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15th Transatlantic Students Symposium

Returning to the Nation? Challenges to Democracy and Supranationality in the 21st Century

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Oregon State University,
University of Warsaw, University of Wrocław
Rome, Warsaw and Berlin, March 25-April 2, 2017


Program Description

The supranational structure of the European Union and its related institutions was developed to counter the existential crisis caused by the drastic fragmentation of Europe into multiple nation states and their empires at the time; a crisis that had unleashed two World Wars and a Cold War.

At the end of the Cold War, it had seemed that Europe was on the winning trajectory. Futurists like Jeremy Rifkin even proclaimed that there was a "European Dream" that could end up more powerful than the American Dream. Both NATO and the European Union welcomed as new members former enemy countries that used to be members of the Warsaw Pact, just as the original European Coal and Steel Community used to forge a bond between former antagonists. The Euro as a common currency was envisioned to tie together what seemed to belong together, just as the combining of coal and steel production, atomic energy oversight, and the common market had done before.

The end of the Cold War also saw the presumed confirmation of the Hegelian "end of history" as the victory of democratic free market societies over autocratic models, with the United States as the uncontested leader not just of the "West" but of the world. United since the defeat of National Socialism, both the United States and the European Union had seen the collapse of the Soviet Communist system - and were safe in the assumption of the greatness of their own systems of governance and economy, which included a wider supranational framework of international cooperation and development.

Yet nowadays, in the West, there are calls to "Make America Great Again," to stress State Sovereignty, to question Federal authority or withdraw from the European Union, to end efforts for wider supranational trade agreements, to couch policy issues in mainly national terms, and to limit border-crossing efforts. Be it the Trump movement, the French Front National, UKIP, the Alternative for Germany, Fidesz and Jobbik in Hungary, PIS in Poland, the Finns Party, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Right Sector in Ukraine, United Russia, or many others - a resurgent and unapologetic nationalism is back on the table, ironically as an apparently international movement, fueled by a common canon of anti-refugee, anti-immigration, anti-government, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-American (in Europe and Russia), anti-European (in the US), and anti-global sentiments. At the same time, the nationalist movement claims to be truly democratic, and to speak for the true representatives of the people.

This may point to a redefinition of what is understood as democracy, and can also be attested for the Occupy movement, Democracy Now, the Bernie Sanders campaign, and others who combine a nationalist protectionist narrative with an internationally cooperative outlook. In both cases - "left" or "right" - traditional institutions, treaties, parties, the transatlantic cooperation, and representative democracy itself seem to be under serious review at a time where the triumphalist moment of the 1990s seems like a distant memory.

What does this mean for the capacity of modern democracy to be resilient to such challenges? Are we at risk of returning to the final years of the Weimar Republic, or even the pre-World War I world order? Is a United Europe facing the same problems of Balkanization that had caused the end of the Habsburg Empire in 1918, or of united Yugoslavia in the 1990s?

The 15th Transatlantic Students Symposium will consider these questions and bring students from the United States, Germany, Poland and other countries together on a field trip to Rome, Warsaw and Berlin.


Dr. Philipp Kneis, Dr. Allison Davis-White Eyes,
Dr. Brent Steel, Whitney Archer, Terrance Harris (OSU)
PD Dr. Reinhard Isensee (Humboldt),
Dr. Tomasz Basiuk (Warsaw)

Student & Assistant Organizers

Greta Fortwengel, Kathleen Pilz and Aisha Said (Humboldt), Sarah Boege, Jordan Hensley, Whitney Archer, Terrance Harris (OSU), Gosia Zacheja (Warsaw University)

Student Participants (not organizers)

20 students

Total participants: 34

Conference Program

Complete Report on the 15th Symposium

Syllabus for Preparatory Class at OSU

Partners and Supporters

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin: International Office,
Humboldt-Universität, Philosophical Faculty II,
American Studies Program,
Humboldt-Universität, Students Union English and American Studies

Oregon State University:
Public Policy Graduate Program,
Diversity & Cultural Engagement (Intercultural Student Services)

University of Warsaw, American Studies Center

University of Wrocław, American Studies Program

Max Kade Foundation

Holiday Land Richter Reisen, Berlin

see also: Latest Program Report

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