This introductory essay provides a first, much needed comprehensive overview of the recent scholarship on fascism and the radical right in East Central and Southeastern Europe in local and international historiography. Its aim is to identify a new research agenda for studying fascism comparatively, potentially contributing to the fine-tuning or substantial modification of the existing explanatory paradigms. It is argued that comparative research on fascism and the radical right in these regions should be set on new theoretical and methodological foundations, as part of an effort toward greater interaction and convergence between scholarly research traditions in Eastern and Western Europe. My endeavor is based on the assumption that the study of fascist movements and regimes in East Central and Southeastern Europe is essential to the more general scholarly effort to understand radical politics in interwar Europe; without it, comparative research results remain partial and incomplete. Yet, this analytical effort does not simply mean an extension of the existing theoretical framework of generic fascism to previously uncharted regions. Regional explorations of fascism might function as a laboratory for further methodological innovation and as a field of experimentation and interaction of scholars from various disciplines and national historiographic traditions. They can potentially lead to the rejuvenation of fascist studies by renewing their thematic scope and by redirecting research from the prevailing Weberian ideal-type methodology fixated on the fascist “ideological minimum” to new comparative-historical analyses focusing on the triad ideology-movements-regimes. This novel agenda of research prompts scholars to rethink their units of analysis, and to renounce teleological comparative perspectives still prevalent in Cold War-type scholarship which takes Western Europe as a measuring stick and normatively evaluates other historical case studies only by means of negative comparisons (e.g.: what was missing, or what “went wrong” in non-Western regions). Instead of treating fascist movements and regimes in these regions as carbon copies of their more “genuine” Western counterparts, scholars should rather explore multiple laboratories for the elaboration of fascist ideology in interwar politics and the transfer of illiberal political ideas and practices over spatial or temporal borders, resulting in radical political experiments in East and West alike.
This introductory essay reviews recent debates on social history, with a focus on the revival of this field of studies in post-communist East Central Europe and its potential impact on rejuvenating approaches to the social history of Europe. The first part of the essay provides a brief overview of the emergence of social history as a reaction to the dominant political history of the nineteenth century and its crystallization in different national schools, and highlights recent responses to the poststructuralist and postmodern critiques of “the social.” The second part focuses on traditions of social history research in East Central Europe, taking Poland and Romania as main examples. The third part summarizes the main claims of the articles included in this issue and evaluates their implications for future research. It is argued that, at first glance, post-communist historiography in East Central Europe provides the picture of a discipline in transformation, still struggling to break up with the past and to rebuild its institutional framework, catching up with recent trends and redefining its role in continental and global historiography. The recent attempts to invigorate research in traditional fields of social history might seem largely obsolete, not only out of tune with international developments but also futile reiterations of vistas that have been for long experimented with and superseded in Western Europe. At closer scrutiny, however, historiography in East Central Europe appears—unequal and variegated as it is—as a laboratory for historical innovation and a field of experimentation, and interaction of scholars from various disciplines and scholarly traditions, in which old and new trends amalgamate in peculiar ways. It is suggested that the tendency to reconceptualize the “social” that we currently witness in humanities and social sciences worldwide could be not only reinforced but also cross-fertilized by the “social turn” in East Central Europe, potentially leading to novel approaches.
The downfall of the communist system and the end of the Cold War, the liberalization of historical discourses in Central and Eastern Europe, the opening up of new archival collections for scientific research, the intensification of academic exchange and interaction between local and foreign scholars, and the increasing globalization of the world have challenged scholars to experiment with new transnational approaches to the study of communist regimes, such as shared/entangled history, history of transfers, and histoire croisée. Against this background, the current thematic issue aims to evaluate the potential impact of transnational approaches on the field of communist studies, within the broader frameworks of European and world history. In this introduction, we provide a reappraisal of the history, legacy, and prospects of comparative communist studies, highlighting the potential heuristic advantages posed by the applications of new approaches to the “cross-history” of communist regimes. We argue that transnational research perspectives can fertilize communist studies, leading not only to novel insights but to the transformation of the field itself, by setting it on new foundations. By employing transnational perspectives, scholars are able to challenge the traditional understanding of communist regimes as quasi-isolated national entities, highlighting instead the long-term impact of cross-border linkages and transfers on sociopolitical developments within the Soviet camp. It is our conviction that the entangled history of communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe can function as a laboratory for experimenting with new transnational perspectives, leading to innovative interdisciplinary approaches in a joint effort of scholars from various disciplines and historiographical traditions.
The article analyzes the ways in which the concept of Central Europe and related regional classifications were instrumentalized in historical research in Hungary, Poland and Romania. While Hungarian and Polish historians employed the discourse of Central Europe as a central means to contextualize and often relativize established national historical narratives, their geographical frameworks of comparison were nevertheless fairly divergent. the Hungarian one relating to the former Habsburg and Austro-Hungarian lands while the Polish one revolving around the tradition of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. Romanian historians approached the issue from the perspective of local history, debating two alternative regional frameworks: the Old Kingdom, treated as part ofthe Byzantine and Ottoman legacies, and Transylvania, Bukovina and the Banat that were shaped by the Habsburg project of modemity. In the Romanian context the debate on Central Europe reached its peak at a time when it lost re1evance in the Polish and Hungarian contexts. While conceding to recent critiques on the constructed and often exclusivist nature of symbolic geographical catcgories, the authors maintain the heuristic valuc of regional frameworks of interpretation as models of historical explanation transcending the nation-state at sub-national or trans-national level.
Abstract: The article analyzes the ways in which the concept of Central Europe and related regional classifications were instrumentalized in historical research in Hungary, Poland and Romania. While Hungarian and Polish historians employed the discourse of Central Europe as a central means to contextualize and often relativize established national historical narratives, their geographical frameworks of comparison were nevertheless fairly divergent, the Hungarian one relating to the former Habsburg and Austro-Hungarian lands while the Polish one revolving around the tradition of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. Romanian historians approached the issue from the perspective of local history, debating two alternative regional frameworks: the Old Kingdom, treated as part of the Byzantine and Ottoman legacies, and Transylvania, Bukovina and the Banat that were shaped by the Habsburg project of modernity. In the Romanian context the debate on Central Europe reached its peak at a time when it lost relevance in the Polish and Hungarian contexts. While conceding to recent critiques on the constructed and often exclusivist nature of symbolic geographical categories, the authors maintain the heuristic value of regional frameworks of interpretation as models of historical explanation transcending the nation-state at sub-national or trans-national level.
East Central Europe is a peer-reviewed journal of social sciences and humanities with a focus on the region between the Baltic and the Adriatic, published in cooperation with the Central European University. The journal seeks to maintain the heuristic value of regional frameworks of interpretation as models of historical explanation, transcending the nation-state at sub-national or trans-national level, and to link them to global academic debates.
East Central Europe has an interdisciplinary orientation, combining area studies with history and social sciences, most importantly political science, sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies. It aims to stimulate the dialogue and exchange between scholarship produced in and on East-Central Europe and other area study traditions, in a global context. East Central Europe is made in close cooperation with Pasts, Inc. in Central European University (