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Constructing Egypt’s Nineteenth-Century Criminal Identification System

December 6, 2023
By 26730

As part of their PhD thesis, “Hygienic Enclosure and the Construction of Modern Egypt,” Marianne Dhenin details some of the scientific theories and social forces that shaped the construction of a new criminal identification system in late-nineteenth-century Egypt. Their research was supported by a Sylff Research Grant (SRG).

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As a young man, Ragab el-Sayed moved from Minya to Cairo, where he earned a living shining the shoes of wealthier Cairenes and foreign tourists in the city’s bustling downtown. On July 14, 1896, at 19 years old, he was arrested, charged with committing vagabondage, and sentenced to seventeen days of imprisonment and six months of police surveillance. He spent his sentence in a local prison. Just before his release, Ragab was called to an office, where a man armed with a caliper took precise measurements of his left arm, hand, elbow, middle finger, and foot, the length and width of his head, the width of his face, the breadth of his chest, and his height. The administrator noted that Ragab had chestnut hair and brown skin with no distinguishing marks. ​​After noting these measurements and observations in careful detail on la fiche, a two-sided form with descriptors in French, the man pressed each of Ragab’s fingertips into a dollop of ordinary printer’s ink spread thinly and evenly across a copper plate and then onto the backside of the form. When Ragab was released, he left the local jail knowing that if he were ever arrested again, he could be recognized as a recidivist and receive a harsher sentence. His intimate anatomical data was now the property of the state.

The combination of measuring and fingerprinting used to catalog those convicted of crimes in Egypt was still new when Ragab was arrested in 1896. It was the pet project of Colonel George Harvey, who served in various positions in the Egyptian police during the British occupation, which began in 1882. He had observed a similar system being tested in England while on leave in London a few years earlier. “I was so deeply impressed with the adaptability of the system to [Egypt],” he remarked, “that, on my return, I at once took it up.”

What ensued was a years-long process of developing a new identification system for Egypt, which soon extended beyond the realm of the criminalized to become a broader regime of demographic control. This essay offers a glimpse into how popular scientific theories of the time, urbanization, and migration shaped the construction and rollout of the new system.

Theorizing Crime in the Nineteenth Century

When Harvey first encountered fingerprinting in England, the methods available for classifying fingerprints remained limited, so he chose to adopt a combined classification method using fingerprints and anthropometric measurements. This latter method was called Bertillonage, after Alphonse Bertillon, the police official who introduced it in France a decade earlier.

Both Bertillonage and fingerprint identification were developed with the rise of modern criminology and penology. These nascent fields of expertise placed new emphasis on the individual human body within a broader context of discussions about criminal predisposition and the increasing traction of eugenic ideas in the popular press and scientific and legal circles. Egyptians encountered these ideas in a rash of scientific periodicals, many headquartered in Cairo, that emerged with the rise of the Arabic press in the late nineteenth century. Their readers were concentrated in the nation’s cities. They mostly belonged to a newly educated middle-class political elite and the growing cadre of civil servants and administrators who staffed the nation’s burgeoning bureaucracy. While literacy rates were low in Egypt at the time, and the circulation of periodicals remained limited, many more Egyptians engaged with the ideas in newspapers and journals at collective readings and discussions in public squares, coffee shops, and homes.

The most militant theory emerging from the late-nineteenth-century drive to individualize the criminal was that of the born criminal, promoted by subscribers to Cesare Lombroso’s school of positivist criminology. Rooted in biological determinism, the theory held that criminal behavior was an expression of atavistic human traits, and every criminal act could be traced back to some original hereditary cause—in short, criminals were born, not made. This also meant that Lombroso believed that individuals carried physical markers of criminal proclivities. Thieves had “small, wandering eyes,” for example, while rapists had “sparkling eyes” and “delicate features.”

While Lombroso’s idea of the born criminal was widely discredited across Europe in the first years of the twentieth century, it still appeared in the Egyptian press decades later. It resurfaced during the trial of Raya and Sakina, a pair of Egyptian women eventually convicted for a series of murders committed in Alexandria and hanged in 1921. Photographs of Raya and Sakina were widely circulated during the investigation and trial, and at least one prominent Egyptian commentator reflected on whether their facial features marked them as born criminals. ʿAbbas Mahmud al-ʿAqqad published his opinion on the topic after seeing the women’s photographs in al-Ahram, writing that their faces showed signs of feeblemindedness and evil. A later article, published in 1929 in the Alexandria-based English- and French-language Egyptian Gazette, turned the theory of hereditary criminality against Egyptians at large, claiming that one had only to visit any criminal court in the nation to find that the prisoners and the audience shared visible criminal features.

Several methods of fingerprint classification were developed in the late nineteenth century. This sketch showing the outline of two palms with fingerprints is from Scottish scientist Henry Faulds, who devised one early system.
Henry Faulds: Dactylography. Source: Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0). https://wellcomecollection.org/works/hhd5ttpp?wellcomeImagesUrl=/indexplus/image/L0032694.html.

Migration and Urbanization

Migration and urbanization also drove the development of a new criminal identification system in Egypt. The nation’s cities experienced explosive growth between 1850 and 1880, as the country’s population was growing at an approximate rate of 12 per 1,000 per year. Some cities expanded faster than others, particularly those in the Delta, like Tanta, Mansoura, and Damanhour, affected by the cotton boom of 1861 to 1866. According to census estimates, Cairo and Alexandria grew by over 40 percent during the three-decade-long period. While significant urbanization was partly a result of local population growth and rural-to-urban migration, Egypt also experienced a rise in the number of foreigners in its population during this period. These trends fostered social friction and an apparent increase in crime, as convictions for murders, gang robberies, thefts with violence, and general crimes rose in the 1890s. Harvey later estimated that Cairo accommodated almost 71,000 immigrants between 1907 and 1917. He remarked, “There is but little doubt that these ‘immigrants’ are, for the most part, undesirables who have drifted in from the rest of Egypt and are of [sic] themselves of the Criminal Class.”

To catalog groups considered suspicious, like arriving migrants, fingerprinting in Egypt was soon expanded beyond those suspected or convicted of crimes. For example, the practice of registering native servants became law in Egypt in 1902. The law required would-be domestic servants to visit the police and register with an employment agency. Using fingerprints, the police would confirm that the applicant had no previous convictions and issue an identity certificate with which they could undertake lawful employment. Various other employers, including government hospitals, the Railway Administration, and the Tram Company, later adopted this process for “certain classes of their employees.” A 1916 law added cleaners, doormen, cooks, and gardeners to the list of those required to obtain identity certificates. It also allowed workers to obtain them directly rather than interfacing with an employment agency. Later amendments added carters, couriers, and public bath attendants to the list.

The desire for a new criminal identification system intensified at the turn of the twentieth century amid increasing urbanization. Shown here is a crowded street in Cairo in 1896.
“A Crowded Street in Cairo, Egypt.” Underwood & Underwood Publishers, 1896. Stereoscopic Photographs Collection, The American University in Cairo Rare Books and Special Collections Library. https://digitalcollections.aucegypt.edu/digital/collection/p15795coll8/id/30/rec/28.

The Twentieth-Century Future of Egyptian Fingerprinting

Beginning as little more than an ambition that struck a single police official while on leave in London in the early 1890s, the Egyptian identification system became one of significant repute in less than a decade. Harvey boasted in an 1897 report that “the system as it is practiced [in Egypt] is not only exact in its details but also of international utility.” To what extent the Egyptian system may have been used as a model elsewhere is unclear. Nonetheless, Harvey and his team were on the cutting edge of developing and deploying these new technologies in the late nineteenth century.

Their European contemporaries also praised their work. John George Garson, superintendent of Scotland Yard’s Anthropometric Office, conceded in 1896 that the work of the Egypt-based team was equal to that carried out in London or Paris. Garson also reviewed a selection of about a hundred fiches compiled by measurers-in-training in Egypt and wrote to Harvey that he had “never seen a more creditable piece of work than has been turned out by your men.”

The use of fingerprinting for criminal identification in Egypt would only become more entrenched in the twentieth century, with a standalone fingerprint department eventually established under the Ministry of Public Security. With its rapid upscaling as a criminal identification system and its eventual expansion as a technology used to surveil undesirable migrant groups and large swaths of the nation’s laboring classes, the Egyptian identification system became a regime of broader demographic control in the twentieth century.


al-ʿAqqad, ʿAbbas Mahmud. 2013. Al-Fusul. Cairo: Hindawy Institute for Education and Culture. 

Egyptian Gazette. 1902. “Crime and Village Government.” November 1, 1902.

Ayalon, Ami. 1995. The Press in the Arab Middle East: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cole, Juan Ricardo. 1992. Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt’s Urabi Movement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Elshakry, Marwa. 2013. Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860–1950. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Harvey, George. 1917–1925. Note by Colonel George Harvey on his career, upon his resignation from the position of Commandant of Cairo Police. FO 141/781/1. The National Archives, London.

Harvey Pasha, C L. 1900–1902. Letters from Colonel Harvey Pasha, Police Commandant, Cairo, to Galton. GALTON/2/9/6/13/26. Galton Papers. Wellcome Libary, London.

Hecht, Jennifer. 2012. The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology in France. New York: Columbia University Press. 

Isa, Salah. 2002. Rijal Raya wa Sakina: ​​Sirat Ijtimaʿiyya wa Siasiyya. Cairo: Dar al-Ahmadi lil-Nashr.

Khalil, Mina Elias. 2021. “A Society’s Crucible: Forging Law and the Criminal Defendant in Modern Egypt, 1820–1920.” PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania.

Lombroso, Cesare. 2006. Criminal Man, translated by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Nizarat al-Dakhiliyya. 1916. Laʾiha al-mukhaddimin. November 8, 1916. https://www.laweg.net/framePlain.aspx?action=ViewActivePages&Type=6&ItemID=36401&NID=46078.

Nizarat al-Dakhiliyya. 1902. Laʾiha bi-shaʾn al-mukhaddimin. September 20, 1902. https://manshurat.org/node/22966.

Owen, Roger. 1969. Cotton and the Egyptian Economy, 1820-1914: A Study in Trade and Development. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ruiz, Mario M. 2014. “Criminal Statistics in the Long 1890s.” In The Long 1890s in Egypt: Colonial Quiescence, Subterranean Resistance, edited by Marilyn Booth and Anthony Gorman. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Takla, Nefertiti. 2021. “Barbaric Women: Race and the Colonization of Gender in Interwar Egypt.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 53 (3): 387–405.

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Othering Britain: The Czech Quest for a New Role in the Radically Changing World of World War II

February 15, 2022
By 27520

As part of her dissertation on “The Image of Britain in Czechoslovak Media Discourses between 1939 and 1948,” 2018 Sylff fellow Johana Kłusek—with the help of an SRA award—reconstructed a “test” discourse on the British image of Czechoslovaks based on resources at the British Library. Among her findings is that whereas Czechs admired just about all things British, the Brits did not reciprocate that interest.

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The origins of thinking about the Other as “the other culture” (and only more recently “the other nation”) can be traced back to medieval times. Any travelogue or chronicle would include remarks on the Others, whether the inhabitants of a faraway country, citizens of a nearby city, or members of a different ethnic or religious group. For a long time, stereotypical images were perceived as objective categories through which one could reconstruct an ethical and aesthetic worldview of different cultures or nations (Leerssen 2016). In Europe this tendency was accelerated in the nineteenth century. The continent witnessed a rise of three phenomena: the birth of mass media, self-determination of nations, and antagonistic understanding of international relations (Hahn 2011). The combination of these factors led to a deepening of both heterostereotypes (opinions that a group holds about other groups) and autostereotypes (opinions that a group holds about itself). However, a full realization of the threat that these often dangerously ingrained mental concepts pose to intercultural and international relations emerged only as a result of World War II and the Holocaust.

Despite the fact that outright stereotypes are today less present in public discourses, they keep influencing interactions in milder forms between individuals as well as groups. People tend to generalize about various outgroups based on deep-rooted preconceptions, distorted individual experiences, and media images propagated by different power groups. By observing and analyzing the making of stereotypes in history, we can better understand how dangerous othering can be when propelled by negative sentiments as well as by positive ones. On a more general note, research focused on discourses about the Other can reveal the mechanisms through which we naturally orient ourselves in the world.

