A kalandozó hadjáratok nyugati kútfői [Western sources on the tenth-century Hungarian military incursions]. By Dániel Bácsatyai. Budapest: HM Hadtörténeti Intézet és Múzeum, 2017. 296 pp.
In his recent book, Dániel Bácsatyai examines the Latin sources on the period of the Hungarian incursions into Western Europe. By offering a critical historico-philological analysis of the sources, he provides an overview of the events, stages, directions, and methods of the incursions that took place in the ninth and tenth centuries.
The book is organized into three chapters. In the first, Bácsatyai presents assessments in the French historiography of the Hungarian incursions which were launched against Burgundy, and he examines sources from the Burgundian monasteries on the Hungarians. This chapter is a case study which demonstrates that the interpretations by Western historians of the narrative sources from the period can be misleading. Modern Belgian and French scholars often presume that the references to the arrival of Hungarians in settlements in the West are untrue, and they consider these references stereotypical remarks or hagiographical and rhetoric clichés. According to them, by mentioning the Hungarians and the raids they conducted, the chroniclers only intended to create a ‘necessary’ enemy, which a Christian religious community could overcome. Bácsatyai contradicts this approach by pointing out that even if there are descriptions in the sources which rest on or rehearse stereotypes, this does not mean that their authors should be dismissed entirely as unreliable. A fine example of this is the Vita Sanctae Wiboradae, which describes how Wiborada suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Hungarians in Sankt Gallen in 926. As Bácsatyai states, the Hungarians depicted in the vita are indeed clearly portrayed as the necessary executives of Wiborada’s martyrdom, but their presence in Sankt Gallen can be confirmed by other, more reliable sources. This questioning of the rather critical concept about the Hungarian incursions is a valuable methodological innovation with which Bácsatyai manages to argue persuasively that many Hungarian incursions which have come to be seen in much of the secondary literature in the West as never having taken place (i.e. as mere rhetorical fictions) did indeed happen.
In the second chapter, Bácsatyai discusses a theory suggested by the historian Szabolcs Vajay, according to whom some of the Hungarian military expeditions, – e. g. the campaign in 917 to Alsace and Lorraine or the attack against Burgundy in 937, – were part of an alliance between the Hungarians and the Carolingian rulers. Bácsatyai gives an overview of the related events in support of his argument that there was never any such alliance.
In the third chapter, Bácsatyai analyzes Western sources containing notes about the incursions. The subchapters are organized according to source-types: annals from the ninth and tenth centuries, tenth-century necrologies, chronicles by abbots, hagiographic works, chronicles (most importantly those of Liutprand and Widukind), and charters and letters.
It is particularly useful that Bácsatyai evaluates these sources alongside a discussion of the relevant historical-philological problems, and he demonstrates the manuscript-traditions of the sources, too. A fine example of the usefulness of this approach is his exploration of a manuscript of the Annales Bertiniani by Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims. By emphasizing the significance and the authenticity of this manuscript, – which until now has been largely overlooked in the Hungarian secondary literature –, Bácsatyai argues persuasively that the manuscript’s note about the Hungarian incursion of 862 can be accepted as credible.
Another valuable finding in the book concerns the settling of a number of chronological disputes. Drawing on the sources, Bácsatyai outlines the chronological order of the Hungarian military campaigns from the middle of the ninth century to the end of the tenth, which were launched against East and West Francia, Moravia, Italy, Bavaria, Carinthia, Saxony, Swabia, Thuringia, Burgundy, Lotharingia, and Aquitaine.
The clarification of the events of the great campaign against Italy (899–900) is extremely valuable. With the help of a charter from Altino, Bácsatyai demonstrates that the expedition began in the spring or summer of 899, and after the Hungarians were defeated in Venice, they probably devastated the monastery of Altino on June 29. Using the Gesta/Catalogus abbatum Nonantulani, Bácsatyai clarifies the date of the Hungarian victory over Berengar I in Brenta (September 24). As Bácsatyai points out, the Annales Fuldenses reported that Berengar lost 20,000 of his soldiers in this battle. Using a necrology, Bácsatyai specifies the possible date of the Hungarian attack against Vercelli and the murder of bishop Liutward. The chronology of the events of the Hungarian campaign against Italy, – which ended in the spring of 900, – offers a good example of how Bácsatyai uses different types of sources concerning each episode of the Hungarian incursions in order to obtain a picture that is as complete as possible.
In addition to these strengths of this important monograph, I would be remiss not to mention another new finding in the book. Bácsatyai draws attention to a story from a work entitled Translatio et miracula Sancti Marci. The tale, which has been ignored by Hungarian historians so far, tells the story of a crippled churchman. Seeking (for) healing, the man visits a site of pilgrimage which, – according to the Translatio, – fell under the control of the Hungarians. Bácsatyai points out that there is only one settlement in the Carpathian Basin where a relic was kept in the ninth century, and this was Mosaburg/Zalavár.
In conclusion, Dániel Bácsatyai’s monograph presents significant findings. His opposition to the minimalist attitude of the Western European scholars and the theory presented by Szabolcs Vajay about the Hungarian-Carolingian alliance can be regarded as important progress and therefore an important addition to earlier historiographic viewpoints. Bácsatyai was able to add several insights concerning the chronology of events, and he has also made a number of corrections. His examination of the manuscript-traditions also yields important findings, and he has made unique discoveries, such as the identification of Mosaburg/Zalavár as an early site of pilgrimage in the Carpathian Basin.
In addition to the insights and contributions mentioned above, the most important point of the book is the argument it presents according to which the Hungarian tribal federation pursued an organic, unified foreign policy in the first half of the tenth century. This contention is significant in part because it runs contrary to the interpretations of some of the most well-known scholars of the period (such as József Deér and Gyula Kristó). Kristó’s main argument was that there were certain occasions, namely in 917, 934, and 943, when the tribes appeared in Western-Europe, and Byzantium. This implies that the tribes must have acted independently, without central guidance. However, as Bácsatyai points out, the sources reveal that the Hungarian defeat in Bavaria took place in 945, not 943, there are no reliable sources verifying the existence of an incursion in 934, and the authenticity of the expedition in 917 is also questionable. Therefore, it seems that the Hungarian incursions in the first half of the tenth century fit a pattern of a conscious strategy, and they were far from random campaigns.
Eötvös Loránd University
Magyarországi diákok a prágai és a krakkói egyetemeken, 1348–1525, I–II. [Students from Hungary at the universities of Prague and Kraków, 1348–1525, I–II]. By Péter Haraszti Szabó, Borbála Kelényi, and László Szögi. (Hungarian students at medieval universities, 2.) Budapest: Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem Levéltára / MTA–ELTE Egyetemtörténeti Kutatócsoport, 2016–2017, 152 pp., 592 pp.
Peregrination (or study tours) of Hungarian students has long been a subject of interest for scholars dealing with Hungarian history and literature. Though the important series in which the present volume was published was launched nearly two decades ago, medievalists and early modernists have been waiting for new volumes, their appetites endlessly whetted by the research produced by László Szögi and his colleagues, which has, so far, produced twenty-four rich volumes about Hungarian students who traveled to destinations abroad (between 1526 and 1919), including the lands of the Habsburg Empire, (and for instance cities like Vienna), Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, the Baltic region, England, Scotland, Italy, Kraków, Prague, and, in the most recent and final volume, France, Belgium, Romania, Serbia, and Russia.
