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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.

* * *

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:

https://www.sylff.org/news_voices/27360/ 

[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.

*     *     *

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.


* * *

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.

***

Introduction

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.

* * *

Introduction

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.

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The Arts in Crisis and their Survival in the Twenty First Century:
A View from Sociolinguistics

March 27, 2014
By 19604

Can the liberal arts maintain its value in society despite losing both popularity and funding to such practical disciplines as the sciences, engineering, and business administration? Christopher Lees, a Sylff fellow while at National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, offers steps that can be taken by arts scholars to maintain the relevance of their discipline in society, using examples from Greece and sociolinguistics.

* * *

Introduction

The author deilvering a speech at Sylff ceremony at the University of Athens

The author deilvering a speech at Sylff ceremony at the University of Athens

At last year’s anniversary marking Sylff’s 20-year presence at the University of Athens in Greece, I was given the opportunity to speak about the crisis the liberal arts face today in the context of the economic crisis. Ever increasingly, the arts are brushed to the sidelines, considered of secondary importance compared to the sciences, technology, and business studies. This is apparent the world over with numerous departments being merged, reduced, or even threatened with closure. In Greece too, the infamous and narrowly averted Athina Plan proposed by the Ministry of Education saw it fit to heap foreign language departments together so as to create one giant “Department of Foreign Languages,” apparently with no regard for the academic integrity and significance of each department’s work and research as a separate entity.

In part, this stance towards the arts and their subjects is borne out of today’s predominant philosophy that only visibly practical things are worth people’s time, money and investment. As far as degree courses are concerned, this is often translated to mean that students tend to select a course that they see to be directly linked to the job market. This perhaps explains the popularity of business management and finance-related courses, which, according to David Williams (n.d.), are the most popular among Greek students (but not only Greek students) pursuing postgraduate education.

While students themselves cannot be blamed for choosing a degree course that they envisage will provide them with good employment prospects, this devaluation of arts subjects runs the risk of creating a sense that they are simply not worth studying. I myself, as a former undergraduate student in the UK, was frequently met with bewildered expressions on the faces of those who learned of my intention to study foreign languages at university.

Furthermore, this ever increasing lack of appreciation for the arts also poses the threat of subjects not being given the funding they deserve to carry out important research projects, and this is something which is being increasingly felt on an international level, where students find it difficult to get scholarships, and academic staff face increasing hurdles in publishing their work.

Arts subjects cannot, however, be entirely absolved from blame in relation to the regard in which they are held in society. While a doctor may not need to convince society about the importance of medicine and medical research, and an economist may not need to validate his work by highlighting the significance of sound finance, the arts scholar needs to and should take it upon him- or herself to inform society of the relevance of his/her subject. Quite often, knowledge generated by the arts subjects is confined and recycled within the academic circles of universities, which in turn are often treated as monasteries of knowledge and, indeed, even referred to as not being “the real world.”

Arts subjects and their scholars should, therefore, make the extra effort to share the knowledge they generate with the wider circles of society so that they too may benefit from what these subjects have to teach and offer us. This, I believe, is a general principle by which universities should operate: not to exclude nonmembers of what sometimes resembles the academic elite but to involve them in the work being carried out and to show them how this work is relevant to our lives. In this article, I intend to show how the arts are relevant to society and how scholars may make their work more accessible. I shall do this from the perspective of my own field, sociolinguistics, and then show how the arts can be made more accessible to ordinary members of society.

Sociolinguistics and Society

The relationship between language and society is well documented in linguistics. Just as language reflects social structures, ideologies, and stances, so too does language have the ability to influence and shape society, its structures, and its perceptions (Dittmar 1976, Lucy 1992, Wardhaugh 1992). That is to say that, while the speakers of a language coin or adopt phrases to express themselves linguistically, these same linguistic expressions, through repeated contextualized instances of usage, subsequently contribute to the way speakers think and view the world around them, evidenced by the fact that many linguistic expressions, proverbs, and idioms are unique to specific languages and reflect and form the mentalities of their speakers. Consequently, it is possible for us to refer to the relationship between language and society as being a two-way one: society depends on language to express itself, and language depends on society in order to develop and lexically reflect social structures and values.

