The Inaugural Conference of the ERC NEPOSTRANS Project, Dedicated to the Key Theme: “The State”
Ljubljana, 1–3 July 2019
For program details, please see (below) the list of speakers and abstracts.
This conference is the first of an annual series to be held at different venues for the duration of the ERC NEPOSTRANS (Negotiating Post-Imperial Transitions) project, each dedicated to the subsequent key themes of the project (www.1918local.eu). The main goal of NEPOSTRANS is to analyze regional and local transitions from the Habsburg Monarchy to the successor states from a variety of perspectives. The first object of the project’s analysis is “the state,” namely how the state as such and the state’s relation to society changed during the First World War and throughout the following transition period, up to 1930.
While the state seems to be everywhere, it is—ironically—probably one of the most elusive concepts and phenomena. It is something that everyone knows, but only few attempt (or dare) to define. It is neither a single institution or structure, nor the people who operate it. It is certainly not merely the set of laws and legal rules that govern society. It is also not just a common endeavor of people who, living together, attempt to set the rules of their society. It is at once all and none of these. The state implies hierarchy—domination over the people it governs, no matter which method the state uses to generate the rules imposed on society.
Further, the state is inconceivable without sovereignty, understood as its ability to rule over a bounded territory and its inhabitants without involuntary external intervention and internal resistance from its population. Thus, the state, its geographic extent, and its inhabitants are inextricably bound together in an asymmetrical relationship—especially if one focuses on smaller groups or individuals. While democracy (on the ascent at the end of the First World War) postulates that ultimate sovereignty rests with “the people” conceived as an organic whole, it is evident that parts of the population of a state can lay no claim to this sovereignty. These groups are made vulnerable to the power and excesses of the state and can find safeguard from or remedy to this vulnerability only in the norms and institutions vested within the state. Yet, in the final analysis, these norms and institutions are themselves as exposed to change just as individuals are exposed to the state’s power.
However, this asymmetrical power relationship does not negate the possibility of individual influence or collective power against the state for many reasons. First and foremost, states are not abstract entities derived from an abstract consciousness with their own isolated and peculiar interests and will. Rather, states and their constituent institutions are managed and ruled by humans. States can be structured organisms, in which jurisdictions and powers are separated and layered, and politics are exercised at different levels and within different spheres. Finally, a state even nominally adhering to democratic politics—or even engaging in a process of “democratization”—implies that such a state cannot act arbitrarily, since it has to follow the will of the people represented in electoral processes. Still, “the will of the people” is a surprisingly ephemeral and vague notion that can allow for an influential minority to exert power over the activity of the state in the name of “the people” as a whole. All of these considerations have made and still make it possible for individuals and groups to engage with the state—sometimes directing it to their own ends, while at other times merely influencing it—from within and from without.
Even with these considerations, the blurry nature of the state does not make it easier to identify an appropriate focus for our project. Given the broader theme of transition and transformation, and the emphasis on state-society relations, the phenomenon of change is of crucial importance. Indeed, the analysis should take as its point of departure the (various) interfaces between state and society, where people, in often changing capacities, interact with the state. Primarily, it means a shift of focus to lower levels—that is, regional and local—where people most often encounter the state in their everyday experience, either actively or passively. This does not mean, however, that other aspects of the state (such as higher levels of government or state-wide politics) should be entirely neglected. Focusing on the regional and local levels of the state offers an intimate perspective without excluding what is otherwise relevant within the whole complex of the state.
Interactions are always acts—events involving the action and activity of humans. The individuals or groups participating in these interactions, either as representatives of the state or as those affected by it, perform an act or are exposed to an act’s consequences. It is especially critical to locate agency within the state and to identify the actors within it and their roles, as well as their relative importance, influence, and methods of exercising this agency, be it through representative or electoral politics, administrative rules and hierarchies, or through informal relations that transgress the “state-society” boundary.
