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 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

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

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.

Bibliography

Bakić-Hayden, M. (1995): Nesting Orientalism: the Case of Former Yugoslavia. Slavic Review, 54(4): 917–931.

Balogh, P. (2015): Returning to Eurasia from the heart of Europe? Geographical metanarratives in Hungary and beyond. In: Törnquist-Plewa, B., Bernsand, N., Narvselius, E. (eds.) Beyond Transition? Memory and Identity Narratives in Eastern and Central Europe. Lund University. 191–208.

––––. (2017): The revival of ‘Central Europe’ among Hungarian political elites: its meaning and geopolitical implications. Hungarian Geographical Bulletin, 66(3): 191–202.

Böröcz, J. (1992): Dual Dependency and the Informalization of External Linkages: The Case of Hungary. Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, 14: 189–209.

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

Böröcz, J., Sarkar, M. (2017): The Unbearable Whiteness of the Polish Plumber and the Hungarian Peackock Dance around “Race”. Slavic Review, 76(2): 307–314.

Chari, S., Verdery, K. (2009): Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51(1): 6–34.

Gille, Z. (2010): Is There a Global Postsocialist Condition? Global Society, 24(1): 9–30.

Ginelli, Z. (2017): Opening the Semi-Periphery: Hungary and Decolonisation. OSA Visegrad Fund Scholarship Research Report.

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/

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

Mark, J., Apor, P. (2015): Socialism Goes Global: Decolonization and the Making of a New Culture of Internationalism in Socialist Hungary, 1956–1989. The Journal of Modern History, 87(4): 852–891.

Mark, J., Slobodian, Q. (2018): Eastern Europe in the Global History of Decolonization. In: Thomas, M., Thompson, A. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of the Ends of Empire. Oxford University Press. 351–372.

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

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

Márk, É., Gagyi, Á., Gerőcs, T., Jelinek, C., Pinkasz A. (2014): 1989: Szempontok a rendszerváltás globális politikai gazdaságtanához. [1989: Considerations for the global political economy of the system change.] Fordulat, 21(1): 11–61.

Mayblin, L., Piekut, A., Valentine, G. (2016): ’Other’ Posts in ’Other’ Places: Poland through a Postcolonial Lens? Sociology, 50(1): 60–76.

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

Péteri, G. (2012): Transsystemic Fantasies: Counterrevolutionary Hungary at Brussels’ Expo ’58. Journal of Contemporary History, 47(1): 137–160.

Stanek, Ł. (2020): Architecture in Global Socialism: Eastern Europe, West Africa, and the Middle East in the Cold War. Princeton University Press. Todorova, M. (1997): Imagining the Balkans. Oxford University Press.

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

Opening Hungary to Global Colonialism: János Xántus and Hungarian Orientalism in East and Southeast Asia

Josef Püttner: SMS Novara in Venice, after 1862. Xántus sailed on this Austrian ship to Asia. Source: Hungarian Museum of Ethnography.

Why is Eastern Europe still on the margins of colonial history? This historical silence is partly due to Western knowledge hegemony, but partly because Eastern Europeans have routinely positioned themselves as “always colonised” but “never having colonies”, thereby victimising themselves and denying their historical participation in global colonialism. Under “colonial rule” since Ottoman occupation (1526), but later as part of the Habsburg Empire, from the mid-19th century on, Hungarians increasingly sought in their contested, in-between semiperipheral position to open up to global colonialism.[1] This process may be demonstrated by the Asian expeditions of János Xántus (1825–1894), one of the most famed Hungarian natural scientists of the 19th century.