According to Kakridi-Ferrari (2005: 53), many sociolinguists feel the need to use their specialized knowledge in order to offer something of practical use to society. As such, one of the main aims of sociolinguistic scholarship is to highlight what language can show us about society, its issues and problems, and how this can then be applied for practical purposes in various areas, from solving issues of inequality and prejudice to better understanding social norms and improving education.

Linguistic sexism, for instance, is an example of how social inequality is mirrored and redistributed linguistically. Sociolinguistic researchers, especially during the US feminist movement of the 1970s, have attempted to highlight some of the features of language that undermine or even exclude the role of women in society. In inflected languages such as Greek, where gender is morphologically marked, this is a particularly problematic issue, especially apparent in nouns denoting professions, for which many still only use a masculine noun ending.

In addition to this, generic references to groups comprising more than one person also, by and large, use exclusively masculine noun endings, thus linguistically excluding women from many sectors of society and creating a sense of a need to adopt male values and practices imposed on them by society and reflected and redistributed linguistically (see Pavlidou 2002). Sociolinguistics is therefore in a position to use its findings to highlight aspects of how language demonstrates sexism in society and to attempt to suggest, at least from a linguistic point of view, how this may be resolved. Once this has been done, both findings and suggestions can be forwarded to the relevant government departments, who may in turn make changes to the existing legislation.

Another area of social inequality visible through language is that of racism. Van Dijk’s (1993) seminal study of how elite discourse, notably that of the press, constructs and disseminates racial prejudice, shows us both how language mirrors a society’s mindset and also how this is then negotiated and propagated though a process of social cognition, that is to say, repeated exposure to expressions of racial sentiment, which then becomes etched in the minds of speakers.

I myself have researched the ways in which Greek newspapers make use of intricate linguistic strategies so as, on the one hand, to represent what they view as mainstream Greek public opinion and, on the other, to fuel feelings of racial tension (Lees 2012). This latter instance serves as a very good example of how the two-way relationship between language and society can be viewed in action against the background of political change in Greece, where older perceptions are being constantly challenged, thus creating a dynamic mix of opinion represented in the language of the press.

As was the case for linguistic sexism, sociolinguistics can again here uncover the linguistic practices of journalists and raise awareness of how these may not always be as objective as one might be inclined to think but are directly related to political and social ideology. Again, by highlighting this, pressure can be brought to bear on the government of the day to make changes to policies concerning racism.

Another important area to which sociolinguistics can contribute is that of education. The foundations of how the social aspects of language interact with education were laid by Basil Bernstein (1971) and his theory of restricted and elaborated codes. Despite the criticism he received, Bernstein was the first to draw attention to the fact that a child’s success at school is directly linked to the linguistic interaction he or she engages in at home. The logical consequence of this is that those children who engage in linguistic interaction at home that closely resembles that of the language taught in schools will be in a better position to do well in education.

It is worth noting that there is often a marked difference between the language taught in schools and the varieties spoken in even a small local community. The emphasis in education should, therefore, be placed on assisting speakers of regional and social varieties to adapt to the standardized language used in schools for the purpose of education, while acknowledging and respecting language rights. This was clearly shown by Labov (1972) in his influential work on the language of the African American community, known then as BEV (Black English Vernacular) and now called African American Vernacular English (AAVE). He concluded that schools should not treat AAVE as substandard, as was often the case, thus placing its speakers at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to those who at home speak the standard form of English taught in schools, but as a distinct social variety of English with its own grammatical rules.

Due to the fact that sociolinguistics, by nature of its subject, is in a position to research and highlight social aspects of language and because language is a social phenomenon, its role in education is particularly crucial. Just as is the case with social prejudice reflected and propagated through language, so is there linguistic prejudice against language varieties. Sociolinguists can work with education policymakers to assure that—while a standard language form is necessary for education and indeed for communication purposes—regional and social varieties of a language are respected and even taught, especially when used by pupils.