By contrast, change—a defining feature of transformation and transition—is an overarching phenomenon affecting the state, impossible to limit to one aspect. Nevertheless, the local focus is applicable here too, since the outcomes of structural changes always have formal or informal local effects. But it is not advisable to reduce the inquiry merely to the perception of changes at the local level since the scope of NEPOSTRANS, at least in this regard, is broader and aimed at learning more about statehood itself through comparison with other cases. Therefore, identifying more general institutional reconfigurations in all spheres of the state is just as important as locating the changes in its concept (that is, its legitimizing idea) and politics.
Within NEPOSTRANS, we do not seek to prove that changes to the state, or even sweeping change, was a defining characteristic of the period under study. Rather, the nature of these changes and the local effects and aspects—its peculiarities—are the focus, and by concentrating on state-society relations the intention is to reveal how individuals and groups (and not the state) shaped the post-imperial transformation and transition.
With these considerations in mind, the conference therefore addresses three sets of questions about the state at the local level:
- Demarcations, Operations, and the Actions of the State
- Functions of the state. What did the state control, and how did it enforce its authority? (This is a question about the extent of the state, i.e., the difference between the quotidian administrative institutions and their duties/functions, the judicial institutions and their duties/functions; the channels for political leverage/grievance; the role of non-state actors as agents of the state; control of/interaction with/policing of civil society, and so on.)
- Structuring the state. What did the state do, and how was it structured before the war at a local-to-regional level? (Here, consider different, overlapping administrative boundaries: In Cisleithania, the difference and overlap between the Politischer Bezirk (administrative), Gerichtsbezirk (judicial), Gemeinde (municipality), Statutarstädte (e.g., Wien, Innsbruck, etc.), Diözese (“Diocese”; religious district), as well as higher levels of administration (e.g., Statthaltereien)). Then, consider the transition to new administrative districts in the successor states. Same institutions, boundaries?
- War and the state. How did the sphere of state control change during WWI and in the new states? (This includes military-civilian relations and occupation regimes.) How did the activities/structure of the state change during the war? (Conflict between civilian and military administration, rationing systems, military and civilian justice/judiciary practices, mobilization/demobilization.)
- Demarcating the state and policing its inhabitants. What was the function of borders and boundaries as means of control? How did these emerge and what role expertise and international observers played in the process? What did a border regulate? (Including citizenship and its practices.) What was the belt/border zone? Was it a transitory phenomenon or a more lasting one? How much was its existence sanctioned by the states and how much did it exist against their will?
- Succeeding the (previous) state. What did the “new” state do? How was it structured? By what means was it constituted? What happened to the existing legal system? Consider the impact of international treaties, especially those emerging from the Paris Peace Conference and the importance of often strong regional identities. What was the role of the various state-building “councils,” and what was their impact on state-formation and that new state’s interaction with society? What about “regional” national councils’ relations to their respective “centers”? Are the “councils” informal parts of the state, that state’s antecedents, or simply parallel institutions?
- Actors and agency within the state.
- Who was the state? To what extent was the state interlocked with society and its non-state institutions? (In terms of personnel, networks, symbolic roles of figures, etc.)
- The state as general will. How was the general will generated/fostered and transmitted, especially at local level? Was there a difference between the “local” and “general” will? How was that “will” formulated and expressed? Was it taken into consideration at all? Was that “will” reified? Was the “general will” insensitive to “local wills” and their variation from one another?
- State-society complex. How did society interact with the state? (Democratization, representation, and participation included.) Which strata of society interacted with the state the most, and on what terms? (Police arrests and penning a letter of grievance are two different, though possibly related, activities that touch upon the interactive space between state and society.)
- Experts and the state. What was the role of experts in mediating or negotiating between the state and society? Where did these experts come from (in demographic, geographic, but also socio-economic senses)? Where were they trained? What sorts of knowledge did they produce? Hypothetical: if a local government contracts, say, a local geologist or land surveyor, does that “expert” become part of the state, or remain wholly within society?
