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NYU Prague Alumni – Where are They Now?

Around 5,000 students have spent a semester at NYU Prague over the past 20 years.  We contacted a few to find out how their time in Prague affected the trajectory of their lives. Here are their stories:

 

Nicole Farnsworth (Fall, 2001)

Seventeen years ago, I was enjoying similar brightly-colored fall leaves while hiking amid castles, the company of new friends and inspiring lectures at NYU in Prague. That fall provided several opportunities that have influenced my life. I heard the very inspiring activist and late President Vaclav Havel, together with the Dalai Lama and other leaders speak at Forum 2000. I learned of the plight of Romani people and went on to research their access to education. Studying women’s rights in transition in post-socialist contexts, as well as the Czech Republic’s EU Accession process provided a useful foundation for my future work.

Perhaps the most life-altering opportunity that studying in Prague provided was proximity to Prishtina. Seventeen years ago this month, I begged my parents for what some may consider an unusual birthday present: a plane ticket to see Kosovo’s first democratic elections. I was fascinated by the United Nation’s experiment in governing post-war Kosovo. If I had been in Prague, I would not have had such a unique opportunity to witness a (not-yet-recognized) country’s first elections.

After completing my BA, I persistently sought to return to Kosovo. Eventually, I secured a position at a local civil society organization (CSO), supported by the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) with funds from USAID, to strengthen Kosovo CSOs’ advocacy capacities. Since then, I have continued consulting for EWMI, among others, in various civil society support initiatives worldwide.

The vast majority of my last 16 years has been spent with the Kosovo Women’s Network, a network of 138 diverse women’s groups working to further women’s rights. As Program Director / Lead Researcher, I have (co)authored 24 publications on issues related to gender equality, several of which have informed new laws and policies in Kosovo’s state-building process.

In my work, I regularly have drawn from my knowledge gained in Prague, particularly in advocating for Kosovo’s EU Accession process to attend to the needs of both women and men; writing about the position of women in post-socialist Kosovo; and volunteering for Roma rights organizations.

I’m often asked how I first came to Kosovo, and the story always starts with, “I was studying abroad at NYU in Prague…”

Nicole Farnsworth is the program director and lead researcher at the Kosovo Women’s Network.

 

Brian Goodson (Fall, 2004)

On a recent research trip to Prague, I returned to the neighborhood where many of us lived during our semester in fall of 2004. I was immediately relieved to discover that our nightly hangout B-52 was exactly as we’d left it, still weirdly decorated with airplane fuselage and parachutes. Nearby Krymska street is a different story. The Shakespeare a Synové bookshop has been replaced with the ultrahip Café v Lese, and the neighborhood is now teeming with

Generation Zed backpackers. Nearby, Žižkov still has its edge, but the rest of Prague feels much more polished these days. The hypercapitalist mall at Nový Smíchov has a 4-D movie theater. Sometimes I feel like I’m in Austria.

But I still can’t let go of Prague. Or is it the other way around? “Prague won’t let you go, the little mother has claws,” wrote the guy on all those souvenir t-shirts. Officially, the reason I return so often is because I’m writing a book about American and Czech writers during the Cold War. The seeds for this project were actually planted at NYU in Prague in 2004, in seminars taught by Tomáš Vrba and Jan Urban. At the time, I had no idea that my semester in Prague would change the trajectory of my life. Now I’m a professor at Arizona State University, which means I have a great excuse to escape the air-conditioned nightmare that is Phoenix in the summertime. But if I’m honest, the book is just an excuse. Prague is where I go to escape what Philip Roth called the “indigenous American berserk.” Prague is where I go to disappear.

Some things don’t change. In 2004, we all stayed up into the early hours to watch two major American events: the ALCS between the Yankees and the Red Sox and the election between John Kerry and George W. Bush. (Both my teams lost.) As I write this, the Yankees and Red Sox  are about to face off in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. And we’ve got another election coming up on November 6th, which also happens to fall on the due date of my first child. Back in 2004, I remember buying two books at the bookshop on Krymska: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. Maybe my twenty-year-old self was on to something. It’s not too late to teach my future kid to speak Czech.

Brian Goodman got his PhD in American Studies from Harvard University.  He is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Phoenix and is writing a book about the exchange of literature and culture between the USA and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.  

 

Meghan Forbes (Spring, 2005)

As a junior at NYU, I studied abroad in Prague. My initial interest in studying there was my mother’s Czech heritage — she grew up in a farming community of Oklahoma Czechs and my grandmother had preserved some knowledge of the language. I fell in love with the city of Prague, and its art and literature, the history of which had never been a subject of study back in the United States. Desiring to learn more, I continued to study Czech language, literature, and visual culture at the MA level at Columbia, and then for my PhD at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I continue to travel to Prague ever year, and even had the opportunity in 2009-2010 to return to NYU in Prague as an employee! The friends on the fabulous staff there are still some of my closest in Prague.

