Research Projects


Ongoing and completed projects

The research carried out at the Viadrina Center of Polish and Ukrainian Studies is dedicated to Poland and Ukraine in a broad transregional context, considering the close entanglements – commonalities as well as conflicts – in this multi-layered contact zone. Polish and Ukrainian studies are understood as an integral part of Central/Eastern European studies. Recognizing the cultural and political agency of Poland and Ukraine, we treat our research as an integrative endeavor with a strategic interdisciplinary focus. Read about the research projects at the Viadrina Centre of Polish and Ukrainian Studies in the following list.

Project duration: 01.10.2023 – 30.09.2025
Participating researchers at the European University Viadrina: Prof. Dr. Dagmara Jajeśniak-Quast, Dr. Anna M. Steinkamp, Dr. Falk Flade, Konrad Walerski
Partners: Universität Bremen, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)
Financing: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)


Interim results

Report from the panel discussion: ‘Surprising findings on modernisation in the GDR and the People's Republic of Poland: potential for future transformations’ in Berlin on 20.03.2024 (in German)

Project duration: 01.12.2018–31.03.2023
Participating researchers at the European University Viadrina: Prof. Dr. Dagmara Jajeśniak-Quast, Dr. Anna M. Steinkamp, Dr. Falk Flade, Konrad Walerski sowie Prof. em. Dr. Anna Schwarz und Prof. em. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Wagener
Partners: Universität Bremen, Technische Universität Berlin, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)
Financing: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)

Project description

This project fills existing gaps in research on the origins and still lasting consequences of efforts at modernisation in East Germany and the barriers that they faced. It includes comparisons with West Germany and with other countries of East Central Europe. For the first time, modernisation processes in business and science, as well as their outcomes and consequences, will be comprehensively analysed using historical, sociological, economic and political science methods. These processes will be compared with equivalents in West Germany, but also in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Ukraine. The aim here is to expand the perspective of the analysis beyond the German–German framework, in order to gain new insights.

In sections of the project, a range of methods will be used to analyse the real manifestations of the barriers to and achievements of modernisation. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the study, it will focus not only on the macro level, but also on the system-dependent strategies of actors at the micro level of science and the economy. It was they who came to the forefront as a result of the systemic transformation, when the need was to develop efficient and innovative enterprise based on actors who had been subject to restrictions.

Interim results

Scientific meeting at the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk, September 2021 (conference report in German)
Publication: Sozialistische Ökonomie im Spannungsfeld der Modernisierung. Ein ideengeschichtlicher Vergleich DDR – Polen (Wagener, Tymiński, Koryś: Springer 2021)
Publication: Transformation in Polen und Ostdeutschland. Voraussetzungen, Verlauf und Ergebnisse (ed. Flade, Steinkamp, Walerski: Harrassowitz 2022),
Interviews (in German) with Prof. Dagmara Jajeśniak-QuastDr Falk Flade and Prof. Hans-Jürgen Wagener


Project duration: 12.2018–12.2024
Project management: Dr. Falk Flade
Financing: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (2018–2023)

Project duration: 09.2019–12.2023
Project management: Dr. Frank Grelka
Financing: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (2019–2022)


While the National Socialist persecution of the Jews has repeatedly been described as a history of robbery, the concrete practices of an economy based on forced labour have only been researched to some extent. This study argues that the labour and financial policy of the government of the General Government did not follow an economic rationality, but rather that it formed the beginning of the Holocaust in Poland. This research project explores the non-industrial deployment policy of the General Government (GG) as a leitmotif of the persecution of the Jewish population in occupied Poland between 1940 and 1942. At the core of the investigation is an empirical study on publicly-funded construction projects which ex-ploited Jewish labor to drain farmland on behalf of the branch for water management (within the Department for Nutrition and Agriculture). Using previously undiscovered archival sources from about 60 camps across the Lublin district (with altogether ca. 170 camps across the entire GG), this project expands our knowledge of the use of forced labor through a comparison of the SS and the Wehrmacht. It details the lethal mistreatment of Jews at camps associated with Lublin’s water works, and also makes a critical causal link between these areas and the mass extermination camps at Sobibór and Bełżec.


Wo Arbeit kein Weg war. Judenräte und Zwangsarbeit in den Städten des Generalgouvernements 1939 bis 1941, in: VfZ 71 (2023) H. 1, S. 1-35.
Rural Hubs of Early Destruction: The Waterworks’ Camps in the Lublin District, 1940-1942, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 45 (2) 2017, S. 39-67.
EHRI Document Blog (Oktober 2017):

Project management: Dr. Mark Keck-Szajbel

Poject management: Bozhena Kozakevych


Soviet religious policy went through several phases. It ranged from resolute opposition to many religious communities to a degree of tolerance and even cooperation, as in the case of the Russian Orthodox Church. Soviet religious policy should be seen as part of broader social transformations aimed at creating a "New Man".

