Anti-Semitism in Central Eastern Europe. Ideas, Politics and Praxis of Jew-Hatred from a Comparative Perspective, ca. 1880-1939
Warsaw, 14-16 February 2013
Central Eastern Europe bears particular significance for the history of anti-Semitism. This region was home to a large number of Jews, who were not only among themselves culturally divided, but also separated from their linguistically and denominationally heterogeneous environs. Those professions which in the process of the rise of market economy took over central functions in the economic life were oftentimes dominated by Jews. As a consequence, social, particularly ecclesiastic actors thus began to link economic, civilizational and national discourses to the Jewish question, which thus became a central part of the communicative construction of modern national (and also Jewish) communities. These discourses took place in a legal and political framework set by imperial multi-ethnic states. The diverse nationalities and societies of Central Eastern Europe were thus in particularly close contact. Christian-Jewish relations and contacts were for most people a part of everyday life. Anti-Semitic discourse and praxis were thus closely intertwined.
With the collapse of the empires and the creation of national states after World War I, anti-Semites attempted to turn the discrimination of Jews in the context of minority politics or nation building into state policy.
The Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH) and the German Historical Institute (DHI) in Warsaw are organizing a joint conference, which aims to explore the dynamics of Jew-hatred, the continuities and turning-points in the context of incisive historical events and developments. The object is to delineate the interrelation between the political and ideological field on the one hand and social practices on the other.
The conference thus also aims to contribute to a theoretical and methodological discussion within the field of research on anti-Semitism, which gives considerations to the specific regional and historical situation in Central Eastern Europe. We ask for contributions in the following fields.
A. Political Anti-Semitism
Within the investigation period, as a result of parliamentary practice and the development of a sophisticated newspaper market, a political landscape came into being which galvanized and changed the discussion of the Jewish question by integrating new voters and readers. Modern mass communication substantially gained importance, thus making anti-Semitic scandals with a significant degree of notoriety possible and creating media events (esp. so-called ritual murder cases), that could be interpreted in terms of the anti-Semitic agenda of political newspapers.
The anti-Semitic discourse was used to mobilize voters, to formulate modern communities and to guide parliamentary praxis. Moreover, it was exploited and modified by linking it to economic and social phenomena in the context of the implementation of the capitalist economic system, for instance in the form of agitation for consumer and agricultural co-operatives and so-called “Christian shops”. How far did the economic nationalism of the interwar period, which was supposed to turn the former imperial periphery into national economic centers, include – among protectionist measures directed “outwards” – anti-Semitic issues directed “inwards”? What were their relations to nationalistic discourses of the pre-World War I period?
What were the relations of anti-Semitic actors such as parties, newspapers and individual intellectuals to political, economic and cultural questions such as the disappearance of traditional culture, the rise and fall of liberalism, the development of new forms of mass communication and the modern, national community without, or respectively within the national state? What was the connection between the propagation of anti-Semitic ideas and programs and the dynamism of the political landscape, particularly the political commitment of the Catholic Church and of Jewish representatives? Which groups advocated positions which included Jew-hatred? How prominent was anti-Semitism in their programs in general? How did these groups position themselves vis-à-vis the state? What social echo did the propagation of anti-Semitic conceptions elicit? Did attempts to pass anti-Semitic laws yield results? What turning points are evident in the different empires, countries and later national states in the course of the investigation period?
The affirmative reference to anti-Semitism as a conscious attitude toward Jews inherently meant referring to systems of belief that were based on putatively scientific arguments. What place did racism and miscellaneous scientific discourses such as biological anthropology, medicine, empirical criminology or psychiatry have regarding the formulation of the “Jewish question” and the propagation of so-called “rational anti-Semitism”? What reception and transfers of racist ideas are evident in the discussion of the “Jewish question”?
B. Violence and Social Practices of Jew-hatred
Discourse and social practice influenced each other vice versa. The study of political anti-Semitism thus requires re-constructing the interrelations between everyday encounters and conflicts between Christians and Jews. How did political agitation and decisions influence social praxis and what events and conflicts were taken up in political discourse? Therefore, the conference will pay special attention to discriminatory practices against Jews. Both organized and spontaneous acts of collective violence, demonstrations, boycott and exclusion of Jews will be discussed and put in a comparative perspective. What were the material, symbolic and ideological aims of the participants? What place did physical action against Jews have among anti-Semitic, nationalistic, paramilitary or student organizations? When and how did they manage to win over certain circles or institutions for anti-Semitic actions? How did they justify the implementation of violence? How did the state react towards these forms of political violence on the executive, legal and legislative level?
C. Resistance against Anti-Semitism
In order to understand the social meaning of anti-Semitism, it is vital to examine reactions and open resistance. Historical witnesses of anti-Semitism and the attitude of social and state institutions such as parties, churches, governments and local and international organizations deserve special attention. How did Jews act on the institutional, intellectual and political level? What were the possibilities and limits of co-operation with non-Jewish organizations? What were the consequences of physical and media-related resistance or of self-defense?
We kindly ask for paper proposals of approximately 1 page length including a curriculum vitae with reference to language skills in English, German or Polish until April 30th 2012 to email@example.com. With reservations regarding the respective financing commitment, the organizers will bear costs for travelling and accommodation.
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