Joint workshop of the Department of History and Civilization, European University Institute, Florence, and Pasts Inc., Centre for Historical Studies, Central European University, Budapest
Florence, 26-27 May – Budapest, 17-18 June 2005
The great transformation of politics, society and culture that took place after 1945 in Central and Eastern Europe, usually labelled as Sovietisation, occupies a focal position in current debates concerning the recent history of the region. Historians as well as politicians,journalists and other actors of social memory have been engaged in a heated debate concerning the characteristics of these changes. A wide spectrum of questions have been raised in these debates, concerning the nature and main characteristic of the process. What were the main aspects of the transformation: the changes in the political system and state organisation, the re-structuring of societies or the homogenisation of cultural production? Who were the dominant agents in the process: Soviet party commissars assisted by covert operations of the NKVD, native communists or non-Marxist supporters of the modernisation programme? What was the principal impelling force of the alterations: Soviet political interest,communist power politics, international situation, the societies’ desire for a change or chance?
Did the political culture of the respective countries provide a background that fostered the acceptance of the changes?
The workshop will also address the problematic relation of the modernisation project to postwar Sovietisation. Did the Soviet alternative mean a challenge to traditional perceptions of modernisation? Was the Sovietisation process accompanied by a clash of different perceptions of modernity? Did Soviet-type societies achieve a reconciliation of diverse modernity concepts? In general, did the Soviet perception of modernity reflect a distinct understanding, or a radical “deviation” from the Western ideas of how the modernisation project should proceed? Was the Soviet idea of competing with the West in terms of technological achievements an indication of the alleged distinctiveness of modernity concepts? Can a political regime that left behind environmental catastrophe, non-functioning industry and inefficient agriculture, that seriously hindered social mobility and the formation of an autonomous middle-class be classified modern?
However, it would be misleading to restrict the investigation and claim that the process of Sovietisation concerned exclusively Central and Eastern Europe. ‘Sovietisation’ is a concept that could entail a broad all-European perspective. It is true partly due to the fact that Soviet-type regimes observed jealously and suspiciously the Western democracies and a considerable proportion of Eastern European processes and measures were implemented as a response to alleged Western developments. At the same time, however, ‘Sovietisation’ refers to and incorporates also the debates among leftists Western intellectuals concerning the future and nature of capitalism and its critique. The appeal of Soviet-type socialism was great mainly in French and Italian radical leftist thinkers and led to heated debates concerning Western socialism and communism. Developments of Central and Eastern European ‘people’s democracies’ influenced to a considerable extent British and American Marxism, as well. The crisis of Eastern communism in the mid-1950s resulted in a radical rupture and troubles of identification within the Western left-wing movement. A workshop devoted to Sovietisation, consequently, has to take into consideration the critique of classical Sovietology and the attempts to re-asses Western concepts of ‘Soviet’.
Various aspects of the Sovietisation process in post-war Central and Eastern Europe has been in the focus of scholarly attention – both inside and outside the region – in the previous decades. Although these studies provided a significant contribution to our understanding of the mechanism, and the nature of changes that took place, several aspects of the project has been overlooked as yet. The workshop thus aims to assess the insofar neglected aspects of Sovietisation, with the intention of formulating a new synthesis of the process.
Themes to be covered at the workshop will include:
Theories and conceptualizations of the ‘Soviet’ in the West and in the East.
The relationship of politics, Sovietisation andmodernisation, with regard to the construction of the regimes of control, and the implementation of new techniques of exercising power.
The ideas of Soviet modernisation, as manifested in industrial development and investment projects.
The relation of consumerism, material culture, and technological modernisation to the process of Sovietisation.
The Sovietisation of space (urban planning, memorials, and architecture), that also encompassed a a radical shift in the balance of private and public spheres.
The Sovietisation of culture and cultural production, including the nationalisation of cultural institutions, and the transformation of stylistic paradigms, with special emphasis on the field of literature, cinema, fine arts, and music. The Sovietisation of education and science, with respect to the alteration of institutional structure and teaching materials(schoolbooks), as well as sports culture, that also fostered the political socialisation of respective societies. Presentations may also include scrutinies of the Sovietisation of legal culture and legal institutions.
The Sovietisation of media.
The Sovietisation of political rituals, that entailed the transformation of mass demonstrations, and the grandiose effort to adapt Soviet-type leader cults to local conditions.
The “reinvention” of national traditions, through the transformation of political culture, mythologies, and traditional belief systems, and the formulation of a new historical canon, alongside with a radical reinterpretation of the nation’s history.
The Sovietisation of political language, which encompassed the radical transformation, or militarisation, of vocabulary, due to the introduction of new concepts and the substantial changes of old meanings, and also involved the implementation of new discourses, including the Stalinist “great family” discourse, and the discourses of “friendship” and leader cult.
The seminar hopes to provide an opportunity for researchers of the region, and in Western Europe to exchange their ideas, and would thus like to promote an international dialogue on the subject. The workshop also aims to set up a forum for the encounter of various researchers and various approaches.
Prof. Arfon Rees (EUI)
Prof. Sorin Antohi (CEU)
Balázs Apor (EUI)
Péter Apor (CEU, Pasts Inc.)
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