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

The Semiperipheral Colonial Alternative: Visions of Hungarian Catholic Postcoloniality in Latin America

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This paper explores the trajectories of the Hungarian Jesuit missionary Béla Bangha (1880–1940) and his priest compatriot, Zoltán Nyisztor (1893–1979) in constructing a distinctively semiperipheral strategy of positioning post-Trianon (1920) Hungary in a global colonial vision connected to postcolonial Latin America. This analysis looks at their various writings, including Bangha’s articles and South American travelogue (1934), and Nyisztor’s papers, autobiographies and travel memoirs (1969; 1971; 1973; 1975; 1978) written in emigration. In interwar Hungary, they were both important leaders of the Catholic revitalization movement and their „militant Catholicism” held staunchly racist, anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic views (Nyisztor followed Ferenc Szálasi’s national-socialist, pro-Nazi Nyilas Movement). After 1920, the Trianon trauma of loosing Hungarian imperial hegemony and 2/3 of territory led to various repositioning strategies; Bangha and Nyisztor as travelling intellectuals opened up global arguments from the non-European world. In his South American travelogue (1934), Bangha fantasized about open and spiritually fertile (post)colonial spaces in Latin America, positioning the Hungarian Jesuit heritage of Indian reductions in the 17th century as ideal foundations for national revitalization, racial brotherhood and missionary expansion. This was posed against the colonial-imperialist, racially perilous Protestant mode of spiritless North American (Western) modern capitalism, thereby countering the dominant Western/Atlantic/Protestant narrative of global colonial history by channelling Hungarian ambitions into emancipating the silenced Southern colonial history. Bangha and Nyisztor developed racial visions of a decadent Indian race, which could only be saved by a white influx of racial mixing and Catholic civilizing, supported by an organized local Hungarian colonist diaspora – consisting in part of post-Trianon emigrants – through missionary activity. This paper aims to show their inherent semiperipheral dynamics of positioning Hungary in-between the global centre and periphery via a global colonial discourse connecting racial ideas from the non-European post-colonies with local Hungarian discussions of racial struggle and white supremacy.

Keywords: semiperipheral post/coloniality, white race, global colonial history, Hungarian Catholicism, Latin America

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Citation:

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

Socialist Worlds on Screen: Beyond Black and White

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Download poster and program.

Film Festival

Cinema Union (Bucharest, 24–27 June 2019)

The history of internationalism was quickly forgotten following the fall of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe. But now these stories are surfacing once again, fascinating a new generation alive to conflicts over peoples and cultures on the move in today’s global order and seeking fresh takes on the past. This festival presents a rich and exciting range of films inspired by ideas of revolution, national liberation, and solidarity between socialist Eastern Europe and the Global South. We bring the Romanian audience stories from Cuba, Angola, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritania, and the former Yugoslavia—stories that explore belonging, border-crossing, and belief in radical change. Several of the directors featured were themselves internationalist migrants in the socialist era—men and women from the Global South who brought their talents to the socialist East. All bring visions of socialist worlds that shatter the easy black and white categories of the Cold War and raise important questions about what it means to be international, and in solidarity, then and now.

The event is organized within the project “Socialism Goes Global: Connections between the ‘Second’ and the ‘Third’ Worlds” an initiative implemented by Universities of Exeter, Oxford, Leipzig, Columbia, Belgrade, University College London and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK). The curator of the festival is Prof. Kristin Roth-Ey (UCL).

The festival’s partners are: the Romanian National Film Archives – Cinemateca Română, British Council, French Institute (Bucharest), La Cinémathèque Afrique, Russian Centre for Science and Culture, Embassy of Cuba in Bucharest, ‘Respiro’- Human Rights Research Centre and Association ArtViva.

The films will be subtitled in Romanian and English or French.

Each film will be introduced before the screening by a special guest.

All films will be screened at Cinema Union (Ion Câmpineanu street, no 21, Bucharest, Romania). For tickets: kompostor.ro or the ticket booths at cinemas Union and Eforie.

Monday, June 24

18.30

The Teacher (El Brigadista) – Cuba, 1978, 111 minutes, subtitles in Romanian and English, feature film.

