Category Archives: Ukraine

Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy

Call for Applications

(open for applications from USA, Germany and Ukraine)

We are happy to invite you to participate in the Institute of Civic Studies and Learning (ICSLD) for Democracy that will take place in Augsburg, Germany, from August 19 – 28, 2022. The ICSLD is organized by a team from North Carolina State University (Prof. Chad Hoggan), the University of Augsburg (Dr. habil. Tetyana Hoggan-Kloubert), with the support by Tufts University (Prof. Peter Levine) und University of Maryland (Prof. Karol Soltan).

Objectives and topics

The Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy is an intensive, ten-day, seminar and residential retreat—bringing together practitioners, graduate students, and faculty from the U.S., Germany, and Ukraine, and from diverse professions and fields of study. Participants will be staying in the same hotel and participating in workshops, planning sessions, and social events all day and evening throughout the ten days. Costs for hotel and meals will be covered by ICSLD.

The ICSLD deals with issues related to the development of civil society, the role of the individual/citizen in society, the role of education in promoting democracy, the role of institutions in the development of a civil society, and questions related to the ethical foundation of civic issues in a (democratic) society. These topics will be examined in international and comparative perspectives, considering European (especially German und Ukrainian) and U.S.-American civic traditions.

The ICSLD engages participants in challenging discussions such as:

  • What kinds of citizens (if any) do good regimes need?
  • What should such citizens know, believe, and do?
  • What practices and institutional structures promote the right kinds of citizenship?
  • What ought to be the relationships among empirical evidence, ethics, and strategy?

The Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy is a continuation of the Summer Institute of Civic Studies, which was organized annually by Peter Levine, Karol Soltan, and Tetyana Hoggan-Kloubert from 2015-2019 (and at Tufts University since 2009).

How to apply

All application materials must be submitted in English. The application must include the following:

  • A cover letter telling us why you want to participate in the ICSLD and how the seminar will help you promote civic capacities and engagement in the area in which you live (currently or in the future) (maximum 2 pages)
  • A curriculum vitae
  • All application material can be sent as an email attachment in DOC or PDF format to

Decisions will be announced before the end of May 2022. The total number of participants will be limited to 20 (approximately 5 from the U.S., 10 from Germany, and 5 from Ukraine. We are interested in applicants who have a long-term interest in developing the civic potential in their respective countries.

The working language of the Summer Institute will be English. Your mastery of the English language must be sufficient to read and understand complex texts from multiple disciplines, and to take part in a lively discussion.


For best consideration apply by May 20, 2022.


Selected participants will be provided with accommodation, meals, and full event access. (In cases of urgent need, reimbursement for travel costs may be possible.)


For more information about the Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy, please contact We encourage you to share this message with your networks of people who might be interested in attending.

alerting people to their privilege

Two recent studies:

  • Skinner-Dorkenoo, Sarmal, Rogbeer, André, Patel & Cha find that showing White Americans information about “the persistent inequalities that produced COVID-19” resulted in respondents reporting lower fear of COVID-19, less “empathy for those vulnerable to COVID-19,” and less “support for safety precautions.” White people who were already more aware of racial disparities were already less concerned about COVID-19; giving them more information further reduced their concern. This study builds on previous findings that informing White people about racial disparities in the criminal justice system reduces their commitment to reform.
  • Julian E. Barnes and Edward Wong report in The New York Times that “a group of Ukrainian activists, government officials and think tanks, called the Information Strategies Council of Ukraine, has sent emails and social media messages to 15 million Russian men of draft age, between 18 and 27.” These activists find that “Russians tend to dismiss messages highlighting Russian war crimes as American propaganda …, and pictures of Russian casualties run the risk of inciting anger at Ukraine, rather than the Kremlin.” Instead, “The most successful posts [focus] on the incompetence and corruption of Russian military leaders,” which highlights the suffering of Russian soldiers.

On one hand, we must speak freely and frankly about injustice. We must be able to address the powerful with moral critiques. Otherwise, crucial issues will be absent from the public debate, moral growth will be near-impossible, truths will be hidden, and those who suffer will lose their voice.*

On the other hand, it is a pretty safe bet that telling human beings they have unfair advantages is a good way to alert them to privileges they will want to protect. I am hard pressed to think of examples of progress that resulted from telling people they held advantages–no matter how eloquently or cleverly.

