Member Spotlights

As a means of highlighting the recent publications and scholarly work of current members, the SSA will post ‘Member Spotlight’ interviews at regular intervals.

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Kevin Deegan-Krause

Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Wayne State University

Kevin Deegan-Krause is Associate Professor of Political Science at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. His research focuses on political parties and democracy in Europe with emphasis on Europe’s newer democracies and its newer parties.
His newest book, co-authored with Dr. Timothy Haughton of the University of Birmingham, is The New Party Challenge: Changing Cycles of Party Birth Death in Central Europe and Beyond (Oxford University Press, 2020) 

When and how did you first develop an interest in Slovak or Slovak-area studies?

I had the great good fortune of teaching English in Czechoslovakia (in Plzen) in 1990-1991 and I was hooked.  When I went back to the US to go to graduate school in political science, I found that the breakup of Czechoslovakia made for a perfect political science experiment and a great excuse to get back to this place I loved, and I realized that while I knew a little about the Czech lands, I knew too little about Slovakia, and I so I started my research and language learning there.  Although I didn’t give much thought to this decision at the time, it was pivotal in providing me with a home not only for my research but for my heart, and though my research now extends well beyond Slovakia, it is always to Slovakia that I return when I do my field work.  And Slovakia has returned the favor by continuing to offer fascinating politics and an endless stream of new parties (though as often happens, what is great for me as a researcher may not be great for the countries that I am researching).

What is your current research/work project? 

My co-author Tim Haughton and I are really happy about the publication of our new book, The New Party Challenge (Oxford University Press, 2020) whose subtitle tells our story: “Changing Cycles of Party Birth and Death in Central Europe and Beyond.”  As often happens, the idea for the book came from small details we noticed in the places we were studying most closely, especially the new parties that popped up in Slovakia in 2002: Pavel Rusko’s Alliance for the New Citizen (ANO) and Robert Fico’s Direction (Smer).  Our new book started from that point but quickly led to a comprehensive analysis of political parties in the entire region in terms of their newness and the qualities that usually went along with newness: low or lightweight organization, strong emphasis on corruption and their own novelty, and a heavy dependence on party leaders who were noted for their celebrity or personal wealth.  Of course this makes these parties more fragile than others and so we see the odd circumstance of party systems with a few old parties that have survived and a whole bunch of new parties in a continual cycle of coming and going.  Slovakia is a leader in that trend but it’s one of many countries that’s currently experiencing those cycles.  And as we’ve wrapped up this book, we’ve decided to go deeper and try to understand more about these new parties (which I hope to do when I get back to Slovakia, as soon as I possibly can) and to start thinking about how we can overcome the shrinkage of our political time-horizons so that we can once again make policy intended for the long term problems we face.

Please say a few words about any activities or projects you’re involved in that link academia with society at large.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Friends of Slovakia (FoS) on public presentations, and participating in Helen Fedor’s Slovak-language conversation group, and for quite a while I was an active blogger on Slovak politics, until the excellent work by the Slovak Spectator and other online resources made my work there unnecessary.  It is so important for us to be able to make our work accessible for people who want to know what we are learning without having to first learn all of the technical frameworks that shape our work.  It is great sometimes to be able to put those to one side (until somebody asks about them) and say “here’s what we found when we looked carefully and here’s why our social science methods allow us to say that we’re pretty sure what we’re saying is correct.

What Slovakia-related book or article would you recommend to readers who wish to learn more about some of Slovakia’s most pressing issues? 

I hope everybody has a chance to read John Gould’s book, Fragile Dreams: Liberalism and Power in Central Europe (University of Michigan, forthcoming in 2021), which is a remarkable comprehensive and accessible history of the region over the last 30 years that looks at all the big themes and manages to explain really big concepts with beautiful little stories taken from his time in the region.  It really is a book everybody with an interest in Slovakia should read.    

For those who want to delve deeper into the scholarship on the region, there has been a torrent of great scholarship about Slovakia’s politics by Slovak scholars, and on the issues that I care most about—political parties and democracy—there are great recent papers by Slovak scholars: Marek Rybář and Peter Spáč (“Social Origin Is No Destiny” in East European Politics and Society in 2019), and Oľga Gyárfášová and Lukáš Linek (“The role of Incumbency, Ethnicity, and New Parties,” in Politologický časopis in 2019) and Darina Malova (Transformation Experiences in Slovakia,” Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in 2017).  

I was also delighted to see that the Czech Journal of Political Science (Politologický časopis), in a show of Czechoslovak solidarity, did a really nice special issue devoted to Slovakia’s elections, with articles from many of the authors above along with Vlastimil Havlík, Aneta Világi, Pavol Baboš, Peter Just, Peter Učeň, Michal Škop, and other amazing scholars I have had the chance to meet during my work in Slovakia. 

