Online Workshop: Humanitarian Mobilization in Central and Eastern Europe during the Twentieth Century

Datum konání: 
23. 6. 2021, 0:00 - 25. 6. 2021, 0:00

european_research_council_logo_svg.png?itok=QqHPypa8 Organisers: Doina Anca Cretu, Michal Frankl (ERC-funded project Unlikely refuge? Refugees and citizens in East-Central Europe in the 20th century, Masaryk Institute and Archives of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

The Unlikely refuge? project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement No 819461).


Humanitarianism has become one of the defining features of our contemporary world, as governments, private associations, and international organizations are increasingly responding to human suffering across the borders of nation states. The twentieth century saw an increased institutionalization, professionalization, and direct intervention on behalf of those in need. Yet this expansion of aid also multiplied the dilemmas of humanitarian engagements.


This workshop tackles humanitarianism in Central and Eastern Europe during the twentieth century, probing the tensions stemming from engagements in nationalist and/or state socialist environments and the dilemmas or misunderstandings that arose from encounters with Western forms of providing aid. Central and Eastern Europe experienced the creation of new nation states and an escalation of nationalism. This region was moreover a site of violence and genocide during the two world wars as well as during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Centralization, political control, and persecution under state socialism also shaped but also often limited humanitarian activism through individual and social engagements. Narratives of Western humanitarianism have often treated this region as one of backwardness and of a passive reception of benevolent mobilization for those in need. However, the region was a space of amplified local action to relieve suffering at the same time as humanitarian initiatives from abroad grew in presence and capacity. Studying humanitarianism from below, against a backdrop of complex political and social contexts, is essential to understanding how solidarity was constructed and how aid was provided in this region during the twentieth century.

The workshop aims to engage with diverse facets of providing aid in Central and Eastern Europe, as this area opens up broader questions of local, national, and international scales of humanitarianism. The workshop will focus on domestic forms of humanitarianism and investigate key local actors (e.g. state institutions and their officials, formal associations, activists, and charity workers), their agendas, and practices of providing aid. It will further explore their entanglements and relationships with Western as well as non-Western actors and their relief practices in Central and Eastern Europe. It will investigate how important political, ethnic, or confessional identities were in shaping discourses and practices of solidarity. It will furthermore reflect on the ways in which humanitarians positioned and negotiated the provision of aid within local nationalist and/or state socialist frameworks. Some of the questions we aim to address are: How did local actors interpret the motivations and methods of international humanitarian organizations?How did humanitarian work operate in contexts in which aid was perceived as a tool for reconstructing nations, building a socialist society, or transitioning to democracy?




Wednesday, June 23

14:00 - 14:10    Introduction

14:10 - 15:40    Humanitarian Workers: Local Action and the Need to Help

Chair: Doina Anca Cretu (Masaryk Institute and Archives/ERC UnRef)

  • Friederike Kind-Kovács (TU Dresden): Teach Them to Earn a Living: Julia Vajkai and the Humanitarian Idea of Children’s Education
  • Marija Vulesica (Humboldt-University): Aleksandar (Aleksa) Klein (Arnon): A Key Actor of the Jewish Humanitarian Work in Interwar Yugoslavia
  • Christine Schmidt (Wiener Holocaust Library, London) and Dan Stone (University of London): Women and Child Search: A Gendered View of Post-World War II Reconstruction

16:00 - 17:30    Transnational Interactions: Networks and Dialogues

Chair: Lidia Zessin-Jurek (Masaryk Institute and Archives/ERC UnRef)

  • Kinga Frojimovics (Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies): Western Humanitarian Aid during the Era of Emerging Communist Dictatorship: The JDC in Hungary in 1948 -1949
  • Ruth Nattermann (Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich): “The same spirit that led me into war, makes me today leave for Russia.” Italian and Transnational Actors and Their Humanitarian Work for Postrevolutionary Russia
  • Luciana Jinga (The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile, Bucharest): What Dialogue Between Humanitarians and Beneficiaries? The Intricate Case of the Humanitarian Aid Towards Children in Romania during the 1990s

