Decolonizing the Non-Colonizers? Historicizing Eastern Europe in Global Colonialism

Call for Papers | American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting | Seattle, WA | April 7–11, 2021 | Virtual Session

Convened by Zoltán Ginelli and Jonathan McCombs

What would it mean to ‘decolonize’ Eastern Europe? Recent debates and political struggles around anti-racism and decolonization in the West have spawned reactions of ‘Eastern European exceptionalism’ within the colonial project and the contemporary global racial order. In a region perceived as “never having colonies,” the discourse of colonialism has recently been reimagined on a dividing line along the former Iron Curtain separating ‘colonizer’ and ‘non-colonizer’ countries within Europe. Yet, this discourse, which reaches back to the socialist era and beyond, obscures the role Eastern European countries’ played in both colonial and anti-colonial movements, and downplays their material and ideological interests in the global colonial system. This intriguing geography of converging postsocialist and postcolonialist histories inspires us to question why there is so little discussion about the region’s complex historical relations to global colonialism. We aim to answer by situating Eastern Europe within broader colonial, anti-colonial and decolonial projects, to understand how the region’s historically and geographically shifting relations to coloniality and race inform current political dynamics.

The specific role of Eastern Europe within global capitalism has been conceptualized by an important strand of critical research as occupying a persistent ‘in-between’ or semi-peripheral position within the capitalist world-system (Wallerstein 2004, Böröcz 2009, Boatcă 2010). This longue durée structural continuity of Eastern Europe, despite shifting state formations and governmental logics, forces researchers to grapple with a complex history of often antagonistic roles the region played within capitalist colonialism and racial hierarchies globally (Wimmler and Weber 2020). However, the region is seldom discussed within the global history of colonialism, despite its significant contributions in knowledge, material resources, and peoples to various global colonial ambitions, imperialist trajectories and racial (geo)politics (Mark and Slobodian 2018, Grzechnik 2019, Ginelli forthcoming). The advent of post-WWII Afro-Asian decolonization, the Non-Aligned Movement and socialist internationalism reconfigured previous colonial relations of Eastern Europe. State-socialist Eastern Bloc governments tried to leverage their relatively privileged semiperipheral positions to both aid and exploit Third World decolonization movements, and to both advance and alleviate Soviet influence in the global Cold War (Ginelli 2018, Muehlenbeck and Telepneva 2018, Mark, Kalinovsky and Marung 2020). However, despite their anti-colonialist and anti-racist alliances against the West, communists seldom questioned their own Eurocentrism and remained structurally dependent on unequal trade and Western capital.

The system change beginning in 1989 inaugurated a ‘return to Europe’ as most Eastern Bloc countries integrated into the European Union and hegemonic, West-led neoliberalism (Mark et al. 2019). This has been conceptualized as a neocolonial relation and ‘Thirdworldization’ (Frank 1994), but also a return to ‘whiteness’ and a turn away from former anti-colonial solidarities with the Third World that started already since the late 1970s. After the 2008 economic crisis, these post- and neocolonial relations provided fertile ground for nationalist political parties to win popular support for a political agenda that pits national interest against EU-led, liberal colonialism-imperialism, whilst increasingly authoritarian Eastern European governments turned towards state-centric capital accumulation and clientelistic neoliberal policies (Szombati 2018, Scheiring 2020). These policies only further entrenched Eastern Europe’s economic dependency on Western capital, while politicians continued to wage a ‘culture war’ against perceived Western multiculturalism and a ‘comprador’ left-liberal opposition. The 2015 refugee crisis reanimated government-supported racist civilizational discourses, bordering, discrimination and anti-immigration policies against the former Third World or the (now) Global South. In addition, the presumed “white innocence” (Wekker 2016) of Eastern Europeans within the larger colonial project have helped sustain austere border protection policies and racialized displacements of Roma (Ivancheva 2015; Picker 2017; Vincze and Zamfir 2019). In this political climate, condemnation from the international community only reinforces anti-globalist colonial sentiments within the political right. The left refuses to embrace a broadly decolonial politics, instead acquiescing to the Eurocentric political consensus, which entails  a denial of a colonial present.

In this current context, we believe that exploring progressive ways to decolonize Eastern European knowledge by situating the region’s relations to coloniality and race within global structural contexts is a necessary step towards devising local emancipatory projects and contributing to global discussions about decolonization (Manolova, Kusic, and Lottholz 2019). We set out to grapple with the ‘colonial complexity’ of Eastern Europe’s ‘in-between,’ semi-peripheral position within the global capitalist world-system: being both an object of and facilitator to colonial and racial relations, and being both dependent upon – often still West-governed – (post)colonial networks and purveyor of European colonialism and racism on the global scale. To this end, we seek papers that address the following topics:

  • Global histories of the political role and structural integration of Eastern Europe in global colonialism, including the region’s relations to anti-colonialism and decolonization;
  • Comparative and relational epistemologies, theories and methods on ‘whiteness,’ race, class, and gender in Eastern Europe from post-, decolonial and global historical perspectives
  • Interrelations and circulations between the ‘Second’ and the ‘Third Worlds’ that shaped the everyday lives of local citizens, migrant workers, students, artists, travellers, experts and revolutionaries;
  • Re-conceptualizing 1989 and postsocialist change through post- and decolonial perspectives within global historical change, including shifting positions and circulating concepts of coloniality and race;
  • The recent resurgence of ‘colonial discourse’ and the mobilization of colonial pasts and experiences in Eastern Europe within recent political discourse;
  • The role of Eastern Europe in ‘bordering Europe’, ‘Fortress Europe’, and post-2008 civilizational and racial ‘othering’ against the former Third World or the Global South;
  • Coloniality in anti-coloniality, continuities and contestations of Eurocentrism, colonialist and racist tropes in Eastern European knowledge and culture from a global historical perspective;
  • Placing local and regional colonialisms/imperialisms and racisms in Eastern Europe, including their current political heritage, within global colonialism;
  • Recent Eastern European perceptions, interpretations and political mobilization of or resistance against anti-racist and decolonization movements (e.g. Black Lives Matter).

Please email abstract submissions (250 words) to zginelli@gmail.com and jonathan.mccombs@uga.edu by November 10, October 26th, 2020.

Download in .pdf.

Cover photo: The native American Indian feather headdress displaying the Hungarian national colors of red, white and green was given as a gift by the American scouts to the Jamboree Camp Chief and Chief Scout of Hungary, Count Pál Teleki at the 4th World Scout Jamboree in Gödöllö, Hungary in 1933.

Join our Facebook group Decolonizing Eastern Europe and follow us on Twitter (@DecolonizingE).

References:

Boatcă, M. (2010). “The Eastern Margins of Empire: Coloniality in 19th Century Romania.” In: Mignolo, W. and Escobar, A. (eds.): Globalization and the Decolonial Option. London and New York: Routledge.

Böröcz, J. (2009): The European Union and Global Social Change: A Critical Geopolitical-Economic Analysis. London and New York: Routledge.  

Frank, A. G. (1994): The Thirdworldization of Russia and Eastern Europe. In: Hersh, J., Schmidt, J. D. (eds.): The Aftermath of ‘Real Existing Socialism’ in Eastern Europe. Vol. 1: Between Western Europe and East Asia. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 39–61.

