Humboldt University of Berlin
The University of Exeter, the Leipzig Centre for the History and Culture of East-Central Europe (GWZO), and the Humboldt University of Berlin
24 – 26 November 2016
Call for Papers Deadline: 15 June 2016
State Socialism, Legal Experts and the Genesis of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law after 1945
In the history of international law, the socialist bloc has been generally relegated to the role of roadblock to the fulfillment of the ideals of Western liberalism. Scholars of international criminal law (ICL) and international humanitarian law (IHL) have often dismissed the contributions of socialist legal initiatives as little more than Cold War propaganda and thus irrelevant to understanding the historical evolution of judicial norms and the modern international system. The establishment of different international tribunals since the collapse of the Soviet Union has only reinforced the notion that the socialist world was little more than an impediment to progress. Nevertheless, the American-led global war on terror has done much to call into question Western commitment to the laws of war.
This conference seeks to explore the role of state-socialist intellectuals, experts and governments in shaping the evolution of ICL and IHL since the end of the Second World War. Actors from Eastern Europe, the USSR, and East Asian and African socialist states actively participated in international debates regarding international legal norms, the meaning of state sovereignty, and in the negotiation of all major ICL and IHL conventions after 1945. In various cases the socialist bloc was often more enthusiastic, and timely, in supporting and ratifying international legal agreements than Western governments, even if these initiatives were inseparable from political agendas. Although they systematically opposed the creation of international tribunals, experts from socialist countries led the way in many areas, such as the codification of crimes against peace and Apartheid or the elimination of statutory limitations for major ICL offences. The socialist world participated also in debates over the international legal status of drug conflicts and revolutionary groups funded by narcotics trafficking. Deliberations on the criminalization of terrorism and the regulation of armed conflicts were closely linked to the politics of “wars of liberation” by socialist forces in Africa, South-East Asia, and Latin America. Socialist legal experts were active participants in transnational epistemic communities and engaged in broader global projects, initiatives, and mobilizations across the Cold War divide.
We encourage proposals on the following topics, and from scholars working on socialist regimes, experts and movements across the world. You are welcome to submit proposals on other themes related to this topic.
- The contributions of the socialist countries and experts to debates on the general principles of ICL and IHL (the relationship between municipal and international law; the sources of ICL; the relationship between state sovereignty, ICL and IHL etc.).
- Socialist challenges to western liberal humanitarian doctrines and conventions (i.e. Peace proposals as alternative to new Geneva conventions, rejection of equality of nations before the law in cases of aggressive war, etc.)
- The role of socialist elites, legal experts, and courts in the development of specific fields of international crimes such as war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and to acts of transnational criminality, such as terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, the arms trade, smuggling of nuclear materials, and trafficking in persons and slavery. The evolution of ICL and IHL discourse, ideas, and initiatives in state-socialist countries.
- The role of the Red Cross and other humanitarian NGOs in the socialist world (i.e. North Vietnamese rejection of ICRC protection for US POWs, the creation of local Red Cross organizations in the Eastern Bloc, etc.)
- Assessments of the continuing legacies and contributions of state socialist traditions of engagement with ICL and IHL on justice processes after 1989/91.
Abstracts of 300-500 words, together with an accompanying short CV should be submitted to Natalie Taylor (N.H.Taylor@exeter.ac.uk) by 15th June 2016.
The selected participants will be notified by 1st July 2016. They are then expected to submit their papers by 1st November 2016.
Funding opportunities for travel and accommodation are available, but we ask that potential contributors also explore funding opportunities at their home institutions.
The conference is organized by the University of Exeter, the Leipzig Centre for the History and Culture of East-Central Europe (GWZO), and the Humboldt University of Berlin.
This event is kindly supported by Exeter University’s Leverhulme Trust-funded project 1989 after 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective, and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
March 3-5, 2016
German Historical Institute Warsaw
Conference Room, 3rd Floor
German Historical Institute Warsaw
1989 after 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective
Georg-August University of Göttingen
As both human rights and globalization have emerged as dynamic fields of historical and sociological research, the “socialist world” is relegated to a supporting role in the triumph of Western capitalism and liberal democracy. The aim of this conference is to question established narratives that have ignored or downplayed the role of socialist ideas, practice, and experts—be they state officials, loyal intellectuals or dissident activists — in the development of international human rights ideas, discourses, and systems in the post-war era. With a geographic scope that covers the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, Yugoslavia and China, we hope to show that the socialist world did not just react passively to Western human rights politics, but was a vital participant in the production of global human rights with legacies that continued past the revolutions of 1989. By examining the socialist contribution to the evolution of human rights, we hope to contribute to revising standard narratives of globalization that focus exclusively on the perceived winners of these processes.
