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CREEES at 50: Q&A with Faculty Director Amir Weiner

Jun 15 2020

How long have you been affiliated with CREEES? From your perspective, what is the center’s mission and purpose?

I have been affiliated with the center for two decades. Since I came to Stanford, it has been my second home; my first home is the history department. It’s the core of my academic and intellectual activities.

The center’s mission is to deepen our knowledge of this vast region stretching from Kamchatka to Warsaw that encompasses Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and the former Soviet Union. We bring together scholars from all disciplines to study this region and its population. We do outreach to the community beyond our field inside the university, proselytizing our region and its culture. We also do outreach to the public through our events, seminars, lectures, and workshops.  Teaching is also important to our mission. CREEES is quite unique in that it’s one of the few centers at Stanford that offers a master’s degree, and this brings a number of students to campus every year. We provide them with interdisciplinary training to become specialists in the region, future academics if they decide to pursue Ph.D., or simply to do whatever they wish to do after they graduate. We are very proud when we look at the 230 Master’s students who have graduated from the program. Many went into academic careers, and others pursued careers in the private sector, the philanthropic sector, or in government.

  

You became the director of CREEES in 2019, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the center. What is your vision for the center?

As we celebrate the anniversary of CREEES, we are at a unique juncture as we also witness the resurgence of interest in our field and the region, Russia and Ukraine in particular. The region is becoming important and relevant again, and my goal is to capitalize on this and to cement CREEES as the hub of Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies at Stanford. We hope to emphasize the importance and relevance of the field in terms of the programs we offer, the guests we bring to campus, and the courses we teach.

 

You have been involved with CREEES for over two decades. How have you seen the center change and evolve over time?

It has changed a lot because the field has changed. When I came here, there was no such thing as “Eurasia,” and there were big debates on where it belongs.  Now, we have professors here who specialize in Eurasia and teach courses on the region. This is probably the most important change, programmatically. Also, when I came to Stanford, we were still studying current events; the Soviet Union had just collapsed, and we didn’t know its future. Today, we look at it as history, which means that when our students conduct research, they can use archival material and memoirs, for example. We managed to bring to the Hoover Archives material from the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the secret police in the former Soviet Union and from the former Communist Bloc in Eastern Europe. So, students today have resources to research and write their theses that, when I first came, were only a dream. Also, access to people from the region has become much easier. It is easier to bring academics, activists, and politicians from the region to Stanford; people come here from places like Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and the Baltic States, to name just a few. These are the biggest changes that stand out for me, and they all contribute to a deeper understanding of the region.

 

Why is it important to study the region of Russia, East Europe and Eurasia?

When we look at the region nowadays, it’s pretty gloomy. We see the resurgence of authoritarian regimes in different countries, whether its Russia or others in the region. Nevertheless, it is an exciting moment to study this region. Russia is at the center of our attention, and the same goes for East Europe and Eurasia. Part of the resurgence of the entire region owes to intriguing politicians, artists and intellectuals, another to social and cultural movements that are reclaiming their relevance, and as it has always been, a major geopolitical battleground. It is a region that is never short of interest and relevance.