A case in point is the research I am currently involved in regarding the language used by Greek teenagers on Facebook (Lees et al. 2014). Since computer mediated language practices have become an inseparable part of teenagers’ lives, and since these computer mediated language practices have their own unique features, we feel that they needed to be treated as a variety of Greek and incorporated into the school curriculum. This is not to say that computer mediated language practices should be taught as standard, merely that it can be used to increase pupils’ critical awareness of the social aspects of language and how, why, and in which contexts these differ from the language taught as standard in schools.

A group of Greek teenagers the author works with.

A group of Greek teenagers the author works with.

In sum, the role that sociolinguistics does and can play in society is apparent and the benefits clear. As previously noted, these benefits need not (and should not) be confined to within the walls of universities and research centers but practically applied to all areas of society where language has an impact. This will ensure that the values and significance of sociolinguistics are known on a much wider scale. The same logic can and, in my opinion, must be applied to all arts subjects so that they may regain some of the prestige and deference lost in the wake of the economic crisis and so that the notion that the arts are not practical subjects and, therefore, not worth investing in can be dismissed. In the next section, some ways in which this can be done are briefly outlined and discussed.

Bringing the Arts Home

There are several ways in which the significance of the arts can be shared with the wider community. For example, scholars may choose to write their research findings in popular newspapers and magazines. Quite different from an academic journal, such mediums allow the scholar to target a much wider audience with various interests. Of course, the style of writing and content must be simplified and even, perhaps, popularized. However, publishing through the popular media allows the scholar to present, discuss, and share their research with a variety of people, many of whom may not even know that fields like sociolinguistics exist, let alone what they do.

Aside from showcasing research, the arts scholar may also use the media of newspapers and magazines to highlight, even on a regular basis by means of a column, the relevance of their topic. For the sociolinguist, this could involve the social aspects of language, including anything from language minority issues to language policy and even street art and graffiti, much of which, especially in Greece, is of a highly political nature. Writing in newspapers and magazines also serves the purpose of dispelling many of the myths concerning language that are often written by nonlinguists who lack the appropriate background to offer academically informed opinions.

Another area in which the arts can be promoted is through the organization of talks in local communities. This can be done either through local community centers or local education authorities. Informal in nature, such talks provide a good opportunity for local community members to come together and learn of the work and research being carried out in any given field. As with the use of the media, talks also allow disadvantaged members of the community to participate in learning in ways that may have previously been inaccessible to them.

Depending on the research interests of the scholar, it may even be possible for local members of the community to actively participate in a research project. In terms of sociolinguistics, a valuable aspect of having community members participate in such projects is that it will enable them to better understand the value of their cultural and linguistic attributes, which in many cases are highly stigmatized.

Finally, another way in which the arts and their subjects can be shared with the local community is through reading groups and free seminars. More formal in nature compared with local talks, such groups generally target people with an academic interest in the field. They may be offered on a volunteer basis and could be integrated into a wider context of volunteer work to provide free education for disadvantaged members of the public or anyone with an interest in the areas discussed. Such groups have been recently introduced in Greece and have so far proved to be a great success.

In conclusion, the fate of the arts and the prestige and respect they deserve largely depends on what we, as scholars, make of them ourselves. It would seem apparent that knowledge and research carried out at universities around the world should be made more transparent and accessible to all members of society, rather than belonging to a select few, especially since such members are the ones who, more often than not, fund such research.

In this article, I have outlined several ways in which this can happen. As opposed to merely complaining about the diminishing regard for arts subjects, those of us in these disciplines should first ask ourselves why this is the case and what we can do both individually and collectively to reverse this trend.

References

Bernstein, Βasil. 1971. Class, Codes and Control (Vol. 1). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Dittmar, Norbert. 1976. Sociolinguistics. A Critical Survey of Theory and Application. London: E. Arnold.