The two new volumes about Hungarian students in Prague and Kraków step back in time, since they are part of the subseries on peregrination in the medieval period. The first volume of this section dealt with the University of Vienna between 1365 and 1526 (Anna Tüskés, Magyarországi diákok a Bécsi Egyetemen, 1365–1526 ), and this is now complemented by examinations of the lives and scholarly endeavors of Hungarian students at two other universities important in Hungarian cultural history. The earlier publication on Kraków dealing with the modern period has now been supplemented with student data from 1401 onwards, while the list on students from Prague ranges from ca. 1365 to 1526. The two volumes are not divided by university; the first volume contains introductions and essays in Hungarian and shortened versions in English about the two universities. The second presents the data regarding the students.
The first volume (published in 2016) begins with introductions to both Prague and Kraków. Péter Haraszti Szabó provides a detailed summary of the secondary literature on the former, and Borbála Kelényi provides summaries of the literature on the latter. Haraszti Szabó offers a history of the university founded by Charles IV, describes the judicial and economic aspects of the institution, and plots the rise and fall in the number of students. He also addresses the influence of monarchs (such as the aforementioned founder and Louis the Great) and figures and groups such as John Wycliffe and the Hussites. The introduction concludes with a list of Hungarian students in Prague. Though the sources are fragmented, some 252 students (of which 84 are potentially Hungarian in origin), most of whom studied at the institution before 1420, can be identified. (To highlight the difficulties with the sources, the estimated number of Hungarian students at this important university over the course of the two centuries in question is around twelve to fifteen hundred.) Borbála Kelényi introduces a much wider corpus concerning the Hungarian students in Kraków. The Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364 by Casimir the Great (and re-founded in 1386 by Vladislaus II), hosted 4,476 students (229 of whom had ambiguous origins) from the territory of medieval Hungary between ca. 1365 and 1526. In its heyday in the second half of the fifteenth century, the Jagiellonian University was the most popular destination for Hungarian students. In its peak year (1484), there were 109 registered students of Hungarian origin. Notably, almost ten percent of those who studied in Kraków continued their studies at other European universities (mainly in Vienna and at German and Italian institutions). While information regarding Prague is rare, Kraków has copious accurate and detailed descriptions allowing for a variety of views. Both authors adopt a wide-ranging view which takes into consideration the history, structure, and everyday life of the university, with information about university circles (such as the Bursa Hungarorum in Kraków) and Hungarian professors. They also include numeric information regarding graduations and average student numbers, and they comment on the geographical and social origins of students. (Interestingly, while most of the Hungarian students in Prague appear to come from southwestern Hungary, the largest number of students in Kraków came from Upper Hungary and the east-central region.) Both introductions have extensive bibliographies, and the first volume concludes with illustrations and detailed maps and visualizations.
The second volume (published in 2017) contains a list of the students with indices of names and places. Though the preface, which details the methodology and format, is in Hungarian, the entries follow a logical pattern: student name, ecclesiastical rank, dioceses from which the person was sent, date of birth, date of registration at the university, faculty, academic rank received, names of other universities the student visited, information concerning later career, and other details about the student and his studies. Though the editors repeatedly stress that the entries could be expanded (as the new charters and data in the second volume prove), the 4,722 names clearly bear witness to the effort invested in the enterprise. Though further findings will be included in the planned online edition on peregrination, these two volumes are a substantial resource for any scholar even vaguely connected to the topic. Any researcher dealing with a figure who attended one of these universities, which exerted a strong influence on the intellectual, political, and cultural life of the Hungarian Kingdom in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, will find ample context, and any researcher interested in the broader picture will likewise be fruitfully rewarded.
MTA–ELTE Humanism in East Central Europe Research Group
The organization and execution of administration are cornerstones to an understanding of the history of any town or city within any historical period. In European urban history, analysis of different forms of municipal governance is a popular topic which has great potential for comparative research. These two reasons in themselves are sufficient explanation for why the publication of the book by Drahoslav Magdoško devoted to the self-governance of the city of Košice in the Middle Ages is to be welcomed. Chronologically, the book covers the period from the mid-thirteenth century to the end of the first third of the sixteenth century. In fact, there are more reasons to appreciate this book. Its findings are based on long-term and careful archival research, which has yielded several new insights and revisions of our previous knowledge on this subject. Primarily, Magdoško has focused on the mechanisms of operation related to the performance of municipal self-governance in Košice, such as the agenda of the local town judge (villicus, iudex, ger. Richter) and of the city council, the role of the Community of Burghers (later replaced by the Council of Elders), the functioning of the municipal offices, management of the urban economy, administration of the local suburbs, etc. To frame this issue in context, Magdoško dedicated the introductory passages of his book to an outline of the history of Košice in the Middle Ages and also to an assessment of the position and role of this city in the urban network of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary.
The tendency to compare the situation in Košice to other contemporary Hungarian towns is generally strong in the text, making Magdoško´s book very relevant for urban historiography on this area. One might regret that the same comparative point of view was not always consistently applied to compare his findings for Košice to the history of cities in the neighboring countries, in particular Lesser Poland, Silesia, Moravia, and Bohemia. Certain issues, such as the election and competencies of the town judge, are viewed from a wider, Central European perspective. In other cases, however, Magdoško offers not a systematic comparison, but rather an indication of wider contexts. For the periods of time in question, when the events in Hungary were closely linked to the situation in the surrounding kingdoms under the rule of one sovereign (Sigismund of Luxembourg, Matthias Corvinus), the comparative approach would be particularly desirable. Moreover, to assess the situation in the neighboring countries, it is possible to rely on various secondary literature titles.
Despite the fact that Košice´s urban sources are preserved in greater integrity only from the second half of the fifteenth century, Magdoško has succeeded in compensating for the lack of direct evidence by considering analogies with the situation in other Upper Hungarian towns. In this respect, it is possible to quote, for instance, his convincing reasoning that although a specific document attesting to this is missing, one can nonetheless assume, on the basis of other sources, that Košice had complete judicial autonomy even before 1342.
The most interesting parts of the book include a description of the processes the common denominator of which was the effort of the Košice urban elites to ensure their share of power in the city. Their endeavors had a significant result. In the mid-fifteenth century, for the election of town judge and councilors, the Community of Burghers (a group of full-fledged citizens owning property within the city walls) was replaced by the more exclusive Council of Elders, which included several dozen men who were appointed by the outgoing members of the council and by the town judge. We can hope that by providing a description and analysis of these events, Magdoško has paved the way for more detailed (and potentially very interesting) prosopographical studies devoted to the particular families belonging to the circle of Košice power elites, which consisted mostly of wholesalers. Magdoško’s observations concerning the analysis of incomes and expenses of the city, which are neatly presented in the appendix of the book, are also valuable, as is his detailed survey of the competencies of individual urban officials and city employees, who were determined by the town judge and councilors. In the city’s leadership there were visible efforts by a limited group of burghers to restrict the government in the city to themselves as much as possible. It would be very interesting to see whether and to what extent these tendencies of the Košice power elites were manifested, for example, in the socio-topography of the city (as suggested in tables in the appendix), marriage strategies, the existence of the exclusive urban societies, etc.
It is also necessary to acknowledge with gratitude the carefully crafted appendices, including lists of notaries, town judges, and members of municipal councils until 1534, which clearly show continuity in the individual personalities/families who occupied these offices. The book also includes a detailed summary in English of the main findings and conclusions.
Michaela Antonín Malaníková
Palacky University, Olomouc
A költészet születése: A magyarországi költészet társadalomtörténete a 19. század első évtizedeiben [The birth of poetry: A social history of poetry in Hungary in the first decades of the nineteenth century]. By Gábor Vaderna. Budapest: Universitas, 2017. 656 pp.
