The aim of the conference is to examine the hypothesis that pseudo-democratic elections in 20th Century dictatorships should not be dismissed as trivial propaganda phenomena. Instead, these elections might offer valuable insights and a deeper understanding of the inner workings of these regimes. Why did almost all modern dictatorships try to seek formal legitimation through some kind of popular vote: the German Nazi Regime as well as the Italian Fascists and the Communist Regimes?
We will look at the symbolic content and the practice of elections, at the interaction between authority and people, and at the aspect of performance. Up to now, little effort has been made to study these aspects of elections under dictatorial rule in a historical and comparative perspective.
We would like to encourage papers concerning more general considerations as well as micro-historical case studies; comparative studies are especially welcomed. The studies can be applied to parliamentary elections and plebiscites, as well as to local elections and elections within organisations such as parties or trade unions.
The conference particularly seeks to illuminate the following five fields of attention:
1. The official narrative of legitimacy: Modern „Weltanschauungs-Diktaturen“ (dictatorships of ideology) tried to legitimate themselves with the help of elections because they wanted to demonstrate the ideologically important unity of authority and people. In addition, the elections served as justification in their relationship to Western democracies. But how were “Elections without Choice” legitimated, both internally and externally?
2. Practice and function: The specific rules, procedures and practices of each election were by no means arbitraty, but made reference to generally accepted functions of elections, both formal and informal.
The functions were legitimization of rulership, mobilizing the people or enabling a form of communication between the people and state. Are there any other functions, both formal and informal?
3. The symbolic staging of elections: If one analyses the elections as an act of performance, the symbolic content of the elections must be examined. Dictatorial elections were a “celebration” of the collective, the consent and the uniformity and they demonstratively negated the meaning of the individuality.
4. Conformism and “Eigen-Sinn” – perception and action of voters: Unfree elections were a method of repression, which served for disciplining and as subjugation ritual. The electoral process created its own reality due to the apparent consent and collaboration of the voters. However, depending on the political situation and the perceived risk of individual dissent, elections were also an opportunity for “negotiations” and were used to display disagreement. Which defiant ways of dealing with the elections can be observed? How did the state react? Is there evidence that the integrating potential of the voting ritual exhausted?
5. Elections as risky undertakings: As the events during the municipal elections in the GDR in spring 1989 show, the elections can get out of hands and gain momentum in directions that are not intended by the authorities. Are there other examples that the elections slither from the official usage, that their fictitious character is discussed and that the regime’s façade of legitimacy is threatened?
The conference – which is funded by the Thyssen-Foundation – will offer an opportunity for intense discussion in a workshop-style atmosphere.
Proposals should be submitted along with an abstracts (1 page max.) and a C.V. by December 5. We do expect about 16 presentations of 20 minutes each. The abstracts will be circulated among the participants of the conference in advance.
Presentations should be given in English; the discussion will be in English or German.
We plan to publish the revised conference papers in an edited volume in German language.
The conference will be May 7-9, 2009
Prof. Dr. Ralph Jessen
Dr. des. Hedwig Richter
Universitaet zu Koeln / University of Cologne
Historisches Seminar / Department of History
D-50923 Köln / Cologne (Germany)
Tel. o.: ++49 (0)221 4705252
Tel. p.: ++49 (0)2204 404847
Fax. 0: ++49 (0)221 4705148 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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