The dissertation project examines how state directives and guidelines were implemented at the local level and by which actors. Deviations from the political party guidelines and the question of leeway for action will also be examined. Religious life in Berdychiv will be analysed alongside Soviet religious policy and the closely related nationalities policy between 1921 and 1964, , i.e. from the establishment of Soviet power in the city until Nikita Khrushchev's dismissal as First Secretary of the CPSU.

Religious life is understood not only as rites and religious practices, but also as the relationship between the state and religious communities. A central concept in the study of religious life is popular piety. These questions will be explored in a micro-historical study using the example of the small central Ukrainian town of Berdychiv. The dissertation project thus lies at the interface between micro- and macro-history.

The demographic data show that the ethnic and religious composition of the town's population changed over the four decades selected for study. Berdychiv makes it possible to trace a complex picture of the changing Soviet religious policy towards the Jewish, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant communities, and at the same time to explore their dependence on local circumstances.

Project duration: 02.2020–07.2023
Project management: Johannes Kleinmann

Project duration: 01.2017–12.2023

Project management: Dr. Stephan Rindlisbacher

Financing: Schweizerischer Nationalfonds (2017–2019)


Following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has attempted to revise state borders that date back to the early days of the Soviet state. Borders and statehood in the post-Soviet space are more uncertain than ever. The Russian President sees the Bolshevik nationality policies as a “historical mistake.” This research project, however, shows why Lenin and his comrades had few alternatives to embracing the nationality question and structuring their state accordingly. It tracks the rationales for creating these borders and nations back to the 1920s: considerations of ethnicity defined the large scale, whereas economic and administrative aspects dominated the process of territorial fine tuning.

During the 1920s, the Bolshevik government created the basic territorial-administrative structure for the Soviet state. Despite their materialist ideology, the Bolsheviks and their experts apparently prioritised national over economic or ideological considerations. However, defining territories by nationality presented challenges when two or more potential national entities could lay claim to a certain area. In practice, the state and party leadership developed three approaches to deal with such issues. First, they could side with one nationality and discriminate against the other(s). Second, if ethnographic, cultural, and economic boundaries between certain communities apparently overlapped, they could use them as starting point for a national delimitation. Finally, they could refrain from making any decision, leaving the problem unsolved. This research project illustrates these three approaches with examples from the Russo-Ukrainian borderland, the Fergana Valley in Central Asia, and the borderland between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus; three pillar regions of Soviet federalism.

Although politicians and experts involved never designed them as borders between “real” independent states, these borders functioned as such rather well in the post-Soviet context. The lines dividing the republics often followed local economical rationales and thus eased the somewhat peaceful break-up in 1991. This is in stark contrast to the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the territorial conflicts that hung over interwar Europe. In this respect, the countries that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union had much in common with the states of Africa. There, the post-colonial political elites recognised the states and borders as staked out by the imperial European powers. As soon as someone puts this functional territorial heritage in jeopardy, the structure as such is at stake as all 15 successor republics have certain reasonable claim to alter the existing order at the expense of their neighbours. Thus, with its attack on Ukraine, Russia has opened this Pandora’s Box with unpredictable effects on the post-Soviet order. If Ukraine’s borders are negotiable then so are Kazakhstan’s, but so are the internal borders of the Russian Federation such as Chechnya’s or Kalmykia’s.


Interview with Alun Thomas at Peripheral Histories on “Creating a Pandora’s Box: The Soviet Search for National Borders”.

Published articles on this topic


Project duration: 12.2018–12.2024
Project management: Dr. Anna M. Steinkamp
Financing: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (2018–2023)


Anna Steinkamp’s research focuses on entrepreneurial habitus dispositions of East Germans and Poles who grew up under state socialism and now work as successful entrepreneurs. The main question is how the habitual imprint of growing up in socialism affects their current entrepreneurial activity in the field of innovation.

For this purpose, she analyses the role of economic, social and cultural capital as influencing factors for innovative entrepreneurial action in the transformation period. The analysis is based on qualitative data (guideline interviews with an extended biographical section).

A specific, methodological and practice-relevant added value of this project lies in the reconstruction of implicit action patterns on the basis of the above-mentioned qualitative primary data in order to understand which long-term habitual resources or blockages can be recognised in people who grew up in the final phase of the GDR/Polish People's Republic and the early transformation processes. The results of this research will contribute an answer to the question why 30 years after the German unification there remains a clear discrepancy in the field of entrepreneurship between the new and old federal states. In order to identify a possible East German specificity, an international comparison is indispensable.