Gábor Vaderna’s new book represents a significant contribution to both nineteenth-century literary and social historical studies. It takes as its primary aim the reading of the neglected corpus of poetry in Hungary from 1800 to 1820. Following the author’s classification, this corpus consists of a discussion of poetry written for ceremonial (representational) functions on or for various occasions important to members of the upper classes; popular and bardic poetry, and finally, the poetry of sensibility. Later reactions against this immense number of texts and nineteenth-century literary canon formation produced a state of cultural amnesia which Vaderna’s book engages to correct. It will certainly provoke discussion among anyone interested in the decades of poetry it considers.
As far as Hungarian literary history writing is concerned, much of this enormous corpus of texts has been rather ignored so far, and not much scholarly work has been devoted to this kind of writing. This neglect has caused a serious deficit in our ability to read and examine the poetry of the first decades of the nineteenth century. Consequently, our understanding of modern poetry in Hungary has also suffered. Vaderna’s book offers a convincing explanation of the genesis of this indifference, as well. Ferenc Toldy, considered the “father of Hungarian literary history writing,” established a long tradition of an extremely narrow literary canon in his handbooks published in the mid-nineteenth century. Though Toldy had a good knowledge of the poetry investigated in Vaderna’s book, he eventually disqualified most of these texts based on criteria such as language, aesthetic value, and characteristics associated with the concept of the “genius.” Due to his particular approach to literary history, he decided to omit non-Hungarian texts, occasional poems, and traditional forms of poetry. No wonder that the ensuing literary history writing, strongly influenced by Toldy’s handbooks, again ignored the vast amount of manuscripts and printed material written in the first decades of the nineteenth century. As a result, literary canon formation not only erased a large corpus of vital and important poetry, it also obscured the conventions that supported such writing. This impressive monograph is therefore an attempt to recover an almost lost world.
As stated in the introduction, Vaderna seeks to explore the poetry of the first decades of the nineteenth century in its originating social historical contexts. In other words, Vaderna is not only interested in texts but also in the social milieu in which the cultural practice of literature emerged. Thus, combining the methodological practices of ingenious text interpretation, social historical analysis, and the history of ideas, the monograph eventually reads as an alternative story of modernization within the Habsburg Empire and East Central Europe.
The book is prefaced by a brief history of research and some major considerations regarding its structure. Following the preface, two long introductory chapters reflect on the position of the lyrical poetry of the first two decades of the nineteenth century within the narratives of Hungarian literary histories. Moreover, the introduction provides a detailed overview of the poetic tradition of the eighteenth century, indispensable to an understanding of the poetry of the first decades of the 1800s. According to Vaderna, the five chapters that follow the introduction establish the structure of a previously unknown poetical system.
Chapter 1 considers works of poetry associated with public representations of the upper classes. The authors of this kind of poetry were usually literate people, secretaries and tutors, living in the employment of the nobility. The literature they wrote followed fixed verse forms taught in the schools of law and theology they had attended. Furthermore, the poetry of patronage they practiced was intimately linked to rites of passage of their patrons’ lives: births, weddings, inaugural ceremonies, and funerals. This chapter also deals with poems written by aristocrats themselves. Chapter 2 examines another consistent corpus of texts generally regarded in Hungarian literary history as popular poetry. This kind of poetry is basically a hybrid literature of both popular and folkloric forms, a large corpus located at the crossroads of elite and popular culture, and respectively orality, scribal culture, and print publicity. Chapter 3 investigates the writing practices of clergymen authors and focuses on the ways in which ecclesiastical practices intertwined with secular poetry. Chapter 4 explores the poetics of sensibility targeting the lyrical cycle, a genre of considerable importance in Hungarian literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Finally, Chapter 5 ponders the possibilities of bardic poetry in the oeuvre of Dániel Berzsenyi, a major representative of neoclassical poetry in Hungarian literary history.
In general, Vaderna’s monograph addresses a broad variety of texts structured around lively case studies to illustrate points in the argument. The title, ambitious as it is, refers in fact to the birth of modern poetry: poetry written for publication by an individual author expressing individual experiences and common group identities. The corpus of texts examined in Vaderna’s book is relevant because it unfolds an intricate story of the birth of modern poetry, and it uncovers the various traditions from which this poetry emerged. From a socio-historical perspective, the monograph also accentuates the importance of eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century educational institutions and an educational system that deliberately nurtured poetry writing. Therefore, from the perspective of the twenty-first century, the story of the evolution of modern poetry becomes the story of a process of deinstitutionalization, as well. For while the eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century educational system provided young people (mainly young men) with the necessary knowledge and skills to become poets or to write poems occasionally if needed, this process gradually became an autodidactic one in the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first. The monograph, however, does not aim to offer teleological explanations: it exhibits traditions and practices of poetry which can only be understood in their own sociohistorical and cultural contexts.
Clearly, the problem that most concerns Vaderna is not a change in the Hungarian literary canon, it is the tendency to approach literature in all its forms (canonical or non-canonical) in rational, scientific terms. His study therefore is an ambitious and consistent effort to reevaluate the Hungarian cultural and literary heritage. Serious in its argumentation but often humorous in style, the monograph is a most relevant contribution to our understanding of larger processes between literature and society during the first decades of the nineteenth century.
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
The World of Prostitution in Late Imperial Austria explores the history of prostitution in the Austrian provinces of the empire from the late nineteenth century to the dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy after World War I. Based on extensive research in archives found in cities, towns, and regions across the former empire, the book provides new insights and a novel approach to the history of prostitution.
In terms of its methodology, the study takes a three-pronged approach. It examines prostitution on the level of individuals, the larger society, and the state. The book presents prostitutes as individuals who made conscious choices and therefore possessed agency. It also reveals a society that projected its fears about the effects of modernization, urbanization, and dramatic social transformation onto the issue of prostitution. Finally, Wingfield analyzes the official approach of the state and its representatives to prostitution. Concerned as they were with public morality and protecting the health of middle-class men, public officials believed in regulating the supply side of prostitution. In contrast to studies that focus on large urban centers or individual towns, Wingfield’s approach integrates large cities, such as Vienna and Prague, and provincial centers, such as Cracow and Salzburg, with small municipalities, such as Theresienstadt, and spa towns, such as Karslbad, as well as other rural areas. In addition to providing new local histories of prostitution, the author’s expansive scope illuminates a complicated web of interrelationships in the realm of commercial sex between the imperial center, provincial centers, and the periphery of Habsburg Austria. In so doing, The World of Prostitution portrays a Monarchy-wide integrated sexual economy which the book contextualizes within contemporary European and global trends.
The book opens with a discussion of the 1906 trial of Vienna’s infamous madam, Regina Riehl, a Jewish brothel owner charged and ultimately convicted of embezzlement, fraud, and pandering. Wingfield’s colorful narrative of the trial and the media frenzy it generated is a window into contemporary views about prostitution and its regulation. Widely considered an inevitable part of society, prostitution was treated by the state primarily as a public health issue. In an age when there was no effective cure for syphilis, prostitutes (although not their clients) were considered disease carriers who had to be controlled and regulated. Placed under the authority of the Vice Police, prostitutes voluntarily registered with police officials and agreed to have regular medical examinations in order to work in brothels or police-approved private residences. The Riehl trial brought attention to the treatment of prostitutes, while Vienna’s anti-Semitic press stressed the alleged role of Jews in the corrupt brothel business. Yet as Wingfield’s analysis of official responses in Chapter 2 highlights, despite attempts to reform prostitution, the 1911 revision of the law did not change the overall approach. This approach continued until the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire and even beyond in the new nation states created out of it.