Studying at a big university like NYU, I relished the more intimate environment of the Prague campus, and my experience there as an undergraduate has had an indelible mark on my life and career since.

Meghan Forbes earned a PhD from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with dissertation about the avant-garde in interwar Prague and Brno.   She is now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as a Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives Fellow for Central and Eastern Europe.

 

Callum Voge (Fall, 2012)

As a student of international politics, I was intellectually attracted to the Czech Republic’s unique political history and transition to democracy. Having grown up in China, I especially wanted to learn about the differing experiences of communism in China and in Europe.

While at NYU Prague, I interned at a non-profit media organization called Project Syndicate where I produced content for the organization’s social media channels and conducted research on international media markets. After graduating from NYU, I had the opportunity to return to Project Syndicate for a full time position. I have now been working at Project Syndicate for four years and manage the organization’s external media partnerships in 50 countries.

Prague has always been a special place to me. The concentration of non-profit institutions and the large foreign community in Prague creates a unique environment – at times Prague feels like a very local city while at other times very global. Prague’s increasing internationalization over the past years has made it an exciting place to live. You only need to look at the city’s food scene to see the change. When I first moved from New York I could only dream of the restaurant diversity that I had known. Now I can easily have Indonesian food one night, Venezuelan another, and Georgian the next. The feeling that Prague is moving in the right direction makes it an exciting time to be here.

Callum Voge is the Senior Global Relations Manager at Project Syndicate, where he is also the internship mentor to current NYU Prague students.

 

Kieran Kesner (Spring, 2013)

It wasn’t the first time I visited Prague and that’s probably why I decided to return. Prague represents the crossroads between the quintessential Western European study abroad experience and the Eastern European culture, which entwined with my own family history, so I was eager to explore.

Studying in Prague was as much a period of self-realization as it was an opportunity to live abroad and immerse myself in a different culture. It was at this intersection that I began to explore what inspired me most as a photographer, learning about and sharing other peoples stories. While studying abroad, I found those stories in the often misunderstood and much maligned Roma people, known to the outside world as Gypsies. Through significant research on my own and mentorship from local NYU professor, Ivana Dolezalova, I began traveling around the country on weekends and school vacations to spend time with Roma and experience first hand, their rich culture, and kind generosity. While prejudice and discrimination is a centuries-old narrative for the Roma, my personal experience strongly confronted the oppressive counter-narrative I was hearing. It was through this experience that I learned how the camera can provide a unique opportunity to interact and connect with people, often despite language barriers, that few other mediums share.

Today, I continue to work full time as a photojournalist and photographer/videographer for newspapers and magazines around the world as well as for commercial, corporate, non-profit and lifestyle brands. In the last year alone, I have traveled to over 20 countries for work assignments, feeding off a spark that began when I chose to study at NYU Prague, and which I hope will continue for many years to come.

Kieran Kesner is an award-winning photographer, videographer and visual storyteller based in Boston.  His work has been published in numerous publications including the Boston Globe, The New Yorker, the Guardian, and the Wall Street Journal.  

 

Short takes

You might remember the band “With Snack” which performed regularly in the Osadni basement during the spring 2014 semester.  Former music students Aviv Goldgeier, Matti Dunietz, and Evan Lane are still in the progressive R&B band, which has been renamed Valipala and is  based in New York City.  They released their debut digital album, Mango City in 2017 (available at https://valipala.bandcamp.com/album/mango-city) and are releasing a new single on October 26, 2018.

One of the most well-known NYU Prague alumni is Ari Leff (Spring 2015)- now known as Lauv – a singer/songwriter whose single I Like Me Better has had over 100 million views on Youtube.   Last June he was ranked as number one on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart.

Another NYU Prague celebrity is Camila Mendes (Fall 2014), an actress who plays Veronica Lodge in the TV teen drama Riverdale, for which she won the she won the Teen Choice awards in 2017.  She recently acted in the comedy film The Stand In, to be released in 2019.  

Christina Ng (Spring 2009) is an editorial producer for CBS news, where she’s been employed since 2011. She’s also worked for CBS as a reporter and as assistant to anchor Diane Sawyer.

Hunter Nolan, (Spring 2012), was the cinematographer on Before the Flood, a climate change documentary directed by Fisher Stevens, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and executive produced by Martin Scorsese.  He also worked on the award winning documentaries Before the Flood, Sky Ladder and Racing Extinction.

In 2017, Kim Pham (Spring 2012 ) – entrepreneur and founder of Oxtale – was recognized as a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree for her work at Frontline, building VC platforms.