Ginelli, Z. (2018): Hungarian Experts in Nkrumah’s Ghana: Decolonization and Semiperipheral Postcoloniality in Socialist Hungary. Mezosfera, 5. http://mezosfera.org/hungarian-experts-in-nkrumahs-ghana

Ginelli, Z. (forthcoming): Global Colonialism and Hungarian Semiperipheral Imperialism in the Balkans. In: Boatcă, M. (ed.) De-Linking, Critical Thought and Radical Politics. London: Routledge.

Grzechnik, M. (2019): The Missing Second World: On Poland and Postcolonial Studies. Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 21(7): 998–1014.

Ivancheva, M. (2015): From Informal to Illegal: Roma Housing in (Post-)Socialist Sofia. Intersections: East European Journal of Society and Politics, 1(4): 38–54. 

Mark, J., Iacob, B. C., Rupprecht, T., Spaskovska, L. (2019): 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mark, J., Kalinovsky, A. and Marung, S. (eds.)(2020): Alternative Globalizations: Eastern Europe and the Postcolonial World. Indiana University Press.

Mark, J. and Slobodian, Q. (2018): Eastern Europe in the Global History of Decolonization. In: Thomas, M., Thompson, A. S. (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of the Ends of Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Manolova, P., Kusić, K., Lottholz, P. (2019): Introduction: From Dialogue to Practice: Pathways towards Decoloniality in Southeast Europe. d’Versia Special Issue: Decolonial Theory and Practice in Southeast Europe, (March): 7–30.

Muehlenbeck, P. E. and Telepneva, N. (eds.)(2018): Warsaw Pact Intervention in the Third World:  Aid and Influence in the Cold War. I. B. Taurus.

Picker, G. (2017). Racial Cities: Governance and the Segregation of Romani People in Europe. London and New York: Routledge.

Scheiring, G. (2020): The Retreat of Liberal Democracy: Authoritarian Capitalism and the Accumulative State in Hungary. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Szombati, K. (2018): The Revolt of the Provinces: Anti-Gypsyism and Right-Wing Politics in Hungary. New York – London: Berghahn Books.

Vincze, E., and Zamfir, G. (2019): Racialized Housing Unevenness in Cluj-Napoca under Capitalist Redevelopment. City, 23(4–5): 439–460.

Wallerstein, I. (2004). World-Systems Analysis; An Introduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Wekker, G. (2016): White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham: Duke University Press.Wimmler, J., and Weber, K. (eds.) (2020): Globalized Peripheries: Central Europe and the Atlantic World. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Press.

The Return of the Colonial: Understanding the Role of Eastern Europe in Global Colonisation Debates and Decolonial Struggles

Online workshop on 10 September

Organisers:

Romina Istratii – School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Márton Demeter – National University of Public Service, Hungary
Zoltán Ginelli – Universität Leipzig, Leibniz ScienceCampus “Eastern Europe – Gobal Area” Research Fellow

The recent events unfolding in the United States have called the world’s attention to the intersection of systemic racism and colonial legacies. Recent anti-racist protests sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement in North America and various decolonial movements in the West have significantly expanded into wider debates about colonial legacies in European societies and for first time in Eastern Europe. Voices have joined from various other parts of the world not only to express solidarity, but also to raise similar concerns in their own territories, including from Eastern European countries that did not have a shared historical account of partaking in modern colonialism. This outcome is both problematic and hopeful: it is problematic because western histories, politics and discourses continue to frame public debates around the world regardless of context-specific histories, effectively maintaining Anglo-American epistemological hegemony in the world; it is hopeful because issues of racism, exclusion or ‘othering’ may generate beneficial self-reflective discussions within every country and among every people.

These recent events demonstrate not only the continuation of western dominance in public debates worldwide, but also the need for a more organised or vocalised engagement from Eastern European scholars with colonialism, post-colonial theory and decolonial critiques. Efforts to contextualise Eastern European histories of colonisation and decolonisation in relation to Western European colonialism are not new and there is emerging scholarship in this field. Yet it appears to have only little influence on mainstream post-colonial, decolonial and ‘whiteness’ studies that currently shape discourses in the West and in many parts of the post-colonial Global South.

Calls to decolonise minds, ontologies, epistemologies and axiologies critiquing what is perceived as Eurocentric knowledge or Euro-American epistemology often suggest a uniform imaginary about European histories and epistemologies. This would be inconsiderate of Eastern Europeans’ own lived experiences of various colonialisms and imperialisms, diverse positioning vis-à-vis Western European colonialism within these countries, and in some cases direct contributions to global anti-colonial struggles. The tendencies in some “epistemologies of the South” to remain locked in an essentially Western Eurocentric epistemological paradigm, which in turn ‘others’ Eastern Europe, is particularly urgent to address. There is a need for Eastern Europeans to develop more nuanced and actor-focused accounts of their region’s complex historical experiences with modern colonialism and contemporary participation in anti-colonial struggles, in order to enter into conversation with their Global South counterparts and develop more refined theoretical frameworks together.

This epistemological ‘othering’ of Eastern Europe should not be seen as disconnected from the realities of a global scholarly landscape that remains defined by western ‘academic imperialism’: research funding inequalities, Anglophone publishing hegemonies and research standards grounded in western epistemology.

Scientometric analyses show that scholarship in the social sciences and humanities (SSH) from what is called Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) remains extremely under-represented in European and global research. In fact, Eastern Europe belongs within the Global South group in terms of its share of publications in the world. Research papers submitted from scientific institutions in CEE are seldom published in leading, high-impact international journals. In some cases, their contribution is under 1 percent, while Western European scholars’ share can be above 50 percent. Editorial boards in leading international journals tend to be comprised of western scholars and are rarely based in the CEE region; hence papers submitted to high-ranking journals are most likely to be reviewed by western scholars and not CEE scholars, which results in biases in academic peer review. In parallel, the distribution of European research grants has been noticeably uneven in recent decades: evidence shows that ERC funding on the three levels starting grants, consolidator grants and advanced grants is predominantly allocated to Western European institutions (98 percent) with their counterparts in CEE receiving less than 2 percent. More importantly, the acceptance rate of project proposals is over 15 percent in the case of Western European institutions and under 5 percent for CEE institutions.

These huge structural, material and normative inequalities in academic knowledge production suggest clear links between CEE’s limited representation in both influential publications and research funding and the dominance of western epistemology in current debates and mainstream conceptions of the world and world problems. They may also lead us to ask whether these are symptoms of wider, long-term hegemonic and dependency structures in the region that may resemble (post)colonial processes shared by other regions in the world.

In this workshop, we would like to invite scholars of Eastern European and Global or Transregional Studies from various fields to join us to explore these issues, with the aim of formulating a common strategy and organised effort for scholars in/from Eastern Europe to respond to these issues more systematically. Questions that we would like to explore include (but are not limited to):   

  1. How can we historicise colonialism through different agencies in Eastern Europe, and how can the experiences of imperialism in the region inform global decolonisation debates?
  2. How can Eastern European scholars respond to the material and epistemological barriers that govern knowledge production and publishing currently?
  3. How can Eastern European scholars diversify and challenge constructs, theories and paradigms that remain rigidly informed by experiences of colonialism and racism in Western Europe and North America, including ‘whiteness’ debates?