Conciliation of Conservatism and Socialism in the Czechoslovak Image of Britain

In my dissertation research I examine Czechoslovakia in the period of its major existential crisis. Britain is studied as a significant Other, onto which Czechs projected their visions and hopes as well as fears and frustrations during World War II. The image of Britain between 1939 and 1945 is prevalently appellative and corresponds with the main features of the traditional European stereotyping of the country, as described by Ian Buruma (1998). Czechs admired British conservatism, adherence to principles, rule of law, tradition, and taste, as well as their humor, friendliness, and openness to other cultures. The history of ascribing those qualities to the British is long, and the Czech discourse (created mostly by the exile community in London) does not come with any radical novelties.

The image also proves Buruma’s thesis about the utilitarian usage of Anglophilia, as continental observers tend to attach themselves to British culture when they get disappointed with old referential Others. In this way Anglophilia allowed for the liberation of Czechs from the German-Russian geopolitical captivity. Also, Churchill’s “sweat and tears” mentality provided a much-needed role model in the time of the debilitating German occupation.

Most importantly, though, the image illustrates a strong need to find a new role in the radically changing world. During the quest, Czechs were interestingly able to combine admiration for the classic conservative features of British culture (or its distorted images) with admiration for the new left-wing ideas and policies born from the war circumstances. In this way, they could easily look up to the West and the East at the same time. One can thus confidently claim that the road to the embrace of the Soviet Union (as seen in the Communist Party’s victory in the parliamentary election of 1946, followed by the communist coup d’état of February 1948) was simplified by the conciliation of highly contradictory discourses that are seemingly unrelated. Britain serves here as a polarizing projection screen.

SRA and a “Test”Discourse

To conduct the prime research briefly discussed above, I use discourse analysis of a number of Czech newspapers of the time (including Čechoslovák, Nová svoboda, and Mladé/Nové Československo). However, to interpret the data correctly and precisely, I needed to reconstruct a “test” discourse on the British image of Czechoslovaks. Sylff Research Abroad allowed me to do that and to gather relevant articles from resources of the British Library. The findings helped me to partly answer such questions as: Did the British share the affection that Czechs felt—or expressed in the media discourse—toward them? Was their relationship in any way special?

Cover of the Czechoslovak in England, featuring President Masaryk and a combined panorama of Prague, London, and Paris.

In the end, three major sets of observations were made. Firstly, the British interest in Czechoslovaks and their culture changed over time. At the beginning of the war, coverage of the cultural output of Czechs living in the country and general interest in the recent as well as older history of Czech lands was strong, but it decreased in later phases of the war. A broader wartime spirit of allyship played a significant role in these dynamics. The spirit was massively encouraged by the propaganda of both the British government and the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, primarily during the bombing of Britain in 1940 and 1941. Secondly, there is no evidence that the British were interested in Czechoslovakia disproportionally more than in other allied nations. Thus, if there was any “special relationship” between the two nations, it was rather one-sided. Thirdly, articles collected from British wartime newspapers (The Times, Manchester Guardian, and Daily Telegraph) prove that British discourse regularly used stereotypes about Czechs. The image consisted of highly idealized concepts of the country defined by a love of liberty, as a country that has always bravely striven against the threats from outside. The positive nature of those stereotypes is comparable to the nature of the stereotypes expressed at the time by Czechs when referring to the British and British culture.

Studies of opposite discourses such as the one I have just presented allows us to observe the efficiency of national propagandas, the longevity of stereotypes, and changes in their understanding as well as their usage.  Their value also lies in the fact that they allow us to look at things from less obvious angles. As discourses are often influenced by many subconscious motives of many individuals, they tend to reveal tendencies of whole societies that would otherwise remain unnoticed. The Czechs’ largely blind admiration of everything British is good proof of that. 



Hahn, H.H. 2011. Stereotypy—tożsamość—konteksty: Studia nad polską i europejską historią. Poznań: Wydawnictwo poznańskie.

Leerssen, J. 2007. “Imagology: History and Method.” In Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National Characters, edited by M. Beller, and J. Leerssen, 17–32. Leiden: Brill.

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On Principles in Japanese Law

May 12, 2020
By 24601

Using an SRA award, Miloš Marković, a 2017 Sylff fellow from the University of Belgrade, visited Japan between November 2019 and January 2020. His main goal was to explore and assess the application of legal principles in the modern sense as constitutional rights in Japan by interviewing legal scholars as well as lawyers and judges there.

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Historical and Motivational Background

The distinction between legal rules and legal principles has been in the center of much theoretical thought in the past few decades. The beginning of a broad discussion was marked by Dworkin’s major challenge of legal positivism.[1] Eight years later, Alexy brought the topic to a whole new level by developing a theory of constitutional rights as principles.[2] The principles theory even evolved into a full-fledged theory of law.

The main difference between these rules and principles is how to resolve their conflict. When two legal rules come into conflict, one of them is abolished or excepted. Only one of two norms prescribing different deadlines for the same complaint may be valid, not both. When two legal principles come into conflict, both remain valid and neither is declared an exception, yet one overweighs the other under the specific circumstances of the case. Freedom of trade and the protection of customers may intersect and conflict and determine the outcome of the case, yet neither has absolute priority in application over the other.

The author, left, with one of the interviewees at a law firm in Tokyo.

When I first approached the topic of legal principles in the course of doctoral studies, it was clear from the start that the comparative dimension would play a major role in the research. Legal systems to be taken into consideration were as usual French, Austrian, German, and American. However, the major legal systems in the Far East has always inspired curiosity among European lawyers. Unfamiliar customs, different religions, exotic dishes, and undecipherable scripts keep China, Japan, and Korea mostly under a veil of unknown for people in Serbia and other European countries. Legal transplants from the West in the cultural environment of East Asia seemed to drift farther away from their original meaning than elsewhere. After completing two research stays in Austria and Germany, the main reason for my choice of Japan as a host country to investigate legal principles in a comparative perspective was the historical influence of German law.

The modernization process in Japan began in 1868 with the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which had ruled the country for two and a half centuries.[3] Faced with the threat of being colonized by Western countries, the Meiji government set out to establish a modern legal system in conformity with European tradition and renegotiate unfair commerce treaties.[4] France was believed a leading European country with comprehensive legal codes, and French scholars were invited to draft codes for Japan. For the first time, Japanese words had to be invented for the concepts of right, freedom, and liberty, as well as property over land. However, the French drafts triggered strong criticism for violating the traditions of Japan, so the government decided to rely more on German scholars. Ultimately, the whole legal system was modeled on German law. The first Constitution of Japan was enacted in 1889, and the first Civil Code in 1898. Japan thus became a civil law country.

Having in mind that German law exercised influence in Japan in ages past, I reckoned that the modern principles theory as developed by the German Federal Constitutional Court might have already been accepted independently by the courts in Japan due to the shared legal tradition. A comparison of statutory norms and judicial decisions should point out differences and similarities between major legal systems and thus prove the universality of the principles theory. That hypothesis motivated me to set sail for the land of the rising sun.

Original copy of the Constitution of Japan enacted on May 3, 1947, as the new constitution for a post–World War II Japan.

Choice of Methodology

My primary method consisted of interviews with Japanese scholars and judges to learn what they know and what importance they assign to the principles theory. However, things did not go completely as planned for two reasons. First, the language barrier made online communication with both courts and faculties practically impossible. Since contact e-mails turned out to be unavailable on official websites and some letters remained unanswered, plans to arrange a meeting on my own were thwarted. Second, the physical barriers at the entrances of law faculties prevented access without invitation and thus hindered me from seeking assistance independently.

Consequently, meetings were exclusively arranged on the recommendation of an acquaintance or the supervisor himself.[5] Such recommendations prompted better preparation and substantial interest on the part of the interviewees. Everyone put much effort into disentangling complex questions and discussing them on a practical level. All in all, I had fewer yet longer, better, and more insightful discussions with lawyers in Japan than originally envisioned.

My secondary method was supposed to be to gather data via computer analysis of judgments based on the word “principle.” However, it turned out that decisions of Japanese courts are rarely translated into English. In addition, fieldwork showed that a reliable translation of a judicial decision requires long work, rich legal knowledge, and mastery of both languages, and thus much money. As a result, the original proposal ran ashore. To overcome the obstacle, I turned to books on Japanese case law and searched myself for principles hidden within the reasons adduced.


Research Findings

My research in Japan confirmed the hypothesis that every legal system necessarily includes principles besides rules. At the outset of each interview, Japanese judges tended to understand principles as unwritten legal norms and were majorly averse to the idea that they play a role in the decision-making process. The only reasons for a judgment should be rules as prescriptions. However, when confronted with hard cases, judges usually admitted that rules are insufficient to justify a decision. They must then reach out for more general rules or the purpose of a rule. When asked to solve a conflict between such abstract norms, judges agreed that such conflicts cannot be solved by abolishing one of them or declaring one an exception.

Interviewed judges keenly defended the position that a solution to each case can be found in rules by means of an adequate interpretation. The meaning of each norm can be narrowed or broadened in order to exclude or include different cases and provide a solution. An interesting detail from the conducted interviews was the opinion that the first and foremost norm in the Japanese Civil Code, “good faith,” represents a rule. Such reasoning shows that judges tend to regard every case from the standpoint of only one norm. However, it is inevitable that norms sometimes overlap or intersect, in which case only a cluster of norms may provide a basis for decision. Principles come into play when such a conflict is irresolvable by means of abolition and exception.

An illustrative example is the “After the Banquet case,” in which the Tokyo District Court had to decide about an alleged violation of privacy.[6] A novel was published by the famous Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Although the names were altered, practically everyone could recognize that the model in the book was Foreign Minister Hachiro Arita. The court obviously had to balance between right to privacy and freedom of speech, or freedom of artistic expression, as Japanese lawyers like to put it. In 1964 Japan obtained its first judicial recognition of the right to privacy. Mishima lost the case and tried to bring the case to a higher court, but the foreign minister died, and a settlement was reached between the two sides. From the standpoint of principles theory, it is important that no right was abolished or declared an exception. The discussed judgment is clear evidence that in Japanese law some norms function as principles, and those are primarily constitutional norms awarding rights.

The author in front of the Akamon gate built during the Tokugawa Shogunate. The gate is located at one of the entrances of the University of Tokyo’s Hongo campus, where he was based during his research in Japan.

It was remarkable to find an analogous case in Europe. Photographs of Princess Caroline of Monaco were published in several magazines. The case was brought before the German Federal Constitutional Court. In order to reach a decision, the court had to balance two constitutional rights: freedom of speech and right to privacy.[7] For the majority of photos the freedom of speech was given priority due to the status of the complainant as a public personality. However, three photos where the complainant was with her children were deemed to infringe disproportionally on their privacy, which is why priority switched to the right of privacy. The main point is that the first principle overweighed the second and vice versa under respective specific circumstances, yet both principles remained valid and no absolute hierarchy was introduced. Had the court abolished one of the conflicting norms or declared one to be an exception of the other, those norms would have been treated as rules.

Related news on the Sylff website:


[1] Ronald Dworkin, “A model of Rules I,” Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 14–45.

[2] Robert Alexy, Theorie der Grundrechte (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 1986), 71–154.

[3] James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002), 119–207.

[4] Shigenori Matsui, The Constitution of Japan: A Contextual Analysis (Portland, OR: Hart Publishing, 2011), 7–13.

[5] In that regard, I am much indebted to Professor Yasunori Kasai and Professor Masayuki Tamaruya, as well as the Sylff Association.

[6] Judgment of Tokyo District Court, 1964, Kaminshu 15-9-2317. There is no translation of the sentence available online. I am much obliged to Professor Hitoshi Nishitani for the particulars of the case.

[7] https://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Entscheidungen/EN/1999/12/rs19991215_1bvr065396en.html

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Life of Transcarpathian Hungarian Women Working in Kolkhozes under Socialism in the 1950s

April 30, 2020
By 27333

Julia Orosz, a 2019 Sylff fellow at the University of Debrecen (Hungarian Academy of Sciences), focuses on the situation of Hungarian women in Transcarpathia in the post–World War II communist era in her PhD dissertation. She has been dealing with this topic for many years, and as a Sylff fellow she has broadened her basic research topic by examining the connections and differences between the circumstances and opportunities of women living in the communist era, comparing it with the position of today’s young girls in the fields of further education, women’s work, career development, family formation, and childbirth. In this article, she gives a little insight into the lives of women living in the communist era.