Thursday, 3 March 2016
Ruth LEISEROWITZ (German Historical Institute Warsaw)
Introductory Panel: State Socialism, Human Rights and Globalization: In Search of a New Narrative
Hella DIETZ (Georg-August University of Göttingen)
Ned RICHARDSON-LITTLE (University of Exeter)
Robert BRIER (London School of Economics)
15:30-16:00 Coffee break
Panel 1: Defining Human Rights Internationally
Steven JENSEN (Danish Institute for Human Rights)
Defining the Social in the Global: Social Rights, UN Diplomacy and the Emergence of International Non-Discrimination Norms and Politics, 1950-1960
Alexander OSIPOV (European Centre for Minority Issues)
The Soviet Union’s Involvement in the Establishment of the European Minority Rights Regime
Discussant: Arnd BAUERKÄMPER (Free University Berlin)
19:00 Conference Dinner
Friday, 4 March 2016
Panel 2: State-Socialist Conceptions of Rights and Human Rights
Jennifer ALTEHENGER (King’s College London)
Rights, Not Human Rights: Communist China’s National Constitution Discussion, 1954
Michal KOPEČEK (Institute for Contemporary History, Prague and Charles University, Prague)
Socialist Conceptions of Human Rights and its Dissident Critique
Todor HRISTOV (University of Sofia)
Rights to Weapons: Human Rights as a Resource in Workplace Conflicts in Late Socialist Bulgaria
Discussant: Paul BETTS (Oxford University)
11:00-11:30 Coffee Break
Panel 3: Tolerance, Difference, and Rights under Socialism
Ivan SABLIN (University of Heidelberg)
Illusive Tolerance: Buddhism in the Late Soviet State
Zhuoyi WEN (Hong Kong Institute of Education)
Contesting Cultural Rights in Post-socialist China
13:00-14:30 Lunch break
Panel 4: Human Rights as Socialist Foreign Policy
Sebastian GEHRIG (Oxford University)
The Fifth Column of the Third World? The East German Quest for International Recognition through UN Rights Discourses
Jens BOYSEN (German Historical Institute Warsaw)
Polish Engagement in the United Nations as a Tool for Justifying Communist Rule in Poland and Gaining Leeway in the Warsaw Pact
Discussant: Robert BRIER
(London School of Economics)
16:00-16:30 Coffee Break
Panel 5: Transnational Movements and Flows
Christie MIEDEMA (University of Amsterdam)
Negotiating Space for International Human Rights Activism: Amnesty International in Eastern Europe before 1989
Rósa MAGNÚSDÓTTIR (University of Aarhus)
Soviet-American Intermarriage: Transnational Love and the Cold War
Discussant: James MARK (University of Exeter)
19:00 Dinner for the conference participants
Saturday, 5 March 2016
Panel 6: Dissent and Human Rights
Simone BELLEZZA (University of Eastern Piedmont)
The Right to Be Different: Ukrainian Dissent and the Struggle Against a Global Consumerist Cultural Standardization
Hermann AUBIÉ (University of Turku)
Between Loyalty and Dissent: Revisiting the History of Human Rights in China Through the Discourse of Chinese Intellectuals and Dissidents
Zsófi a LÓRÁND (European University Institute, Florence)
Feminist Dissent, Activism for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the Human Rights Discourse in Yugoslavia in the 1970s-1980s
Discussant: Celia DONERT (University of Liverpool)
11:00-11:30 Coffee Break
Concluding Panel: The Place of State Socialist Societies in the Global History of Human Rights
Paul BETTS (Oxford University)
James MARK (University of Exeter)
Celia DONERT (University of Liverpool)
Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz and the University of Exeter
30 September – 1 October 2016
Call for Papers Deadline: 28 February 2016
(Re)Thinking Yugoslav Internationalism – Cold War Global Entanglements and their Legacies
For more than forty years, Yugoslavia was one of the most internationalist and outward looking of all socialist countries in Europe, playing leading roles in various trans-national initiatives – principally as central participant within the Non-Aligned Movement – that sought to remake existing geopolitical hierarchies and rethink international relations. Both moral and pragmatic motives often overlapped in its efforts to enhance cooperation between developing nations, propagate peaceful coexistence in a divided world and pioneer a specific non-orthodox form of socialism.
Although the disintegration of socialist Yugoslavia has received extensive treatment across a range of disciplines, the end of Yugoslavia’s global role and the impacts this had both at home and abroad, have received little attention. Coinciding with the 55th anniversary of the Belgrade summit and the foundation of the Non-Aligned Movement, this conference seeks to open up a range of questions relating to the wealth of diplomatic, economic, intellectual and cultural encounters and exchange between 1945 – 1990, both within the Non-Aligned Movement, across the socialist world and with the developed countries. It would map the history of Yugoslavia’s global engagements not only as a subject associated with political/diplomatic history, but also as a broader societal and cultural project. Important witnesses involved in those exchanges and alliances will also be invited to share their experiences.
We welcome papers from different disciplines and from diverse perspectives, whether dealing with aspects of Cold War international cooperation, development, Yugoslavia’s global role, or the ‘global’ Cold War from the perspective of the developing world and the ‘global South’. We particularly encourage proposals which would reflect on:
- the roots of Yugoslav internationalism and how it was understood in cultural/economic/social as well as political/diplomatic terms;
- the contours of Yugoslav diplomacy and the ways Yugoslav elites conceptualised their global role;
- the role of Yugoslavia in the United Nations, its agencies and other international organisations as the fora for global encounters and in particular the attempts at tackling global inequality and alternative development;
- the relationship between Yugoslavia, the different liberation movements and the newly emerging independent nations in the ‘global South’ (including cultural diplomacy, labour migration, individual travel);
- the realities and challenges of foreign trade, investment construction and economic cooperation;
- the ways international engagements reshaped aspects of political, economic or cultural life back in Yugoslavia;
- the role and significance of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War and today;
- the international impact of the end of Yugoslavia and the collapse of her global role;
- the legacies and new understandings of Yugoslavia’s global role.
Abstracts of 300-500 words, together with an accompanying short biographical note should be submitted to Natalie Taylor (N.H.Taylor@exeter.ac.uk) by 28 February 2016.
Funding opportunities for travel and accommodation are available, but we ask that potential contributors also explore funding opportunities at their home institutions.