The workshop’s aim is to understand better what particular historical accounts and existing representations in western scholarship Eastern European scholars might need to ‘reclaim’ and how this could be pursued collectively. The workshop will result in a short commentary that will outline the state of Eastern European debates and opinions around these questions and will identify specific suggestions towards a more organised approach in engaging with and contributing to the relevant debates worldwide.    

The workshop is planned as a series of virtual discussions organised around the questions outlined above. The facilitators will open each session with a presentation to outline the state of debates and evidence around each question to spark discussion. Participants will be invited to prepare 10-minute responses to each question to contribute to the conversations and brainstorming sessions. The workshop will conclude with a round-table to summarise the key insights and lessons from the different discussions, with the aim to start drafting a statement that will serve as a future roadmap for Eastern European scholars working in Global Colonisation Debates and Decolonial Struggles.

The workshop is supported by Decolonial Subversions and the Leibniz ScienceCampus “Eastern Europe – Global Area” (EEGA) program, and aims to build on previous initiatives organised by EEGA and the Dialoguing Posts Network.

Confirmed participants:

Rossen Djagalov
Kasia Narkowicz
Zsuzsa Gille
Paul Stubbs
Piro Rexhepi
Manuela Boatcă
James Mark
Mariya Ivancheva
Tamás Scheibner
Janos Tóth
Nikolay Karkov
Tsvetelina Hristova
Katarina Kusić
Anikó Imre
Alena Rettová
Ovidiu Ţichindeleanu
Kasia Narkowicz
Zhivka Valiavicharska
Lela Rekhviashvili
Vanessa Ohlraun
Jan Michalko
Denny Pencheva
Alena Rettová
Hana Cervinkova
Philipp Lottholz
Alexandra Oancă

Amikor Aczél György volt a váci börtön titkos tervezőirodájának raktárosa

Perczel Károly, az 1971-es Országos Településhálózat-fejlesztési Koncepció szellemi atyjának személyes visszaemlékezései alapján raktam össze egy anyagot a 2016-os kutatásaimból. Perczel 1949 és 1954 között volt börtönben, a Rajk-perrel kapcsolatban francia kémkedésért vádolták meg, hivatalosan először életfogytiglanra ítélték bizonyítékok és vallomástétel nélkül, a börtönben a kihallgatása alatt rendszeresen megverték. Személyesen ismerte Rajkot a kommunista mozgalomból, állítása szerint Franciaországban Rajkot “ő szabadította ki” a koncentrációs táborból.

Hosszan ír arról, hogy hogyan dolgoztattak tervezőként különböző szakembereket a váci fegyházban – afféle saraska teamekben – az újjáépítés és a Rákosi alatti fejlesztések érdekében. Szerény körülmények között, de saját tervezőirodát alakíthattak ki, ami egyre gyarapodott. Olyan szakemberek dolgoztak együtt, akik különböző okokból, de döntően a Magyar Közösség-per és a Rajk-per kapcsán kerültek sittre, és később a Kádár éra alatt fontos pozíciókat töltöttek be igazgatói és professzori rangban. Köztük volt Mistéth Ferenc, aki neves hídtervezőként az átmeneti Kossuth-hídat tervezte még 1946-ban (1956-ig bent tartották); Jándy Géza, aki korábban a hadügyminisztériumban dolgozott, a szállításprogramozás és operációkutatás professzora lett (a lineáris és nem-lineáris programozás úttörője); Somlyó György, aki később a VEGYTERV igazgatója lett; Hajdú György, aki később a Fővárosi Vízművek igazgatója lett; Váradi Sándor, aki később az Energiafelügyelet főnöke lett; de ott volt Pichler Ferenc, Földi Iván, Demeter György, Simon Dénes is – Pichler névlegesen a statikai részleg vezetője, Simon az egész iroda adminisztratív vezetője lett. A Magyar Közösség-per kapcsán ott volt Arany Bálint és Kiss Károly (Kiss Ferenc öccse), utóbbi a Gázművek főmérnöke volt az 1940-es években. A fordítóirodában írók is dolgoztak, mint Szász Béla, Ignotus Pál, de ott volt Ádám György is, és olyan szépirodalmi és műszaki szövegeket fordítottak, amiket ők előbb olvastak, mint bárki (pl. Széchenyi önéletrajzát is lefordították), vagy amelyek teljesen titkosak voltak, és azért kerültek hozzájuk, hogy titkosak is maradjanak, pl. a Vár alatti pincék katonai parancsnoksággá alakítását, amit külső irodának nem adtak volna ki.

Az ÁVH szakembereinek felügyelete alatt először a váci börtön felújítását terveztették meg velük, tehát a terveik révén a saját celláik körülményeiért, a saját alávetésük és “biztonságuk” megalapozásáért feleltek volna – és valóban, saját celláikat is ők tervezték meg, a munkatermekben pedig szabadon mozoghattak és beszélgethettek. Mindig “kijárhattak terepre” “felmérés” ürügyén, és valójában nem szükséges anyagokat rendeltettek az ÁVH-sokkal – poénból. Az első nagy munkájuk az volt, hogy a budapesti hidak újjáépítését és korszerűsítését terveztették meg velük (Árpád-híd és Petőfi-híd), de Perczel például tervezett csirkekeltetőt, raktárépületet, bányászati vasútállomást, lakóházakat is. Az Árpád-híddal annyira meg voltak elégedve az ÁVH-sok, hogy friss paprikát és paradicsomot is kaptak, aminek az árát természetesen levonták a “fizetésükből”. A terveiket egy alibi figura írta alá, és hivatalosan különböző állami tervezőirodák bocsátották ki a teveket. Mint később kiderült, ez a figura egy olyan fiatal diák volt, akit akkor építésznek állítottak be, pedig nem volt az, sőt aztán később – kiszabadulása után – Perczel államvizsgáztatott le. A tervező- és fordítóirodának különböző részlegei, vezetői lettek, és a munkát úgy kezdték el végezni, hogy olyan feladatokan dolgoztak, amikhez nem is feltétlenül értettek, tehát kellő kreativitás és csapatmunka kellett a munkák elvégzéséhez. Perczel állítása szerint sokat tanultak egymástól, sőt Hajdú György például “ott nagyon sokat tanult … ott tanulta meg a műszaki tervezést az ottani gépészmérnököktől”, de Váradi Sándor is “előtanulmányokat végzett” itt, öszességében Perczel szerint egy “műszakilag és kulturálisan igen jó társaság jött ott össze.” Ehhez a csapathoz került később Aczél György is.

“K.: Kik voltak a szobatársai a hálóteremben?
V.: Demeter György, Pichler Ferenc, és Földi Iván. Négyen voltunk. Egyébként ott volt Aczél György is. Ő meglehetősen nagy hírnévnek örvendett közöttünk, mert úgy került be a Rajk-ügybe, amihez semmi köze nem volt, hogy a Demeter György a barátja volt. Amikor a Demeter Györgyöt lecsukták, mert … együttműködött a háború idején, akkor Aczél György bement Rákosihoz és azt mondta, hogy ő személyében garantálja azt, hogy Demeter György becsületes ember és nem lehet áruló. Erre föl másnap őt is lecsukták. Ez volt a részvétele a Rajk-perben, s mi ezt eléggé becsültük nála, hogy így viselkedett. Ő volt a tervezőiroda raktárosa. nagyon tisztességes raktáros volt. Mindig megkaptuk a szükséges anyagokat.”

