The web portal Study in Greece is campaigning for the promotion and international visibility of Greek Universities and the comparative educational advantages of our country. In particular, the campaign focuses on the foreign language study programmes that Greek Universities offer to Greek and international students. The initiative is supported by the General Secretariat of Higher Education of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In this context, a number of educational programmes and actions are presented in detail on a regular basis, such as undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, summer schools etc, to inform international students about the many foreign language options offered by Greek Universities.

Study in Greece interviewed Professor Emmanuella Doussis, director of the MΑ in Southeast European Studies: Politics, History, Economics offered at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA), about the programme, its features and what it has to offer to international students.

balkan studies2bEmmanuella Doussis is Professor of International Institutions at the University of Athens; she is the Director of the MA in Southeast European Studies: Politics, History, Economics offered by NKUA. She has been a visiting professor at the Universities of Grenoble-Alpes, Bourgogne, Aix-en-Provence and a visiting fellow at the European University Institute (EUI). She is also a member of the National Council for Adaptation on Climate Change and a member of the ILA Committee on the role of international law in sustainable management of natural resources. Her most recent book concerns the role of international law in effectively managing climate change.

Mrs Doussis, could you briefly describe the features and the spirit of the MA in Southeast European Studies: Politics, History, Economics, offered by the NKUA.

The MA in Southeast European Studies: Politics, History, and Economics was launched in 1999 as an international initiative in the framework of the Royaumont process, to promote peace and reconciliation in the Balkans in the aftermath of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Although the initiative aimed to establish an area studies programme, the term “Balkans” was not included in its title; this is because the term “Balkans” is both narrow and also bears a negative connotation for the region, which had its origins in a specific discourse formed at the time of the Balkan wars and the First World War. Instead, the term “Southeast European Studies” has been promoted for two main reasons: firstly, to bring forward the European identity of the region and, second, to include in the study field other Southeast European countries such as Turkey and Cyprus.

The initiative came from the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the NKUA, which is the oldest department of political science in Greece, with a strong presence of historians (Thanos Veremis, Paschalis Kitromilides and George Mavrogordatos among others) and with a clear interdisciplinary character combining history, economics, politics and law. The curricula of the Southeast European Studies followed this idea by offering interdisciplinary courses to enhance knowledge and research on the evolution of the Balkan countries and the broader Southeast European region as well as a better understanding of the past and post-cold war situation, as well as their European future.

The aim of the programme is twofold: The first aim, is purely academic, that is to provide a thorough and multidisciplinary understanding of the key historical, political, and economic affairs of Southeast Europe and to promote discussion on the current challenges. The second aim is broader. As the programme was founded during the Kosovo crisis, at a time of violent upheaval in the Balkans, the idea was to bring together students from the region and beyond, students from different ethnic groups and cultures, to learn about Southeast Europe with and from each other, and thus contribute to the promotion of peace, democracy, and reconciliation in the region.

balkan studies4Today, the Balkans and the broader Southeast European region present new challenges for Europe and the Western World. Firstly, there is a long list of security problems, including border disputes, competition for energy sources, the role of regional powers, the climate crisis, as well as migration issues. Therefore, new topics have been included in our programme such as migration and asylum governance, security and stability in Southeast Europe, a better understanding of contemporary Turkey, peaceful settlement of disputes and the role of international law and justice, nationalism, and democratic transition pathways.

Another challenge concerns the European Union. Since the inception of the programme, the European project has come a long way both in terms of enlargement and more integration, extending an area of peace and democracy across the continent. Since 1999, four Balkan countries, namely Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia have joined the EU; other countries of the region are currently candidates negotiating their entry or expecting to open their accession negotiations. The European perspective has been vital both in stabilising the region after the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and in acting as the essential framework for the Balkan states’ political and economic transformation to democracies and market economies. Every year, in addition with our regular lectures, numerous diplomats and experts from the EU and neighbouring countries are invited as guest speakers to discuss these issues.

Moreover, we have introduced a new course providing students with an understanding of contemporary Greece from its transition to democracy in 1974 to the economic crisis, which in combination with the global pandemic crisis, still dominates several aspects of economic, social, and political life.

Last but not least, there is a greater concern in the historical study of the region that goes beyond the conventional historical narratives. The impacts of historical developments in the Black Sea on Southeastern Europe have been integrated in our course curriculum.

Overall, the programme currently covers a rich array of cross-cutting topics offered through a wide choice of courses drawing on the main disciplines of social science (namely political science, history, economics, international law, and international relations). It thus offers a critical and multidisciplinary analysis of the past and current challenges in the region.

balkan studies5Considering that it is an intense one-year graduate programme taught entirely in English, what are the benefits for international students?

