Silvana Malle

Silvana MalleLAUDATIO by Silvana Malle, Professor Emeritus, University of Verona and Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Birmingham

My encounter some thirty years ago  with CREES and its brilliant aliens that have peacefully  run the place since 1963, occurred when, by chance, I met Julian Cooper who enthusiastically - in my bold Latin perception – proposed to review my work on War Communism for possible publication by CUP. That justified regular journeys to Birmingham from Verona, where I was teaching economics as a strong believer in market economics  and open societies  with von Hayek and Karl Popper nested in the  religious corner of my mind. No wonder that seeing and listening to Thatcherite Silvana in the eighties was an amazing experience for CREES’s aliens. But it was the same for me the other way round.

While most in CREES were studying the Soviet experiment with passion and indomitable belief, the extraordinary importance of the “novelties” British politics was impressing on our somnolent societies got downplayed by some, blamed by others, but hardly missed altogether. The aliens’ excitement for Gorbachev’s errors and trials and Eltsin’s adventurous reforms thereafter is by itself evidence of the on-going learning process CREES had been able to set in motion thanks to profound scholarship. The selection of younger scholars – the ones that are taking the baton now like Kasia Wolczuk, Tim Haughton, Richard Connolly to mention the ones I know better, was always based on scientific, honest and forward-looking screening as proved by their rapid success in the academy and beyond.

CREES’s hard core aliens were at the same time passionate and scholarly impeccable. They were aliens in the University where few knew what they were studying and why: this explains the horrid turn-around of the Centre, rated as one of the very top in the world, through different buildings in the last decade. They were aliens to me cautiously stepping out of the majestic, but decadent and squabbling southern Europe.

Coming from a country where preposterous arrogance in research and debates is common, the aliens’ passion for knowledge, scholarly discipline, intellectual honesty, mutual respect, team work and   continuous exchange of views were a powerful scientific blend for which I will always be grateful to CREES and some in particular. In this respect I like to remember Bob Davies for the kindest, knowledgeable, precise and warmly offered intellectual exchanges; Phil Hanson for being always available to discuss ideas and drafts with meticulous care; Ron Amman for his discrete influence and elegant style; et, cela va sans dire, Julian Cooper who in time became a friend for life. 

Determinant for the existence and excellence of CREES have been Marea Arries and Patricia Carr. If my country’s universities could rely on similarly competent and motivated administrative staff, our scientific productivity would be boosted tremendously in no time. Alien Marea and Tricia are the best one could dream of in a team.

My Laudatio to CREES also includes some shooting stars I was fortunate to meet over the years. The  jazz lover and easy going economic geographer, Ann Helgeson, who finally left for the States after a trip to North Africa with a computer nailed on the bottom of her camper she drove all through the Middle East to reach Luxor. I am waiting for her memories to be published. Nick Lampert who successfully turned to Chinese acupuncture after gathering a good knowledge of nerves from dissecting whistleblowing in the Soviet Union. Judy Batt, whose interest for Central and Eastern Europe, exploited at length by the Foreign Office and the European Union Institute for Security Studies of Paris, happily turned into a passion for the creative arts after she realized how boringly similar to Western Europe these countries had become .

The working time I regularly spent in/with CREES from the eighties onward, during which I also happened to be in charge of OECD economic analysis of CEE countries, Russia, China, Brazil and many other emerging markets for longer than a decade, is the best in my life. Beloved aliens, thank you.