Plotting the semiperipheral empire: Hungarian imperialist imaginaries of Balkan landscapes, 1867–1948

Eastern Europe is the “black sheep” of postcolonial studies: its colonial experiences have been routinely missed out from the relentless focus on (post)colonial centres and peripheries. To be sure, postcolonial literature extended Orientalism as the Western construction of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and reinterpreted postcolonialism in relation to Soviet imperialism, postsocialism, Eastern Europe’s role in decolonization and socialist globalization. However, the imperialist or colonialist ambitions of Eastern or East Central Europe seem to go against the grain, since concerning countries were themselves often colonized and rarely or never held any colonies. In contrast, Hungarian geographical knowledge production from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries related to the Balkans is a demonstrative case study of what I call Eastern European semiperipheral imperialism. Hungarian imperialist ambitions emerged from the economic boom in the late 19th century and Austro-Hungarian geopolitical interests to secure southern areas against Russia, Turkey and Serbia. Although the tragic defeat in WWI led to the Hapsburg Empire’s demise, huge Hungarian territorial losses and a defensive revisionism, this only replenished arguments for Hungarian civilizational superiority in the region. Hungary’s “in-between” position constructed a complex and ambivalent imperialist-nationalist discourse operating on various intertwined scales. The Carpathian Basin was envisioned as the scene of a “civilizing mission” by the superior Hungarian culture towards culturally backward and “half-Europeanized” landscapes, in order to both bring and protect European civilization by upholding a “bridge” role and an essential “healthy mix” of Eastern and Western traits. The ideal nation-bearing landscape of the Alföld basin was geographically co-constructed in relation to the Balkan “Other”, while imperialist visions of cultural expansion and economic modernization in the Balkans were naturalized through the concept of landscape: transforming the “wild” Karst and opening to “the Hungarian sea”.

Reklámok

The shifting hegemonic relations between American and German human geography in light of the quantitative revolution, 1900-1970s

This research project looks at two intertwined processes in the history of North American and German geography from the early 20th century to the 1970s. First, the shifting hegemonic relations between “theory-importer” United States and “theory-exporter” German human geography, in which a formerly peripheral US geography triumphed over its German counterpart and became hegemonic after WWII; second, this shift was connected to the post-WWII quantitative revolution in US and Canadian geography during the 1950s and 1970s, in which the discipline became a mathematical and rigorous Cold War spatial science. This project follows a transnational historical perspective in the historical geographies of scientific knowledge to look at how geographical knowledge circulated and interacted between North America and Germany. It does so by analyzing the influence and circulation of German geographical knowledge and location theories, most notably central place theory in urban and regional planning, which became a paradigmatic theory of Cold War geography internationally, and later re-influenced German geography from the late 1960s from the US. The research project is based on archival research and career path interviews with scholars connected to the quantitative revolution.

The Ghana Job: Opening Socialist Hungary to the “Developing World”

ghana-job-cover

17 April 5:30 PM

Rutgers_University_with_the_state_university_logo.svgSeminar Room
Department of Sociology
Rutgers University
26 Nichol Ave
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

facebook event

Why was Hungary interested in the decolonized “developing world”? What does this episode of Eastern European history tell us about shared postcolonialities, transnational interconnectivity, and semiperipheral positioning or development strategies? My talk introduces why and how socialist Hungary decided to develop foreign economic relations with decolonized countries, which in turn facilitated a new orientation towards the world and the emergence of Hungarian development expertise towards developing countries.

My study investigates the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (CAAR) founded at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1963 (in 1973 renamed as the Institute for World Economy, IWE) parallel to similar institutions founded internationally at that time. CAAR was established as a government think tank by József Bognár, who was a close friend to Prime Minister János Kádár and a hugely important figure in socialist era Hungarian reform economics and foreign economic policy-making. The associates of CAAR and IWE promoted export-oriented growth and fabricated new geographical development concepts as alternatives to the dichotomous Cold War categories of “capitalist” and “socialist” worlds in order to reposition Hungary in the world economy. The institute evolved out of the “Ghana job”: during his Eastern European round-trip president Kwame Nkrumah asked Bognár and his team of economists to develop the First Seven-Year Plan of Ghana in 1962.

During the Nkrumah period, the pan-Africanist, African socialist and Non-Aligned country of Ghana became a transnational hub of various experts and intellectuals, and a contested site not only of conflicting and intertwined “socialist” and “capitalist” views on development, but also of intensive cooperation and competition between Eastern Bloc countries in asserting their influence in the decolonized world. With Bognár’s assignment, the issue of “poorly developed countries” ignited the comparative reconceptualization of development histories in Hungary and led to exporting the Hungarian development model to the “Third World” based on the discourse of anti-imperialism, socialist solidarity and shared postcolonial histories.

In this context, I interpret the “Ghana job” from a postcolonial and world-systemic perspective as situated in a complex web of transnational relations, and point out Ghana’s decisive role in opening semiperipheral Hungary towards the global periphery during the 1960s by generating a field of development expertise, which enabled entrance into a new market of transnational development consultancy.