The Programme offers a unique opportunity for students with different backgrounds and experiences to spend an academic year in Athens, learning about Southeastern Europe with and from each other as well as from spending a year in a Southeast European country. Students will have the chance to develop critical theoretical, methodological and analytical skills on the Southeast European region and understanding of its current affairs and learn to apply them in their own professional context.

Since 1999, more than 600 students have graduated from this programme, originating not only from the Balkans but also from other countries all over the world, France, Italy, Russia, China, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, the US, to mention but a few. According to a recent survey, investigating the trajectories of our graduates as well as the impact of the programme on their career and lives, more than half of the respondents indicated that the programme had a significant impact on their career trajectory. Of those who were employed, around a third indicated that they work for the government (in different ministries, including Ministries of Foreign Affairs and embassies) with around 20% being engaged in education and research and close to another 20% in Business and Finance. 10 respondents have completed PhDs on related subjects with another 10 in progress. Last but not least, more than half of all respondents indicated that the programme significantly changed their thinking about Southeast European region.

Since we are in the application period, please tell us which are the future prospects for the students and why they should choose this MA among others?

Having the expertise and the experience after 23 years of offering high quality and well known interdisciplinary postgraduate studies in the area of Southeast Europe in the framework of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the SEE Master’s Programme holds a key role in promoting good neighbourliness among students and future opinion leaders. A major benefit of the Master’s Programme in Southeast European Studies: Politics, History, Economics is its cosmopolitan environment. Besides the Programme’s own students from Southeastern Europe and beyond, students will share their classroom with students from the International Master in South European Studies (Eurosud). The Programme has an excellent student-teacher ratio. Programme Alumni are employed across the globe in government, business, the academia, NGOs and international organisations.

balkan studies3The academic year 2021-2022 was the twenty-third year of the MA in SEE studies; which has been the output so far as and what are your plans for the future?

We have a long experience in Southeast European studies, and we continue to see our key role in helping to promote understanding of the historical, political, economic and legal issues on Southeast Europe and promote good neighbourliness among students and future opinion leaders.

Since 2018 we have added new courses and currently the programme covers a rich array of cross-cutting topics offered through a wide choice of courses drawing on the main disciplines of social science (namely political science, history, economics, international law and international relations). It thus offers a critical and multidisciplinary analysis of the past and current challenges in the region. Moreover, guest lectures are offered on a regular basis by academics, diplomats and practitioners with experience and knowledge of the Balkans and South East European region.

In 2019 we also launched a new partnership with the brand new Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s degree in South European Studies the so-called Eurosud programme, co-financed by the EU.

We will continue this way, covering a rich array of cross-cutting topics concerning the region and promoting extroversion.

Talking about the extroversion of the Greek universities, what do you think about these efforts? How will they benefit the universities and higher education in general?

International Cooperation Agreements, participation in international university organisations, associations and networks as well establishment or maintenance of English taught programmes attracting international students are some of the extrovert activities of Greek Universities. The extroversion of the Greek Universities will develop University’s international profile and will promote student and staff mobility. Higher Education will definitely benefit by applying innovative approaches to teaching, learning and research, by attracting different kinds of scientists from all over the world and by creating conditions of excellence.

balkan studies6Tell us a few words about NKUA, one of the oldest and largest universities in southeastern Europe.

The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is the oldest university in the region, a university that started its career in 1837, in the first independent successor state from the Ottoman Empire. A university that in its beginnings and for some decades received and enrolled students from all neighbouring Ottoman provinces then, Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians, Serbs, Montenegrins and Greeks from all over the Ottoman empire. It was thus an opportunity to reenergise this tradition of students’ mobility in Athens, a wounded and already healed town by a civil war which ended 50 years before the establishing of the program. Therefore, in 1999, Athens, the only EU member state capital in the region at that time, called for a post-cold war understanding of the Balkans and the broader Southeast European region through an ambitious academic initiative with the hope to re-unite the divided to two blocs peninsula into a common shared European future.

Nowadays, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is a leading European University. It has attained recognition as an institution of educational and scientific excellence and as a source of intellectual wealth for both Greece and Southeast Europe.

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Study in Greece: Professor Viktoria Kritikou presents the MA in Latin American and Iberian Studies at NKUA; Paschalis Kitromilides: “The Greek Revolution gave to European people the message that political change was possible”; Ntina Tzouvala on the history of international law and its impact on the Balkans

N.M. (Images from the MA’s official site and Facebook page)