This event is kindly supported by the Centre for Southeast European Studies and the Leverhulme Trust-funded project 1989 after 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective at the University of Exeter.[Top]
German Historical Institute, Warsaw
March 3 – 5, 2016
Call for Papers Deadline: 27 November 2015
Human Rights after 1945 in the Socialist and Post-Socialist World
Histories of late twentieth century global change have focused on its perceived winners on a macro-scale: democratic capitalism, global markets and individual rights. In such formulations, the “socialist world” and its history appear irrelevant to understanding global processes and unable to inform liberal Western democratic societies.
The global rise of human rights might look like a particularly striking case in point. The formal guarantees of rights in socialist societies, after all, seemed to have no substantial effect on these societies’ political and legal practices, and the debate on civil society in “the West” which east European human rights activists had inspired during the 1980s, did not survive socialism’s fall in that region.
In this conference, we want to question those narratives. Actors from the socialist world – be they state officials, loyal intellectuals or dissident activists – actively participated in international conflicts over the meaning of democracy, economic freedom, religious liberty and national self-determination in the post-war period. Socialist officials took part in drafting the U.N. covenants of 1966, in turning South African apartheid or repression in Chile into global causes célèbres or in promoting women’s rights. African socialists shaped human rights discourses by blending them with the struggle for self-determination, while Latin American activists grafted human rights to their Marxist ideas. Chinese Communists joined traditional ideas of cultural difference with Leninist ideology to create a distinct human rights discourse. Dissident intellectuals, on the other hand, did not necessarily take the West’s side in the Cold War when they criticized socialist realities, but developed innovative human rights vernaculars deeply shaped by their unique contexts. In sum, the “socialist world” did not just react passively to Western human rights politics, but was a vital participant in the story of the production of global human rights.
This conference seeks to explore how the socialist world can be written into the broader global narratives of the rise of human rights in the 20th century, and even revise these narratives. Our understanding of the “socialist world” is deliberately inclusive. It entails the socialist systems of eastern Europe, Eurasia, Africa, Southern and East Asia as well as socialist and Communist parties and movements more broadly, and anti-colonial or anti-dictatorial movements in the Global South.
We welcome papers from different disciplines and from diverse perspectives, whether dealing with official discourses, state policies, right experts, or national or transnational political movements.
We particularly encourage proposals on the following topics:
- rights cultures within socialist societies, including reflections on the global context of their construction;
- the contribution of socialist elites, experts and social groups to the global rise of human rights;
- connections across the socialist world in the production of conceptions of rights, including reflections on the role of international organizations or transnational movements;
- the importance of rights discourses for socialist regimes and movements in establishing legitimacy at home and abroad;
- the use of rights discourses by opposition movements, and the relationship between official/ alternative rights movements within socialist societies;
- the legacy of rights discourses within socialist and post-socialist societies today;
- comparisons, and connections between, the production of rights ideas in the socialist and non-socialist worlds;
- rethinking the role of rights and the collapse of socialist states;
- broader reflections on writing the socialist world into the history of rights;
- broader reflections on how these stories contribute to the rethinking of the story of cultural and political globalization.
This conference is the first in a series of meetings exploring how processes and practices that emerged from the socialist world shaped the re-globalized world of our times. Throughout, the legacies of this socialist engagement with globalising processes in the socialist and post-socialist world will also be an important point of interest.
Please send a brief abstract of 300-500 words, as well as a brief CV, by November 27, 2015, to Natalie Taylor at the University of Exeter (N.H.Taylor@exeter.ac.uk ). All organizational questions can be sent to Natalie Taylor. Academic queries should be sent to Hella Dietz (Hella.Dietz@sowi.uni-goettingen.de ).
Download the Call for Papers: Call for Papers Human Rights after 1945
Substantial funding opportunities for travel and accommodation are available, but we ask that potential contributors also explore funding opportunities at their home institutions.
This event is kindly supported by the German Historical Institute in Warsaw and the Leverhulme Trust-funded project 1989 after 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective at the University of Exeter.[Top]
Held May 13, 2015 at The University of Exeter
Report by James Mark, Nelly Bekus, Anna Calori, Raluca Grosecu, Ned Richardson-Little, and Ljubica Spaskovska
While the topic of globalization has emerged as rapidly growing field in recent years, the role of the socialist world is often neglected or seen as passive or unengaged in these processes. This workshop, hosted by 1989 after 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective research group, sought to challenge these narratives by examining the myriad engagements of the socialist world with the global. The presentations proposed new methodological and theoretical means of grappling with how late socialism fits into the larger narrative of globalization, examined the spaces in which processes of globalization occurred in the socialist world, and analyzed the long-term effects of these developments after 1989 and the collapse of state-socialism.
Tobias Rupprecht (University of Exeter) opened the first panel – Approaches to Globalisation and The Socialist World – providing a broad introduction to the themes of the workshop. He explored how current literature on globalisation is still often shaped by the values of the 1990s, and how, within this, the socialist world is most commonly presented simply as a victim of globalising forces. He then demonstrated the various ways in which the socialist world provided templates for ‘alternative globalisations’, and also acted as co-producer of some of the aspects of the globalised world we experience today.
Bogdan Iacob (New Europe College, Bucharest) presentation – Negotiating the National. Romania, Globalization, and International Congresses of Historical Sciences (1970-1980) – analysed the responses of the Romanian socialist government to the rising web of interdependencies in 1970s, which would come to be known as globalization in the next decade. He then tested the implementation of this position for the case of the country’s engagement with International Congresses of Historical Sciences, particularly those between 1970 and 1980 – in Moscow, San Francisco, and Bucharest. Focusing on the Bucharest conference of 1980, the Iacob argued that one can identify a dichotomous approach to globalization in the case of Romania. On the one hand, the country was fully engaged with supra-, inter-, and non- governmental institutions during the global Cold War. On the other hand, the internationalization of Romanian state socialism also meant showcasing components of local modernity. The presentation underlined that the Romanian case of socialism going global is a cautionary tale. It is the story of a regime engrossed in the global encounters of the 1960s and 1970s that reaches, in 1980s, a final phase of systemic insulation and exacerbated essentialism. For the local, state socialist globalization ultimately meant carving pericentric frameworks highly dependent into very specific Cold War contexts.