2016-ban szerepelt a sztori az egyik előadásomban: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2016/09/12/1956-es-a-szocialista-teruleti-tervezes.

Fantom a múltból: Mendöl Tibor „Bevezetés a földrajzba” újra kiadott tankönyvének posztszocialista ellentmondásai

Ez ez előadás egy prominens magyar geográfus eredetileg az 1950-es években írt tankönyvének posztszocialista időszakbeli újrakiadásának körülményeit tárja fel, és a magyar posztszocialista geográfia „nagy történeti hézagának” ellentmondásos narratíváiban értelmezi. Mendöl Tibor „Bevezetés a földrajzba” című egyetemi jegyzete egy kettős narratívában íródott hibrid szöveg: egyfelől az előző konzervatív-nacionalista rezsim hagyományos „felfedezések története” narratívája, másfelől a későbbi szovjetizált rezsim kötelezően átvett marxista-leninista nyelvezete hatja át. 1999-ben a szöveg két rehabilitátorát, Perczel Györgyöt és Probáld Ferencet egészen különböző motivációk vezérelték (mint például egy letűnt, egykor dicsőséges földrajzi hagyományhoz való visszatérés, vagy a diszkreditált szocialista múlt szelektív elfedése), ám mindkét esetben a szerző szimbolikus átértelmezését követték el. Ez végső soron a szöveg önkényes átszerkesztéséhez vezetett, először is a kompromittálónak talált részek kitörlésével, másodszor a mű „teljes” történeti ívének „befejezése” általi újrakeretezésével, harmadszor pedig az ideológiailag terhelt szövegrészek szelektív és nem teljes „lefordításával” egy deideologizált formába. Az előadás célja rétegről rétegre bemutatni a szöveg történeti kontextusait, ugyanis a szövegértelmezési és történeti újraértelmezés nélkül az olvasó úgymond benn ragad Mendöl összeszőtt kettős narratívájának „hermeneutikai csapdájában”. Az előadás utolsó részében a tankönyv dicsőséges „felfedezések története” narratívája és világtörténeti, geopolitikai képzelete mai újraértelmezési lehetőségeit mutatom be a kritikai elmélet anti-eurocentrikus szakirodalmán keresztül.

Phantom of the past: Postsocialist contradictions in Tibor Mendöl’s republished “Introduction to Geography” textbook

This paper aims to unravel the contextual layers of the postsocialist republishing of a prominent Hungarian geographer’s textbook originally written in the 1950s, which is considered here as a vehicle of the contested narrativity in the “big historical gap” of postsocialist Hungarian geography. Tibor Mendöl’s Introduction to Geography was a hybrid text written in a dual narrative: first in a traditional “age of discoveries” narrative of the previous conservative-nationalist regime, and second in the obligatory Marxist-Leninist language of the later Sovietized regime. In 1999, the two rehabilitators of the text, György Perczel and Ferenc Probáld, were driven by different motivations (such as the return to a formerly glorious geographical tradition, or the selective confining of a discredited socialist past), but in both cases through a symbolic contestation of the author. This ultimately led to the arbitrarily reediting of the text, first by deleting its most compromising parts, second by reframing it in a “completed” form by “finishing” its historical span, and third by selectively and incompletely “translating” some of its burdened phrases into a partly de-ideologized language. My aim is to provide a layer-by-layer historical analysis of the text’s contexts, because without a dense hermeneutical and historical reinterpretation, we are entangled in the “hermeneutic trap” of Mendöl’s interwoven dual narrative. The last part of my presentation provides possible reinterpretations of the textbook’s triumphalist “age of discoveries” narrative and world historical, geopolitical imagination in light of the critical theories of anti-Eurocentric literature.

See my publication: Gyimesi, Z. (2014): The Contested Post-Socialist Rehabilitation of the Past: Dual Narratives in the Republishing of Tibor Mendöl’s “Introduction to Geography”. Hungarian Cultural Studies, 7: 242–273. https://ahea.pitt.edu/ojs/index.php/ahea/article/view/172

© Zoltán Ginelli

Citation:

Ginelli Z. (2020): Fantom a múltból: Mendöl Tibor „Bevezetés a földrajzba” újrakiadott tankönyvének posztszocialista ellentmondásai. Kritikai Földrajz Blog, 2020.07.18. Link:

A „klasszikus” szociológia dekolonizálása felé: Max Weber eurocentrikus világtörténetének földrajzi kritikája

Fotó: https://www.thoughtco.com/max-weber-relevance-to-sociology-3026500

Max Weber gazdaságtörténeti és vallásszociológiai elemzéseiben széles körű áttekintést adott arról a nagy kérdésről, hogy miért éppen a „Nyugat” emelkedett ki a világtörténelem során. Híres hipotézise szerint a protestáns aszkézisben fellelhető gazdasági magatartásokra vezethető vissza, hogy végső soron „a Nyugaton, és csakis a Nyugat talaján” jöhetett létre a „racionális” kultúrán alapuló modern kapitalizmus. Ezzel szemben „Keleten” ennek hiánya tapasztalható: egész történelme során irracionalitás, gazdasági stagnálás és ún. orientális despotizmus uralkodott. Habár írt a konfucianizmusról, illetve a hindu és a zsidó vallásról, addig a kereszténységhez hasonlóan monoteista iszlámról tervezett nagy munkája sosem készülhetett el. A hazai társadalomtudományok azonban nem vettek tudomást Weber protestáns etikára visszavezetett, ideáltipikus kapitalista „szellemének” földrajzi alapjairól, holott ezek a weberi életmű fontos „preszociológiai” előfeltételezéseit képezték. Az előadás célja egyrészt bemutatni Weber hipotézisének földrajzi állításait, másrészt kritika alá vetni globális összehasonlító elemzéseinek eurocentrikus földrajzi képzeletét, és végül felfedni a korabeli geopolitikai, gyarmatbirodalmi viszonyokba ágyazódó társadalomtudományi tudástermelés diskurzív alapjait és ellentmondásait. Weber „progresszív Nyugat” és „merev Kelet” orientalista dichotómiájának dekonstruálása végül kiegészül az iszlámról közölt nézeteinek rövid áttekintésével és néhány politikai gazdasági példával is, rámutatva a gyarmatosításnak és az egyes régiók közötti globális kereskedelem történelmi hegemóniaviszonyainak elfedésére, valamint az orientális despotizmus és a keleti „bezárkózó” gazdaságok eurocentrikus mítoszaira. Az előadás célja ezzel a nemzetközi szakirodalomban jól ismert globális történetírás, valamint a posztkoloniális és dekoloniális megközelítések alapján a „klasszikus” szociológia tudáskánonjának dekolonizált olvasatát sürgetni.