 * * *

Transcarpathia has been the westernmost region of independent Ukraine since 1991, bordering four countries (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania). It currently covers an area of 12,752 square kilometers. Transcarpathia’s twentieth-century history is extremely versatile, as it has undergone several changes of empire. Under the 1920 Trianon Treaty, the area was separated from Hungary and came under Czechoslovakia’s control. Due to the border revision goals of Hungarian foreign policy and the First and Second Vienna Awards (1938 and 1940), by the time of World War II (1939–1945) the separated territories were returned to the motherland, but the outcome of the world war again changed this. By virtue of the Soviet-Czechoslovak Convention signed on June 29, 1945, the region became part of the Soviet Union, and the decree of the presidency of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union of January 22, 1946, declared it to be the Transcarpathian territory of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.[2] Transcarpathia was thus put into the mold of communism, as were all countries undergoing or forced into socialist development, which influenced the political, economic, and social life of the region.

Topographic map of Ukraine. Transcarpathia is located in the western part of the country, with the regional headquarters in Uzhhorod. (Source: https://www.prntr.com/ukraine-map.html)

I chose Transcarpathia for my study for two reasons: firstly, it is my motherland and I am interested in the history of my ancestors, and secondly, due to its location and nationality, Transcarpathia is a specific area that connects the East with the West. Although Ukraine has not had an official census since 2001, recent estimates put the population of Hungarians in Transcarpathia at 120,000–130,000. In 1941 the Hungarian population was 233,840, but according to the 1946 county census (which is not an official census), the number of Hungarians had dropped significantly to 66,000 by that year.[4] This decline in population is mainly explained by the high death toll on the fronts, the mass escape, and the abduction of Hungarian men to Soviet labor camps (the Malenki Robot) in 1944.[5] All of these contributed to the decline in the male population and the transformation of female roles. In many cases, women were forced to take over the place of men and to manage the family alone. In addition, government policy on women contributed to the transformation of women’s roles.

The Stalin Constitution of 1936 stated that women should enjoy equal rights with men in all areas of life. A well-built network of propaganda sought to emphasize to people that communism had led to the breakdown of decades of barriers and the opening of opportunities for women. As an era, I deal with the period from 1944–45 to the 1950s, as the 1950s are the most characteristic and most dictatorial chapter of the communist regime. In the Stalin era, the new female ideal was the stanovist top worker, someone who excelled at her workplace and was able to cope with more difficult physical jobs, even masculine ones, and this was the example to follow.[6] It was the responsibility of the press to promote it, so it should not be surprising that women workers in a wide variety of fields became frequent figures in the newspapers. Of course, these reports could only glorify the communist power and the opportunities offered by the system.

One example among many is Etelka Bálint, a former kolkhozist at the Lenin kolkhoz[7] in Bereg. Etelka said: “During the capitalist rule, I had no goals. My life was miserable, I worked for kulaks.[8] But the situation changed in the years of the Soviet system. I was given freedom. I entered the kolkhoz. I am provided with annual bread, and as a team leader and as a board member I take part in managing the kolkhoz. As a simple working woman, I was given leadership and the right to freedom and happiness.”[9] In 1948, she was honored with the Order of the Red Flag of Work for high grape yield.[10] The Soviet government was also keen to reward women with various honors, such as the Lenin Order, Red Flag Order, and Socialist Labor Hero, to emphasize their merits to the state and society. The party leadership wanted to prove that, regardless of their social status and qualifications, women who work and are committed to the development of the country are rewarded.

The active builders of communism. Top half, left to right: Margit Katkó, leader of the group for the Rimavské Janovce Vineyard, Socialist Labor Hero, Lenin Order–honored worker; Ilona Kosztel, burner of the Berehovo brick factory; and Gizella Titka, a stanovist at the furniture factory in Berehovo. Bottom half, left to right: Maria Hrobák, commander of the Kalinin kolkhoz in Berehovo, recipient of the Lenin Order; Malvin Kovács, brigade commander of the Berehovo garment factory; and Maria Papp, group leader for the Muzsajj Vineyard, recipient of the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.[11]

However, there are some differences between the portrayal and idealization of women by the communist party leadership and the real, everyday life of women. As there are few written sources about women’s daily lives and activities, and what is to be found was produced under very strong ideological pressure and censorship, I have sought to supplement archival sources and contemporary press publications with reminiscences. Today, we are fortunate enough to be able to visit people who have lived during the socialist era and, through their personal experiences, gain interesting information that is not always evident from archival materials and official documents. This not only gives us a more complex picture of the era, but also allows us to interpret and understand people’s lives.

The author, right, with an interviewee.

After 1945, the major turning point in gender roles worldwide was the influx of women into paid employment,[12] which of course does not mean that women had not worked before. In the socialist countries, the state tried to treat the mass employment of women as an achievement of equality, whereas the real reasons were the difficulty of living, the postwar labor shortage, and the need for employment. Because of low wages, a single salary was not enough to support families, and because of the state’s extensive economic policy and strong industrialization, it was necessary to employ every person of working age, so that more women could be employed.

My informants are simple, ordinary women, born in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. They come from peasant families with many children, where the father was the breadwinner and the mother worked in the household. As children and young girls, they lived through World War II and its effects. Because of a lack of opportunity, they have a low level of education, and most of them were employed as farm workers in the kolkhozes or in various branches of industry.

Transcarpathia was a strongly agricultural region. With the sovietization of the area, individual and private farming was abolished and the so-called kolkhozes appeared, providing the only job opportunities in the villages. Stalin considered it important to actively involve women in socialist production: “The issue of women in kolkhozes . . . is an important question, comrades. I know that many of you underestimate women. . . . However, this is a mistake. . . . It is not only about half of the population being women. First and foremost, the kolkhoz movement has raised many outstanding and talented women to leadership positions. . . . Women have long since risen to the forefront from previously lagging behind. In kolkhozes, women represent great power. Keeping this power under restrictions . . . is a sin.”

Agricultural girl group, Szernye. Róza S. is on the right in the middle row.

One of my interviewees, Róza S., was born in 1933 in Serne.[14] Her father was a farmer who died in 1944 as a soldier of the Hungarian army, and her mother raised three children as a widow. Róza spoke with poignant sincerity about their daily problems: “My mother would go out to the meadow and climb the tree. From there she would cut off the dry branches, tie them, and bring them home on her back so that the three kids would not freeze.” Róza had a difficult childhood, so she only completed five classes, plus one repetition. At a very young age, she was already working as a farm worker in the kolkhoz. “I was a very good student. They [her two older brothers, Janos (born 1928) and Balázs (born 1930)] persuaded me to go to school if they couldn’t; at least I would be able learn and go to school. I did not go; I chose to work. . . . I was fourteen, and I went to work on the field. . . . We carried the bobbins together. Well, by the same time the next year everyone had become a worker at the kolkhoz [in Serne, which was formed in 1947). Life became very, very difficult. . . . They took our land, and everyone was forced to work there. They did not ask if you wanted to give up your land. Some resisted. Their land was sown in the spring, and it was harvested by the kolkhoz in the autumn.” My interviewee was a milkmaid, a farm worker in her youth, and went to work at the kolkhoz tobacco plantations. “Every day we went to plow, we went barefoot, we didn’t have slippers like that. . . . Back then, it wasn’t really machine plowing, just hand plowing.” In 1955 Róza, as a group leader, was able to represent a group of local kolkhoz girls at a Moscow agricultural exhibition as a result of her abundant crop yield. “I even went to Moscow for an agricultural exhibition. They took me from the kolkhoz because I was a group leader. We were girls, only girls. We had a good crop of beets, we had beets that weighted ten kilos. Well then, they got me out there.”

Roza S., fourth from left, as a milkmaid.

Roza S., front row center, in Moscow, 1955.

Similarly, Jolán B. had no easy youth.[15] Born in 1943, Jolán had seven siblings. They lost their mother early, and she was fifteen years old when her mother’s duties fell on her. (As her four older brothers were already married, she had to care for her two younger brothers, born 1945 and 1947, and her younger sister, who was ten years younger than her, having been born in1953).

Jolán B. working on the hen farm.

“One would go to school in the morning in boots and come home at noon, then the other would go to school in the same boots. This was our life. . . . For my sister, I was able to alter what I had outgrown.” Jolán worked at the kolkhoz for 30 years: 8 years on the hen farm and the rest on the vegetable-producing brigade.

There were also many women in Transcarpathia who were placed in higher leadership positions by the party leadership. Such was the case of Jolán Antal, president of the Marx kolkhoz in the village of Szolovka. The kolkhoz was formed on October 11, 1947, with the participation of 16 families, and by August 21, 1948, the peasantry of the whole village had joined. The president gushed about the greatness of the kolkhoz system: “All our hard work is done by machine, and this year we have been harvesting with a combine. As a result of Soviet agro-technology and well-organized joint management, the land gives twice as much as it used to before to individual farmers. . . . As the kolkhoz grows, people can live in a better way. Of course, it was difficult for us in the beginning. But we’ve gotten over it. No one would replace his present life with his old life. After the poverty, prosperity and post-oppression freedom came.”[16] Other individuals who have gone through the era remember things a little differently. Erzsébet B., a 1931-born resident of Velyka Dobron, recalled: “The Russians came in, took the land, cleaned out everything, took away all the animals. . . . I was still a girl when the kolkhoz was formed [in 1949]. We went to the field. . . . We had to hoe cabbage, potatoes, everything with a hand hoe; we had to break the corn by hand. . . . In the winter we only went to do tobacco. . . . They didn’t pay us a salary, just the norm. . . . It was very little, but back then everything was cheap.”[17]

Erzsébet B. at the age of 14 in Nagydobony folk costume.

In the 1950s, women were welcomed to work where previously only men worked. Many were engaged in heavy industry, construction, mining, turning lathes, and welding, but the greatest spotlight of the era was given to the women operating tractors. According to historian Zsófia Eszter Tóth, they wanted to symbolize that women are completely equal to men and that they are capable of the same performance in any job.[18] As the tractor operating industry was not very attractive to women, all means of propaganda had to be used to promote the profession, such as Soviet role models like Pasa Angelina, articles, movies, posters, brochures, songs, and poems. While studying the press, I found that there were quite a few women in Transcarpathia who had completed courses at the Machine and Tractor Station and worked on a tractor, but there was no published information indicating that most of them were forced to do so. “We are proud to be the first tractor operating women in Transcarpathia. We all follow the shining example of Pasa Angelina, known worldwide for her work victories. None of us would have thought yesterday that we girls and women would master the tractor operating profession.”[19] So said Sarolta Szalontai, the female brigade commander of the Rákosi GTC. Most of my 32 interviewees so far worked in various kolkhozes in Transcarpathia, and they recalled that it was not common for women to be tractor drivers; they know or have heard about singular cases, but for some reason women were forced to do so and only temporarily.

According to my interviewee Jolán B., her sister-in-law Gizella Szijjártó, the wife of her eldest brother, drove a tractor: My sister-in-law lived in Heivtsi,[20] and when she was a girl, her father was a kulak. . . . They were treated very strictly. When her father was taken away as a kulak to Donbas,[21] they wanted to take my sister-in-law also, so she had to enroll in a tractor driver course in order to not be taken away. There was a school here in Dobrony where girls also went, and my sister-in-law worked on a chain tractor. . . . Not for long, but she worked . . . to not be taken to Donbas.”

Over the centuries, women’s roles have also constantly evolved. In traditional society, women’s primary tasks were childbirth and parenting, along with running a household and caring for the family. Their activities were mainly confined to the home. In the twentieth century, significant changes took place in this area. With the influx of women into paid employment, they faced the problem of double burden bearing. It was not easy for women in the 1950s. Working women were given only six weeks’ maternity leave before childbirth and after. In reality, however, this did not really make life easier for young mothers.

