We are very sad to have to report that one of our successful Europaeum alumni, Christopher Allen, died in South Sudan last Saturday (26th August, 2017), aged 26. Chris was killed in a heavy fight between rebel and government troops in the town of Kaya, while reporting on the ensuring civil war in Africa’s youngest state.
Chris was an MA graduate in the 2013-14 cohort of the Europaeum’s pioneering MA in European History and Civilisation programme, which involves graduates drawn from all over the world, studying for one term each at Leiden, Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, and Oxford universities, graduating from Leiden with a Europaeum Certificate.
Chris wrote a remarkable MA thesis on “Breaking Mau Mau: British Efforts to ‘Rehabilitate’ the Mau Mau and Create New Citizens of Kenya’ and, after graduation, began (or continued to work) as an independent front-line journalist, reporting on the Russia-Ukraine conflicts in Crimea and the Donbass. He went to intense conflict situations in search of the ‘real stories’, Mark Hugen, a fellow Europaeum student, remembers. Seeing, as he always said, more as a contemporary historian, with his reporting as ‘an extension of his studies’ of what war was like and how it influenced ordinary people.
He personally lived and travelled with many of the Ukrainian forces and has written for the Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph, and Al Jazeera, among others. In 2015, we invited Chris to speak about his work as part of our international conference on Crises in Europe. While nervous speaking ‘in front of a learned and academic audience’ he gave a rivetting first-hand, and strongly-illustrated report on “Europe’s Soldier in the Ukraine: Fighting for Freedom?” Though we had ministers, defence analysts, OSCE policy heads and many distinguished scholars, it was Chris’s paper that left a special impression on all there.
Our Secretary-General, Paul Flather, recalls: “Chris struck me as an incredibly brave and always stimulating young man, never one to do the usual or to follow the crowd. He was utterly committed to a search for a deeper truth, and saw himself as someone who would quite deliberately go where others feared to tread in his search for the real story behind the headlines and cosy reporting. That is important for understanding for all the rest of us. Few have the courage to do that. Those that do, perhaps, realise deep down, that, one day, the risks may prove overwhelming. Chris was just that person, committed to truth-seeking. This is a tragedy and we think now of his friends, family and those who taught him. Hats off to him. I salute him.”
His fellow Europaeum students add: “It was his calling to report on these conflicts, which tragically cost him his life. While the horrible nature of Chris’s passing has moved all of us greatly, we would like to remember Chris as we got to know him during the Europaeum: a passionate, determined, bright fellow student.”
We bid farewell to our friend, now lost.
Our thoughts are with Chris’ family and friends.