Previous publications

Flade, Falk / Steinkamp, Anna M. / Walerski, Konrad (2022): Transformation in Polen und Ostdeutschland. Voraussetzungen, Verlauf und Ergebnisse. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Steinkamp, Anna M. (2022): Zur Bedeutung habitueller Prägung für Unternehmensgründungen in Ostdeutschland und Polen nach 1989. In Flade, Falk / Steinkamp, Anna M. / Walerski, Konrad (Hg.): Transformation in Polen und Ostdeutschland. Voraussetzungen, Verlauf und Ergebnisse. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, S. 157 – 172.

Kühn, Jarina / Schwarz, Anna / Steinkamp, Anna M. (2022) "Eigentlich musst du jetzt dabei sein - Motivationsarten für Unternehmensgründungen in der postsozialistischen Transformation in Ostdeutschland", in: Deutschland Archiv, 21.09.2022,

Flade, Falk / Kerski, Basil / Steinkamp, Anna M./ Walerski, Konrad (2022): Rückblick und Ausblick auf die Transformation in Polen und Ostdeutschland. Eine Einführung. In Flade, Falk / Steinkamp, Anna M. / Walerski, Konrad (Hg.): Transformation in Polen und Ostdeutschland. Voraussetzungen, Verlauf und Ergebnisse. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, S. 11 – 20.

Jarina Kühn/Anna Schwarz/Anna M. Steinkamp, Unternehmerischer Habitus von Ostdeutschen vor und nach 1990. Kontinuität oder Wandel Unternehmerischer Handlungsorientierungen von Menschen mit DDR-Biografie, in: Deutschland Archiv, 26.10.2020,

Project management: Dr. Małgorzata Szajbel-Keck


Małgorzata Szajbel-Keck researches current changes in the Polish language as compared to Slavic and other European languages, both from a formal descriptive as well as a sociolinguistic and pragmatic perspective. She is especially interested in the use of gender neutral and gender inclusive language (or the lack thereof). In the past decades, every language with gender distinction in grammar has been dealing with the issue of equal treatment of different genders. Poland has joined this discussion at a late stage, and there have been taken no serious top-down actions so far to achieve gender-fairness. The fact remains, however, that modern societies have been changing towards more inclusion, even if it meant more effort, and Poland is no different in this matter. In many areas of everyday communication, changes can be observed.


Czy nadal szukamy recepcjonistek i specjalistów? O stylu (nie)neutralnym płciowo w ofertach pracy. Dialog z tradycją 9: Językowe świadectwa przemian społeczno-kulturowych, 335-352. Kraków: Collegium Columbinum, DOI: 10.24917/9788376241630.23

Wartość języka potocznego w literaturze dziecięcej: bliskość czytelnikowi a wzorzec językowy (studium przypadku). In: Iwona Benenowska, Elżbieta Laskowska & Beata Morzyńska-Wrzosek (Hrsg.), Aksjologiczne aspekty komunikacji: Materiały z Forum Etyki Słowa, 279–295. Bydgoszcz: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Kazimierza Wielkiego.

Project duration: 04.2019–03.2023
Project management: Konrad Walerski M.A.
Financing: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (2018–2023)

Project management: Dr. Stephan Rindlisbacher 

Duration: 01.2017–12.2024

Since the Crimean crisis in 2014, the question of Soviet border-making and regulating gained unexpected importance in international affairs. In the South Caucasus and Central Asia, too, borders defined in the Soviet era provide a constant a source of interstate conflicts. But how and under what conditions were the borders created and regulated? What actors were involved in these territorialisation processes? Relying on case studies from Ukraine and the RSFSR, the South Caucasus (Armenia-Azerbaijan) and Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan), I compare the creation and administration of these national borders. These were complex negotiation processes in which the party leadership in Moscow had to include the expertise of local actors, especially from the South Caucasus and Central Asia. The aim of the project is, on the one hand, to improve the historical understanding of the current territorial conflicts, and on the other, to contribute to the ongoing debate on the practices of rule in the Soviet state.