As Gizella D. (born 1941) and Gizella T. (born 1942) shared with me: “The decret [maternity leave] lasted for two months before and two months after. Four months off. We got two hours for breastfeeding a day, so we could go home and breastfeed, and then we had to go back. . . . We also washed the diapers. . . . We had no pampers [disposable diapers] as we do now. Today’s world cannot be compared to [those days].”[23] In order for women to be able to work with young children, the state had to ensure that the children were properly accommodated. In the 1950s kindergartens opened, and even seasonal nurseries were organized in Transcarpathia for farm laborers. But places were limited, so many women could only work if their children were with the older generation at home, and many grandparents helped with child-rearing. Jolán B. talked about the problem of women’s dual burdens: “I almost went into labor on the farm. I worked up until December 25 and went to the hospital on January 1. . . . Then my mother-in-law agreed to take the boy, so I went back when he was two years old. . . . The kindergarten only accommodated twenty-five children.” Jolán Sz., who was born in 1937, had a similar story: “Even the day before giving birth, I was in the kolkhoz. After I gave birth at night, I didn’t go for a month. My mother-in-law looked after the little girl. Then when my son, Sanyi, was born on January 1, I was back at work by February. . . .  Only twenty children were admitted to kindergarten in such a large village, so I tried to get a place for them in vain; there were none.”[24]

In addition, it is important to bear in mind that households were not at all mechanized. They were lacking the most basic household appliances (such as refrigerators and washing machines), without which we could not imagine our lives today, and which make it easier to do household work. “When we butchered the pigs, as there were no refrigerators, we would lower the meat into the well, where it was cold,” recalled Erzsébet. B. The washing was also done by hand. According to Emma K., born in 1935: “When we bought our first washing machine, in 1968 or when it came to fashion, maybe 1970 . . . we were so happy, but we had to bring the water in and warm it, and then take it back out. But that was good too.”[25] Not everything was available in grocery and clothing stores. “I remember we went to the mountain to work. Easter came, and we were seven girls in a group. . . . We went from Popovo to the mountan in Koson on foot, we worked all day and then went home on foot in the evening. . . . There was a black shop . . .  [where] sometimes there was a little sugar. Then we went in . . . and asked Uncle Samu [the shopkeeper] to give us some sugar. He says there isn’t any. Uncle Miska [chairman of the local cooperative] comes and says, what’s up girls? We told him that Easter is here but we don’t have a single piece of sugar, not even for a small milk bread. . . . He says to Samu to weigh half a kilo of sugar for every girl. . . . We lived that way.”

The long decades of the communist era have transformed the structure of Transcarpathia and destroyed the well-functioning peasant lifestyle. Over the years the local population has grown accustomed to and adapted to the new regime, which has become embedded in people’s daily lives. There are many similarities in my interviewees’ life histories and opinions about the era. They were simple, conservative female workers, representing a traditional family model. They have undergone several regime changes, and they vividly remember the tragedy of World War II and the process of collectivization. Their stories can make us feel as though we are hearing the stories of the same people about their difficult postwar lives, their everyday lives, and the opportunities available to them as citizens of the Soviet Union.


[1] József Molnár and István D. Molnár, Population and Hungarians of Transcarpathia in the light of the census and population data, (Berehovo, 2005), 8.

[2] Oficinszkij Roman, “Transcarpathian Ukraine, 1944–1946,” in Transcarpathia 1919–2009: History, Politics, Culture, ed. Csilla Fedinec and Mikola Vehes (Budapest, Argumentum: MTA Institute for Ethnic-National Minority Research, 2010), 233, 243.

[3] Patrik Tátrai et al., “Impact of migration processes on the number of Hungarians in Transcarpathia,” Engravings 7, no. 1 (2018): 26.

[4] Molnár and Molnár, Population of Transcarpathia, 9.

[5] Molnár and Molnár, Population of Transcarpathia, 11.

[6] Mária Schadt, “Emerging working woman,” Women in the fifties (Pécs, 2003), 13.

[7] Kolkhoz: a collective farm or agricultural cooperative of the Soviet Union.

[8] Kulak: an affluent, large-scale farmer. Kulaks have been called out by communism as enemies of the people.

[9] “What the Soviet government did,” Soviet Village 1, no. 47 (October 4, 1950).

[10] “Our kolkhoz star workers: Etelka Bálint Aladárovná is the group leader of the Lenin kolkhoz,” Soviet Village 1, no. 16 (June 17, 1950): 2.

[11] “The active builders of communism,” Red Flag 6, no. 20 (450) (March 9, 1950): 3.

[12] Victor R. Fuchs, On economic inequalities between the sexes (Budapest: National Textbook Publisher, 2003), 28.

[13] Joseph Stalin, from a speech at the first congress of top collective kolkhoz peasants. In Lenin-Stalin: Party and party building, Collection of Lenin and Stalin (Szikra, Budapest: 1950), 655.

[14] Interviewed in Batiovo on April 22, 2015. Róza’s native village, Serne, is located in the Transcarpathian region of Mukachevo, Ukraine. It is situated 20 km southwest of Mukachevo on the banks of the Serne stream.

[15] Interviewed in Velyka Dobron on October 27, 2019. Jolán’s native village, Velyka Dobron, is located in the Uzhhorod region and is the biggest Hungarian-speaking village.

[16] Katalin Osvát, “Two Hungarian kolkhoz peasant women from the Soviet Carpathia,” Women's Magazine 2, no. 40 (October 5, 1950).

[17] Interviewed in Velyka Dobron on December 9, 2019.

[18] Eszter Zsófia Tóth, Daughters of Kádár: Women in the socialist period (Budapest: Open Book Workshop, 2010), 58.

[19] Victory of Stalin 2, no. 21 (62) (Mar. 14, 1951).

[20] Velyki and Mali Heivtsi are located in Transcarpathia, 17–18 km from Uzhhorod.

[21] Donbass: an abbreviation referring to the Donetsk coal basin, an industrial region of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine.

[22] KTÁL. Fond. P-14, opisz 1., od. zb. 737. 8.

[23] Interviewed in Batiovo on July 24, 2015.

[24] Interviewed in Velyka Dobron on February 9, 2017.

[25] Interviewed in Batiovo on December 14, 2016.

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Insights into the Economic and Legal Dimensions of Public Contractual Relationships in Europe

December 5, 2019
By 27004

The aim of my doctoral dissertation research—carried out with the support of a Sylff fellowship—is the examination of contracts concluded by the state and other public bodies in Europe. Particular attention is given to concessions and the interplay between various national legal traditions and the law of the European Union. My work focuses on the legal specificities of these contracts and seeks to understand important socioeconomic connections of this field of law, such as the different modes of the state’s involvement in the economy and the different ways public services are organized, and where the boundaries between the state and market are set. In the following, I would like to give a brief introduction to this topic.

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In the evolution of the law of public contracts at the national and European level, the organization of public services has always played an important part.

Many services that are now considered public services first appeared as private initiatives. As capitalism developed, urbanization and population growth resulted in an ever-increasing number of tasks that public administrations needed to organize for the smooth functioning of society. The state’s involvement in the economy became more active in the first half of the twentieth century owing to two world wars, economic crises, the growing need for public services, and the bankruptcy of private-sector service providers. As welfare states flourished in Europe in the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, the provision of public services came to be carried out mainly in the public sphere, either by state bodies, local authorities, or by organizations closely related to them.[1]

The Chain Bridge, one of the iconic monuments of Budapest, Hungary, is an example of a private initiative taking the lead in building public infrastructure in the nineteenth century. Its construction was funded and carried out by the Chain Bridge Joint Stock Company, owned by private shareholders. (Photo by Gyurika, CC-BY-SA-2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lanchid-budaipiller.jpg)

Challenges to the concept of the European welfare state emerged in the 1970s, as the oil crises of 1973 and 1979 triggered a new way of thinking about economic policy. The organization of public services according to market principles, outsourcing, and the involvement of the private sector became widespread, accompanied, in certain cases, by the privatization of assets serving as the basis of a public service. An important factor encouraging these processes was the law of the European Union. The most intensive period of regulation in the European Union to build up an internal market of undistorted competition started in the early the 1990s. An important part of this was the liberalization of network-based public services and the regulation of public procurement, which became more detailed and effective through the adoption of new directives.[2]

The reform of public services and the growing importance of contracting out became a general trend in Europe, but they unfolded differently in the individual member states of the EU, influenced by the respective traditional approaches to delivering public services.

In Germany, public services of an economic nature are traditionally provided by so-called Stadtwerke. These are companies of local authorities (earlier organized also by public law) that provide the population of a geographical area with different utilities. In the field of social services, cooperations of charitable organizations were a traditional form of service provision. The trend of privatization has affected these long-established structures, and private operators now play an important role in the delivery of public services. As a result of EU-led liberalization, these markets also had to be opened up to competition—or at least adjusted to a competition-driven legal system. However, certain sensitive areas, such as water supply and ambulance services, were protected by public policy from the encroachment of market forces by the EU.

Unlike Germany, France did not develop a strong utilities’ sector at the local level. The system of French local authorities was very fragmented, and their scarce resources encouraged the delegation of public services—mainly in the form of concessions—to private providers from as early as the middle of the nineteenth century.[3] The French state’s interference in the economy was particularly strong after World War II; extensive nationalization took place ,which largely affected the utilities, but state involvement was significant even in the competitive parts of industry and in the banking and insurance sectors.[4] Due to this composition of public property and the historic guiding theory of service public in public administration, the privatization of the 1980s and 1990s affected primarily the competitive sectors of the economy, not the utilities. The French constitution of 1946 expressly stated that monopolies and companies providing national public services and the assets necessary to run these services must remain state property.[5] A characteristic of the French model is that the utilities market is dominated by a few large companies, which are also important participants in the EU-wide market of service concessions.

The Channel Tunnel links Great Britain with continental Europe. The infrastructure project, negotiated in the middle of the 1980s, was a pioneer of large-scale, concession-type contracts using the project finance technique relying on the proceeds of the project. (Photo by Florian Févre from Mobilys, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TGV_TMST_3011-2_-_Sortie_Tunnel_sous_la_Manche_%C3%A0_Coquelles.jpg)

In Britain, the common law legal system (which follows a different concept than the legal systems of continental Europe) evolved in parallel with another type of economic development. From the outset, capitalism developed with much less state involvement than in Germany or France. Margaret Thatcher, who became prime minister in 1979, was a pioneer of a neoliberal economic policy. She implemented reforms to achieve a more economic and effective public sector, encouraging contracting-out, private-sector involvement in public projects, privatization, and the liberalization of monopolies in utilities. The British administration also developed innovative legal concepts like unbundling and public-private partnerships (PPPs) that later spread to the rest of Europe and beyond.

Nowadays, EU law has a decisive impact on how member states can organize public services. Although there is undoubtedly a push toward more competition and privatization, there are also elements of EU law that try to seek a balance between the principle of undistorted competition and the will of member states to preserve their ability to decide on the most appropriate way to provide public services with different degrees of state involvement and to protect certain traditional elements of their systems.

The Law of Public Contracts

The law governing the contracts of public bodies is also shaped by changing economic circumstances, the increasing recourse to contracting-out, and the impact of EU law. There is a general trend towards unification, mainly deriving from EU public procurement law, whose focus is to sustain undistorted competition in public purchases through transparent procedural rules. But this process also accommodates different legal traditions in national laws.

PPP contracts were widely used from the 1990s to develop different types of public infrastructure, such as motorways. However, there were always concerns whether PPPs could deliver value for money for the public sector. (Photo by Kroock74, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toll_booths_in_the_UK.jpg)

The most developed legal tradition relating to public contracts can be found in the French legal system in the concept of administrative contracts. What sets this legal regime apart is that contract rules of public authorities must also reflect the public interest and guarantee the proper functioning of public services. Administrative contracts form a distinct category apart from private law contracts, and legal disputes relating to them fall within the jurisdiction of administrative courts. Special rules are applicable to these contracts besides the underlying law of the French Civil Code. The main feature of administrative contracts is that the parties to the contract are not in an equal position and that the law acknowledges certain prerogatives for public authorities (e.g., a unilateral power of modification in case it is so required in the light of the public interest). However, the rules of administrative contracts must also fairly protect the interests of the contracting party by sustaining the economic balance in case of unforeseen circumstances and by compensating the private party in case the administration exercises its special rights.

The German legal system has traditionally been based on a strict distinction between private and public law. Its main approach to the contracts of public authorities is that public administration is also subject to private law when it takes part in economic relationships. This way of thinking has not impeded the acknowledgement of certain specificities of public contracts in connection with the public interest. The emphasis in German law is on the requirement that public authorities give due consideration to human rights even if they are acting under contract. In order to apply public law requirements to private law contracts, German courts incorporated these public law principles into general private law clauses. This solution of taking into account public principles in the interpretation of private law is called Verwaltungsprivatrecht in legal literature.[6]

One difference we can observe in English law is that its evolution is much more based on the needs arising from private economic activity than in continental contract laws. In the system of common law, it follows from the principle of the rule of law that the same law applies to both the state and private parties when they take part in economic relationships. As a result, even the existence of administrative law was recognized much later in England than in Germany or France. The specificities of public contracts appear in the principles elaborated by the courts and in codified laws, but there is no general legal concept or theory on how the public interest is considered in relation to public contracts.  