Download flyer (.pdf).

Why is the decolonization of the history of modern science and technology important in Eastern Europe?

Why is the decolonization of the history of modern science and technology important? So that we can understand why Francis Bacon’s iconic title page image of a European caravella navigating through the pillars of Hercules in his book Instauratio Magna (Great Instauration, 1620) or Novum Organum Scientiarum (“new instrument of science”), which indicated the new program for modern empirical (colonial) scientific development, was actually taken from Andrés García de Céspedes’s book, Regimiento de navegación (Madrid, 1606). This shows the Northwestern European (Dutch, British, German), Protestant hegemonic shift, which stigmatized the downfall of “luxurious”, “inefficient”, “rapacious”, “unindustrialized”, “state-led capitalist” Spain, the Iberian or Southwestern European imperial-colonial project, against the “industrial revolution” and “scientific revolution” of the Northerners, the latter of which the image became a symbol. The deconstruction of this narrative is important in revealing the concealed global histories of colonial scientific and technological development, which was partly a precondition for the development in the new hegemonic centre in Europe. The South American decolonialist approach might be an important influence in decolonizing Eastern European knowledge production, since the Northwestern-Atlantic-Protestant narrative of scientific development, largely present in social scientists’ work such as Max Weber or Karl Marx, was dominantly diffused in Eastern Europe as our Eurocentric understanding of global scientific and economic development. I was educated according to this narrative already in primary school. This story will be included in my chapter on decolonizing Eastern European history of science and technology in the book Technosciences of Post/Socialism planned to be published somewhere in 2018.

Credit goes to Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra‘s work in which I’ve read about parts of the argument I am making. Read a brief overview on William Eamon’s blog.

For those more professionally engaged in the history of science, find a superb overview of annotated literature here.

Pickers (2009): Eastern European migrant workers in the reverse light of Western migrant work

The Pickers shows a group of Romanian migrant workers at a UK strawberry farm who alternate their intensive strawberry picking with the editing and mediation of a 20th century film archive of British migrant hop pickers. Sited in a parallel reality distinctions are blurred as to where and when events are set, as they are between notions of labour and leisure, and the identity of an archive and its dissemination. ‘The Pickers’ becomes a dream; a Romanian advertisement to British migrant workers to come to Romania.

pickers_2009[VIMEO VIDEO COULD NOT BE EMBEDDED]

Maja and Reuben Fowkes wrote about this film in Art Monthly:

“A curious prequel to recent developments could be seen in Adam Chodzko’s insightftul 2009 film The Pickers, which addressed the nuances of economic migration by following the story of a group of young Romanians working in the strawberry industry in Kent. The scenario revolves around young East European labourers engaged in editing archive footage of seasonal hop pickers from the East End and reflecting on their own experience ofworking on a state-of-the-art agricultural plant in Kent. Scenes of men, women and children worhng together in the outdoors while blithely chatting away appear idyllically stress-free in comparison to the depersonalised, high-tech world of industrial market gardening, where every action of the labourer is scanned and calculated. In a moment of reverie, the Romanian worker-editors imagine a future in which the British would be attracted to make the reverse journey to work on Romanian farms, where the importance of workers’ relationship to the land and the social quality of labour are not yet extinct notions.”

 

The first All-African Peoples’ Conference on 5-13 December 1958 in Accra

You can read about the event and all later conferences on wikipedia.

“The ‘All-African Peoples Conference’ (AAPC) was partly a corollary and partly a different perspective to the modern Africa states represented by the Conference of Heads of independent Africa States. The ‘All-Africa Peoples Conference’ was conceived to include social groups, including ethnic communities and anti-colonial political parties and African organizations such as Labor Unions and other significant associations in the late 1950s and early 1960s both in Africa and the Diaspora such as Europe, North America and South America.

The first conference was preceded by a Preparatory Committee composed of representatives from the eight independent African states—other than South Africa. (They were EthiopiaGhanaGuineaLiberiaLibyaMoroccoTunisia, and the United Arab Republic.) The conference itself was attended by delegates from 28 African countries and colonies. The number of delegates was more than 300, and the conference claimed that they represented more than 200 million people from all parts of Africa. Tom Mboya, General Secretary of the Kenya Federation of Labour, was elected chairman.

One important discussion was over the legitimacy and desirability of using violence against the colonial powers. It was agreed that violence would be necessary in some cases. Concerning the struggle in Algeria, full support was given to the recently proclaimed Provisional Republican Government (Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne—GPRA). On the Cameroon, the Conference supported the fight of the UPC maquis, demanding full amnesty and UN-sponsored elections. The Conference considered unity and solidarity to be key strategies in the fight against colonialism and economic domination after colonialism; it called for the establishment of Africa-wide organisations, including trade unions youth groups, and a Bureau of Liberatory Movements. It was at this meeting that the decision was made to establish a permanent secretariat at Accra. The first secretary-general was George Padmore, then living in Ghana. The following year, he died and was replaced by Guinea’s Resident Minister in Ghana, Abdoulaye Diallo.”