Results (link)

Project management: Dr. Stephan Rindlisbacher

Ongoing research project

Studies on academic exchange between the two blocs have often focused on the Soviet Union and the US. In contrast, this project looks the academic exchange between Poland on the one hand and the “West” (USA, France and West Germany) on the other. In regard of its relative autonomy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, Poland was an attractive partner of Western funding institutions.
Two intertwined questions are at the center of this project: How did the international exchange of historians, sociologists and economists influence the development of their respective disciplines between 1960 and 1989? And how did circulation of knowledge result in a transformative nexus that enabled many former exchange fellows to position themselves in new fields after 1990? To answer these questions, this project relies on a database that includes archival sources, printed materials and writings of the researchers as well as semi-structured and non-formalized interviews.

Project management: Dr. Frank Grelka, Dr. Stephan Rindlisbacher

Duration: 11.2018–01.2021

With a grant from the German Federal Minister of State for Culture and the Media, Polish, Ukrainian and German scholars could search in Ukrainian state archives for key documents on German and Polish minority actors during the era of New Economic Policy era. The aim of this project was to explore this phase of Soviet consolidation between Civil War and forced collectivization from the perspective of German and Polish-speaking communities. The first major output of this project is a commented document volume in English. In cooperation with the Martin-Opitz Library in Herne, a second important result of this project is a publicly accessible database with the documents secured during the archival research in Ukraine between 2018 and 2019.


Project description in German:

Deutsche und polnische Akteure der Neuen Ökonomischen Politik (NĖP). Die Dorfsowjets in der sowjetukrainischen Provinz, 1923-1928


Dr. Frank Grelka, Dr. Stephan Rindlisbacher


Das durch die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Referat „Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa“ geförderte Forschungsprojekt „Deutsche und polnische Akteure der Neuen Ökonomischen Politik (NĖP). Die Dorfsowjets in der sowjetukrainischen Provinz, 1923-1928“ ermöglichte in den Jahren 2019 und 2020 die Zusammenarbeit zwischen dem Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Polenstudien an der Viadrina und der Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek. Polnische, ukrainische und deutsche Wissenschaftler erforschten Schlüsselquellen zur Rolle deutscher und polnischer Akteure im Laufe der Neuen Ökonomischen Politik aus ukrainischen Staatsarchiven. Mit diesem Vorhaben soll die Phase der Konsolidierung der sowjetischen Herrschaft zwischen Bürgerkrieg und Zwangskollektivierung aus der Perspektive deutsch- und polnischsprachiger Gruppen beleuchtet werden.

Im Rahmen dieses Projekts wurden knapp 1.000 archivalische Dokumente mit thematischem Bezug zur Rolle der deutschen und polnischen Minderheit in den Dorfräten der Sowjetukraine in den zwanziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts aufbereitet, erschlossen, mit Strukturdaten versehen und online gestellt. Ziel des Projektes war es, die Handlungsmöglichkeiten der Dorfsowjets als Selbstverwaltungsorgane in den Jahren 1923 bis 1929 zu beleuchten. Der aus dem Projekt entstandene Quellenband “Our Work with the Masses Is Not Worth a Kopeck...” A Document Collection on German and Polish Rural Soviets in Ukraine during the NEP, 1923–1929 von Dr. Frank Grelka und Dr. Stephan Rindlisbacher ist open access beim Harassowitz Verlag erschienen und selbstverständlich auch im Bestand der MOB verfügbar.

Die durch das Projekt gefundenen und zugänglich gemachten Dokumente wurden bereits von anderen Forschenden nachgenutzt. Im Rahmen des Masterstudienschwerpunktes „Osteuropäische Studien mit Praxisbezug“ an der Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Osteuropa-Kolleg NRW wurden die Dokumente für die Konzeption einer virtuelle Ausstellung verwendet. Unter dem Titel “Von Landau bis Šyrokolanivka: Geschichte der deutschen nationalen Rajone in der Sowjetukraine” bietet die Ausstellung Einblicke in den Alltag der deutschen Rajone der 20er und 30er Jahre des 20. Jahrhunderts.

Konzeption und Realisierung der Ausstellung: Tetiana Zheleznyak, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Betreuung: Dr. Arkadiusz Danszczyk, Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek | Dr. Stephan Rindlisbacher, Europa-Universität Viadrina


Stephan Rindlisbacher, Frank Grelka: Modernization on Empty Coffers: Polish Minority Institutions in Early Soviet Ukraine, in: Revolutionary Russia, 2 (2022)

Virtuelle Ausstellung: Von Landau bis Šyrokolanivka. Geschichte der deutschen nationalen Rajone in der Sowjetukraine (

Frank Grelka/Stephan Rindlisbacher: „Our Work with the Masses Is Not Worth a Kopeck …“. A Document Collection on German and Polish Rural Soviets in Ukraine during the NEP, 1923–1929. (Kostenloser Open Access-Download:


Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien

Viadrina Center of Polish and Ukrainian Studies

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