Plotting the Semiperipheral Empire: Hungarian Balkanism and Global Colonialism in Geographical Knowledge, 1867–1948

43rd Annual Conference on the Political Economy of the World-System

Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg, Germany

Topic: 2. The Balkans’ inter-imperial linkages

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. Since the 1990s, postcolonial literature has extended Orientalism to the Western construction of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and has reinterpreted colonial relations with regards to Soviet imperialism, the postsocialist transition, the European integration, and Eastern Europe’s role in decolonization and socialist globalization. However, due to dominant historical narratives, the imperialist or colonialist ambitions of Eastern or East Central Europe seem to go against the grain, since these countries were often colonized, rarely or never held any colonies, and did not have any significant colonial ambitions.

This contradiction may be resolved by revising the restrictive Western-Atlantic narrative of global history and the territorial understanding of colonialism, and look into the various ways colonialism and imperialism were spatially practiced and geographically imagined in Hungary. Hungarian geographical knowledge production from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries related to the Balkans is a demonstrative case study of semiperipheral imperialism. Hungarian imperialist ambitions grew 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 defensive revisionism, these only replenished arguments for Hungarian civilizational superiority in the region.

Hungary’s semiperipheral “in-between” position constructed a complex and ambivalent imperialist-nationalist discourse on various intertwined scales. On the global scale, Hungary was imagined as part of an Empire and the superior white race and civilization. The country was an active observer, participant, and benefiter of “high imperialism”, and Hungarian Balkanism was both deeply intertwined with and a semiperipheral compensation to global colonialism. Standing at both a global civilizational fault line and exchange border, Hungary’s “turn to the East” represented a geopolitical rhetoric of developing Orientalism, approaching the post-Ottoman Balkans, and searching for the Hungarian homeland in Central Asia as an attempt at East-West maneuvering and cultural imperialism in the Asian continent. On the European scale, Hungary countered (mostly) German and Austrian hegemony and Western Europe, but also expanded national hegemony by upholding the merits of European civilization against the half-European periphery and the non-European world, acting as the “lord protector” of Christian Europe against the Muslim East. On the regional scale, the Carpathian Basin became the stage of a Hungarian “civilizing mission” 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 hearthland landscape of the Alföld basin was geographically co-constructed in relation to the Balkan “Other”, while imperialist visions of cultural and economic expansion were naturalized by transforming the “wild” Karst and opening to “the Hungarian sea”. The Balkans offered a gateway to sovereign Hungarian development by de-linking from Western dependency and maturing as a true European nation by linking through active maritime participation to the global colonial world.

See an earlier version of this project here.

Reklámok

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

Magyar úti leírások és regényirodalom a gyarmati világról

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Összegyűjtöttem egy kb. 800 könyvnyi adatbázist a (poszt)koloniális világról szóló, magyar szerzőktől származó vagy magyar nyelvre lefordított úti leírásokból és regényirodalomból – kiadási adatokkal (szerző, fordító, évszám, kiadó, oldalszám, sorozat, link) és borítóképekkel. Köztük vannak ponyvák és tudományos munkák is, 19. század közepi írások és egészen a rendszerváltásig (1989) megjelenő szövegek, illetve másodlagos irodalom is erről a témáról. A legtöbbet ebben az antikvarium.hu adatbázisa segített! Ezekből is fogok mazsolázni a Magyar Kritikai Geográfusok Fóruman indított blogsorozatomhoz, amely Magyarország és a gyarmati világ viszonyával foglalkozik!


– ENGLISH VERSION –

HUNGARIAN TRAVEL AND NOVEL WRITING ABOUT THE COLONIAL WORLD

I compiled a database with around 800 books about the (post)colonial world, mostly travelogues and novels written or translated by Hungarians – with book covers and pubication details (author, translator, date, publisher, length, series, link). These books range from pulp fiction and scientific studies, mid-19th century writings up until the system change (1989), and include secondary literature on the topic. My greatest help in this work was the database of antikvarium.hu! I will present some of these books in my blog series shared on the Forum for Hungarian Critical Geographers, which is about how Hungary related to the colonial world!

