AREA OF ACTIVITY «ASCN – ACADEMIC SWISS CAUCASUS NET»

Supporting the social sciences and humanities in the Southern Caucasus – since 2009


Starting in 2009, Gebert Rüf Stiftung, in conjunction with ACADEMIC SWISS CAUCASUS NET (ASCN), will be financing a multi-year programme to promote the social sciences and humanities in the South Caucasus with the aim of making a key contribution to the process of democratization. The emphasis of the programme is on the promotion of individuals. Young researchers working in the above fields will be supported and trained within the framework of European-standard research projects and other activities.


Project


The Eastern European countries outside the EU (i.e. Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia) today create crucial yet challenging links between Europe and Russia. They differ in terms of their level of democratization, and their social, political and scientific development is both unpredictable and unstable. Eastern Europe, in particular South Caucasus, forms a «hinge» between Europe and Central Asia as well as between Christian and Muslim societies. The potential for cooperation in this region is particularly strong.

As a democratic knowledge-based society, Switzerland has a lot to offer when it comes to capacity building in these countries. Swiss specialisms academically rooted in the social sciences and humanities, e.g. federalism, working with minorities, public administration, international law, political science, pedagogics and the study of history, can have a significant impact on the transformation of countries from autocracies to democracies.

The ASCN program works on the premise that the social sciences and humanities are of particular relevance in phases of transformation and that by focusing on social problems these disciplines are pivotal to understanding a nation's identity and fostering the process of transformation of a national society.

Project objectives


The main priority of the ASCN programme is to promote the social sciences and humanities in the three countries of South Caucasus: initially Georgia, then Armenia and Azerbaijan. By encouraging academic reflection on relevant topics, the programme is to be instrumental in furthering a complex and difficult transformation process in these countries. Above and beyond this, it is through the promotion of the research partnerships that the programme also helps to drive the Europeanization and regionalization of the social sciences and humanities in South Caucasus. The programme pursues this overall aim at several levels and by several approaches.

  1. It supports high-quality research projects on transformation-related topics in the social sciences and humanities;
  2. promotes qualified junior researchers;
  3. contributes to capacity building by promoting local knowledge clusters and centres of excellence which form poles of attraction for research activity and can serve as multipliers of knowledge in the country itself or within the region;
  4. aids the regional and international networking of young researchers and their institutions.

Contributions towards the Europeanization of the humanities and social sciences are thus in evidence at several target levels: research is to be raised to European standards; the researchers themselves are to be supported in their efforts to network with European institutes; ultimately, at topic-based level, efforts should be directed at strengthening the potential of the humanities and social sciences to critically analyze and monitor the political, economic, social and cultural change underway in the societies in which they operate.

Programme management


The programme is run and coordinated by the Interfaculty Institute for Central and Eastern Europe (IICEE) of the University of Fribourg as leading house. Fribourg has a long tradition of carrying out research into Eastern Europe and establishing contacts with the region. The university has already proved itself to be a reliable partner to GRS under the Swiss Baltic Net. As a bilingual university located at the language border between French and German-speaking Switzerland, the University of Fribourg itself operates in a context shaped by the same essential factors that also determine everyday life in the countries and institutes of Eastern Europe: language issues, protection of minorities, etc.

In this sense, the university assumes a mediating role in a multicultural society and is thus particularly sensitized to the problems of co-existence encountered in societies such as those of Eastern and Southeastern Europe. These "Swiss experiences" in working with minorities could be drawn on to good effect in South Caucasus in a variety of ways – at conferences and colloquia as well as postgraduate seminars on such topics as conflict management, conflict and democracy, minorities and multicultural societies etc.

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