Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ece Erbay, CES Turkish Intern

The Center for European Studies is proud to host student interns visiting from Turkey. This past semester we housed J-1 Student Intern, Ece Erbay, who worked under Dr. Emrah Sahin, Director of the UF Turkish Studies program. Below, Ece writes to us of her duties as a UFCES Turkish Intern, her experiences at the University of Florida, and how these experiences have affected her course of study as a student of International Relations at the University of Economics and Technology in Turkey. Thanks so much for spending the semester with us, Ece!

I cannot forget those moments on August 23rd, the day I arrived in Gainesville. I looked out of the airplane window at the beauty of the town’s all-green landscape—so different than the all-yellow Ankara, the city I come from. My internship at the University of Florida’s Center for European Studies (UFCES) officially began at the American Embassy of Ankara, but my physical encounter with Gainesville some time later, coupled with the jetlag of my overseas flight, made my arrival surreal. I was scared, excited, and enthusiastic all at once.

I am a junior majoring in the International Relations program at the University of Economics and Technology in Turkey. This program should have already “internationalized” my perspective but, no offense to the program, the internship at UFCES gave me a concrete opportunity to work in an international setting. During my four-month internship at UFCES, the first-day excitement and enthusiasm remained while the initial scare transformed into an insatiable drive to explore the land and contribute to the Turkish Studies program at CES.

The University of Florida is an amazing university where students never stop communicating with each other. Social events are held on campus throughout the week, which CES plays no small part in. Throughout my internship I had the pleasure (and privilege, really) of working with the CES team, a team that is incomparable to any other when it comes to loving the job, staying loyal to it, and smiling all the time despite the job's stresses. Their offices are designed to welcome and treat you nicely: see the CES lobby for proof. As a CES Intern, I held conversation classes with American students taking Turkish as a second language, helped prepare reading materials for Dr. Sahin’s Islam and Turkey class, organized Mediterranean Movie Nights, and attended English classes through the International Friendship Program at the local Baptist Church. I even found time to travel across the state of Florida.

My internship at UFCES was a great experience. It not only fulfilled the internship requirement at my home university but it also increased my sense of accomplishment and open-mindedness, the latter of which I will definitely use in my encounters with foreign cultures and people and in my future endeavors in the field of international relations.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Anna Weissman, PhD student in political science, received a CES travel grant for pre-dissertation research in Poland this past summer. Anna's dissertation explores the self-identified political identities of women and LGBT individuals in Eastern European/post-communist contexts. Read more about it below!

May 1980. Photograph: Jean Louis Atlan/Sygma/Corbis Jean Louis Atlan/ J.L. Atlan/Sygma/CORBIS

My pre-dissertation fieldwork in Warsaw and Gdansk this past summer was spent fact-gathering, interviewing Polish feminists, and visiting sites that were important in Polish history, namely the Gdansk shipyard where the Solidarity movement began—which would eventually grow to 10-million strong and topple Communism in Eastern Europe. My aim was to make contacts that could help me in my next fieldwork trip, this time for my dissertation work. As a PhD student in political science, my research interests center on identity politics and feminist theory, specifically in Poland and broadly within the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. My training in comparative political analysis, feminist theory, and political theory has equipped me to analyze through a gender lens the processes of democratization and regime transition and the constructions of civic culture and identity. For my dissertation, I plan on analyzing minority political self-identity construction throughout the processes of democratization in post-communist Poland, demonstrating how the inheritance of a specific gendered religious nationalism has affected the development of civic identity, specifically for women and individuals who identify as LGBT(IAQ).

As a first-generation Polish American, my family emigrated to the United States in the 1970s from communist Poland, this subject is not only informed by my academic interests, but has personal significance for me as well. Poland has a history marked by years of foreign occupation and fluid borders. The robust, ancient Catholicism that has defined and protected Polishness through these occupations also has a political nature—the Church has a strong influence in the policies that are enacted (for example, the abortion ban in 1993) and in the country’s general conservative directionality since 1989. I saw this marriage of the political and the religious firsthand on my trip, witnessing the “March for Life and Family” (Marsz dla Życia i Rodziny), which is an annual march sponsored by several conservative Catholic pro-life organizations. This was a huge march that drew several hundred people as they walked down the ulica Krakowskie Przedmieście–-the Royal Avenue—down the center of Warsaw. The majority of the participants were families with children in tow, but there were also nationalist and neo-fascist groups and people with “No Gender” banners. It was a fascinating mix of parents and children holding balloons and flowers, accompanied by a cheerful musical float, priests and clergy members, and people passing out pamphlets that equated homosexuality to pedophilia. “Gender” was seen as the culprit.

