Karolina Wigura is a historian, sociologist and political editor of Kultura Liberalna, Poland’s leading online political and cultural weekly.
What do you work on as Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy?
I started with a project on the post-pandemic emotions in a global perspective. I called them “post-pandemic” not because the coronavirus is behind us. Rather it is to stress that the presence of the Covid-19 has already produced a fundamental change in our collective life. The emotions that have been created and strengthened throughout the past two years will stay with us for long.
Post-pandemic emotions continue to be a crucial part of my interest during my time in Berlin, but with the changing political situation another sphere of interest appeared in my research, namely the collective emotions of my region, Central and Eastern Europe, with its complicated and often traumatic past. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine revealed a strong feeling of anxiety from Warsaw to Riga, Tallin to Vilnius.
I want to grasp and describe the strongest collective emotions shaping our social and political reality, and look into future scenarios.
What are the most relevant issues in your field?
In his seminal book The Passions and The Interests, Alfred Hirschman claimed that human history moves like a pendulum, from rational to passionate – and back. The trends in the politics around the world lead to a conclusion that we currently find ourselves in the second of those two modes. The serious challenges and dramatic circumstances that have been a part of our daily lives in the past months and years – the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine – make collective emotions even more important than before.
How will the Russian invasion into Ukraine shape the impact of emotions in politics?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine will shape those emotions profoundly and it will happen for a number of reasons. In Central and Eastern Europe, which is the most important point of my interest, one should point out that the Russian invasion has strengthened a collective fear rooted in history. What is rarely mentioned is that Eastern and Central Europeans have a special anxious sense of themselves. In the works I co-authored with Jaroslaw Kuisz we called it “nervous sovereignty.”
For Central and Eastern European nations, contrary to the West, sovereignty is not a source of stability but is associated with a collective trauma. Struggling with the deprivation of their statehoods and the partitions of their territories and overseen by external powers, these nations often have a different interpretation of the war in Ukraine. While the West sees it as a dramatic event, they see it as a yet another stage of a longer Russia’s strategy of partitions and influence installed by force, which can eventually be dangerous for the whole region.
This diversity of interpretations may have a profound meaning for the future of the relations between Vladimir Putin opponents, for example within NATO.
What insights for your work are you expecting to gain during your fellowship?
I’m devoting my time to the following questions: What are the most important collective emotions of global politics today? How to understand and work with them? How can we respond to collective emotions in a way that is relevant to today’s technologies? What is the best way to communicate with citizens? How not to allow the populists to build on negative emotions, and how to prevent fake news and conspiracy theories from spreading? Last but not least, how to strengthen liberal democracy, rule of law, and a robust civil society?
What makes Berlin and Germany relevant for your work?
Berlin is an exceptional environment where I can not only learn from people and institutions previously well known to me, such as ECFR, Wissenschaftskolleg, and Zentrum Liberale Moderne, but also those with which I have not had contact so far. Some of the new initiatives and institutions I have started cooperation already after I arrived to Berlin as a fellow of the Academy are the WZB, “Affective societies” at the Freie Universität, or the Cluster of Excellence “Contestation of the Liberal Script”.
A fundamental part of this exceptional environment of the Academy and Berlin itself. Here, I have the chance for an active exchange with the other fellows, as well as the large community of the Alumni. This not only allows me to greatly enrich my research and its results, but also allows sharing knowledge about collective emotions in politics.
Last but not least, it is extremely relevant for me to observe the German politics during those months. The new government and an important change in the style of chancellorship, the reaction of Germany to the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - these are all examples of history happening before our eyes and I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to observe it so closely.
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