A timely discussion

Symposium on East Europe to focus on crisis in Ukraine, resurgent Russia

Story by Alex Zank, OP/ED Editor

Over the two decades UW-Eau Claire has been holding the Symposium on East Europe, the topics ranged from nationalism, demography and national security, Paulis Lazda, professor of history and co-chair of the symposium said.

As the 14th installment to the series approaches, “This time the news is all around us,” Lazda said.

The Symposium on East Europe, a free on-campus event, will be held from 1 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 2 and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 3 in Centennial Hall room 1614. The event is hosts big-name speakers ranging from former ambassadors, diplomats and professors at Eastern European universities.

“We have as much diversity of ideas and personnel as possible,” Lazda said. “There always is a good amount of … heat in arguments.”

This year’s topic is resurgent Russia and the response of East Europe. The timing of the topic could not be more relevant, given the situation between Ukraine and Russia is the focus of international attention.

“This is the opportunity if you’re wondering what exactly is going on over there, you’ll get that firsthand experience … the straight answers to what is happening over there as opposed to what you hear or see on the news,” said Charles Lindberg, a freshman who helped organize the symposium.

The keynote speaker this year is Valerii Kuchynskyi, former ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S. He’ll speak on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

“Having (Kuchynski’s) voice recognized in this keynote address will be very important,” said Emils Birkavs, an international student from Latvia who is also helping organize the symposium. “There will be a large amount of people who would like what he has to say, since he has been directly involved in issues relating to Ukraine internationally.”

Birkavs and Lindberg are two of about a dozen students who have helped coordinate the symposium. The students’ duties range from administrative work, publicity and providing transportation for the speakers.

The symposium gives an avenue for the Eau Claire area to discuss events like Ukraine and Russia, something vital to society, Birkavs said.

“What is happening in Eastern Europe … is very unique and novel,” he said. “To hold a conversation about it and discuss certain issues is one of the fundamental things that need to be done, and this symposium grants us that chance to involve both the community and the individual students here.”

There are plenty of opportunities for audience involvement as well. There will be a panel discussion featuring the symposium speakers from 2 to 4 p.m. on May 3, where they will debate topics and answer audience questions. The discussion moderator will be Stephen Hill, professor of political science and symposium co-chair.

For those wishing to talk with the speakers in a one-on-one setting, Lazda invites all those interested to a reception at his residence after the keynote address May 2. He said he holds one after every symposium, and about 80 people usually attend.

Lazda suggested Eau Claire should hold more symposiums like this. He said seeing a discussion of this scale on topics he teaches in the classroom is one of the most gratifying experiences as a professor.

“This is really the kind of intellectual excitement that a university should generate,” he said.