With fragile economic conditions across the globe, it does seem that strong nationalist rhetoric and fear about globalization, immigration and loose borders is with us more than ever (the Dutch government collapse, Le Pen’s showing in France, the worrying situation in Macedonia). The 2012 Association for the Study of Nationalities conference at Columbia University in New York this last weekend provides evidence that nationalism and nationalities studies is also growing exponentially. This year’s conference featured a remarkable 27 panels on the Balkans, and more sessions than ever before. In fact, there were 70% more presentations at this conference than five years ago, an amazing level of growth. I like this conference for a series of reasons. Participants are required to prepare written papers beforehand. These are collected and distributed to everyone who cares to buy the conference CD for $10 (previously, individual papers were for sale). All sessions have chairs and discussants and the rules of presentation and discussion are clear. The sessions are relatively close to each other, on different floors of the same building. The participants come from all over the world and are deep area experts. Region and topic not academic discipline is to the fore. There are lots of book panels also on the latest new publications. There is a significant presentation of recent documentary films on themes of nationalism and group conflict questions. Finally, the setting is the International Studies building at Columbia which offers amazing views of the city. Its expensive to stay in New York but this conference is simply unmissable for area specialists.
This year I was involved in presenting two papers, with co-authors, one with my graduate research assistant on Karadzic and the second with Laurence Broers of SOAS on Karabakh. I was also a discussant on a de facto state session, one of about 3 on these regions of the world political map. I attended some excellent sessions on the Armenian genocide as well as catching the latest Conciliation Resources film on the Caucasus: Memories without Borders (highly recommended). The First Annual ASN Documentary Audience Award went to the French film Qui a tué Natacha? (Who Killed Natasha?), from director Mylène Sauloy, a wrenching investigation on the murder of human rights activist Natasha Estemirova in Chechnya. A runner-up, also the most attended film of the Convention, was My Perestroika, from US director Robin Hessman.
Bosnia Remade was shortlisted for the book prize but did not win the top award, which went to Roger Petersen’s latest book. The most attended session was Timothy Snyder discussing Thinking the Twentieth Century, his ‘spoken book’ with Tony Judt. This was really interesting and intellectually inspiring (as is the book). All told this is a great conference, for which the organizers deserve enormous credit.