Slavisches Seminar

Cultural Representations and Theoretical Approaches to Historical Transformation in East Central Europe, 1956–1968

Online Workshop: 21st and 22nd January 2022

Keynote speakers:

Dr. Natalia Borisova (University of Tübingen)
Prof. Dr. Jens Herlth (University of Freiburg/Fribourg)

The events of 1956 marked the beginning of de-Stalinization in East Central European countries: first with Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’ at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and later in the year the revolts in Poland and the revolution in Hungary. For many intellectuals, these events triggered a process of change and transformation. As Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller wrote, this period marked the beginning of “emancipation from self-incurred tutelage” (Heller: 1979). In a similar vein, the political crises of 1968 have also been narrated from the perspective of potentiality as well as failure. The goal of this workshop is to approach this short but fruitful period in the intellectual history of East Central Europe, taking along concepts of ‘transformation’ and ‘change’ as guiding notions of the investigation.

Our aim is to engage with intellectual production in East Central Europe between 1956 and 1968, and to rethink some of the historiographic, literary, and cultural tropes and symbols linked to this period. Some of the moments we would like to explore include, but are not limited to, the so-called period of late modernity, which entailed a time of relative stabilization as well as economic growth in Europe; the growing understanding of the need for peaceful coexistence with the ‘West’; as well as the acceptance of ‘different paths to socialism’ within the ‘East’.

We invite contributions that engage with the broad problems confronted in this period and the alternatives offered by the various intellectuals living and working in their own national contexts and yet referring to the regional changes and transformations. In particular, the main issues we would like to explore are: ideas concerning the bankruptcy of grand narratives in understanding history and the role of personal experience of totalitarianism before 1956 (e.g. one’s own incarceration in a lager or a concentration camp or one’s own involvement in a totalitarian system) as the main argument; the introduction of new social normativities (e.g., feminism, emancipation as a ‘necessary’ step in human development); the aesthetics of the absurd and grotesque while depicting the fate of the individual confronted with the collective; the tension between ‘equality’ and ‘difference’ in East Central European political modernity; the problematization of concepts such as ‘progress’; theories of convergence between socialist and capitalist countries; perceptions of the (interwar and post-war) decadence of the ‘West’; the role of intellectuals in the rise of technocracy; the integration of philosophical and theoretical alternatives to Marxism-Leninism (e.g., Marxism, existentialism, postcolonialism, new Catholic theology, structuralism and poststructuralism, feminism, semiotics, etc.); discourses of crisis and reform.


The workshop details and a timeline:

The workshop is organized by Dr. Natalia Borisova (University of Tübingen), Una Blagojević (Central European University), and Dr. Aleksandra Konarzewska (University of Tübingen). The online workshop will begin with lectures that will be followed by thematic panels in which each text will be discussed by the participants. The goal of the seminar is a publication (open access). We particularly invite young scholars (PhD, post-docs, early-career researchers) working in the fields of intellectual history, history of ideas, literary and cultural studies.

Abstract requirements: British/American English, max. 500 words in total; please specify your thesis/hypothesis and methodology and include a provisional bibliography. Please send your abstract with short CV (max. 2 pages). Deadline for the abstracts is 30 June 2021.

Deadline for papers is 31 December 2021.

All submissions should be sent directly to the organizers:

aleksandra.konarzewska at and blagojevic_una at



Bronisław Baczko, “Historical Knowledge and the Moral Lessons,” Diogenes 17, 67 (1969): 51–60.
Bronisław Baczko, Człowiek i swiatopoglądy [A Man and Worldviews], Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza (1965).
Stanisław Grzesiuk, Fünf Jahre Kz [Five years of KZ], Wien Hamburg (2020 [1958]).
Witold Gombrowicz, Diary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press (2013 [1953-1969])
Witold Gombrowicz, Berliner Notizen [Berlin Notes]. Pfullingen: G. Neske (1965).
Oskar Halecki, The Limits and Divisions of European history, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press (1962).
Václav Havel, The Garden Party, London: Cape (1969 [1963])
Václav Havel, The Memorandum. Faber and Faber (1989 [1966])
Václav Havel, The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, London (1972 [1968]).
Maria Janion and Aniela Kmita-Piorunowa (ed.), Proces historyczny w literaturze i sztuce [Historical Process in Culture and Art], Warszawa (1967).
Eugene Ionesco, Rhinoceros and Other Plays, New York: Grove Press (1960).
Tony Judt, “Goodbye to All That?”, The New York Review of Books, September 21 (2006).
Tony Judt, “The Past Is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe”, Daedalus, 121, 4 (1992), p. 83–118.
Danilo Kiš, Psalm 44. Chicago, USA: Dalkey Archive Press (2012 [1962]).
Pavel Kohout, From the Diary of the Counterrevolutionary. New York (1972 [1969]).
Leszek Kołakowski, “Responsibility and History”, in Toward a Marxism Humanism. Essays on the Left Today (New York, 1968).
Karel Kosík, “The Individual and History”, in Nicholas Lobkowicz (ed.), Marx and the Western World (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1967), pp. 177-191
Milan Kundera, The Joke, New York: Perennial (2001 [1967]).
Czesław Miłosz, Native realm. A search for self-definition, Garden City; New York: Doubleday & Company, (1968 [1957])
Czesław Miłosz, Visions from San Francisco Bay, Manchester: Carcanet New Press (1982 [1969]).
Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, London: Vintage (2020 [1962]).