Zoologist and ethnographer, Xántus was founding contributor to the Hungarian National Museum, corresponding fellow of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1859), founder and first director of the first Hungarian zoo (1866) and the Ethnographic Museum (1872), and founding member of the Hungarian Geographical Society (1872). He became a political refugee due to serving as officer in the failed 1848–49 Hungarian war of independence from the Habsburg Empire, in the 1850s and early 1860s he was drawn into North American expeditions, wrote about the culture and colonial subjugation of Indians, and developed a vast network to transfer specimens regularly back to Hungary. Upon his final return to Hungary, he was given the opportunity after the Austro-Hungarian compromise (1867) to participate in a series of imperial expeditions to East and Southeast Asia during 1868–71, which included Ceylon, Siam, Singapore, Java, China, Japan, Taiwan, The Philippines, and Borneo. Austrians had planned to open up to the East since 1860, but expeditions were delayed due to internal conflicts, the Prussian-Austrian war in 1866, and the execution of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian in Mexico in 1967. The Austro-Hungarian expedition was to develop foreign trade relations and secure colonial positions in Southeast and East Asia with the opening of the Suez Canal (1869). However, the expedition did not fulfil its promise, and was torn by internal political tensions between Austrian and Hungarian counterparts: as a “1848er” independence fighter, Xántus struggled to have the expedition serve Hungarian national interests against Austrian suppression.

Description: ántus utazásai
Map of the the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy’s East Asian expedition – straight: joint route of the Donau frigate and the Erzherzog Friedrich corvette; dashed: route of the Donau frigate through South America; dotted: route of the Erzherzog Friedrich through Suez. Source: Gyarmati János (2019): Xántus kontra Scherzer – Az osztrák-magyar kelet-ázsiai expedíció és Xántus János. A Földgömb.

This paper gives a postcolonialist, critical geographical, and global historical re-interpretation of this expedition based on the travel writing of Xántus published during 1877–1886.[2] Against the dominantly biographical and documentary accounts on Xántus, which follow institutional or nationalist legitimation logics in presenting his “heroic” figure (focusing on his collections, personality and merits), this study instead engages with his activities in colonial networks, his descriptions of local industry and European export ambitions, and his global comparative ideas about colonialism and race, including comparisons between his local Hungarian, Eastern European, and Asian experiences. Whilst Xántus was known for his humanist critique of colonialism and solidarity with the colonially suppressed (especially in the case of North American Indians), his Asian travelogues shed light on his staunch support for the European colonial system, and how his activities relied on and contributed to national and imperial power networks and interests. In Borneo, he praised British colonialism against the Dutch, who “achieved success by resorting to the iron rod, absolute tyranny, and treaded ruthlessly upon all human rights (…), while England introduced to all its colonies English self-government, and shared its own freedoms with the conquered”.[3] As a prolific writer, he constructed his reporting credibility through various modalities, references, and practices, and contributed to a positive geographical imagination of the “fresh” and “juvenile” tropics ripe for exploration and exposed to masculine colonial practices of overcoming nature.[4] Swaying between imperialist Eurocentrism and anti-Eurocentric criticism, his depictions of the East fitted into the wider colonial discourse of European Orientalism, but through an Eastern European eye. His travelogues detailed the global political economy of the Hungarian diaspora, such as plantation workers, officers, traders, or the global remittance network of Gypsy and Sekler (székely) entertainers from Transylvania.[5]

The Great Channel of Singapore (expedition’s photo).
Source: Hungarian Museum of Ethnography.
Singaporean streets (expedition’s photo)
Source: Hungarian Museum of Ethnography.
Chinese sampans (engraving based on expedition’s photo).
Source: Khinai sámpánok. (Xántus leveléhez) Hazánk s a Külföld, 6(10): 149.

In a wider historical context, the expedition of Xántus not only tells us much about how Hungarian geographical knowledge production was embedded in global colonialism, but also demonstrates the shift from reproducing dominantly Western geographic images of Asia towards developing an expansionist Hungarian Orientalism and Eurasian geopolitical vision between the late 19th and the mid-20th centuries. The newer generation of expeditions, such as by Benedek Baráthosi Balogh, Béla Széchenyi, Lajos Lóczy, Jenő Cholnoky, János Kovrig, or Viktor Keöpe, increasingly imagined Asia within a Turanist vision, an overarching geographical-cultural ideology of Hungarian-Asian racial brotherhood, which served as a semiperipheral imperialist globalisation strategy to counter or bypass Habsburg dependency and Western imperialism.

