Meet our Postdocs. An interview with Zuzana Hudáková

Zuzana Hudakova

Zuzana Hudáková, PhD in Political Science and International Relations (2018), Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has recently joined CERI as an early postdoc mobility fellow (Mar 2019 – Sep 2020). We are interested in knowing what Zuzana’s research interests are and what she plans to work on during her postdoc at CERI.

Can you tell us a bit about your academic background?

I have done my PhD in Switzerland, at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva. During my graduate studies, I also completed Arabic language modules in Switzerland, the United States, and Tunisia, where I spent 8 months conducting fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation. Thanks to the generous support of the Swiss National Science Foundation, I spent the final stages of my doctoral studies at Yale University, where I was able to work with Professor James C. Scott, whose work has had a deep impact not only on my research but also on the field of resistance studies in general.

Thereafter, I was a junior visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Studies in Vienna, which brings together a broad range of scholars focusing on the study of Central and Eastern Europe. Since fall 2017, I have been a visiting lecturer at the European School of Political and Social Sciences (ESPOL) of Lille Catholic University, where I teach courses on International Relations and the Arab Spring. I am also an associate researcher at the Graduate Institute, where I work on a project analyzing the use and effectiveness of United Nations targeted sanctions.


What was the subject of your PhD? What were your thematic and geographic areas of focus?

I wrote my PhD on the dynamics of protest in authoritarian regimes. In particular, I looked at protest developments during the last decade of authoritarian rule in communist Czechoslovakia and in Tunisia under President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Following the evolution of protest from resistance to revolution, I wanted to show that the popular uprisings that brought the two regimes down did not come out of nowhere – as sometimes erroneously portrayed – but that they presented a culmination of both long-lasting and newly growing discontent among the population. This is not to say that the outbreak of the protests, or their particular timing, was inevitable or somehow predictable, but that overlooking the less “spectacular” forms of protest will leave us surprised when large-scale popular challenges emerge, especially in seemingly stable authoritarian regimes. This was the case both in 1989, when popular protests toppled communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, and in 2011, when a wave of popular uprisings calling for greater political, social, and economic rights swept across the Middle East and North Africa.

Besides covering both waves of democratization, my choice of Czechoslovakia and Tunisia also allowed me to combine evidence gathered from the perspective of the state as well as that of the society, which is generally difficult to do in a single case study. In the relatively recent case of Tunisia, I have conducted interviews with different types of societal actors, exploring the different forms of protest as well as the regime’s practices of control from their points of view. In the more historical case of Czechoslovakia, I have consulted materials kept by the Czechoslovak Secret Police on the so-called “internal enemy.” The documentation revealed not only the logic of the regime’s repressive practices but also a treasure trove of specific instances of people’s transgressions, captured through the eyes of the coercive apparatus. Together, they pointed to the importance of such seemingly “banal” forms of protest, not only to the people engaged in them but also to the regimes themselves, revealing their subversive potential.


You are coming to CERI for an 18 months postdoctoral fellowship. What will you be working on?

During my time at CERI, I will be working on a project exploring patterns of domination and resistance in three different authoritarian contexts: Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iran, which significantly broadens the types of authoritarian regimes I study. Chile under Augusto Pinochet is perhaps the most typical case of a military regime, the DRC under Mobutu Sese Seko presents an emblematic personalist regime with strong kleptocratic features, and contemporary theocratic Iran, combining representative features with traditional religious authority, is itself an important sui generis case. I am particularly interested to see if similar patterns of protest-control dynamics that I have identified in Tunisia and Czechoslovakia can be found in other types of authoritarian regimes, time periods, and regions.

Cross-regional comparative studies of authoritarian regimes, especially interdisciplinary ones, are relatively rare. I feel very fortunate that I am able to undertake my post-doctoral research at the CERI, not only because of the quality of the research conducted here but also because of the vast regional expertise it concentrates. As many of the CERI’s topical and regional clusters overlap with my areas of interest, I could not imagine a better place to conduct my research.


Besides your research on authoritarian regimes, you also work on a very different topic – UN sanctions. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Yes, indeed, I’ve been working on two very different research topics over the past 6 years. On the one hand, authoritarian vulnerability and resilience and, on the other, UN sanctions.

Sanctions are increasingly common foreign policy instruments employed by both countries and regional organizations to achieve a broad range of objectives from counter-terrorism to democracy support. But UN sanctions are unique. Not only are they legally binding on all 193 UN member states but they also frequently present the basis for additional unilateral or multilateral sanctions regimes. Yet, there is relatively little systematic understanding of their past use, impact, and effectiveness.

The research conducted by the Targeted Sanctions Consortium (TSC), of which I became part in 2013, aimed to fill this gap by systematically analyzing all UN targeted sanctions regimes imposed since the end of the Cold War. Although the project ended in 2016, its work is continued by Professor Thomas Biersteker, who was a co-director of the TSC project, Dr. Marcos Tourinho, and myself. Every year, we conduct an update of the project’s findings, which we make available to the broader public through SanctionsApp, a free computer and phone-based platform. Besides producing academic publications, we try to increase the policy impact of our findings through consultancies, presentations, and training programs for UN sanctions practitioners from both the UN and member states. Most recently, we have been studying the interaction of UN sanctions and mediation, because although the two policy instruments are generally applied simultaneously, there is fairly little active coordination between them and relatively underdeveloped understanding – among practitioners as well as researchers – of their potential impact on each other.

Overall, my involvement in the UN sanctions project allows me to engage directly with both academia and the policy world, which is a welcome complement to my academic work.


Interview by Miriam Perier, CERI

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