At the same time, by incorporating smaller cities into the history of prostitution, the book provides new insights into the considerable role local officials played in the regulation of prostitution. Even as centrifugal forces from Vienna provided general guidelines, local circumstances and particularly the local police determined how regulations would be enforced in the provinces (p.80). This was especially the case in smaller municipalities. In contrast to the provincial centers of Prague, Trieste, or Czernowitz, which tended to follow Viennese reforms enacted in 1911, as revealed in Chapter 3, middle-sized and smaller municipalities adjusted regulations to fit the needs of their local communities.
One of the book’s important contributions to the scholarship on sexuality is the social history of prostitutes, brothel keepers, pimps, and panderers. The discussion of contemporary views of female prostitutes is particularly valuable. Scrupulous research and her discovery of the voices of women who worked as prostitutes, combined with a critical reading of official sources about them, allow Wingfield to compare the actual lives of prostitutes with contemporary discourse about them. In contrast to official and public attitudes that framed prostitutes as women either to be saved or damned as immoral creatures, Wingfield reconstructs the actual lives of registered and unregistered prostitutes. Chapters 3 and 4 focus on the varied reasons which might influence a woman to choose to become a prostitute and the paradox of making choices and having agency amidst the daily difficulty of making a living in this era.
Chapter 6 places fin-de-siècle Austria and the specter of Mädchenhandel within the broader context of European conversations about trafficking women. While popular representations usually depicted deceitful Jewish traffickers moving “innocent” girls to foreign (often South American) brothels, the reality was much more complicated. Both the traffickers and the women trafficked defy this kind of simplistic portrayal. As Wingfield demonstrates, traffickers and panderers also included non-Jewish men and women, while many women who were trafficked decided to go on their own terms. Regardless, concerns over young women being forced into prostitution aided both official and voluntary efforts to “save” them.
The last chapter investigates the impact of World War I and how deprivation and economic austerity on the home front led to the collapse of regulated prostitution and an explosion of clandestine activity. As a result, men in the military were subjected to forced inspection for venereal disease for the first time. The goal was to cure those infected so they could return to the front. Predictably, the state continued to view women as primarily responsible for the spread of disease. As in most of the countries at war, women who transgressed sexual norms faced greater scrutiny than men, whether officials or civilians. Consequently, World War I brought further intrusion by government authorities into the private lives of working-class women.
The book would have benefitted from the inclusion of Budapest and the Hungarian side of the Monarchy into the analyses. This would have highlighted the role of Vienna as a model for larger cities on both sides of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and it would have strengthened and added more context to the argument about local autonomy in dealing with prostitution, while also placing greater emphasis on the role of ethnic stereotypes in shaping public discourses on prostitution. This is a relatively minor criticism, however, of a book which otherwise shows remarkable range in its coverage.
Bryn Mawr College
As Gareth Dale puts it in his introduction, Karl Polanyi is “an attractive biographical protagonist” (p.8). The contemporary revival of interest in Polanyi’s social-economic theories, his exciting and sometimes contradictory personality, and his inspiring career all make him an appealing main character. Dale’s previous books on the great thinker (Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market , Karl Polanyi: The Hungarian Writings [ed., 2016], and Reconstructing Karl Polanyi ) focused on analyses of Polanyi’s ideas. His new monograph concentrates instead on his life. However, it undertakes something more complex than the mere retelling of a life story, as Dale aims to offer an intellectual biography. His ambition is to reconstruct the cultural and social milieu in which Polanyi’s intellectual formation took place and to paint a picture of both his formative years and the intellectual currents that influenced later developments in his thought. Dale also explicitly notes, furthermore, that the “lessons” of Polanyi’s life shed light on the whole intellectual climate of his era and his milieu and, more specifically, on the history of reformist socialism, “an international movement that sought to transform capitalism into a socialist society by means of parliament-led piecemeal alterations” (p.9).
This “lost world of socialism” not only provides the context of the Polanyian defense of a “nonmarket utopia,” it also constitutes the main concern of the book itself, which is Polanyi’s search for an alternative to “market fundamentalism,” as Dale characterizes (using Polanyi’s words) the global economy’s current neoliberal face. Without having written a political pamphlet, Dale expresses explicit regret that after the 1959 Bad Godesberg Conference of the German Social Democrats adopted a program of combining democratic systems with self-regulating market capitalism, the reformist version became marginal and the chances of a radical transformation were reduced to the minimum.
The contextualization of Polanyi’s intellectual biography takes place in two directions, as, chapter by chapter, Dale offers detailed descriptions of the social background of his protagonist, whether this background was fin-de-siècle Budapest or Columbia University in the 1950s. Dale also provides an exhaustive history of ideas connected to Polanyi’s intellectual world. From Hungarian radical bourgeois circles through H.G. Wells-inspired guild socialists to the London-based Christian socialists Robert Owen and Richard Tawney, Dale examines personal and intellectual encounters in order to reconstruct Polanyi’s lifelong quest for a feasible form of socialism. This double agenda makes the book rich and thoughtful, but it is a vertiginous ambition which ultimately leaves the reader with an occasional feeling of incompleteness.
One can only admire the quantity and quality of research into sources in three languages and from archives in five countries, the careful and critical use of oral history, and the meticulous reconstruction of links between life and scholarly work. An exciting example of the latter is Dale’s interpretation of the fact that for Polanyi, when diagnosing the crisis of his age, the main concern was social unification and the search for solidarity in a fragmented society whereby individual moral responsibility would remain subsidiary. This concern, Dale reasons, was related to Polanyi’s Budapest years, when “the Jews of his milieu (…) were acutely sensitized to questions of detachment, alienation and community” (p.83). The way Dale sketches the very different but also (re)unification-centered ideas of Georg Lukacs and Karl Mannheim, both of whom came from the same milieu, makes his conclusions all the more intriguing and convincing.
At the same time, Dale is less persuasive when providing accounts of some historic events. Obviously, the reader cannot expect a detailed history of the countries in which Polanyi lived and worked, but against the brilliantly drawn background, some key moments of history should have been sketched more precisely. Because of the absence of this more analytic approach, some simplistic judgments attenuate the argumentative strength of the narrative. Qualifying for instance the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy as “a short-lived and forgettable empire that […] was destroyed by the mutiny of its own armies” (p.1) is such a strong statement that at least some supporting evidence should have been provided. Similarly, when describing the Republic of Councils, Dale seems to oversimplify the events when he accepts without critical overtones a Polanyian appreciation of the Commune, described as “desperate but not inglorious” (p.71). As a matter of fact, even Polanyi had more ambivalent feelings about this experience, which descended into paramilitary violence (the so-called red terror). Polanyi was deeply concerned about Bolshevism and gave several lectures warning against such a turn. It would have been worthwhile to investigate Polanyi’s attitude towards the events and the people who shaped them, as he was very close to several of the Commune’s leaders but nonetheless chose emigration at the time. At these specific points and, more generally, whenever Dale reports on other highly controversial events, one could reasonably have expected him to draw on the relevant proliferating debates in historiography.
Dale has the rare ability to bring a personality closer to the reader through, for instance, descriptions of his warm family relations, but without entering into intimate details. He evokes not only the popular and the brilliant from Polanyi’s oeuvre, but also the failures, dilemmas, and even some of the embarrassing details. Ironically, by the 1930s, the man who made it his lifelong vocation to bring the moral dimension back into the political and economic spheres and who had had a nuanced view of the 1919 commune of Béla Kun had become blind to the inhuman practices of the Soviet Union under Stalin. The most striking example might be the way in which he stubbornly defended Stalinist methods of governance even when his own niece, Éva Zeisel, became the victim of a show trial in 1936. (Her experiences were to inspire parts of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.) In spite of the warm relationship between the Polanyi brothers, on which Dale writes in detail, Michael sternly reproached Karl on the issue.