Allan Peng (Spring, 2016), who was active in the PragueCast and Prague Wandering blog, is now a producer at CBS News Radio, working on an upcoming podcast about polling, as well as other digital audio content.

Melanie Weisner, who studied vocal performance at NYU Prague in 2006, is now one of the top American female poker players.  As of 2016, Weisner is ranked 38th on the Women’s All Time tournament money list.

NYU Prague Music Professors Patricia Goodson and Michal Rataj Release New CDs

Three CDs that were initiated and coordinated by NYU Prague professor and pianist Patricia Goodson were recently released; they all also include her solo performances.

Macbeth and Other Orchestral Works by Geraldine Mucha  was released by Arco Diva in November, and commemorates the centenary of Scottish composer Geraldine Mucha’s birth.  Mucha – married to the son of the Art Nouveau artist Alphones Mucha – moved to Prague after WWII with her husband. As well as composing in Prague, she did much to protect her father-in-law’s supposed “bourgeois” work and legacy under the oppressive Communist regime.  Patricia Goodson became friends with Geraldine Mucha (who lived to be 95) at the end of her life and has continued to promote her work after her death. This pieces on this album were performed by Patricia with the the Hradec Králové Philharmonic and Irena Troupová. MusicWeb International writes that   “American pianist Patricia Goodson plays commendably in both the concerto and the variations; she is a strong reason for the success of this disc, as is the contribution of the Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra under their astute director Andreas Sebastian Weiser in a well-engineered recording.”

Later this year, the same label will release a CD of Geraldine Mucha’s  chamber music which will include solo performances by Patricia.

Patricia also organized a CD devoted to chamber works by New Zealand composer Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead (released in March by the New Zealand label Rattle Records), which jumped to number 2 on the New Zealand classical charts shortly after its release.  It features the Stamic Quartet, oboist Vilém Veverka and Patricia on the piano; there will be a launch at the New Zealand Embassy in September. The pieces were performed in Berlin and Prague before they were recorded at Studio HAMU. Whitehead is one of the most acclaimed composers from the Australia/New Zealand region; in 2008 she was given the title of Dame for her contributions to music in New Zealand.   

To listen to some pieces from the albums, please go to http://www.patriciagoodson.com

NYU Prague professor Michal Rataj also has a new CD, Sentenceless-Sentence, which was released in January, 2018.  It consists of electro-acoustic pieces composed during 2013 – 2017 and consists of a rich variety of sound palettes and emotional worlds.  They range from acousmatic music through mixed forms towards text-sound performance. On April 11 Michal presented the album and his work to our students at a public concert at NYU Prague.  You can here it on: https://michalrataj.bandcamp.com/album/sentenceless-sentence

Several of Rataj’s compositions will be performed this spring.  On April 28, The Long Sentence, will be performed at UC Santa Cruz, featuring the San Francisco based award-winning Del Sol Quartet and Ben Leeds Carson on piano.  On May 5-7, Temporis-concerto will have its US premiere performed by the Santa Rosa Symphony, conducted by Bruno Ferrandis.  Czechs can hear his music on May 25 at a concert called Škrábanice / Scribbles in Nachod as part of the Czech Museum Nights.

Michal Rataj is a composer, performer, sound designer whose work consists mainly of electro-acoustic and chamber/orchestral instrumental music.  His work has been performed throughout Europe and in the USA, and he has composed soundtracks to numerous documentary and feature films and TV series.  Later this year viewers can hear his music in two Czech films- Jan Palach (by Eva Kantourkova and Robert Sedlacek) and Pivnica/The Cellar directed by Igor Voloshin. 

Novelist Mark Slouka Teaching Creative Writing to NYU Prague Students

Like Czech history, Mark Slouka’s life has been accentuated by the number 8.  In 1948, his parents escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia. Ten years later, in 1958, he was born into a “Czech speaking ghetto in Queens, NY.”  The family first returned to Prague on a visit in 1968, and in 2018, Mark and his family made a permanent move to Prague.

NYU Prague has benefitted from this move – Mark has launched a creative writing workshop open to all students and staff.  “I teach how writers read – beginning writers need to learn to read their own work critically,” explains Mark. “And we talk about the use of silence- what is left out of an opening is what brings a reader in.”   

Mark Slouka has published eight books and is currently working on the ninth.  His work treads the line between fiction and nonfiction, often delving into aspects of his family’s Czech history.  His latest book, Nobody’s Son: A Memoir is about his parents’ escape from Czechoslovakia and how their lives were affected by memories of betrayal.   His novel Visible Worlds – based on his mother’s complicated past- was a finalist for the British Book Awards.  His short stories have been selected for the anthologies of Best American Short Stories and the Pen/O’Henry Prize Stories. In June, a Czech translation of  Nobody’s Son will be released.