In spite of the conceptual divergences, common features can also be observed in the main European legal systems.[7] These elements all relate to the public interest and represent two main aspects of public contracts. On the one hand, public bodies need more freedom to act in order to decide on public matters and keep their competence to act as the public interest requires. However, when public interest warrants a derogation from contractual obligations, the private party must be compensated fairly. On the other hand, the administration cannot circumvent its public law obligations—such as respect for human rights—even if it acts in accordance with contractual provisions.

EU law also affects significantly how the traditional principles of public contracts can be applied in the member states. It is possible to maintain different approaches to public contracts in individual legal systems, but their special points of view can only apply within the boundaries set by EU law.


[1] Hellmut Wollmann and Gérard Marcou, “Introduction,” in Wollmann and Marcou (eds), The Provision of Public Services in Europe: Between State, Local Government and Market, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, 2010, p. 5.

[2] Council Directive 89/440/EEC of July 18, 1989, amending Directive 71/305/EEC concerning the coordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts; Council Directive 88/295/EEC of March 22, 1988, amending Directive 77/62/EEC relating to the coordination of procedures on the award of public supply contracts and repealing certain provisions of Directive 80/767/EEC; Council Directive 92/50/EEC of June 18, 1992, relating to the coordination of procedures for the award of public service contracts; Council Directive 93/36/EEC of June 14, 1993, coordinating procedures for the award of public supply contracts; Council Directive 93/37/EEC of June 14, 1993, concerning the coordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts; Council Directive 93/38/EEC of June 14, 1993, coordinating the procurement procedures of entities operating in the water, energy, transport, and telecommunications sectors.

[3] Attila Harmathy, Szerződés, közigazgatás, gazdaságirányítás, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1983, p. 29.

[4] For a detailed account of the different approaches to public ownership in the economy after 1945, see Leigh Hancher, “The Public Sector as Object and Instrument of Economic Policy,” in Terence Daintith (ed), Law as an Instrument of Economic Policy: Comparative and Critical Approaches, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1987, pp. 165–236. 

[5] Ninth paragraph in the preamble of the Constitution of 1946: “Tout bien, toute entreprise, dont l’exploitation a ou acquiert les caractères d’un service public national ou d’un monopole de fait, doit devenir la propriété de la collectivité.”

[6] For a comprehensive analysis of Verwaltungsprivatrecht, see Ulrich Stelkens, Verwaltungsprivatrecht—Zur Privatrechtsbindung der Verwaltung, deren Reichweite und Konsequenzen, Duncker & Humblot, 2005.

[7] See also Rozen Noguellou and Ulrich Stelkens (eds), Droit Comparé des Contrats Publics / Comparative Law on Public Contracts, Bruylant, 2010.

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Political Reconciliation in Postcolonial Ghana

October 9, 2019
By 25116

Frank Afari, a 2017 Sylff fellow from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, visited Northwestern University in the United States to conduct archival research at the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, which holds the largest Africana collection in the world. Using an SRA award, his project centered on Transitional Justice, defined as a field of activity and inquiry focused on how societies address legacies of past human rights violations through the use of truth commissions and other mechanisms. His focus was on Ghana’s National Reconciliation Commission, a truth commission set up in 2002.

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Since independence in 1957, Ghana has had a reputation for being a relatively peaceful and stable country. While the country has not experienced any civil war or violence on the scale that has wrecked other countries in the West African sub-region, there are still isolated pockets of simmering conflicts in parts of Ghana. Most conflicts in Ghana revolve around chieftaincy disputes[1], ethnicity[2], and power struggles between and within political parties. Though isolated, these conflicts have often resulted in loss of property and lives. In the northern part of Ghana today, most of the conflicts pertaining to chieftaincy and ethnicity have long historical roots and were complicated under British colonial rule. In theory and practice, the British colonial policy of indirect rule compelled strong powerful chiefs who wielded centralized authority to rule over noncentralized acephalous states, a move that facilitated the imperial bureaucracy of ruling through powerful indigenous political structures. Consequently, hitherto independent societies and polities lost political autonomy and control over their land and resources. This system of subjugating acephalous or stateless societies under powerful centralized states perpetuated a legacy of contentious subject-overlord relations. Unfortunately, the postcolonial state did not redress these colonial anomalies.

In 1992, Ghana transitioned from a military dictatorship to constitutional rule, ending a spate of military truncations of democratically elected civilian governments, and this birthed the Fourth Republic. The Fourth Republic ushered in a culture of smooth transfer of power through the ballot box. An outgrowth of the country’s growing democratic culture since then has been its capacity to deal with internal conflicts through institutional means. One such institution is the National Peace Council (NPC), a statutory body created to effectively resolve conflicts and build peace in Ghana. The NPC was established in 2006 by the Government of Ghana under the aegis of the African Union, with operational support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

A decade ago, while I was pursuing my graduate studies in Ghana, I interned as a part-time research assistant with the NPC. I understudied the working staff during its numerous field trips to conflict-ridden communities and major flashpoints in northern Ghanaian towns such as Bawku. Bawku is plagued by regular outbreaks of inter-ethnic and chieftaincy-related violence. During my several field trips to Bawku, I encountered victims of horrendous atrocities. These conflicts, whose effects I witnessed firsthand, got me interested in the history of politically motivated and state-sponsored violence, human rights violations, extra-judicial killings, and illegal confiscation of property. I later discovered that I could use the findings of another statutory body, the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), a truth commission established in 2002 to investigate past human rights violations and foster reconciliation in Ghana, as a window into the history of state-sponsored political violence in postcolonial Ghana. Until the establishment of the NRC, so much of Ghana’s turbulent past had been obscured by its recent democratic successes. When I was admitted into the PhD (International History) program at the Graduate Institute in Geneva in 2016, I chose to investigate as a doctoral project the historical undercurrents of the NRC’s reconciliation exercise under the rubric of transitional justice and human rights.

At the entrance of my host center, the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, Northwestern University.

On October 27, 2018, I traveled from Geneva, Switzerland, to Northwestern University (NU) in the United States to conduct seven months of archival research at the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, which holds the largest Africana collection in the world, and also to conduct interviews with experts for my ongoing doctoral thesis. I sought to explore what the archives contain about governance in Ghana over the longue durée since its independence in 1957, but more specifically to learn more about the phases bedeviled by authoritarian and turbulent military upheavals with their associated human rights violations.

My method of research included searching through troves of archival repositories and printing and digitally scanning relevant primary and secondary texts into assorted file formats from a catalog of sources using personal handheld digital scanners and the libraries’ scanners. Additionally, I consulted various rare books and manuscripts of substantial historical value, which as sources provided me significant interpretative frameworks for drafting aspects of my thesis. Among my most important archival findings was the specialized Africana Vertical File Index, which contained numerous correspondence, papers, memos, press statements, and articles written in the 1980s and 1990s by Ghanaian expatriates abroad who sought to bring to light the gross human rights abuses and violence of Ghana’s military regimes. These diasporic communities and individuals, drawing upon their understanding of international human rights treaties and conventions, made sustained agitations to end political violence and restore Ghana to democratic rule in the 1980s and 1990s. Their writings have great significance, because in them is evident the agency of diasporic actors as historically noteworthy drivers of political change.

Inside the Northwestern University Library. Setting up to use the Overhead (KIC/Bookeye) scanners for scanning books and digitizing archival images.

Additionally, I devoted some time to writing drafts of my thesis while interviewing some of NU’s experts on Ghana’s recent past. Here, I wish to gratefully mention Professor Sean Hanretta, an intellectual and cultural historian of Ghana, Professor Naaborko Sackeyfio-Lenoch, a visiting scholar at NU’s Program of African Studies (PAS) who specializes in the social and political history of Ghana, and Professor Richard Joseph, a political scientist and expert on African governance. All three scholars shared insights from their expertise on Ghana’s recent history, pointing to pertinent sources and suggesting alternative frameworks for crafting my main themes. Professor Joseph, in particular, who was a one-time fellow of the Carter Center, shared his experiences as the program director of the Ghana Election Mission, an international election monitoring body that oversaw the milestone 1992 general elections that transitioned Ghana from a military dictatorship to an electoral democracy. As a governance expert, his role positioned him to engage directly with political leaders and with transitional processes and activities that inaugurated Ghana’s return to democratization. Thus, interviewing him uncovered an invaluable firsthand account of a frenzied political transition involving international and domestic actors, choices, and decisive trade-offs that have permanently shaped the trajectory of Ghana’s current democracy. In this respect, the pledge by all political party leaders to cooperate toward conducting free and fair elections set a standard for the subsequent nonviolent electioneering culture for which the country has come to be known.

Northwestern’s Program of African Studies also provided a warm intellectual environment through its weekly graduate student seminar series (Afrisem) and its sponsored Annual Graduate Conference (April 4–6, 2019), all of which I participated in. Through these wonderful opportunities, I productively engaged scholars in conversations relating to issues of human rights, political violence, reconciliation, and transitional justice, which are the core themes of my research.

The overall importance of my project lies in its capacity to deepen scholarly understanding of the undercurrents of Ghana’s attempt at national reconciliation and the impact of that exercise on the country’s democracy. Such an understanding has practical applicability for policy formulation in the field of human rights and the rule of law—the two areas where Ghana in particular and most African countries in general have considerable challenges. Moreover, a critical analysis of Ghana’s postcolonial history through the lens of the NRC offers an opportunity to reexamine the evolving modus operandi of truth commissions and their role as mechanisms in the politics of justice and reconciliation in Africa.

[1] Examples of such places are Yendi, Bawku, Anloga, and Accra.

[2] Examples of such places are Alavanyo, Bawku, and Nkonya.

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Beyond the Treasures? Beyond the Nation? Museum Representations of Thracian Heritage from Bulgaria

June 27, 2019
By 24507

Ivo Strahilov is a Sylff fellow from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski.” His doctoral dissertation scrutinizes the social construction of the ancient Thracian heritage and its uses in modern Bulgaria. With the support of the SRA award, he visited Paris where he explored the making of three museum exhibitions of the so-called Thracian treasures. In this article Strahilov discusses some of his findings and suggests a direction for future debate.

* * *

Introduction: At the Margins of Europe

The notion of “Europe” alongside its territorial borders is not self-evident, nor coherent. One of the major uncertainties in this seemingly apparent concept is marked by the tension between the western and eastern parts of the continent. During the last decades, this problem has been investigated at length in academic literature, and several new analytical paths have been opened. Scholars have questioned both the cultural cultivation of the idea of Europe and its various regions, which are differently positioned on the symbolic geography around the prestigious core.[1] The Balkan Peninsula or Southeastern Europe, which also includes Bulgaria, represents a peculiar case in this regard. Recent critiques have delved into the historical role of “the Occident” in the “invention” of “Eastern Europe” as a specific category that is rarely recognized as truly European.[2] Other studies have outlined a hegemonic Western discourse that ascribes the Balkans to a zone of backwardness between “Europe” and “the Orient,” seeing them in a predominantly negative way and reproducing their stigmatization.[3] This, however, is not simply a foreign categorization; it is also shared by the people in such countries as Bulgaria, where this traumatizing lack of Europeanness equally functions as a self-perception. On the other hand, Balkan political and intellectual elites adapt themselves to this framework, manipulate it, and take advantage of their position in diverse situations and with varying goals. This is why some authors have also underlined that Balkan states have appropriated this understanding and even contributed to the reinforcement of the “otherizing” discourse and thus to the regionalization of the continent.[4]


Thrace as a European Heritage

This rather complex constellation is one of the starting points of my doctoral research. Examining the museological representations of the ancient past, I hypothesize that Bulgaria exploits the potential of cultural heritage to overcome its assigned position at the margins of “Europe.” To explore this assumption, I focus on the international exhibitions of the so-called Thracian treasures. These exhibitions have been organized by the Bulgarian state for more than 40 years in some of the most prominent museums all over the world, including India, Japan, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Cuba, Russia, and especially Western Europe. This project originated in the early 1970s, and since then it has been an indispensable instrument of Bulgaria’s national cultural diplomacy, which involves significant political and academic commitment.[5] Today it is deemed by some historians the most successful cultural product of Bulgaria. At the core of the project are ancient archaeological objects excavated within the territory of the present-day country. Many of them are made of precious metals and provoke strong interest both in professional circles and in the general public. The exhibited objects themselves are traditionally attributed to the Thracian tribes that inhabited the area of present-day Southeastern Europe in antiquity.[6]

In 2015, however, the fundamental premises of this project were reconsidered. During the preparation of the upcoming exhibition for the Louvre Museum in Paris, it became clear that the long-held concept and reading of the ancient past are becoming a subject of tense negotiations. The remaking of the exhibition’s narrative, which was produced through a dynamic Franco-Bulgarian collaboration, highlighted the complexities of setting a new mutually agreed interpretation of cultural heritage. Hence, I decided to pay particular attention to this exhibition in order to track the dynamics underlying the process of social construction of heritage. Thanks to the SRA award I was able to conduct fieldwork in Paris in 2018, where I interviewed museums curators, archaeologists, historians, and other experts. I also explored different institutional archives and media reports, and I contextualized them further through examination of previous studies available in specialized libraries.

