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Negotiating post-imperial transitions: from remobilization to nation-state consolidation. A comparative study of local and regional transitions in post-Habsburg East and Central Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - NEPOSTRANS (Negotiating post-imperial transitions: from remobilization to nation-state consolidation. A comparative study of local and regional transitions in post-Habsburg East and Central Europe)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-02-28

At the end of WWI several smaller states replaced large imperial constructs in the East of Europe. For a century, this event was seen as a manifestation of a better world, bringing historical justice and freedom for the people – despite all the subsequent ills and horrors this principle inflicted on the same people. Our project challenges this interpretation at its foundation – seeking answer for the question what exactly the population experienced between the middle of WWI and the end of the 1920s. How their local worlds interacted with nation-states, how much they were willing to preserve what they considered important from empires.
It is not simply abut redeeming the memory of a world long lost. We aim at understanding better how modern states and societies engage with and shape each other. In turn we analyse nine regions from Austria-Hungary and go over how statehood became reality, how elites dealt with the changes, how much ethnicity – the principle of nationality – was a social reality in this process, and how discourses situated those local, often backward worlds. Through their comparison, we hope to develop a typology of transition, and grasp the factors and aspects of local diversity of statehood in transformatory moments.
During WP2 and WP3 the team had the same working method. We had seminar like meetings, every second, during WP3 every week. First we discussed key texts on the state and its various aspects, with special attention paid to social sciences (political science, sociology, anthropology) for developing the most important common working definitions. Later, we discussed relevant historical articles, and the ongoing work of team members too, including every paper presented at our project conferences. We held two workshops in Budapest, the first one together with the NTAutonomy ERC StG project at the Central European University, the second also as preparation for the project conference. The main goal of the workshops was, however, to set out the specific research questions of the WP, and later to test and adjust them critically, and to use the diverse specialization of team members for gaining new insights. We produced a position paper, summing up the main issues, definitions and theoretical frames, also the relevant subjects and why they are crucial.
We had our project conference co-organized with the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts on an invitational basis with 16 papers presented. „The pervasive state in reconfiguration. Actors, Concepts, Institutions”. The program was designed to present those ongoing research projects on the post-Habsburg space that has relevance for us and helped us to find the blind spots in our approach in terms of subjects or framing. We also invited a speaker, Alison Carrol to provide a Western European perspective (Alsace-Lorraine).
We challenge the triumphalist and teleological narratives of the inevitability of nation states but not simply claiming the opposite. We want to understand how people gain agency and define their worlds, and also how long-established practices, habits, institutions survive watershed moments. They were crucial, we presume, for the success or failure of the new states.
We expect to craft a new, more individual-centred and diverse narrative of 20th century history, together with a more elaborate, complex and flexible interpretation of the state and statehood, state-society relationship. Finally, with a typology of transitions in the East of Europe we not only promise to change how we think of crucial moments in history: with models of transition as an interpretative tool for all regions, we place the East of the continent at the centre of its history.