Maria Popova

I am an Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University and Scientific Director of the Jean Monnet Centre Montreal. I hold a BA in Spanish Literature and Government from Dartmouth College and a PhD in Government from Harvard University. I have lived and conducted research across Eastern Europe and Eurasia in its various regime incarnations—from growing up in Bulgaria before 1989, through interviewing judges and lawyers in Russia and Ukraine for dissertation research in the 2000s, to researching the politics of anticorruption, judicial reform, and EU integration through fieldwork in Brussels, Bucharest, Sofia, and Kyiv.

My research focuses on two areas of comparative politics: judicial politics with a focus on Europe and post-Communist politics. I am currently an Editor of the Cambridge Elements Series on Politics and Society from Central Europe to Central Asia. In 2017-2021, I held the Jean Monnet Chair “Europe and the Rule of Law”. My first book, entitled Politicized Justice in Emerging Democracies (Cambridge University Press, 2012) examines the weaponization of law to manipulate elections and control the media and the obstacles to judicial independence in Russia and Ukraine in the late-1990s-early 2000s. It won the 2013 Best Book prize from the American Association for Ukrainian Studies. More recent work has analyzed judicial reform in Ukraine, rule of law and protest, the instrumental use of the law in Putin's Russia, the politics of corruption prosecutions across Eastern Europe, and the links between conspiracies, corruption, and illiberalism in Europe. I have published widely in peer-reviewed journals (Comparative Political Studies, Perspectives on Politics, Deadalus, Problems of Communism, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, etc) and in edited volumes.

Since early 2022, when diplomacy failed to prevent Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, I have sought to explain the war to policy makers and a broad audience. The war poses an existential threat to Ukraine’s statehood while also threatening and undermining European security, world democracy, and the international order. With expertise in both Ukraine and Russia, I feel a responsibility to shape an accurate narrative about the war, especially because Russia floods social media with disinformation. I engage with both mainstream media and social media to provide a wide audience with evidence-backed explanations. I have nearly 20K followers on Twitter and have given over 300 interviews for TV, radio, and press on all continents except Africa. I write op-ed/policy pieces and speak at public events and roundtables and have testified in Canada’s parliament. I am doing this extra work because I believe experts can steer public discourse and shape policymakers’ decisions. The positions I have advocated subsequently became conventional wisdom or reality, which gives me hope I have had some impact.

Since arriving at McGill in 2007, I have taught a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses. My most popular courses in rotation introduce students to Eastern European politics, the European Union, politics and law in Europe, rule of law, good governance and corruption, and research methods. You can find some recent syllabi above.

Apart from closely following European politics, I often testify in political asylum and refugee cases as a country expert on Russia and Ukraine. I am also a wannabe, but, alas, mediocre poet and have tried my hand at translation to/from English, Bulgarian and Spanish. I have published various works that have nothing to do with politics-- reflections on my experiences as an international student in the US in the early 1990s, a book of poetry in Bulgarian, and a translated Harlequin novel-- but I do NOT write the Brain Pickings blog or The Marginalian.

Copyright © 2023 Alex O'Neill.