Opening of the exhibition “Découverte de l’art Thrace: Trésors des musées de Bulgarie” at Petit Palais Museum (Paris, 1974). © Archives of Petit Palais Museum.

The concept of the Thracian exhibition is a heterogeneous phenomenon with many aspects, but here I would like to underline its presentation in a Western European context. As mentioned above, one of the hypotheses of my dissertation is that the Bulgarian state introduced this self-representational strategy and mobilized precious ancient objects to compensate for its marginal position on the continent. Thracian heritage, in this sense, is one of the usable concepts for the desired symbolic repositioning because it supposedly refers to Europe’s origins. To put it in a simplistic way, ancient heritage “europeanizes” Bulgaria retroactively.

The making of the exhibition at the Louvre in 2015, however, revealed for the first time that the heritagization of the Thracian legacy and its valorization abroad could entail serious turbulences. My findings suggested that discrepancies had occurred not only between Bulgarian and French (together with other foreign) scholars, but also within Bulgarian academia itself—between museologists, art historians and archaeologists, and between politicians, administrators, and scientists. Although the discussions and preparations resulted in a well-publicized exhibition accompanied by a conference and a representative catalogue including a significant number of authors and institutions,[7] it is worthwhile to revisit the representational logic that underlies the Thracian exhibition as a phenomenon. There is no doubt that the latter is an essential promotional tool for contemporary Bulgaria, but it also raises some questions.


Promotional material of the exhibition “L’or des Thraces, trésors de Bulgarie” at Jacquemart-André Museum (Paris, 2006–2007). © Archives of Jacquemart-André Museum.

 One of the questions comes from the fact that the Thracians’ legacy is spread across the territories not only of Bulgaria but also of neighboring countries—especially Romania, Greece, and Turkey. This is why their national historical disciplines have elaborated a rather ambivalent partnership on this issue.[8] Although with different intensity, they all research and popularize the Thracian past and thus transform it into a topical scientific problematic on a global level. The perimeter of their joint efforts is nevertheless restricted, and this limitation is exemplified by such exhibitions. The very act of an international presentation tends to legitimize a given national state as an heir of a certain legacy, and this is a well-known approach. A significant illustration here, captured in archival photos, is the Bulgarian national flag that covered the display cases in the museums during some inauguration ceremonies in the 1980s.


Heritage beyond the Nation?

Admittedly, organizing glamorous events abroad that promote the official image of a country is understandable and expected within the framework of cultural diplomacy. The point here is whether, after becoming a member of the European Union, Bulgaria (and other respective states) should maintain the same strategy driven by national interests. Would it not be more appropriate for political and academic authorities to enable transborder and transnational cooperation in terms of cultural relations that would demonstrate the richness and complexity of Thracian heritage? Hopefully, such an approach, which reconsiders archaeological practices and broadens the horizon of historical reading, would be a modest response to rising nationalisms. Thus, I would argue for a new multinational Thracian exhibition that would gather together scholars as well as precious collections of national museums in Southeastern Europe and beyond.


Promotional material of the exhibition “L’Épopée des rois thraces. Découvertes archéologiques en Bulgarie” at the Louvre (Paris, 2015). © Archives of the Louvre Museum.


While academic and governmental inflexibility predominates in terms of advanced cooperation, we are also witnessing new tendencies. For example, in 2018 an agreement was signed between archaeological museums in North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Serbia that envisages a joint exhibition on the Necropolis of Trebeništa. The ancient site is situated in the Republic of North Macedonia, but due to complex and controversial historical developments it was excavated consecutively by Bulgarian, Serbian, and Macedonian archaeologists. Thus, the objects that were found have been dispersed in the three countries, and their interpretations have been incoherent.

Time will show whether this project will succeed in reconciling national historiographies and overcoming the restrictive representational narratives that traditionally accompany heritage. Yet it is already a sign of positive and needed change. Surely such a collaborative process will be slow and difficult; it will require concrete efforts and provoke shared uneasiness. But if we manage to take such a step, we will have a greater chance of developing a more constructive understanding of the territory we live in. After all, this is the territory in which we will have to face many new challenges; and making out of the past something that further divides us is definitely not relevant to the more acute economic, social, and ecological threats that affect our lives. On the other hand, if we leave aside the representational aspects of heritage, perhaps there would be room for a type of archaeology that would be engaged in a different way. Instead of being a tool that supports tight national agendas, it could be a bridge between them. Instead of delivering “treasures” for the tourist industry that deepens the gap between local people and elitist touristic imagery, it could be in service of some larger issues or specific environmental needs of the explored region itself. In sum, going back “down to Earth,” tracking the old answers and new questions that Earth contains will eventually help us to realize that the presentation of ancient heritage in seemingly stable national categories is possible but is only one of many options.[9]


[1] On the concept of “Europe” see Delanty, Gerard. 1995. Inventing Europe: Idea, Identity, Reality. Basingstoke and London: Macmillan.

[2] See, e.g., Wolff, Larry. 1994. Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

[3] See, e.g., Todorova, Maria. 2009. Imaging the Balkans (updated edn). New York: Oxford University Press; Goldsworthy, Vesna. 1998. Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination. New Haven and London: Yale University Press; and Bjelić, Dušan I., and Obrad Savić (eds). 2002. Balkan as Metaphor: Between Globalization and Fragmentation. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.

[4] Mishkova, Diana. 2018. Beyond Balkanism: The Scholarly Politics of Region Making. London and New York: Routledge.

[5] The history of this exhibition is thoroughly presented and analyzed in Roumentchéva, Sofia. 2014. Exposer les Thraces. Les collections thraces de la Bulgarie. Politique d’exposition officielle à l’étranger de 1958 à 2013. Mémoire de recherche. Paris: École du Louvre.

[6] The chronological and territorial aspects are the subject of ongoing academic debates. A recent overview of the question about the Thracians is available in Valeva, Julia, Emil Nankov, and Denver Graninger (eds). 2015. A Companion to Ancient Thrace. Wiley-Blackwell.

[7] Martinez, Jean-Luc, Néguine Mathieux, Alexandre Baralis, Milena Tonkova, and Totko Stoyanov (eds) 2015. L’épopée des rois thraces: Des guerres médiques aux invasions celtes 479-278 avant J.-C. Découvertes archéologiques en Bulgarie. Paris: Musée du Louvre/Somogy éditions d’Art.

[8] Marinov, Tchavdar. 2016. Nos ancêtres les Thraces. Usages idéologiques de l'Antiquité en Europe du Sud-Est. Paris: L’Harmattan.

[9] Part of this conclusion has been inspired in a certain way by Latour, Bruno. 2018. Down to Earth: Politics in the new climatic regime (translated by Catherine Porter). Cambridge: Polity Press.

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Catalyzing Cultural Revitalization in Western Province, Solomon Islands

June 7, 2018
By 19632

Indigenous knowledge and practice are critical on Kolombangara Island, but they are often not visible in discussions of conservation and resource management. In response, Sylff fellow Joe McCarter and the Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association (KIBCA) initiated a workshop to discuss cultural revitalization, as well as teach practical documentation skills to rangers and community members. The workshop was held in Hunda, a village on Kolombangara Island in the Solomon Islands’ Western Province, and was led by representatives of the Vanuatu Cultural Center (VCC). The VCC team included three fieldworkers (ni-Vanuatu researchers) and the head of the Vanuatu Women’s Culture Program. The workshop covered a variety of topics, including the challenges and ethics of cultural maintenance, techniques and best practice, and the importance of such activities. On the final day, the group came up with several action points and next steps, including community and home-based recording and maintenance and agreed to create a new network focused on Kolombangara Island and run through KIBCA.


Project Background

Indigenous knowledge and practice are important components of everyday life in the Solomon Islands. Most people live in rural areas, and gardening, fishing, and food gathering are the basis of income and nutrition. Most land is managed under customary tenure, and people’s links to the land can be traced back several generations. Local languages and cultures are important and diverse, and cultural practices guide interactions and governance over much of the country.

On Kolombangara Island, a high volcanic island in Western Province, local knowledge and practice play a key role. Over 6,000 people live on the island, largely in small rural communities on land that is managed under customary tenure. Kolombangara is a biodiversity hotspot, and KIBCA has been working since 2008 to coordinate and promote biodiversity conservation activities around the island. However, there has been little attention to the maintenance of language and kastom (a Solomon Island Pijin concept referring to history and tradition), and KIBCA has been seeking to increase its focus on maintenance and revitalization.

This work is driven by fears that elements of kastom are being lost. In the present day, local language and knowledge are often not valued by education systems, cash economies, and the time pressure of everyday life. For example, school systems usually focus on Western educational techniques and may not support traditional forms of knowledge transmission. There is concern that this may lead to the erosion of knowledge, practice, and language over time. In everyday life, knowledge of language and history can help students to excel at school and can guide healthy food practice based on local and organic food produce.

Moreover, and more pressingly, ongoing commercial logging on Kolombangara continues to threaten sacred sites and people’s links to land. Often, logging operations will destroy cultural sites (for example, old village sites or shrines), which in turn weakens knowledge and the cultural histories associated with place. Because land is under customary tenure, and this knowledge is often orally transmitted, these activities can result in people losing their claim to land and a reduction of the biocultural values of the landscape.

The Workshop

With generous funding from Sylff Leadership Initiatives, KIBCA coordinator Ferguson Vaghi and Joe McCarter worked together to bring participants to Kolombangara the maintenance of knowledge and practice. This was relevant to KIBCA’s work because it focuses on maintaining ecosystem services and values associated with intact biodiversity areas. Vaghi led and facilitated the workshop, set workshop goals and objectives, and liaised with the Hunda community to arrange accommodation and housing for the workshop. I assisted with designing the workshop, liaising with the Vanuatu group, arranging logistics, and setting the agenda for the meeting.

Participants outside the venue in Hunda.

The major goal of the workshop was to allow the chance for exchange between Kolombangara and fieldworkers from the Vanuatu Cultural Center (VCC). The VCC group comprised Evelyne Bulegih, Numaline Mahana, Chief Jimesan Sanhambath, and Chief Joachim Moleli. The VCC has been working for over 30 years to promote the maintenance of traditional knowledge, practice, and language. The heart of its operation is the presence of a nationwide network of over 100 “fieldworkers”, volunteer indigenous anthropologists who meet annually and are trained in various forms of cultural documentation. They typically work within their own community to record cultural histories and traditional knowledge, which are then stored in the community and in the national archives. The fieldworkers also act as the gatekeepers for external agencies seeking to work on cultural or social issues in Vanuatu, providing advice and guidance that ensure that ethical concerns and intellectual property are appropriately addressed.

The objectives of the workshop were to:

  1. Provide training in methods for documentation of oral histories and traditional knowledge and practice
  2. Provide training in methods for mapping and recording of sacred sites using GIS technology
  3. Provide a forum for sharing and exchange between Solomon Islander conservation practitioners and ni-Vanuatu indigenous anthropologists
  4. Produce and publish a short article for the national media about the importance of cultural knowledge and practice for the management of the environment

Attendance varied between 20 and 23 people across the three days of the workshop. Participants included KIBCA staff, among whom were four rangers (responsible for carrying out KIBCA’s work, including enforcement and awareness activities); community representatives from the neighboring communities of Votuana, Cana, and Ireke, as well as from the host community Hunda; and community representatives from Vavanga and Kalina (Parara Island), which also form part of a biocultural network. These representatives included two village chiefs. Attendance was largely male, but there were at least five women attending each day of the workshop.

The meeting was held at Hunda, a small village of around 200 people on Kolombangara. All catering and accommodation were provided by the village.

Vanuatu and New Zealand workshop participants: from left to right, Joachim Moleli, Evelyne Bulegih, Joe McCarter, Numaline Mahana, and Jimesan Sanhambath.