The second panel – The Socialist World, Trade, and Globalisation – began with James Mark’s (University of Exeter) presentation, “Between the Eastern Bloc and the East Asian ‘Tigers’: The Opening Up between Hungary and South Korea 1970-1995.” Mark used the opening up between Hungary and South Korea to explore the ways in which experts in a socialist state imagined the operation of the world economy in the late Cold War. He showed how reform economists in Hungary, influenced by World Systems Theory, re-imagined their country’s role in the world economy as semi-peripheral. This then led them to an interest in the Asian “Tigers” as examples of successful integration into the world economy by formerly semi-peripheral countries. He explored these experts’ new prescriptions for the Hungarian economy from this perspective, and the fascination with South Korea amongst political and economic elites in the last years of state socialism.
With his presentation, “Trading Internationalism: Rethinking Cold War Narratives through Sino-Middle East Relations, 1950s-70s,” Sam Zhiguang (University of Exeter) challenged the idea that international trade should be conceptualized solely in terms of commercial value. He argued that both Western economic models of comparative advantage or concepts such as Socialist division of labour did not capture the ideological and cultural meaning of trade in the People’s Republic of China during the Cold War. According to Chinese doctrine, establishing international unity was essential to national unity. One of the key means of fostering solidarity with the Third World was through the exchange of trade delegations. Through the lens of Sino-Middle East relations, he contended that while these exchanges did not often lead to significant commercial activity, this was not their primary goal. Chinese enthusiasm for engagement with the Middle East was not motivated by profit, but a more complex ideological understanding of global unity as a proxy for the wellbeing of China itself under Communist rule.
Anna Calori’s (PhD student, University of Exeter) presentation titled “Privatisation Reforms and the Global Market: Fragmenting the Workforce in Late-Socialist Bosnia-Hercegovina” explored the rationale behind the late 1980s economic reforms in Yugoslavia and their disruptive effects within the workplace of large, exporting companies. Engaging with primary sources such as factory bulletins and internal journals, Calori provided an analysis of discourses and debates around what was presented as a necessary change in the Yugoslav economic model of workers’ self-management. Responses to the urgencies of competitiveness on the global market meant a re-conceptualisation of the (post) socialist worker based on new exclusionary categories of merit and efficiency. This deeply affected the industrial workplace, exacerbating the already existing skills divisions and allowing for a further fragmentation of the workforce in the critical moments leading to Yugoslavia’s disruption.
In the third panel, “Spaces of Globalisation in Eastern Europe” Ljubica Spaskovska (University of Exeter) examined “Socialist global citizenship: the case of Yugoslavia.” Spaskovska’s presentation addressed a range of “spaces” of global encounters and cooperation through the lens of “global citizenship.” In different ways related to the United Nations, the Non Aligned Movement, the International Centre for Public Enterprises in Developing Countries and the post-1963 earthquake development plan for Skopje were some of those spaces of global citizenship where ideas that revolved around (equitable) development, anti-colonialism, fairer terms of trade and fostering ‘active peaceful coexistence’ gained ground. Socialist Yugoslavia’s “globally imagined citizenship” was a chartered foreign policy course that produced an impressive record of economic, intellectual and cultural exchange and enabled the country to vie for influence and recognition in a divided world. Although often discordant, the Non Aligned Movement managed to carve out alternative spaces and put forward novel development agendas and paradigms of international cooperation.
In Ned Richardson-Little’s (University of Exeter) paper “Where the World Meets”: Globalization and Socialism at the Leipzig Trade Fair,” he examined the paradoxes of East Germany’s engagement with the world through the lens of famous Leipziger Messe. While the trade fair was supposed to serve as a site of cooperation fostering East-West understanding and exchange between “the two world systems,” it was also to serve as the “show-window of socialism” and demonstrate the superiority of the Socialist Bloc over its Western counterparts. The Trade Fair initially acted as a proxy site of diplomatic and cultural contact with the world while East Germany remained diplomatically unrecognized outside the Socialist Bloc. Later, the Trade Fair acted as a crucial venue for GDR efforts to integrate into the modernizing global economy in the 1970s and 1980s through joint ventures with the West and Third World export deals. While the Trade Fair was a gateway to the benefits of globalization, it was also a site of dangerously uncontrolled contact for East Germans to the outside world, which contributed to the political destabilization of the 1980s.
The fourth panel on “Global Socialism and Its Legacies” began with Raluca Grosescu (University of Exeter) presenting on “International Criminal Law Before and After 1989: The Case of the UN Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity.” Grosescu examined the role of state-socialist countries in the development of international criminal law, through the example of the 1968 UN Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. She examined the context, the negotiations, and the interpretations that had been given to the Convention in 1968 and then focused on the Convention’s application and its new readings in domestic prosecutions of human rights abuses in Argentina and Estonia in the 2000s. Grosescu argued that international criminal law norms initiated or supported by state-socialist countries during the Cold War have been highly instrumental in trials dealing with crimes of authoritarian regimes during the “third-wave of democratization” in Latin America and Eastern Europe. The presentation also reflected on the historicity of law by examining how legal norms constructed in a particular historical context with a specific political purpose are re-interpreted and re-negotiated in order to fulfil new political goals in the present.
