Transnational Territorialization Processes and Economic Entanglements in Eastern and East Central Europe since World War II

Transnational Territorialization Processes and Economic Entanglements in Eastern and East Central Europe since World War II

MTA–SZTE–ELTE History of Globalization Research Group, Szeged/Budapest; Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO), Leipzig
Vom - Bis
11.10.2022 - 12.10.2022
Márton Simonkay, Faculty of Humanities, Eötvös Loránd Universität

Over the past 80 years, the global position of East-Central Europe has changed a lot, as illustrated by some international economic and territorialization trends. The first joint workshop of the GWZO in Leipzig and the Hungarian History of Globalization Research Group in Budapest summarized the latest research findings on this topic.

In recent years, researchers have examined the external relations of socialist Eastern Europe with new vigor, showing the continuity of the processes before and after the regime changes of 1989. According to recent interpretations[1], there was an attempt by the Soviet Union to build its own system, indicated by the terms “alternative globalization” and “socialist globalization”. BÉLA TOMKA (Szeged) revised this interpretation on the basis of four aspects: trade, capital, information flow, and migration. In his view, the pre-1989 processes do not call into question the significance of regime changes. Globalization in the Eastern Bloc has been fragmented, selective, and restrained, with little social impact, and interpretations of globalization outside the Western-centered world economy are invalid. The presentations at the workshop provided a good opportunity to test Tomka's claims. The lectures can be divided into three groups based on the spatial focus of the relations discussed: relations between the blocs, within the Eastern Bloc, and outside the blocs.

ZSOMBOR BÓDY (Budapest) examined the links between the Eastern and Western blocs. Through the example of the Hungarian National Technical Development Committee (1961−1989), he showed that the criterion of success of the Hungarian socialist economy was a success in the capitalist markets. MÁRIA HIDVÉGI (Budapest) presented that the competitiveness of the Hungarian electrical engineering company Tungram was ensured by the transfer of knowledge between the Western and Eastern Blocs. The capitalist components partly payed in socialist relations, but the know-how was mainly from the West: the capitalist market did not reward machinery development. UWE MÜLLER (Leipzig), analyzing the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance's cooperation in transport, pointed out that although a kind of cooperation has developed within the Eastern Bloc, trade with the West was more important for transport policy than vice versa. All three researchers highlighted the dependence of the Eastern Bloc on the capitalist world, through the examples of a corporate, a state, and a regional example. Nevertheless, these relationships radically changed during the regime changes. From the perspective of alternative globalization theory, the following question remained open: to what extent have these relationships affected the Eastern Bloc as a whole, and to what extent have these economies been globalized during the Cold War?

Speaking about the relations within the Eastern Bloc, and especially the relocation issues of the Bulgarian steel industry in the 1950s, JAN ZOFKA (Leipzig) highlighted that the creation of the CMEA and macroeconomic planning did not exclude national economic, pan-European, and global integration aspirations. A preceding and a subsequent process was interpreted by PÉTER NAGY (Budapest) and PAOLO ZUCCONI (Leipzig): Nagy presented one root of the planned economy, Taylorism, and Zucconi showed the impact of the economic links within the strong bloc to this day. He analyzed the history of Russian energy imports from the Visegrad countries and the dependency relations that still exist today. PÉTER BENCSIK (Szeged) also focused on the countries of the Eastern Bloc. However, he was the only speaker at the workshop focusing on a topic other than economic history. The conclusion of his presentation on the border regimes of Hungary and Czechoslovakia is that the Cold War saw the implementation of an Eastern-style territorialization focusing on limiting the country's own citizens, which not only restricted the possibilities of crossing the borders from East to West but also within the bloc. From the 1970s onwards, globalization led to a slow liberalization: Globalization itself as well as the reforms of the border regime were among the causes of the radical changes that took place in 1989. Extending Bencsik's conclusions to the Eastern Bloc, we can assume that the region lacked globalization in terms of migration during the Cold War. In the discussion following the lecture, the question was raised whether the expansion of the Soviet bloc's sphere of interest also spread the Eastern border regime opposing Western globalization, and if so, if this can be interpreted as the Soviets’ own attempt at globalization. Based on the widely accepted interpretation of globalization as a quantitative and qualitative expansion of relations, it cannot.

