Eastern Europe in Global Colonialism and Decolonization Debates

The event is part of the Transperiphery Conversations series organized in conjunction with the exhibition Transperiphery Movement: Global Eastern Europe and Global South, curated by Eszter Szakács and Zoltán Ginelli at OFF-Biennale Budapest.

It is often said that Eastern Europeans—perhaps with the exception of Russia—never had colonies, they have no colonial history and share no responsibility about the moral and material consequences of global colonialism. Recent political discourse has constructed a postsocialist dividing line between the Western “colonizer” and Eastern “non-colonizer” countries of Europe, which has a much deeper history in the socialist era and beyond. Eastern Europeans have long sought to escape “white guilt” while positioning themselves both as protectors of white civilization and victims of imperial and colonial projects. However, Occidentalist views of a uniform white Europe conceal the peripheralization of Eastern Europeans within the European project, as well as their “not-quite-white” historical in-betweenness, “peripheral” or “frustrated” whiteness. Despite strong ambitions of “catching up” to the West and demonstrating their whiteness, Eastern Europeans often sought anti-colonial alliances with the postcolonial Global South to contest Western hegemony. This Eastern European semiperipheral positioning is missing from current decolonization debates, which still revolve around the dichotomy of the “colonizer” and the “colonized.”

History professor James Mark (University of Exeter) in conversation with Zoltán Ginelli discuss how to historicize Eastern Europe within the global histories of colonialism and decolonization with a focus on Hungarian experiences. Their conversation will revolve around the following questions:

  1. How can a global historical perspective on race and colonialism help us reinterpret important 20th century historical moments or periods in Eastern Europe, such as the end of the two world wars, 1956, 1968 or 1989, as they have been canonized and increasingly appropriated by nationalist political discourses?
  2. How does Eastern Europe’s semiperipheral, “in-between” whiteness and coloniality complicate mainstream views of race and global colonial history?
  3. How can a shared history of Eastern Europe and the Global South inform or contest our current political debates around anti-racism, decolonization and Westcentrism?