In her presentation on “Soviet Frames of Global Experience in Architecture, Before and After 1989,” Nelly Bekus (University of Exeter) argued that both architecture and urban planning were considered to be a powerful instrument in cold war politics. The presentation examined the specific frameworks of the concept of Soviet internationalism, which mentally mapped the world beyond the ideological blocs. Specific educational and professional conditions and practices elaborated for architects in the USSR meant to produce such mental representation of the Soviet Union territory that made it fully operational and sufficient for self-perception of Sovietness as a form of global identity. Bekus also discussed International Architectural Design competitions as a space of global engagement of architects beyond the Soviet borders. These competitions often served as stages of “global professionalism” for architects and in which Soviet participants could claim their part.
In opening the concluding discussion, Angela Romano (University of Glasgow) underlined the importance of combining a micro- and a macro perspective, which would in turn shed light on the range of networks and the contribution of the socialist world to the processes of globalisation. She emphasized the importance of re-integrating 1989 into the study of the alternative spaces of globalization – not necessarily as a turning point, but as an opening for the debate about different forms and practices of global engagements that shaped both the socialist and the post-socialist world.
Panel 1: Approaches to Globalisation and The Socialist World
Dr Tobias Rupprecht (Exeter), The ‘Socialist World’ and ‘Global History’
Panel 2: The Socialist World, Trade, and Globalisation
Professor James Mark (Exeter), Between the Eastern Bloc and the east Asian ‘Tigers’: The Opening Up between Hungary and South Korea 1970-1995
Dr Sam Zhiguang (Exeter), Trading Internationalism: Rethinking Cold War Narratives through Sino-Middle East Relations, 1950s-70s
Anna Calori (PhD, Exeter), Privatisation reforms and the global market: fragmenting the workforce in late-socialist Bosnia-Hercegovina
Panel 3: Spaces of Globalisation in Eastern Europe
Dr Ljubica Spaskovska (Exeter), Socialist Global Citizenship: The Case of Yugoslavia
Dr Ned Richardson-Little (Exeter), “Where the World Meets”: Globalization and Socialism at the Leipzig Trade Fair
Panel 4: Global Socialism and Its Legacies
Dr Raluca Grosescu (Exeter) International Criminal Law Before and After 1989: The Case of the 1968 UN Convention on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity
Dr Nelly Bekus (Exeter) Soviet Frames of Global Experience in Architecture, Before and After 1989
13 May 2015
The University of Exeter, Amory A239AB
Time: 9am – 6.15pm
All are welcome to attend our workshop on Global Socialism and Post Socialism which will be held on Wednesday 13 May, 2015 here at the University of Exeter. The theme of the one day workshop will be global socialism/ post-socialism and will include papers from the 1989 after 1989 Research Team and a number of invited speakers.
Papers will cover: re-conceptualising globalisation and the socialist world; the encounter between eastern Europe and the east Asian ‘tigers’ in the late Cold War; eastern European trade fairs as sites of global encounter in the Cold War; China and the idea of trade with ‘Third World’ and Yugoslavia and African engagements.
For more information about this event and to see the programme for the day please visit our Workshops page.[Top]
By Nelly Bekus
Cityscape of Minsk embodies the imaginary environment of the Belarusian power as a legitimate successor of the socialist state.
“If Soviet cities had looked like Minsk today, Soviet Union would have survived,” is probably one of the most indicative opinions I’ve ever heard from the visitors of the Belarusian capital. It is rather problematic to say to which extent it captures the hypothetical fortune of the Soviet state, but what it certainly does is reveal aspirations that inform the capital formative politics of the Belarusian leadership.
Any state can be viewed as a performative collective actor, which both reproduces and has been reproduced through banal processes, which enforce the symbolic presence of state across all kinds of social practices and relations and which help to sustain connection between the state and the people via the concept of belonging. Any capital city is assigned a particular role in displaying and channeling the nation’s image and idea. Yet, in country like Belarus the pressure on capital’s symbolic importance not even doubles, but triples. The country’s newborn national statehood, its centralized political system, and its vastly meaningful socialist legacy, material and non-material alike, facilitate maintaining the hegemony of power in various spheres of peoples’ life. Belarus turned to be particularly apt to preserve and develop the Soviet pattern of the symbolic-ideological design of state, reproducing the matrix of the “spectacular state” in the nationstate framework. A wide range of various civil rituals and social practices has been developed on the micro- and macro-levels of everyday life of the Belarusians, which aim at symbolic reification of the Belarusian idea, as understood by ideologists. Minsk, no doubt, has been assigned a particular role in the performative strategy of the Belarusian state.
Favourable National Framework for the Socialist Legacy
After the failure of state socialism the capital cities of the new independent states had to formulate new principles of their urban development. For many countries, the model to follow became the “Western city,” as an attribute of European civilization, the winner of the Cold War. The consequences of cities’ development in that direction (socio-spatial stratification, suburbanization, gentrification, automobilization, etc.) were perceived as natural and even desirable products of the changing pattern of urbanism. The socialist legacy of cities associated with the outdated system came to be perceived as unwanted inheritance. Micro-districts that once embodied the idea of egalitarian society have now become the most decaying areas in cities.
Against this background, Minsk appears to be a rare exception. The status granted to its socialist legacy in the new national cityscape and the logic of its cooperation with the nation-state ideology puts Belarus outside of Eastern European liberal affinity. The primary metaphor of the Belarusian official discourse defining post-communism has become the idea of a seamless continuation of the Soviet tradition. From the beginning of his presidency, the Belarusian President A. Lukashenko has chosen strategy of exploiting the nostalgic feelings of one part of Belarusian society, and he did so for a good reason. The last decade of the state socialism often depicted as “Soviet decay” seemed contrary to the lived experience of most Belarusians. It was not stagnation, but the years of rapid economic development and improvement of the lifestyle of the majority.
