Academics Facing Autocracy Program

Illiberal practices and autocratic pressure have been targeting higher education as a pivotal place of intellectual, ideological and sociocultural contestation — as liberal democracy’s epistemic foundation and a site of its renewal.

Illiberal and autocratic policies are skillfully manipulating the structural problems of the higher education, privatizing or etatizing universities and research institutions. The emerging soft authoritarianism is marked by parallel structures that undermine self-governance and quality assurance practices of academic communities. Such reforms are easy to defend in an era marked by the commercialization of the higher education, the hierarchical stratification of the faculty, and the growing gap between the activist networks and academic knowledge production. In doing so, they seek to marginalize universities as loci of democratic resilience and anti-authoritarian resistance in national cultural and political spaces. While autocrats avidly learn from each other, academics under siege scramble for self-preservation, caught between prospects of existential threats and surviving in exile. Local anti-intellectualism has been turned into a global salami-tactics, leaving behind intellectual enclaves and fragmented diaspora communities sharing the fate of former allies in a shrinking civic space.

The OSUN Global Visiting Fellowship for “Academics Facing Autocracy” scheme brought together at the Democrcy Institute colleagues from the hotspots of this struggle an opportunity for critical reflection and dialogue, to explore sustainable global strategies that create new links between research, teaching and civic engagement in response to a global challenge. In particular, we seek new insight on recent efforts that offer „hybrid education for students in hybrid regimes” and academic sanctuary.

The program is hosted by the Democracy Institute on the Budapest campus of Central European University, which itself had to move its traditional gradute programs to Austria as a result of the illiberal Hungarian political regime’s pressure manifested in the infamous “Lex CEU” of 2017. CEU remains committed, however, to maintain research and non-degree educational activities in Hungary and thereby also keep its Budapest premises meaningful.

Current Fellows (2023)

Noemi Levy Aksu

Noemi Levy Aksu has a first-hand experience of illiberal and autocratic attacks on higher education. In 2017, then an assistant professor in Ottoman and Modern Turkish history at Boğaziçi University (Istanbul), she was dismissed for signing the Declaration for Peace (January 2016, a criticism of state violence against civilians in the Kurdish region). She became involved in the solidarity network of the Academics for Peace and was one of the founders of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Research (CDPR) in London, a registered charity which promotes independent knowledge production in Turkey. In 2019-20, she coordinated a CDPR capacity building project, aiming to support eight solidarity academies in Turkey, which enabled her to work in close collaboration with scholars and activists throughout the country. As a CDPR trustee, she remains involved in two current local initiatives: the Center for the Right to the City of İzmir Solidarity Academy; and the “100years100objects” project, a critical digital encyclopedia of Modern Turkey, developed by Kültürhane in Mersin. In 2020, she joined the Truth, Justice, Memory Center (Hafıza Merkezi) in Istanbul. There, she has developed the original “Memory and Youth” program, which brings together young citizens from different backgrounds and articulates workshops, field visits and mentorship for their projects addressing various aspects of Turkey’s contentious past.

Thiago Amparo

Thiago de Souza Amparo is a professor at FGV Direito SP and FGV International Relations School, teaching courses on human rights, international law, and discrimination law. Since 2017, Amparo has taught courses on a wide range of issues, such as international public law, race, and gender in the judicial system, policing and the law, hate crimes, and related topics. Amparo is a lawyer, with a bachelor’s degree from PUC-SP (Sao Paulo, Brazil), a master’s degree in human rights (LLM) from the Central European University (Budapest, Hungary), and a Ph.D. from the same university with a thesis on discrimination law in Brazil, South Africa, and the United States and its relation with conservative legal mobilization before apex courts. He was a visiting scholar at Columbia University (New York – United States) in 2014, and a postdoctoral fellow at New York University (NYU) for Fall 2021. During this research period, Amparo has written a paper on necropolitics and the law in Brazil available here. He is an expert in constitutional law, public policy as well as diversity, and antidiscrimination law. In this capacity, Amparo has worked as a consultant for companies and foundations about diversity and inclusion and ESG. He was deputy secretary of human rights and citizenship at the São Paulo City Hall between January and May 2017. He writes weekly for the main newspaper in Brazil, Folha de S. Paulo, and is an editorial board member for the same newspaper. For the Spring 2023, he was an adjunct professor at School of International and Public Affairs/Columbia University.