I can think of fairly large groups of people who have demonstrated moral growth, but generally at a slow pace and without major cost to themselves. For instance, the Federal Republic of Germany now recalls its Nazi past responsibly, but that happened well after World War II. First, foreign nations destroyed the Nazi regime; then Germans gradually accomplished moral growth. “In Germany, despite Allied efforts at de-Nazification, many Germans in the immediate postwar era maintained strong prejudice against Jews, even as they denied all knowledge of Hitler’s crimes,” writes Robert S. Wistrich. It took another generation and favorable political and economic circumstances for opinions to shift.

This does not mean that radical and rapid change is impossible; it frequently occurs. There are alternatives to moral persuasion. Advantaged people can be forced to change (as in the WWII case), they can be paid off, or they can be persuaded that they will benefit from change.

For instance, in the current war, Ukrainians are not, for the most part, trying to persuade Russians of any moral case. Instead, they are trying to destroy Russian battalion tactical groups, aircraft, and ships in order to defeat the invasion. Meanwhile, if Russians can be persuaded that they are suffering unnecessarily at the hands of their own government, so much the better. That message may give the Kremlin some headaches. (And it is true, even though it is extremely selective.)

The great Bayard Rustin criticized people who

survey the American scene and find no forces prepared to move toward radical solutions. From this they conclude that the only viable strategy is shock; above all, the hypocrisy of white liberals must be exposed. These spokesmen are often described as the radicals of the movement, but they are really its moralists. They seek to change white hearts. … To believe this, of course, you must be convinced, even unconsciously, that at the core of the white man’s heart lies a buried affection for Negroes–a proposition one may be permitted to doubt. But in any case, hearts are not relevant to the issue; neither racial affinities nor racial hostilities are rooted there. It is institutions–social, political, and economic institutions–which are the ultimate molders of collective sentiments. Let those institutions be reconstructed today, and let the ineluctable gradualism of history govern the formation of a new psychology.

From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement” (Commentary, 2/39, Feb. 1965).

Both morality and politics matter. They are related but not identical. Morality demands speaking truth to power. But politics is about accomplishing beneficial change. Often, politics is more urgent; morality is better addressed in the wake of political success.

*To be sure, people sometimes make unfair or invalid critiques, but those should be aired, too, so they can be rebutted

Scholars at Risk opportunity at Tufts

I am very happy to serve on this committee and would be open to questions about it:

The Scholars at Risk (SAR) Program at Tufts is dedicated to helping scholars, artists, writers, and public intellectuals from around the world escape persecution and continue their work by providing ten-month-long academic fellowships at Tufts University. Tufts has been a member of the international Scholars at Risk (SAR) network, which is chaired by Tufts Trustee Lisa Anderson, since 2011. Tufts has hosted several scholars in the past in both Medford and Boston. These scholars have made positive contributions to our academic life and offered important perspectives to our students and faculty.

Details are here. There may also be opportunities to conduct funded research or to teach from Ukraine (or from other countries in crisis) without coming to Tufts, but that is still being considered.

Putin’s cultural nationalism

On March 25, Vladimir Putin gave a speech to Russian writers and artists that was widely covered because he mentioned Western “cancel culture”–thereby demonstrating a familiarity with US talking points. His speech also reflected a widespread but problematic view of the relationship between nations (or peoples) and cultures. This theory is basic to various forms of nationalism that we would classify as right-wing, such as Hindutva in India, but it also permeates some left-wing discussions of indigenous cultures.

According to this theory, each artists or thinker belongs to one people, and each people can therefore claim a list of cultural figures as primarily its own. The great figures of any nation share definitive characteristics with each other and with their ordinary compatriots; these make them members of the same national culture. Foreigners can enjoy and benefit from the creations of any national culture–but only indirectly and imperfectly, for it is the birthright of the originating culture alone. On the other hand, all ordinary people gain refracted glory from the list of great figures of their own national history.

The world recognizes (or should recognize) cultural excellence, just as it recognizes success in athletics or business. One can therefore compare nations by ranking their great cultural figures. To do this, you don’t need to know much about the content of their thought.

Maya Asha McDonald, a Canadian art historian, dined with Putin in the Kremlin in 2019. “’The President would like to know about your study of Christian art,’” a woman to my left said with an icy smile. “’And what you think of Russia’s rich artistic history.’” Putin proceeded to list famous works in Russian museums. When McDonald ventured an informed remark, Putin acknowledged that she seemed to know “quite a bit for ‘someone from Canada.'” This turned out to be a compliment, because Putin “views North America as having a lesser artistic legacy.” He “fundamentally views the wonders of Russian museums as indisputable evidence of his nation’s superiority.”