“One of the reasons I am here is because my books have always been bicultural – they walk the line between languages, culture, histories, between the present and the weight of the past.  

Having spent my life in the States it made sense to connect to that other half of me.  It’s always seeped into my life. I am fascinated by the weight of history on the present.  What city is better for that than Prague?”

Mark’s first language was Czech, and he has had a “lifelong affair with the language, the culture, with palacinky [crepes] and svickova [creamy beef stew].”  Despite the fact that he was born and lived in New York, he remembers hearing English for the first time when he was five and was surprised that the speakers didn’t understand Czech.   

Until now, seven months was the longest time he had spent in Prague – he was here on on sabbatical in 2003 – but he felt like it was inevitable that he would come back.  When he retired from the University of Chicago in 2008, he decided to try to focus more on writing. Moving to Prague seemed to make sense. “I love getting away from the car culture – it’s so isolating.  In Prague, people sit in pubs and talk to one another.”

NYU Prague will host a reading of his work in the beginning of the fall semester.

NYU Prague Hosts Symposium on Migration and Populism

On April 5, 2018, NYU Prague is hosting a symposium on Population and Migration. Organized by NYU Prague, NYU’s Prague Institute for Democracy, Economy, and Culture and Forum 2000, the event will feature a panel discussion exploring how over the last few years, the phenomenon of migration has moved from a humanitarian domain into a public discourse and has become a powerful instrument for today’s populists and nationalists. The panel will consider the roots of this trend and why is there so much fear and hostility towards migrants and refugees particularly in Central European countries. Petr Mucha, professor of history and religious studies at NYU Prague, put together the program. The panelists come from diverse fields (media, sociology, political sciences, theology) and will discuss these themes from different perspectives. The focus of the discussion will be the Central European region and the phenomenon of fear which serves as a seed for hatred and extremist tendencies.  In her keynote speech, Professor Regina Polak from University of Vienna will talk about ethical issues of migration, about the impact of the fear as well as about the revival of stereotypes (nationalism, Shoa, and World War II). 
 
The Western perspective on migration and refugees was historically formed by Christian morals and modern concept of human rights. Eventually, in the aftermath of World War II, it found its expression in the Refugee Convention. Over the last few years, nevertheless, the phenomenon of migration has moved from the humanitarian domain into a public discourse and became a powerful tool of political campaigns. Moreover, it fuels a new wave of populism, nationalism, and racism in many western countries, including those, which have been considered resistant to these trends.
 
The panel discussion will consider pressing questions, including:
  • Why has migration theme become such a powerful instrument for today´s populists and nationalists?
  • Does this represent a new trend or is it rather a revival of similar stereotypes from the 20th century?
  • What should be an appropriate response of democratic societies?
  • How does this situation vary in different European countries and in the United States?
  • Why is there so much fear and hostility towards migrants and refugees in the Central European countries which are not typical targets of migration? 

Panelists:

Regina Polak, University of Vienna

Tomáš Lindner, Respekt

Martina Mašková, Czech Radio

Salim Murad, New York University Prague

Moderator: 

Jiří Pehe, Director of New York University Prague

New Media….Old Tricks: New 7-part talk series at NYU Prague

NYU Prague Professor Dinah Spritzer with YouTuber Kovy.

Rosie Johnston is a high-energy PhD student who is spending this year in Prague researching 1950s Czechoslovak radio propaganda.   A few months ago, she and Czech TV journalist Tereza Willoughby were talking about how the world has changed in the age of new media.  But their conversation made both of them start to wonder just how much politics and the manipulation of media really have really changed since the early days of radio.  “People were worried about radio as a new technology in 30s and 40s.  I’m not sure if we are in a historically unique era,” explains Rosie.

Normally a conversation like this would be over once the bill was paid in the cafe.    But Rosie, who has organized several conferences at NYU Prague, shared it with Associate Director Thea Favaloro, and together they decided to keep it going with a 7-part talk series aimed at Czech and American students.

“We wanted to create a forum where academics would talk with people from outside the Ivory Tower – journalists, novelists, film makers, Youtubers,” explained Rosie.  “This is a project about dialogue, speaking across generations, across nationalities.”   Because all of the lectures are about one theme, the hope is that people will attend on a regular basis – sharing ideas, making contacts.  The series is designed to attract NYU Prague faculty – several of whom are on the panels – and their students, as well as young people from the Prague community.

NYU Prague Director and Professor Jiri Pehe speaking about the responsibility of the media in a democracy.

The first session featured seasoned academic and NYU Prague Director Jiri Pehe who met with Karel Kovar (“Kovy”), the most popular Czech vlogger who has become a political commentator for the youngest generation.  Dinah Spritzer, a journalist teaching international reporting at NYU Prague, moderated the event.

