Opening the Semi-Periphery: Decolonisation and Socialist Hungary

Research Plan for the Open Society Archives

Following the line of recent studies on global socialisms and postsocialisms (Apor and Iordachi 2005; Tulbure 2009; Gille 2010; Éber et al. 2014), “socialist globalisation” and “the other globalisers” (Mark and Apor 2014; Bockman et al. forthcoming), this research argues for a global perspective in understanding the interconnected development of the post-WWII Eastern European semi-periphery and the global periphery, by focusing on the case of reform economists and foreign policy in Hungary (Éber et al. 2014; cf. Petrovici 2015).

After de-Stalinisation, the détente period saw an economic upturn in the global economy, the opening up of global diplomatic and trade relations, the international impact of the 1956 revolution, and the process of decolonisation. These developments facilitated “opening up” export-oriented growth strategies, and the simultaneous reconfiguration of transnational networks and global development imaginations in several Eastern European countries, especially Poland and Hungary. More particularly, decolonisation ignited contradictory Hungarian reflections and actions towards affected regions. Behind the facade of ideological fight against imperialism there evolved a realpolitik of manoeuvring between Western and Soviet influences in order to reap the benefits of bilateral trade agreements, and the exporting of expertise, technology, and Hungary’s own models of development. Resulting ideological ambivalences are shown, for example, in that despite the anti-racial condemnation of apartheid, early secret trade negotiations between Hungary had already begun with South Africans in 1960. Semi-peripheral manoeuvring is also evident in the rise of joint development projects between Hungary and Western partners in Africa and the Middle East in the 1970s (Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Syria), with a simultaneous shift from communist countries’ pro-Zionist politics towards heavy anti-Zionist propaganda (as facilitators of neocolonialism), which led to Eastern European countries’ breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel due to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Foreign political pragmatism is also well captured in the ambivalent Hungarian discourse of Third Worldism, both as a spatial development category and as a “third way” alternative of economic development connected to the Non-Aligned Movement (1961). In the Non-Aligned country of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah negotiated a vast network of capitalist and socialist experts, especially from Eastern Europe, and assigned a Hungarian delegation of economists led by József Bognár to develop Ghana’s first seven-year plan in the early 1960s. Due to this assignment, Bognár – a close friend of János Kádár – could establish the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (1963/65), whose staff wrote regular reports to the Foreign Ministry, worked on various assignments in international organisations and promoted an active foreign policy and the export-oriented development of Hungary, and a turn towards the decolonised global periphery.

Using contemporary literature in critical geography and international relations, and specifically in postcolonial, decolonial theory and world-systems analysis, this research aims to reassemble the local knowledge production of global geographical concepts and foreign policy information flow in the context of Hungary’s semi-peripheral relations. The reports and collected materials of the Radio Free Europe and the Radio Liberty Research Institute on foreign policy, trade and diplomatic relations offer a glimpse into how concerning actors in the West perceived Hungarian trajectories connected to formerly colonized and “underdeveloped” regions. This should offer clues into their focus and available information, and allows for the comparison of their monitoring activities with official foreign policy documents (e.g. national strategies, delegation reports). With the aim of reviewing delegations and international projects of experts, education, trade, and media coverage until the end of the 1970s, this research wishes to focus on three main aspects.

First, it aims to understand how Hungarian reform economists and politicians after de-Stalinization developed alternative geographical concepts of socialist globalization. Breaking off from Cold War conceptual dichotomies, they opted to reposition their country in the global development hierarchy of centre-periphery relations and reap the political economic benefits of decolonisation, in order to tackle increasing global competition and world economic restructuration, and to enable the successful integration into the world economy. By the late 1960s and the 1970s, new comparative analytical concepts such as “semi-periphery” (Szentes 1971), “small economies” (Kádár 1971), “open economies” (Kozma 1980) had emerged at the CAAR and its successor, the World Economic Institute (1973–) and related institutions and ministries. It is worth noting that most members of the research staff conflicted with Party orthodoxy, and used their scientific activities to propose policy reforms under Bognár’s political “shield”. The OSA materials provide a fruitful empirical ground to scrutinize the political efforts of these reform economists (especially József Bognár), and their strategies to influence and develop connections with politics and media, mediating between Hungarian and Third World political events.

