Postcolonial Studies in Central and Eastern Europe

Agnes GyorkeMCRn

The four participants will give 10-minute talks on the main issues the panel raises, exploring both academic questions and empirical evidence, which will be followed by an interactive roundtable discussion (moderated by Ágnes Györke) and a Q & A session involving the audience.

Postcolonial Histories and East-Central Europe (Ágnes Györke)

Ágnes GYÖRKE (Senior Lecturer, Institute of English Studies, Károli Gáspár University, Hungary)

‘Internal Colonies Within Europe’: Conceptualizations of Romani/Non-Romani Relations in a Postcolonial Theoretical Framework” (Árpád Bak)

Árpád BAK (PhD Candidate, Doctoral Program in Film, Media and Contemporary Culture, Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary, former Fellow at Central European University’s Romani Studies Programme)

Postcolonial Intertexts in Film and Literature: Ethnicizing the White East European Migrant (Tamás Juhász)

Tamás JUHÁSZ (Senior Lecturer, Institute of English Studies, Károli Gáspár University, Hungary)

Reading Postcolonial Texts in South African and Central European Universities (Kata Gyuris)

Kata GYURIS (PhD Candidate, School of English and American Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary) 

The main question our panel raises is whether the tools and concepts of postcolonial studies offer a productive theoretical framework to explore the cultures of Central and Eastern Europe. It will primarily focus on the practice of teaching postcolonial studies in Hungary and the applicability of a postcolonial theoretical framework to rethink the dissolution of Central and Eastern European empires and the regime change in 1989 (Györke), the situation of gipsy minorities and ethnic nationalism in the region (Bak) and literary and filmic representations of CEE migrants (Juhász). Kata Gyuris, apart from commenting on the relevance of a Central European approach to pivotal postcolonial literary works, will focus on her experience in South Africa as a PhD student and reflect on the diverse ways of reading postcolonial texts in different socio-political frameworks.

It is our contention that there are two major ways to approach Central and Eastern Europe as a postcolonial region: on the one hand, historical research on the Ottoman, Habsburg and Russian Empires and their legacies offer new approaches which rely on a postcolonial conceptual framework (Omer Bartov and Eric D. Weitz, 2013), while scholars working on literature, cultural studies and social policy argue for the need to rethink the postcommunist legacy of East-Central European countries from this specific angle (Natasa Kovacevic, 2008; Pucherova and Gafrik, 2015, etc). Indeed, relying on a postcolonial theoretical framework, East-Central Europe might be conceptualised as a “blind spot” of Westocentric conceptions of modernity as well as a peripheral region characterised both by an asymmetrical relationship with the West and the rise of conservative ideologies of the nation state. The surge of ethnic nationalism after the democratic transition in 1989 created a hostile environment for ethnic minorities. The most discriminated group in CEE is the Roma, which continues being the target of not only stereotypical representations, but also the subject of oppression at state, municipal and institutional levels. Recent years saw the use of postcolonial theory in discussions of representational strategies in culture and the arts (Junghaus, 2013; Kóczé, 2014, Kovács 2009), urban segregation (Picker, 2017) and the subaltern position of Romani women (Kóczé and Trehan, 2009). Although Loya (2011) and Hooker (2013) also turned to postcolonial thought regarding the hybridization of Hungarian and Romani music cultures, the concept of cultural hybridity remains to be explored in further contexts of Romani/non-Romani relations. Not only the power dynamic between minority and majority cultures in the region lends itself to postcolonial theoretical considerations: the case of white Eastern European migrants in the West is also a significant issue. Particular attention could be paid to the concept of “xeno-racism” (Sivanandan 2001), a new form of racism where low economic standing replaces ethnic difference, therefore impoverished white migrants, usually from East-Central Europe, become targets of prejudice and hostility in Western Europe and the United States. In addition, these phenomena can be revisited in the larger theoretical context of “whiteness studies” where not only whiteness in general is shown to have a history of its own, but where underprivileged East-Central European migrants are seen to possess a kind of “off-whiteness” and, as a result, are bound to be ethnicized (Henry & Tator, 2006, Myslinska, 2014). Cinematic and literary examples are cited from the UK and East-Central Europe including, but not limited to, the films of James Dizdar, Pawel Pawlowski and Szabolcs Hajdú, and the fiction of Kazuo Ishiguro, Monica Ali and Marina Lewycka.

By looking at historical interpretations, empirical evidence and theoretical considerations we find that students of Eastern and Central Europe and those cultivating postcolonial studies in the standard academic sense of the term often share similar concerns. As we hope to show, this approach allows fresh insights into the culture of the CEE region and offers new conceptualizations of the term “postcolonial” as well.


Sponsored by the Postcolonial Studies Association

Sun 1:00 pm - 2:15 pm