Academics from universities outside the Czech Republic are also participating.  Carolyn Birdsall from the University of Amsterdam will talk about soundscapes of Nazi Germany; she’ll be joined by David Vaughan, a journalist and author of a book about the failure of Czech Radio to counter Hitler’s propaganda in 1938.  Dean Vuletic – professor at the University of Vienna who spent a semester at NYU Prague as a graduate student in 2003 – will talk about pop music’s effect on the politics of postwar Europe.  Keynote speaker Kathryn Cramer Brownell from Purdue University will have the final lecture about the rise of the celebrity politician, outlined in her book Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Politics.

The series is also partnering with One World, Prague’s most popular film documentary festival.  Kim Longinotto, award-winning British film director well known for her advocacy of  women’s rights, will present her latest film, Dreamcatcher, about the trafficking of women in Chicago.  The film will be followed by a Q&A, in which Longinotto will speak about how documentary film can do activist work.

So far, the series has attracted wide interest from an audience of varied backgrounds.  “At the first discussion with Jiri Pehe and Kovy, the best question came from someone about 12 years old who asked whether Zeman or Babis is more of a threat to democracy…   Despite all discussions of generational divide, we are all worried about the same things”.  

 

New Media….Old Tricks Series

January 30, 17:00  Political Commentary Today –  Jiří Pehe & Kovy

February 6, 17:00 – The Migrant Crisis in the European Press – Salim Murad

February 27, 17:00 – Radio and Nazism – Carolyn Birdsall & David Vaughan

March 6, 19:45 – Documentary as Activism – Film Screening + Discussion (in partnership with One World Festival): Kim Longinotto

April 10, 17:00 – Media & Constitutional Democracy – Discussion: Jiří Přibáň

April 17, 17:00 – The Politics of Eurovision – Dean Vuletic

May 9, 17:00 – Showbiz Politics – Kathryn Cramer Brownell

 

NYU Prague Hosts Talk on the Russian Revolution in American Feminism, 1905-1945

On 26 February, NYU Prague will host a talk by Julia Mickenberg on the Russian Revolution in American Feminism, 1905 – 1945.

Many of us have heard about the vogue of Paris and France after the First World War, but few know about the exodus to Moscow and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, or the particular appeal of revolutionary Russia to American women in revolt. In fact, by the early 1930s, so many “American girls” had come “barging into the Red capital” in search of jobs, adventures, or husbands, that news articles were being published on the subject. This talk will provide an overview of American women’s love affair with Russia from 1905 to 1945: from their admiration and empathy for the female revolutionaries who challenged the Czar; to their attempts to re-envision domestic life, romantic relationships, and work using Soviet models; to their efforts to embody and perform revolutionary selves in a context supposedly free of racism and anti-Semitism. A century after the Russian Revolution, what does the forgotten story of “American Girls in Red Russia” tell us about where we’ve been and who we are now?

NYU Prague Co-founds Czech Association of Study Abroad Programs

There are numerous study abroad programs run by American universities in Prague, and for years there has been informal networking among staff from the different organizations.

Two years ago, NYU Prague Associate Director Thea Favaloro joined forces with several other study abroad organizations to create a more formal network. They founded the Association of American University Programs in the Czech Republic (AAUPCZ), which currently is made up of 8 member organizations. In 2017, AAUPCZ joined the European Association of Study Abroad Programs.

“The association provides a forum where we talk about experiences, discuss issues that affect us all, and share resources,” explained Thea Favaloro.

The impetus for creating AAUPCZ was because of issues relating to visas – staff from many study abroad organizions were struggling with changing and unclear regulations about Czech student visas. “We realized that if we were to act collectively, it would give us a stronger voice with local authorities,” said Favaloro.

Since then, the organization has explored more ways to become stronger by working together.

This fall they launched a series of diversity training sessions for staff from all member organizations. In December, NYU Prague hosted a session on LGBTQ for staff from all organizations. A transgender American student from the CIEE study abroad program shared her experiences as a student in Prague. Thea Favaloro spoke about NYU Prague’s resources for LGBTQ students, and Kim Strozewski from CET gave a presentation about what administrators should be aware of when working LGBTQ students abroad. The next training session in the series will focus on issues of race and privilege.

NYU Prague Hosts Conference on Fake News

Journalists, scholars, activists, politicians, librarians, students all came together from November 2-4 to debate how to combat fake news at the conference Media in the Post-Truth World: The New Marketplace of (Dis)information.

Speakers from sixteen countries – many from post-Communist countries seeing the rise of right-wing extremism in government– brought their different takes on how fake news is playing out in their countries.  The conference was organized as part of the Prague Media Point, an annual event dedicated to discussing the changing media.