This was not a singular instance of Polanyi’s lack of clear discernment. Even this sometimes idealized portrait, which describes him as a man of principle with a very strong sense of duty, occasionally makes note of his “Hamlet-like irresolution” (p.77), though the delicate conflicts between this “life on the left” in principle and the comfortable bourgeois lifestyle of the Polanyi’s in practice goes unmentioned. When, for instance, Polanyi describes his standard of living as “a normal proletarian life” (p.78), in spite of the fact that his family employed a servant (Erzsi, whose last name, of course, has been forgotten) and he could count on a significant annuity from his wife’s family, the irony seems to be lost on Dale.
The narrative strikes a truly critical tone only in parts of the Epilogue. This is regrettable, given that more explicit reflections by Dale regarding some of the abovementioned issues would have enriched the text. Furthermore, only in the epilogue does Dale undertake to analyze briefly the contemporary reception of Polanyi’s oeuvre, including his popularity among the most diverse tendencies critical of capitalism. Nevertheless, for a reader interested in these kinds of critical tendencies, this volume makes an enormous contribution to a better understanding of Karl Polanyi’s sometimes contradictory but always thought-provoking ideas.
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
This monograph by István Deák goes against the conventional narratives of World War II. The widely accepted accounts of the war which were established after 1945 won approval from the major participants in it in no small part because these accounts were convenient. According to these narratives, World War II was basically a struggle between the “democratic” and the “fascist” powers. Furthermore, a special but popular exculpatory interpretation was established as a kind of subplot of these stories which held significant sway until the 1960s, according to which ordinary German people were not responsible for Nazi crimes, as these crimes had been committed by the Nazis who “captured” ordinary Germans as well. The Polish took a privileged position in the remembrance of World War II because they could be represented entirely as victims, and the Poles did not miss the opportunity to portray themselves as martyrs. However, several books have been published since the mid-1990s (for instance Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men about the role of “ordinary” Germans in the Holocaust or Jan T. Gross’ work on the massacre in Jedwabne) which undermine these interpretations (which have enjoyed a significant degree of consensus). The new monograph by István Deák, professor emeritus at Columbia University, fits in this recent trend in the secondary literature. The keywords of his book (as one can see from its title) are collaboration, resistance, and retribution, and he is more interested in the limit situations of everyday life during the war than in major war operations, in no small part because he has personal experience of them. His brother-in-law and idol Béla Stollár, an antifascist journalist and member of the resistance in Hungary, was killed in 1944 by members of the Hungarian Arrow-Cross Party, which ruled the country as a pro-Nazi puppet government at the time. Deák also shares with his reader the latest results of research on World War II, offering new perspectives on various key issues.
In clear opposition to revisionist works, István Deák’s book rehearses the traditional interpretation of the outbreak of the war. According to this interpretation, the war was launched consciously by Hitler in order to colonize the territories of Eastern Europe and destroy the Jewish communities there: “the extermination of the Jews, as a war goal, at least equaled the goal of winning the war” (p.134).
In their ambition to exterminate the Jews, Germans could count on the assistance of locals. Perhaps the most important and also provocative and unpalatable statement of the book is Deák’s assertion that, “if there was one major European project, it was ethnic cleansing” (p.10). With this assertion, Deák deprives the Holocaust of its aura of “incomprehensibility” and supposed uniqueness in the sense that he places it in a series of ethnic cleansings, which he describes as the logical, if radical consequence of the absolutization of the idea of the “organic” nation state. He thus links the deportation of the Jews to the expulsion of the East European Germans after World War II, without, however, intending to relativize. Another link between the deportation (or in the case of the Jews of Europe, the deportation and massacre) of both scapegoated ethnic groups was the redistribution of properties and wealth, i.e. the governmental practice of bribing or rewarding “desirable” social groups by redistributing the stolen property of the victims and thereby making these social groups accomplices.
Collaboration with Hitler’s Germany allowed countries to realize their “national” goals, which included territorial acquisitions, ethnic homogenization (or “cleansing”), and taking possession of the property of people who lost their civil rights and later their lives. Deák does not mute his critical view of the Hungarian “gentry middle-class,” which he sees as the greatest beneficiary of the Holocaust in Hungary. Hungary realized each of the aforementioned goals (at least, in the case of territorial acquisitions, for a time), and this may explain why the Hungarian elite did not turn its back on Germany even on the verge of certain defeat and Soviet occupation.
Deák characterizes the attitude of European leaders and citizens during the years before World War II and in the first period of the conflagration as political and moral bankruptcy, and he maintains that the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia was the moral nadir. (It is worth noting that, as a consequence of the decision in Munich, a huge part of the European military industry was given to Germany.) Deák does observe (and contributions like this make Europe on Trial a revelatory book) that food rations were better in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (created in 1939) than in Germany. Moreover, “the survival rate among Czech males [was] much higher than among Sudeten German males,” as Czech males were not recruited for military service (p.34). During the German occupation, the Czech public administration functioned like the public administration of ‘an eminent allied state,’ even without ideological identification. This phenomenon was not specific to the Czech lands: Germans trusted “obedient bureaucrats” over “new Nazis” in almost every country. The “new Nazis” were given power only as a last resort, for instance in Hungary with the coup by Ferenc Szálasi and his Arrow Cross Party in October, 1944.
Deák continues to complicate and undermine the traditional narrative according to which the European countries could be divided into “bad” and “good” countries, active “conquerors” and passive “victims.” He points out how the allies, above all Italy, typically caused more problems for Germany than the occupied countries. Denmark, which tends to be idealized because it saved its Jewish citizens, even entered the Anti-Comintern Pact in November 1941.
Operation Barbarossa was not a preventive attack, as revisionist authors tend to claim, but a direct consequence of Hitler’s explicit aim: the desire to acquire Lebensraum. However, in spite of the Nazi racial theory (according to which Slavs were subhuman), many locals helped the invaders, especially in territories which had been occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939/40.
A contention characteristic of Deák’s ambition to avoid and challenge simplification is his observation about people who are usually referred to as “partisans” and who were uniformly idealized by the Soviet propaganda as “antifascist heroes.” Deák insists that these people (and the groups of which they were part) conducted ethnic cleansing similar to the German genocide. The various partisan groups fought against one another on several occasions, and the fault lines in these conflicts were based on perceived ethnic difference. The Jewish inhabitants of Timothy Snyder´s Bloodlands were targets not only of the German invaders, but also of the nationalistic and anti-Semitic partisan groups, for instance of Ukrainian nationalists, who simultaneously fought both the Germans and the Soviets.
Deák makes the bold claim that serious resistance in the countries of the West only began in 1943, when, after the German defeat at Stalingrad, it began to seem possible that Germany might lose the war. As the resistance groups did not hesitate to commit attacks that typically prompted German acts of revenge against civilians, any evaluation of the acts of these groups must grapple with serious moral dilemmas. Excellent examples of this include the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich or the contested case of the Italian communists who exploded a bomb at Via Rasella in Rome in March 1944.