Prior to the beginning of the march, there was a brief speech that encouraged the marchers to “keep it non-political,” to simply walk to “promote family life in Poland.” Several people were actually pulled out of the crowd and told they were unable to participate, that their homemade signs were “too political” and outside of the mission of the march. I spoke to one such man as he stood dejected on the sidewalk, asking me how they could consider any of this apolitical. This experience demonstrates the kind of work I am looking to do in Poland, to uncover the differing conceptions of the political and how this leads to differing political self-identities. How can a large, annual march for pro-life legislation, with several extreme-right groups and nationalist Polish families together, be considered apolitical? How is the political defined (and embodied) in Poland, and how does this affect political membership and participation?

 My short 3-week trip this summer was a fantastic introduction to the work I intend to do in my dissertation. Without CES’s Travel Grant, I would have been unable to afford the trip and would have had to forego it. I am grateful for the Center and for the support of the people that helped make it happen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Photos from Berlin

Cecilia Greco, UF alumna and CES office manager, spent two winters ago in Berlin, Germany. She went to Berlin for four days, traveled the European continent, and returned for two weeks. Here are the photos she took from her arrival, departure, and her first few days traversing the Berlin streets.

Click below to see more!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Internet Tax Evasion

In Hungary last week, an attempt at implementing an Internet usage tax was quickly pummeled into submission by Hungarian protesters. Christopher Vandemark, UF undergraduate student and CES blogger (re: A Stint in Budapest) writes to us on his take of this event, which decidedly "shelved" the tax on October 31, 2014 after mass protests.

Dr. Eva Havasi, prominent Hungarian sociologist and current UF
Hungarian lecturer, poses with an image of Budapest's Zero
Kilometre Statue to show her support for the anti-taxation
On Tuesday, October 28, 2014, more than 100,000 Budapest residents took to the streets to protest the passage of an Internet tax by Prime Minister Victor Orbán’s right-wing conservative government, whose isolationist, nationalist policies have raised eyebrows in the West for years. The tax, which charges “700 forints ($3) per month for individuals and 5,000 forints ($21) for companies,”[1] was seen by many to be the last straw in a slew of levies imposed by the government since 2010, when Orbán’s Fidesz party was elected to Parliament in a landslide referendum. Allegations of creeping authoritarianism, and images of Hitler and Prime Minister Orbán splattered across protest signs has brought about renewed hope that perhaps the fragmented, and badly bruised liberal parties may be able to reattain a real legislative presence in the Hungarian Parliament come election time. In any case, the galvanization of Hungarians in Hungary and across Europe this week seems to be an awakening, proof that perhaps Magyars are increasingly unsatisfied with the reactionary, anti-Western polis of their government.       


Images courtesy of @YourAnonGlobal via  Accessed through RT News, October 29, 2014, (accessed October 30, 2014).

[1] “100,000+ rally in Hungary over internet tax despite government concessions,” RT News, October 29, 2014, (accessed October 30, 2014).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

News from Polish Studies: From Polish Rock to a Polish Library

        On Tuesday, October 28th, the Center held a public screening of the 2010 documentary “Beats of Freedom: Or How to Overthrow a Totalitarian Regime with a Home-Made Amplifier” (“Zew wolności”) ( at the Hippodrome.  The film discusses the influence of Polish rock-and-roll during the reign of soviet communism in Poland. One reviewer of the film calls it a:

         “Spirited movie about the birth of rock music in Poland. An unforgettable musical journey in 
           time, which becomes real thanks to the preservation of the unique and sometimes harrowing 
           recordings of the past 50 years. The vivid memories of iconic musicians and their surprising 
           confessions will make this an unforgettable film. Tear it up with the sharp sound. Open your 
           eyes and listen as Polish rock makes ​​history.”

       We had a great turnout as 57 people joined us for the screening, including UF students and faculty, as well as members of the Gainesville community. A ton of thanks go to Lisa Booth for planning and organizing the evening – a sometimes Kafkaesque task that demanded not just obtaining a copy of the film, but the rights to show it as well.

       The Center is also in the process of starting a Polish library and reading room. About 50 letters were mailed to various Polish culture organizations around the country asking for books, dvds, posters, etc. to help stock the shelves with materials. We have already heard from several groups happy to help, including the Piłsudski Institute of America, The Kościuszko Foundation, The Sembrich, The Polish Mission in America, and the American Institute of Polish Culture. We should be getting boxes of books soon, so the bare shelves you see below will in no time be filled with Polish!