Xántus, through his popular figure as a prolific field-working scientist and a “national hero” who fought against the Habsburgs in 1848, was among the few “bourgeois” explorers to be early rehabilitated in the Communist era, since Habsburg rule was interpreted as a form of colonialism, and this history facilitated relations with decolonising Afro-Asian countries after WWII. But even today, discussion of Hungarian explorers’ colonialist and racist attitudes are absent from national collective memory, and as recent Chinese expansion with the New Silk Road and One Belt One Road macroprojects has reignited the Hungarian Orientalist heritage in culture and foreign policy, perhaps it is timely to re-evaluate the colonial history of Hungarian relations to Asia.

The shack of János Xántus in Borneo (his own drawing).
Source: Gyarmati, J. (2019): Xántus János, a gyűjtő. Honismeret, 47(6): 8–15.
The East Asian collection at the exhibition of the National Museum. Source: Hazánk s a Külföld, 1871, 225.

[1] Ginelli, Z. (forthcoming): Global Colonialism and Hungarian Semiperipheral Imperialism in the Balkans. Manuscript.

[2] This paper also builds on the Xántus collection organized by the research project of János Gyarmati, “The Austro-Hungarian East Asia Expedition and the Collection of János Xántus”.

[3] Xántus, J. (1880): Borneo szigetén 1870-ben tett utazásomról. Földrajzi Közlemények, 8: 153–219. p. 156.

[4] Xántus, J. (1879): Uti emlékeim Singapoore és vidékéről. Győr: Özv. Bauervein Gézáné. p. 35–36.

[5] Ibid, p. 86–92.

Read a previous description of this project here.

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Citation:

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

Semiperipheral Empire: Hungarian Balkanism in Global Colonialism

Alexander Ritter von Bensa the Younger/Adolf Obermüller: North Camp at Mostar during the Bosnian campaign, 1878
Heeresgeschichtliches MuseumMuseum of Military History

In postcolonial studies, Eastern Europe’s colonial experiences and ambitions have been routinely silenced in the literature’s focus on (post)colonial centres and peripheries. The region remains largely absent from mainstream textbooks, which is indicative not only of Western academics’ ignorance and knowledge imperialism, but also of Eastern European authors’ relative neglect or inability to contribute. In Hungarian history, the country has been routinely positioned as colonized victim without any significant colonizer role in global history. Recently, this argument has been forcefully taken up by the (far) right-wing government’s political discourse, which has mobilized decolonial arguments to critique “Western imperialists”, while nationalism has sparked nostalgia towards Hungarian imperial “high times” and reignited racism towards the global periphery.

In postcolonial literature on Eastern Europe, the relationship between the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the Balkans is a relatively well-developed context. Nevertheless, Austria’s participation in global colonialism has been recurrently denied by expanding on the country’s neutral role during and after WWII, which was opportunistically used to develop good relations with the Non-Aligned Movement. In addition, the recent focus on Austrian colonialism has left Hungarian colonial activities and ambitions as part of the Empire unexplored. During the socialist era, the narrative of Habsburg colonialism – following anti-German sentiment – was used to position Hungary as part of the colonized world during Afro-Asian decolonization, but Hungarian historical participation in colonialist and imperialist projects, such as towards the Balkans, have been simultaneously de-emphasized. These silences still produce huge biases in current Hungarian attitudes, politics, and historical memory. In recent years, Hungarian scholars have been producing detailed accounts of the imperialist ambitions of the Hungarian Kingdom towards the Balkans, but only in Hungarian (or perhaps German), and these remained rather descriptive and unreflective of postcolonial epistemology or global structural analysis.

