The Academics Facing Autocracy Program continues


Autocracy attacking universities and research institutions severs the educational sector
twofold. Most visibly, it pushes educators abroad or into inner exile. Less accounted for but
with dire consequences as well is the fact that students lose any access to critical scholarship
under autocracy. While projects in support of research under attack classically intervene into
the repercussions of the former, students are all but lost to the autocratization of their
educational institutions. This is all the more lamentable, as there is little substantiated
empirical study
on the effect of the existing interventions. The project by the Academics
Facing Autocracy Program will thus evaluate existing support structures for researchers
especially with regard to Turkish and Ukrainian scholars, whilst at the same time establish new
modalities for building a resilient pedagogical response to autocratic attacks on higher
education. We hope to engage with the two central problems faced by the defenders of
educational pluralism and Open Society, namely providing access to high-quality education
to students who are excluded from the international circulation of knowledge, and creating
sustainable support structures for those scholars who are marginalized or persecuted by the
autocratic regimes.

While most of these programs concentrated on one national group, we seek to explore, in the
spirit of OSUN, the possibility of linking together transnationally both the scholars involved
in them and the student communities. We thus hope to combine the analysis of the existing
institutional dynamic with a set of recommendations of how it is possible to develop a
transnational teaching program that would link together the beneficiaries of various initiatives
and also lead to a more in-depth transnational educational experience. We think that it is
important to connect structural and thematic reflection, and we thus sought to identify also
possible frames where such a transnational teaching program linking different networks of
Scholars at Risk could be implemented.

In a second step that builds on the hypothesis leading the project, and also drawing on the
results of the pilot project of Academics Facing Autocracy in Spring 2023, supported by
OSUN, more sustainable paths for maintaining intellectual relevance will be explored. Here,
especially the fields of humanities and social sciences will be addressed as vulnerable sides
for reformulating a more resilient approach to counter autocratic interventions into higher
education. Exploring the sources available locally to counter state agendas in knowledge
production whilst at the same time ensuring a transnational dialogue and networking will
allow a deeper embedding of critical discussions and the prefiguration of the needed
infrastructures under autocracy.
In the first phase, we have identified a number of strategies of the autocratic power-holders
to challenge the autonomy of educational institutions, impose anti-liberal ideological
frameworks, and eventually eradicate the potential sources of critical thinking. We paid special
attention to the broad spectrum of cases in-between a functioning pluralistic educational
system and the complete loss of academic freedom and full ideological control. In view of this
scaling, we tried to sketch out a flexible educational model which could rely on scholars
marginalized by these regimes and relink them to the student population which has no access
to themes and approaches beyond the control of the autocratic power.

In order to proceed with this, we need to delve deeper into learning from existing support
structures for researchers such as the Scholars at Risk Network, the Global University Network, and more recent strategies to counter autocratic attacks such
as Off University or the Invisible University for Ukraine.

Such synchronic and diachronic analysis will reveal the needed cornerstones to build more
resilient and effective programs that ensure free research and access to pluralistic higher
education. A mixed methodology approach that examines the existing programs will thus be
realized by a team of fellows trained in sociology, political sciences, and advocacy. A survey
compatible with the standing literature on forced migration in higher education will allow
to come to conclusions on the contours of dynamics that seek to support scholars at risk.
A leading hypothesis informed by the available research on Turkish and Syrian research
diaspora is that beneficiaries of programs relocating researchers to universities abroad seldom
find a sustainable career path after migration, especially if working in the field of humanities
of social sciences. Qualitative explorations of chosen participants of the survey can explore the
reasons and effectful counterstrategies to such a marginalization of scholars at risk. Findings
will be presented across stakeholders as well as to the audience of the research field. We work
with both experts dealing with this topic and also with young scholars who are themselves
to these Scholars at Risk initiatives and who can thus provide access also to the inside
views of the beneficiaries and the administrators of these programs. Many of them are already
part of the OSUN network through their institutions, others represent contexts which were/are
the principal targets of various Scholars at Risk, solidarity, and sanctuary programs, such as
Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia, or Serbia. In addition, we also plan to look at the OSUN programs
dealing with Russian and Afghan refugee scholars. The main aim is not so much the
“evaluation” of these programs as such, but a comparative analysis with the aim of teasing out
similarities, differences, shared philosophies and possible ways of cooperation and