Nurzhamal Karamoldoeva

Nurzhamal Karamoldoeva is an Executive Director at the Center for Civic Engagement of the American University in Central Asia (AUCA CCE) that oversees different civic engagement activities initiated by students, faculty and staff. She is a faculty of TV, Film and Media Arts department of AUCA. Nurzhamal is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who explores the intersection of art and human rights through her creative work. Her recent work includes the first Central Asian true crime documentary on a bride kidnapping case “Who is next?”

Almira Ousmanova

When CEU was forced to cease its operations in Budapest under the pressure of Hungarian government, and later on relocated to Vienna, Almira Ousmanova was struck by the commonality of institutional trajectories of CEU and her home University – European Humanities  University (EHU), that  became the first University in Exile  in the XXIst century’s Europe, since its closure by Belarusian authorities for political reasons in 2004. The history of EHU spans over virtually the entire thirty-year period of postsocialist development ( as in case of CEU)  and is full of dramatic twists and turns. EHU succeeded to survive and develop further despite  the obstacles, caused by the authoritarian regime of Lukashenko, starting from the beginning of the 1990s. During 17 years of exile the faculty of EHU gained a unique experience of cross-border functioning,  of intellectual nomadism and  civil activism, while working in between Belarus and Lithuania; creating new educational programs in a foreign country; conducting research on the postsocialist political, cultural and scientific transformations; providing liberal education, based on democratic values and academic freedoms, to the  young people  from the region, and creating the infrastructures of solidarity and support for both students and scholars (before and after the political crisis in Belarus in 2020 and the war in Ukraine in 2022).

Alexandr Voronovici

Alexandr Voronovici has completed his PhD at CEU’s History Department in 2016. In his dissertation, he was exploring Soviet borderland policies in the Ukrainian SSR and Moldovan ASSR in the 1920s and 1930s. Currently, his research is primarily focusing on the issue of the memory politics in the post-Soviet de facto states. Overall, Alexandr is specializing in the history of East European borderlands in the 20th and 21st centuries. He has published widely on interwar Soviet nationality policies, separatism, and memory politics in Eastern Europe with a focus on Ukraine and Moldova. He has diverse teaching and research experience, having held positions at universities in Hungary, Moldova, and Russia.

Lourdes Peroni

Lourdes Peroni is an international human rights law scholar whose areas of teaching and research include equality and non-discrimination, gender-based violence against women, and migration, particularly within the contexts of the United Nations, Organization of American States and Council of Europe. She has published on these themes in several journals, including Feminist Legal Studies, Human Rights Law Review and International Journal of Constitutional Law. Together with Johanna Niemi and Vladislava Stoyanova, she edited a book on the Istanbul Convention in 2020. She has worked at several universities, including Yale (US), Ghent (Belgium) and Sheffield Hallam (UK). She was a visiting scholar at Emory Law School and Melbourne Law School. At CEU Democracy Institute, she will be conducting research on international human rights law responses to current anti-gender campaigns.

Daniel Palm

Daniel Palm earned his Ph.D. at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences in the field of Global History. His field of expertise is contemporary global dynamics with a focus on South-South relations. Currently, he is working on the emergent class of knowledge workers that argue for the reorientation of hybrid regimes toward China as the main partner. As the lead in teaching innovations at the division for digital transformations at the University for CIntinuing Education Krems, he is also interested in new learning formats that use digital tools – especially for alternative educational projects.

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