Inaugural addresses of CEE presidents: A link list

In my last blog post I compared the inaugural addresses of Central and East European presidents – as a follow-up, you can find links to all the speeches of the current presidents and – if available – their predecessors below. The links are to the English translations, if the text is in another language this is indicated in parentheses. I aim to update this list in the future – suggestions for further links and countries to be included are always welcome! Continue reading

Comparing inaugural addresses of CEE presidents: Putting the country first?!

Yesterday, Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as US president drawing thousands to the West front of the Capitol and his inaugural address (full text here) was awaited by citizens and journalists around the world alike. In CEE inaugural addresses are usually held in parliament (also due to the fact that half of the president are elected there by the deputies and not by popular vote) and while presidents’ words receive their fair share of media attention, it can hardly measure up to American proportions.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev during his inaugural speech on 19 January 2012 © Office of the President of Bulgaria

Continue reading

Workshop on Research Interviews at UCL SSEES


Conducting Research Interviews: A Student-Led Methods Workshop
12 February 2013, UCL SSEES

On 12 February 2013, my colleague Erin Saltman and I will be holding a workshop on research interviews at UCL SSEES. The workshop is aimed at postgraduate research students who are either in the early stages of their research projects and plan to use research interviews or who are currently using interviews as part of their research. Continue reading

Tweeting politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia & Ukraine – Part 1: Presidents

Tweeting Politicians in Central and Eastern Europe - Part 1: Presidents

Since Barack Obama’s use of twitter and other social media has been cited as one of the reasons for his succesful campaign in 2008, more and more politicians (or their PR advisors) have discovered the power and advantages of delivering short, 140-character messages to their supporters. The digital revolution has also not left politicians in Central and Eastern Europe unaffected. In this two-part series of blog articles I will therefore survey whether and how politicians in CEE use twitter – and who you should follow. Continue reading

Fieldwork interviews: From phonebooks to fascists

This post first appeared on the UCL SSEES Research Blog on 8 November 2012

Fieldwork interviews in Eastern Europe can make big demands of young researchers. Careful preparation, creativity and persistence are the key to success, argue Erin Marie Saltman and Philipp Köker.

Ringbound notebook

Photo: Sikura via Wikicommons

Interviews are commonly used across a variety of disciplines – from anthropology to political science, from linguistics to economics.Sometimes, they are the only way to gain important information and, even when they are used alongside other research methods, can give researchers unique insights

However, despite the added value they can bring, conducting interviews is often a more or less a self-taught skill. While there are a few text books, these often remain general, sometimes leaving researchers with more questions than they started with. Courses offered by UCL cover interviewing more directly, but nothing quite prepares research students for using this method in the field.

Given the region’s history, people in Eastern Europe can also be suspicious of (foreign) researchers inquiring about their daily lives or political views. Structures like parties or civil society organisations are sometimes not yet well established enough or sufficiently attuned to help researchers find and contact potential interviewees. And even if you get an interview, the fact that even top politicians and experts often do not speak foreign languages makes interviewing more complicated (although admittedly, this can also be an issue in Western democracies).

A key tool for preparing interviews and developing interview skills, we felt, was for PhD students working on Eastern Europe to share concrete experiences and problems. Is there an effective way to convince a busy, high-profile politician to give you an interview? What do you do to find young radical right activists and how can you safely approach them? What do you do when your interviewees give only very short answers? And when should you record your interviews?

Working with fellow UCL PhD candidate, James Dawson – having between us previously conducted interviews with politicians, activists, experts and young people in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Serbia, we convened a special event as a part of the SSEES’s PhD social science research seminar series to bring research students together in this way. Those attending the event were researching issues ranging from foreign policy to minority representation and women’s rights in Russia and several Central East European countries

Old serb woman in Kosovo enclave near Peć, Kosovo 2000

Foto_di_Signorina via Wikicommons

In discussion, we agreed that there are four stages to carrying out effective research interviews:

1) Preparing for interviews: Researchers need to make sure that they have an in-depth knowledge of the country, group or organisation where they will be conducting interviews –from important historic dates to local customs – and that they have chosen the right interview method. Questionnaires, focus groups or long, in-depth conversations all have different pros and cons.

2) Identifying and accessing respondents: Researchers must identify the people or groups they want to interview and think of ways to contact them. If you want to interview former government members or politicians, a list of people can be drawn up relatively easily from official publications or websites and these people can often be contacted directly through their offices or parties. But with less prominent respondents or members of the public, it is best to go through organisations and individuals, who might be able to help find suitable interviewees and arrange interviews.

3) Extracting information and building trust: Interview questions should be easy to understand and open-ended, but respondents must feel comfortable with the interview situation and it is the researcher’s responsibility to make sure that they do. Researchers also need to be aware of the different dynamics between interviewers and interviewees – some interviewees might be intimidated by the researcher and unwilling to disclose information. In other situations the researcher might equally intimidated by a high-profile politician or official who might in turn try to steer the interview in a different direction.

4) Recording and analysing data: The way researchers record their data differs greatly. While voice recorders are intimidating for some interviewees, they also offer the most accurate record (but need transcribing). Handwritten notes eliminate the need to transcribe but might lack details

During the event, we found that anecdotes had become a key method of explaining potential pitfalls, problems or accidental successes that could be encountered when interviewing. While stories of treating a group of little old Serbian women to tea and cookies elicited laughter they also showed how setting up a comfortable environment can produce more honest responses. The use of yellow pages and phone books to find similar last names of former top politicians, could sometimes lead to unexpected conversations with someone’s wife on the phone, but showed how contacting hard-to-reach high profile individuals was not impossible, but sometimes required creativity and persistence.