Along these lines, we chose three pivotal areas where the autocratic and democratic political
and cultural projects clash and consequently alternative educational initiatives can have a
transformative impact: decolonization, memory politics and democratic resilience in the
face of illiberal attacks. Assessing existing programs and discussing possible transnational
curricula in such a new modality to counter autocracy is means and output at once: it allows
for exploring shared ground across diverging contexts whilst at the same time integrating local
agents for critical interventions into a later mobilizable body of teachers to help students in
autocratic contexts to gain access to the knowledge they may use to transform autocracy from
within. Members of the teams represent countries from post-Soviet Central Asia, Caucasus,
Turkey, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav republics. The
three broad themes are currently at the very center of intellectual debate and student interest
in these countries and beyond. They can thus offer a bridge between different existing
and also open the possibility of extending the discussion to other academic networks
linked to OSUN, particularly in the Global South. We intend to complete the program with a
workshop on the state of the art and possible directions of development, involving scholars
dealing with these questions, as well as institutional stakeholders such as OSUN’s Threatened
Scholars Integration Initiative to reflect on the questions of academic freedom and resilience.

The proposed framework thus combines empirical research into existing practices, developing
new intellectual and conceptual frames for a transnational educational network to be developed
under the aegis of OSUN, also reinforcing the collaboration of the relevant CEU
involved in rethinking the access program of the university (Elkana Center and
DI), and creating a resilient network of young academics from non-Western contexts,
combining academic excellence with civic engagement.

Track 1
Assessing Scholars at Risk Programs

  • Agnes Kelemen (CEU DI) and Michael Kozakowski (CEU Elkana Center)* team
    leaders: developing the methodological framework and also providing a historical basis
    for studying contemporary Scholars at Risk programs
  • Maksym Snihyr (National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Kyiv and Free
    University Berlin, Ukraine/Germany): a qualitative study of some major Ukrainian
    Scholars at Risk initiatives in Germany and Poland
  • Rafael Labanino (University of Konstanz, Germany): mapping the German
    infrastructure of Scholars at Risk programs developing in the last decade
  • Eren Paydas (Off University, Turkey/Germany): assessing the impact of Turkish
    Scholars at Risk initiatives in Germany

Track 2
Towards a Pedagogical Alternative


  • Daniel Palm (CEU-DI Budapest/University of Continuing Education Krems,
    Hungary/Austria) team leader, dealing with the comparison of East Central European
    and Latin American decolonization discourses
  • Elzbieta Kwiecinska (University of Warsaw, Poland), dealing with Polish and Jewish
    discourses of (post)coloniality
  • Karolina Koziura (European University Institute Florence, Italy), dealing with
    Ukrainian debates on decolonization and Europeanness
  • Adrian Matus (OSA Budapest, Hungary), focuses on the interplay of Eastern and
    Western ideologies of anti-colonial resistance during the Cold War and its post-89
    impact, as well as the pedadogical implications of engaging with these topics


  • Vladimir Petrovic (Institute for Contemporary History in Belgrade, Serbia) team
    leader, expert in genocide studies and post-war memorialization practices in the
    Balkans and in a global context
  • Bohdan Shumylovych (Center for Urban History Lviv, Ukraine), developing new
    models of urban public history and engaging with the audience in Ukrainian context
  • Noémi Lévy-Aksu (Hafiza Merkezi Truth, Justice and Memory Center Istanbul,
    Turkey), focuses on memory politics in Turkey, in particular with regard to Turkish-
    Kurdish joint programs
  • Julia Szekely (Eötvös Loránd University Budapest, Hungary), focuses on Holocaust
    memorialization in German and Hungarian contexts
  • Ketevan Epadze (Tbilisi State University, Georgia) is mapping teaching initiatives on
    memory politics in Georgia’s higher education institutions with regard to internal
    displacement and the Russian-Georgian war
  • Ruzha Smilova (Sofia University, Bulgaria) team leader, dealing with comparative legal and political study of democratic resilience,
  • Saniia Toktogazieva (AUCA Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan), focuses on transnational
    educational initiatives in the post-Soviet space that foster democratic resilience in the
    face of illiberal attacks
  • Aleksander Pavlovic (IFDT Belgrade, Serbia), working on anti-autocratic political
    mobilization in the Western Balkans

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