Towards decolonizing “classical” sociology: The geographical critique of Max Weber’s eurocentric world history

In his economic history and sociology of religion, Max Weber presented an expansive account on the big question, why was it the “West” that emerged as dominant in world history. According to his famous hypothesis, ascetic Protestantism was the insufficient ingredient to why “in the West and only on Western soil” could the “rational” culture of modern capitalism evolve. In contrast, the “East” was only home to a range of absences: irrationality, economic stagnation and so-called oriental despotism reigned throughout its whole history. Although Weber had written on Confucianism, the Hindu and Jewish religions, his vast study on Islam, also a monotheism as Christianism, was never to be finished in full. However, Hungarian social sciences and the humanities did not pay any attention to the geographical foundations of Weber’s capitalist “spirit” and its supposed origins in the Protestant ethic, despite these being important “presociological” conceptions of his œuvre. The aim of this paper is first to present the geographical statements of Weber’s hypothesis; second, to criticize the Eurocentric geographical imagination behind his global comparative analysis; and finally, to elucidate the discoursive conditions and antagonisms of social scientific knowledge production embedded in its contemporary geopolitical and imperial-colonial context. The deconstruction of Weber’s orientalist dichotomy of a “progressive West” and “static East” is supplemented by a sketchy overview of his thoughts on Islam and some political economic examples, demonstrating the silences of colonialism and the changing hegemonic relations of interregional global trade, and also the myth of oriental despotism and the “closed” economies of Eastern economies. In sum, the aim with this critique is to provide and argue for a global historical, postcolonial and decolonial reading of the scientific canon of “classical” sociology.

© Zoltán Ginelli

Citation:

Ginelli Z. (2020): A „klasszikus” szociológia dekolonizálása felé: Max Weber eurocentrikus világtörténetének földrajzi kritikája. Kritikai Földrajz Blog, 2019.07.18. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2020/07/18/a-klasszikus-szociologia-dekolonizalasa-fele-max-weber-eurocentrikus-vilagtortenetenek-foldrajzi-kritikaja/

Félperifériás gyarmatiság: Magyar rasszpozíciók a globális kolonializmusban

Jelenet a „Django elszabadul” (2012) filmből – Stephen (bal), a fekete rabszolgákat felügyelő fekete komprádor kedélyesen társalog rabszolgatartó fehér ültetvényes gazdájával, Calvin Candie-vel (jobb)

Az előadás egy kutatási programot vázol fel, amely a gyarmatisághoz való magyar(országi) félperifériás viszonyt globális történeti keretben, illetve politikai gazdasági, világrendszer-elemzési és poszt/dekoloniális megközelítésben vizsgálja. Az uralkodó olvasat szerint nekünk magyaroknak sosem voltak gyarmataink, viszont a történelemben gyarmatosítottak minket, ezért nekünk nincs erkölcsi felelősségünk elszámolni a gyarmatosításért. Mivel az apológia szerint Magyarország történelmileg nem részesedett a kapitalista gyarmati felhalmozás előnyeiből, ezért a „fehér bűntudat” kizárólag az imperialista-kolonialista „nyugatot” terheli. Ugyanakkor Magyarország globális kolonializmusba való beágyazottságának elhallgatása lehetővé tette a gyarmati viktimizáció kelet-európai kisajátítását és a rasszizáló identitáspolitikai-morális versenyt az „Európán” kívüli posztgyarmati világgal. Ez a gyarmatisághoz való ellentmondásos viszonyulás a globális centrum és periféria közötti strukturális és identitásbeli pozícióból, a globális kolonializmusba való félperifériás integrációból fakad. A gyarmatosító és gyarmatosított pozíciók közötti félperifériás manőverezés dinamikáját a globális kolonializmusból való komparatív előnyökből részesedés stratégiái határozták meg: felzárkózó lepaktálás a globális gyarmatosító centrummal vagy felforgató szövetségkeresés a globális gyarmati perifériával; lázadó antikoloniális szolidaritás vagy koloniális kisajátítás és öngyarmatosító komprádorság. Az előadás ennek nyomán a magyar félperifériás rasszpozíciók – „frusztrált fehér”, „turáni”, „indián”, „fehér néger” – történelmi-földrajzi mozgatórugóira kérdez rá, hogy a centrumvezérelt narratíváink dekolonizálásával felforgató módon a „nem fehér” (poszt)gyarmati világ felől nézze a magyar történelmünket.

© Zoltán Ginelli

Ginelli Z. (2020): Félperifériás gyarmatiság: Magyar rasszpozíciók a globális kolonializmusban. Kritikai Földrajz Blog, 2020.07.14. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2020/07/14/felperiferias-gyarmatisag-magyar-rasszpoziciok-a-globalis-kolonializmusban/

Decolonizing the Non-Colonizers? Eastern Europe in Global Colonialism and Semiperipheral Decolonialism

Photo: https://ziare.com/steaua/suporteri/fotografia-zilei-suporterii-echipei-steaua-s-au-urcat-pe-crucea-eroilor-din-caraiman-sa-afiseze-un-mesaj-rasist-1617449

The perhaps much overlooked geographical significance of recent social unrest in the USA related to the Black Lives Matter and various anti-racist and decolonial movements is how quickly they ’scaled up’ globally, sparking sharp debates in Eastern Europe for the first time. Although in the region these movements have been most often dismissed either as an ideological threat or simply irrelevant, still the discussions of colonial and racial memory politics have provoked intriguing questions about comparability. Since the 2010s, authoritarian right-wing regimes of populist nationalisms have constructed an imaginary dividing line between “former colonizer” Western and “non-colonizer” Eastern European countries, expressing fears of becoming Western “colonies” whilst victimizing their ‘peripheral whiteness’ in an identity politics of recognition. Stuck in an uncomfortable ’in-between’ position within global colonialism, Eastern Europeans have historically embraced colonial Europeanness and whiteness whilst excusing from its dark moral burden – ultimately producing contradictory silences in the region’s complicated racial and colonial history. How can we understand this semiperipheral Eastern European relation to global colonialism and racism? How can decolonialism, seemingly relevant only to the imperialist West and the postcolonial Global South, be also relevant to a region which is commonly known as “non-colonizer” and without colonial history? This paper aims to unpack Eastern European ‘frustrated whiteness’ through exploring a decolonial approach to this uneasy and contradictory semiperipheral position in global (post)colonialism.


CULTURE AT A CROSSROAD: WHAT COLLABORATION DO WE WANT IN EASTERN EUROPE?
Friday, September 18th, 2020
12.00 pm – 4.30 pm

Facebook event and live stream

East European Biennale Alliance (EEBA) presents ‘Culture at Crossroads: What Collaboration Do We Want in Eastern Europe?’ – an online symposium which will be streaming on Friday September 18th 2020 from 12 pm (CET). The symposium will be held in English and is organised by the founding members of EEBA – Biennale Warszawa, Bienále Ve věci umění / Matter of Art Praha, OFF-Biennále Budapest a Kyiv Biennial (VCRC).

Participants:
Tereza Stejskalová, Veronika Janatková, Dominika Trapp, Kateřina Smejkalová, Noemi Purkrábková, Zoltán Ginelli, Eszter Lázár, Eszter Szakács, Serge Klymko, Wolfgang Schwärzler, Vasyl Cherepanyn, Aleksandra Jach, Michał Dąbrowski, Bartek Frąckowiak, Marta Michalak

What should we expect from art and art institutions in the next few years or decades? What is their role at a time of a major social transformation? Why do we make or present art, for whom, and does it make sense to continue using the same formats and materials as before? What should art be focusing on and what difference can it make? These are old questions but they need to be asked whenever conditions are changing—and they are changing now, drastically. Without a doubt, the current situation leads us to rethink and reimagine the way art institutions, art practices, and artists operate. We ask these questions from a perspective of artists and curators who operate in the Eastern European region—the periphery of Europe. As we have witnessed again during the COVID-19 pandemic, the interconnected global challenges take specific shape in our region. How are we, the art/cultural sector (institutions, curators, critics, artists, producers) preparing ourselves to operate in the future? How should we rethink the ways of creation, production, and distribution of artworks, projects, and events?