Second, this research aims to unravel the much-overlooked global historical interconnectivity of the Second and Third Worlds, and the foreign economic connections and exchange between semi-peripheral development models (Chari and Verderi 2009; Ward 2010; Mark and Apor 2014). As Eastern European reformers pushed towards “market socialism”, the acquiring of advanced technology and foreign currency from the West implied finding ways to finance development either through foreign loans or export-oriented growth. This facilitated strategies of exporting expertise and investments into the Third World, gathering raw materials to downplay Soviet resource dependency, and to seek or exchange state-led development models, such as in the cases of Francoist Spain, Allendist Chile, and the authoritarian models of the “East Asian Tigers” (Bockman et al. forthcoming).

Third, reformist ambitions generated virulent debates connected to the country’s shifting foreign trade policies and lobbying activity in international organizations (UNCTAD, UNIDO, UNITAR, GATT, Third World Forum), manoeuvring the semi-peripheral country between “East” and “West” to gain investment and trade benefits. In the context of decolonisation and the opening up of global politics with the participation of new geopolitical actors, Eastern European socialist countries used various strategies to reposition themselves between “developed” and “undeveloped/developing” countries in their individual urge to “catch up” with the West. Thus Hungarian negotiations of trade relations with decolonised countries aimed to transcend Soviet influence, CMEA integration, national political regimes and boundaries.

The output of this research aims to contribute to recent literature on the theoretical and methodological approaches of transnational or global history (Conrad 2016), postcolonial and decolonial theory (Moore 2001; Chakrabarty 2007; Boatca and Costa 2012), and world-systems theory (especially the works of Wallerstein, Frank, and Chase-Dunn) in order to understand the emergent strategies of Hungarian knowledge production in the interconnected transnational networks of centre-periphery relations (Powell 2007; Ward 2010; Keim 2014). It also aims to highlight the very early trajectories of reform economists’ “market socialism” in a global perspective (cf. Bockman 2011), and how Hungarian reformist thought was influenced by postcolonial contexts and the transnational exchange of geographical development models, which had important intellectual and political continuities into the post-1989 era. Moreover, Hungarian foreign policies and investment strategies of the 1970s in the Third World had a huge effect on the economic crisis after the 1989 system change; for example, Middle East countries indebted to Hungary became insolvent after constant war and the fall of their authoritarian regimes. The above historical contexts are also illuminating with regards to the post-2010 “global opening” proposed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, which curiously referred to the historical accomplishments of Hungarian foreign policies, consequently following the semi-peripheral path of manoeuvring between “East” and “West” and strategically investing capital and exporting expertise in the countries of the global periphery.


Apor, P., Iordachi, C. (2005): Társadalomtörténet Kelet-Közép-Európában: Regionális nézőpontok globális összefüggésben. Korall, 23.: 187–195.
Boatca, M., Costa, S. (2012): Postcolonial Sociology: A Research Agenda. In: Rodríguez, E. G., Boatca, M. (eds.): Decolonizing European Sociology: Transdisciplinary Approaches. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing.

Bockman, J. (2011): Markets in the Name of Socialism: The Left-Wing Origins of Neoliberalism. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bockman, J., Feygin, Y., Mark, J. (forthcoming): The Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Alternative Globalisations 1950s–1980s. Manuscript.

Chakrabarty, D. (2007): Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chari, S., Verdery, K. (2009): Thinking Between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51(1): 6–34.

Conrad, S. (2016): What is Global History? Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Éber, M., Gagyi, Á., Gerőcs, T., Jelinek, C., Pinkasz, A. (2014): 1989: Szempontok a rendszerváltozás globális politikai gazdaságtanához. Fordulat, 21.: 10–63.

Gille, Z. (2010): Is there a Global Postsocialist Condition? Global Society, 24(1): 9–30.

Kádár, B. (1971): Kis országok a világgazdaságban. Budapest: Közgazdasági és Jogi Könyvkiadó.

Keim, W., Celik, E., Erche, C., Wöhrer, V. (eds.)(2014): Global Knowledge Production in the Social Sciences: Made in Circulation. Corchester (UK): Ashgate.

Kozma, F. (1980): A nyitott szerkezetű gazdaság. Budapest: Kossuth.

Mark, J., Apor, P. (2014): Socialism Goes Global: Decolonization and the Making of a New Culture of Internationalism in Socialist Hungary, 1956–1989. The Journal of Modern History, 87: 852–891.

Melegh, A. (2006): On the East-West Slope: Globalization, Nationalism, Racism and Discourses on Central and Eastern Europe. Budapest: CEU Press.