In the speech last week, Putin said:

Russian culture has made an invaluable contribution to the development of world civilisation. For centuries, Russian masters of literature, music and fine arts have given humankind new aesthetic traditions and, more importantly, ideals and meanings that have become moral and spiritual guidelines for millions of people and entire generations.

Russian culture is human-centric. The best classical works are focused on the inner life, personal quests and emotional experiences of human beings. They ask relevant questions, help people to think, understand and draw conclusions.

It is not surprising that the Russian mentality is known for taking things to heart. We feel very strongly about other people’s pain and injustice. We are capable of feeling sincere joy about others’ success and helping those who truly need our help.

Russian culture always protected Russia’s national identity. While readily taking in all the best and constructive, it patently rejected anything false or momentary, anything that would disrupt the continuity of our spiritual values, moral principles, and historical memory.

This unique quality reliably protects the Russian people even today, when seemingly eternal concepts and norms are being eroded and undermined in different countries, history is being distorted, and the laws of nature itself are being violated. …

Friends, you belong to different generations and serve in different areas of Russian culture and education. Yet, you are equally loyal to them. You are striving to multiply their rich traditions and bring up new generations of thinking and spiritually rich people who are able to perceive and pass on traditional values, who know and respect the past and present of their homeland, who are the true citizens of Russia.

(I quote Putin from the official English translation on the website.)

In my view, most artists (with interesting exceptions) belong uncomfortably to any given national tradition and take inspiration from diverse sources. There is no necessary correlation between the core values of specific artists and the dominant values of the nation at their time or later, nor do artists who are associated with the same nation typically agree with each other.

An individual gains little from just belonging to the same nation as a major thinker. For instance, I have learned virtually nothing from Herman Melville, since I have (unfortunately) not read Moby Dick. It would be foolish for me to feel pride that Melville was American; if anything, I should be mildly embarrassed that I have not read such a major novel. However, we can profit from any works with which we seriously wrestle. In my case, those include some works by Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Shostakovich, Nabokov, Akhmatova, and some other Russians.

In that sense, Putin is right that Russians have “given ideals and meanings” to people like me, who are far away. But I did not gain from these authors and composers a glimpse into some ineffable and indestructible Russian soul. I gained a whole range of divergent thoughts from diverse and unruly thinkers. As Putin says, these authors “ask relevant questions, help people to think, understand and draw conclusions.”

But there is no sign that Vladimir Putin has learned to think from the canon of Russian literature. He might align with Solzhenitsyn and with some aspects of Dostoyevsky, but many of the great Russians would hold him in the deepest contempt. Among those would be Shostakovich (a lifelong victim of the KGB), whom Putin mentions as a target of Western cancellations.

(Please pause to consider the irony that former KGB officer Putin is angry that Shostakovich might be “canceled,” when the Soviet state imprisoned and/or shot Shostakovich’s “patron Marshal Tukhachevsky; his brother-in-law, the distinguished physicist Vsevolod Frederiks; his great friend the musicologist Nikolai Zhilyayev; his mother-in-law, the astronomer Sofiya Mikhaylovna Varzar; his uncle Maxim Kostrykin; and his colleagues Boris Kornilov and Adrian Piotrovsky” and came within a hair’s breadth of purging the composer himself.)

Putin’s theory of culture is vary far from the worst thing about him. I would not claim that it explains or motivates his decision to invade Ukraine, which can be better explained in terms of raw power. But it is a bad theory that is widely shared. I would guess that many Americans–when told that Putin ranks Russian culture above theirs–would counter with the names of distinguished American thinkers whom they have never actually read, some of whom are deeply critical of the USA.

That is the wrong path. Culture is not the Olympic Games, with a medal count. Cultured people don’t brag about the number of their countrymen who have won global repute. Cultured people challenge themselves with uncomfortable ideas from diverse sources and treat all other human beings as their fellow citizens of the earth.

See also: for Irina; Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Orwell; what is cultural appropriation?; the generational politics of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons; a richer sense of cultural interchange; the ethical meanings of indigeneity; etc.

the role of communications in the French Revolution

In The Fall of Robespierre, Colin Jones narrates the dramatic events of July 27, 1794 (9th of Thermidor in Year II, according to the revolutionary calendar) within the city of Paris. He tells the story hour by hour and then by fifteen-minute intervals for portions of the day.

