As I mentioned before taking off for it, I spent last week at a conference “for young experts on Eastern Europe” in Berlin (Aside: I met up with a Berlin-based Fulbright friend one evening, which was enough for me to conclude that I still love Berlin. END ASIDE.). I was on a panel on dissidence, protest, and opposition (with a man who already had his PhD and a woman who had, I am fairly certain, already written or contributed to a book) and presented a paper that was essentially the summation of my research this year.
I should say firstly that the whole thing was a tremendously positive experience. The conference was in German (though I presented and took/answered questions in English), which was a validating experience in and of itself. I learnt so much from so many. My paper was both really well received, and the criticism that it did get was entirely constructive.
Which brings me to my second and, for me, more important point, which is this: There were times this year that I, sitting in the archives or in my apartment or walking along the streets of Bremen, that I wondered why I had dragged myself halfway across the world for this project, and what I was even doing here in the first place. But this weekend I was asked, based on the work that I had done and demonstrated, if I was finishing up my PhD dissertation or a book, and the aforementioned “Doktor” on my panel asked me for my opinion on Navalny. And I realized that this was—is—a community, and that it’s one into which I have spent the year inserting myself.
And I realized—and, if this reeks of humble braggadocio, I apologize—that I was able to have my research and writing taken seriously because I myself took it seriously. Because I went to the archives even though nobody was there making me do so. Because I attended the weekly “Kolloquium” at the centre where I do research. Because I read and read and read about the part of the world that I study. Because I asked questions when I was curious, even if I wasn’t the smartest or best educated or most fluently German-speaking person in the room. And because, as horribly nervous as I was before speaking, I was not so nervous that I could not tell myself to speak with the confidence that comes from knowing what one’s talking about. Because I do. And because people will take your ideas and ambitions as seriously as you do.
I learnt how to pull up a seat at the table this year. That’s what I was doing in Bremen. I just needed to go to Berlin to understand.