Assessments of the practices of retributions after World War II are even more contested. Europe on Trial gives a panoramic overview of the various attempts at retribution in every single country after the war, and it reminds the reader that several prime ministers of Hungary were executed, whereas German Plenipotentiary and key Holocaust perpetrator Edmund Veesenmayer spent only a short period of time in prison and went on to become a successful businessman in West Germany. As Deák writes, “The great irony of history is that whereas Eastern Europe paid a heavy price for its political purges and its ethnic cleansing, Germany, which hardly had any purges and received millions of German and other refugees, soon became a model democracy and the motor of the postwar European economy” (p.223). Of course, the main explanation for the lack of adequate retribution in West Germany remains the outbreak of the Cold War, in which West Germans became “valuable allies” for the Atlantic Powers (p.193). From this perspective, the West German “economic miracle,” which enabled Germany to become the engine of the Common Market (the predecessor to the European Union), was launched and operated by Nazis who could (and should) have been punished for their war crimes. From this point of view, the “Adenauer Deal” was problematic on ethical grounds, but one could well claim that history has justified the acts of politicians “who had dreamed of a new, unified, and better Europe” (p.229), to close my review with the final words of Deák’s provocative book. It will make an interesting and informative reading for anyone who would like to learn more, easily and quickly, about the most recent findings of the scholarship on the history of World War II.
Eötvös Loránd University – Institute of Political History
While the 1990s transition to capitalism has sprouted an impressive amount of literature, from buoyant transitologies to more sober analyses, very few scholars of Central and Eastern Europe have dared to zoom in on an equally significant transition: the one from capitalism to socialism in the immediate postwar period. In an ironic twist, it seems the claims of post-1945 communist leaders have surreptitiously seeped into the academic literature, being taken for granted: the advent of socialism has been customarily described by scholars as a moment of powerful rupture, of total discontinuity, a new era in stark contrast with the interwar years.
Framed within an elegant conceptual structure, Martha Lampland’s The Value of Labor brings an important corrective to this narrative. The work traces the diverse technologies and practices used in Hungary to evaluate agricultural labor before and after World War II. This seemingly unassuming topic allows her to pose crucial questions, however. The book offers an inquiry into how the history of the region may be integrated into a larger analysis of commodification as a global process, a process marked by local contingencies and discontinuities, but also molded by global structural constraints and international networks of expertise. Similarly, the book touches upon the crucial issue of how an analysis of state socialisms could enter into dialogue with the history of capitalism, catering in this way to a varied readership, from labor historians and STS scholars to social anthropologists.
The volume is a prequel to Lampland’s previous work, The Object of Labor (University of Chicago Press, 1996), an ethnographic foray into the labor practices structuring the agricultural cooperatives of state socialist Hungary. A central, unavoidable reference for (post)socialist anthropology, the 1996 study was a daring attempt to historicize and put to work, through meticulous fieldwork, Moishe Postone’s reconceptualization of commodification and labor value. It highlighted an apparent paradox: that the commodification of labor could thrive in conditions which, at face value, would seem inimical to such developments, a collectivized agriculture where market institutions were fairly rare. Lampland’s earlier book also posed a chronological challenge. It traced a direct continuity between the pre-socialist conceptions of labor and the ones emerging after collectivization, and it emphasized the centrality of work in determining social value at large.
The current volume picks up this insight into the relevance of labor in creating and establishing social worth, thus continuing to draw on Postone’s notions, but it develops it further through the instruments of an STS scholarship sensitive to the importance of formalizing practices and knowledge technologies. The main question concerns how labor as such was valued, assessed, and formalized and what types of technologies were used in this process. The answer provided by Martha Lampland moves from work science experts in interwar Hungary and their focus on agrarian labor to the first collectivization attempts and wage formulas developed by the communist authorities. Underpinning her narrative is an attempt to avoid a rather common pitfall of commodification debates: the excessive focus on markets which, according to her, has prevented us from analyzing other means of assessing and evaluating labor. This dangerous market-bias has obscured the gigantic infrastructure necessary to make labor “commodifiable” in various historical contexts.
This infrastructure includes the complex formalizing techniques needed to standardize labor practices across local variations. The development of work sciences at the end of the nineteenth century and their global spread gave rise to different forms of expertise, harnessed in order to streamline and frame the rich variety of labor forms. For the Hungarian case, it was German business economics and scientific work management, from Taylorism to work psychology, that provided the novel instruments and new formulas that were used to regulate and evaluate labor power. Through a permanent dialogue with the local manorial traditions of labor administration, these developments spurred the emergence of original wage schemes and accounting techniques. At least as importantly, however, these kinds of formalizing practices required a complex infrastructure, straddling the boundaries between academia, state institutions, and the private economy: research centers, new university departments, statistical offices, bureaucratic experts, etc. And throughout the interwar period, Hungarian work scientists were at pains to find the resources necessary to establish and maintain such a complex infrastructure of expertise. Analyzing both the formalizing technologies developed by the Hungarian labor experts (new wage schemes, new accounting methods) and the infrastructure of knowledge they relied on, the first part of the volume draws a fascinating portrait of Hungary’s agricultural modernizers: work scientists, accounting experts, agricultural economists, etc.
This portrait is framed by a specific ambiguity regarding capitalism and market institutions. Although they were generally market enthusiasts, Hungarian modernizers devised formal tools and evaluation instruments which could be impervious to the vagaries of a market shaken by constant economic crises, from the Great Depression to waves of postwar inflation. Thus, the way in which they conceived of rural labor was somewhat outside market constraints or at least indifferent to them. For this reason, adopting and making use of their technologies became an easy job for a communist regime keen on scraping off market institutions. As Lampland shows in the second part of the book, communist agricultural modernization was not so much a revolution from abroad as a process underpinned by techno-political devices developed locally throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The end result was an original synthesis which can hardly fit a specific label. It was neither a Soviet import nor simply a local offshoot. A case in point is the history of the work units, a complex hybrid between Soviet collectivization practices (trudnoi), interwar work science, and manorial practices, each of which was constantly changed by the social violence of the immediate postwar years.
Commodification appears throughout the volume as a complex bundle of practices and technologies that can hardly be confined to market mechanisms. This has the heuristic advantage of problematizing the relationship between capitalism and socialism. Following the archival trail, one can trace these technologies across economic systems and construct a more inclusive historiography in which the relationship between state socialism and postwar capitalism is one of constant dialogue and interaction. The book leaves untouched, however, a more extensive discussion on the relationship between market mechanisms and the technologies of commodification it analyzes. We do not find out, for instance, exactly how the formalizing practices developed by Hungarian work scientists might have interacted with agricultural labor markets. More generally, we do not know too much about pre-1945 labor markets as such or the way they functioned (in conjunction with other commodification mechanisms or not). This is far more than a mere empirical addendum, as it raises an important theoretical question that should interest economic anthropologists and social historians alike. And the period analyzed by Martha Lampland, marked as it was by extensive economic experiments, might provide one of the best empirical terrains for research going in this direction. Similarly, it would be important to see how essential shifts in managing economic life, such as the Great Depression or the war economy, might have influenced the management and evaluation of labor and the formalizing practices developed by work scientists before and after 1945.
It is of course one of the chief ironies of the book that the techno-political dreams of the advocates of capitalism, the work scientists of interwar Hungary, could take shape only under the auspices of communism. It is, however, precisely these kinds of ironic insights, born out of an acrimonious attention to technical detail that may help scholars reconnect the history of capitalism with the study of state socialism, building up a more inclusive global historiography. An understanding of commodification as a complex bundle of practices and technologies, which can easily circulate and be adapted to local conditions, might offer a more nuanced grasp of the economic history of the twentieth century.
Central European University – CEFRES Prague
The Department of History and Ethnology at the University of Jyväskylä in central Finland is one of the most important institutes at which Hungarian history and culture is studied and taught outside of Hungary, both from the perspectives of teaching and research. Many historians, ethnographers, and literary historians have gotten doctorates at the university pursuing research on Hungary and its culture, and the institute has managed to catch the attention of many young Finnish scholars, who have then taken a more active interest in Hungary. The university, in keeping with tradition, publishes every dissertation as a book and, now, also online. Tuomas Laine-Frigren’s dissertation, which has now been published as the 280th volume in this series (the number is not a typo), offers important new information and insights for scholars of the Kádár era and anyone interested in the history of sciences in Hungary and, more narrowly, the historiography on the social sciences.
