Transnational Violence: Paramilitary Networks in the 20th Century

University of Zurich
Dr. Adrian Hänni, Distance Learning University Switzerland; MA Daniel Rickenbacher, Militärakademie ETH Zurich; MA Thomas Schmutz, University of Zurich
Dr. Adrian Hänni

Workshop for junior scholars

Paper proposals: please send a working title, an abstract of 200-400 words and a short CV to

Deadline: 31 August 2017

Political violence and national security threats can no longer be clearly distinguished by the classical dualism “external military invasion” vs. “internal insurgency/revolution”. In fact, they originate frequently from transnational paramilitary networks. This extends not only to the danger of jihadist terrorism, which is very present in mass media. Traditional powers such as Russia likewise use violence outside of their own territory not only through regular armed forces, but also increasingly through transnational, paramilitary structures. The war in eastern Ukraine has made this abundantly clear.

While this trend is apparently gaining pace in the 21st century, transnational paramilitary networks already played a significant role as actors and amplifiers of political violence in the 20th century. Time and again, European countries, including formally neutral states such as Switzerland and Austria, took on a central role for these networks by providing a space for organization, logistics, propaganda, diplomacy, and also as a theatre of violence.

Historical analyses based on primary source material therefore offer a promising approach to gain a better understanding of current forms of political violence and (para-)military threats. Accordingly, the workshop aims to analyze the structures and modes of action of transnational paramilitary networks operating in Europe during the 20th century, by means of specific case studies and a concluding synthesis. We are looking for contributions that deal in any form with this subject. While our focus is on Switzerland and Germany, proposals centering on other European countries are welcome as well.

We are particularly interested in contributions to the following range of topics:

1) Emigrants and dissidents in exile that formed hubs of paramilitary networks in a European country.
2) Actors (organizations, institutions, individuals) of a European country that were integrated into transnational paramilitary networks.
3) Transnational paramilitary networks that used violence against political opponents (e.g. dissidents in exile, representatives of an enemy government) in a European country.

Besides a discussion of empirical findings, the workshop also offers the participating junior scholars (mainly PhD candidates and postdoctoral scholars) an opportunity to discuss various qualitative and quantitative methods for researching transnational paramilitary networks (e.g. Social Network Analysis), and to share experiences regarding specific problems of researching and analyzing source material on political actors that operate transnationally.

The workshop is principally held in German but presentations in English or French are welcome. By courtesy of financial support from the Arbeitskreis Militärgeschichte (AKM) there is a budget for travel allowances, especially to reimburse travel costs of PhD students. Lunch and catering during the workshop are free for the participants.

For further questions please contact the organizers:
Adrian Hänni ( and Daniel Rickenbacher (


Adrian Hänni

Distance Learning University Switzerland

Transnational Violence: Paramilitary Networks in the 20th Century, 01.12.2017 Zurich, in: H-Soz-Kult, 01.08.2017, <>.
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