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Regular version of the site

Cultural Landscape in Change

Dr. Gerhard Ermischer from the Institute for Landscape Research at the University of Würzburg, Germany, has been teaching the course Lobbying and Advocacy for the HSE’s Political Analysis and Public Policy Master’s Programme. He gave a special interview to the HSE news service.

— Could you please tell us about your Lobbying and Advocacy course within the Political Analysis and Public Policy programme at the HSE?

— Well, I was asked to do this course because I am doing some advocacy work with several NGOs, especially with the two big European Institutions: the European Union and the Council of Europe. So the idea is to show how wide the field for lobbying and advocating is not only from the business world to civil society to political, ideological, and religious organisations and goals, but also from the very local and limited approach to global campaigns. Where does the power lie, where is the money, and how do researchers, experts, and consultants relate to the different lobbying schemes? How do these activities interact with democratic structures? Are they an asset or a danger? And, of course, we look at the targets, hard law, soft law, application of the law, policies, and strategies, and how these tasks are achieved. It is an incredibly wide field with so many different actors, and it has an enormous impact on our society. So I try to bring that message across with the flavour of somebody who is looking at it from a scientific perspective and, at the same time, practicing it in real life.

— What's appealing to you about collaborating with the HSE? How did this collaboration begin?  

— I like the open-mindedness, the innovative atmosphere — and I like the students here. We first met outside the academic world, at the Council of Europe, but started an academic discussion on the power and transparency of experts — it was a clash of two worlds and very inspiring. I then got to know the HSE through the Baltic Summer School, and that was really invigorating. So we started to co-operate more and more. For me, it is very exciting because I love to cross borders between subjects and cross academic borders. As a trained historian and archaeologist, I started to deal with cultural landscapes, came to work with civil society, and — through advocating for the European Landscape Convention of the Council of Europe — became increasingly drawn into the world of advocating, lobbying, and public policy. To combine research, civil engagement, and actual work in the field, and to see it all from a quite unusual perspective is great fun for me, and the academic dialogue provided here at the HSE through the research seminars, summer schools, and actual lectures is just brilliant.

— You've initiated a unique project called Pathways to Cultural Landscapes which has united scientists, students, volunteers, professional landscape caretakers and others. What's been achieved? What are the next challenges? 

— Pathways to Cultural Landscapes was actually an EU-funded, multi-annual project that had a great impact on the formation and development of my institute, which subsequently became an institute for landscape research at the University of Würzburg. The most important outcome was a really new and innovative methodology for integrating civil engagement and academic research, an approach that has earned us not only final recognition by the University of Würzburg but also a number of awards in academia as well as in society and politics. This is the basis of our actual work. The next challenges are twofold: to further develop our methodology in the academic world, and to test it outside our own familiar environment. In our area of activism and policy making, our goal is to encourage Germany to sign and ratify the European Landscape Convention and to find working solutions for today’s most pressing matters of landscape change and landscape use concerning Europe’s new energy policy and the construction of the Intelligent Grid.

— How can students contribute to the development and sustainability of Russia’s cultural landscape?

— I think we desperately need a deeper understanding of landscape as the territorial facet of social development in all its aspects. This touches directly on the economy, politics, and the basic rights and needs of all the citizens. This understanding is vital for a better, consensual, and sustainable development — and we need to build it not only in Russia, but also all over Europe and globally. With all our different cultures and ideological backgrounds that is quite challenging, but we need to better understand these differences as well as find common issues and ideas. And, students are the future decision-makers and intellectual driving force in any country. So it is vital to inspire them and help them create the necessary tools. This canhave a greater impact on future development than any single campaign can achieve, no matter how big and spectacular.

— Is there an interest and demand from European business for such research and advice? Have you been cooperating with any Russian businesses or NGOs? 

— Well, I am really in the NGO and non-profit sector, but, yes, there is a demand for such research and advice. The democratic and participative processes in Europe have many advantages, and I am very much in favour of them, but for the business sector, they can also be trying and sometimes unpredictable. So there is a need to better understand the motivations and dynamics of these processes, to deliver better goods and services, and to avoid unnecessary, time-consuming, and expensive diversions. By the way, that is one of the basic goals of the Environment Impact Assessment formulated by the EU, to find out about possible obstacles to economic or technical development at a very early stage and to find intelligent and consensual solutions–a wide field for consultants and experts, with great demand for research and analysis. We do not co-operate with business companies directly; we co-operate with networks and business associations. Regarding NGOs, which are our main partners, I have to confess that we have no direct co-operation with Russian NGOs yet, but we would love to create links with them.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for the HSE news service

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