CEFRES has been offering Czech science an intellectual and creative background for 30 years
28. 05. 2021
French Research Center in Humanities and Social Sciences (CEFRES) was established thirty years ago in 1991 when Central and Eastern European countries were just recovering from the decades of research isolation they had experienced locked behind the Iron Curtain. CEFRES aimed to restore the ties that had been broken between France and Central Europe in the area of science. This goal has been achieved, and currently CEFRES goes even beyond it. CEFRES organises workshops and conferences on historical, political science or philosophical topics in Prague and, since 2015, has been developing ambitious scientific programmes that could result in an application for a prestigious grant from the European Research Council (ERC).
The three decades of cooperation were commemorated by an international conference named Knowledge, Power and Academic Freedom in Europe (and Beyond), which took place at the main building of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS) on Národní street and at Charles University Carolinum. The conference began on Thursday 27 May 2021 and continued until Friday 28 May 2021.
CEFRES Director Jérôme Heurtaux opened the first part of the conference on Thursday and appreciated that the main building of the Czech Academy of Sciences on Národní třída became the host of the event. The word “freedom” resonated throughout the afternoon - the possibility to research and think freely and critically without any political pressure or censorship. “It appears that the situation in Europe and the globalised world poses new questions for social sciences and the humanities,” said CAS President Eva Zažímalová.
The keynote speaker and guest of honour on Thursday was Michael Ignatieff, Rector and President of the Central European University. He mentioned the current situation of the Central European University. This international University focusing primarily on social sciences had to leave Budapest, where it operated since 1996, due to the pressures from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Since 2020, Central European University has been based in Vienna. According to Michael Ignatieff, the freedom of research is not a given certainty; it is necessary to continuously protect and defend it, be it in Hungary or the Czech Republic.
On Friday, the conference moved to Carolinum at Charles University. Some of the guests, particularly foreign guests, attended online. The debates were moderated by Tomáš Kostelecký, sociologist and a member of the CAS Academy Council, Georges Mink, political scientist from the College of Europe, and Clara Royer from Sorbonne University.
The discussions focused on academic freedom and the role of CEFRES today and in the past. Luděk Brož and Taťána Petrasová from the Czech Academy of Sciences participated in the discussions, together with historians Marie-Elizabeth Ducreux and Antoine Marès or geographer Marie-Claude Maurel.
The importance of CEFRES for Czech science
CEFRES (Le Center national de la recherche scientifique) is part of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), the French equivalent of the Czech Academy of Sciences. “I see the importance of CEFRES for Czech science primarily in the ability to intellectually develop interdisciplinary topics and scientific ideas in dialogue with French colleagues, not only in Central Europe or the Visegrad region,” says Taťána Petrasová from the Institute of Art History of the CAS, who is also a former member of the Academy Council of the CAS, where she was responsible for the CEFRES Platform from 2013 to 2021.
The cooperation had a clear research goal from the beginning thanks to the projects funded by the French grant agency ANR (Agence nationale de la recherche) and the mobility programme Erasmus mundus between Charles University and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS). This year, EHESS is also opening seminars for Czech doctoral students. “I hope that CAS researchers will take advantage of this new opportunity that has become possible due to the efforts of Jérôme Heurtaux, the current CEFRES Director”, believes Taťána Petrasová, adding that those interested in the participation may send their applications until 10 June 2021.
The CEFRES Platform
The research center also includes the CEFRES Platform, which has been operating since 2015 on the basis of an agreement between the CNRS, the French Embassy in Prague, Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences. The activities of the Platform are very diverse. “It creates a creative and supportive environment for scientists from the humanities. The key activity is providing scholarships. Holders of the scholarships come for various lengths of time to Prague, the vast majority of them are doctoral students or postdoctoral students”, explains Kateřina Čapková from the Institute of Contemporary History of the CAS and one of the CAS representatives in the CEFRES Platform Steering Committee.
During the academic year, the CEFRES Platform regularly holds seminars or workshops. The scholarship holders participate in the seminars or co-organise them. “I like to organise some of the seminars, for example those on Jewish or Roma history, in cooperation with the CEFRES Platform. It helps to extend the circle of interesting participants, and consequently, our events benefit from the dialogue of experts with various specialisations,” adds Kateřina Čapková.
Riding in tandem
An important part of the cooperation is the TANDEM programe. The programe connects two researchers, one from France and the other from the Czech Republic. Already the very first TANDEM team created within this cooperation obtained a highly prestigious ERC grant in 2019. The team included Luďek Brož (Institute of Ethnology of the CAS) and Virginie Vaté (INSHS CNRS).
Until the end of May 2021, it is possible to submit applications for the next TANDEM competition for 2022–2024. “TANDEM is a unique bilateral incubator of ambitious projects in the social sciences and the humanities. The benefit is not only financial, but also logistical support for the applicant, which combines the know-how of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the French National Center for Scientific Research,” explains Luděk Brož. To potential TANDEM applicants, he recommends having a great idea and ideally to know someone in France who would go “into tandem”. “However, CEFRES may also help with such pairing. Knowledge of French is not necessary. CEFRES is fully internationalised and works in English as well as in Czech and French,” further explains the Czech scientist.
There have already been hundreds of Czech scientists cooperating with and connected by CEFRES in the last three decades. Some of their experiences, from various scientific fields, were further presented during the conference.
Text: Leona Matušková, Division of External Relations, CAS Centre of Administration and Operations
Photo: Jana Plavec, Division of External Relations, CAS Centre of Administration and Operations
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