Since its publication, Pieter M. Judson’s history of the Habsburg Empire: A New History has sparked discussion and debate as a result of its novel reframing of the relationship between nationalism and empire in the Central European polity. Judson offers a new narrative of a vibrant and adaptive state that had the ability to balance empire and nationality, and thus was not doomed to fail, as has been one of the well-worn interpretations of the empire. The contributors to this debate come to the book from different regional and academic standpoints, and take on a number of key issues raised by the book: the role of nationality in the empire; the nature of Habsburg imperial rule within the broader context of European empire building; the relationship of Hungary within the larger empire; and the position of the Habsburg Empire within European history as a whole. Together, these perspectives shed light on core issues raised by the book as well as offer reflections on the future of Habsburg studies.
Anti-apartheid advocacy allowed Eastern Bloc countries to reframe their ideological language of solidarity towards African countries into a legalist rhetoric during the 1960s and 70s. Support for international anti-racial discrimination law and self-determination from colonial rule reinforced their ties to Africa after the disenchantment of the Hungarian Uprising. Rights activism against apartheid showcased the socialist Bloc’s active contribution to the international rise of human rights language and international law during the Cold War. By the mid-1970s, however, international rights engagement became problematic for most Eastern European states, and dissidents at home eventually appropriated the term apartheid based on decades of state-mandated international rights activism to criticise socialism.
In the mid-1980s, the Eastern Bloc faced increased pressure on the issue of human rights from western governments, ngos, and indigenous dissident. Although the Socialist Bloc had claimed to represent the ideals of human rights throughout the Cold War, by 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev called on the leaders of the Eastern Bloc to work together on a coordinated response to this threat and in response East Germany proposed the creation of an international declaration based on the principles of socialist—rather than bourgeois—human rights. Within a few years, however, the project collapsed in ignominious failure as it provided a vehicle for reformers to challenge the status quo in the name of human rights by demanding greater democratization. Although the project was originally devised to refute the human rights claims of the West, it instead acted to spur on the intellectual collapse of the Eastern Bloc’s ideological unity at its time of greatest crisis.
In recent years, the study of human rights history has expanded beyond Western-centered narratives, though the role of Eastern European state socialism and socialists in the evolution of human rights concepts and politics has not received sufficient attention. This introductory essay synthesizes recent research of the role of Eastern Bloc socialist states in shaping the emergence of the post-war human rights system and the implications of this new research for the history of the Cold War, dissent as well as the collapse of state socialism in 1989/91. Ultimately, state socialist actors were not merely human rights antagonists, but contributed to shaping the international arena and human rights politics, motivated both strategically as well as ideologically. And the Eastern Bloc was not merely a region that passively absorbed the idea of human rights from the West, but a site where human rights ideas where articulated, internationalized and also contested.
This historical and comparative analysis shows that neoliberal economic policy creating a domestic private sector triggered a series of events that culminated with the dissolution of post-communist Czechoslovakia in 1992. Placing primary emphasis on neoliberal economic reform, this research departs from existing accounts of the breakup positing ideological differences between Czech and Slovak elites or preexisting regional economic structures as the primary factors behind the dissolution. As neoliberal policies took place through the entire federation, an unexpected boom in tourism in Prague fostered the creation of a service sector catering to visitors, lowering the capital’s unemployment rate. Outside of Prague, neoliberal policy failed to alleviate the economic crisis. As federal economic policies failed to resolve mounting economic problems in Slovakia, particularly unemployment, the perception that federal policies did not fit regional needs gained salience. By 1992, whereas parties calling for the perpetuation of the federation lost popular support, separatist political parties gained the majority of seats in both regional parliaments, leading to the dissolution of the federation.
Social rights are essentially rights to the betterment of life. And because of this, they lack any internal principle of limitation. Socialist governments recognized social rights as the core of human rights and therefore as legal rights, the implementation of which was a matter of obligation rather than policy. However, since the governments commanded limited resources, they had to limit the implementation of social rights. The article describes the ad hoc limitations on the implementation of social rights, developed by the Bulgarian Communist Party, which brought forth their transformation into instruments of government, and their appropriation by different forms of counter-conduct.
Much has been written about human rights language as a keystone of democratic dissent in Eastern Europe as well as about its damaging impact on the communist dictatorships—the so called “Helsinki effect.” This article analyzes the less familiar criticism of the core of the socialist theory of human rights and discusses whether this criticism proved to be particularly damaging for the socialist regimes’ legitimacy, self-esteem, and international standing, leading to their defensive stance in this sphere. Simultaneously, it will question, to some extent, the prevailing and rather one-sided “liberal” reading of dissident human rights theory itself. With this aim in mind, the article begins with the specific “developmental” socialist conception of human rights elaborated in the 1950s and the 1960s by prominent legal scholars and philosophers such as I. Szabó and I. Kovács, and outlines how this theory served as a tool of self-confident state socialist human rights politics in the first decades of the Cold War. Second, it will follow the diverging paths of this socialist human rights theory during the period of consolidation and the authoritarian turn in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Third, the article turns to some of the 1970s–80s dissident criticism of human rights abuses in communist countries. It will focus not on the best-known cases, which serve to emphasize encroachments upon civil and political rights and freedoms, but rather on critical approaches (like those of J. Tesař, J. Šabata, O. Solt, M. Duray, or the Solidarity’s Charter of Workers Rights) directed at the heart of the socialist theory of human rights, that is the abuses and unfulfilled promises in the area of social, economic, and—prominently in the Hungarian case—cultural rights.
Polish opposition against the state-socialist government emerged out of the political engagement of predominantly left-leaning intellectuals with repressed workers in the 1970s. In their writings, these intellectuals addressed not only workers in the country, but also Western European left-wing intellectuals and politicians. Based on an analysis of relevant samizdat publications, this article shows how Polish intellectuals modified their rhetorical strategies depending on their audience. It thus challenges the monothematic focus on an internationally salient human rights language as the main tool for political empowerment during the 1970s. Whereas the universalizing human rights discourse presented repression and the lack of democratic labor structures negatively, the inner Polish debate between intellectuals and workers initially framed these issues as basic necessities deduced from tangible problems. It was only after two years of organizational work that the Warsaw-based Workers’ Defense Committee, in their “Charter of Workers’ Rights” (1979), depicted repression as a violation of human and labor rights. The rhetoric changed so drastically because the Charter addressed not only workers, but also different target groups on an international and national level. Even so, a singularizing narrative of repression made more sense in the context of Polish labor protests than the adoption of a universalizing human rights language.