Minsk as a Soviet Artefact
The major structural changes in Belarus took place after the Second World War. Minsk as the capital of the Republic of Belarus was also the product of Soviet vintage. Minsk experienced massive destruction during the Second World War, it was the third most demolished city after Berlin and Warsaw. 80% of city infrastructure and 70% of pre-war housing stock of the city were destroyed.
According to the conception of master plan of Minsk (1946), new city was designed to combine the image of a “true capital of the Soviet Socialist republics” with the function of a large industrial center. The combination of striking parade monumentalism, patriotic art decoration and traditional motifs has become the most characteristic feature of the central avenues of Minsk. In late 1950s, when quasi-pragmatic period of socialist architecture had begun with its shift to the wide use of standardized construction, the center of Minsk had been surrounded by a belt of simplistic buildings made of pre-fabricated concrete, gradually passing into the clone-like “sleeping areas” of late socialism. The image of city soon became dominated by buildings that provided modest accessible housing for everybody due to a rapid construction of classless neighborhoods.
In the 1960s, when the construction of the monumental image of the city center was almost complete, Soviet authorities undertook an action for the ideological design of Minsk. A mythology of the partisan movement as the specific “Belarusian” contribution to a common victory in the Great Patriotic War became a key element of the Soviet Belarusian historical narrative, immediately reflected in a corresponding symbolization of public spaces in Minsk. The status of “Hero City” was given to Minsk in 1974. In addition, several important monuments were dedicated to World War II: Victory square with the eternal flame in front of the obelisk in the city center; Yama Memorial (the Ditch), dedicated to the commemoration of 800 000 Belarusian Jews—victims of the Holocaust; and a memorial on the site of the Nazi concentration camp Trastsianets. The Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum in Minsk became the first museum in Belarus, opened in 1944, even before the war was over. In 1966 it was relocated to Oktiabrskaya Square, next to the building of the Central Committee of Communist Party of BSSR (the Presidential Palace since 1994).
The mythology so attentively composed by Soviet ideologists for Belarusians outlived the Soviet state itself. It became a key element of the national narrative about heroic collective deeds. In contrast to the Soviet narrative, the new discourse nationalizes the Belarusians’ heroic fight against the Nazi occupiers during World War II. The emphasis has been put not on the fraternal struggle of Soviet people against invaders, but on the Belarusians’ effort in liberation of their land. In a similar fashion, the general perception of Sovietness has been “Belarussified.”The Soviet period is now described as a period of formation of the contemporary Belarusian nation.
The Soviet legacy, solidified and materialized in the center of Minsk, appears to be a fairly relevant reflection of the official view on the formation of the Belarusian nation. The Sovietness of Minsk’s city center has the same functional meaning of “historical heritage” that all European countries invest in their capitals. In old European cities the preservation of the historical center has meant the creation of a kind of reservoir of national cultural tradition, molded into architectural form. The history encoded in the architectural monumentality of the Stalinesque center of Minsk refers to the Soviet era, but it has been attributed the same symbolic meaning. In 2004, Belarusian authorities nominated Minsk’s central avenue for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List (avenue’s name in Soviet times— Stalin Avenue, from 1961—Lenin Avenue, from 1991—Frantishak Skaryna Avenue, and, finally, since 2004 till present time—Independence Avenue). The cultural legacy, represented by the remarkably solid and stylistically homogeneous urban architectural ensemble of central Minsk, has been presented as evidence of the Soviet contribution to the formation of the Belarusian nation. In the spirit of this memory politics, not only have all Soviet monuments kept their place and symbolic meaning in Minsk’s public space (including the Lenin statue on Independence Square) but new monuments commemorating events and characters related to the Soviet past have also been built during the years since independence. A Feliks Dzierzhinski statue was installed in Minsk in 2006—a memorial to the founder of the Soviet NKVD, though there was a Dzierzhinsky monument in Minsk, built in the Soviet era near Independence Avenue. Several new monuments were built on the wave of the nationalization of the memory of World War II, such as the “Belarus Partizanskaya” (Partisan Belarus) monument that was built in 2004, and the memorial “Broken Hearth” dedicated to the memory of the victims of Nazism. New museum of the Great Patriotic War was opened in Minsk in 2014, which proposed a new version of the official war narrative, centered on Belarusians and their combined image of great victimhood and heroism.
The Ideological Concept and a Slight Shift
The symbolic domination of the Soviet legacy in the Minsk cityscape proves to be very consistent with the ideological concept of Belarus promoted by ruling elites. In those post-Soviet countries that developed liberal political regimes, any changes in the symbolic landscape of the capital cities reflect the struggle among the political elites for the “symbolic capital” embodied in and represented by places of memory (P. Bourdieu 1990). In Belarus, however, such a period of open contestation over the symbolic landscape of Minsk lasted only for four years from 1991 to 1994, and the changes made then did not affect the city’s existing monuments, though some changes did take place in the toponyms of Minsk. Although these changes were rather limited in scale (only 14 streets were renamed), they did affect key streets in the city center, effectively making visible the nationalization of the capital: the central Lenin Avenue was renamed after the leading Belarusian Renaissance scholar and humanist Francisk Skaryna, Lenin Square became Independence Square and Gorki (Russian writer) Street became Bagdanovich (Belarusian poet) Street. The Belarusian president corrected some of these changes in 2004, when he personally made a decision to rename two main thoroughfares, Skaryna Avenue and Praspekt Masherava as Independence Avenue and Avenue of the Victors. These changes were meant to indicate the authorities’ attention to the 60th anniversary of Victory Day in World War II and state independence, once again reasserting the role of war memory for national narrative of Belarus.