Kakridi-Ferrari, Maria. 2005. Glossa kai koinoniko perivallon: Zitimata koinonioglossologias (A Meros) [Language and Social Environment: Issues in Sociolinguistics: Part 1]. Contribution 64: Parousia Journal. Athens.

Labov, William. 1972. Language in the Inner City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Lees, Christopher. 2012. Glossikos ratsismos: mia kritiki analisi arthron apo ellinikes efimerides. [Linguistic Racism: A Critical Analysis of Articles in Greek Newspapers]. Master’s thesis. University of Athens.

Lees, Christopher (In press: 2014) “Psifiakes glossikes praktikes kai topoi koinonikis diktiosis: mia proti parousiasi” [Digital Language Practices and Social Networking Sites: An Initial Presentation] Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Greek Linguistics. Rhodes: University of the Aegean.

Lucy, John. 1992. Language Diversity and Thought: A Reformation of the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pavlidou, Theodossia-Soula. 2002. “Glossa-Genos-Fylo: Provlimata, Anazitiseis kai Elliniki Glossa” [Language-Gender-Sex: Problems, Questions and Greek Language] in Pavlidou, T.S. (2002) (ed.) Glossa-Genos-Fylo [Language-Gender-Sex].15–64. Thessaloniki: Institute of Modern Greek Studies: Manolis Triantafillidis.

Van Dijk, Teun. 1993. Elite Discourse and Racism. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Wardhaugh, Ronald. 1992. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Williams, David. n.d. “Study Choice: A Look at the Most Popular Subjects for Greek Graduate Students.” Web article available at: http://www.look4studies.com/default.asp?pid=19&langID=1&nwid=249 (accessed on February 20, 2014).

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Narratives of “Change” and “Freedom” in Early Modern Almanacs

March 5, 2014
By 19679

One important source of information in examining the social history of the United States and Europe in the early modern era is the almanac. Using an SRA award, Kujtesë Bejtullahu, a Sylff fellow at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, explored the rich collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century almanacs at the American Antiquarian Society to undertake an in-depth study of how early modern society conceived of two precious and finite values—political freedom and the passage of time.

* * *

Time and politics are two basic categories of life. How do we think them together? How do different societies incorporate them into broader narratives of orientation in a changing world? This puzzles me intellectually, and in my dissertation, I explore the affinity between the notion of political liberty and the way in which modern societies think about their relations and change.

I am particularly intrigued with the revolutions of the late eighteenth century—specifically, the American and the French Revolutions—as two significant events in early modern history that witnessed a struggle to not only reconfigure political values and loyalties but also bring about a temporal reorientation through which such changes could better resonate. By the late eighteenth century, not only were political relations recalibrated and wrapped with the notion of “liberty” from various ends, but the political visions and institutional designs emerging from this realignment were also more boldly projected into the distant future, reaching into peoples, places, and times not present. Thus while the notion of political liberty took center stage, at stake was also the concept of change itself, namely, qualifying the ways in which societies and their social relations could change from the ways in which they could not.

To explore this double recalibration of political values and temporal expectations in socio-historic context, I turned to a medium that was particularly popular in early modern society: the almanac. With the support of the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (Sylff), the American Antiquarian Society, and the Library Company of Philadelphia, I examined if and how this transition was recorded, described, or contested in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century almanacs published in the New World.1

The Almanac

Bickerstaff’s New-England Almanack for 1783 (published by John Trumbull). With Britain close to recognizing American independence, this 1783 New England almanac marked the event by printing the Articles of Confederation. A few years later the Constitutional Convention was held to draft the US Constitution and found the United States of America. (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

Bickerstaff’s New-England Almanack for 1783 (published by John Trumbull). With Britain close to recognizing American independence, this 1783 New England almanac marked the event by printing the Articles of Confederation. A few years later the Constitutional Convention was held to draft the US Constitution and found the United States of America. (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

