Rafael Biermann is a partner in the competence network "Cooperation and Conflict in Eastern Europe".

Bundling conflict research on Eastern Europe

The University of Jena is part of the competence network "Cooperation and Conflict in Eastern Europe"
Rafael Biermann is a partner in the competence network "Cooperation and Conflict in Eastern Europe".
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  • Research

Published: | By: Axel Burchardt

In a nationwide research network funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with around three million euros, six institutions across Germany - including the University of Jena - will bundle and further develop research on conflicts in Eastern Europe over the next four years. The region has repeatedly been the scene of violent conflicts that continue to this day. The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is the most recent and glaring example that challenges the research questions and conditions of the network.

Eastern Europe has been a focus of peace and conflict research for many years. Nowhere else have been so many wars of secession and newly founded states since the end of the Cold War, some of which remain unresolved to this day. At the same time, the focus on continuing conflicts should not obscure the view of developments in cooperation. For example, although the secession conflict over Transnistria in Moldova has not yet been settled, pragmatic solutions to everyday problems have been found in recent years and open channels of communication have been established between Chişinău and Tiraspol.

Analysing conflicts and cooperation

The research network "Cooperation and Conflict in Eastern Europe" (KonKoop), which started its work in April, examines the conflict constellations, but also dynamics of cooperation in Eastern Europe, South Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus against this background. The network is coordinated by the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS). In addition to the Chair of International Relations at the University of Jena, the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies (IOS) in Regensburg, the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (IfL) in Leipzig, the University for Sustainable Development in Eberswalde (HNEE) and the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Research (ZZF) in Potsdam are involved.

"In Germany we have excellent research and a lot of practical knowledge on different conflicts in Eastern Europe, but as yet this is scattered across different locations and thus not sufficiently recognised at international level. The purpose of the research network is to integrate all of this expertise," explains the scientific director of ZOiS, Gwendolyn Sasse. "Russia’s war on Ukraine challenges us to connect and communicate research on Eastern Europe, conflict and migration in an even more concerted way," she continues.

How conflicts arise in Eastern Europe

In five thematic fields, research teams want to find out how conflicts come about in Eastern Europe, which actors are involved and which factors contribute to escalation and de-escalation, but also which conditions guarantee security or enable cooperation.

  • Under what circumstances do political reconfigurations like the dissolution of the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia trigger violent conflicts?
  • What role do ethnic or religious attributions play?
  • How do economic interests contribute to the development of conflicts or their resolution?
  • What are the effects of environmental change and the scarcity of resources?
  • What factors influence the scope for peace negotiations and the implementation of peace accords?
  • How can security in Europe be reconceptualised and institutionalised in future?

Questions like these need to be examined comparatively for different places as well as for different points in time or stages of conflict, and they require the expertise of different disciplines. To this end, the network partners bring together their regional and thematic expertise. A multi-local junior research group will be formed and will work together with experienced researchers from the network and international partners.

Relations between patrons and clients in secession conflicts

The Chair of International Relations at the University of Jena is conducting research in the network primarily on the relationships between patrons and clients in secession conflicts. This new research approach, on which chair holder Prof. Dr Rafael Biermann already held an international conference in Jena in September 2021, deals with the worldwide processes of secession of territories from existing states. Research at the University of Jena focuses on the interaction between secessionist groups (clients) and their external state and non-state supporters (patrons). Russia, with its military, political and economic support of the secessionist entities in Ukraine (Donbass), Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and Moldova (Transnistria), is the most prominent case that drastically demonstrates the importance of such relationships for conflict resolution. The patronage of the USA, the EU and NATO for the mother states Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova creates a rivalry between Russia and Western sponsors whose actuality is obvious. As a doctoral student at the Jena Chair, Geza Tasner, funded by the collaborative project, will intensively study such patron-client relationships in Eastern Europe and beyond in a comparative way, organise another international workshop in Jena as well as public events. 

The Jena researchers will contribute the results of their research to a data laboratory of the network, which will bundle the results of the research and make them available to the professional community. In a visualisation laboratory, the network also wants to make the results visible and comprehensible for academia, mediation actors, the media and the public.

Contact (in Jena):

Lehrstuhl Internationale Beziehungen
Rafael Biermann, Univ.-Prof. Dr
Room 435
Carl-Zeiß-Straße 3
07743 Jena