Review written by Adrien Beauduin (PhD student, CEFRES)
The international conference on “Conservative Mobilisations in Central Eastern Europe in Transnational Perspective” took place on December 8-9, 2022 in Prague at the CEFRES. It was organised by Anemona Constantin (CEFRES / Charles University) and Valentin Behr (CNRS, Centre Européen de Sociologie et de Science Politique), in collaboration with the Institute of Political Studies (Charles University), the Research Group “Connaissance de l’Europe médiane”, and the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research – PARCECO Programme.
The conference aimed to explore conservative mobilisations in Central Eastern Europe and understand how they are taking shape in a transnational context, involving not only the region but also other parts of the world. The focus was on how conservative actors mobilise across borders, through different means, such as networks, symbols, ideas, technology and law, and how they contest the liberal order that emerged after the fall of communism. The conference brought together scholars from various fields, such as political science, sociology, history, philosophy and cultural studies, to discuss the different forms of conservative mobilisation, their goals, and the challenges they pose for democratic institutions and human rights.
The transnational circulation of ideas
The conference was opened by a panel looking at the role of right-wing intellectuals in the circulation of ideas across borders. Alihan Mestci (EHESS) started by looking into the emergence of the confrontation between cultural and political power in Turkey. Mestci examined the network of conservative intellectuals who provided the current Turkish regime with an ideological production and counter-cultural program. The paper aimed to investigate the constitution of this network of these intellectuals at the national level through a prosopographical investigation.
The second paper by Anemona Constantin (CEFRES / IPS, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University) examined how conservative intellectuals mobilise. Based on fieldwork observation and interviews with several Romanian and Central Eastern European conservative intellectuals, her presentation analysed the ideological bases of these transnational mobilisations. Constantin argued that while the movement is divided in its views of conservatism, it is united in the rejection of the ‘woke-ism’. The presentation reflected upon the strategies developed by these actors to create an intellectual, expertise-oriented, conservative community and to influence public policies at both national and international levels in Europe and the United States.
Mobilising in intermediate spaces
The second panel of the conference focused on conservative mobilisation registers and intermediate spaces. Marie-Hélène Sa Vilas-Boas (CREDA, IHEAL / ERMES – Côte d’Azur University) started with a paper on the repertoires of political action and contention among intellectuals and activists in Latin America.
Aurélie Stern (CETOBaC, EHESS / Galatasaray University) followed with a presentation based on a sociological and ethnographic study of the Great Kurultaj or Macar Turan Kurultayı festival held every two years in Bugac, Hungary. She examined how the festival functions as an intermediate space for the circulation of conservative ideas at a transnational level and for the sharing of a common identity between Muslims and Christians known as “Turanism.” Stern showed that the festival is a space for the construction of a transnational conservative identity that is not European, but rather an alliance between Hungary and some Turkic-speaking states, where religious differences are resolved through neo-pagan shamanism.
Finally, Adrien Nonjon’s (CREE, INALCO) focused on the “promethean” movements of Sinine Äratus (Blue Awakening), Austošā Saule (Dawn), and Kryptis (the Way) in the Baltic States. He analysed the characteristics of these movements and their relationship with political parties, as well as their use of technology in their discourse. Nonjon argued that technology is an additional discursive opportunity that can act as a powerful regional linkage factor. He described the way their networks are organised and their goals in using technology as a tool for conservative renewal in the Baltic region.
Late socialism and illiberal post-communism in perspective
In this panel adopting a more historical perspective, Michal Kopeček (Czech Academy of Sciences) explored the rise of illiberal populist regimes in Eastern Europe and its roots in the post-1989 liberal transition project. Kopeček argued that the post-communist transformation was launched on the belief in the democratic Rechtsstaat and loyalty to the politics of liberal constitutionalism. However, today’s illiberal backlash is most evident in its assault on some of the salient features of the post-1989 constitutional architecture. Kopeček looked inside the post-communist political compromise through the prism of the rule of law and outlined the contours and limits of the liberal-conservative compromise in the rule of law in the first decade after the fall of communism.
Focusing on the transformations of Central European anti-Communism after 1989, Laure Neumayer (Picardie University “Jules Verne”) argued that anti-communism has remained a “flexible label” encompassing widely diverging interests and groups supported by varying degrees of public funding and state patronage. Some of these organisations successfully adapted to the new geopolitical context after the Cold War. Neumayer identified three mutually reinforcing trends of post-1989 anticommunist activism: its role as a driving force of political competition, its institutionalisation in the form of memory policies, and its increased transnationalisation and organisation at the European level.
Jérôme Heurtaux’s (Paris-Dauphine University) presentation examined left-wing historians and activists’ re-reading of the communist past in Poland. Heurtaux argued that the communist past is subject to intense political contestation in Poland, with the ruling party promoting a particular narrative of the communist era as a time of totalitarianism, while left-wing historians and activists seek to challenge this narrative. Heurtaux analysed the challenges that the left faces in reinterpreting the communist past in a way that resonates with contemporary political debates while avoiding accusations of historical revisionism.
Grassroots Mobilisations in Poland and Czechia
The second day of the conference started with a panel on civil society and grassroots mobilisations in Poland and the Czech Republic. Marcin Ślarzyński’s (Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences) presentation examined the evolution of local political rituals carried out by right-wing civil associations in Poland between 2005 and 2022, specifically the civil clubs linked to the conservative newspaper Gazeta Polska. He analysed the symbolic communication engaged in by club members and local elite actors in establishing public rituals in their respective localities. He explored whether the rituals of rebellion transformed into the rituals of power after 2015, the year in which the United Right, a right-wing electoral coalition supported by the clubs, won presidential and parliamentary elections. He concluded that the post-2015 rituals were still rebellious, without many changes to their content, providing context to the fact that the ruling right-wing coalition in Poland, similar to many other illiberal political actors, acts as being under siege while in power.
Adrien Beauduin’s (CEFRES / Central European University) presentation focused on the ways the Czech far-right political party Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) positioned itself towards the Global West. The text argues that the political project of the SPD involves challenging the post-89 imitation of the Western model, which it sees as a flawed model to be replaced with alternative ideas. To do this, the SPD draws on a variety of sources, including mainstream and alternative Western institutions of knowledge, as well as non-Western voices challenging the liberal democratic model, like Viktor Orbán, Jarosław Kaczyński and even Vladimir Putin. By subverting the existing West-East hierarchy of knowledge and authority, the SPD is both challenging and undermining the intellectual authority and the socio-political structure of the liberal democratic project.
Legal and moral orders
The fifth and last panel of the conference focused on the intersection of legal order, moral order, and illiberal identities within the conservative realm. In the first presentation, Natasza Quelvennec (CESSP, Paris I University / CNRS / EHESS) examined several major players in the anti-gender movement in Central Eastern Europe. Quelvennec analysed the symbolic repertoires of action used by these players to advance their ideas in the production of gender norms.
The second presentation by Victor Hugo Ramirez-Garcia (LIPHA, Paris-Est Créteil University) discussed the conservative backlash against gender and sex education policies in several European national and transnational contexts. Ramirez-Garcia examined the responses of European institutions, such as the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament, in the legal, judicial, and educational fields. He also analysed documents on contentious sex education cases in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, and Hungary.
Finally, Paul Gradvohl (Paris 1 University) analysed the discourses on moral order associated with conservatisms in Central Europe, including communism. Gradvohl discussed the transnational and internal circulation of these discourses within “national” political ideologies, and the challenges faced by historians in analysing these circulations in Central Europe.