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Hungary and Ghana: What do Their 1960s Forgotten Relations Tell Us about the ‘Southern Opening’ After 2015?

My paper for the international conference “Visegrad countries and Africa: History and Contemporaneity” held online on 27 April 2022. I follow a world-systemic and decolonial approach to investigate Hungarian semiperipheral positioning strategies in global colonial history by looking at the interactions and converging interests of Hungary and Ghana in the early 1960s.

‘Hungarian Indians’: Race, Colonialism and Memory Politics in Hungarian ‘Indian Play’

I talk about how semiperipheral “whiteness” should reconfigure our ideas of Eastern European racial and colonial history through the case of Hungarian ‘Indian play’. The “tradition” of whites playing out Native Americans in cultural and racial performances was often an antagonistic practice of anti-colonial solidarity and colonial appropriation. In the Eastern European case, it often became a way of contesting Western hegemony, but through mimicking Western colonial cultures of appropriation and “nativism”. Today, the Orbán government is building on this colonial and racial heritage through nationalist anti-communist memory politics.

Ali Baba

Decorative commercial poster by Sándor Lengyel who was a very sought-after graphic designer in the 1960s and 70s. He mostly designed commercial posters and he was famous for his cartoon-like style. Ali Baba was a brand which sold quality coffee in the socialist times.

In India

Movie poster by László Bánki for a Soviet film about India, 1953. According to the poster a performance by the famous Polish Mazowse dance company was presented as well.

The Return of the Colonial: Understanding the Role of Eastern Europe in Global Colonization Debates and Decolonial Struggles 

I was honored to present my paper The Return of the Colonial: Understanding the Role of Eastern Europe in Global Colonization Debates and Decolonial Struggles at the opening event of the Decolonize Hellas project and research platform on 19 May, 2021. In my paper, I introduced my world-sytemic approach to conceptualizing semiperipheral Hungarian and Eastern European colonial histories and decolonialism from a global perspective.

Magyarország Globálban: Elfeledett Kapcsolataink Ghánával

Ghána 1957-ben elsőként vált független szubszaharai afrikai országgá, méghozzá a legígéretesebbek egyikévé. Azonban Európa- és nyugatközpontú történelmi emlékezetünk elfeledtette velünk, hogy nekünk magyaroknak milyen fontos szerepünk is volt Ghána fejlődésében. Vajon hogyan érthetjük meg Magyarország globális történelmét a dekolonizáció és a gyarmati múltú Ghána felől nézve?

Celebration of 60 Years of Ghana–Hungary Relations

It was my honor to hold a 1 hour lecture (starts after 1:35:00) at the important diplomatic event “Celebrating 60 Years of Diplomatic Relations Between Ghana and Hungary” about the history of the relations between the two countries. I feel immensely privileged that the Embassy of Hungary in Accra, Ghana had recognized my work and […]

Prime Minister Ferenc Nagy Research Group

Our Ferenc Nagy Prime Minister Research Group was established in 2020 under the leadership of myself and Zoltán Kovács Kozári. My research focuses on the role of Ferenc Nagy and the Hungarian anti-communist émigré community in shaping the political discourse of “Soviet colonialism” in relation to Afro-Asian decolonisation. See our new website at nagyferenc.org.

János Fekete in Ghana

After President Nkrumah’s visit to Ghana in 1961, the president requested a wide range of expertise and investment projects from Hungary. Among them was the secret mission of János Fekete as a financial adviser in the summer of 1962 to work out currency management solutions for Ghana, which was heavily dependent on world market prices and loans from Western countries (USA, UK).

Fekete János Ghánában

Nkrumah ghánai elnök 1961-es látogatása után sokféle szakértői és beruházási megbízást kért Magyarországtól. Közéjük tartozott 1962 nyarán Fekete János titkos pénzügyi tanácsadói kiküldetése, hogy a nyugati országok hiteleitől (USA, Egyesült Királyság) és a világpiaci áraktól erősen függő Ghánának valutagazdálkodási megoldásokat dolgozzon ki.

Erdei Ferenc Afrikában

Erdei Ferenc a Hazafias Népfront Országos Tanácsának főtitkáraként és az országgyűlés mezőgazdasági bizottságának elnökeként vezette azt az 1964-es magyar parlamenti delegációt, amely Mali és Guinea mellett Ghánába is ellátogatott. Ez volt az első magyar parlamenti delegáció Ghánában. Erről is szót ejtek majd, amikor a pécsi Afrika-hét első napján egy órán át beszélek a magyar-ghánai kapcsolatainkról a globális történetírás megközelítésében.

Decolonizing the City? Traversing Urbanscapes in the World-Systemic Transperipheral Histories between Socialist Hungary and the Global South

Budapest. Lumumba Street. Nehru Coast. Havana Housing Estate. Places we pass, places from the past. Or are they past? After 1989, the ‘return to Europe’ resulted in the neoliberal ‘whitening out’ of the Hungarian memories of socialist era anti-colonial solidarities to the Third World. Recent political discourse has been largely Westcentric and focused on colonial memory, collections and monuments. Against Westcentrism and Eurowhite ignorance, we need a world-systemic approach to decipher the ‘transperipheral’ relations within the Hungarian semiperipheral world-systemic integration to global capitalism.

