The Liberal Script in Ukraine's Contested Border Regions

The Liberal Script in Ukraine's Contested Border Regions

IMAGO / Ukrinform

in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Christian Volk (Freie Universität Berlin)

This project is part of the Cluster of Excellence 'Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)'. In addition to the applicant Freie Universität Berlin, six other research institutions are participating in SCRIPTS: the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), the Hertie School of Governance, the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. Professor Gwendolyn Sasse, as principal investigator, is a member of the Research Unit 'Borders'. At ZOiS, the project is part of the Conflict Dynamics and Border Regions Research Cluster, which is coordinated by Dr Sabine von Löwis. Dr Tatiana Zhurzhenko joined the project as a Postdoctoral Researcher in July 2021.

Project description

The liberal script, defined as ideas and institutional prescriptions about the organisation of politics and society based on the core principle of individual self-determination, is under pressure. Some of the greatest challenges facing liberal democracies today emanate from authoritarian states and non-state violent actors that reject liberal values. Taking Ukraine as a case study, the project examines to what extent the liberal script inspires ideas and guides action; it also seeks to identify the alternative concepts that explain and enforce official, social and cultural borders, with a particular focus on issues of sovereignty, mobility and individual vs. group rights.

This project, located between geography, political science and anthropology, involves an in-depth and comparative analysis of four different border regions, including two border regions with a highly uncertain territorial and legal status: the Ukrainian-Russian border, the Ukrainian-Moldovan border, the Ukrainian-Hungarian border, and the Ukrainian-Polish border. The contested sovereignty of borders in Ukraine’s conflict regions influences other Ukrainian border regions as well and creates new challenges. There is a particular focus on the impacts of cross-border mobility and the major restrictions towards the East, on the one hand, and the opening towards the West, on the other, which influence not only trade relations and border economies but also communication and exchange processes in the daily lives of border residents.


  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Media analysis

Key questions

  • What is the significance and relevance of cultural, political and economic borderlines in the everyday lives of border residents and their perceptions of a liberal script?
  • Which local actors (businesses, government institutions at the local level, other networks, initiatives, etc.) have an impact in building confidence or identity and/or strengthening social relations?
  • How do individual perceptions and border practices interact with regional and national dynamics, and how are core aspects of the liberal script negotiated in this context?

Project team

[Translate to Englisch:]
Einstein Professor for the Comparative Study of Democracy and Authoritarianism at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin