Political Economy and Integration

Coordinator: Dr. Julia Langbein

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fifteen successor states and the Central and East European countries that belonged to the former socialist bloc had to reintegrate their economies into transnational markets. They also had to reorganise their domestic political and economic relations. Against this background, this research cluster focuses on two interlinked processes.

Firstly, projects in this research cluster investigate how varieties of domestic political and economic relations shape the way East European economies manage economic integration and disintegration. Projects also explore the extent to which these economies benefit from being integrated into transnational markets and value chains.

Secondly, this research cluster examines different strategies of transnational market integration pursued, for example, by the EU, China, or Russia in Eastern Europe. How do these strategies shape the domestic policy space for development in East European economies? To what extent do these strategies cause economic disintegration, and how do they affect regime stability? Relatedly, the research cluster assesses when and how the economic integration strategies of these external actors compete with or complement each other.

The research combines insights from political science, economics, and sociology. It draws on qualitative and quantitative methods, such as interviews, focus groups, and statistical analysis.


Dr. Julia Langbein in cooperation with Prof. László Bruszt (Central European University)
EU Integration Strategies and Room for Development in Europe's Peripheries

Dr. Julia Langbein
Deep Free Trade with the EU and its Effects on Post-Soviet Regime Stability