On broader lines, I was impressed by Petra Guasti and Lenka Bustikova’s groundbreaking (and sometimes heartbreaking) work on LGBTQ struggles in the region (“In Europe’s Closet” in East European Politics in 2020), and James Ward did a tour de force historical treatment of WWII-era Slovakia in his Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia (Cornell University Press, 2013).  And of course there’s my interviewer’s own “Forgotten Velvet” (in New Perspectives in 2019) which sheds new light on a the distinctive role of eastern Slovakia which so often gets lost in our focus on activity in the capital.

What is your favorite place in Slovakia to visit and why?

I have always been fascinated by Slovakia’s castles and castle towns and I really enjoy Kremnica and Banska Stiavnica and Trencin, but I always gravitate to the bustle of cities and so for me it always comes back to Kosice and Bratislava, especially the 19th century neighborhoods around the castle, but even the 20th century developments such as Karlova Ves and Ruzinov which, though they were not at first sight beautiful, were comfortable and pleasant places to live.

Kevin McNamara

I am an Associate Scholar of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia, PA, and currently serve as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts & Sciences, Washington, DC.  I am a former journalist and congressional aide.

When and how did you first develop an interest in Slovak or Slovak-area studies?

During a trek across Siberia in 1993, shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed, I became vaguely aware of the legend of the Czecho-Slovak Legion, which, among other things, seized the entire Trans-Siberian Railway in 1918.  The story was dramatic and also consequential, so I assumed I could acquire a book or two about this historic episode back in the States.  Once home, I could not find a serious history, in English, that was still in print.  Years of research led me to a trove of Czech-language, first-hand accounts by the legionnaires, which had been published in Prague in the 1920s, but then suppressed.  I arranged to have these stories translated into English, and I then proceeded to write a narrative history of the Legion, Dreams of a Great Small Nation, which was published by the Public Affairs imprint of the Hachette Book Group in 2016.  It was translated into Czech and Slovak and reissued by Slovart Publishing Ltd., in Czechia and Slovakia in 2020.  Among other things, the book prompted the U.S. State Department to sponsor my speaking tour of five Czech and Slovak cities in May 2018.

What is your current research/work project?  (Please include a link to any new publication.)

I continue to write essays and book reviews about Central and Eastern Europe, the European Union, nation-states vs. transnationalism, empires vs. nationalism, and about sovereignty and national identity, using history, geography, and culture to shed light on international affairs.  One of my more recent articles was published in The National Interest: “From Brussels, with Love,” The National Interest (September/October 2019).  Online: “How America’s European Allies Got Stuck in a Foreign Policy Triangle.”  

Please say a few words about any activities or projects you’re involved in that link academia with society at large (i.e., any digital/podcast projects, community lectures/publications, etc.)

I was interviewed about my book, Dreams of a Great Small Nation, by three Czech television news programs (CNN-Czechia, Česká Televise, and Seznam Zprávy); two Slovak news magazines (Tyzden and Slovenka); a Slovak news website (; two Czech newspapers (Hospodářské Noviny and Lidovky); and twice by Radio Prague.  

The book was excerpted in three American periodicals, Military History QuarterlyRussian Life, and Slovo: A Publication of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.  It was also excerpted in a journal in the Slovak Republic, Historická Revue.  Another excerpt will soon appear in a journal, elaborately named The Bulletin of the Laboratory of Ancient Technologies, published by Irkutsk National Research Technical University, Irkutsk, Russian Federation.

The book also inspired a museum exhibit, Guts & Glory: The War Train that Shaped a Nation, at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, IA, which ran from April 7, 2018 through December 31, 2018, and for which I served as the consultant.

Finally, it led to two dozen speaking engagements at venues like the Woodrow Wilson International for Scholars, Washington, DC; Czechoslovak Society of Arts & Sciences, New York, NY; Embassy of the Slovak Republic, Washington, DC; Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, Pittsburgh, PA; Czech Center New York, NY; and World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, PA; National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Cedar Rapids, IA; and at overseas venues like the Slovak National Museum, Bratislava; and Masaryk University, Brno.  

What Slovakia-related book or article would you recommend to readers who wish to learn more about some of Slovakia’s most pressing issues?  

SSA faculty would probably have better answers to this question than I, but an undergraduate might profit by reading the following books, and in the following order:

  • The History of Slovakia: The Struggle for Survival, by Stanislav J. Kirschbaum.
  • The Slovak National Awakening: An Essay in the Intellectual History of East Central Europe, by Peter Brock.
  • Dreams of a Great Small Nation: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe, by Kevin J. McNamara.
  • National Conflict in Czechoslovakia: The Making and Remarking of a State, 1918-1987, by Carol Skalnik Leff.

What is your favorite place in Slovakia to visit and why?

I’ve been only twice, and the first time the U.S. State Department staff whisked me from venue to venue and – while I said much – I saw very little.  The second visit was a much-needed vacation, and I just wandered Bratislava. Bratislava is an overlooked gem, and I want to return to both the Slovak and Czech republics to explore the many other smaller cities and towns.  

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