The political design of the Belarusian state that was established and has been successfully maintained by the incumbent president since 1994 does not allow for any alternative sources of power that could visibly affect the symbolic landscape of the Belarusian capital. Oppositional elites, deprived of any possibilities for influencing the cityscape, have very few instruments of symbolic resistance at their disposal. One avenue that is open to them is the use of educational historical initiatives, proposed by oppositional educational centers or individual historians. The weekly newspaper Nasha Niva regularly puts out information about“alternative” historical tours of Minsk, that have been created by oppositional historians as an alternative way to see Minsk and the history of Belarus (Addresses of Belarusian People’s Republic). Certainly, these kinds of educational and cultural initiatives cannot compete with the state machine’s work on the official ideological landscape of the city through the visual design of public spaces, monuments, and posters, as well as official mass events, etc.
In the 2000s, a slight shift in the ideological reading of the Soviet legacy could be noticed in the development of the capital cityscape. From presenting Sovietness as a period of significant Belarusian achievement it has moved to the idea of Soviet past as the foundation of an independent Belarusian state and one of the origins of its successes. New symbols of Belarusian independence have been constructed with the specific goal of demonstrating the successes of the current regime. Among them was the new modern railroad station (2004), the new National Library which quickly became an icon of the new Belarus (2006), and a three-level underground shopping mall, “The Capital”, situated under Independence Square (2007), which significantly transformed the function of the former Soviet city center by adding to it a consumerist attraction. Representative monumentality of Soviet Minsk was supplemented with a new icon of post-Soviet hegemonic power—the Palace of Independence (2013), adjacent to State Flag Square, with clear intention to emphasize the firmness of the Belarusian statehood.
At the same time, authorities became more attentive to the pre-Soviet history of Minsk: some destroyed fragments of pre-revolutionary Minsk were reconstructed, such as the 19th century town hall building, the Hotel Europe, and some others. This new development of the capital was backed by the ambitions of the president to make Belarus and its capital city a touristic attraction. “European” legacy in the Belarusian context, however, is not restored in order to return the country symbolically to Europe, but, on the contrary, to authorize Belarusian geopolitical choices by showing that “Europe” exists “inside” Belarus, therefore, there is not much need for Europe existing behind the western border.
New sport arenas and new hotels (Hotel Europe, Crowne Plaza) were constructed in order to prepare for the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. This event was unconditionally perceived by the authorities as a chance to demonstrate to the international community the achievements and successes of the country’s “third way” of development.
One of the elements of this third way is related to the ongoing tradition of constructing new residential areas—microdistricts—on the outskirts of Minsk. In most of the former socialist countries, system change meant a radical break with the image-making panel houses constructed in the city. In Belarus, on contrary, the housing policy preserved orientation towards the construction of state-subsidized affordable housing for people. As a result, new residential areas on the outskirts of Minsk have been constructed in the same manner of microdistricts, i.e. more or less compact settlements, comprised of uniform blocks of flats along with associated services (educational, health, retail and cultural services), clearly reproducing the pattern of socialist urbanism.
This architectural continuation of the socialist tradition reflects one of the basic elements of Belarusian ideology—the further promotion of socialist achievements, among which are: egalitarian society, strong centralized state, and generous social welfare policy. Housing policy is among the most essential of those benefits, and the new microdistricts of the capital city are there to prove the state’s adherence to its ideology.
The new microdistricts constructed in Minsk in the post-Soviet period are probably less important in terms of their symbolic value for the cityscape. But they are extremely meaningful in terms of constructing the capital’s image as a successor of the Soviet city. Being post-socialist in time but socialist in essence, microdistricts manifest the living tradition of the “parentstate,” to use the concept of Katherine Verdery, in present day Belarus.
Indeed, cityscape of Minsk represented by monumental Stalinesque center and fresh microdistricts on the peripheries embodies the imaginary environment of the Belarusian power as a legitimate successor of socialist state. To understand this, one has to remember that fundamental raison d’etre of the Belarusian independence was not in overcoming the crisis caused by fundamentally inefficient and erroneous system of state socialism, as was the case in many former socialist countries. Current Belarusian authority was brought to power in 1994 and has been driven ever since by the need to solve the problems caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and state socialism. Minsk is called to play its role in displaying paradoxical accomplishments of the Belarusian path—the path of resisting the very idea of failed socialism. And in this capacity it also became an instrument of sustaining the ideological hegemony and symbolic legitimization of current power.
Original published in Aspen Review, Central Europe 2014, 4:
A funded Leverhulme Doctoral Studentship is now available with 1989 after 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective. This project aims to place the decline, collapse and transformation of state socialism in global perspective. It supports a range of projects which explore both the global entanglements which informed this transition, and the way in which global, regional and local processes have shaped the way we have come to understand the decline and end of state socialism.
Based in the History Department at the University of Exeter (Streatham Campus), the studentship offers the opportunity to work alongside the 1989 after 1989 research team on this five year Leverhulme Trust-funded project.
PhD proposals are invited on the following topics:
- the relationship between globalisation and the fall of state socialism;
- “1989” as a globally interconnected phenomenon;
- the global impact of the collapse of state socialism;
- the impact of the fall of state socialism on memory on a transnational, transregional or global scale;
- other innovative themes which place the fall of state socialism in global perspective.
Applicants wishing to work on any country, world region, or interconnections between regions, or on a global scale, are encouraged to apply. Proposals may address these themes from political, economic, cultural or social perspectives, and may draw their expertise from any discipline in the humanities or social sciences.