There were also some lively debates about ethics and the varying research contexts found across the region. Protecting respondents’ anonymity was discussed in some detail: interviewing in in the more authoritarian contexts of Russia and some other post-Soviet states can differ dramatically from carrying out interviews in Central and Eastern Europe. But even CEE can pose challenges. Participant observation at a summer camp in the countryside run by Hungary’s far right party Jobbik required a careful balancing of access to a high guarded group with safety risks.

Erin Marie Saltman and Philipp Köker are PhD candidates at UCL – SSEES.

Erin focuses in her research on young political activists in Hungary while Philipp’s research is primarily concerned with the use of presidential powers in Central and Eastern Europe about which he writes an academic blog.

They are currently planning a workshop on interviewing for research students from UCL, the University of London and universities in the CEELBAS consortium for language-based area studies.

Bulgarian president refuses to speculate about successor

Speculations about the candidates in the 2011 Bulgarian presidential race are in full swing, incumbent president Georgi Parvanov, however, refused to take part in the speculations.

During a state visit to Austria, president Parvanov was asked to name his favourite candidate for the presidential office after he finishes his second term. Parvanov refused to name a particular person and declared he was not planning on ‘nominating’ a successor. The website ‘Standart News‘ quotes him saying “I prefer not to comment on who will succeed me in the Presidential chair, unless the situation necessitates such a comment.” The president declared that there would certainly be an abundance of candidates and that he preferred not to take sides. Lastly, he would applaud any candidate who wins the election.

After two terms as president, Parvanov is not allowed to run for office again. Possible candidates (with a chance of winning) include former prime minister and chairman of the Socialist party, Sergei Stanishev, and the Bulgarian EU commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva.

Candidate carousel for Bulgarian presidential election begins to spin

Presidential elections in Bulgaria are to be held in October 2011; however, parties have not named their candidates yet. The governing GERB announced that it will name its candidate not until summer.

In an interview with the private television station TV7, prime minister Boyko Borisov declared that his party would announce its candidate in June or July. the choice of candidate and his/her respective chances of success are however unclear. In the beginning, GERB wanted to nominate interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov but the party leadership unofficially abandoned this strategy after he was suspected of being involved in tax discrepancies of his in-laws. Many analysts see Bulgarian EU commissioner Kristalina Georgieva as the clear favourite but insiders already noted that Georgieva is not especially willing to start in the elections. Lastly, rumors persists that prime minister Borisov himself will be the party’s candidate. Furthermore, Borisov recently stated that there were at least five likely candidates among the ranks of his party but failed to name anybody in particular.

Whoever runs on the GERB’s ticket will have serious problems to win the election – a recent opinion poll revealed that 63 per cent of the Bulgarian voting population would prefer a president from outside the GERB. Other parties have not officially announced their candidates yet. The nationalist leader Volen Siderov will probably have another go at the presidential office (he was placed second in the 2006 presidential race) but is unlikely to attract genuine support due to his increasingly controversial xenophobic views.

Incumbent president Georgi Parvanov is currently in his second term and therefore not allowed to run for office a third time. His party (his ‘original’ party one should say as he has recently been involved in founding a new political platform), the Bulgarian Socialist Party, has not named a presidential candidate either. The obvious candidate seems to be party leader and former prime minister Stanishev but this remains speculation.

Lastly, Bulgarian media are afraid that turnout in the election might experience a new low – in 2006, only slightly more than 40 per cent of Bulgarians went to the polls.

Bulgarian president initiates libel suit against prime minister, denies claims of plagiarism

The Bulgarian presidential office confirmed that president Georgi Parvanov has officially approached the general prosecutor in order to file a libel suit against prime minister Boyko Borisov. Borisov had accused Parvanov of standing behind the so-called ‘tapegate’ affair in the course of which several tapes published by the weekly ‘Galeria’ had shown that the government might favour individuals and companies in customs investigations.

This week, government and president also quarreled about another issue: the amendments to the Bulgarian Academy of Science Act proposed by the government. Prime minister Borisov accused Parvanov of plagiarising his party’s science development strategy after the president threatened to veto the planned amendments and outlined his vision of the Academy. As only one day later Borisov recalled the bill and announced to start a new bill from scratch (drafts are to be made under cooperation with representatives from all parties and scientists) and the president was able to refer to  previous interviews and statements on science policy, Parvanov – again – seems to have maintained the upper hand in the constant intra-executive conflict.

President-Prime Minister quarrels in Bulgaria might end in libel suit

The smouldering conflicts between Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov and prime minister Borisov seems to see its preliminary ending in court. Following accusation by Borisov, Parvanov now threatens with a libel suit.

Earlier this month, the Bulgarian weekly “Galeria” published several tapes of telephone conversations of Vanyo Tanov, the head of the Bulgarian Customs Agency. The tapes – presumably recorded by the Bulgarian secret service – revealed that the government of Boris Borisov favoured specific individuals and companies with regard to appointments and investigations of irregularities. Even after a French government laboratory confirmed the authenticity of the tapes, prime minister Borisov still accuses president Parvanov of having plotted their forgery in order to bring down the government.

In response to the allegations, president Parvanov now threatened to bring Borisov before court and sue for libel; Parvanov therefore intends to approach the Bulgarian General Prosecutor in this matter. Borisov showed himself unimpressed, the Sofia News Agency quotes him saying “I think the Chief Prosecutor should not be the bugaboo of this country. So what if Parvanov approaches him?”.

An end to the scandal – dubbed “Tapegate” by the media – is even in the event of a court case quite unlikely and conflict can be assumed to continue until the next presidential elections in December 2011. Currently serving his second term, Parvanov is not allowed to run for office again. His recent activities, e.g. the foundation of a new political movement, however, point in the direction that Parvanov tries to remain a crucial player on the political stage and tries to remain his public profile.