Thursday, February 14, 2019

Socialist Interpretations of Legal History in Soviet-Occupied Eastern Europe

[We have word of the following workshop.]  EuroStorie and Institut für Neuere Privatrechtsgeschichte, Deutsche und Rheinische Rechtsgeschichte are co-organizing "Socialist interpretations of legal history" workshop at the University of Cologne in March (22.-23.3.).

Socialist interpretations of legal history. The histories and historians of law and justice in the GDR, Poland and the Baltic states under the reign of communism

The aim of the workshop at hand is to concentrate on the interaction between historians and communist regimes, but rather than investigating the control exercised by the communist states, we focus on the position of legal historians and their representations of history. How did the historians see the recent past, and how did that affect their vision on the future? What elements remained from the era preceding communism, and with what means did the scholars find leeway between strict ideological preconditions and their scholarly identity?

After the Second World War, the Soviet occupied Eastern part of Germany, Poland and Baltic States all experienced – in a varying thoroughness – a drastic reorganization of higher education, which was purported to root socialist worldview to their respective academia. Consequently, in the following years also legal scholars advertised the anti-fascist, peaceable and democratizing characteristics of socialist law as an antidote to all what the western legal system supposedly encouraged and embodied.  At the same time western continental legal science concentrated on the long lines of legal history, constructing its view as an exact opposite to what started to take shape as the socialist legal science.

Rather than treating legal history and jurisprudence as mere political tools of the communist regimes, our workshop at hand focuses on the history of the scholarly representations of legal history and jurisprudence. We presume that writing the history of a community or a legal system left free space for scholars to express themselves as scientists, citizens and temporal subjects, even in communist regimes. Furthermore, we argue that this space for personal interpretation becomes evident in the works of the legal historians and legal scientists. 

The workshop is being arranged in a cooperation by the Centre of Excellence 'Law, Identity and the European Narratives'  at the University of Helsinki and The Institut für neuere Privatrechtsgeschichte, University of Cologne. The workshop attempts to bring together scholars and approaches from variety of disciplines and fields of study. Our confirmed key-note speakers are Michal Kopecek (Jena/Prague), Marianna Muravyeva (Helsinki) and Lauri Mälksoo (Tartu). In order to analyze the ‘socialist interpretations of legal history’ in different times and regions across the Eastern Central Europe and former USSR, our workshop concentrates on (but is not restricted to) the following characteristics of socialist legal science and historiography.

The Past, the Present and the Future in socialist legal history. What kind of narratives did the scholars reconstruct to their respected legal orders, or in general to European legal culture? How did they posit their narratives vis-à-vis the western story of European legal history, or which parts they rebuked in that narrative of the West? What were the foundational periods or agents in the socialist reconstructions and why so?

Concepts and tropes. Where there key-concepts, tropes and metaphors in socialist legal history, and if so, where they transnational in nature or did they remain as local inventions of a national legal discipline? By whom and when they were introduced?

The Networks and Schools in the jurisprudence of the GDR, Poland and Baltic states of the former USSR. How did the legal scholars of the former communist regimes organized themselves? Where there competing approaches to and paradigm shifts within the discipline of legal history?

Continuities and discontinuities in socialist legal historiography. In what ways did the legal historical scholarship “started from the scratch” after 1945, distinct from bourgeois worldview and previous historical narratives? What stayed over from the inter-war period and what was rejected? How the further change in political and social conditions of the communist regimes affected legal historiography?

If you have any questions, please contact Ville Erkkilä (