This paper interprets Hungarian Balkanism in a global historical and world-systemic perspective as part of global colonialism. It argues that the literature’s uneasiness of applying postcolonialism to the region relies on a false fixation on the hegemonic Western-Atlantic concept of global colonial history, which may be resolved by acknowledging the transnational nature of colonialism and examining Eastern Europe’s in-between semiperipheral position in the capitalist world-system and in global colonial history. The paper aims to critique the constructivist and relational postcolonial epistemology of Balkanism (varieties of Orientalism), and the various Eastern European typologies (“continental”, “internal”, “semi-“, “small” imperialism/colonialism) and geographical biases in postcolonial studies, to look at how Hungarian colonialism towards the Balkans from the mid-19th century served in world-systemic linking-delinking strategies, and in relieving structural dependencies. Finally, it looks at the discursive continuities of Balkanism as a form of semiperipheral imperialism: how the government’s nationalist identity politics and global maneuvering (“Eastern Opening”) affected Hungarian Balkanists’ public nostalgia for the imperial “boom era” and their contested relations to Islam.

Turkish President Reccep Erdoğan praying at the Tomb of Gül Baba in Budapest during his visit in 2018. Source: Turkish Presidency / Murat Cetin/Anadolu Agency / 444.hu
Studying the Balkans Globally Workshop 
Department of Politics Faculty of Media and Communications (FMK) Belgrade – Belgrade, 3 April 2020

See a previous version of this project here.

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Citation:

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

The Clash of Colonialisms: Hungarian Communist and Anti-Communist Decolonialism in the Third World

This research explores how Hungarians on both sides of the Iron Curtain opened up to Afro-Asian decolonisation through competing constructions of Eastern European semiperipheral postcoloniality. Eastern Europe has been excluded from global colonial history, which only accounts for the relationship between the global center and periphery, the colonisers and colonised. But the remarkable neglect of the region’s colonial history stems from its semiperipheral position. For Eastern Europe, the contradictory position of being part of the global center but also contesting it by allying with the periphery, being a colonial collaborant of White Empire but also critiquing or fearing Western colonialism resulted in an contradictory, in-between semiperipheral manoeuvring within the global world system. While recent studies in global history have dealt more and more with the relationship between the Second and Third Worlds during the Cold War, none of these analyses looked at the parallels and interactions between communist and anti-communist trajectories of colonial discourse and anti-colonialism in light of this Eastern European semiperipheral dynamic.

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 and Smallholders’ Party leader Ferenc Nagy successfully popularised this line of critique in the International Peasant Union and the Assembly of Captive European Nations. Between 1954 and 1955, Nagy toured parts of Asia, including India, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Thailand, Burma, and Ceylon, and spoke with the ambassadors of various other non-European countries, in order to manipulate the outcome of the first conference of postcolonial countries in Bandung (1955). Eventually, he was successful. During his Asian trip, he emphasised the need for enlightening propaganda on Soviet communism and gave various speeches on “Russian colonialism in Europe”, which was met positively by local politicians and was extensively covered by local newspapers. Many Asian postcolonial countries – with a majority of religious, mainly Muslim populations – feared Soviet and Chinese communist expansion, and the Hungarian intervention convinced them to put forward the critique against “Soviet colonialism” – causing great surprise and panic in the socialist bloc. As Nagy argued,

“I used the anti-colonialist sentiment to present the Soviet Union as the most brutal colonial power, which colonised ten countries at a time when the Western powers freed more than ten countries from colonialism. In all meetings and press conferences I claimed that India should also include the liberation of Eastern European countries in the fight against colonialism. (…)

The people’s right to sovereignty means the disintegration of colonialism and imperialism. The Asian and African nations would make a serious mistake, if they only demanded the liberation of the old colonies, but not the new communist colonialism. The old colonialism is currently being disposed. After the war, decolonisation liberated 600 million people.

But why did decolonisation stop? Because on the other hand the Soviet colonized 100 million European people. The most important requirement of the annihilation of old colonies is the disintegration of Soviet colonies. This view must clearly come out from the Bandung resolution, because otherwise the resolution against colonialism would become unreal.”

American newspaper propaganda on the Bandung conference.