Outline of Events

Wednesday, February 21

The aim of day one was to understand the context of work in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The meeting was opened by the chief of Hunda village and then formally begun by Vaghi. During the day, participants worked to compile lists of challenges around the maintenance of kastom and culture in their communities. The Vanuatu fieldworkers were able to provide input to these solutions with their practical experience. Discussions particularly focused on governance and how it was important to record knowledge on genealogies and leadership protocol; the participants felt that one of the key issues in the communities at the moment was a lack of legitimate leadership, combined with a lack of respect from youth. In the final part of the day, the Vanuatu fieldworkers went into greater depth about their work, including a discussion of some of the challenges of maintaining kastom and culture in Vanuatu.

Waiting for the workshop to start on day one.

Thursday, February 22

The aim of the second day was to pass on skills to assist with some of the challenges that were identified on the first day. The day began with a discussion of the “kastom economy” and the ways in which tradition and culture intersect with daily life in the village environment. For example, Chief Moleli discussed an initiative in his community, Tavendrua, to use traditional wealth items such as yams and pigs to pay teachers in the kastom school, while Mrs. Mahana discussed traditional marriage arrangements on Tanna Island. Participants then split into small groups to document the kastom economy in their communities. These groups focused on a variety of topics including traditional medicines, fishing techniques, and exchange items. In the afternoon, there was a practical session on the maintenance and recording of kastom and culture. Each of the fieldworkers gave a talk and held trainings on an area within their expertise: Mrs. Bulegih discussed the written recording and storage of kastom stories, Mrs. Mahana the written descriptions of weaving and woven products, Chief Moleli the recording of kastom stories, and Chief Sanhambath the use of handheld units to document sacred sites. The focus on all these presentations was to try to make sure that participants understood that technology should not be central for this work—that it is better to record things in a basic format (e.g., with pen and paper) and store it securely, to ensure that it is accessible to future generations.

Small group work on day two (photo by Piokera Holland).

Friday, February 23

The aim of the third day was to define next steps. Throughout the day, participants worked in small groups to define what practical steps could be taken to halt the erosion of kastom and culture. These were discussed in a closing plenary session. Topics included home-based recording with family members, consultation throughout the communities to decide which components of traditional knowledge and practice are at risk, and a cultural documentation network run through KIBCA. The group decided it was important to maintain linkages with the Vanuatu group, through Facebook and email, so that lessons could continue to be shared.

Saturday, February 24, and Sunday, February 25

On Saturday and Sunday, the Vanuatu group traveled to Imbu Rano field station on Kolombangara. During this trip they were able to observe KIBCA’s biodiversity conservation work in practice, as well as learn about threats to the area and the challenges that the rangers face on a daily basis. 

Outputs and Outcomes

The workshop was lively, well attended, and able to produce the outputs that were intended. These included:

  1. Provision of a discussion forum and practical trainings around the maintenance of kastom and culture on Kolombangara
  2. Initiation of efforts on Kolombangara to maintain kastom and culture, at a household level and through the networks of KIBCA
  3. Creation of linkages and exchange between Vanuatu fieldworkers, biodiversity conservation rangers, and community members
  4. A draft newspaper article, which has been submitted for publication in the Solomon Star and Vanuatu Daily Post (find it in the full report)

We are confident that these outputs will lead to a range of outcomes. For one, this workshop gave the Solomon Island participants an introduction to the skills needed to monitor, record, and maintain cultural knowledge and practice, including the mapping of sacred sites around their home communities. More importantly, the discussions and activities of the workshop provided a forum for dialogue on the value of cultural knowledge and practice, which can sometimes be lost in the day-to-day focus on livelihoods and living. The participants agreed to some solid and measurable next steps, so we are confident that this workshop was a first step toward an ongoing network of cultural monitors and the maintenance of knowledge and practice on Kolombangara.

Over the longer term, we see these efforts as being a small but necessary contribution to the overall goal of maintaining the biocultural resilience of rural communities in the Solomon Islands. Both cultural and biological diversity are critical to the ongoing vitality of communities, and we believe that more of these kinds of activities and discussions are needed into the future.

Personal Reflection

From both a personal and a professional standpoint, it was a pleasure to be involved in organizing this meeting. On a personal level, it was a privilege to reconnect with the VCC group after several years, and it was exciting to begin to foster some dialogue around the importance of kastom and culture on Kolombangara. The VCC has been a regionally leading institution, and there would be much to be gained from further collaboration. From a professional standpoint, it is clear that the maintenance of knowledge and practice should form a key plank of ongoing efforts to support conservation work around the island. This work aligns well with other Kolombangara projects, including a push by KIBCA to seek national park status for the area above 400 m. The partnership with KIBCA was absolutely critical to the success of the meeting, and while there were challenges (for example, arranging logistics for Hunda, setting the agenda remotely, and the difficulties of scheduling across several different calendars), Vaghi and his team worked hard to make the meeting a success. I look forward to our working together to turn the discussions in the workshop into solid progress over the remainder of 2018 and 2019. 

Find more details of the project in the original report.

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An Almost Forgotten Legacy: Non-Aligned Yugoslavia in the United Nations and in the Making of Contemporary International Law

November 16, 2017
By 23904

Arno Trültzsch is a Sylff fellow from the University of Leipzig. He is working on a dissertation to explore the former Yugoslavia’s non-alignment policy and movement and its impact on international norms, including international laws and major UN resolutions for humanitarian and peace-building efforts, between 1948 and 1980. In this article, Trültzsch discusses the essence of his findings and arguments.



The title of my PhD project, “Non-Alignment Revisited: Yugoslavia’s Impact on International Law 1948–1980,” already indicates that the project is set on the crossroads of different disciplines and methods: global and local (i.e., Southeast European) history, international law, international relations, and intellectual history. My starting point was the rather well-known fact that, after its dismissal from the socialist camp in 1948, Yugoslavia became one of the instigators, main drivers, and pioneers of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement. Research on this global phenomenon of the second half of the twentieth century is still scarce and scattered along single issues, such as decolonization, economic history, and postcolonial topics. General accounts of non-alignment are either contemporary assessments from the 1960s to 1980s or standout research endeavors done in recent years.[1]

I want to contribute to this strain of research with a study of Yugoslavia’s role and impact on international law through its non-aligned policies. I therefore focus on the historicity of international law and its doctrines as expressions of specific social and political contexts, tied together by the discipline’s normativity and claim to provide a universal set of rules to international problems. I have drawn on important thinkers like Martti Koskenniemi, Bhupinder Chimni, and Hersch Lauterpacht. I also address (early) Marxist and Soviet theories of international law, as both are crucial for understanding the Yugoslav socialist perspective on international affairs and their law.

Yugoslavia and the Non-Aligned Movement

Commemorative poster for the first conference of non-aligned states held in Belgrade in 1961. Josip Broz Tito is fourth from right on the top row.

The Non-Aligned Movement first started as a loose dialogue platform and public forum of diverse smaller countries, especially former colonies from the Global South (Africa, Asia, and later also Latin America), who wanted to raise their voices against global inequalities and injustices and the ongoing nuclear arms race in the Cold War. Hence the name “non-alignment,” coined by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to describe the country’s independent foreign policy outside the forming camps of the northern hemisphere—the United States and its allies versus Soviet Union and its satellites.

After 1948, Yugoslavia was mostly isolated in a divided Europe, so the Yugoslavs looked for new allies, which they found among former colonies and mandate territories that had just gained their independence. During the 1950s and 1960s, therefore, Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito engaged in lengthy travels around the globe to build personal alliances with the leaders of these “new” countries. Tito’s personal diplomacy was widely publicized and praised, gaining Yugoslavia worldwide prestige. After an overture in 1956, during which he built a personal alliance with Prime Minister Nehru of India and President Nasser of Egypt, the first conference of the non-aligned countries was held in Yugoslavia’s capital of Belgrade in 1961.

Besides this high-level public diplomacy, Yugoslavia sought to strengthen the United Nations’ system for solving international conflicts, particularly through binding norms of international law, mostly to secure its delicate position in a divided Europe and globe. To that end, Yugoslav protagonists initiated an increasing number of draft resolutions within the organs of the United Nations, together with their new non-aligned partners—especially India and Egypt. Although many of these moves were connected with the complexities of Yugoslav foreign policy, they deserve thorough analysis and reassessment.

Evaluating the Legacy

Milan Šahović, a legal expert of the Yugoslav delegation, speaking at the Fifth and Sixth Committees on legal matters of the UN General Assembly. 

I am about to explore and question whether these initiatives contributed to an increasing legal certainty in international affairs and how they fitted Yugoslav foreign policy interests, especially in the controversial fields of human rights, peace and security, state responsibility, and disarmament. All these issues were discussed and redefined in the course of the Cold War, during which the non-aligned sought to be a “third” option of independent but cooperating countries outside the political camps and military alliances epitomized by the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In this vein, I am examining and evaluating specific Yugoslav approaches to and interpretations of international law, focusing on the triad of political actors, legal experts, and diplomacy. I combine this actor-based approach with the analysis of foreign policy documents—especially diplomatic correspondence and political reports between Belgrade and the UN delegations—and the critical examination of Yugoslav publications on international law. Another group of important sources are Yugoslav textbooks and studies dealing with different aspects and doctrines of international law and the UN system.

Likewise, a set of ideological and political treatises on non-alignment and Yugoslav socialism have caught my attention, as I try to highlight the connection between Yugoslav socialist ideology, legal expertise, and foreign policy initiatives in the United Nations. After 1948, Yugoslavia remained a socialist country (much to the surprise of the West) but outside the Soviet camp, soon developing a particular socioeconomic system and variant of Marxist ideology called “worker’s self-management,” which Yugoslav foreign policy even tried to popularize in some non-aligned developing countries, though to little avail.

Many of the pushes for a further juridification[2] of international relations did not necessarily result in so-called “hard” or codified international law. But I argue that these ideas still had a wider impact both on Yugoslavia’s international and self-image, especially in legitimating the authoritarian rule of its leader Josip Broz Tito and the League of Communists (the ruling party), and on the inner dynamics of the Non-Aligned Movement until the early 1980s. In my further research and writing process, I want to delineate whether these “image politics” were the primary purpose of Yugoslavia’s UN activities, or if they really had a tangible impact on international law.

I have therefore analyzed archive materials from the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which still keeps the Yugoslav records) and the Historical Archives of Yugoslavia, both of which are in Belgrade, for the period from 1948 to 1980. In the textbooks and in the archive files, I was able to specify a number of significant UN initiatives and their wider impact. Among these are important contributions for defining acts of aggression against other states that resulted in General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) in 1974 and the codification and elaboration of diplomatic and consular intercourse, leading to the 1964 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Law. Furthermore, Yugoslavia helped establish a general Magna Carta of international legal conduct in line with the political doctrine of “active peaceful coexistence”: the Friendly Relations Declaration of 1970, or Resolution 2625 (XXV). Likewise significant are Yugoslav drafts on counterterrorism measures (specifically, aircraft hijacking and protection of diplomats), leading to important conventions in 1972 and 1973.

Drawing on legal language, while seeking political solutions, Yugoslav UN diplomats and law experts repeatedly requested serious steps on disarmament, calling for a halt to the nuclear arms race, and supported the decolonization process as well as providing direct support for various postcolonial liberation movements, such as those in Algeria, Palestine, and South Africa. These actions led to the criminalization of apartheid and racism under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (adopted in 1965, entered into force in 1969) and the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973 and 1976). In the disarmament debate, meanwhile, only single issues could be tackled, and Yugoslav experts codrafted the conventions on prohibiting biological and chemical weapons. The former was opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975, while the latter reached these milestones in 1992 and 1993, respectively.

On the European scale, Yugoslav politicians, together with their colleagues from neutral Finland and Austria, mediated between the power blocs to establish a dialogue on peace, disarmament, and civil rights—the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Belgrade was the host city of the second summit in 1977. The Yugoslav drafts on national minority protection were incorporated into the CSCE framework and are still valid for the CSCE’s successor organization, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Minority rights were also an important field of action in the United Nations, but without the impact that Yugoslav proposals and concepts had on a European scale. Altogether, the country’s openness and affirmation of human rights stood in contrast to the country’s record at home; human rights were nominally intact but were focused on social and workers’ rights, and Yugoslav citizens could not enjoy the civil rights and freedoms that their country had officially recognized on an international scale.