Melegh, A. (2015): Globális ötvenes évek. Eszmélet, 27(105): 182–191.

Moore, D. C. (2001): Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique. PMLA, 116(1): 111–128.

Petrovici, N. (2015): Framing Criticism and Knowledge Production in Semi-peripheries: Post-socialism Unpacked. Intersections, 1(2):

Powell, R. C. (2007): Geographies of Science: Histories, Localities, Practices, Futures. Progress in Human Geography, 31(3): 309–329.

Tulbure, N. (2009): Introduction to Special Issue: Global Socialisms and Postsocialisms. Anthropology of Eastern Europe Review, 27(2): 1–18.

Szentes, T. (1971): The Political Economy of Underdevelopment. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

Ward, S. (2010): Transnational Planners in a Postcolonial World. In: Healey, P., Upton, R. (eds.): Crossing Borders: International Exchange and Planning Practices. London and New York: Routledge. 47–72.

What happens when we do not defend academic freedom?

A new publication in the Journal of European Public Policy by Berthold Rittberger and Jeremy Richardson (both are editors of the journal) appeared, carrying the title “What happens when we do not defend academic freedom”. It has:

  1. No abstract.
  2. No introduction.

  3. No argument and contribution.

  4. No analysis.

  5. No conclusion and avenues for future research.

  6. No more questions asked.

Only one keyword: #IstandwithCEU

Térbeli fordulat a tudománytörténetben? A tudományos tudás történeti földrajza

Április 25-én az ELTE TáTK Tudománykutató Központjának előadássorozatában adok elő a szűkebb szakterületemről, amelyből a disszertációmat is írom. Az időpont várhatóan 14:00 (egyeztetés alatt), helyszín a Tanári Klub lesz. Az alábbiakban olvasható az előadás összefoglalója:

Hol képződik a tudományos tudás? Miért éppen ezeken a helyeken? Hogyan terjed, kik és miért mozgósítják? Kikhez jut el a termelt tudás? Miként változik a tartalma vagy jelentése útközben és más-más átvételi helyeken? Egy tudományos elmélet vagy eredmény megítélésekor gyakran szoktak annak nemzetköziségére vagy éppen hazai relevanciájára utalni. De hogyan és miért váltak nemzetközivé vagy hazaivá bizonyos helyekről származó elméletek, eszmék, módszerek vagy kutatási irányzatok, míg mások miért nem? Mi áll az átvétel vagy elvetés, a fordítás és értelmezés motivációi és politikái mögött, miért olvassák vagy terjesztik másképpen a műveket, használják másképpen az eszközöket, módszereket? Melyek a tudományos provincializmus vagy kozmopolitizmus mozgatórugói, és kik a helyi tudás ún. „hermeneutikai kapuőrei”? Az előadásom célja ilyen és ehhez hasonló, a tudás térbeliségét feszegető kérdések mentén áttekintést adni a magyar tudományban még szinte ismeretlen kutatási terület, a tudásföldrajz, ezen belül a tudományos tudás történeti földrajzának fő problémaköreiről.

Habár a tudománytörténet-írásban és a tudományszociológiában korábban is szerepeltek a fenti szempontok, mégis csak az 1990-es évek második felétől figyelhető meg a kifejezetten tudásföldrajzi szemléletű kutatások megjelenésének hulláma, a tudománytörténet-írás „térbeli fordulatát” jelezve. Előadásomban, a tudásföldrajz irányzatának hazai megjelenésére adott önreflexiómat követően, a földrajz fogalomkészletén keresztül igyekszem körüljárni, hogy mennyiben módosítják vagy destabilizálják az „egyetemes” tudományról alkotott felfogásainkat a hely, a tér, a táj, az áramlás, illetve a globális, a regionális, az állami, a helyi és a testi léptékek és léptékviszonyok. Ide tartoznak a különböző episztemikus (megismerési) terek eltérő gyakorlatai, a tudás térbeli reprezentációinak politikái (pl. modellek, térképek, kiállítások), illetve hogy a tudás jellege hogyan hat a tudástermelő hely morfológiájára, és ez hogyan hat vissza a tudás tartalmára. A „távvezérelt” tudomány és terepmunka konfliktusai mellett szót érdemel a nemzeti vagy helyi tudományos hagyományok rivalizálása, és a transznacionális vagy globális tudáshálózatok történeti kialakulásának politikái is. Tudománytörténeti példáim bemutatása során igyekszem rámutatni, hogy a különböző irányzatok, mint a kritikai földrajz, a posztkoloniális kritika, a világrendszer-elemzés és a cselekvő-hálózat elmélet megközelítései hogyan járultak hozzá a fenti kérdések megválaszolásához.

