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Interview May 2024

Interview with Félix Krawatzek, MoveMeRU ERC-funded project

Interviewed by Andrea Talabér
Félix Krawatzek

Andrea Talabér: Before we start discussing your ERC-project Moving Russia(ns) (MoveMeRu), could you talk a bit about your academic background?

Félix Krawatzek: I am a political scientist and, since September 2018, a senior researcher at ZOiS, where I coordinate the research cluster Youth and Generational Change. I am also an Associate Member of Nuffield College (University of Oxford). My research focuses on the comparative analysis of politics in Eastern and Western Europe. I am particularly interested in the role of youth in politics, the significance of historical representation in political processes, and questions related to migration and transnationalism. Before joining ZOiS, I held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations. I finished my doctorate at the University of Oxford and was a visiting fellow at Sciences Po Paris (Centre d’études et de recherches internationales) and at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. Since September 2022, I head the ERC-funded project Moving Russia(ns): Intergenerational Transmission of Memories Abroad and at Home (MoveMeRU).

AT: Could you give our readers a brief summary of the project? Where is it based and who is involved?

FK: MoveMeRU investigates how the intergenerational transmission of historical narratives influences the relationship people with a (Soviet-) Russian background maintain with both their host country and their family homeland. We draw on theories of intergenerational transmission and second-generation transnationalism and compare the historical memories of people with a (Soviet-) Russian background and without one across two generations. More specifically, we examine communities with a (Soviet-)Russian background in Germany, Estonia, and Canada, representing favourable, hostile, and neutral reception contexts, respectively. The project is based at the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) in Berlin, Germany. The team consists of two postdoctoral researchers, one PhD student as well as our project coordinator.

AT: What are the main questions you want to answer with this project?

FK: There are three key questions we are investigating:

  • To what extent do young adults in migrant and non-migrant families identify with their parents’ countries of origin and their historical setting?
  • Under what conditions do the historical memories and political attitudes of young adults in migrant and non-migrant families converge with, or diverge from, those of their parents?
  • What kinds of historical memories are conducive to solidarity and pluralist political attitudes or, conversely, to indifference and intolerance?

AT: Which methods do you use in the project? How are the participants selected?

FK: MoveMeRU employs several methods to address our research questions, with a focus on parent-child opinion surveys, cross-generational focus groups, and media analysis. In combination, these methods allow us to investigate the intergenerational transmission of historical narratives among Russian populations. For the surveys, we collaborate with local partners in the three countries. These are experienced research firms who recruit the participants, oftentimes from their own panels or through the public registry. Similarly, for focus groups, we work with partners experienced in such settings and recruit participants partly from the surveys and partly from their panels or through active offline recruiting. This multi-method approach ensures a nuanced understanding of how historical memories are transmitted and interpreted across generations and migration contexts.

In Estonia for example, the war has led the government to accelerate the removal of remnants of its Soviet past: be it through the dismantling of war memorials, renaming of streets, or the abolishment of the Russian-language schools.

AT: You explore how migrant children are exposed to two national histories, that of their country of residence and of the family’s homeland, Russia. Have you noticed any shifts in how national memories from Russia and participants’ sense of belonging are presented since the war in Ukraine? How does the country of residence affect this?

FK: This very much depends on the current country of residence. What we can observe just from looking at how it is portrayed in the national media, is that both in Germany and Estonia there is a lot more perceived pressure for Russian-speakers to position themselves clearly in the ongoing war. In Estonia for example, the war has led the government to accelerate the removal of remnants of its Soviet past: be it through the dismantling of war memorials, renaming of streets, or the abolishment of the Russian-language schools. All these actions have forced the Russian-speakers of Estonia to position themselves among oftentimes conflicting narratives of the past. 

The war has also increased interstate tensions between Russia and Estonia, exemplified by the Russian Interior Ministry’s inclusion of Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on a list of people wanted for unspecified criminal charges. The argumentation given by Russian officials put at the centre her efforts at removing Soviet-era Second World War monuments. 

In Canada, the war does not seem to have put pressure on Russian-speakers to the same extent. One explanation for this could be the different societal set up in these three countries, i.e., the position of the Russian-speakers. Russian-speakers in Germany, and Estonia especially, are much more visible as a distinct group when compared to the Canadian multicultural society. However, these are preliminary observations; we anticipate more nuanced insights from our ongoing surveys.

AT: Can you share some of your findings so far?

FK: Our research project focuses on the demographic group of émigrés from (Soviet) Russia and their descendants, officially referred to as “compatriots” in the Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation. Despite their demographic significance and their centrality in Russian foreign policy, there is a surprising dearth of research on this group, even regarding very basic socio-demographic information in some countries. This became evident when we were searching for local research companies to partner with for both our surveys and focus groups. Several of them found it impossible to reach the required number of research participants. 

Additionally, our analysis of media consumption among Russian speakers in Germany has revealed the influential role of transnational actors who navigate between Russia and Germany and challenge historical consensus in Germany effectively. This is of particular importance in light of the extent to which young people consume news via social media and it also makes for a promising angle to further explore second-generation transnationalism and ties back to countries of origin.

These are just a few insights into our research. The bulk of findings will emerge once we have completed our fieldwork, which we expect to conclude by the end of this year.

These approaches allow us to actively engage with the communities we are studying and at the same time they are promising avenues for us to better understand our research findings in their local context.

AT: What are your plans for disseminating the findings of the project, apart from academic publishing?

FK: We are already actively working on sharing not only the findings, which will start coming in over the course of this year, but also information about the research itself – what we are doing, how, and why. For doing so, we primarily develop our social media channels, such as Instagram and Facebook. For the upcoming part of the project, we are also planning to work together with migration and community museums. These approaches allow us to actively engage with the communities we are studying and at the same time they are promising avenues for us to better understand our research findings in their local context. We also plan to disseminate the findings to policy makers and political foundations who work with these communities and their socio-political integration.

AT: ERC applications are extremely competitive. Do you have any advice for prospective applicants?

FK: Being well-informed is crucial. Seek advice from past or current grant holders, attend webinars offered by ERCEA or national contact points, and prepare thoroughly for the interview. The project design must leave no ambiguities as to how work packages will map on to researchers, what timelines you foresee for the different tasks and what you think costs will look like. Be ambitious and daring, but at the same time realistic – don’t overpromise and know your limits. Also, ensure your hosting institution has the necessary administrative procedures and personnel in place to support such a large-scale project. If needed, set up these necessary procedures and include the position of project coordinator as part of your project team in your application.