Phantom borders and legal regionalism. The legal culture in post-imperial and post-national contexts in East Central Europe 1919 – 1945 – 1989

Phantom borders and legal regionalism. The legal culture in post-imperial and post-national contexts in East Central Europe 1919 – 1945 – 1989

Geisteswissenschaftliches Zentrum Geschichte und Kultur an der Universität Leipzig; Universität Siegen, Philosophische Fakultät, Europäische Zeitgeschichte seit 1945
Cluj-Napoca (Romania)
Vom - Bis
28.11.2013 - 30.11.2013
Dr. Dietmar Müller

Legal history in and about East Central and Southeast Europe is probably the field of historiography that is most intensely dominated by the paradigm of the transfer of norms and institutions. However, traditional legal history generally does not analyse how these transfers occurred, which actors expedited them in particular phases and what their motives for doing so were, how the legal institutes were adapted and institutionalised, and finally, which impact this had on the political process and legal reality. The conference will discuss law, legal culture, institutions and institutional change as dynamic processes and social practices of specific actors. Legal culture is thus not understood as a homogenous phenomenon over space and time, but rather as a changeable phenomenon that can be made accessible to research in the field of tension between politics, the legislature, jurisprudence and jurisdiction, as well as between the professions involved in legal affairs. Given the chequered political and territorial history of East Central and Southeast Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries, it can be assumed that there are more or less effective differences in the legal culture and that these differences can be territorialised. The homogeneity of nation states is revealed to be a chimera that dissolves in a variety of regions that were separated from one another by phantom borders. The most productive phantom borders include those that resulted from the many years during which regions belonged to empires such as the Russian Empire, the Hapsburg monarchy and the Ottoman Empire, as well as their legal systems. It therefore seems to make sense to assume a fundamental existence of legal pluralism in the legal culture of the states and societies of East Central and Southeast Europe. Unlike legal studies, legal anthropology does not regard the phenomenon of the coexistence of several – and at times contradictory – legal systems, or at the very least of different norm systems, within a territorial entity or a society (legal pluralism) as an anomaly, but rather as the rule. For example, it can be assumed that old common law, Byzantine law, Ottoman law, and laws gradually imported from Western Europe coexisted in Southeast Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries. Working with four topic areas, the conference will address legal cultural phantom borders and their reinforcement by specific elite actors and as an expression of social practices:

1) Legal unification: transfer and transplants; new codifications; socialist law; Europeanization
During the interwar period, legal literature examined three ways of establishing legal unification within a state: a) a legislative “zero hour” via the rewriting of all basic legal codes and statute books; b) a complete and immediate extension of a body of laws to the new provinces; and c) the fundamental extension of a body of laws to the new provinces accompanied by a temporary and material retention of some regulations from the new provinces. However, processes of legal unification also have a transnational dimension in that they took place in the legal and political context of “legal families” and subsequently of socialist law. Since the watershed of 1989, these processes have been influenced by the adaptation to the aquis communautaire of the European Union. No matter how fascinating legal experts may find this legal dogma, this panel is primarily concerned with the intellectual frame of legal unification on the part of elite actors. Which actors put forward which arguments in favour of selecting and implementing one or other modus and direction of legal unification?

2) Family law: marriages and divorces, inheritance, guardianship
The laws on marriage, divorce, inheritance and guardianship belong to the areas of the legal system that most directly link the normative and institutional side of the state system with the everyday reality of the population. It is this fact in particular that makes the transfer of legal norms and adaptation both by professional elites and by the historical actors whose lifeworlds are directly affected by the regulations a worthwhile topic of research. On the one hand, we are interested in the micro-historical processes of adoption that result from concrete superimposition of legislation by the legal institutes. On the other hand, we wish to address the discourses of the professional elites in order to show how the transfer of legal norms – and the prevention of this transfer – was and is used to construct distinct identities. Periods of radical change such as 1918, the post-1945 period and the post-1989 era reveal the simultaneity of the need to legally regulate apparently continuous social relations on the one hand and the partially radical social redesigns that were upheld or furthered by the legislative process on the other.

3) Property: notions, institutions and professions
Property, as well as the institutions and professions that deal with it, belong to the legal-cultural phenomena that have a very high potential to create phantom borders and to establish regional associative relationships. In highly agricultural economies, property rights to land are central elements of subsistence and identity, which means that systems of land ownership proof, such as land registers and cadastres, become very important. The same applies to professions such as land surveyors, lawyers, land register officials and notaries, whose role is however not restricted to safeguarding ownership, but is also played out at the regional level in the political scene. This panel will provide a forum for papers that analyse macro processes such as land reforms, collectivisation and de-collectivisation / reprivatisation on the three above-mentioned property levels and present regional and identity discourses and practices.

4) Political and cultural regionalism
The reconfiguration of nation states following the First World War led to regionalist movements in many East Central and Southeast European societies. These movements frequently expressed cultural and political gravamina against the new centres. Under the influence of both Marxist and national-patriotic historiography, regionalisms were dismissed as entirely backward-looking phenomena. Only recently has a new type of interpretation based on terms such as “small fatherland” or “open regionalism” revealed the integrative and emancipatory potential of the formation of regional associative relationships. It is no coincidence that the new way of viewing the region of East Central and Southeast Europe in particular coincided with the watershed of 1989-1991, which on the one hand led to a casting off of the shackles of the imperial block, but on the other to a merely apparent blossoming of the nation state, given that integration in the European Union involves ceding sovereignty once again. This panel will discuss regionalist parties, publications, movements and practices. The construction of regional identities in the field of tension between the national and imperial or European centres is of particular interest.

We would welcome proposals for a paper in the form of a short statement (1 – 2 pages), including a brief academic CV. Please send your proposal by 30 August 2013 to and The conference will be held in English. Speakers’ travel and accommodation costs will be covered.



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