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From the Director

By Randall Stone

Randall Stone's new book. Available at amazon.com and cambridge.org .
The past year has witnessed two important trends in Europe: a reduction of tensions in Eastern Europe and increased strains in the Euro Zone. Poland is deeply involved in both developments. On the positive side, the last year has seen a consolidation of the Obama administration’s policy of a “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, which started by backing away from the brink of conflict over Georgia that had threatened at the end of 2008. In the past year, U.S.-Russian cooperation has expanded to cover numerous fronts. The ratification of a new strategic arms limitation treaty in December committed the two sides to reduce their nuclear forces to levels that had not been seen since the 1960s. Russia has dropped its objections to U.S. bases in post-Soviet countries in Central Asia, and 60 percent of the material supplied to U.S. forces in Afghanistan currently transits through Russia. The improvement in U.S.-Russian relations has facilitated a thaw in Polish-Russian relations, as well, which had become very tense only a few years ago.

On the other hand, while the U.S. economy is recovering, the financial crisis in Europe continues to deepen. After the unprecedented financial rescue plan for Greece in 2010, Ireland and then Portugal lost the confidence of financial markets in 2011 and were driven to the EU and the IMF for financial bail-outs. Caught between increasing euro-skepticism at home and the overexposure of its own banks, the German government insisted on very tough conditions for these loans, which led to a deep recession in the so-called “PIGS.” It is now evident that Greece will not meet its budget targets for this year, and it is likely that it will have to reschedule its debt in order to avoid outright default. This can be expected to raise interest rates and increase pressure on other highly-indebted countries in Europe. Poland, the best-performing country in Europe, now appears farsighted for not rushing into the Euro Zone, because it avoided the worst of the financial crisis by devaluing the złoty.

Developments in the region are fluid, but one thing is certain: Central European politics remains important, complex and in need of interdisciplinary study. The Skalny Center is moving ahead with several initiatives. Three years ago, we helped to launch a new undergraduate major in International Relations, and this year we celebrated the graduation of 43 “IR” majors. This spring, we signed a three-year renewal of the University of Rochester exchange with Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and we expanded it to include tuition and housing waivers for participating Polish students. This represents an annual commitment of approximately $100,000 by the University of Rochester. The high level of tuition in Rochester had prevented the student exchange from being financially feasible for the Polish side in the past, and we hope that this new initiative will lead to a significant expansion of ties with Krakow. Another exciting initiative is the Program on International Politics and Business, sponsored by a gift from Robert Klimasewski. The program is supporting an academic conference in Krakow on June 4-8 on “Multinational Corporations in World Politics,” which will bring together leading academics and business professionals to discuss the politics and implementation of foreign direct investment.

Our first event of this academic year was a special program to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941), a virtuoso pianist, composer, statesman (the first Prime Minister of independent Poland after World War I), humanitarian and orator. Paderewski was acclaimed a "Modern Immortal" by his contemporaries. The program included performances of Paderewski’s compositions by Igor Lipinski of the Eastman School of Music, readings of Paderewski’s letters and press reviews about him interpreted by Dr. Matthew Ames, Assistant Professor of Theater Arts at Nazareth College, and fragments of films. His remarkable links to Rochester are described in Kathleen Urbanic’s article in this newsletter.

Randall Stone, Robert Więckiewicz, Włodek Pawlik and Bozena Sobolewska at the grand opening of the Film Festival
In November we held our annual Polish Film Festival at the Little Theatre, which was supported by the Polish Filmmakers Association and the Polish Film Institute. Polish cinema is particularly dynamic, and the festival presented a selection of some of the best new films to come out of Poland. The grand opening of the Festival, at the Inn on Broadway, included a piano recital by a special guest of the Festival, Włodek Pawlik, the famous jazz performer and composer. Pawlik has cut 21 records under his own name to date and has performed at many of the most notable and prestigious jazz and classical music festivals. We showed seven full-length feature films, two shorts, three documentaries, and one animated short. Włodek Pawlik participated in the discussion after the screening of “Reverse,” for which he created the musical score. Another special guest of the Festival was Robert Więckiewicz, one of the most popular and prolific Polish actors. After his debut on the big screen in 1993, he has created many excellent and diverse interpretations in Polish cinema. Więckiewicz, who played leading roles in three of the festival picks, took questions from the audience following the screening of The Lullaby and Little Rose.

Our evening lectures covered a broad spectrum of topics, including a lecture on the emergence of avant-guarde jazz in Poland during the Cold War by Dr. Zbigniew Granat (Nazareth College) and on Father Maximilian Kolbe by Dr. Kazimierz Braun (University at Buffalo.) I celebrated the publication of my new book this spring by giving a lecture about global governance and the role of international organizations. The book, Controlling Institutions: International Organizations and the Global Economy, was published by Cambridge University Press in March. Polish poet and translator Piotr Sommer was the Skalny visiting professor this spring, and he participated in a discussion of poetry, the mutual influences of Polish and Anglo-American poets, and issues of translation. A short article about Piotr Sommer by Kathleen McGarvey was published in the spring edition of Rochester Review and is reprinted in this Newsletter. The Center hosted Olesya Tkacheva (Ph.D. 2009, University of Michigan) as a post-doctoral fellow, and she gave a talk about her research on party politics in Eastern Europe, and presented a paper about the role of the internet in Polish parliamentary elections. The last event of the spring semester was a celebration of the 100th birth anniversary of Czesław Miłosz. Professor David Weiss of Hobart and William Smith Colleges spoke about the life and work of Czesław Miłosz, who was one of Poland’s greatest cultural figures and a Nobel Prize-winning poet, essayist, translator and scholar.

The Skalny Center offers courses in the Polish language, and enrollments have increased in recent years. This year, students took both beginning and intermediate level courses and a course on life in present-day Poland, created for advanced students. In addition, the Center sponsors a summer study-on-location program in Krakow. During the 4-week program, offered through the Jagiellonian University School of Polish Language and Culture, students take courses on Polish language, Polish history, Polish literature, or communism and democracy in Eastern Europe. Thanks to a generous gift by the late Joseph Skalny, four undergraduate students and one graduate student were awarded scholarships to help them participate in the program, and a graduate student in Art and Art History Department received a scholarship to do research in Poland during the spring of 2011.

I hope to see you at some of our events next year. Please keep in mind the following upcoming events in fall 2011:

■ Lecture by Kathleen Parthe titled “For their freedom and ours: Alexander Herzen and the liberation of Poland” – Oct. 13
■ Lecture by Skalny Visiting Professor, Anna Niedzwiedz – Dec. 11
■ Opening of the Polish Film Festival, Nov. 10
■ Polish Film Festival, Nov. 11 – Nov. 14, the Little Theatre
■ Concert – Dec 4