The early modern almanac has been described among others as a ”miniature encyclopedia,” a village library, or the iPhone of early America.2 It has been reported as being second only to the Bible in popularity and among the earliest works published following the invention of the printing press.3 While the late eighteenth century almanac was rarely without basic astral and meteorological information4 and a calendar to mark the passing of time and the “remarkable” days,5 it also contained information deemed useful or entertaining: medical and agricultural advice, proverbs, moral instruction through essays and anecdotes, excerpts from famous books, historical and geographical narratives, social satire, poetry, scientific articles and practical information, such as schedules of fairs, meetings of courts, and currency tables. The astral and practical information in the almanacs was no doubt important, yet some of the most popular, early modern almanacs were ones that included social commentary, political speculation, or entertainment.

The almanac, broadly speaking, was a miscellany, filling a variety of roles in a concise and affordable manner.6 But in another sense, it was a window onto a world of relations and how these varied and mattered for ordinary people. It helped instruct people on how to orient themselves in relation to nature and society, adjust to the changes taking place and live better7. It is not unusual to find among the surviving early modern almanacs people’s inscriptions of important events in their lives and changes in the environment8 or interleaved almanacs that also served as personal diaries.

The American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1843 (published by the American Anti-Slavery Society). Almanacs addressed such political questions as slavery, with most advocating its abolition and a few endorsing it. Through verse and imagery, the cover of this pre–Civil War almanac draws attention to the persistence of slavery in a country that had declared itself free and was portrayed as the ”cradle land of Liberty.” (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

The American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1843 (published by the American Anti-Slavery Society). Almanacs addressed such political questions as slavery, with most advocating its abolition and a few endorsing it. Through verse and imagery, the cover of this pre–Civil War almanac draws attention to the persistence of slavery in a country that had declared itself free and was portrayed as the ”cradle land of Liberty.” (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

Not surprisingly, then, early modern almanacs were sensitive to changes in politics and society, often advocating a particular view of politics and social values over others. During the American Revolution, almanacs began to carry more explicit political content such as political prefaces or engravings, politically charged verse, calendars marking critical political events or purposefully omitting previously celebrated historical dates,9 excerpts from political tracts and formal political documents, such as state constitutions, articles of confederation, or treaties.10 The almanac was similarly mobilized during the French Revolution. 11 Particularly keen at using the almanac propagandistically were the Jacobins, who in 1791 organized a contest for an almanac that would best instruct the people about the revolution. The winner, L'Almanach du Père Gérard—written by Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois,12 a revolutionary—became a bestseller.13 Moreover, many of the maxims that Benjamin Franklin popularized in his almanac Poor Richard (later compiled in The Way to Wealth) circulated on both sides of the Atlantic. Translated into French shortly before the French Revolution, La Science du Bonhomme Richard was often praised for its good mœurs and appeal to the common man, while revolutionaries like Jacques Pierre Brissot proclaimed, “Behold how Poor Richard and Franklin were always friends of the people.”14 If some of the French revolutionaries saw in Franklin’s almanac a philosophy for the people, well over a century later, Max Weber also turned to almanac wisdom to discuss the emergence of the spirit of capitalism.15

Time and Freedom as Finite Qualities

The Woman’s Rights Almanac for 1858 (published by Z. Baker & Co.). This nineteenth century almanac on women’s rights contains speeches, historical narratives, and statistics that speak to the efforts and struggles of what was later described as the “first wave of feminism.” (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

The Woman’s Rights Almanac for 1858 (published by Z. Baker & Co.). This nineteenth century almanac on women’s rights contains speeches, historical narratives, and statistics that speak to the efforts and struggles of what was later described as the “first wave of feminism.” (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

What is unique about the almanac is that it was also a finite medium, published annually in rather compact form and with a limited geographic reach as regards its astronomical calculations. Though it contained a miscellany of information, the late eighteenth century American almanac was still a circumscribed window onto the broader world and one offering a finite perspective on the ”good life”. At a basic level, what made life good were two gifts from God—time and freedom. These two were frequently invoked and highly valorized, but also described in finite terms: subject to loss when taken for granted or not vigilantly guarded. As a gift in the form of life, time is irredeemable and can be made meaningful,16 while freedom is something that those who are virtuous can revive or safeguard from being lost.