While Yugoslavia is today remembered largely for the wars that resulted from the country’s dissolution eventually into seven states (if one counts Kosovo), which led to new legal problems on an international scale, the contribution of this socialist, non-aligned country to international matters and their law is largely forgotten—often even inside the successor states. I am about to change that, pending the completion of my dissertation (in German) hopefully by next year.


Further reading

For general information on and English abstracts and presentations by the author, see: https://uni-leipzig.academia.edu/ArnoTrultzsch

Trültzsch, Arno. “Blockfreiheit und Sozialismus: der Beitrag Jugoslawiens zur Völkerrechtsentwicklung nach 1945.” Die Friedens-Warte: Journal of International Peace and Organization 90, no. 1/2 (December 2015): 161–88. (in German)

———. “Völkerrecht und Sozialismus: Sowjetische versus jugoslawische Perspektiven.” In Leipziger Zugänge zur rechtlichen, politischen und kulturellen Verflechtungsgeschichte Ostmitteleuropas, edited by Dietmar Müller and Adamantios Skordos, 1st ed., 83–104. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2014. (in German)

Arnold, Guy. The A to Z of the Non-Aligned Movement and Third World. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2010.

Kilibarda, Konstantin. “Non-Aligned Geographies in the Balkans: Space, Race and Image in the Construction of New ‘European’ Foreign Policies.” In Security Beyond the Discipline: Emerging Dialogues on Global Politics—Selected Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual Conference of the York Centre for International and Security Studies, 27–57. York: York Centre for International and Security Studies, York University, 2010.

Kullaa, Rinna. Non-Alignment and Its Origins in Cold War Europe: Yugoslavia, Finland and the Soviet Challenge. London: I.B. Tauris, 2012.

Mišković, Nataša, Harald Fischer-Tiné, and Nada Boškovska, eds. The Non-Aligned Movement and the Cold War: Delhi–Bandung–Belgrade. London, New York: Routledge, 2014.

[1] Significant recent publications on the general history of the Non-Aligned are: Jürgen Dinkel, Die Bewegung Bündnisfreier Staaten: Genese, Organisation und Politik (1927–1992), first ed. (München: DeGruyter Oldenbourg, 2015) (in German); Nataša Mišković, Harald Fischer-Tiné, and Nada Boškovska, eds., The Non-Aligned Movement and the Cold War: Delhi–Bandung–Belgrade (London, New York: Routledge, 2014); Guy Arnold, The A to Z of the Non-Aligned Movement and Third World (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2010); and, with a focus on Finland and Yugoslavia during the 1950s, Rinna Kullaa, Non-Alignment and Its Origins in Cold War Europe: Yugoslavia, Finland and the Soviet Challenge (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012).

[2] Juridification: turning moral ideas and political demands into written law; a wider term for codification, which more narrowly describes the written consolidation of laws that have formed out of custom or sheer practice, particularly in international affairs between two or more states.

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Jewish Religious Life in the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic

July 28, 2017
By 19815

Karina Barkane, a 2014 Sylff fellow from the University of Latvia, visited the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in the United States to reveal unexplored aspects of Jewish religious life in the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (1944–90) using an SRA award. In this article she describes the challenge of preserving Jewish religious and cultural identity under the Soviet regime in the historical context of secularization and assimilation.

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My interest in Jewish history was sparked by my grandfather, who told me many fascinating stories about the Jewish people and their religion. I was captivated by its temporal and spatial breadth. Since its inception over several thousand years ago, Jewish religion has been influenced by other cultures. With a remarkable ability to adapt to changing circumstances, the Jewish people and religion have overcome persecution and flourished over the centuries, integrating cultural assumptions of the neighboring communities into their own social and religious systems and preserving a distinct identity. 

A prayer service in the synagogue in Riga during Soviet times. Photo: The Ghetto Fighters' House Archives.

Growing assimilation and integration with surrounding cultures have given rise to the fundamental question: What does it mean to be a Jew? Is it a religious identity, ethnic identity, or a combination of the two? Moreover, as Judaism encompasses a way of life, wherein the religious element cannot be completely separated from the secular, the issue is made that much more complex and remains open to the present day.

Jews in Latvia

Diversity has also characterized the history of the Jewish community in Latvia. Jews who immigrated to Latvia came from different regions. The first Jews came from Prussia and settled in Courland (western Latvia) at the end of the sixteenth century. They were well-educated and influenced by German culture. Meanwhile, Jews in Latgale (eastern Latvia) first appeared in the mid-seventeenth century and were closer to the traditional Lithuanian and Russian Jewish communities. They were less educated than the Courland Jews but more strictly observed religion.

By the end of the nineteenth century Jews comprised a substantial part of Latvia’s population. In some cities they accounted for around half of the entire population: 69.6% of the population in Jaunjelgava, 59.4% in Bauska, 54.5% in Ludza, 54.0% in Rēzekne, and 49.0% in Valdemārpils.[1] The majority of the synagogues in Latvia, which had a number of outstanding rabbis, were built during this period.

After the establishment of the independent Republic of Latvia (1918–40), Jews in Latvia were granted all the rights of citizenship and could freely express and develop their religion and identity. There numbered more than 200 Jewish religious communities formed by socially diverse people, from prominent manufacturers to ordinary craftsmen.

Fundamental changes occurred over the years, however. These changes were connected not only with the Holocaust but also with the shifting power structure. In 1944 Latvia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. The Communist Party secured its monopoly on all spheres of public life and sought to transform society. This affected the cultural and social roles that Jews could play in Latvia and had a tremendous impact on Jewish religious life.

My Doctoral Dissertation Research

My doctoral dissertation is devoted to the challenging question of preserving Jewish religious identity under the Soviet regime in the context of secularization and assimilation. As the majority of studies on Jews in Latvia look at the period until the middle of the twentieth century, with the Holocaust as an end point, almost no research has been carried out on the issue to this day and the history of Jews and Judaism during the Soviet era remains a blank page in the history of Latvia. Scientific publications on this topic cover only particular aspects and periods—primarily the issue of anti-Semitism and the Jews’ struggle for the right to emigrate from the USSR—and are scattered across different journals and books that are focused on broader topics.

The main aim of the dissertation is to conduct an in-depth study on Jewish religious life in the Latvian SSR (1944–90) after the Holocaust. Specifically, it seeks to reveal the ideology of and legislation by Soviet power, as well as the local authority’s attitude toward Jews and Judaism; analyze the activities of Jewish religious communities, focusing on their spiritual, social, and financial life; and characterize individual and family traditions among Jews during this period.

The preliminary results are summarized in the following sections.

The Soviet Attitude toward Judaism

The Soviet regime’s attitude toward Judaism was determined to a certain extent by its religious policy, which was based on the assumption that religion in all its forms is a harmful relic of the past that needs to disappear. The Soviet Union was the first country in the twentieth century to commit to an antireligious policy from its very inception; yet, paradoxically, the religious communities maintained their legal status, albeit under constant pressure.[2] The state used a vast apparatus of education, propaganda, and repression to implement a fundamentally antireligious doctrine. Over the years this was adjusted according to the overall social and political context, including development of the state and international relations.

Due to the strong connection between Jewish religion and nationality, which dictates that the only ethnic group practicing Judaism is the Jews, Soviet policies that affected the Jewish religion ipso facto affected the Jews and vice versa.[3]

According to the framework of Soviet policy on nationality, Jews did not conform to the “scientific” Marxist-Leninist definition of a nation and were targeted for assimilation into the dominant nation. For this reason, the existence of a “Jewish question” in the USSR was denied throughout the Soviet era, even though it perpetually stood at the center of public discussion.[4] Soviet authorities did not permit the creation of Jewish educational and cultural institutions. Jews were deprived of even the minimal cultural autonomy: there were no Jewish schools, newspapers, or theaters, for instance. During the so-called campaign against cosmopolitanism[5] of 1949–53, moreover, a number of local Jewish intellectuals were arrested and accused of bourgeois nationalism.

Under these circumstances Jewish religious communities, as the only legitimate organs of Jewish autonomy, came to primarily and, in fact, single-during this period. Even so, all of their activities were dependent on Soviet power. They were constrained by the operations of the Representative of the Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults[6] (which were carried out strictly within the politics of the CARC chairman) and by the local authority’s attitude, as well as by antireligious propaganda, which was widely disseminated throughout society.

Jewish Religious Life

By April 1949, when the process of registering religious communities was completed,[7] seven Jewish religious communities were officially registered in the Latvian SSR.[8] Of these seven communities, three were subsequently closed by authorities due to Soviet policy.

Individuals who were familiar with Jewish religious customs and agreed to undertake leadership roles were essential to keeping the spirit of the communities alive, as there was a severe shortage of rabbis owing to the Holocaust and Soviet restrictions in rabbinic ordination. Because of their substantial role, however, authorities repressed these individuals in a variety of ways: economic repression, so-called individual work, arrests, and so forth.

Maintaining a religious lifestyle was extremely difficult under the antireligious and anti-Semitic policies. The authorities tended to restrict the obtaining of ritual objects and the provision of kosher meat; attending the synagogue on Jewish holidays, when everyone was obligated to work, could call into question one’s loyalty to the regime and trigger a confrontation with authorities. Most Jews had to negotiate between integration into Soviet society and Jewish identity.

Despite the oppression, many Jews strived to preserve their ties with the synagogue and tradition—some of them directly and others disguising it. For instance, almost all religious rites, such as burials and circumcision, were practiced in secret relatively broadly among the Jewish population, even by Jews who distanced themselves from religion.

Synagogue attendance was very high on Pesach, Simchat Torah (during which a significant proportion of visitors were youth), and High Holidays,  as well as on the regularly organized days to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.[9] In 1957, for instance, around 4,000 people attended the prayers on Yom Kippur in the Riga synagogue.[10] Even Jews who were members of the Communist Party and those from the cities, where no Jewish religious communities were reestablished, came to the nearest synagogue to celebrate these holidays.

Since legitimate ways to express Jewish identity had been so narrowed, for many Jews these ties with the synagogue were an opportunity to resolve their ambivalent status—they were highly acculturated but not assimilated and remained “Jews” socially and officially.[11] Many Jews expressed their ethnic identity by means of religious practice. The religious aspect of Jewish life thus underwent a radical transformation, increasingly moving away from normative Judaism and forming a new Jewish identity based on ethnicity.

In Closing

Rabbi Gershon Gurevitch , left, performing the chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) ceremony for Shlomo Lensky, late 80-'s. Photo: Riga synagogue, Peitav-shul (http://shul.lv).

 The SRA grant gave me an opportunity to conduct research at the YIVO Institute and expand the scope of historical sources for my doctoral dissertation. It allowed me to compare previously gathered sources on Soviet authorities with those from the other side of the Iron Curtain, created from different ideological viewpoints, not only revealing previously unknown or overlooked aspects but also posing many new questions for further research. I would like to greatly thank SRA for the invaluable support.

I hope that, in the long term, my research will go far beyond the local context, helping foster intercultural and interreligious understanding and encouraging sensitivity to the positions of minorities.



[1] Leo Dribins, Ebreji Latvijā [Jews in Latvia] (Rīga: Elpa, 2002), 43.

[2] Mordechai Altshuler, Religion and Jewish Identity in the Soviet Union, 1941–1964 (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2012), 1.

[3] Zvi Gitelman, “Jewish Nationality and Religion,” in Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and East European Politics, ed. Sabrina P. Ramet (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989), 59.

[4] Naomi Blank, “Redefining the Jewish Question from Lenin to Gorbachev: Terminology or Ideology?” in Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union, ed. Yaacov Ro’I, (Portland: Frank Cass, 1995), 53.

[5] Anticosmopolitan Campaign - was an anti-Semitic campaign in the Soviet Union. Cosmopolitans were Jewish intellectuals who were accused of expressing pro-Western feelings and lack of patriotism.

[6] The CARC, with representatives in the Union Republics, was established in 1944 to supervise the enforcement of Soviet legislation regarding religion and manage relations between the Soviet government and religious organizations.

[7] According to Soviet law, a religious group of believers could start its activities only after official registration with the CARC. The registration of a religious community involved many stages and prescriptions. Permission to organize a religious community was granted if the community had at least 20 persons (dvadtsatka), a prayer building, and a religious service provider (rabbi).

[8] State Archives of Latvia, coll. 1448, inv. 1, file 28, p. 3.

[9] Pesach is also known as Passover. Simchat Torah is the festival to celebrate and mark the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings. High Holidays refer to the two days of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

[10] State Archives of Latvia, coll. 1448, inv. 1, file 257, p. 87.

[11] Zvi Gitelman, A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 178.