Laine-Frigren examines how the science of psychology developed under Kádár, or more precisely, how it was reborn. He considers how the institutional system first began to take shape and the various political and professional/scientific debates amidst which it developed in the period that lasted from the defeat of the 1956 Revolution to the mid-1980s. Laine-Frigren refers to himself as a revisionist historian, by which he means that he considers the state socialist system a meeting and collision point of many competing interests. He adheres to a complex analytical method which includes perspectives from the history of ideas, the history of science, and political history. His discussion is polycentric, by which I mean that he considers, alongside the discipline of psychology in Hungary and its connections to international scholarly life, the significance of formal and informal networks, circles, and individuals, and he also examines the various discourses on this branch of the sciences.
The book is divided into four chapters. In the first, Laine-Frigren offers a historical glance back, providing a portrait of the rich and recognized school of psychology that developed in Hungary, going back as far as the work of Sándor Ferenczi. He also shows how utterly devastating the anti-Jewish laws, the Holocaust, and the destruction of the war were to the discipline, followed, after a brief moment of respite, by the Stalinist dictatorship. He quite rightly notes that the science of psychology never disappeared entirely in Hungary. A slender thread of continuity always remained, though separation from the world of international (and particularly Western) scholarship unquestionably was a serious hindrance.
In the second chapter, Laine-Frigren examines the ideological milieu in which psychology prospered or struggled. This process clearly was in close parallel with the processes underway in the Soviet Union, where behaviorism (based largely on the ideas of Ivan Pavlov) and the ideas of education theorist Anton Makarenko had become dominant. On the other hand, however, the desire of power to rear and shape society collectively also created opportunities. Indeed, the process which came to its culmination in the 1960s and 1970s had already begun before 1956, if only very embryonically. Researchers managed to secure major financial resources and launch comprehensive programs, since the government had ever greater demand for the advice and counsel of psychologists in its attempts to deal with the various social problems it found itself compelled to confront.
These developments are perhaps most clearly evidenced by the changes which took place in the approach to child and youth psychology and treatment, which Laine-Frigren presents in the third chapter (which is the most thorough and circumspect chapter of the book). He was able to draw on serious preliminary studies, since the circumstances of and problems faced by the younger generations in Hungary after 1956 have become popular subjects of study. Laine-Frigren persuasively argues that the large number of young people who took part in the 1956 Revolution and the various forms of counterculture which emerged in the 1960s deeply worried the political leadership of the country. The various measures which were adopted and organizations which were created in order (allegedly) to protect children dealt with these problems in an array of varying ways. Numerous serious issues came to the surface, including the traumas faced by the generation which was growing up in the postwar decades, overburdened parents, and shifts in family roles. Furthermore, the authorities often criminalized and labeled as deviant the behavior of young people who found themselves in difficult circumstances, and instead of providing care, they strove to isolate them. Laine-Frigren offers analyses of numerous case studies, and he offers examples of the kinds of tragedies which took place in the foster and community homes. He also shoes how, with the passage of time, it became increasingly clear that the state was not able and did not particularly even want to address the causes of juvenile delinquency.
The book includes a similarly excellent chapter on the ways in which social psychology gained ground and became increasingly institutionalized. Laine-Frigren essentially ties the increasing prestige and prominence of the social sciences to the introduction of the process of economic reform. The debates which preceded and followed the introduction of the new economic mechanism helped nudge the processes of decision making away from the ideological and towards the rational. The sciences of economics and agriculture acquired new value and respect, but so did branches of the sciences which focused on the ways in which society functions and responds to shifts, as these branches of inquiry provided important information for decision makers. This shift had a positive influence on assessments of the science of psychology.
Laine-Frigren offers two examples illustrating this, examples one might describe as concealed. Ferenc Pataki began his career as part of the People’s College Movement, and was given a Soviet scholarship, and became involved in the Petőfi Circle. In the 1960s and 1970s, through his personal ties to György Aczél, he played a key role in the management of the institutional and personal background of psychology and, in particular, social psychology. The book contains frequent mention of his name, the titles of his works, and references to the decisions he made, and quite rightly so. Pataki’s career quite clearly illustrates that it was possible to pursue a career within the state socialist system which may well have been founded on political loyalty, but which nonetheless yielded important contributions to the field. Not everyone was so fortunate, of course. For Ferenc Mérei, who had a similarly outstanding mind, the period between 1945 and 1949, i.e. the golden age of the short-lived People’s College movement, was the zenith of his career. Mérei was pushed to the margins of official scholarly life, first because of the anti-Jewish laws, then because of the Stalinist dictatorship, and then because of the role he played in 1956. His life story, however, is clear testimony to the fact that a person of his talents could not be completely banished from scholarly life in Hungary. Because of his remarkable intellectual capabilities and stunning knack for pedagogy and teaching, he was given an opportunity, as a laboratory leader, to form a significant circle of students at the National Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology (known more familiarly as Lipótmező after its location in a neighborhood in the Buda hills). The effects of his work and the works of this group of students can still be discerned today. Perhaps the only more serious shortcoming of the work lies in the fact that Laine-Frigren was not always entirely aware of the antecedents in the careers of the psychologists on whom he has chosen to focus, and this sometimes leads to odd lacunae.
In the closing chapter, in which Laine-Frigren offers a summary of his findings, he again raises the central questions: to what extent did the development of a discipline depend on the individual wills of the decision makers in the party state and to what extent did it depend on submitting to political pressures and constraints? Were there any real intentions to reform, and was it possible to resist calls to catch up, as it were, with the science of psychology in the West? One of the great strengths of the book, in conclusion, is that Laine-Frigren has very precisely depicted the opportunities for action and the limits of these opportunities.
Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security
Of Red Dragons and Evil Spirits: Post-Communist Historiography between Democratization and New Politics of History. Edited by Oto Luthar. Budapest–New York: Central European University Press, 2017. 248 pp.
The volume surveys eight national contexts from East Central and Southeastern Europe in an attempt to reconstruct the defining features of the contemporary politics of the past. As the authors suggest, falling short of the hopes and expectations of many in the aforementioned two regions, instead of a process of democratizing the narratives about the past, there is a return to or rather no change in the dominance of nation-centered narratives. This diagnosis strikes the often rather disillusioned and pessimistic tone of the volume. The introduction by editor Oto Luthar identifies a veritable watershed in the politics of history in 2010, after which serious breaches of professional standards have occurred within the respective countries. However, this periodization is explicitly reflected upon only by some of the contributors.
Most chapters discuss state socialist politics of history and historical narratives before delving into more recent developments. The new or recurrent narratives analyzed in the various chapters embrace the equation between Nazism and Communism and refuse any investigation of broader societal participation in the most infamous episodes of the past century. It is suggested that such currents are initiated from within the scholarly field (Luthar, p.8). While this is a defensible position, it can be usefully complemented by a focus on all those engaging in the discourse from the margins of scholarship or well beyond its realm, most notably, the prime makers of politics of the past, the so-called memory brokers. Though Of Dragons and Evil Spirits is a fairly coherent edited volume, the foci of the chapters oscillate between national memory brokers and academia-bound debates, politics of history pertaining to specific episodes of national history or the battles over establishing the grand narrative of the nation after the collapse of state socialism. Therefore, in the following I will pinpoint several shared topics to highlight the comparative potentials of the volume.