Director: Octavio Cortázar

Introduction (10 mins) by Vladimir Smith Mesa (UCL).

The film presents the literacy campaign in the early days of the Cuban revolution (1961) in order to explore the socialist “civilising mission” of the new regime in rural regions. The conflict between past and present holds centre stage along with the impact of the new regime on the social and gender identities of the main characters. The director, Octavio Cortázar studied film at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU).

The film received the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and the director was nominated for the Golden Bear (1978).

 

20.40

The First Teacher (Pervyy uchitel) – Russia, 1965, 102 minutes, subtitles in Romanian and English, feature film.

Director: Andrei Konchalovsky.

Introduction (10 mins) by Kristin Roth-Ey (UCL).

The first movie by director Andrei Konchalovsky based on a novel by Chingiz Aitmatov, who also wrote the screenplay. It presents the literacy campaign in Kyrgyzstan, focusing on the clash between generations and the conflicting identities (religious, gender, political etc.) triggered by the cultural-political offensive of the Soviet regime in the region.

Best director at Jussi Awards (Finland, 1973); nomination for the Golden Lion and Cupa Vopli (best actress) at the Venice Film Festival (1966).

 

Tuesday June 25

20.00

Guardian of the Frontier (Varuh meje) – Slovenia-Germany, 2002, 100 minutes, subtitles in Romanian and English, full feature.

Director: Maia Weiss.

Introduction (10 mins) by Catherine Baker (University of Hull).

The story of a canoeing trip by three students on the river Kolpa that separates Slovenia and Croatia and the conflict between their values determined by alternative views of society and tradition (e.g., gay identity) and the conservatism of local nationalist politician. The film focuses on the fluid identities and the new symbolic and physical frontiers of post-socialism – the fate of Chinese migrants in Eastern Europe is an important theme.

The Manfred Salzgeber Award at the International Film Festival in Berlin; the best actress and best director awards at the Slovene Film Festival; nomination for the director in the category “European Discovery” at the European Film Awards (2002).

 

Wednesday, June 26

20.00

October – 1992, Mauritania, 38 minutes, black and white, subtitles in Romanian and French, short film.

The second film by director Adberrahmane Sissako (well-known for works such as Bamako and Timbuktu) presents the love story of Idrissa, an African student in Moscow, and Ira (a young Russian woman). Their drama fleshes out the everyday challenges of human and revolutionary solidarities between the Soviet Union and African countries. Between 1983 and 1989, Adberrahmane Sissako studied at the All-Union State Film Institute in Moscow.

Nominated for the category “Un certain regard” at the Cannes Film Festival (1993); the best short film at the International Film Festival in Amiens (1994).

 

20.55

Rostov-Luanda – 1997, Mauritania, 60 minutes, subtitles in Romanian and French, documentary.

Director Adberrahmane Sissako and a former fighter in the Angolan national liberation war, whom he originally met in 1980 in Rostov-on-Don, embark on a journey across Angola and Benin, sixteen years later, searching for a former friend from their student years in the Soviet Union. The film analyses revolutionary hope and its disillusion from the post-independence period in Africa as well as the individual destinies of those caught in the maelstrom of history.

Special mention at the Festival of French-Speaking Film in Namur (Belgium), 1998.

Both films will be introduced (15 mins) by Kristin Roth-Ey (UCL).

 

Thursday, June 27

19.00

Monangambé – 1969, Algeria-Angola, 18 minutes, subtitles in Romanian and English, black and white, short film.

Director: Sarah Maldoror.

Introduction (5 mins) by Iolanda Vasile (University of Coimbra)

The title of the film is the cry of terror uttered by Angolan peasants upon finding out that Portuguese slave traders were near. It was re-appropriated as a rallying call by the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola fighting against Portuguese colonial rule. The short film tells everyday stories of the anti-colonial struggle. It is the first film by director Sarah Maldoror, who studied at the All-Union State Film Institute in Moscow and is widely considered the matriarch of African cinema.

Screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971.

 

19.50

Cuba, An African Odyssey – 2007 – France-UK, 118 minutes, subtitles in Romanian and English, documentary.

Director – Jihan El Tahri.