MAX TRECKER (Leipzig) gave an interesting example of relations outside the blocs: in India, a Soviet company that made a better offer than a Western one, built a steel plant with its Eastern European partners. According to Trecker, this not only shows the strength of East-South relations but also refutes the topos of the continuing decline and inflexibility of the planned economy. Contemporaries interpreted the Indian competition as a contest between the two blocs – as they did with many other things in the era. Although it could be an argument for the dichotomy of globalization, the case is far from clear: Competition between companies suggests that the rules of Western-style, capitalist globalization prevailed, even if there were political strands to the story. BENCE KOCSEV's (Budapest) lecture focused on the attempt by developing countries to transform the Western hegemonic world economy, and the reception of the New International Economic Order adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1974 in the Eastern Bloc. The CMEA left the discussion of this to the academic fora, perhaps because the implementation of the NIEO would have reduced the dependence of the Eastern Bloc states on the Soviet Union. Since asymmetrical dependencies were the basis of both blocs’ economic relations, the NIEO could have served as an alternative model of globalization. From this point of view, it would be interesting to examine to what extent the Eastern Bloc saw itself as an alternative from a globalization perspective.

The conference had the merit of including both primary sources in many of the regions’ languages and interpretations of major processes, complemented by lively discussions. Although the title of the workshop suggested a balance between the topics of Economic Entanglements and Transnational Territorialization, the former predominated the presentations. Béla Tomka's introductory thesis on the economy and migration seemed to be confirmed: there was no successful alternative globalization. However, the presentations on inter-bloc relations, and particularly on East-South relations, showed that important new insights can be gained by looking at globalization processes from perspectives outside the West. Research could be expanded and further nuanced by including other (less measurable) aspects outside the economy, such as media or the environment. This is expected to take place at an upcoming workshop of the GWZO and the History of Globalization Research Group in Leipzig in June 2023. The workshop was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and Tempus Public Foundation (TKA). This report has been financially supported by the MTA–SZTE–ELTE History of Globalization Research Group (project number: 0322107).

Conference Overview:

Panel 1: Introduction

Béla Tomka (Szeged): Opening Remarks

Uwe Müller (Leipzig): The GWZO-Department “Entanglements and Globalization”: Objectives, Subject Areas, and Research Agenda

Márkus Keller (Budapest): The History of Globalization Research Group: Goals and Thematic Focal Points

Béla Tomka (Szeged): Globalization in East-Central Europe after the Second World War: Reconsidering Revisionism

Panel 2: Economic Development Strategies

Jan Zofka (Leipzig): Nation vs. Bloc: Spatial Conceptions in Early Cold War Socialist Industrialization Debates [and the Bulgarian Position in it]

Péter Nagy (Szeged/Budapest): Local Variation of a Global Practice – Ways of the Industrial Work Organization from the Beginnings until the Age of Socialism in Hungary

Bence Kocsev (Budapest): Socialist Development Economics and the Challenge of the New International Economic Order

Panel 3: Border Regimes, Infrastructures and Geopolitics

Péter Bencsik (Szeged): Border Regimes and Globalization: The Hungarian and Czechoslovak Cases

Uwe Müller (Leipzig): Sit on the Fence? Transnational Transport Policy in the CMEA between National Interests and Efforts to Expand Cross-block Transport Options

Paolo Zucconi (Leipzig): Energy Security in East Central Europe: The Different Interpretations of the Role of the Russian Gas

Panel 4: Technology Transfers and Business Strategies

Mária Hidvégi (Budapest): Industrial Development Between East and West: Protectionism and Access to Markets on the Example of Tungsram

Zsombor Bódy (Budapest): Socialist Response to Global Challenges: The Technological Import Strategy of the Kádár Regime

Max Trecker (Leipzig): Forging the Indian Steel Industry: How Soviet Designs Won the Day

[1] Besnik Pula, Globalization under and after Socialism: The Evolution of Transnational Capital in Central and Eastern Europe, Stanford, CA, 2018.; James Mark et al., 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe, Cambridge, UK, 2019.; James Mark et al. (eds.), Alternative Globalizations: Eastern Europe and the Postcolonial World, Bloomington, IN, 2020.; James Mark / Paul Betts (eds.), Socialism Goes Global: the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the Age of Decolonization, Oxford, UK, 2022.

Veröffentlicht am
Weitere Informationen
Land Veranstaltung
Sprache(n) der Konferenz
Sprache des Berichts