Spatializing Orbán’s ‘Colonial Missionarism’: The Global Geographies of Religion and Securitization in the ‘Colonial Turn’ of Hungarian Political Disourse

This chapter looks at the global geographies of the ‘colonial turn’ in the Orbán governments’ post-2010 political discourse in Hungary from the perspective of religion and securitization. After 2010, ‘Central Europe’ became demarcated by government discourse as a “non-colonizer” and “ethnically homogeneous” region from the “colonizer”, multicultural/racial and therefore decadent West. Declared as a “Christian democracy”, the Hungarian “illiberal” state fused the preservation of a Central European ‘pure’ religious identity with Eurocentric, colonial and post-imperial arguments after the 2015 refugee crisis. The chapter elucidates the complex ‘scalar political economy’ behind how the local ideology of “Christian freedom” is contradictingly embedded in Hungary’s “global struggle against Christian persecution” to “stop migration” as a form of new ‘colonial missionarism’.

Colonia Hungaria: Hungarian Settlers and Colonial Imaginaries in Latin America in the Interwar Era

My paper explores competing visions of establishing a Hungarian colony in the context of Latin American Hungarian settlers in the interwar era. I introduce my concept of “transcoloniality” to traverse interconnected Eastern European and South American colonial contexts, and explore the trajectories of Hungarian colonialism through my concept “Colonial Hungaria.”

The ‘Ghana Job’: Opening Semiperipheral Hungary to the Postcolonial World

This paper follows a world-systemic and decolonial approach to investigate Hungarian semiperipheral positioning strategies in global colonial history by looking at the interactions and converging interests of Hungary and Ghana in the early 1960s. The paper focuses on József Bognár, a hugely important but forgotten political figure in socialist era Hungarian economics and foreign economic policy-making. In 1963, Bognár founded a government think tank, the Centre for AfroAsian Research (CAAR) at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (renamed in 1973 as the Institute for World Economy). The institute evolved out of Bognár’s “Ghana job”: Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, on the occasion of his Eastern European round-trip in 1961, asked Bognár to develop Ghana’s First Seven-Year Plan.

Hungarian Race for Anti-Colonial Recognition in the Third World

This paper overviews three case studies on how Hungarians opened to Afro-Asian decolonization and the emerging Non-Aligned Third World between the mid-1950s and early 1960s. The first case is ex-premier Ferenc Nagy’s anti-communist criticism of “Soviet colonialism” influencing the first Afro-Asian conference in Bandung (1955); the second is István Bibó and Árpád Göncz opting for non-alignment and seeking aid from India during the 1956 revolution; the third is József Bognár’s attempt at development planning in Ghana and the wider Third World. The paper explores how former Smallholders’ Party members pursued different political paths ultimately connected by attempts of forming anti-colonial alliances, and how Hungarian postwar political agendas globalized to translate and connect to the postcolonial world. Finally, it asks why these Hungarian interactions are missing from the global history of the Non-Aligned Movement.

‘Hungarian Negro’: Race and Coloniality in Interwar Hungarian Literature

The paper aims to contest the ‘Cold War paradigm’ by interpreting deeper connections to the anti-Semitic interwar era within global colonialism. It explores three case studies: the Hungarian reception of René Maran’s Batouala (1921) translated by the famous writer Dezső Kosztolányi; Illés Kaczér’s Ikongo Will Not Die (1936), the first Hungarian ‘negro novel’; and Miklós Radnóti’s poetry and translations inspired by African culture.

About me

I’m an independent researcher and a critical geographer, historian of science and global historian. My research is in the geographies of knowledge, world-systems analysis, and the histories of geography, colonialism and racism, with a focus on the historical relations between Eastern Europe and the Global South or the Third World.

I am currently working on two books. One for Cambridge University Press with James Mark and Péter Apor about the global histories of Hungarian relations to colonialism and anti-colonialism in the long 20th century, entitled “Hungary Between the Colonial and Anti-Colonial Worlds”. The other is my individual book project based on my doctoral research about the global histories of the “quantitative revolution” in geography.

I founded the social media group Decolonizing Eastern Europe (Facebook, Twitter).

Hungary Between the Colonial and Anti-colonial worlds

After a year of preparation, I finally signed a contract with Cambridge University Press to co-author with James Mark and Péter Apor our book, tentatively titled “Hungary between the Colonial and Anti-Colonial Worlds”. The book seeks to situate Hungary within the global histories of colonialism, decolonisation and alternative world-making, particularly ‘between peripheries’ – in the semiperiphery of the world-system.

Eastern Europe in Global Colonialism and Decolonization Debates

Transperiphery Conversations #1 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.

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