School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Vanier Scholar - Ognen Vangelov

by Natalia Mukhina
November 2015

Ognen Vangelov

Vanier Scholar - Ognen Vangelov

Ognen Vangelov, PhD graduate candidate in the Political Studies department at Queen’s University, is one of the winners of the prestigious Vanier Award, 2015. The Vanier Scholarships program allows Canadian institutions to attract top-tier doctoral students from across Canada and around the world. In the next three years, Vangelov will be seeking out the answer to the question of why some countries are regressing or stagnating on the path to democracy and stabilization.

Vangelov is a unique person. He knows in practice what international relations and “big politics” look like. He has had first-hand experiences of geopolitical global changes in particular, through the historical process of European integration in his country of origin, Macedonia

 “It is a great piece of luck that I had all that experience,” Vangelov says with confidence, describing the course of his life. He was born and raised in Yugoslavia – the southeastern European country that does not exist anymore, and which went through a trying time of armed conflicts. After completing secondary school in the USA as an exchange student, he went back to the newly independent Macedonia to study linguistics.

Using his background in the humanities, Vangelov wrote for various magazines as a journalist and translated Macedonian prose and poetry into English. At the same time, he translated laws and other legal documents, beginning his journey from the ivory tower of linguistics and arts to the “real” world, full of diversity and interdisciplinary problems.

For his graduate studies, Vangelov began to focus on political issues instead of linguistic topics.  “Frankly, it is highly difficult to keep a distance from political topics while they are everywhere around us,” Vangelov states. “I experienced the height of the process of European integration in Macedonia, and so many interesting events happened every day and every minute, literally,” he says enthusiastically. He began working for the International Crisis Group (ICG) as an assistant to the Director of the Macedonia Branch, and analyst, providing much independent insight into current political affairs in the wake of the inter-ethnic conflict in Macedonia in 2001.

Vangelov recalls that he made a final choice in favour of International Relations as a field of research interest while he was doing a master’s degree in the USA, in an interdisciplinary program. It seems Vangelov has an inborn aptitude for finding himself in the thick of things: during his MA studies, the US invasion of Iraq happened, and Vangelov again got an opportunity to observe this important international event directly.

He describes his life in the USA quietly and without awe, as just another period of his life, but sometimes his story sounds like a strange, surprising adventure. “I was able to interview Noam Chomsky, and it seems to be the first such interview for the Macedonian media,” Vangelov mentions that with a gentle smile, but it is obvious that conducting an interview with such a prominent person as the world-famous philosopher, linguist, and political analyst Noam Chomsky is more than just an everyday routine.  It is a journalistic fortune! “My internship supervisor asked me to advocate for victims of the Rwandan genocide who had been denied asylum in the US,” he continues speaking. “I closely worked with two refugees and appealed on their behalf.” What was the result of that process? Their appellations were approved. 

Following the studies in the USA, Vangelov came back to Macedonia to work for the government’s sector for EU. He was involved in the preparation of Macedonia’s application to become a member of the European Union. “I was in charge of the team working on translation databases and glossaries for the project, and then was a team-member of translators of Macedonian legislation for the EU application. There were approximately two thousand pages to translate!” Vangelov laughs.  The government team consisted of thirty professionals, and he considers that experience to have been a great chance to develop managerial skills.

What does he like more, to work with people, or with papers? “Both,” reacts Vangelov instantly. “I like doing both. That is why I like teaching.” He was engaged as a lecturer at the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, and then he went to teach at the National Institute of Eastern Languages and Civilizations in Paris, France. In this period, during the summer, Vangelov led intensive workshops in Macedonian at Indiana University, USA.

“I am forever indebted to my family,” Vangelov adds. “My parents always supported me in all my occupations. My achievements are theirs, equally and undoubtedly.”

Ognen Vangelov smiles again when he thinks back on his first impression of Canada. He is enjoying the life he has found in Kingston. “I came to Kingston from Paris, from a very dynamic city, you know... And I found another dynamic place for my PhD research. It was a good transition for me. Kingston is a really energetic place! There are a lot of students here, and at the same it is a calm place to do research.”

In his doctoral research, Vangelov tends to focus on the problem of “un-democratization”. “I intend to understand and explain the process of how a democracy is becoming a non-democracy,” he says. In Vangelov’s words, un-democratization is the current process of democratic regression, and he intends to take a closer look at the phenomenon by the example of Hungary and Macedonia. “I will examine the evidence of that regress by doing both field work, including interviewing people, and academic research of studying various documents.

Does Vangelov like doing PhD research in Canada? “Absolutely,” he smiles. “It was my dream to pursue the graduate studies in the area of my interest in Canada. Remarkable for its cultural diversity, Canada has to offer a rich and unique tradition in the area of protecting democracy and human rights. Canada could be a good model for European countries as a multicultural and tolerant system of being. It is a great example to follow, really.”

“Hearing the news that my Vanier application had been successful was exciting,” he says. “It is a huge privilege, but concurrently, it is a great responsibility. The Vanier Award encourages me to work further, to work better. It stimulates me to work harder,” underlines Vangelov. He says he loves Queen’s University and that the Department of Political Studies is an excellent place for research work and for interaction between the faculty and students.

Passionate about researching and teaching, Vangelov sets his sights on a career in academia. “It is always difficult to plan for the future, but I would say that my dream is to remain in academia. That would be my goal! I really like working with my students, and I also love academic work. Fortunately, Queen’s University provides an opportunity to combine both of those activities. I like the sense of cooperation and freedom that Queen's has.”