Discussion topics included the role of traditional media and the spread of fake news. On this subject, Ute Schaeffer from the Deutsche Welle Academy said: “As journalists we have to stop finding excuses why not to react in the face of fake news! We have to offer inspirational stories to the public.”    Maranke Wieringa from Utrecht University added that it is often politicians themselves who spread false information to legitimize their policies: “The problem isn’t that politicians don’t read traditional news, but that they ignore it.”

Russia expert Mark Galeotti and leading sinologist Martin Hála discussed the spread of state propaganda.   Martin Hála argued that while Russians may attempt to delegitimize the Western narrative, they lack a competitive strategy or ideology. Chinese propaganda, on the other hand, is both better-funded and more strategic, offering a well-thought-out Chinese alternative to the ‘decaying’ Western model.

What are some ways journalists can try to regain credibility in the current climate and untangle the web of misinformation?  The conference focused on practical solutions, not only scholarly discussion, featuring presentations of successful projects that focus on enhancing media literacy and validating facts. IREX introduced a project that has sought to increase media literacy in Ukraine. “It does not matter what information we receive, but how we receive it,” said project director Mehri Karyadgyyeva. Matus Kostolny from Dennik N, a successful independent, readership-funded Slovak online newspaper,declared: “Should journalists become activists? Yes, if we are defending democracy!” “The conference took us out of our academic bubbles,” said NYU Prague Assistant Director for Academic Affairs Vanda Thorne.

Aurora Wallace, Director of Undergraduate Studies at NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, spoke about fake news in a historical context, noting its origins with the HG Wells 1938 radio show War of the Worlds. Sarphan Uzunoglu from Kadir Has Universitesi in Istanbul noted that ‘Post-truth’ is nothing new, lying is a part of politics; in polarized communities it is a great industry.”

The masterminds of the conference are Jakub Klepal from Keynote and Jeremy Druker, NYU Prague faculty member and founder of Transitions, an NGO established to strengthen the news media in post-Communist countries.  „We live in an era of relativizing the truth and informational chaos,” notes Klepal.  “ Independent, quality and investigative journalism must survive because it is one of the pillars of liberal democracy. For our future, it is essential that we do not cease to seek the truth, even though we are often lost in misinformation and fake news; otherwise, we will end up in chaos and passivity.

The conference was organized by Transitions and Keynote, with the support of NYU Prague, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Prague, the Representation of the European Commission in the Czech Republic, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Prague, Open Society Fund Prague and the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism at Charles University.  

Interning at the Forum 2000 Conference: NYU Prague Students Reflect

Every year, NYU students intern at the Forum 2000 conference – an international event started by former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to promote human rights and democracy.  Below you can read the reflections of three students whose job was to write summaries of the panels for the Forum 2000 website and social media.  Spending three days in Prague’s sumptuous Zofin Palace, the students rubbed elbows with world leaders, famous journalists and human rights activists as they discussed the conference theme, “Is Democracy Too Old for Young People?”  

Kevin Hanley (Politics major,Liberal Studies)

Flanked by six guards, Albert the II, Prince of Monaco, entered the lecture hall followed by a round of applause. He spoke of climate change and the impending danger we face. He spoke of non action as the greatest risk to our survival. His speech was short and to the point, unlike the rest of the conference.

The panels that consumed the conference were long and thought provoking, calling upon audience members to ask questions often. At the panel sharing the namesake of the conference, “Is Democracy Too Old for Young People?” dignitaries and millennials alike spoke about the political and philosophical implications of youth shifting away from democracy. Esteemed political philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo had a very worthwhile quote when the discussion shifted to democracy and capitalism: “Democracy is about emancipation of human beings, and capitalism is about domination of human beings.” Mete Coban, a Labour Councillor for Stoke Newington and founder of My Life My Say, provided a first hand view of the recent Brexit vote and how to remedy the youth’s dissatisfaction for politics in the UK. The youth of the UK actually became very invested in the Brexit vote, but without knowing much about the implications of leaving the EU. Education, Coban said, is at the crux of the current apathy towards democracy spreading across the EU.

One of the most interesting discussions came in a panel about protecting democratic norms and institutions. In light of Russian meddling in US and EU elections, the question arises: how do we protect our institutions in a technologically advanced world? Ken Wollack, President of the National Democratic Institute, made the important distinction that Russian propaganda now is very different than that of the Cold War. Rather than try and pull people into Russia, Putin is trying to peg everyone on the world stage down to Russia’s level. The three major takeaways from this panel were 1) that democracy is in danger, even more today than thirty years ago 2) the western world is still strong enough to defend its values 3) institutions are crucial to holding democracy together.

Throughout the conference, my views about democracy and the world were called into question and reaffirmed almost simultaneously. From speaking to different panel participants and audience members, I got a sense that everyone took different things away from the conference depending on their notions about democracy going into the conference. Nevertheless, I came out just as optimistic as I went in, and that’s all I can really ask for.

