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Czech Ambassador to The Netherlands visits Leiden to mark the 20 year anniversary of European Enlargement

On Tuesday, April 16, 2024, students, instructors, staff and other guests gathered at the Faculty Club for an exciting event: a discussion entitled “The First 20 Years: Reconsidering European Union Enlargement into Central and Eastern Europe.” His Excellency Mr. René Miko, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the Kingdom of The Netherlands, joined Prof. dr. Sarah Cramsey for a conversation reflecting on what the European Union and the idea of Europe meant and continue to means in Central Europe. The Austria Centre Leiden, the Central and East European Studies Center and the Czech Center in Rotterdam sponsored this event, which was attended by Rector Emeritus Breimer, Rector Bijl, former members of the Austrian Studies Foundation, the Director of the Czech Center Ms. Hana Schenkova and a large group of Leiden students. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Anna Kowal, a Leiden student studying for her BSc International Relations and Organisations and Head of the Academc Committee, CIROS. Ms. Kowal sat down for an interview about CIROS, her role in the event and why Central Europe matters at Leiden today.

What is CIROS and how did you come to involved in this organization, first as a member and then as a leader?

CIROS is an organisation for International Relations and Organisations student at Leiden University, where we create different events and activities to bring the student body (and faculty) together. Starting the studies at Leiden was quite overwhelming in the beginning and it was hard to find a place in such a huge and diverse community. That is when I decided to join CIROS as a member of Academic Committee, which turned out to be a great decision. The people I have met and events that I helped to organise were amazing, so I decided to apply to be the head of that committee during my second year at the university. This not only gave me a very useful platform to pursue my interests through organising many events, but also allowed for meeting many people from different faculties of university and organisations outside of it. Recently I have been elected to be the external officer for the entire organisation, which I believe will be a perfect extension of what I have been working on in the past year.

What was it like to moderate the event on EU Enlargement, with Prof. dr. Cramsey and Ambassador Miko?

Moderating the discussion was truly and amazing experience. While commenting on speeches and directing the flow of conversation of two greatly knowledgeable and people was challenging, I am grateful that prof. Cramsey gave me a chance to voice my opinions and questions during the event. I could use the insights I gained throughout the studies at Leiden University in a real-life setting and practice my public speaking skills. Beyond that, being a moderator of such an interesting event built my confidence in the fact, that the path I have chosen to pursue during my time at Leiden is the right one.

What did you learn at the event and what questions still remain?

Beyond the practical skills that I polished while moderating, I think the clue of what I learned is in the merits and content of the discussion between prof. Cramsey and Ambassador Miko. One thing I’d like to highlight is how the stage of life and environment we are in influences our framing and views on various topics. Ambassador Miko, who already worked in the diplomacy at the time of the 2004 “Big Bang” enlargement, highlighted that at the time EU enlargement was part of his everyday job. He strongly emphasized in various point of the discussion that this was a crucial year for Europe and how many developments we have seen since in politics, diplomacy and well-being of Europeans. Prof. Cramsey focused more on the questions what does “Europe” and “Central Europe” mean and how this meaning has in the past 20 years. These two perspectives had different focus points and showcased the complementarity of academic and diplomatic perspectives on the events of 2004 and current shape of the EU.

There are many questions that remain. Some are connected to the developments of Russian invasion in Ukraine, other to upcoming European Parliamentary Elections. Doubts about the future of the EU arise as well when one looks at the rise of right-wing nationalist parties in many member states, including France, Italy, Slovakia, and Poland. Overall, I believe that focusing and asking questions about the future of Europe is crucial in the difficult times of many challenges that we face, and hope to explore those in the next academic year.

Why is it important for Central and East European studies to have a collective presence at Leiden?

As mentioned, during the discussion we focused on developments of the past 20 years and did not get a chance to talk more about the future of the countries that joined the EU in 2004 due to time and topic constraints. Collective and constant presence of this topic at Leiden would allow for more focus on particular aspects and more in-depth analysis, more time and space for discussions. Secondly, we are in the heart of Europe and having these discussions particularly here can help in reaching the international institutions, diplomats and decision-makers in the Hague, Brussels, Luxemburg and beyond. That is especially important in the context of developments within EU Eastern Partnership and prospective accession of new members as well as in the face of Russian aggression on Ukraine. Lastly, after Brexit more and more Central and Eastern European students decide to study at Leiden. That poses a challenge to make them feel that their region is included in the academic debates, but it is also an opportunity to give them platform to share their first-hand experience and knowledge they have gained living in the region.

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