[you can watch the recording from ASEEES 2023 Presidential Planery: Decolonization in Practice (2023)  here


a letter to a scholar whose homeland will be attacked by Russia next

dear friend and fellow scholar,

Russia invaded your homeland, like it invaded mine in 2014

when Russia escalated its war to a full-scale invasion of Ukraine

i started my path as an early career scholar in 2022

i am writing this letter to you

about future epistemic trajectories you will encounter

in that never-ending your first year of the full-scale invasion

as the missiles will hit your hometown 

you will wake up to the world that suddenly discovered your homeland

the academic field within which you always felt out of place

will suddenly develop a sharp interest in your homeland

the institutions that previously turned you down

and found your research interests too niche

and not relevant to the wider region or bigger agenda

will suddenly start inviting you to speak at the events platforming your homeland

you will embrace these steps

finally, after so many years of marginalisation, you will feel heard

and you will use your every opportunity to scream, to speak up

the war will colour everything for you

and everything will become a matter of life or death, no less

scholarship will become an existential affair

remember this is not the case for everyone

and they will gently remind you about it

they will mention “objectivity” “academic rigorous”

if you do not conform

behind your back they will say: too traumatised

too traumatised to be a rigorous scholar 

they will try to allocate you to a safe place in the system  

this safe place is a “personal story”

sometimes they will need you to come and speak

from that “personal” space, on their terms

“the local voices” section 

but you, you must always remind them

that you are a scholar

that your pursuit is epistemic

because knowledge is not disembodied

knowledge does not exist outside the passion of life

use the space given to you to speak up

as this won’t last long

and it won’t always be yours

academia will talk about decolonisation 

it will talk about it all the time

but with the exception of the few

it will not talk about your father, brothers, sisters, friends

those in cold trenches, decolonising through de-occupation

that will not be epistemic enough to be discussed

you will make new colleagues, new friends

those who will stand by you

those who will push for change together with you

but good intentions of the few

do not mean the realistic possibility of the redistribution of material resources

addressing the inequalities of knowledge production

the inequalities of survival

your survival

the survival of your people

institutions will tell you: we cannot fundraise for the military

we cannot fundraise for anything

but we can organise a poetry evening 

ok, you will say

you will try to do both

to promote knowledge institutionally and to send donations personally

you will not be satisfied with the addition of authors to the curriculums

you will strive for action

strive to stop the violence on the ground  

you will run in a dozen directions at once

trying to make sense

trying to survive

this will exhaust you

the changes in academia will seem exciting to you at first

all those events, statements, and even fellowships!

there will be so many fellowships to support displaced scholars from your homeland

you have never seen so many scholars from your homeland in major institutions

in major conferences

even giving keynotes!

you will believe: here we are making change,

knowledge will never be the same 

your homeland will be running on adrenaline of resistance

and you too will not be able to afford despair

despair means death

in that moment

do not forget that seeing scholars from your homeland in all the major institutions is a morbid privilege

a morbid privilege for which people of your homeland paid with their lives

and yes, it is a privilege

because the generosity of academia does not extend to all massacres in the world

not even to all massacres in your region

remember how many other peoples were not granted this morbid spotlight?  

you will believe in the change with all your heart

like your homeland believes in its freedom

after all, academic institutions put so much effort into bringing you here

bringing others, see, these are visible results!

remember you cannot afford despair

and you will become the change

you will organise seminars, public programmes

you will believe you can make people understand

you just need to create a platform where they can learn

so you will organise

you will try to fill the gap

and you will also speak at other events


you will have the support of colleagues

those horrified by the violence

those questioning epistemic responsibility 

but you will also notice  

that other colleagues are either silent or uncomfortable

in your presence

or both

you remind them of the war

that ugly thing

that unpleasant disturbance

in your events

you will also notice the same questions

that one about russophobia

that one about cancelling Pushkin

you will wonder why people think these are most pressing questions

when every day you wake up to news about death, death, death

gradually you will also notice

that for your criticism of academic complicity

you will be framed as hysterical

as naïve

as unable to see the positive change, the results of decolonisation

this is how they will try to silence you

to disregard your critique

the war will go on

because Russia will not stop

because what Ukrainians, Syrians, Georgians, Chechens, and others knew about it was true

everyone and everything back home will become exhausted

you will become exhausted

you will need to find a way to sustain your epistemic struggle

to sustain supporting those living through the war 

you will apply for jobs

but almost all tenure-track jobs will be either in Russian or at best in Russophone contexts

institutions change slowly, you will be told

be patient, you will be told

we are doing our best, you will be told

we brought you here, you will be told

you must look at the bright side, you will be told

any academic event you will go will be on decolonisation

everyone will be decolonising

yet the soldiers in trenches will continue to die daily

cities of your friends will remain occupied

the jobs in non-Russian languages and cultures will still be rare

it will become difficult to reconcile these two worlds

pretending that life goes on

and knowing that the end of the world already happened

how can you go on living like that?

how does everyone just carry on?

while you despair

others will retrain to be experts on your homeland overnight

they will obtain grants and embark on research projects

this will be a new academic goldrush

you will be the new academic goldrush

not you as a scholar, you as an object of study

you will feel conflicted

you will try to articulate concern

but you will be framed as ungrateful

as uncooperative

remember they always make you believe the problem is you

the war will gradually become normalised

Russian occupation will become normalised

the way the occupation of Georgia became normalised

does anyone even remember that today?

people will start conducting studies on the territories occupied by Russia

remember? objectivity, academic rigour, nuance

nothing personal, nothing political

just the highest standards of knowledge

studies on the marginalisation of Russian scholars

Russian scholarship

will start to appear

the short-term fellowships will run out

one by one colleagues from your homeland will be taken by darkness

the darkness of precarity, the darkness of survival, the darkness of the war  

as the war will be normalised

as your people, your homeland will become exhausted

as survival will take up all your resources

they will put you in the corner

turn the page

decolonisation over  

return to the status quo

until the next massacre