                                                                                                     Na razie! 

Jack Hutchens
Polish Lecturer, CES

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Life in Hungary

Greg Mason, former CES graduate student assistant and Modern European UF graduate student, who wrote to us last summer on Turkish language studies ("Why Study Turkish?"), writes to us from Hungary, where he now lives. Below find his experiences stretching from his flat in Budapest to Pécs, Eger, and Recsk, Hungary. 

As you may have seen in an earlier blog post, my wife, Johanna Mellis, and I are living in Budapest for 10 months while she is here on a Fulbright fellowship. We have enjoyed ourselves tremendously so far. For this post I thought I’d tell you a little bit more about our day-to-day lives here in Budapest. We are very lucky to have found a great apartment through a friend that Johanna met here two summers ago while on a summer FLAS! Our flat is in a quiet part of town, located five minutes by foot from Hero’s Square. The one bedroom apartment is somewhat small by American standards, but very nice. It’s actually been rather fun cooking in a small kitchen, converting things to Celsius and adjusting our recipes to the food stuffs available here in Budapest. Because the building, like much of the city, was built at the turn of the century, I have to duck through doorways – side note, I’m 6’7” -- but the ceilings are high, which makes the rooms seem bigger.
Budapest is lined with tall, grandiose buildings and something new and beautiful catches your eye
almost every day. The city’s iconic feature is the parliament building. Although it’s a bit cliché to point this out as a ‘must see,’ it really is a sight to behold and seeing it never gets old.

In addition to its beauty, Budapest is a very livable city. The public transportation system is very good and you can enjoy the city on a tight budget. We find fun and interesting festivals to attend almost every weekend. A number of excellent cafes and cool, artsy open air “ruin” pubs, built in the court yards of dilapidated buildings, can also be found throughout the city. 

In terms of cultural adjustments, it took a while to get used to the fact the Hungarians aren’t as smiley as your typical American, but once you get past the somewhat tough exterior Hungarians tend to be very friendly and generous with their time. I’ve recently started helping to coach a girls’ 9-11 year old basketball team. The head coach does not speak much English and neither do any of the girls on the team. Needless to say it’s been a challenging, but at the same time unique and rewarding experience so far. Johanna and I are helping out with a history graduate seminar on preparing for English language conferences at ELTE University in Budapest. We've become friends with people in the class who have helped Johanna out with her research and showed us around the city.

Finally, we’ve also been fortunate enough to see some really lovely places in other parts of Hungary. Our first voyage outside of Budapest was to Pécs. Located in southwest Hungary near the Croatian border, Pécs is about three and a half hours from Budapest by train. It is inexpensive to travel around Hungary and the tickets only cost us about 35 USD per person, round trip.
Pécs appealed to us because of its sheer beauty and interesting melting pot history. The city, whose motto is “the Borderless City,” was named as a European Capital of Culture in 2010 and, as such, underwent a major renewal project in which many of its streets and buildings were revived. Four years later the small Hungarian city remains in near pristine condition.

At the heart of the city is an absolutely beautiful main square. In the square you’ll find the beautiful Mosque of Pasha Qasim, now a Christian church, which serves as a reminder of the city’s Ottoman past.  One of the first things you notice about Pécs is that many of the roofs are covered in beautiful, ornate ceramic tiles. This is because Pécs is home to the famous Zsolnay family, who began producing world class porcelain and ceramics in the early 19th century. When in Pécs, it’s a must that you visit the Zsolnay museum. Here one can see a number of the amazing pieces and learn about the history of the family. In addition to the museum, the Zsolnay Cultural Corner -- which sits about 15 minutes’ walk from city center – is full of beautiful buildings and the original site of the factory. We decided to make the walk and were very happy to have done so.


 Another place that we really enjoyed was Eger.The small city, famous for its wine, sits in north central Hungary, about two hours from Budapest by bus. In Eger you’ll find a castle, natural springs and several wineries among its main attractions. On our way back from Eger with the Fulbright group we visited the memorial site of the Recsk labor camp, which was in operation in Communist Hungary from 1950-1953. This was a harrowing experience, as expected. However, the actual town of Recsk was quaint and lovely. It was great being there in October because the leaves were changing colors on the vineyard hills and in the valleys. Needless to say, it was all extremely picturesque and not something that I’ll soon forget.

Well, that’s all for now. I hope you’ll think about visiting Hungary if you ever find yourself in Europe. We are forever grateful that CES offers Hungarian language and Central European history courses, along with the FLAS awards. It not only played a major role in helping Johanna earn the Fulbright fellowship, it’s also enriched our experience living in Central Eastern Europe more than we realize.   

