On October 18 and 19, the teams of two research projects supported by the European Research Council, “Non-Territorial Autonomy as Minority Protection in Europe: An Intellectual and Political History of a Travelling Idea, 1850–2000” (N-T-AUTONOMY) and “Negotiating Post-Imperial Transitions” (NEPOSTRANS), came together for a two-day workshop hosted by the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary.
The N-T-AUTONOMY team, headed by Börries Kuzmany and based in the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) in Vienna, opened the workshop on the afternoon of the 18th, presenting to an audience that included NEPOSTRANS team members and CEU students and faculty. Kuzmany began by offering an overview of the concept of non-territorial autonomy itself before highlighting his team’s multifaceted approach to its “traveling idea” across space and time. Based upon notions of collective rights for minorities, while at the same time eschewing the demarcation of territory for different groups of people, non-territorial autonomy differed from notions of both individual and territorial autonomy. Tracing this idea from the mid-nineteenth century Habsburg Monarchy to interwar East-Central Europe and beyond, Kuzmany argued that non-territorial autonomy existed at once as a political theory and as a policy—one that was filled with different ideological content, depending on the context. Furthermore, as an idea that persists today in informing contemporary minority protection strategies, non-territorial autonomy represents a transnational object of historical research with real stakes.
Kuzmany’s introduction of non-territorial autonomy was followed by presentations on two of the case studies included in the project, both of which demonstrated the flexibility of the idea. Oskar Mulej offered the example of non-territorial autonomy’s appropriation by the far-right Sudeten German Party of Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, which used the concept to claim Sudeten “Germans” for their nation, and sought an “ethno-federalist” restructuring of the Czechoslovak state. Anna Adorjáni concluded the workshop’s first day by approached the shifting discourse on the idea through the Kingdom of Hungary, beginning from the ideas of Józef Eötvös on individuals and nations and arriving at plans for reforming the kingdom at the end of the First World War.
On the morning of October 19, the two research teams reconvened at CEU to continue the forum, with the N-T-AUTONOMY researchers once again leading off the discussion. Timo Aava presented first on the application of non-territorial autonomy in the Baltic states of the interwar period, with special attention given to the minority policies designed by the Estonian state in the 1920s. Matthias Battis, researching the “traveling idea” in the Soviet Union, concluded the N-T-AUTONOMY presentations by examining the shifting relationship of Lenin’s and Stalin’s thought on national autonomy to that of the Austromarxists.
With their roles reversed, the NEPOSTRANS team, headed by Gábor Egry and based in the Institute for Political History (PTI) in Budapest, introduced the questions and framework for their research to the group from Vienna. Egry began by describing how the project aimed to set a new narrative on the transition from empire to the successor states in the Habsburg realm that reflects the unclear division—both in theory and practice—between empire and nation state. By looking to everyday life and staying “local,” the goal is to achieve new insight on the transformation of state and society by reversing the typical top-down perspective. Through the comparison of nine different regions across the end of the First World War and into the interwar period, a further goal is to create a typology of transitional features, which can then help to understand state transition in general. Concluding, Egry noted that knowledge of a common legacy of transition in today’s former Habsburg successor states has the potential to contribute to a “Europeanization of memory” among the citizens of this wider region in general.
Egry’s overview of the themes and structure of NEPOSTRANS was followed by team members’ introducing their individual regions of study and research agendas. Cody J. Inglis presented the region of Southern Moravia-Northern Lower Austria, drawing attention to specific infrastructure and administrative considerations in drawing the Austrian-Czechoslovak border; Ivan Jeličić introduced the Croatian Littoral, analyzing the relationship of different localities to the region overall; and Christopher Wendt remarked on Northern Tyrol, and on the dual processes of social mobilization and state breakdown during the war. Jernej Kosi concluded the workshop by introducing the Prekmurje-Zala region, noting the considerable efforts to integrate it into the Slovene national space of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes after the war.
As both teams are still in the beginning stages of their research, the workshop presented a welcome opportunity to discuss research questions, exchange ideas, and lay the basis for collaboration in the future.