Re-examining Democratic Transitions in Times of Crisis

NYU Berlin, Freie Universität
NYU's Center for European and Mediterranean Studies; NYU Berlin; Freie Universität; Historein
22.11.2013 - 23.11.2013
Kostis Kornetis

The so-called “transition studies” were born after the collapse of authoritarian regimes in Southern Europe in the mid 1970s, and those of Latin America around a decade later. An extremely popular research subfield for a while, these studies attempted to codify and systematize the study of transitions to democracy, to analyze their qualitative features and propose models in relation to the criteria for determining what constituted democratization successes and failures. The collapse of the regimes of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 gave a push to this research agenda by offering “transitologists” an even wider range of case studies.

Although the cases of Greece and, above all, Spain were considered as “model” transitions, the simultaneous current economic crisis in both countries created a need to reassess post-authoritarian phenomena. The same applies to the countries of Eastern Europe but also Latin America. In moments of deep social, political and economic crisis, the recent past often becomes a central issue of contention. Additionally, the uprisings that shook Arab countries in 2011 revived some of the central questions of what constitutes a smooth passage to democratic rule after decades of authoritarianism, and whether the main actors that act as their engines are the masses or the elites.

These veritable paradigmatic turbulences prompted the Greek academic journal Historein, in collaboration with the Freie Universität Berlin, NYU’s Center for European and Mediterranean Studies and NYU Berlin to organize this two-day conference on the subject matter of Transitions Revisited. The conference is intended to be a follow-up to a three-day conference in Athens organized by Historein, the Freie Universität Berlin, and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, in December 2012, entitled “Metapolitefsi: From the Transition to Democracy to the Economic Crisis?” The follow-up seeks to link some of the conclusions of the Athens conference with a wider set of international case studies, thus expanding its chronotopical span.

The main objective of the conference is not solely the empirical documentation of transitions in such disparate contexts, but the opening up of a broader discussion on the nature of the latter. Which issues regarding the democratic transitions do we choose to remember, and which ones do we choose to forget on a meta-historical level and in terms of memory? How are these violent histories and the collective memory thereof framed and re-framed in times of crisis? Could the political lessons of the so-called “show-case models” of transition of Southern Europe, or the 1989 Central and Eastern European ones, be applied to the Arab countries at present? Or do democratization processes involve an element of “unrepeatability” that makes it impossible to extrapolate learning based on historical experience?

Perhaps some of the past conclusions of this field are by now obsolete and the time may be ripe to revisit them and introduce new terms, away from the normative drives of much of the early transitology.


Friday, November 22
NYU Berlin (Schönhauser Allee 36)


- Welcoming Note
Gabriella Etmektsoglou (NYU Berlin)

- Introductory Remarks
Kostis Kornetis (NYU)

- Report on a Conference & on a Special Issue
Effi Gazi (University of the Peloponnese) & Vangelis Karamanolakis (University of

5.00-5.15 Coffee

5.15-7.00 The Greek Metapolitefsi: From Democratic Transition to Demo-Crisis
Chair: Miltos Pechlivanos (FU Berlin)

- Children of Metapolitefsi: Shifting Narratives of the 1970s’ Generation(s) Towards the Postauthoritarian Transformation
Nikolaos Papadogiannis (Humboldt University)

- From Democracy to Demo-crisis: Questioning the Transition
Antonis Liakos (University of Athens)

7.30 Dinner

Saturday, November 23
Freie Universität, Schwendenerstr. 8

10.30-12.45: Revisiting Transitions in Times of Crisis: 1970s, 1989, 2011
Chair: Kostis Kornetis (NYU)

- The Colors of Refolution: Revisiting the Political Economy of Spanish and
Romanian Postauthoritarian Transformations
Cornel Ban (Boston University)

- Return to Revolution. The 1974 Portuguese Spring and its “austere” anniversary
Guya Accornero (Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia-Instituto Universitário de Lisboa)

- The Spanish Model After the Economic Crisis: A Comparative Analysis of Southern Europe
Diego Muro & Guillem Vidal-Lorda (Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals)

- Rebooting Transitology: Comparative Democratization Processes and the Arab Spring
Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou (Graduate Institute and Geneva Center for Security Policy)

1.30 – 2.30 Lunch break

2.30-4.00: Lost in Transitions: The Case of Theory
Chair: Effi Gazi (University of the Peloponnese)

- Transitions: Is There any Theory?
Leonardo Morlino (LUISS University of Rome)

- Transitology: Before and After
Philippe Schmitter (European University Institute)

4.00-4.15 Coffee break

4.15-6.45 Transitional Justice, Historical Memory, and the Effects of Democratization
Chair: Antonis Liakos (University of Athens)

- The Use of Transitology in the Field of Transitional Justice. A Critical Approach on Latin America and Eastern Europe
Raluca Grocescu (CNRS)

- Retrospective Politics, Transitional Justice and the Philosophy of History
Berber Bevernage (Ghent University)

- The Effects of Alternative Paths to Democracy
Stephan Haggard (UC San Diego) & Robert R. Kaufman (Rutgers)

7.00 Dinner


Kostis Kornetis



Re-examining Democratic Transitions in Times of Crisis, 22.11.2013 – 23.11.2013 Berlin, in: H-Soz-Kult, 28.10.2013, <>.
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