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A student, an intern and life as a local in Brussels

Shamica Shim wrote to us on her culturally-rich experience in Brussels, Belgium this past summer. Shamica is quite the achiever: she will graduate in 2015 with a double major in Political Science and Eastern Literature and Language-Chinese, minors in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance and European Union Studies, and a certificate in International Relations. She was one of fifteen UF undergraduate students enrolled in the Center's UF in Brussels study abroad program. Here are her experiences as a student, an intern, and a local in Brussels:
Brussels was an amazing place. It has such a laid back, yet rambunctious atmosphere.  It was easy to meet a number of people who worked for different European Union institutions because many of them hung out at local bars after work. So, I had a great opportunity to get firsthand experience of their role in their respective institutions. One of the things I love most about Brussels was that I met people from all over the world. It was one of the most culturally diverse places I have ever been to.  Some of the people, who I ‘m now able to call friends, were from Indonesia, Congo, Mozambique, and Zambia. Through their experiences, I learned a lot about their culture and family life.  The school I attended in Brussels was Vesalius College (VeCo), which is the international school of Vrije Universiteit Brussels. The classes there were similar to that of my own university (University of Florida). The class sizes were much smaller than UF, but they were, similarly, instructor-led. Some of my classmates were able to study under prestigious professors, whose experience in their field was very extensive.  My class took field trips to many of the EU institutions, listened to presentations from staff members, and toured the facilities. I enjoyed visiting the European Parliament the most because it reminded me a lot of the United States Congress.  Here is a picture of my class- both Vesalius and UF students- taken at the European Commission. 

I didn’t have the opportunity to travel as much as my classmates did because I was interning for the European Cooperative for Rural Development  (EUCORD). It was an interesting internship to say the least. I’ve done internships prior to going Brussels and they were more hands-on, workload heavy and stricter than EUCORD.  So, it took a while to get used to the ideas of being assigned work only when needed. Some days I did nothing and other days I was very busy, but, for the most part, a majority of what I learned about the organization was from my own research. One task I worked on for a while was one I suggested to my advisor. Because EUCORD worked on agricultural development in underdeveloped countries in Africa, I suggested conducting research on China’s role in African development. This research opened the door to EUCORD’s exploration of working with South African and Chinese development agencies to progress African development.
One maybe not so important thing to note is I was also in Brussels during the World Cup. It was interesting to participate in an important part of culture, not only for Europeans, but for Latin Americans as well. I had a lot of fun cheering for Belgium (except when they played against the US) and seeing how Belgians celebrated after making goals and winning games. Overall, I truly enjoyed my experience in Brussels and I would recommend it to any first-time and experienced travelers. (Picture below is of some of my classmates, VeCo friends and I celebrating Belgium’s victory in one of its matches.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Fulbright in Hungary

Happy fall, Gainesville! It certainly felt like fall this morning, where the temperature did not hover above 70 degrees and I could finally don both sweater and smile on my two-and-a-half-mile bicycle trek to campus. "This is what it's like to feel comfortable," our own Jim Robbins said of the weather as I cheerfully, with a cinnamon pastry in hand, opened my inbox to discover a blog entry from Budapest. The author, Johanna Mellis, is no stranger to the CES Euro Gator blog, in fact she wrote to us last Summer as a FLAS recipient:
In the entry below, Johanna shares her adventures in Budapest, Szentendre and Visegrád as a Fulbright student. We are very pleased to get this account first-hand from Johanna, a UF Modern European History graduate student, who has achieved this widely-coveted Fulbright award.

