Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena

Research Projects

Towards Illiberal Constitutionalism

funded by the Volkswagen Foundation within the programme Challenges for Europe (2021-2025)

project website

In recent years, the rise of authoritarian governments in East Central Europe and far right and populist movements across Europe has sparked concern that the liberal democratic order established after 1989 is falling apart. In Hungary and Poland, populist governments are employing the legal system to sustain illiberal forms of rule, cementing control through constitutional reforms.
The current debate centering on Hungary and Poland, however, tends to be either highly normative or highly technical, and, too often, ahistorical. Politically the response on European level to the illiberal turn in these EU member states was unconvincing and inconsequential. We agree with those commentators who argue that this is, indeed, an emerging challenge to Europe as a whole. Given the overall situation at the continent the nascent illiberal constitutionalism in Poland and Hungary might be rather permanent than temporary phenomenon and it might tend to spread beyond these two countries and thus endanger the constitutional and political landscape in EU and beyond. This situation creates an urgent need for interdisciplinary research and for building bridges between scholarly milieus, both geographical as well as disciplinary, which our project seeks to answer.
Thus, we aim to introduce much needed historical, interdisciplinary, practice-oriented and comparative perspectives to academic engagement with illiberal and authoritarian challenges to constitutional democracy. Many commentators have noticed that the illiberal constitutional architects of today were also in the front lines of the democratization movement in the 1980s and of the liberal transformation of the 1990s. This project intends to explain why it was so. We intend to situate present-day conflicts in the longer historical ebb and flow of ideas and practices of constitutionalism, democracy, legality and pluralism in East Central Europe. The project stretches from the post-war era with emphasis on the period since 1968, comprising the era of late state socialism, post-communist liberal transformation, into the present day. This will allow us to show how the rudiments of the rule of law and ‘liberal consensus’ of the 1990s evolved already in the late state socialist period and, similarly, how the rudiments of ‘illiberal challenge’ were born already within the liberal transition period.
This project will show why and how the East Central European experience is relevant to the current populist challenge to the constitutional foundations of liberal democracy in Europe and around the world. It supports junior researchers to focus on cutting-edge research on this urgent challenge, to form transnational network and thus to prepare the ground for their long-term academic engagement in the field.

Police Brutality and the State in Socialist Poland

responsible: Joachim von Puttkamer

Like other communist regimes, Poland has a long record of political violence after the Second World War. The attempts to curb violence and police brutality are less known. The project investigates the dynamics of police violence since the early 1950s and its impact on public awareness and the stability of the regime.

The results of the project are published in the volume "Ich werde mich nie an die Gewalt gewöhnen. Polizeibrutalität und Gesellschaft in der Volksrepublik Polen" forthcoming with Hamburger Edition.

Vernichtungswissenschaft. Nachman Blumental’s linguistic studies on the Shoah reconsidered

responsible: Dr Katrin Stoll

more information will follow shortly

Associated Projects

Concepts of property and conflicts over privatisation:
Local self-government and municipal property in post-socialist Poland 
(Dr Florian Peters) – Subproject B7 of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) Transregio 294 “Structural Change of Property”, funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation)

In the multidisciplinary framework of the Collaborative Research Centre “Structural Change of Property”, this project addresses the most profound change in property regimes in recent European history: the large-scale privatisation of the formerly state-socialist economies in Eastern Europe since 1989. My research focusses on post-socialist Poland and includes a set of local case studies investigating the processes of (re-)establishment of private and municipal property. By analysing contradictions arousing from divergent notions of economic self-management and local self-government, the project aspires to add a historically informed perspective to ongoing debates on post-socialist transformations, as well as to provide historical reflection for recent re-evaluations of communal property.

'Tribunals. War crime trials in socialist Yugoslavia' (Dr Sabina Ferhadbegović) - funded by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft/ German Research Foundation)

The project focuses on the Yugoslav prosecution of the war crimes in aftermath of the Second World War. The primary aim is to break with the prevailing tradition of looking at Yugoslav war crimes trials solely from the perspective of retribution. Their purpose was not only to punish and eliminate the former or potential combatants but also to overcome the implications of the civil war and integrate the Yugoslav society. Military trials were also an experimental ground for the development and the implementation of the concept of the revolutionary justice and socialist law. How did they influence the state-building process of Second Yugoslavia?
Before the World War II Yugoslav legal scholars participated in discussions about international criminal law. But what rules and ideas guided Yugoslavian Communists to their law concepts and what traditions, ideological agenda and international developments influenced their jurisdiction of war crimes? Soviet Union was their role model. The adaption of soviet criminal law took place already during the war. The war crime trials can only be analyzed assuming that parallel history just as well as considering the specific Yugoslav situation: The experience of the civil war and the victory of the Partisan movement.
The project emphasizes different, partly simultaneous developments: the transition from the civil war to peace, the communist take-over of power, the participation of Yugoslav jurists in the development of the international criminal law, the building of the Yugoslav State Commission for the investigation of the crimes of the invaders and their assistants and the reorganization of the courts and the jurisdiction.
The analysis of the Yugoslav War Crimes Commissions and their work takes the central part of the examination. How did they impact the Yugoslav perception of law and justice, which is visible until today, as we can see in discussions about the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and in Rehabilitation of former convicts as Draža Mihailović.
Works on Yugoslavia in aftermath of the Second World War rarely adopt the current international research results on civil wars and transitional justice. This project combines current interdisciplinary discussions and links them with Yugoslav experiences analyzing the impact of the war crime trials on the Yugoslav society and integrating the Yugoslav developments in broader European context.