Gyarmati tudást termelő magyar geográfusok

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1935-ben a neves geográfus, Kádár László jelentetett meg egy tudományos ismeretterjesztő magazinban, a Búvárban cikket Afrika gyarmatosításának a történetéről. Néhány évvel később a magyar gyarmati tudástermelés az olasz és német gyarmati érdekek propagálása felé fordult, és élesszavú geopolitikusok (mint a németbarát Kalmár Gusztáv) kezdték mérlegelni, hogy Magyarország hogyan tudna ezen hatalmak afrikai térnyerésének farvizén érvényesülni. Ugyanabban az évben Kádár egy másik cikket is írt az olasz gyarmatosításról és Abesszíniáról, amit nemsokára lerohant az olasz hadsereg. Még Kádár viszonylag leíró és mértéktartó elbeszélését, amelyben olykor-olykor felbukkan az afrikai népek szabadságával szembeni halovány szimpátia is, lényegében nagy eurocentrikus narratívák uralják. Minden történelmi eseményt pusztán az európai hatalmak racionális és felvilágosult “döntéseire” vezet vissza, miközben az afrikai népek érdekeit, cselekedeteit és ellenállását elhallgatja. Afrika gyarmatiság előtti történelmét félreteszi, és az európaiak késői területi gyarmatosítását (a 19. század végétől) mindössze éghajlati és földrajzi tényezőkkel magyarázza, holott a valóságban az európaiak erős ellenállásba ütköztek a felfegyverzett afrikai államok részéről:

“Ennek az oka elsősorban a kontinens felszíne és éghajlata: partjai majdnem kivétel nélkül meredek, magas partok, amelyekre nehéz felkapaszkodni, a folyók is vízesésekkel zuhognak alá közvetlenül a torkolatuk előtt is, és így víziúton sem lehet a szárazföld belsejét megközelíteni. Északon a Szahara széles sivatagja is megközelíthetetlenné teszi az értékes Szudánt. Délen pedig a gyilkos trópusi klíma is erősen hátráltat. Ez magyarázza meg azt, hogy amikor Amerikában és Indiában már virágzó ültetvények voltak, Afrikát csak munkásembert szolgáltató kontinensnek tekintették és tovább nem érdeklődtek iránta.” (681. o.)



– ENGLISH VERSION –


HUNGARIAN GEOGRAPHERS PRODUCING COLONIAL KNOWLEDGE

In 1935, the noted geographer László Kádár published in a popular scientific magazine, Búvár about the history of colonizing Africa. A few years later Hungarian colonial knowledge production turned towards propagating Italian and German colonial interests, with rabid geopoliticians (such as the pro-German Gusztáv Kalmár) calculating how Hungary could follow up on the their promising trajectories in Africa. In the same year, Kádár also wrote another article about Italian colonies and Abyssinia, a country which was soon occupied by the Italian army. Even in Kádár’s rather descriptive and moderately toned account on African colonization, which was sprinkled with traces of distanced sympathy towards African independence, we can see grand Eurocentric narratives unfold. All historical events are simply based on the rational and enlightened “decisions” of European powers, without any account of the interests, actions and resistance of African people. The precolonial African history is sidelined, and the late territorial acquisitions of colonies in the continent (from the late 19th century) is explained by climatic and geographical factors, while Europeans met with the strong resistance of militarized African states:

“The main reason for this is the continent’s relief and climate: its shores are almost exclusively high and steep, which are hard to climb, and rivers plunge down in waterfalls even near the mouth, thus the internal lands cannot be reached through waterways. In the north, the wide desert of the Sahara makes the valuable Sudan inapproachable. In the south, the devastating tropical climate also forms an impediment. This explains that while in America or India there were already blooming plantations, Africa was seen as a continent offering manpower and remained of no further interest.” (p. 681)