Introduction (10 mins) by Kristin Roth-Ey (UCL).

The documentary, sponsored by Arte and BBC Films, presents the story of the Cuban military assistance to national liberation movements in Africa from the 1960s to the end of the Cold War. The film shows the central role played by Cuba in Africa’s decolonisation and in wars such as those in Angola and Ethiopia, emphasizing the fusion between socialism, anti-imperialism, and nationalism.

Awards: Vues d’Afrique de Montréal and FESPACO (2007); Sunny Side of the Docs, Marseilles (2006).

Hungarian Indians: Racial and Anti-Colonial Solidarity in Post-Trianon Hungary

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Ervin Baktay posing as Chief Lazy Buffalo

Find below a new abstract I produced for the “Historicizing ‘Whiteness’ in Eastern Europe and Russia” conference call, an event organised by the Centre for the Study of Equal Opportunity Policies at the Political Science Department, University of Bucharest on 25–26 June, 2019.

The end of the First World War propelled the rearrangement of the global colonial-imperial order, including Central and Eastern European relations, positions and strategies within this system. In Hungary, the Axis defeat and the humiliating Treaty of Trianon (1920) delivered a fatal blow to expansive imperialist and ethnic assimilationist visions, and led to the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the peripheral destabilisation of previous legitimation to nationalist and ethnocentric superiority based on the global racial-colonial order. Stuck between rivalling and hostile “small Entente” nationalisms, the Hungarian post-Trianon urge to reorganise global alliances and solidarity networks and to reinvent the racial and cultural basis of national coherence resulted in various strategies. These included defensive and traumatised victimisation intertwined with cultural superiority, visions of agrarian revitalisation and “third way” development (folk writers), revanchist search for Eastern alliances against the Atlantic West (Turanism), bitter critique of Wilsonian sovereignty in the League of Nations decolonisation debates, and radical versions of expansive racial imperialisms by geopoliticians aligned to the Italian and German “colony question”.

In this context, Hungarian cultural connections to North American Indians emerged in the 1920s as both a state-subsidised and bottom-up anti-colonial solidarity movement engaging with comparative colonial experiences. The boy scouts’ movement, through the initiative of Pál Strilich, actively popularised Indian culture by building on (and partly criticising) the widely popular genre of the Western and the exoticised pioneer frontier of the Wild West – an uncertain but promising “free world” in which masculinity, survival and combat virtues, and lonely heroes of valour amidst moral turmoil served well in post-Trianon imaginations. Solidarity with the Indian “noble savage” was established through cultural similarities in nomadic culture and mythology (Hungarian Orientalism), romanticist longing for an essential and authentic culture (nativism), return to nature and mysticism, revival of an idealised folk culture and delinked rural utopia (tribe communities), and – most importantly – anti-colonial solidarity resonating with ideas of a lost homeland, traumatised subalternity and revanchist anti-Western critique. Hungarian Indian subjectivity and cultural appropriation entangled with local centre-periphery relations by mobilising rural identities and criticizing decadent and alienated urban life, capitalism, modernity, and Western imperialism. Since the mongolid Indian “redskins” fitted neatly in the “noble Other” Asian “yellow race” within the Eurocentric tripartite racial hierarchy (white, yellow, black), Hungarians positioned the Indians within state-led Turanism, the search for the magyar homeland and cultural imperialism towards the East, thereby legitimating bonds of racial brotherhood. The paper explores these processes through the activities of various “Hungarian Indians,” including the “Indologist Indian” Ervin Baktay, József Wiesler aka Kószáló Éji Sas (Roaming Night Eagle), and Sándor Borvendég Deszkáss aka Fehér Szarvas (White Deer). After Sovietisation, “Hungarian Indians” became a reactionary anti-communist counterculture which fought in the 1956 revolution, and remained a subculture during socialism. This paper interprets the Hungarian Indian trope as a peculiar semiperipheral colonial strategy of racial in-betweenness, and rethinks this legacy in light of the selective racialisation of current political discourse and biopolitics, including solidarity, migration and reproduction.

Keywords: Hungarian Indians, anti-colonial solidarity, semiperipheral coloniality, racial politics

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