A Trip Down Woodstock Road

It’s very early and freezing cold when I start my trip to the Vienna Airport. I’m taking the first flight to London, so I can make it in time for the Russian and East European Studies Discussion Group at the University of Oxford. Anna J. Davis has invited me to talk about my latest book Ukraine in Central and Eastern Europe, and also the IDM. From Gatwick I take a direct bus to Gloucester Green and have now three hours almost for myself. Spoilt by Austrian mobile internet, cross-country trips in other European states give you involuntary digital detox. Or is it maybe Brexit slowing down roaming for EU member networks? Anyway, I use the opportunity to also work on my pile of fiction books that I haven’t read yet. I’ve forgotten why I picked William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise”, or how I came across it. Maybe because it is set in Vienna. But while I am on my way to Woodstock Road, where St. Antony’s College is located, I read this: 

While I walk past the mentioned place, my phone alerts me that the Moldovan government has just stepped down. I can’t really grasp it, too many things happening at the same time. A cabinet reshuffle had been rumoured, but why would the whole cabinet resign? A question we’re also debating during my input for the discussion. The room is located in the old part of St. Antonys’s the church now functions as the library. A stark contrast to the owl standing on the table. The 360-degree camera offers the possibility to participate virtually and still see whoever speaks around the table. We discuss how the idea for the book was developed, the challenges during the compilation as well as how the full-scale invasion has changed the relevance of the content. Austrian neutrality, German hesitancy, and Hungarian reluctance towards supporting Ukraine are debated. We also talk about the IDM, the transition of its mission during the past 70 years, and the importance of a regional think tank. It is over far too quickly, and the diverse and knowledgeable group is a delight to exchange opinions with. I am still processing all the impressions while I am already back in the train towards Paddington Station.  

I meet with a friend in the evening for dinner in London. As a journalist, she writes a lot and we talk about the process. We both perceive it as painful, she gestures slitting her wrists open. Hemingway comes to mind. “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. I would add that sweet release, when something is finished, when it is out there in the world. But it also never ends. Sitting in the Stansted Express, I type these words, thinking about all the things I still haven’t written. But also about how incredibly privileged it is to have the possibility to publish my own thoughts and opinions, as well getting to talk about them with all these interesting people in different settings and countries. For the rest of the journey, I try to finish Boyd. So the list of things I haven’t read gets a little shorter. 


Author: Sebastian Schäffer 


This event might also be of interest for you:

Ukraine in Central and Eastern Europe, roundtable: Changes in Ukrainian foreign policy since February 2022 and perspectives from Central and Eastern Europe