Historicizing “Whiteness” in Eastern Europe and Russia

bogdan iacob's picture
June 25, 2019 to June 26, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Contemporary History, Eastern Europe History / Studies, European History / Studies, Russian or Soviet History / Studies, World History / Studies


Historicizing “Whiteness” in Eastern Europe and Russia


Institute for Political Research, Spiru Haret street no 8, Bucharest, 010175


Over the last decade, issues of migration both out of and into Eastern Europe have brought questions of “whiteness” and its “defence” into the public language of the region. Populists of different political stripes have presented their countries as protectors of traditional European whiteness against a multicultural West. This is in fact quite an unusual phenomenon: race in general and whiteness in particular have for the most part been hidden discourses, absent from mainstream political or cultural thinking about the area itself. At those moments when race did come to the fore, it was often externalised as a phenomenon which adhered only to the western and/or the capitalist imperialist other.


Yet, as some have argued, whiteness has been fundamental to Eastern European history and even the very conception of the region since the 19th century. Anikó Imre referred to Eastern European nationalisms ‘unspoken insistence on their whiteness’. Some have posited a regional identity based on the in-between-ness born of a fragile or frustrated whiteness: such an identity might be allied with the privileged whiteness produced by European imperialism and the global colour line to which it gave rise, whilst also being ambivalent towards, or sometimes excluded from, the projects and institutions from which the power of whiteness has stemmed. While critical theories of race and whiteness emphasise the idea that, in Charles W. Mills’s words, ‘white supremacy was global’, eastern Europeans’ ability to fully exploit being racialised as white has arguably been more conditional, as a result of the peripheralisation of the region itself.  Yet it was visits to Eastern Europe that prompted W.E.B. Du Bois to redefine his thinking about race. He observed ethnic relations in the region and understood that race problems were not only about colour.


Despite the growing number of critical histories of whiteness both on a regional and global level, there has been little academic engagement with such questions in the study of Eastern Europe, the Russian Empire and the USSR. This workshop seeks to explore the role that whiteness has played in the articulation of identities from a historical perspective – roughly from an age of high European imperialism in the mid-19th century until the present. We encourage contributions which explore the multiple conceptualisations of whiteness in national spaces, intercultural transfers and transnational impacts across the region, whether this be Central Europe, South- or North-Eastern Europe, Russia or what is now the “post-Soviet space”.


Organisers: Catherine Baker (University of Hull), Agnieszka Kościańska (University of Warsaw), Bogdan Iacob and James Mark (both University of Exeter). This event is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) project, ‘Socialism Goes Global. Cold War Connections Between the ‘Second’ and ‘Third Worlds’ http://socialismgoesglobal.exeter.ac.uk/. Partners: Centre for the Study of Equal Opportunity Policies at the Political Science Department, University of Bucharest and "Respiro" Association - Human Rights Research Centre.


Tuesday, June 25


9.15–9.30 – Welcome remarks


9.30–10.45 Keynote – Anikó Imre (University of Southern California)

Colorblind Nationalisms


10.45–11.00 – Coffee break


11.00–12.40 – Colonialism and Imagining the Self in Eastern Europe


Chair/ Discussant: Steffi Marung (University of Leipzig)


Monika Bobako (Adam Mickiewicz University)

White Skin, White Masks. Re-reading Frantz Fanon from Eastern European Perspective


Zoltán Ginelli (Open Society Archives)

Hungarian Indians: Racial and Anti-colonial Solidarity in Post-Trianon Hungary


Marianna Szczygielska (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)

Engendering Wildlife and Whiteness: Elephants, Ivory and Zoos (1870s–1940s)


12.45–14.15 – Lunch


14.20–16.00 – Eastern European Whiteness and the Other: Race, Religion and Gender


Chair/Discussant: Agnieszka Kościańska (University of Warsaw)


Kristína Čajkovičová (Museum of Romani Culture in Brno)

Shifting to the Gadžo Question: The Role of Racialized Sexuality in the Process of Czechoslovak Collectivity


Bolaji Balogun (University of Leeds)

Whiteness: A Mechanism that Sustains Polishness


Cătălin Berescu (Romanian Academy)

White Savior, Black Savior: Pro-Roma Activists in Search of an Identity


16.00–16.15 – Coffee break


16.15–17.35 – Anti-Semitism and Whiteness in Eastern Europe

Chair/Discussant: Emily Gioielli (Missouri Western State University)


Paul Hanebrink (Rutgers University – New Brunswick)
Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the Anti-Communist Legacy in Contemporary Eastern Europe


Raul Carstocea (Europa Universität Flensburg)
Ambiguous Whiteness and the Anti-Semitic Imagination: Jews in Eastern Europe between Colonised and Colonisers


20.00 – Film Screening Cinema Union (Ion Câmpineanu 22, Bucharest, zip-code 030167): Guardian of the Frontier (intro Catherine Baker)



Wednesday, June 26


9.30–11.10 – Eastern European Whiteness in Global Perspective


Chair/Discussant: Monika Bobako (Adam Mickiewicz University)


Dušan I. Bjelić (University of Maine)
Transnational Analysis of Mexico and the Balkans: Racial Formations of Nations

Catherine Baker (University of Hull)
The Yugoslav Wars and Transnational White Nationalist Historical Narratives

Špela Drnovšek Zorko (University of Warwick)

Re-routing East European Socialism, Historicising Diasporic Whiteness


11.15–11.30 – Coffee break


11.30–13.10 – Socialism as Ambivalent Whiteness


Chair/Discussant: Kristin Roth-Ey (University College of London)


Irina Novikova (University of Latvia)
‘White Gaze’ in the USSR?: ‘Race’ and Technology in the Soviet Films of the 1920s–1960s (from Lev Kuleshov to Mark Donskoi)


Zsuzsanna Varga (Central European University)
Hungarians and White Privilege in Africa: The World Hunting Expo of 1971


James Mark (University of Exeter)
A Revolution of Whiteness? 1989 and the Politics of Race


13.10–14.40 – Lunch


14.45–16.25 – Liminality, Post-Socialism, and Eastern European Whiteness


Chair/ Discussant: Ivan Kalmar (University of Toronto)


Bogdan G. Popa (University of Cambridge)
“We Belong to a Great Race, the Dacian Race”: Slavery and the Construction of an Anti-colonial White Race in Romanian Historiography


Chelsi West Ohueri (University of Texas at Austin)

The Jevg Factor: An Exploration of Whiteness, Blackness, and Racialized Identities in Albania


Kasia Narkowicz (University of Gloucestershire)
The ‘Muselmanner’ as the Ultimate Other


16.25–16.40 – Break


16.40–17.15 – Concluding roundtable


20.00 – Film Screening, Cinema Union (Ion Câmpineanu 22, Bucharest, 030167)
Oktyabr and Rostov-Luanda (intro Kristin Roth-Ey)

Contact Info: 

Alison Tytherleigh, Project Co-ordinator, Department of History
College of Humanities, University of Exeter, United Kingdom