Előadásomban végül amellett fogok érvelni, hogy miért szükséges a tudomány térbeli-társadalmi szerepére kritikai megközelítésben reflektálnunk. Ugyanis az, amit a tudományban vagy a tudományról mondhatunk eleve attól függ, hogy milyen térbeli pozíciókból és milyen társadalmi terekben szólalunk meg, míg az adott tudásforma megjelenésének és elfogadtatásának folyamata is már meglévő térbeli hálózatokba és lehetőségfeltételekbe ágyazódik. Fontos tehát megismernünk, hogy hogyan követhetjük nyomon a különböző emberi és nem-emberi szereplők (tudósok, szakpolitikusok, gépek, eszközök, módszerek, elméletek, modellek, stb.) térbeli életrajzait vagy térpályáit, és ezek milyen kapcsolatban állnak a tudományos tudás egyenlőtlen eloszlásával, illetve térbeli határainak és hozzáférésének felügyeletével és meghatározásával, beleértve a „tudós” és a „tudomány” helyi legitimálásának kérdéseit. Kritikailag kell reflektálnunk továbbá azokra a tudásföldrajzi hatalmi mechanizmusokra is, amelyek meghatározzák, hogy mely cselekvőket említjük meg vagy hallgatjuk el a tudománytörténet kanonizált helyi narratíváiban, vagy hogy az egyes tudományfelfogások és irányzatok mögött milyen „megismerési térpolitikák” állnak, és hogy hogyan viszonyulnak egymáshoz a tudástermelés és -fogyasztás helyei. A tudománytörténet olyan megközelítése mellett fogok érvelni, amely a tudás térbeli áramlását és hálózatait a tudástermelés centrum-periféria viszonyaival és hegemóniaváltásaival összefüggésben értékeli. Az orientalizmus, az eurocentrizmus és a kelet-európaiságunk konstruálásának immár széles kritikai szakirodalma rámutatott, hogy az olykor egyetemesnek vagy globálisnak tűnő tudományos tudásformák helyi hatalmi törekvésekhez kötődtek, és tágabb politikai gazdasági folyamatokba ágyazódva gyakran más helyi tudásformák vagy hagyományok elnyomásán, kizsákmányolásán, elfeledtetésén vagy háttérbe szorításán is alapultak.  Így tehát felvetődnek azok a kritikai kérdések, hogy milyen térbeli egyenlőtlenségeket termelnek (újra) az adott tudásmobilizáló csoportok, milyen tétjei vannak a különböző léptékekhez kötődő tudáspolitikáknak (pl. globális tudomány- és társadalomtörténet magyarországi oktatásának kérdése), és végül mi, tudósok a saját térbeli szerepeinkre reflektálva hogyan tudnánk társadalmilag igazságosabb és az adott léptékviszonyokat jobban figyelembe vevő tudást létrehozni?

On recent government actions against CEU


I stand with CEU.

I am writing this post because I’ve found the recent government actions against international higher educational institutions with foreign foundations operating in Hungary very worrisome. More concretely, I have grave thoughts about the discriminatory acts, offensive discourse and highly ideological rhetoric against Central European University. Although I had not been enrolled in the degree programs of the university, my personal research activity and professional collaborations have been closely connected to this institution, and its incredible library has helped me attain materials I could not have done so elsewhere. In my view, CEU represents not only an internationally recognized standard that our country should be very proud of, but also forms an academic hub greatly affecting intellectual and cultural life in Budapest and Hungary. Most of the students and staff are Hungarian, working on projects closely linked to Hungary, organizing conferences and events addressing Hungarian issues, and in collaboration with a range of international and domestic universities and research institutions. Many of my friends, fellow scholars and students are working on amazing projects there, and the professional opportunities and international contacts have a decisive impact on their careers. The function of CEU in Hungary and Eastern Europe is also critical if we consider that its work is devoted to Cold War and Post-Soviet Studies, and perhaps its most important aims are developing civil society and influencing a democratic and inclusive society. CEU and the Open Society Archives have been important facilitators of my research on understanding socialist era Hungary and postsocialist processes. I believe that for many of us CEU is a window to the international world, a window that must remain open.