Perhaps, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the art world will become smaller, more local, more grounded in local communities. This can be a good thing in terms of the sustainability of both: the human and non-human lives on this planet. After all, the opportunities for artistic and curatorial mobility have never been distributed equally or justly. But the notion of local can also be a trap. Under the rule of conservative governments in our countries, critical art, critical artists and critical art institutions have become extremely precarious, in some cases even directly persecuted. International connections are a crucial resource of not only intellectual exchange and finances but also of moral and political support. In what forms, formats, and mediums will this international cooperation be able to continue? How can we share gestures of solidarity with our Eastern European collaborators, partners, friends, comrades in struggle?

The newly established East Europe Biennial Alliance, comprised of the Biennale Matter of Art in Prague, Biennale Warszawa, Kyiv Biennial, and OFF-Biennale Budapest, aims to propose a different narrative of the East European region and redefining the way cultural institutions collaborate. As contemporary biennials have become an important vehicle reaching new contexts and audiences, the Alliance is designed to enhance the role of biennials in shaping innovative forms of international solidarity, expanding socio-political imagination and elaborating alternative cultural solutions. The Alliance brings biennials together to develop a shared vision and regional collaboration producing cross-border meetings, public events and working on the common agenda for upcoming years.

Program

I. TECHNOLOGIES AND THE WORK OF COLLABORATION
12:00-12:10 Tereza Stejskalová & Veronika Janatková: Introduction
12:10-12:25 Kateřina Smejkalová: Action and Interaction in Digital Capitalism
12:25-12:40 Noemi Purkrábková: Crossing the Distance: Hopes & Sorrows of Art and Music in the Virtual Sphere
12:40-12:50 Discussion
12:50-13:00 Break

II. DECOLONIZATION AND/OF COLLABORATION
13:00-13:15 Zoltán Ginelli: Decolonizing the Non-Colonizers? Eastern Europe in Global Colonialism and Semiperipheral Decolonialism
13:15-13:30 Eszter Lázár & Eszter Szakács: Practices of Alliance Building
13:30-13:45 Dominika Trapp: Peasants in Atmosphere
13:45-14:00 Discussion

14:00- 14:30 Lunch

III. ECOLOGIES AND VISUAL POLITICS OF COLLABORATION
14:30-14:45 Aleksandra Jach & Michał Dąbrowski: How to Talk about the Climate Crisis?
14:45-15:00 Wolfgang Schwärzler: Building the East Europe Biennial Alliance’s Graphic Design.
15:15-15:30 Vasyl Cherepanyn & Serhiy Klymko: Political in Content, Visual in Form: Notes on Cultural Internationalism.
15:30-15:45 Bartek Frąckowiak & Marta Michalak: Eastern Europe: Three Scenarios for the Future of Transnational Collaboration in the Cultural Field

15:45-16:15 Discussion

© Zoltán Ginelli

Ginelli Z. (2020): Decolonizing the Non-Colonizers? Eastern Europe in Global Colonialism and Semiperipheral Decolonialism Critical Geographies Blog, 2020.07.03. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2020/07/03/decolonizing-the-non-colonizers

Call for academic solidarity

On 2018, during January and early February, I had joined a group of Hungarian researchers to apply for research funds from the National Research, Development and Innovation Office with a 3-year research project at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Research Center of the Humanities. Our application won ca. 25 million Forints (ca. 70.600 Euros) and started on 1 October, 2018. The English title of the project is “Knowledge, Landscape, Nation and Empire: Practices of knowing and transforming landscape in Hungary and the Balkans, 1850-1945” (there is no English version on the institution’s website).

Currently, I am represented by the Helsinki Committee in a Labor Court trial against the institution, because according to the project application the institute was supposed to hire me as an affiliated Assistant Researcher (which is a public servant position), but after registering me at the National Tax Office and signing me in as member of the institution, the director and employer, historian Pál Fodor denied to sign my contract after 1 month delay and agreed-upon work, and then the Principal Investigator kicked me out of the project. Prior to this, I was not in conflict with any of the project members and there was no evidence that I had hampered the project in any way. The Principal Investigator, Gábor Demeter admitted in public court on 23 January 2020 that he had supplied informal “references” on my “bad” scholarship – without my knowledge – to the director and that someone had “phoned in” to ask that I not be employed at the institution. Behind this informal reason – which was affirmed in public press (index.hu, kettosmerce.hu, read the Kettős Mérce article in English)  – was that the institution received a non-public Facebook comment of mine leaked to the institution by an individual from our personal debate in which I expressed my despise for the person’s neoliberal social-Darwinist statement “homelessness is due to the lack of money instincts” (for details, read my blog post in Hungarian).

Below you can read the basic text of our research application (see .pdf); it also had other attachments and was uploaded in different parts via an official form. I was not responsible for making the final editing and uploading of the text, the latter was the responsibility of the Principal Investigator. My contribution to the research project was the application of postcolonial theory and world-systems analysis to the case study of Hungarian Balkanism in order to understand it as part of a semiperipheral trajectory within global colonialism. My empirical input was to look at geographers and geographical knowledge production in Hungarian imperialism and colonialism in the Balkans. I’ve highlighted in the text all unedited parts that have been written only by me, and represent my own academic research and intellectual property. I never allowed my intellectual contribution to be used without my permission solely for others’ financial gain at the expense of my basic rights and material interests.

Since the incident, I’ve presented (or will present) my thesis and concept at:

Central European University on the occasion of Diana Mishkova’s book launch of Beyond Balkanism in 2018;

– the 43rd PEWS conference in Freiburg in 2019;

– the Dialoguing Between the Posts 2.0 conference in Belgrade in 2019

– at a forthcoming workshop Studying the Balkans Globally in Belgrade during 2020.

– in a forthcoming book chapter entitled “Global Colonialism and Hungarian Semiperipheral Imperialism in the Balkans” for a Routledge volume edited by Manuela Boatca;

– in another manuscript to be submitted to a Q1 journal (title not indicated here due to double-blind peer review);

My application for an ethical procedure was denied by the Academy on the grounds that there is already an ongoing court trial, and my letters to the institution and the president of the Academy asking to resolve this incident in 2018 were simply left unanswered. Despite that I was working as a researcher in the 1989 After 1989 and the Socialism Goes Global international research projects, and the Academy’s research institution was their project partner, the institution denied to provide me with a permission for archival research (only Hungarian institutions are allowed to provide such). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the court trial has been delayed, and justice has not yet been done.

I hereby turn to the international academic community to ask for solidarity statements indicating that such unethical acts violate basic scientific norms and should not be tolerated in academia. If you agree with the above, please express your concerns and share this post widely.

