Authority and Medical Expertise: Health as a Social Good and Political Argument in Eastern Europe, Russia and Beyond

Authority and Medical Expertise: Health as a Social Good and Political Argument in Eastern Europe, Russia and Beyond

Herder-Institut Marburg, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteuropakunde
Vom - Bis
20.10.2021 - 21.10.2021
Heidi Hein-Kircher, Wissenschaftsforum, Herder-Institut für historische Ostmitteleuropaforschung - Institut der Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

International Historical Conference of the German Association for East European Studies in cooperation with the Herder-Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe and the German-Polish Society for the History of Medicine; October 20–21, 2021; Virtual Meeting; Registration:

Authority and Medical Expertise: Health as a Social Good and Political Argument in Eastern Europe, Russia and Beyond

Healers have always held privileged, sometimes prominent positions in human communities, just as it has always been one of the tasks of political leaders to protect the life and limb of their subjects. Medical expertise in the broadest sense can thus be defined as social capital, which in turn must be harnessed by rulers, especially in 'health crises', in order to maintain their legitimacy. This close relationship between rulership and medical expertise – however it may be recognized – has been clearly evident at least since the "Black Death" in the mid-14th century. The fight against epidemics has, in particular, become a political issue worldwide. In line with the authorization of university medicine in the modern era, a discourse began in Western and Central Europe around the "medical police" and the "medicus politicus," whose concepts and practices were adapted in Eastern Europe. Since numerous epidemics (plague, cholera, and not least corona) have been carried from the "East" to the "West," the Western and Central European view has, in turn, been shaped in a special way.

The COVID-19 pandemic – as an incentive for this conference - has not only refocused questions around the health of individuals, but it has also brought into focus the question of the public, and thus political, approach to health. We are currently experiencing for example the precarious difference between scientifically testing and politically licensing vaccines, and finally the acceptance of vaccination in general and special vaccines in particular in the population. The awareness of these issues has never been greater than it is now. From an historical perspective, however, the politization of health issues and of health expert knowledge does not seem unusual: Health issues have always been used as an important tool to legitimize rulers and have, therefore, tended to be politicized. In addition, health policy, for example, around the construction and support of hospitals and doctors, has also played an important role in domestic politics; these measures clarify the relationship of those in power to the population. What measures are taken for disease prevention? What supportive, social regulations are put in place?

In light of these exemplary questions, the aim of the conference is to provide the opportunity to discuss, with an historicizing perspective, the social relevance of health politics and the interdependencies between political authorities, agency and medical expertise in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as the neighbouring regions such as the Caucasus.


OCTOBER 20, 2021

12.30–12.45 pm
Heidi Hein-Kircher (Marburg): Welcome on Behalf of the Organizing Team
Fritz Dross (Erlangen-Nürnberg): Conceptualizing Authority and Medical Expertise

12.45–3.00 pm SECTION 1: Dynamics and Perception of Medical Knowledge Chair: Julia Malitska (Södertörn)

Janka Kovács (Budapest): Protecting the Individual and Society. The Pursuit of Appointing a Place for the Mentally Ill in the Habsburg Monarchy (1780–1830): The Case of Hungary

Vladan Hanulík (Pardubice): Construction of Medical Orientalism in 19th and 20th Century Czech Culture

1.30–1.40 pm Break

Stefan Schmidt (Fribourg): Medicine with Ethnography. L. Krzywicki’s and B. Pilsudski’s Discussions on Obstetrics in Late Partitioned Poland

Łukasz Mieszkowski (Warsaw): Violence and Epidemic in 1918–1922 Poland. An Attempt at Problematization


3.00–3.15 pm Break

3.15–5.45 pm SECTION 2: Knowledge and Politization of Women’s Health in SocialismChair: Heidi Hein-Kircher (Marburg)

Anastasiia Zaplatina (Bielefeld): “Herald of Venereology and Dermatology” in 1924–1953 as a Barometer of a Political Climate and Scientifi c Trends

Kateřina Lišková (Brno): Making Marriage Healthy or Equal? Political Authority and Expertise at the Time of Regime Change in Late 1940s Czechoslovakia

4.00–4.10 pm Break

Natalia Jarska (Warsaw): Marriage, Health, and Expertise. Debates on Compulsory Premarital Medical Examination in Postwar Poland (1940 – 1960s)

Andrea Bělehradová (Brno): Indestructible Venus and Vulnerable Man: Ageing Sexuality in Czechoslovak Expert Knowledge during State Socialism


5.45–7.00 pm KEYNOTE
Sven Opitz: Ecologies of Breath: Vital Atmospheres in Times of COVID-19

7.30 pm Meeting at (link will be sent in the conference chat)

OCTOBER 21, 2021

9.00–11.00 am SECTION 3: Instrumentalizing Medical Expertise in a Stalinist Style Chair: Julia Obertreis (Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Oksana Vynnyk (Alberta): Medical Practices during the Famine of 1932–33 in Soviet Ukraine

Mikhail Pogorelov (Moscow): Diagnosing 58-10: The Role of Forensic Psychiatric Expertise in the Stalinist Repressions

9.40–9.50 am Break

Pavel Vasilyev (St. Petersburg): Soviet Dreams of Rejuvenation: Stalinist Science in Search of a Miracle Drug Against Reproductive Ageing

Isaac McKean Scarborough (Liverpool): Kiev, 1972: The World Congress of Gerontology and Soviet Biomedical Messaging


11.00–11.15 pm Break

11.15 am–1.15 pm SECTION 4: Politizing Healthcare and Spreading of Medical Knowledge Chair: Fritz Dross (Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Markus Wahl (Stuttgart): Political Change, Predicaments, and Epidemics. Medical Expertise and Authority in Postwar East Germany

Viola Lászlófi (Budapest): Changing Political Norms of Healthcare in State Socialist Hungary: The Case of the ‘Medical Ethics Committees’

12.00–12.10 am Break

Ewelina Szpak (Warsaw): “When the Word ‘Cancer’ is Uttered, People Begin to Whisper”. Cancer Policy in Polish People’s Republic

Melanie Foik (Münster): Health Promotion and Ideological Education – The Ambivalent Role of Visiting Nurses in Stalinist Poland


1.15–1.45 pm Lunch Break

1.45–2.15 pm Irina Andryushchenko / Klaus Gestwa (Tübingen): Project Presentation Envirohealth: The Interplay of Environmental and Health Issues as a Threat for the Late Soviet Empire and as a Legacy for Post-Socialist Transformation

2.15–2.30 pm Break

2.30–4.30 pm SECTION 5: PROMOTING HEALTH Chair: Melanie Foik (Münster)

Illona Kappanyos (Budapest): Defending the Health of the People: The Role of Visiting Nurses in State Socialist Hungary

Ulrike Lang (Dresden): Stretching for Socialism: The Promotion of Modern Postural Yoga as a Preventive Health Practice in Poland, 1956–1981

Julia Obertreis (Erlangen): Smoking in Eastern Europe – Prevalence, Meanings, and Public Health Campaigns


4.30–4.45 pm Break

4.45–5.30 pm Final Discussion

Organizers:Fritz Dross (Erlangen-Nürnberg), Melanie Foik (Münster), Heidi Hein-Kircher (Marburg)

To receive the meeting link please send a mail to:


PD Dr. Heidi Hein-Kircher
Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe
Institute of the Leibnitz Association

Hanna Meisel
Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe
Institute of the Leibnitz Association