18:00 - 19:30    International Organizations: Methods and Motivations

Chair: Francesca Rolandi (Masaryk Institute and Archives/ERC UnRef)

  • Francesca Piana (Italian-German Historical Institute of Trento, ISIG-FBK): Casework For Families Beyond Borders. The International Migration Service in Interwar Poland
  • Pamela Ballinger (University of Michigan): Trieste and the Problem of the Hardcore
  • Sarah Knoll (University of Vienna): International Aid for Refugees in Austria During the Cold War (1956-1990)


Thursday, June 24

14:00 - 15:30    Practices of Humanitarianism

Chair: Alice Szczepaniková (Independent researcher and analyst)

  • Jo Laycock (University of Manchester): Soviet Remedies for Displacement: Refugees and Public Health in the South Caucasus
  • Sara Silverstein (University of Connecticut): Typhus, Refugees, and Humanitarianism in the Integration of Poland’s Second Republic
  • Katarzyna Nowak (University of Manchester): Civilising Mission in the Archipelago of Refugee Camps 

16:00 - 17:30    Local Humanitarianism

Chair: Ágnes Katalin Kelemen (Masaryk Institute and Archives/ERC UnRef)

  • Franciszek Zakrzewski (EHESS/ERC Lubartworld): Between Grassroot Organisations and Social Policies: Humanitarian Aid in the Interwar Lubartów
  • Maren Hachmeister (TU Dresden): Self-Organized Elderly Care in the Three Border Region: From Late Socialist Humanitarianism to Post-1989 Transformations
  • Laura Brade (Albion College): A Network Approach to Tracing Humanitarian Mobilization for Refugees from the Bohemian Lands

18:00 - 19:30    State-Organized or Civic: Humanitarianism Under State Socialism 

Chair: Ondřej Vojtěchovský (Charles University)

  • Sielke Kelner (Leiden University): Spiritual Empowerment as a Form of Humanitarian Relief. The Work of Open Doors in Communist Romania
  • Cristian Capotescu (University of Washington): More than Speechless Emissaries: Civic Response and Socialist Refugeedom in Hungary, 1987-1989
  • Nikola Karasová (Masaryk Institute and Archives/ERC UnRef): Humanitarian Mobilization under the Conditions of an Emerging State Socialist Regime: The Greek Civil War and Korean War Child Refugees in Czechoslovakia


Friday, June 25

14:00 - 15:30    Humanitarianism and Nation Making

Chair: Maximilian Graf (Masaryk Institute and Archives/ERC UnRef)

  • Gábor Egry (Institute of Political History, Budapest): From the Other Masaryk to the Romanian Queen. Transnational, Humanitarian State-building and the Post-Habsburg Transition
  • Elif Becan (Collège de France): Relief Programs as Means of Nation Building in Turkey: The Welcome of Muslims from the Balkans During the Interwar Period
  • Julia Reinke (Masaryk Institute and Archives/ERC UnRef/University of Jena): Refugees in the Better Germany’. Socialist Humanitarian Aid to Greek Refugee Children in the Early German Democratic Republic

16:00 - 17:30    Conceptualizing and Debating Humanitarianism

Chair: Karla Koutková (Masaryk Institute and Archives/ERC UnRef)

  • Čarna Brković (University of Goettingen): Disagreement Over the Non-Political: 1975 Red Cross Peace Conference
  • Nick Wetschel (ISGV Dresden): Recht, Humanität, Barmherzigkeit”: (Re-)Establishing Humanitarian Frames of Meaning and Action After State Socialism
  • Alex Langstaff (New York University): “A Good Scandal in Vienna:” Reporting and Debating Corruption in Postwar Relief, 1917-1925

17:30 - 17:45    Final remarks


Programm (PDF)

Call for Papers (PDF)