Hello everyone! I was extremely fortunate to have received one of seven Fulbright IIE Student Grants to Hungary, enabling me to spend the 2014-2015 academic year in my all-time favorite city: Budapest. Moreover, my partner-in-crime and husband Greg Mason (another history PhD student), is accompanying me on this journey-of-a-lifetime too. CES has played a huge  role in affording me this opportunity. While learning Hungarian has not been easy I am so fortunate to attend one of the few universities in the country that teaches the language. In addition to the Hungarian language and history courses that I took on campus through CES I have also been able to take intensive summer language courses in Budapest by way of the FLAS fellowship. 
For my dissertation I am analyzing the role of elite sport and top-level Hungarian athletes in Hungarian Communist society. I study the athletes’ experiences and everyday motivations in light of several dynamics: their unique status-related opportunities, relative gender equality (for female athletes), and the athletes’ vital position in the Hungarian state’s sport diplomacy goals vis-à-vis both Western and Eastern Bloc countries. I am also interested in the politics of memory. More specifically, I examine how elite athletes and sports’ officials from this period conceptualize and remember their experiences under communism in today’s climate. This second focus places oral history at the center of my research, in addition the archival work I will be doing. And as I always tell people, who doesn’t like to hear stories about the “good ole days” from former sports’ heroes?
Before beginning the research, however, the Fulbright Committee here in Hungary treated the other Fulbrighters and me to an incredible orientation week. The orientation was both useful and entertaining. The lectures ranged from a history of Hungarian music (Hungary has a very rich music tradition) to a lively round table and debate about current Hungarian politics. The most enjoyable part of orientation lay in the excursions to Szentendre and Visegrád, replete with private tours. Szentendre is a small town north of Budapest known for its museums, galleries, and artists. Its history reflects the larger historical trends of Central European history: it was initially full of Serbians who fled the Turkish invasion and German Swabians who migrated there under Maria Theresa’s reign. Most of these inhabitants, however, were forcibly expelled after World War II. The town’s current Hungarian residents have successfully maintained its artistic nature, and it was a lovely place to visit.
Visegrád lays claim to an entirely different history and character. Situated on a high hill further north of the capitol city, several successive medieval Hungarian kings made the town their home beginning in the 1300s. King Charles Robert (Károly Róbert) made Visegrád famous by hosting a two-month conference there in 1335. He invited the Bohemian and Polish kings of the time in order to establish an alliance against the Habsburgs (note: the “Visegrád” tradition continues today: the post-communist leaders of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland met here in 1991). After being destroyed by the Turkish invasions in the mid-16th century, excavations began on it in 1934 and it is a must-see place to see today. We enjoyed fantastic views of the Danube, and were treated to detailed tours of the kings’ old bedrooms and jousting facilities. We finished the day with a welcome shot of pálinka (Hungarian brandy), medieval drum and horn music, and a delicious dinner at Renaissance Restaurant. To top it off, they offered us costumes and wine in fancy goblets to accompany the food. Who could resist either one?
Now that orientation is over, it is time to get down to work. Lucky for me, Hungarians adore their past and current elite athletes. More on that and my ongoing research in my next blog post!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Mebbe it's Aye, Mebbe it's Naw...": The Scottish Referendum

In yet another act of "lovebombing", this time set to Queen's 'You're my Best Friend', the Let's Stay Together campaign turns their lenses to the UK-everyman, urging Scotland to "keep the kingdom united," lest many hearts break. Yes Scotland, an independence campaign, stated in response to Let's Stay Together, “It’s great to know that Scotland has so many friends and admirers, and we know they will all continue to be our friends and admirers after we vote yes on Sept. 18."

Weeks before September 18, 2014, the day that Scotland officially votes yes or no to independence, our own graduate student, Ross Cotton, returned from Edinburgh where he pursued pre-dissertation research on a CES Travel Grant. His dissertation is a comparative analysis of the Scottish National Party and Part Quebecois, two separatist political parties pursuing independence for their nations via peaceful, democratic means. He writes on his investigation of the Scottish Case in Edinburgh below.

The research I conducted in Edinburgh, Scotland this summer has provided me a deep understanding of the forces that have contributed to the current debate over Scottish independence, and in turn, given me the analytic depth to understand the result of the referendum once it occurs on September 18 of this year. I spent the majority of June at the Scottish Parliament interviewing MSPs (Members of Scottish Parliament) from both sides of the independence debate and every political party currently holding seats in the parliament. I interviewed nearly a quarter of the MSPs in Parliament, and learned much from my conversations with them.

The month of July was spent speaking with people from outwith parliament involved in the independence debate. I spoke with members of Yes Scotland (the umbrella organization that is pro-Scottish independence and constituted by the Scottish National Party, the Scottish Green Party, and the Scottish Socialist Party), canvassed with a local Edinburgh chapter, and attended several local events put on by organizers.

Speaking with Better Together (the umbrella organization that is anti-Scottish independence and constituted by the three main Westminster parties, Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat) proved more difficult, as they did not seem to be eager to speak with me.

Nonetheless, the month of July was very exciting and allowed me to view a side of the independence debate that was very different than what I had experienced at the Scottish Parliament; particularly in regards to the vibrant grassroots movement than characterizes Yes Scotland, and the multitude of organizers who are not involved with the Scottish National Party as members or voters, and are campaigning for an independent Scotland for reasons separate to that of the Scottish National Party. Thus, my research this summer was invaluable to my understanding of what is currently taking place in Scotland, and will pay incredible dividends towards my dissertation.