Alejandra Torres (Gallatin)

When I first heard about Forum 2000, I registered online. It sounded like such an amazing opportunity to listen to and be inspired by the ideas and projects of brilliant world leaders. It was a shame that I had not heard about it on the NYC campus.

. An internship at Forum 2000 was simple: my presence at certain panels would be mandatory as I was to write reports on them. These reports would later be circulated on social media, online news sites, etc. to summarize this year’s success and promote future conferences. It was up to me to be a good listener and note-taker, and a good writer. I will admit that this latter part made me nervous. What if I was not as attentive as I should have been and did not properly transcribe or articulate what was expressed by the former president of a country?

Thus, while I was deciding which internship to accept, I exchanged several emails with Sera, trying to make the most informed decision. I also wanted an internship to extend beyond the conference. I absolutely love the fact that NYU Prague offers non-credit internships because I was hoping to be able to have an opportunity to continue gaining work experience during my time abroad. More importantly, I was searching for ways I could be more involved in Prague, learn more about Czech culture and interact with people outside of NYU. When Sera assured me that she would send me examples of past reports and that I could go into the office on Tuesdays (my day off) post-conference to work on assorted tasks, I was sold.

Writing this exactly a week after the initiation of the conference, I am so happy and blessed to have been offered this internship. I was impressed by several factors that frankly, far exceeded my expectations. The Forum 2000 Foundation was able to book gorgeous venues for the conference, it secured a plethora of incredible panelists who have been doing amazing things in their respective nations as well as in the global community, and it is so well established on the international arena. Walking into the opening panel, I felt like I was part of something big. The excitement and desire of the speakers and audience members to be agents of change was as palpable as my nervous, shaking legs.

I attended the opening panel, “Changing the International Order and the Future of Our Planet,” “Central Europe: 20 Years From Now,” “Austria and Europe;” “Religion and the Crisis of Democracy,” and “To End a War: The Colombian Peace Process.” Admittedly, there were times during these panels when I was so enthralled by the elegance, eloquence and intelligence of the speakers as they debated how to strengthen democracy in uncertain times, that I would forget that I was more than just an audience member seeking to be inspired. I had a job to do so, of course, I would quickly recover! There were many times when I agreed with what the panelists said that I would find myself silently snapping my fingers in between note-taking. At other times, the interdisciplinary approaches offered by the speakers challenged my own view points. Certainly, I left the conference with the sense that my world perspective expanded and became more enriched because some panelists pushed me to think more critically and look beyond the surface of global issues.

Prince Albert II of Monaco taught me that knowledge and awareness are critical tools to solving any type of problems; Iveta Radičová, the former Prime Minister of Slovakia, taught me that tolerance, trust and solidarity are crucial elements of liberal democracy that must be reawakened in order to improve the current political climate. Heinz Fischer, the former president of Austria, instilled in me the importance of international unity, cooperation and solidarity to address global crises.

The rush of submitting reports before the deadlines was exhilarating and empowering. In what may appear to be a childish reaction, I felt like a real adult because I have never had such fast-approaching deadlines. It was definitely good preparation for my future career. My work felt important because my supervisors relied on me to comprehend a panel that they were unable to attend. In finding the time to write my reports right after the panels concluded, I was able to also better understand in what I had participated. I was better able to clarify my own thoughts. In short, writing the reports was not only my job but it was a form of academic and personal reflection.

As I wait for my reports to be reviewed and edited, I am excited to see them once they are published. It will be a testament to my presence and experience at an amazing conference which, a week later, still seems so surreal; it will be a testament to my work and appreciation of the opportunity presented to me. I am also happy to continue working with the Forum 2000 Foundation because I will be focusing on a proposal to engage the NYU campus in New York in next year’s conference.

Ashley Jia (Stern)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I applied to Forum 2000, but I did know that I wanted to be more involved in politics. I’m no political science major, but as Jon Gnarr, former mayor of Reykjavik said, “maybe people who are not into politics should go into politics.” Sometimes that doesn’t work out so well, but I thought I’d give it a try.

The Forum 2000 Foundation provides a platform for global leaders and thinkers from around the world to discuss and debate critical issues surrounding democracy and the development of civil society. This year’s conference centered around “Strengthening Democracy in Uncertain Times,” and naturally, my reports examined current populist crises in Europe. I listened to MPs, professors, mayors, editors, political scientists—you name it—discuss and analyze just about everything when it comes to the rise of demagogues, whether that be institutional failure in Poland and Hungary or globalization in western countries.               

