Bratislava, Slovakia, May 24–25, 2022. The submission deadline is Friday, March 1, 2022
4th annual conference of the ERC Nepostrans – Negotiating post-imperial transitions: from remobilization to nation-state consolidation. A comparative study of local and regional transitions in post-Habsburg East and Central Europe 1917-1930
When the political institutions, social ties, cultural traditions, and economic links of the Habsburg Empire were pulled apart at the end of the First World War, a change in the mental lives of its inhabitants also took place. When it became apparent that they would no longer live within Austria-Hungary, how did individuals think through the transition out of Empire and into whatever came after? Reflecting on one consequence of this historical rupture, the Hungarian economist Elémer Hantos wrote that
[t]he old world in the middle of Europe has disappeared. What has taken its place bears—easily recognizable—the stamp of the provisional, the unbalanced, and the unsatisfactory. But it is precisely this feeling of incompleteness which ought to inspire us to create new things, to prompt us to prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually (seelisch und geistig) for the work of reconstruction.
At first glance, one may date this text to the months and years immediately following the functional collapse of the Empire in late autumn 1918. But these words were rather published in 1933—part of the introduction to Hantos’s Der Weg zum neuen Mitteleuropa—in the middle of the democratic, fascist, and authoritarian experiments in statehood that were taking place across the former territories of the Habsburg Empire. Hantos envisioned a new economic unit in the middle of Europe, one founded on the Empire’s old economic ties, but without the revision of the region’s political boundaries to the pre-1918 status quo ante. It was an unrealized alternative, but fully informed by a sense that with the loss of the old order, something new—perhaps something more just—could take its place.
Newness in and of itself was not a guarantee of harmony in the international system, however, nor was it a promise of coexistence at home, in the localities distant from cosmopolitan metropolises. Visions of post-imperial social, political, and economic orders were myriad. Discourses of transition in post-Habsburg East Central Europe took numerous forms and reflected quite different interpretations of the dynamic changes that had taken place. The scale of these processes operated globally as much as they did within a single household. Indeed, the temporality of these processes mattered a great deal as well: a social change that had become inert at one level could well have remained in action within another spatial horizon.