Hungarian doctors in the land of the Papuans

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A Papuan village near Kutubu Lake

“Few people know that in the heroic period of discovering Papua New Guinea — apart from Hungarian missionaries — many Hungarian doctors also resided on the island, more concretely on its east side under the governance of Australia. […] During the Second World War, amongst the many fleeing to the West were hundreds of Hungarian doctors. Unfortunately, they could not attain medical jobs, because most countries did not accept their degrees. This was the situation in Australia, where Hungarian doctors could at best work as hospital carers or assistants. But a special situation emerged in the Australian side of Papua New Guinea. During the Pacific war the Japanese occupied the whole area, and the Europeans fled, together with them all doctors. After the war only very few were venturesome enough to return to the dauntingly miserable conditions, therefore on the 462.000 square kilometers area of Papua New Guinea the 2,5 million indigenous inhabitants were left without any reasonable medical care. In the end of the 1940s, Australian authorities decided to permit refugee doctors from Hungary and other foreign countries to professional activities in New Guinea. […] Altogether 15 Hungarian doctors went to New Guinea in the early 1950s. Not all of them could accustom themselves to the harsh conditions, and after a shorter or longer period these returned to Australia. However, 7 of them committed themselves to the sacrificing mission and the majority spent 20–22 years amongst the Papuans.” (Kászoni 1990: 58, 61)

papua-new-guinea-hungarian-doctors.jpgThe working districts of Hungarian doctors: 1. Dr. András Becker; 2. Dr. Károly Haszler; 3. Dr. János Loschdorfer; 4. Dr. Károly Mészáros; 5. Dr. Lajos Róth; 6. Dr. Alajos Szymicsek; 7. Dr. Ferenc Tuza.

Kászoni, Dénes (1990): Magyar orvosok a pápuák földjén. Földrajzi Múzeumi Tanulmányok, 8: 58–61.

Reklámok

The geography of the Nazi deportation of Jews and other ethnicities in Eastern Europe

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Nazi propaganda poster of the Third Reich in 1939 (dark grey) after the conquest of Poland. It depicts pockets of German colonists resettling into Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany from Soviet controlled territories during the “Heim ins Reich” action. The outline of Poland (here superimposed in red) was missing from the original poster. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generalplan_Ost

“The further east the Jewish communities were located the shorter was their path to the place of annihilation. Within the Soviet Union where the Jewish communities were hardly organized effectively within a ghetto, the Jewish population was usually summoned by the SS men and executed near the town where they were concentrated. In Poland where the ghettos and Jewish self-government had existed for several years, the Germans took precautions not to annoy the Jews by the executions in the vicinity of the towns but disposed of them in secret and distant extermination camps. In this way the Germans could secure initially the cooperation of the Jewish Councils which readily supplied the requested quotas “for resettlement and work in the East” from the overpopulated, starved, and disease-ridden ghettos.

The Nazis went to greater pains to preserve the appearance of “enlistment for work” in other countries under their occupation and especially in their satellites. In some cases there were regular contracts offered to the semi-independent governments which provided for the delivery of Jews for the “work in the German East” and these even included a clause for eventual return if the governments concerned wanted them back. The “enlisted” Jews were then transported eastward, sometimes as far as Riga and Minsk, but usually to the closer extermination camps in Poland. Sometimes to show off Germany as a “cultured nation,” the Nazis transported the Western Jews in luxurious pullman trains and supplied them with fancy camping equipment (like tents and field-kitchens) which, of course, were taken away at the place of destination.”

Kamenetsky, Ihor (1961): Secret Nazi Plans for Eastern Europe. New York: Bookman Associates. 168–169.

How the Polish gold train got stuck in French Africa during WWII

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I just read about the Polish banker and economist Leon Barański (1895-1982), who worked as an expert and permanent representative of the World Bank in Ghana during 1962-1964. Then through his biography, I bumped into this epic story of how the Polish Bank tried to save its gold during World War Two, a process which Barański organized as the bank director. This was a truly geographical history: the plan was to evacuate the gold from France to the United States of America. In August 1939, the Polish Central Bank had gold resources with a value of 463.6 million zlotys, ca. 87 million USD, weighing 79.5 tonnes. Most of the bank’s treasury got transported to Romania, then from Constanza to Turkey to Syria to Lebanon (then French colony) to France. But the Romanians left 4 tonnes in the National Bank of Romania, where it survived the war. The Communists who ruled Poland had no knowledge of the gold in Romania, which was hid in the Tismana Monastery on Starmina Mountain, and this news only reached Warsaw in October 1945. A complicated lawsuit and negotiation commenced until the gold finally arrived in Warsaw on 18 September 1947.

But in France, as the Germans were occupying the country during 1940, the Polish gold was only sent out from the country on 17 June, and not to the USA or the French Antilles, but to Dakar in West Africa, and further to Fort Kayes (Mali) deep in the French Sahara. After the French surrendered on 22 June, the emigré Polish Bank’s demands to retrieve the gold from the French proved effortless, and de Gaulle’s Vichy Government, which promised to return the gold, failed to take possession of Dakar. Since the French later denied that the gold was still in West Africa, the Polish made the US government sue the Banque de France and seize its assets in New York. In the fall of 1942, after the invasion of North-West Africa by the Allied Forces under operation “Torch”, one of the directors of the Polish Bank, Major Stefan Michalski, was sent on a mission to Algiers on 13 February 1943 to find out if the Polish gold was still in West Africa. Eventually the French admitted it was in Kayes, and after Polish inspection the gold was transported back to Dakar in 1944, so it may head off to the USA. However, the French Committee of National Liberation debated the release of the gold by arguing that if the Polish government-in-exile were not able to return to Poland and a Russian-backed government were established there, then this government would undoubtedly ask for the return of the Polish Bank’s gold. Eventually the gold was taken over by a special committee of the Polish Bank led by director Michalski in February and March 1944.

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The Sahara in Algeria. Photo: National Digital Archive

You can read more about this history here:

https://www.nbp.pl/…/Bankoteka_4_September_2014_internet.pdf
Rojek, W. (2000): Odyseja skarbu Rzeczypospolitej. Wyd. Literackie, Kraków.
https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Bara%C5%84ski_(bankier)

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”.

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”

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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).

This research received support from the “NKFIH K No. 115870” project entitled “Contemporary theories of space and spatiality in the Central Eastern European context” (“Kortárs térelméletek közép-kelet-európai kontextusban”) funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (NRDIO) in Hungary.

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.