Interview with Dr. Emily Channell-Justice about the second annual TCUP conference: Beyond Borderland: 30 Years of Ukrainian Sovereignty (February 7-11, 2022)

John Vsetecka's picture



H-Ukraine Interview with Dr. Emily Channell-Justice about the second annual TCUP conference: ‘Beyond Borderland’: 30 Years of Ukrainian Sovereignty

Online Conference | February 7-11, 2022


H-Ukraine: Your upcoming conference, ‘Beyond Borderland’: 30 Years of Ukrainian Sovereignty, is the second annual conference of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program (TCUP), which followed your inaugural one in 2021. Can you tell our audience a little more about TCUP and the work that your program does in promoting dialogue about contemporary Ukraine?

ECJ: One of the main goals of TCUP is to create the space for dialogue between academic and policy audiences. The conference is motivated by this idea, so each panel includes both academic and policy experts. This allows us to talk about the challenging issues facing Ukraine today while recognizing their complexity—academics have often done excellent, in-depth research on these topics, but how can their conclusions change policy? Similarly, policy experts know what makes a policy feasible, but this can erase nuance. How can policy experts better incorporate important nuances in their policy implementation? The conference is one part of this dialogue. We have also been publishing TCUP Reports, which highlight research from people with both policy and academic backgrounds on topics important to Ukraine today. TCUP also hosts events throughout the year as part of our Seminar in Ukrainian Studies at the Ukrainian Research Institute. Finally, as the program director, I have my own research agenda that sits at the intersection of scholarship and policy, which currently focuses on the related topics of internal displacement and reintegration of Donbas and Crimea. All these branches of TCUP work together to create the space for the dialogue that is so essential to understanding Ukraine.   


H-Ukraine: What was your motivation for organizing this conference in 2022, and what types of themes will be addressed during this event in February?

ECJ: In 2021, Ukraine celebrated its 30th year of independence, and this conference celebrates that achievement. Sovereignty is not a given, so the conference asks panelists to dig into the meaning of sovereignty for the modern world—including, but not limited to, Ukraine. The current geopolitical order is based on national territorial sovereignty, but Ukraine’s sovereignty has been violated and threatened by Vladimir Putin since 2014. What does it mean for Ukraine to be a sovereign, independent nation in this context? How can we use these threats from the Russian Federation as a way to deepen our understanding of why sovereignty is so significant in Ukraine? This theme allows us to explore both the international and domestic challenges to Ukraine’s sovereignty, and it also places Ukraine in a broader conversation about the meaning of sovereignty in the 21st century. This year’s conference also draws on last year’s discussion of Ukraine’s democracy, as protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty is essential to protecting its democracy.


H-Ukraine: One of the aims of your conference is to interrogate the complex meanings of sovereignty in the modern world. At this very moment, Ukrainian sovereignty is being tested and threatened by war and aggression from Russia on a number of fronts, including warfare in the eastern parts of the country, cyberattacks, and wide-spread disinformation campaigns. In what ways do you hope that the conference will help us understand sovereignty in Ukraine in a more comprehensive manner? To what degree does the current situation in the country shape or change these conversations?

ECJ: The panels in this conference start with a big picture discussion of sovereignty. That is, the first panel interrogates the meaning of sovereignty in precisely this context of Russian aggression, but it places Ukraine as one of many countries dealing with such threats (the participants in Panel 1 have experience working in other countries that have seen Russian interference, such as Georgia and Kosovo). The second panel, Digital Transformations, uses the lens of the internet and technology to consider how the idea of sovereignty has changed. For this panel, panelists have experience both researching this topic and working within the technology and media sectors. This format will allow us to think about how Ukraine is playing a key role in rethinking the meaning sovereignty in the modern world. It also allows us to see that there are multiple sites where the meaning of sovereignty is being remade—it’s not just at Ukraine’s eastern border, though this is, of course, an essential part of the story. It’s also in the uses of technology both domestically and internationally; it’s in the way media tells certain stories or targets certain groups of people; and it’s in Ukraine’s domestic policies toward the currently occupied regions (the topic of Panel 3). All of these exist at the same time. It’s what makes sovereignty such a challenging and mutable concept, even as it is the definitive way of seeing the world.


H-Ukraine: There are a number of prominent experts and scholars that will be speaking at your event. Can you tell us who will be speaking and what types of informed opinions you sought to bring in for this conference?

ECJ: We have a wonderful mix of academic and policy experts, and a mix of people who are from Ukraine and based in Ukraine to those based in the U.S. and European institutions. Many speakers have both academic and policy experience. Participating scholars come from diverse backgrounds, including anthropology, sociology, political science, and media studies. Policy experts have a combination of government experience—including two former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine, as well as former members of the Ukrainian government—and experience working in non-governmental and international organizations. Taking all these perspectives into consideration helps foster a discussion among people whose voices often seem to be at an impasse. Instead of seeing policy and academic representatives as talking past one another, the conference creates the space for them to be in dialogue. For a country such as Ukraine, and on a topic as complex as sovereignty, it’s important to tackle these conversations from all angles. The fourth and final panel, Policy Priorities, will attempt to bring all these angles together to discuss both domestic concerns and Ukraine’s international relations—not just with Russia and the U.S., but with the world.


H-Ukraine: Where can interested parties find more about this conference, the program, panelists, and the TCUP?

ECJ: The schedule is available on our conference website, and more information about the speakers is also available. The conference is open to anyone, so please to register to attend. You can also read more about the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program, our other publications, and my research work on the program website.