Új blogsorozat: Magyarország és a gyarmati világ / New blog series: Hungary and the colonial world

A bevett olvasat szerint nekünk soha nem voltak gyarmataink, sosem vettünk részt a gyarmatosításban, ezért semmi közünk nincsen a (poszt)gyarmati világhoz. De valóban így lenne? Új blogsorozatom ezt a témát igyekszik körüljárni! Hogyan kapcsolódott Magyarország a gyarmatosításhoz, a gyarmatbirodalmi rendszerhez és a gyarmati diskurzushoz? Milyen módokon fogalmazták meg a gyarmatiság kérdését és problémáját magyar tudósok, írók és politikusok? Hogyan termelték, mutatták be és hogyan fogyasztotta a magyar közönség a kolonializmusról és a gyarmati világról szóló földrajzi tudást? Hányféleképpen értelmezhetjük a gyarmat és a gyarmatosítás fogalmait magyar és kelet(közép-)európai szempontból? Vajon hogyan tekinthetünk a magyar történelemre és társadalomra másképpen a gyarmati viszonyok vizsgálata szempontjából? A bejegyzések a magyar földrajzi tudástermelés (poszt)koloniális viszonyait feltáró kutatásaimat követik kritikai geográfus szemmel, várhatóan magyar és angol nyelvű olvasók számára is!

Kövessed és oszd meg a bejegyzéseket Facebookon a Magyar Kritikai Geográfusok Fórumán!


– ENGLISH VERSION –

According to the dominant narrative, we Hungarians never had colonies, we never participated in colonization, and so we have nothing to do with the (post)colonial world. But is this so? My new blog series aims to cover this topic! How did Hungary relate to colonization, the imperial colonialist system, and colonial discourse? In what ways was the colonial question problematized and discussed by Hungarian scholars, writers and politicians? How was geographical knowledge about colonialism and the colonial world produced, presented and consumed by the Hungarian public? How can we conceptualize the terms colony and colonialism from a Hungarian and Eastern (Central) European perspective? In what multiple ways can we understand Hungarian history and society differently in light of colonial relations? The blog posts will follow my research on the (post)colonial relations of Hungarian geographical knowledge production from a critical geographical view, hopefully coming to both Hungarian and English readers!

Check out and share the posts on Facebook on the Forum for Hungarian Critical Geographers!

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 occupied 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)

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.

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.”

 

Hungary and Ghana, 1950s-1960s

21083554_1409636279072924_5180471301300472123_oMy research report to the Open Society Archives turned out to be a draft of a lengthy working paper that summarizes some of the materials I have been working with. You can read about my OSA research proposal here.

Even from this vastly text I had to leave out a lot of other materials. Unfortunately I will only have time to work again on this later, so I decided to share here some thoughts that could not be included.

One of the books that were very influential to me (but haven’t included into the draft) gave me a great overview of the early Eastern European relations towards decolonizing/ed Africa (the “Third World”). What I find most interesting is not only the relative autonomy of the Eastern Bloc in developing their foreign relations, but also the continuities between previous colonial era and postcolonial relations. Another issue is the role of China, not only how the Sino-Soviet split influenced the Soviet Union to maintain the relative autonomy of the Eastern Bloc, but also China’s early postcolonial trajectories in gaining a foothold in Africa.

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“By 1958, well before substantial new opportunities arose south of the Sahara, East Europe’s trade with Asia, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa was already greater than that of the Soviet Union; ithad more than doubled since 1954 and amounted to approximately five per cent of the area’s total trade. Some of this commercial activity, of course, was no more than a partial return to normal trade patterns that had been interrupted by the war and later inhibited for political and ideological reasons. Yet the very fact that old patterns existed and could be resumed was important, since the arrival of East European traders and governmental representatives in Africa did not appear to the new states as a novel or menacing overture, but rather as a natural resumption of established policies.”

— Robert and Elizabeth Bass: Eastern Europe, in: Zbigniew Brzezinski: Africa and the Communist World, Hoover Institution, 1963, p. 88.