Some of the authors find it important to reflect on the lustration laws in their respective countries, suggesting that an investigation into their qualities and functioning (or often mere existence) is essential to an understanding of politics of history in a broader sense. Daniela Koleva underlines not only the specific features but also the modest institutional effect that these laws had in Bulgaria. Šačir Filandra is quite disillusioned with the lack of Bosnian lustration laws and explains their absence by pointing to “post-independence chaos.”
As for the narrative aspects of this new politics of history, all of the authors in the volume claim that an opportunity for the thorough pluralization of historical discourses emerged with the respective regime changes, but this moment has passed. The practically monophonic national canons hardly allow for self-reflection, and their instrumentalization to serve the purposes of politics of the past result in “memorial militancy” (Koleva), which uses selective negationism (Michael Shafir) as a key discursive strategy. In the Croatian case, some sort of pluralization is mentioned, though as Ljiljana Radonić argues, this does not really help further a more critical assessment of the nation’s past. In the Hungarian and Croatian cases, Jewish suffering during the Holocaust serves as shorthand for the rhetorical practice of subsuming different victim groups under the same category (i.e. victims of World War II) and downplaying societal involvement. Although the concept of collective and competitive victimhood has been established primarily in relation to the post-Yugoslav societies, which have been subjected to a form of transnational justice, as Shafir demonstrates in particular, its analytical virtues can be applied to the interpretation of East Central European cases as well. (Shafir’s notion of competitive martyrdom has considerable overlaps with that of C. A. Nielsen, “Collective and Competitive Victimhood as Identity in the Former Yugoslavia,” in Understanding the Age of Transnational Justice: Crimes, Courts, Commissions and Chronicling, ed. Nancy Adler .)
The European dimensions of the politics of history are tacitly present in all of the chapters but are discussed in greater detail only in the contributions by Daniela Koleva and Ferenc Laczó. The former calls attention to the lack of integration of communist experience into common European remembrance after the entry of post-communist countries into the European Union. Laczó does not fully share her view, as he claims that both radical left-wing and right-wing actors’ responsibility for equally serious crimes has been acknowledged to a certain extent. EU conditionality regarding the establishment of consensual remembrance is discussed by both authors. While Bulgaria was a notable exception to this condition, Laczó claims that for the Hungarian public, EU accession amounted to another missed opportunity for engagement and reconciliation.
Although visual representations of the past constitute one of the most often scrutinized aspects of the politics of history, this volume focuses more on narratives and agendas. There are sporadic utterances though, regarding both public spaces and exhibitions. Radonić briefly discusses how Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (2003–2009) ordered the removal of controversial memorials, and Koleva underscores the importance of local initiatives in Bulgaria, where a comprehensive museum of communism has yet to have been built. At the same time, Todor Kuljić describes competition, i.e. an ever-changing hierarchy among ethnic groups that make similarly exclusive claims to the remembrance of “their” victims at the expense of others.
Although the introduction sets a clear agenda for the volume, some degree of divergence in terms of approaches and style remains inevitable; the authors tend to share a conceptual framework which enables the reader to perceive the texts as directly comparable. Of Dragons and Evil Spirits as a whole has the virtue of addressing some time-specific aspects of contemporary politics of history. Scholars and policy makers may learn important lessons from the cases presented. However, only time will tell whether the authors have truly managed to capture the starting points of a new politics of history.
Central European University
It has been almost three decades since Eastern Europe’s communist governments fell and over a decade since the countries of the former Soviet Bloc joined the European Union. The time has certainly come for historians to revisit the grand narrative of Eastern European history under socialism and beyond. Long Awaited West is Stefano Bottoni’s attempt to do just that. This is an ambitious work of synthesis that aims to distill the history of an enormous region over seven tumultuous decades. Bottoni defines “Eastern Europe” as the area that came under the influence of Soviet communism during and after World War II (p.6), a definition which encompasses parts of what became the Soviet Union (the Baltics, Western Ukraine, Moldova). The book concentrates, however, on the countries that made up the former Soviet Bloc, along with Yugoslavia and Albania.
While Bottoni makes an excellent effort to incorporate recent scholarship into the book, his narrative nonetheless largely hews to existing frameworks. The book is organized chronologically along established turning points in political history, with chapters on the impact of the war and creation of communist regimes across the region (1944–48), the Stalinist period (1949–55), the era of the Thaw and the failure of more radical reform (1956–72), the years of stagnation and the collapse of the system (1973–91), the chaos of the 1990s, and a final chapter on European integration and recent challenges to the post-communist neoliberal order. The story Bottoni tells in these chapters is focused on the actions of governments and political elites, giving only cursory attention to the everyday experiences of ordinary people. The choice to concentrate on political history and economic policy fits his general interpretation of Eastern Europe’s communist regimes. Here, they are largely portrayed as repressive forces concerned primarily with maintaining their hold on power. While this is never spelled out explicitly in the text, the title of the book, Long Awaited West, implies that most East Europeans were not invested in socialism, but instead merely dreamed of the day when they would be able to join the West and achieve its higher standard of living. This is underscored by the cover design, which consists of an image of a barbed wire fence with a gate tantalizingly left open, pointing the way across a field into the setting sun.
In line with Bottoni’s previous work, one of the book’s important contributions is its attention to the issue of national minorities and nationalist politics. Bottoni argues the region’s communist governments failed to create viable policies to deal with national difference. Particularly as the region’s economies began to sputter in the 1970s and 1980s, this failure encouraged different groups to see economic woes in national terms. By putting the experiences of Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union itself side by side, the book allows us to see common threads in what were otherwise quite different histories.
What most sets this book apart from similar surveys of East European history is its orientation in the contemporary moment. The motivating question behind this book is not a re-evaluation of the socialist past, but a desire to understand the situation of Eastern Europe in 2017 (when the last pages were being written). The post-communist period is therefore not treated as an epilogue or coda, but as an integral part of the narrative; fully one third of the book deals with the period after 1989. Unlike earlier authors, Bottoni does not tell a triumphalist story, in which communism is vanquished and Eastern Europe emerges free and ready to be reunited with the West. He writes from a vantage point from which we already know that joining the European Union and NATO did not bring the prosperity many had imagined. Instead, corruption became even more entrenched and neoliberal “reforms” hurt even wider swaths of the population. The 2008 financial crisis helped fuel a wave of anti-EU and nationalist populism, leading, in Hungary, to the enormous victory by Fidesz in 2010 and the Law and Justice Party in Poland in 2015. For Bottoni, this more recent past highlights the cruel irony that the Iron Curtain might be gone, but “Eastern Europe,” itself a creation of the Cold War, still remains as a region that is not, and may well never be, the same as the West.
In the conclusion, Bottoni implies that the desire to be like the West—or, more precisely, to have the same standard of living as the West—has itself been the cause of Eastern Europe’s misery and malaise. It created unreasonable expectations that could never be fulfilled and had the effect of widening the gap between elites who prospered and the majority who did not. What is happening in Eastern Europe today is, says Bottoni, only the most recent iteration of a longer dilemma; whether Eastern Europeans should try to mimic the West or define themselves against it in nationalist terms. Yet, for Bottoni, the only hope for Eastern Europe in the end is to become integrated into the West. Anything else, he says, would result in a “new era of catastrophe” (p.254). The book leaves us, then, at a critical juncture, wondering what the future may hold.
With any survey text, there is the question of audience. Long Awaited West was first published in 2011 as part of a longer history of Eastern Europe that was used by Italian university students. This revised English-language version, however, is too dense and complicated for a typical U.S. undergraduate audience. It assumes a fair amount of knowledge on the part of the reader and does not define basic concepts and terms (like “central planning” or “Stakhanovite”). Given this, the best audience for this book would consist either of graduate students or of specialists looking for a recent and readable survey of the East European past.