In the race for postcolonial recognition, the communist leadership in Hungary was losing initiative. The country could not pursue effective foreign policy due to internal crisis: war reparations, Stalinist takeover, Rákosi’s dictatorship, strained industrialisation, and finally pressures from state bankruptcy in 1952 and political chaos after Stalin’s death led to the Imre Nagy reform government (1953–55) and ultimately ignited the 1956 uprising. After the 1956 revolution, Hungarian communists struggled to persuade Third World countries to vote against the “Hungarian question” in the United Nations due to the Western condemnation of the Soviet invasion. The Khrushchevian opening up policy finally allowed Hungary to seek both international recognition and internal political legitimation by exporting its own model of development to the Third World, and relieve dependency from both Western economic and Soviet political influence.

Under similar pressures, Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah looked to the socialist world to relieve Western dependency and indebtedness. After his Eastern European trip (1961), he requested the Hungarian economist József Bognár to develop the newly decolonised African country’s First Seven-Year Plan in 1962. Although having known little about African contexts, Hungarian planners could obtain a good position in offering their development and planning expertise, since they had important precedents of interwar era state-directed planning. As a result of the Ghana job, Bognár advised various other postcolonial governments in Africa and Asia, and founded the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (1963) in Budapest, which promoted export-oriented growth in order to reposition and integrate state-socialist Hungary in the global economy. Bognár introduced the concept of “poorly developed countries” to gain middle ground for experimenting with “third way” alternative development concepts between Cold War “capitalist” and “socialist” worlds, which offered the globally comparative reconceptualization of Hungarian development history and opened vistas for Hungarian development planning in the “Third World”. Bognár became a leading figure in foreign policy and the semi-capitalist reformist movement of the New Economic Mechanism (1968), into which he channeled his planning experiences from the “development laboratory” of postcolonial countries to support a mix of neoclassical economics and state-directed export-oriented growth.

Kwame Nkrumah meets Hungarian premier János Kádár at his summer resort in Balatonaliga in 1961.
Hungarian development economists arriving in Ghana in 1962. From left to right: Tamás Bácskai (Bognár’s assistant, associate professor), Péter Kós (first ambassador), Kwame Nkrumah (President of the Republic of Ghana), József Bognár (chief advisor), Gábor Székely (Bognár’s assistant, economic engineer).

Meanwhile, Hungarian refugee experts also worked as reform advisors in Latin America, Asia and Africa in order to counter global communism with the support of the U.S. government. Nagy continued with fellow Hungarians to lobby in the International Peasant Union and use his authenticity as a symbolic leader of the Hungarian peasant movement to advise non-European postcolonial governments and share the Hungarian experience of both colonial subjugation and agrarian reform. The famous folk writer and peasant movement politician Imre Kovács was also driven by similar motives in taking an Asian trip to Jakarta, Singapore, Colombo, India, Bali, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Beirut, and then to South America, the personal and professional experiences of which he summarised in his “village research” travel diary. Kovács then used his position to covince U.S. officials to establish the International Center for Social Research in 1962, which focused on Latin American agrarian and land reform with the plan to prevent the Cuban example to spread. As he recalled,

“I argued that the perspective of Eastern European experts works better in the peculiar relations of Latin America, compared to the North Americans, and their employment would also cost less. Let us recruit refugee Hungarian, Polish, Czech, Bulgarian agronomists, economists, cultural engineers, who could after short training program acclimatize to the local context and with cooperative governments and begin agrarian reforms.”

In his diaries he drew parallels between the South American and Hungarian agrarian landscapes, rural society and interwar era socio-economic problems:

“I travelled around the continent, and everywhere I saw thirties Hungary: half-feudal society, half-dictatorial governments, large estate system, weak intelligentsia (…). The double-sidedness of politics was also the same: do reforms in a way that the old guard can stay intact.”

The colonial discourse and anti-colonial trajectories of Hungarian refugees were also taken up by the Hungarian anti-communist diaspora in Latin American, which was to strengthen after the new wave of refugees fleeing there as a result of the 1956 revolution.