The Ninth of Thermidor was not only a pivotal episode but also probably the best documented 24 hours in human history up to that point, because several security agencies were required to file regular reports, and a huge number of Parisians kept diaries and other records of the event.

In our time, we are obsessed with communications and media technologies, to the extent that we might overestimate their importance. There is more to politics than communications. Nevertheless, Jones’ book reinforces their importance in the French Revolution and suggests certain parallels to the present, when Ukraine and Russia are waging an “information war” alongside their conventional war.

Parisians used a wide range of communications tools to convey ideas about politics. Printing presses produced daily newspapers, posters, proclamations, and even pocket-sized copies of important laws, such as the Law of 14th Frimaire, which had conferred dictatorial power on two committees. Parisians gathered daily in political bodies where they heard speeches. These venues ranged from the National Convention to the two committees that governed each of 48 neighborhood sections, not to mention the Jacobin Club and less formal gatherings. Citizens also frequented theaters, where the performances had political agendas but could be interpreted in many ways. For instance, a play about the tyrannicide Brutus might be intended to celebrate the killing of Louis XVI, yet the audience might think of Robespierre as the tyrant. Trials and daily public executions were also spectacles whose messages were not always interpreted as intended.

The ringing of bells from the buildings formerly known as churches, especially the great bell of the former Notre Dame, as well as the firing of cannons and and the beating of drums all conveyed well-known messages. Riders and pedestrian parties criss-crossed the city with handwritten documents or orders to tell people specific things. Hawkers announced the headlines of newly printed newspapers as they walked about selling them. Even the sashes, cockades, and uniforms that people wore as they moved around with such messages were communicative. For example, 9th Thermidor was first day when members of the National Convention wore elaborate prototype costumes that Jacques-Louis David had designed for them.

Parisians also found creative ways to communicate what they believed despite official censorship. My favorite tool was the fake newspaper correction, a genre of the time. One paper regretted having quoted Robespierre as saying, “It was we who made false denunciations.” According to the correction, this was just a typo, for Robespierre had really said, “It was we who silenced false denunciations.” But the journal had never published the mistake in the first place. The erratum was a way of airing the idea that Robespierre’s denunciations were false.

The events of 9th Thermidor are complex, with many independent actors. The situation crystallizes, however, by the afternoon, once the entire National Convention has voted to condemn Robespierre and his closest associates, while the Parisian city government, the Commune, has declared for Robespierre and even managed to liberate him and bring him to their building, the Hotel de Ville. Paris is essentially in a state of civil war between the national elected legislature and the municipal legislature, with both sides competing for the loyalty of a heavily armed and mobilized population.

The conflict is not ideological in a simple sense, since Robespierre’s allies and enemies alike hold heterogeneous views. In fact, Robespierre has been planning to make a sharp turn from the left to the center and right on this very day. Nor is the conflict defined by social class or other kinds of social background. Mainly, it is a matter of how people assess individuals–which ones are actually traitors?–and where they see their own interests. To turn on Robespierre if he retains power is suicidal, but to stand with him if he falls is just as dangerous.

Basically, the Convention prevails because they win the race to communicate with the most people. One key advantage is access to a large printing press; no press is located near their opponents’ HQ in the Hotel de Ville. The Commune is also frustrated in other ways. They give orders that Notre Dame’s great bell be rung in their cause, but the local assembly that controls the bell tower refuses. Meanwhile–contrary to law–some of the Parisian sections begin sending messages to the 47 other sections, creating a horizontal communications network. The same phrases begin to recur in messages from different sections, indicating that the spread is “viral.”

After the chaotic and unplanned events of the day, the question becomes how to interpret what happened. This, too, is determined by the effective use of communications media. At first, the prevailing interpretation is that Robespierre and a few confederates were caught plotting against the regime. The elected Convention plus the people of Paris stopped this threat. Policies should thus continue as before. Gradually, over the course of the year, the opposite interpretation overtakes this one. According to the new theory, the revolutionary government and the masses of Paris went off the rails until 9th Thermidor. That period is now retrospectively named “The Terror” and regarded as a tragic mistake. Robespierre’s fall along with the destruction of the Parisian Commune is seen as the beginning of a new reactionary phase, in which France must become much less radical and the people must be kept in check.

In many ways, this interpretative victory is what makes 9th Thermidor a pivotal event in French and world history–or so Jones persuasively argues.