By Stephen Norris
For three Miami students, research papers written in one of their classes and work from a summer internship provided the opportunity to participate in an international conference held in Lithuania. This June, the three students, Ashlynn Galligher, Ieva Juska, and Anna Melberg, presented their research at the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies’ annual Young Researcher’s Conference. The Conference was held at Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science. For Galligher, Juska, and Melberg, it represented a chance to talk about their ongoing projects in front of an audience of international faculty and graduate students.
The topics presented by Galligher and Melberg, both Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies majors, originated in Dr. Scott Kenworthy’s spring 2016 colloquium on religion and identity in Russia and Ukraine. Galligher spoke about her ongoing interest in the Crimean Tatars, particularly the ways that they have experienced historical persecutions from the imperial Russian government to the Soviet government to the present-day government of Russia. The Crimean Tatar community, Galligher noted, has developed particular strategies for coping with these recurring attempts to reign them in. Melberg focused in on another strategy for dealing with traumatic events in her presentation on religion and revolution. Her talk concentrated on the recent Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, particularly the religious elements to it and how participants used the concept of “dignity” to reinvent their protests in order to provide a spiritual legitimacy to their participation. Finally, Juska, a Biology Major, drew on her field work conducted in the summer of 2014 in Lithuania while working for a regional doctor. She presented a paper on the material relationships between doctors and patients in postsocialist Lithuania. As Juska argued, many patients find themselves unable to pay for their care and instead bring gifts to their doctors, creating a particular sense of “mutual sympathy” between them.
Reflecting on her presentation, Galligher commented that it was “a nerve-wracking experience to present in front of your professors and an international community of scholars,” but was one “that I wish for everyone.” “It was a phenomenal opportunity,” she added, and “I felt it gave me a lot more confidence in my writing and presenting skills as I realized that my own professors did not tear apart my paper and were interested in my knowledge on the topic,” concluding that “it was a wonderful, eye-opening experience.” Juska concurred, noting that the presentation was “an unforgettable experience.” “It was a bit daunting at first,” she commented, “but afterwards I felt so great about all of the feedback I got on my research and I am really glad I had the opportunity to participate in the conference.”
Galligher’s, Melberg’s, and Juska’s research papers were part of the larger conference, which was a joint initiative between the Havighurst Center and the Institute for International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University. The conference focused on the theme of “Statehood and Its Discontents” and included twenty-one other presentations. Topics ranged from Estonia’s ongoing e-governance initiatives to the dilemmas faced by Russian journalists working in Ukraine today to the status of so-called “de facto states” such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As part of these deliberations, the three Miami students all focused on how postcommunist states interact with their citizens and how ordinary people—whether Tatars in Crimea, Ukrainians in Kyiv, or patients in rural Ukraine—shape these encounters.