Generally speaking, there is in many late-eighteenth-century American almanacs a distinct sensitivity to loss and an appreciation of finitude as not merely a condition of life but of the life worth living: the free life. This preoccupation with finitude in its political dimension—that, for example, the freedom acquired by republics is fragile, fugitive, and finite—becomes less noticeable by the early nineteenth century. Increasingly, freedom is projected in more futuristic terms and portrayed as being infinitely resilient under better, enduring laws (such as by being enshrined in the constitution) or with the advent of historical progress.17 As the American colonies declared themselves independent and changed the terms of their political association to constitute the United States, there also arose an eagerness to project their conception of freedom in much more expansive terms, spatial as well as temporal. In retrospect, the American Revolution may well have been the last moment when we thought freedom with finitude.

Early modern almanacs can shed some light on how through familiar notions of liberty and the republic, the articulation of a new experience of “political presence” was coupled with projections of a future in which societies and social relations would advance. This is partly revealed in the transformation of the medium itself. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the almanac began losing its general feel and became more specialized and theme oriented; by the late nineteenth century, it was becoming somewhat obsolete as other mediums—the clock, newspaper, and thematic books—gained new relevance for people’s temporal orientation and for keeping up to date with the faster-production of useful knowledge. It became necessary for people to take bearings more frequently and from a variety of sources, a phenomenon even more prevalent today, as it is ever more necessary to keep updating one’s skills and expectations.

Giving Finitude Political Expression

Annuaire Franҫais ou Manuel Du Colon, à l‘usage de Saint-Domingue pour l’An X [1801] (published by Port-Républicain). To mark their break from the ancien régime, the French revolutionaries instituted calendrical reforms that almanacs were compelled to adopt and promote. This almanac for the tenth year of the French Republic informs that the law of 23 Fructidor of year 6 forbids using the calendar of the old era and requires conformity with the law’s spirit, which is “to not leave any trace of the old yearbook”. Published for the colony of St. Domingo (now the Republic of Haiti), this almanac has a unique transatlantic revolutionary feel, recording the insurrections of slaves in the colony, celebrating the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, and printing the constitution of St. Domingo that he promulgated. Controversial and short-lived, this constitution was nevertheless an autonomous act that challenged French colonial policy, prompting Napoleon to secure the capture and deportation of L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture died in prison in Jura, France, in 1803, Haiti achieved its independence in 1804, and Napoleon revoked the French revolutionary calendar in 1806. (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

Annuaire Franҫais ou Manuel Du Colon, à l‘usage de Saint-Domingue pour l’An X [1801] (published by Port-Républicain). To mark their break from the ancien régime, the French revolutionaries instituted calendrical reforms that almanacs were compelled to adopt and promote. This almanac for the tenth year of the French Republic informs that the law of 23 Fructidor of year 6 forbids using the calendar of the old era and requires conformity with the law’s spirit, which is “to not leave any trace of the old yearbook”. Published for the colony of St. Domingo (now the Republic of Haiti), this almanac has a unique transatlantic revolutionary feel, recording the insurrections of slaves in the colony, celebrating the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, and printing the constitution of St. Domingo that he promulgated. Controversial and short-lived, this constitution was nevertheless an autonomous act that challenged French colonial policy, prompting Napoleon to secure the capture and deportation of L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture died in prison in Jura, France, in 1803, Haiti achieved its independence in 1804, and Napoleon revoked the French revolutionary calendar in 1806. (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

Insofar as the almanac helped people orient themselves and relate to changes in society and their surroundings by reminding them often of conditions of finitude, the story of how the medium became politicized in revolutionary times and later driven into obsolescence is revealing of how the very concept of change was, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, being transformed in ways that remain difficult to comprehend. While the tale of the almanac may be thought of as a story of outgrowing finitude through modern technology, the political aspect should not be overlooked. Seen in a revolutionary context, where ideas of how societies can and should change were being recast and when political freedom was increasingly projected as becoming more resilient, this tale is also one of how modern discourses on emancipation became much more concerned with the production of new and different futures than with giving finitude a more meaningful political form.