Though all the panels offered compelling discussion, my most interesting experience was reporting on a working breakfast at the French Embassy. The room was lavish, the breakfast was lavish, the people appeared important—forget about being a finance major amongst all the other political science major interns; now I really felt out of place. I did not think too much of it at first, but as I was rapidly typing away and shoving croissants down my throat (shout out to Forum 2000 for the incredible pastries), I suddenly hear a man seated a few spaces away from me be addressed as “His Excellency.” No wonder the pastries were so good. If they’re good enough for that guy, they’re good enough for me.

In all seriousness though, this experience has been incredibly rewarding. Having reported on this conference and listened to numerous panelists, I think that it is imperative for young people to become more active in their local communities and to be more understanding of conflicting viewpoints. With so much polarity in society today, positive change cannot materialize without action and a little compromise.

Photo by Ashley Jia

NYU Prague Co-hosts a Conference about the Roma Genocide

NYU Prague recently co-hosted a conference that brought together scholars and survivors of the Roma genocide.  As a lead-up to the conference, NYU Prague students met with two of the participating scholars – Tara Zahra (University of Chicago) and Jan Grill (Universidad del Valle, Cali) – who talked about the challenges of doing research about a minority group whose history has been mainly documented by the majority population.  Moderated by NYU Prague professor Katerina Capkova – also a co-organizer of the conference – the students learned about the discrimination and tragedies this minority has suffered throughout so many regimes: the Hapsburg Empire, the Nazis, the Communists …. .  In the following days, students could attend the conference and hear stories first-hand from genocide survivors and their family members.    Below is an article about the conference written by NYU Prague Resident Adviser Clare Profous who is also an intern at Romea, www.romea.cz – a website dedicated to publishing articles that promote human rights by giving a voice to the Roma minority.  You can find the original article here.
Roma and Sinti Genocide Survivors, Descendants and Scholars Unite in Prague
By Clare Profous. September 20 – 21, 2017
In what way have memories of the Roma genocide affected survivors and their descendants? How have these experiences continued to influence Roma and their treatment within Europe since 1945? These were some of the questions discussed this past week at the two-day conference Tracing the Legacies of the Roma Genocide: Families as Transmitters of Experience and Memory. The conference brought together two international academic initiatives, the research network “Legacies of the Roma Genocide in Europe since 1945”, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the UK and the Prague Forum for Romani Histories.
Roma throughout Europe were subject to violence and persecution by Nazi Germany and its allies in the 12 years leading up to 1945. It is estimated that at least 200,000 Roma were murdered, although some argue that the number may have been much higher.  Among other forms of persecution, Roma and Sinti were forced to personally experience or witness friends and relatives become victims of mass killings, were forced into gas chambers and killed there, were sent on death marches or were subjected to other forms of violence during and after the war – including sexual violence and mass sterilization.
Helena Sadílková, Ph.D, the Head of the Seminar of Romani Studies at Charles University and one of the main organizers of the event, explained what this new endeavor is about: “The Prague Forum for Romani Histories was established not only to foster a debate among scholars from different fields that focus on the history of the Roma and thus to support historical scholarship in Romani studies, but also to help to integrate such research into the wider field of European history – not as a separate/parallel minority history, but as an integral part of European history and an important lens that can deepen our understanding of the historical processes that have shaped the history of European societies”.
Speakers were invited from across the globe to reach this goal of fostering transnational discourse, including Professor Tara Zahra of Chicago University and Ari Joskowicz, an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University.  Scholars described their research in different regions of Europe including former Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, France, Belarus and Lithuania. Their work focused on the effects and coping mechanisms related to trauma, the transmission of memory within families as well as private and public forms of commemoration, and institutional practices regarding the treatment of Roma in post-war Europe.
The purpose of the conference was twofold. Not only did it allow scholars to share ideas, but it also promoted close collaboration and the co-production of knowledge between academics and members of diverse Romani communities. Researchers were joined by Roma and Sinti survivors and their descendants, who spoke of their experiences as victims of persecution and how that past continues to fuel present-day discrimination. They also spoke of the challenges they face as they work towards coming to terms with the tragedies affecting them and their families. This discussion marked the opening of the exhibition by Eve Rosenhaft and Jana Müller titled: “…don’t forget the photos, it’s very important…” The Nationalist Socialist Persecution of Central German Sinti and Roma at the Václav Havel Library in Prague.
“The research of the history of the Roma suffers from fragmentation and remains … on the margins of the field of history as an academic discipline in general. We, however, believe that the research in the history of Roma has a
great potential in contributing to the existing historic and historiographic debates on the processes and developments in Europe since the 19th century in terms of, i.e., (dis)continuities of certain social and institutional practices as well as the questions of periodization, production of knowledge, or methodological as well as ethical concerns, etc.” says Sadílková.
For the program and complete list of speakers, organizers, and sponsors go to: http://www.romanihistories.usd.cas.cz/conferences/?y=2017
Organizers: