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Report: Symposium „Languages of War: Interpretive Knowledge and Debates on the Perspectives of the War in Ukraine“ (22.02.2023–24.02.2023, Xplanatorium Herrenhausen, Hannover / Germany)

Symposium „Languages of War: Interpretive Knowledge and Debates on the Perspectives of the War in Ukraine“

Volkswagen Foundation – Thematic Week: War in Ukraine – Scholarly perspectives
Xplanatorium Herrenhausen, Hannover / Germany




“Do not talk about Ukraine without Ukraine” – it was our motto of the symposium Languages of War: Interpretive Knowledge and Debates on the Perspectives of the War in Ukraine held from 22.02.2023 to 24.02.2023 at the Xplanatorium Herrenhausen in Hannover. As part of the Volkswagen Foundation's thematic week War in Ukraine – Scholarly Perspectives, the symposium Languages of War was organised by the Giessen Centre for Eastern European Studies (GiZo) of the JLU Giessen in cooperation with the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe – Institute of the Leibniz Association. In the frame of this thematic week, in total, four parallel symposiums were funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.

Interdisciplinary and internationally oriented, the Languages of War symposium focused on the analysis of national and international strategies of argumentation, the narratives and myths that justify and explain the Russian war against Ukraine and are reflected in specific forms of linguistic, political, and cultural communication.

In total, 46 scholars from Germany, Ukraine, the US, Austria, and the Czech Republic participated in the event. As a matter of fact, there was a significant involvement of Ukrainian scholars (nearly half of the participants) which enabled us to hear the Ukrainian voices in the discussions and get insights from Ukraine. Moreover, the involvement of a considerable number of young researchers is also worth mentioning,

Already at the opening session, the organisers Monika Wingender, Peter Haslinger, and Andrea Gawrich gave us an input from the perspective of various disciplines (linguistics and literary studies, history as well as social sciences) and presented the goals and challenges with respect to strengthening Ukrainian perspectives in the “Western” discourses.

During the panel Myths and Narratives on War, Liudmyla Pidkuimukha (Giessen) outlined the imperial myth about “brotherly peoples” and “one Russian people” and how it is transmitted in the official discourse, mass media, education, and mass culture to legitimize the war against Ukraine. Continuing the topic of the language and ideological changes after the full-scale invasion, Bohdan Azhniuk (Kyiv) presented his research about the linguistic landscape in Ukraine.

The complex questions of identity(ies) were discussed from sociological and linguistic perspectives (cf. the slots Ukrainian Identities and Language and Identity with Mychailo Wynnyckyj (Boston/Kyiv), Volodymyr Kulyk (Kyiv), Nadiya Kiss (Giessen), as well as Andrea Gawrich (Giessen) and Monika Wingender (Giessen). Mychailo Wynnyckyi grasped the audience's attention by presenting his reflections on how Ukraine will get through its post-war reconstruction. Volodymyr Kulyk demonstrated the results of his current survey on language and identity, focusing on how the language behaviour and language attitude of Ukrainians had changed after the full-scale invasion.

Multi-layered cultural and religious interconnections between Ukraine and Russia were the focus of the slots Culture and Religion in Wartimes and A Year of Archiving the War: From Emergency Response to a Challenge of Sustainability with Taras Nazaruk (Lviv), Iryna Fenno (Lviv/Munich), Andriy Danylenko (New York), as well as Nicole Immig (Giessen) and Thomas Daiber (Giessen). These slots offered, among other things, valuable insights into essential and meticulous work on documenting Russia's crimes in the field of cultural, historical, and religious heritage.

The political, public, academic, and media arenas of the languages of war were also brought into focus in order to develop a critical view of perceptions and reaction patterns – from international actors and EU politicians to quality media and social networks. In the frame of the Journalists and Scholars in Dialogue panel Moritz Gathmann (Berlin) and Anna Veronika Wendland (Marburg) under the moderation of Peter Haslinger (Marburg/Giessen) discussed the challenges in cooperation between researchers and journalists and possibilities for collaboration. In the slot Geopolitical Challenges for the EU, Andrea Gawrich (Giessen), Inna Melnykovska (Vienna/Delmenhorst), and Susann Worschech (Giessen/Frankfurt Oder) described foreign policy ambitions of the EU and EU Neighborhood Policy by discussing Ukraine and Moldova candidate status and the possibilities for extending the neighbourhood, as well as security issues in the region. The lecture by Valeria Korablyova (Prague) entitled Implications of the „Zeitenwende“: Transforming the Worldview after February 2022 and moderated by Andreas Langenohl (Giessen) contributed to the symposium with the analysis of worldview changes and challenges before and after 24nd February 2022, processes of decolonization and resilience in Ukraine, as well as dichotomy “us” and “them”.

The young researchers offered a comparative perspective on the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war from the Ukrainian, Russian, and German points of view in the slot “Young Researchers on Languages of War in Media and Culture”. The slot consisted of two panels. During the panel Narratives of Russo-Ukrainian War in Media and Culture, the participants Oleksandr Chertenko (Giessen), Sebastian Christ (Berlin), Susanne Spahn (Berlin) with moderation by Gleb Kazakov (Giessen) discussed representation of the war in the media of various countries (especially Ukraine, Russia, and Germany), including the influence of Russia's narratives in the German media and on German society, as well as the role of Russian media and propaganda on the temporary occupied Ukrainian territories. Moreover, the development of Ukrainian culture in wartime was also examined. On the other hand, the panel of young sociolinguists Speaking under Bombing: Current Language Situation in Ukraine, moderated by Nadiya Kiss (Giessen) discussed the issue of language shift (Ivanna Tsar (Kyiv)), language and identity (Natalia Matvieeva (Kyiv/Ternopil)) and language change (Oleksandra Didukh (Vienna)) in Ukraine, triggered by the full-scale war, as well as the presence of the Ukrainian language in Germany (Oksana Turkevych (Berlin/Lviv)). Overall, the young researchers actively participated in all panel discussions in different roles: with a presentation, as discussants or commentators, asking questions and making additional comments. Moreover, the symposium gave the possibility to promote young scholars and their studies.

Furthermore, previous academic approaches to the region and their future reorientations were extensively discussed. The symposium was based on the thesis that the war of aggression has brought about a profound paradigm shift in Eastern European and European studies, as well as in humanities and cultural studies as a whole, which cannot be limited to individual topics or research areas. The symposium made a central contribution to this in two slots, each from the perspective of researchers from Ukraine and Germany: The Russian-Ukrainian War: A Challenge for Humanities and Social Sciences with Orysia Demska (Kyiv), Gelinada Grinchenko (Kharkiv/Wuppertal), Valeria Korablyova (Prague), Tetiana Malyarenko (Odesa/Regensburg), Oleksandr Osipian (Berlin) and Paradigmatic Changes in Explaining the War – Panel Discussion (with Alexander Wöll (Potsdam), Timm Beichelt (Frankfurt (Oder)), Peter Haslinger (Marburg/Giessen) as well as Andrea Gawrich (Giessen)). For instance, discussants analysed the perspective of further development of Ukrainian studies, as well as the issue of research ethics in wartime.

Since the last day of the symposium coincided with the date of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it was a commemoration ceremony that started in the morning by demonstrating a short video and a moment of silence in the session and continued in the concluding slot with a prayer poem in a joint slot with the participants from the other symposia.

In Concluding Remarks and Future Perspectives, Monika Wingender (Giessen) and Oleksandr Chertenko (Giessen) based on the aforementioned presentations and discussions outlined the challenges in academia, namely the issues of decolonization of knowledge production and revising symbolic geography. Moreover, the future perspectives of researching Ukraine in Europe, the impact of the war and mass migration on the study fields, and fostering methodologies and infrastructures in digital humanities were discussed. Finally, new orientations in Eastern European Studies – decolonizing the research fields and improving and expanding interdisciplinary expertise and interpretive knowledge, recentering Ukrainian studies and contextualizing the topics investigated (wars, conflicts, etc.) within broader interdisciplinary and international frames – were presented.

The symposium resulted in many enrichments from a scientific and networking perspective.


Reported by Aksana Braun, Nadiya Kiss, Liudmyla Pidkuimukha (Justus Liebig University Giessen / Germany)


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