Hungary, (Anti)Colonialism, and the Global Cold War

52nd Annual ASEEES Convention, Washington, D.C., November 5–8

Convenor: Árpád von Klimó (The Catholic University of America, DC, USA)

Discussant: Steve Jobbitt (Lakehead University, Canada)

Chair: Judith Szapor (McGill University, Canada)

Decolonization became a major debate since the 1960s, complicating Cold War Culture and challenging the West’s claim for moral superiority and human rights policies. Communist countries like Hungary began to engage in diplomatic campaigns with the double aim at convincing new states in Africa and Asia to support the Soviet sphere instead of the West and to undermine the image of many Western states by focusing criticism on their colonial past or involvement in colonial wars or support of anticommunist authoritarian regimes. After the Algerian War, it was the Vietnam War and the support of the fight of “liberation” movements which became one of the most important ideological and practical battle fields for the new version of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist propaganda, aimed at domestic as well as international (UNO, UNESCO, IOC, other world sports organizations) and transnational audiences (Africa, Asia, Western Europe, USA). During this time, and increasingly since the Second Vatican Council, colonialism and post-colonial critique became an intensifying debate also among Catholics all over the world, not only in relation to Latin America and Liberation Theology. In the world of sports, Hungarian functionaries and athletes also participated. Similar new ideological debates erupted in the international networks of academia and the sciences, as the example of the Hungarian noble laureate (Chemistry), Albert Szent-Györgyi, demonstrates.

We are still at the beginning to study the questions related to these complex problems. Our panel will attempt to clarify some of the assumptions and research problems related to the connection between Cold War politics, decolonization, Hungarian and Vatican diplomacy. The papers of this panel show that the outcome and results of the anti-colonialist activities and debates were often contradictory.


The Soviet Union, the United States and Nuclear Fear: Albert Szent-Györgyi’s Political Life, 1945–1973

Ádám Farkas (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary)


Albert Szent-Györgyi was a popular public figure after the WWII and he was expected to become the President of Hungary. He was saved by the Soviets, spent two months in the Soviet Union and was one of the founders of the Hungarian- Soviet Cultural Association. The non-communist Nobel laureate scientist worked together actively with the Soviets to rebuild the Hungarian cultural life. As he became dissatisfied with the political changes, he emigrated to the United States in 1947. Since the mid-1960s he turned to the politics again, he spoke out against the Vietnam War. He criticized the US government and urged to cooperate with the Soviet Union for peace. But for Szent-Györgyi it was never the criticism of the imperialistic intentions. Like many of his scientific colleagues, he was deeply concerned about the destructive uses of scientific knowledge. Szent-Györgyi turned to civil and political rights, peace and antiwar movements. His writings (The Crazy Ape, What next?, Science, ethics and politics, Lost in the 20th century) became standard works in the antinuclear movement. His perception of the superpowers changed once again, and in his eyes the Soviet Union somehow appeared as a following example for the United States. His image was rehabilitated in Hungary and visited the country in 1973. The paper investigates Szent-Györgyi’s involvement in politics, his changing attitudes to the superpowers and the social movements related to Eastern Bloc and the West. Drawing on oral history, memoirs and archival materials, the study reflects on ideology, rebellion and political belief.



Connecting the Local to the Global in the Cold War: Hungary’s Contribution to Western Colonialist Sport Practices in the International Olympic Committee, 1960s–1989

Johanna Mellis (Ursinus College, USA)


For part of my book manuscript, I am exploring socialist Hungary’s work with the International Olympic Committee (which was and is a colonialist organization). Sport leaders from Hungary and the other Eastern Bloc countries helped to ‘decolonize’ the IOC in some regards, by bringing in and working more with sport leaders from African and Asian countries. But they also worked hard to uphold the IOC’s discriminatory ‘Amateur Rule,’ which forbade athletes from receiving commercial sponsorships for their sport endeavors. Eastern Bloc sport leaders did this in order to protect the state-supported sport systems back home from scrutiny (to continue giving athletes prized material privileges and prevent them from defecting to the West). But their efforts also severely restricted athletes in non-authoritarian countries from getting the money they needed to train, compete, etc., and thus contributed – even if inadvertently – to the discriminatory policies of the sport body.



Anticommunism, Decolonization and the Vatican: Cardinal Mindszenty in Portugal (1972)

Árpád von Klimó (The Catholic University of America, DC, USA)


On October 11, 1972, the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church in exile, Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, arrived in Portugal, for a one week-long visit. On the next day, Mindszenty was at the center of an extensive program of prayer, rosaries and masses at the Shrine of Fatima. He celebrated High Mass in front of approx. 250,000 people. The Hungarian Cardinal in his short speech emphasized that the Fatima secrets” were also addressed at him, who suffered from “Russia … spreading error over the world”, that is: a Communist system which oppressed the church. Mindszenty had been a symbol of anticommunist resistance since his incarceration in 1949, and his 15-year long stay at the US Embassy in Budapest (1956-71). With Portugal, he visited a country with an authoritarian regime that was increasingly justifying its existence with anticommunism. The colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea (1961–75) had ruined the finances of Portugal and the high number of victims and the suffering of Portuguese troops, similar to Vietnam, had contributed to the undermining of the regime that claimed to adhere to Catholic teaching, while the Vatican and progressive Catholics increasingly challenged its ideology. My paper studies the visit of Mindszenty in relation to the wider political context, the changing understanding of colonialism among the Vatican and Portuguese Catholics, the Cold War conflict related to Communist Hungary and the West, based on documents from Mindszenty’s private archive in Budapest (Mindszenty Foundation), from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, as well from a variety of other primary sources.


The Clash of Colonialisms: The Race Between Hungarian Communist and Anti-Communist Anti-Colonialism in the Third World

Zoltán Ginelli (Independent Scholar, Hungary)


This paper explores how Hungarians on both sides of the Iron Curtain opened up to Afro-Asian decolonisation through competing constructions of Eastern European semiperipheral postcoloniality to be shared with the Third World. State-socialist Hungary struggled to open up via socialist globalisation against Western protectionism, and developed anti-colonialism against Western Empire and solidarity towards emerging postcolonies. The stakes were high, because Hungarian anti-communist political refugees in the West were already racing to first develop anti-colonial solidarity towards postcolonial countries and persuade them against “Soviet colonialism”. Backed by the USA, Hungarian ex-premier Ferenc Nagy successfully popularised this critique in the International Peasant Union and the Assembly of Captive European Nations, and during his Asian trip (1954) managed to manipulate the first Third World conference in Bandung (1955). In the race for recognition, the communist leadership in Hungary was losing initiative. After the 1956 revolution, Hungarian communists struggled to persuade Third World countries in the United Nations to vote against the Western condemnation of the Soviet invasion, and post-Stalinist Khrushchevian opening up policy allowed them to seek recognition by exporting the “Hungarian development model” to the Third World. Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah looked to the socialist world to relieve Western dependency and in 1962 requested the Hungarian economist József Bognár to develop the newly decolonised African country’s First Seven-Year Plan. While Hungarian refugee experts like Imre Kovács were working as anti-communist reform advisors in Latin America and Asia, Bognár’s Centre for Afro-Asian Research (1963) promoted export-oriented growth to reposition and integrate state-socialist Hungary in the global economy.

Postcolonial Hungary: Eastern European Semiperipheral Positioning in Global Colonialism

Is there a postcolonial Hungary? This project focuses on situating Hungary’s historical development in the global histories of colonialism and anti-colonialism. It interrogates the revival of colonial discourse in the region and explores how it displaced a politics of Western transition and convergence by reconstructing the histories of Hungarian colonial discourse and self-positioning in the world economic system.