- Conflicts with/in the state. How did conflicts with the state emerge and how were these conflicts resolved? What were the official channels of communication and conflict resolution? Were there unofficial channels? What were the constraints in linguistic terms? And can we state how effectively these conflicts were resolved?
III. Abstract questions about the state.
- Unevenness of the state?
- How many administrative cultures existed and persisted?
- What was “imperial” and later “national” in these respective regions?
- Continuity and rupture regarding the above issues?
- What is “post-imperial” in concrete terms?
- What is “the national”?
Ulica Aškerčeva 2, 5th floor, Modra soba
Prof. Dr. Roman Kuhar, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, University of Ljubljana
Dr. Gábor Egry, PI ERC Nepostrans project
PD Dr. Heidi Hein-Kirchner
The Challenges of Double Transformations in East Central Europe and their Failure in Local and Regional Contexts – Eastern Galicia as an Example
Followed by a reception
Fascism as an anti-Habsburg Revolution: Crisis of the Rule of Law, Social Unrest and Political Violence in post-Habsburg Trieste (1918-1926)
Christopher Wendt (junior researcher, ERC Nepostrans, Institute of Political History Budapest)
From Empire to Umpire? Rebranding, Reshaping, and Repurposing the State in post-Habsburg (German-)Austrian Tyrol
Statelessness? International politics and local life in a German-Czech-Polish borderland in Upper Silesia 1918-1922
11:00 Coffee break
Elisabeth Haid (post-doctoral researcher ERC Nepostrans)
‘A Serious Lack of Discipline’ – Robberies and Abuse of Authority at the Polish-Romanian Border
Law and Order” or “Revolution”? Local Councils as an Instrument of the Post-1918 Transition in Upper Silesia, Cieszyn and the Orava County
Anikó Izsák (PhD student ELTE Budapest, junior researcher, ERC Nepostrans, Institute of Political History Budapest)
State, Society and Borders: What the New Borders of and within Maramures meant for local societies?
13:30 Lunch break
Continuity, Legitimacy, and Authority at the Local Level: The “New” State in Prague
Ivan Jeličić (post-doctoral researcher, ERC Nepostrans)
(Re)organizing the District: How Volosko-Opatija became Part of Italy
Károly Ignácz (research fellow, senior researcher, ERC Nepostrans, Institute of Political History Budapest)
The emergence through food supply of the “Outskirts of Budapest” as a new administrative district, 1916-1919
16:30 coffee break
Transition and Transformation: The French State and the Recovery of Alsace after the First World War
Brno on Its Way to Becoming the Second City of Czechoslovakia: The Multi-Ethnic Urban Society and the State-Building Process
Cody J. Inglis (junior researcher, ERC Nepostrans, Institute of Political History Budapest)
On the Relation between Borders and Infrastructure: The Problem of the Southern Moravian Frontier in the Treaty of Saint-Germain and After
A region in transition / a state in the making. The establishment of the state of Burgenland and its impact on the (Jewish) population
Jernej Kosi (post-doctoral researcher, ERC Nepostrans, University of Ljubljana)
The curious case of Prekmurje: Yugoslav nation state and the imposition of the imperial Austrian administrative regulations in the former Hungarian region
Veronika Szeghy-Gayer (National University of Public Service, Budapest)
Local trajectories of Czechoslovak state-building in small towns of Eastern Slovakia, 1918–1923
Fighting fire and drafting contracts: legal boundaries and practical hindrances of state building in the new Romania
Rok Stergar (associate professor, Head of Department, University of Ljubljana), Gábor Egry
Dr. Gábor Egry, ERC Nepostrans, Institute of Political History
Prof. Dr. Rok Stergar, University of Ljubljana
Dr. Jernej Kosi, ERC Nepostrans, University of Ljubljana
Dr. Nóra Hajdu, Institute of Political History
The organizers acknowledge the financial support from the Slovenian Research Agency (research core funding No. P6-0235 “Slovene History”)