Imre Kovács and László Varga in Latin America representing the Hungarian Committee and arguing for “Soviet colonialism”.

The context of post-WWII global rearrangement, the crumbling of Western empires and ongoing Afro-Asian decolonisation resulted in new forms of globalising Eastern Europe. Eastern Europeans from both side of the Iron Curtain were pressured by Cold War superpowers to use their peripheral positions to gain new allies among emerging non-European postcolonies. This led to competing constructions of Hungarian postcolonial identities and positions that may be shared with the Third World. Although in ultimate conflict, both communist and anti-communist projects shared the trajectory of gathering Eastern European colonial experiences to establish common ground with the non-European postcolonial periphery, thereby trying to include Eastern Europe into the global history of colonialism. Hungarian historical experiences of peripherality and colonial subjugation, such as during the Ottomans, the Habsburgs, or the Nazis – and for anti-communists, the Soviets or Russians – were taken as exemplary cases in the global colonial ecumene, and Hungarian communists demonstrated remarkable continuities in their anti-Western rhetoric reaching back to pre-1945 era critiques regarding these matters.

The process of Afro-Asian decolonisation and the simultaneous colonisation of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union (as proposed by many) also allowed for the globalisation of Hungarian knowledge and expertise. Hungarian refugees were forced to globalise their formerly nationalist frameworks of agricultural reforms, peasant communities and rural-garden social utopias on countering the urban/rural divide, and put these ideas into the service of solving the “peasant question” in the Third World. On the other side, communists promoted the Hungarian model of industrialisation, while experiences of interwar era agrarian underdevelopment and expertise in state-directed planning became important arguments to demonstrate that they were facing familiar problems in postcolonial countries. Both communists and anti-communists mobilised Hungary’s semiperipheral position in the global world system as a resource to gain currency in the global market of state-directed development planning. By drawing parallels between development histories of Hungary and other non-European contexts, including issues of relieving dependency and peripherality, communists and anti-communists both argued for their authentic position and unique competence in having an “Eastern European eye” to solving the great problems of the postcolonial Third World.

Acknowledgements

This research is part of my project entitled “Postcolonial Hungary” and was funded by the Socialism Goes Global project at the University of Exeter (2015–19). See: http://socialismgoesglobal.exeter.ac.uk. My project is based on empirical research in the archives of Ferenc Nagy and Imre Kovács held at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Special thanks goes to Professor James Mark for his outstanding help and support.

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Citation:

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

The Semiperipheral Positioning Politics of the Hungarian Authoritarian Turn

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the 2018 Turkic Council in Cholpon Ata (Source: merce.hu)

“We will not become colonies” – so goes the official statement of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has since 2010 been labeling his government an “illiberal democracy” or recently “Christian democracy”, whilst revitalizing anti-Western nationalist victimization against both postsocialist neoliberalization and the European Union, and drawing up civilizational-racial demarcation against the global periphery. The political analyses of Orbán’s authoritarian turn have dominantly focused on identifying this “new type” of authoritarianism: whether and to what extent it is democratic, what political typology it fits into (e.g. “hybrid regimes” or “semi-authoritarian regimes”), or how is it embedded in a global rightwing turn or a new neoliberal or neoconservative authoritarianism. However, these institutionalist approaches are geographically unreflective and inherently conceptualize from the lack of democracy and Western values, thereby reproducing East-West dichotomies and local self-colonization, failing to understand the local historical epistemologies and experiences Orbán’s political regionalism (“classical” Europe, Central Europe, Eurasia) and colonial discourse is based upon. The seemingly “irreconcilable” and “antagonistic” positions of this political discourse have specific functions connected to the new geographical alliances and scalar politics of Hungarian semiperipheral world-systemic integration. This paper analyses Hungarian political discourse from a postcolonial and world-systemic perspective to understand the semiperipheral geographical positioning of the country in-between the global center and periphery.