Postcolonial studies have been preoccupied with the global economic centre and periphery, but the complex historical relations, experiences and epistemologies of Eastern European and Hungarian colonialism and imperialism have been remarkably silenced (Mayblin et al. 2016; Mark and Slobodian 2018; Grzechnik 2019). Meanwhile, new research has shown that Cold War epistemological heritage rendered connections between postsocialism and postcolonialism problematic (Chari and Verdery 2008; Gille 2010; Mayblin et al. 2016), and East-West convergence discourse has marginalised historical relations between Eastern Europe and the Global South (Mark and Apor 2015; Mark and Slobodian 2018; Muehlenbeck and Telepneva 2018; Mark et al. 2020; Stanek 2020). Following a global historical and world-systemic perspective, this research introduces the concept of semiperipheral post/coloniality to unpack Hungarian coloniality in the long-term historical context of integrating into the world economy, thereby offering a structuralist critique of constructivist approaches to postcolonialism (e.g. Wolff 1994; Bakić-Hayden 1995; Todorova 1997). The Hungarian semiperipheral integration to the hierarchical system of the global division of labour has generated structural path-dependencies (uneven exchange, indebtedness, financing technology) (Márk et al. 2014), which resulted in global manoeuvring to gain comparative advantages between the (former) colonising centre and the (former) colonised periphery. This led to an uneasy and often antagonistic in-betweeness in the context of global hierarchies: being superior coloniser but oppressed colonised; catching up to and benefiting from but contesting the colonial centre; bridging or allying to but demarcating from the periphery. This project seeks to reconstruct the history of such a semiperipheral Eastern European country in order to understand the new political stakes in the revival of colonial discourse in current Hungarian politics.

Before WWII, Hungarian colonialist-imperialist ambitions followed nationalist and global racial-civilisational aspirations, but pragmatically developed East-West in-betweenness and uneasy criticism towards the imperialist West. Local experiences of peripheralisation, underdevelopment and out-migration forged sympathy with those in a similarly subservient position within the colonial system, but there also evolved alternative colonialisms of semiperipheral expansion and racial supremacy (e.g. Balkanism, Orientalism, Turanism). After WWII, state-socialist anti-colonial solidarity contested geopolitical fault-lines and Western European protectionism (1957), but Hungarian trajectories were driven by pragmatic, state-led foreign policy aims to lever Soviet and Western “dual dependency” (Böröcz 1992) by opening to Afro-Asian decolonisation. Amidst fears of international isolation (Péteri 2012), the post-1956 Hungarian alliance-building and global positioning encouraged to encounter coloniality through socialist internationalism (Mark and Apor 2015; Mark et al. 2020). Hungary re-opened to the decolonised periphery with “civilisational” desires to export the “Hungarian model” and develop markets to counter the global centre, whilst the periphery contributed to Hungarian “third way” state-centred and semi-capitalist export-oriented growth as a new integration strategy during the 1960s New Economic Mechanism (Ginelli 2017, 2018). On the other hand, rivalling narratives clashed between state-socialist anti-Western anti-colonialism and émigré “Soviet colonialism” in the Non-Aligned postcolonial world about how to incorporate Hungary and Eastern Europe into global colonialism.

After 1989, Hungary as part of the former Second World lost its global ideological privileges and Afro-Asian connections, and experienced third-worldification by becoming the core’s “undeveloped” region. The postsocialist “return to Europe” and self-colonising neoliberal “transition” silenced anti-colonial critique against the West (or the EU) (Böröcz 2009), and resulted in “postsocialist amnesia” on former relations with the global postcolonial world and in racial realignment with whiteness (Böröcz and Sarkar 2017; Mark et al. 2019). After the 2008 crisis, Viktor Orbán’s increasingly authoritarian “illiberal” turn from 2010 on sought to globally reposition Hungary against the “failed liberalism” of Western transition. Apart from various political regionalisms (“classical Europe”, “Central Europe”, “Eurasia”) (Balogh 2015; 2017), this geopolitical manoeuvring produced a new colonial discourse which positioned Hungary against the liberal, Atlantic-Western colonial-imperial centre (“Brussels is the new Moscow”, “we never had colonies”, “we will not become colonies”), while constructing selective racial-civilisational demarcation from the periphery in anti-migration discourse, and appropriating global colonial history exclusively for Eastern European nationalist victimisation. This Hungarian semiperipheral postcolonial identity politics not only exploits the country’s silenced historical experiences of coloniality (Ottoman: 1526, Habsburg: 1848, Trianon: 1920, Soviet: 1949, 1956), but also functions in the semiperipheral re-adaptation to current hegemonic shifts in the world economy. Hungary’s “Eastern turn” to the New Silk Road exploits Turanist Orientalism towards Central Asia, “illiberalism” and “Christian democracy” functions in developing new global alliance networks in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, while the reaffirmation of European whiteness and appropriation of colonial history aims to exclude Afro-Asian postcolonial competition for benefits in the European Union.

This research is part of my Leibniz ScienceCampus “Eastern Europe – Global Area” reseearch project at Universität Leipzig.

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Ginelli, Z. (2018): Hungarian Experts in Nkrumah’s Ghana: Decolonization and Semiperipheral Postcoloniality in Socialist Hungary. Mezosfera, 5. http://mezosfera.org/hungarian-experts-in-nkrumahs-ghana/

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See chapters of this project on this blog:

Ginelli, Z. (2019): Hungarian Indians: Racial and Anti-Colonial Solidarity in Post-Trianon Hungary. Critical Geographies Blog, 2019.03.18. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2019/03/18/hungarian-indians-racial-and-anti-colonial-solidarity-in-post-trianon-hungary

Ginelli Z. (2019): The Semiperipheral Colonial Alternative: Visions of Hungarian Catholic Postcoloniality in Latin America. Critical Geographies Blog. 2019.07.11. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2019/07/11/the-semiperipheral-colonial-alternative-visions-of-hungarian-catholic-postcoloniality-in-latin-america

Ginelli, Z. (2019): Plotting the Semiperipheral Empire: Hungarian Balkanism and Global Colonialism in Geographical Knowledge, 1867–1948. Critical Geographies Blog, 2020.03.18. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2019/03/18/plotting-the-semiperipheral-empire-hungarian-balkanism-and-global-colonialism-in-geographical-knowledge-1867-1948

Ginelli, Z. (2019): Posztkoloniális Magyarország: A magyar globális nyitás és illiberális autoriter fordulat újraértelmezése a félperifériás gyarmatiság szempontjából. Critical Geographies Blog, 2019.08.11. https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2019/08/11/posztkolonialis-magyarorszag-a-magyar-globalis-nyitas-es-illiberalis-autoriter-fordulat-ujraertelmezese-a-felperiferias-gyarmatisag-szempontjabol

Ginelli Z. (2019): The Clash of Colonialisms: Hungarian Communist and Anti-Communist Decolonialism in the Third World. Critical Geographies Blog, 2019.12.23. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2019/12/23/the-clash-of-colonialisms-hungarian-communist-and-anti-communist-decolonialism-in-the-third-world

Ginelli Z. (2020): Semiperipheral Empire: Hungarian Balkanism in Global Colonialism. Critical Geographies Blog, 2020.02.29. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2020/02/29/semiperipheral-empire-hungarian-balkanism-in-global-colonialism

Ginelli Z. (2020): Opening Hungary to Global Colonialism: János Xántus and Hungarian Orientalism in East and Southeast Asia. Critical Geographies Blog, 2020.03.07. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2020/03/07/opening-hungary-to-global-colonialism-janos-xantus-and-hungarian-orientalism-in-east-and-southeast-asia