At a time when we have capabilities to produce conditions of finitude on a much more radical scale and at a much faster rate,18 it seems relevant to once again consider giving finitude meaningful political expression. As we are confronted with it in more intense, accelerated, and unpredictable forms, we nevertheless rarely consider that political freedom is not so much about the negation or overcoming of finitude but a more meaningful affirmation of it. We struggle, more generally, to articulate and experience “political presence” in an increasingly interdependent world, where different people and societies are drawn into relations but often in ways that they cannot be consciously and considerately be present for one another. Indeed, narratives of temporal differentiation—between the developed and developing, the advanced and lagging—and the governance of expectations of change can also obscure our very sense of contemporaneity and appreciation of what is, can, and must be shared and jointly preserved. It is my concern, in other words, that without engaging more meaningfully with the experience of finitude, contemporary international politics will continue to struggle to make relations between different others meaningful in finite time and to make finite time in relationships meaningful.

Given a dynamic and interdependent modern context that we describe as “international” or “global,” it seems relevant to imagine and recast the experience of “political presence” in a different analytical key, not merely scale. History provides no blueprints in this respect. Yet it seems helpful to convoke it for stimulating insight on how much of what is absent is remembered and projected as present and how much of what is or feels present our discourses still keep absent.


1Mostly almanacs from the American colonies and the United States, and some from Canada, Haiti, and Jamaica.
2 See Molly McCarthy, “Redeeming the Almanac: Learning to Appreciate the iPhone of Early America,” in Common-Place, Vol.11, No. 1 (October 2010).
3 Together with the printing of the Bible in Latin in the 1450s, Gutenberg also printed an almanac in 1457 in Mainz.
4 Such as eclipses, tides, lunations, weather prognostications, the influence of stars and planets, and the zodiac.
5 “Holy” days, historical events, etc.
6 See Marion Barber Stowell, Early American Almanacs: The Colonial Weekday Bible (New York: Burt Franklin & Company, 1977) ix; Bernard Capp, Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs 1500–1800, (London: Faber & Faber, 1979), 23; Louis K. Wechsler, The Common People of Colonial America As Glimpsed Through the Dusty Windows of the Old Almanacks, Chiefly of New-York (New York: Vantage Press, 1978).
7 See the preface to Geneviève Bollème, Les Almanachs Populaires aux XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles (Paris : Mouton & Com, 1969).
8 Births, deaths, marriages, wars, harvest failures, etc.
9 For example, marking events like the Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution and omitting coronations and birthdays of royalty.
10The French alliance of 1778, for example.
11 See Lise Andries, “Almanacs: Revolutionizing a traditional genre” in eds. Robert Darnton and Daniel Roche, Revolution in Print: the press in France 1775-1800 (University of California Press, 1989), 203-222
12 Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois participated in the Paris Commune and the National Convention of 1792, but is more commonly known for his involvement with the Committee for Public Safety, in particular the 1793 Reign of Terror in Lyon.
13 See Michel Biard, “L'Almanach du Père Gérard, un exemple de diffusion des idées jacobines,” Annales historiques de la Révolution française; No. 283 (1990) pp. 19-29.
14See Alfred Owen Aldridge, Franklin and His French Contemporaries (New York: NYU Press, 1957) 46.
15 See Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. T. Parsons (1930), Ch. 2.
16 Almanacs provided much instruction on temporal values and discipline, such as how to make the best use of time.
17 Or as Proudhon later articulated, “the theory of Progress is the railway of liberty.” See the Foreword to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, The Philosophy of Progress (1853).
18 Such as through nuclear weapons and environmental degradation.