The successful candidate will be supervised by Professor James Mark, Principal Investigator with 1989 after 1989. The studentship is anticipated to start between May and September 2015 and is open to UK and EU applicants only. The award will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of £13,863 for three years. More information on this PhD studentship and how to apply can be found on the University of Exeter’s PhD funding webpages.
In addition to this, a further PhD studentship is available on Professor James Mark‘s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) supported project Socialism Goes Global: Cold War Connections Between the ‘Second’ and ‘Third Worlds’ 1945-1991. This collaborative project brings together the Universities of Exeter, Oxford, Columbia, Leipzig and Belgrade, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and University College London to address the relationship between what were once called the ‘Second World’ (from the Soviet Union to the GDR) and the ‘Third World’ (from Latin America to Africa to Asia).
PhD proposals are invited on themes which address any political economic, cultural, or social aspect of this encounter, whether from the viewpoint of one region/country/ institution/group, or with a transregional approach incorporating the perspectives of multiple global actors. For an indication of some potential project areas, see the programme for the project’s first conference.
More information on Socialism Goes Global and how to apply can be found on the University of Exeter’s PhD funding webpages.[Top]
Many congratulations to our Research Fellow, Dr Ned Richardson-Little, on being awarded the prestigious 2014 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize.
He received the award at the 23rd Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute in Washington DC last month, where Richardson-Little also spoke about his dissertation and his research.
His PhD dissertation: Between Dictatorship and Dissent: Ideology, Legitimacy and Human Rights in East Germany, 1945-1990 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013) was praised by the German Historical Institute (GHI) for being an “intellectually challenging and beautifully written study of human rights politics in the German Democratic Republic”. The GHI also commended his work for it’s significant and timely contribution to both historiography on modern Germany and the emerging scholarship on human rights.
The GHI’s prize citation reads:
Edward Richardson-Little’s dissertation, “Between Dictatorship and Dissent: Ideology, Legitimacy, and Human Rights in East Germany, 1945-1990,” is an intellectually challenging and beautifully written study of human rights politics in the German Democratic Republic. Upon learning that leaders and supporters of the ruling Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED) often invoked human rights, one might be tempted to imagine this practice as a cynical use of rhetoric by a dictatorial government to combat a rival Western vision of democracy and capitalism. However, Richardson-Little persuasively demonstrates that the SED and its supporters convinced many religious leaders, intellectuals, and working class supporters that socialism supported an indigenous brand of human rights superior to the individualistic, liberal version offered by the West. Richardson-Little makes excellent use of a wide range of sources from fourteen German archives to argue that, not only was there a thriving debate about human rights in East Germany, but also that citizens used that discourse to express dissent. Quite early, the SED developed its own Marxist conception of human rights to criticize the West, including the dangers of Western imperialism. The East German regime encouraged its citizens to believe that there could be “no human rights without Socialism.” The SED established a Committee for Human Rights, argued for human rights solidarity in the Third World, and used human rights as a basis for international agreements with the West. By the mid-1980s the discourse of human rights fostered by the SED provided peace activists, environmentalists, and advocates of democracy a powerful tool to oppose East German policies as well. The strength of their arguments helps explain the speed of revolutionary impulses by 1989. The SED’s use of human rights discourse, Richardson-Little demonstrates, played a critical role in legitimizing its own downfall. The topic of human rights has received a great deal of scholarly attention from recent historians, largely as part of narratives of the spread of Western values. However, as Richardson-Little points out, contradictions between a rhetoric of human rights and political policies that violate those rights characterized Western powers as well. Historians should be no less willing to accept that contemporaries in East Germany could value human rights, even if their envisioned path to achieving those rights varied significantly from their Western counterparts. In the face of continued debates about the limits of the West’s commitment to human rights, Richardson-Little’s Between Dictatorship and Dissent thus makes a significant and timely contribution, both to the historiography on modern Germany and to the emerging scholarship on human rights.
Richardson-Little will now continues his research with the 1989 after 1989 project at the University of Exeter, where he seeks to complicate the triumphalist narratives of good inevitably overcoming evil, ushering in a unified global human rights culture, by examining the complexity and plurality of human rights in late socialism and the post-socialist world. More information on Dr Richardson-Little research can be found here.[Top]
Raluca Grosescu‘s co-edited volume “Transitional Criminal Justice in Post-Dictatorial and Post-Conflict Societies” is now available as part of Intersentia’s Series on Transitional Justice.
Edited alongside Agata Fijalkowski, a Senior Lecturer in Law at Lancaster University, the volume considers the important and timely question of criminal justice as a method of addressing state violence committed by non-democratic regimes. Its main objectives concern a fresh, contemporary, and critical analysis of transitional criminal justice as a concept and its related measures, beginning with the initiatives that have been put in place with the fall of the Communist regimes in Europe in 1989.
The collection argues for a re-thinking and re-visiting of filters scholars use to interpret the main issues of transitional criminal justice. Such things as: the relationship between judicial accountability, democratisation and politics in transitional societies; the role of successor trials in re-writing history; the interaction between domestic and international actors and specific initiatives in shaping transitional justice; and the paradox of time in enhancing accountability for human rights violations. In order to accomplish this, the volume considers cases of domestic accountability in the post-1989 era, from different geographical areas, such as Europe, Asia and Africa, in relation to key events from various periods of time. In this way the approach, which investigates space and time-lines in key examples, also takes into account a longitudinal study of transitional criminal justice itself.
Transitional Criminal Justice in Post-Dictatorial and Post-Conflict Societies will be available from Intersentia as part of their Series on Transitional Justice.[Top]