In academic conferences, I often meet students and professors from enemy countries, whom I could never have met in normal situations. We both know that we are here for research, and we do talk about research, but there is still tension in the air. Maybe even mutual fear. What can I do to alleviate the tension, so that we can focus on the research?

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    Mutual fear??? I cannot imagine being afraid of any academic based on the country they are from. – StrongBad Mar 31 '16 at 3:14
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    One thing to keep in mind: it's possible that they are not afraid of you, but rather of the legal or political consequences they might face back at home from having been in contact with an enemy citizen. There probably isn't much you can do to alleviate that. – Nate Eldredge Mar 31 '16 at 3:15
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    @ErelSegal-Halevi: I don't know if there are countries where interacting with an enemy citizen is per se illegal. But you can certainly imagine that it might be seen as evidence of espionage or some other improper interaction. – Nate Eldredge Mar 31 '16 at 7:08
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    Frankly I think the term "enemy countries" has no place in academia... – Tobias Kienzler Mar 31 '16 at 11:40
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    Frankly I think the term "enemy countries" should have no place in human life. I also think that academia is not greater than other parts of life, and as the term anyway seems to keep its place in life, there's no use in trying to deny its existence academia. – JiK Mar 31 '16 at 13:49

There has long been a link between scientific collaboration and diplomacy between countries. During some of the deepest parts of the cold war, for example, the United States and the Soviet Union worked together to stamp out polio, and the echoes of "vaccine diplomacy" continue today, uniting people against their common non-human enemies. Even when there is not an explicit cooperative goal of that sort, contacts in a neutral situation can be valuable for helping to promote peace and understanding between different cultures and countries.

I would thus suggest beginning to approach the question not from a perspective of "Who is my enemy?" but from a question of "What are the areas that we can cooperate, even if we are enemies?" and perhaps to read up on ideas in "science diplomacy."

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    shouldn't "even if we are enemies" rather read "even if the countries we currently happen to reside in are enemies"? – Tobias Kienzler Mar 31 '16 at 11:41
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    @TobiasKienzler In principle, I agree with you; I chose the language I did, however, because the OP's question uses language that implies the feeling appears to be extending to the personal level. – jakebeal Mar 31 '16 at 12:00
  • Unfortunately it sounds like that. At least posting the question suggests OP also doesn't fully agree with that "concept" – Tobias Kienzler Mar 31 '16 at 12:10

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