The No. T/14686 planned modification of the Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education broke the news on 28 March. Its paragraphs on “international” universities was not negotiated with any relevant and affected actors, but came by their total surprise, and is planned to be voted upon next week (Monday or Wednesday), which is an ultrarapid process. After one meeting with CEU on 30 March, the government authorities declared that no further negotiations will be possible and they are determined to put through the legislation.

Apart from this context, the modification plan includes in its “general justification” an argument that declares international scientific activity in the country to conform to the foreign policy goals and national security interests of the Hungarian state:

“the related provisions of the National Higher Education Act must ensure the enforcement of the Hungarian government’s motives, foreign policy goals, and the timely national security aspects concerning student and lecturer mobility under functioning international relations, in supporting and determining the directions and field of international higher education cooperation.” (p. 5)

“az Nftv. vonatkozó rendelkezéseinek biztosítania kell a nemzetközi felsőoktatási együttműködés irányát, területét meghatározó, támogató magyar kormányzati szándék, a külpolitikai célkitűzések, valamint a nemzetközi kapcsolatok működtetésével járó hallgatói, oktatói mozgás, beutazás során az időszerű nemzetbiztonsági szempontok érvényesülését.” (5. o.)

Thus this legislation would be a precedent of an important shift in government policy towards higher education with unforeseeable outcomes, signaling that the accreditation process is linked not to concrete scientific or educational standards but to ad hoc political principles enforced by the government.

The legislation also states that the operation of a foreign university from outside the EU, which offers courses and degrees accredited in both countries, must be based on bilateral agreements, have two campuses with comparable degree programs, have all academic staff from non-EU countries receive working permits, and should meet all requirements by 15 February 2018. CEU’s framework is based on a legislation that enables OECD countries (such as the US) to offer programs and courses in Hungary. Since CEU cannot meet the requirements of this legislation, it follows that the university should be closed.

In a radio interview, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán accused CEU (reffered to as “the Soros university”) of cheating by not conforming to the laws of the Hungarian state. He was already referring to a legislation plan that has not even been voted upon. The Minister of Human Capacities declared that “no university can stand above laws”. Meanwhile some media in support of government propaganda in the past few years have also accused CEU of being disrespectful to Hungarian laws, accusing it of crimes and cheating on students. Curiously, the article of Origo was published right after the modification plan of the National Higher Education Act, stating:

“CEU, Közép-Európai Egyetem, which in everyday language is also called “Soros university”, also functions illegally. It did not attain program accreditation and failed to meet their obligations of reporting data on public registers. And it is concrete cheating, if they engage in offering courses that are not even registered.”

“A CEU, a Közép-Európai Egyetem, amit a köznyelv Soros-egyetemnek is hív, szintén szabálytalanul működik. Nem rendelkeznek programakkreditációval, és közhiteles nyilvántartásba történő adatszolgáltatási kötelezettségüket is elmulasztották. Az pedig konkrét csalás, hogy olyan képzésekkel is foglalkoznak, amelyeket nyilvántartásba sem vettek.”

The planned legislation and these statements referred to a report (published on 28 March) by the Ministry of Human Capacities about the results of their investigation conducted since summer 2016 of 28 international higher education institutions, on the occasion of 5-yearly reporting obligations based on the 76. § (3) of the Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education. The report states that 27 institutions, including CEU, failed to meet official requirements. In the case of CEU, the program accreditation is under rectification, failed to meet data-reporting obligations of public registers, and offers non-registered training. But it also should be noted that the act was modified in 2015, and according to CEU, their negotiations were in progress and also hampered by the Ministry. In spite of accusations, CEU has a clear record of the government’s approval of its activities and accreditation for the past 25 years even until now. See the official responses of CEU to false accusations here.

This should not only be seen in the context of heavy attacks by the Hungarian government on NGOs and some parts of higher education (e.g. recent attacks on gender studies), but also the post-Soviet region’s successful offensive against NGOs and specifically institutions funded by George Soros on a political basis (e.g. Belarus, Uzbegistan, Kazahstan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Poland, Macedonia). Several Hungarian NGOs have pointed to the fact that these steps of the Hungarian government are constitutionally invalid.

Apart from 14 Nobel Laureates, the Foreign Ministry of the United States of America, international scholars, scientific institutes and universities, the president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and a large portion of Hungarian scientific institutions, universities and student colleges have shared solidarity with CEU and urged the government to withdraw their legislation plan and enter into dialogue with affected institutions.

If you wish to support CEU, please read their call for support.