1989: Reconsidering the Nation and its Alternatives in Central & Eastern Europe

Location: University of Notre Dame

The collapse of socialist regimes across Eastern Europe in 1989 has often been described as an “autumn of nations”, a process of national liberation from unaccountable governments through the exercise of popular will. But during and after 1989, national mobilization also coincided with tectonic international and supranational developments: the collapse of the Soviet empire, the retrenchment of socialist internationalism, the expansion of NATO, and the widening scope of European integration, to name only a few. Moreover, the tacit consensuses around nations’ memberships and democratic objectives apparent in 1989 have since given way to contested, and sometimes alarming, discourses of nationhood. Across Central and Eastern Europe, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant politics have revived intense debates over national belonging.

On the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall, the Nanovic Institute will host an interdisciplinary conference to reconsider the European “nation”, “national identity”, and alternative modes of political mobilization in 1989, its aftermath, and its commemoration.

We welcome a broad range of methodological approaches for presentations focused on Germany and Eastern Europe, including historical and social scientific, as well as perspectives informed by cultural, literary, music, art, and film studies. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • The “Nation” in 1989:

    • The role of the “nation” and the mobilization of “national identity” in challenging socialist regimes. The place of the “nation” in protest movements’ imagination of post-socialist futures.
    • Organizing popular protests, circumventing censorship, and evading state discipline in illiberal regimes.
    • The role of artists and writers in expressing popular grievances in socialist societies.
    • Refugees, asylum seekers, and transnational migration during and after 1989.
    • Hw “national” contexts inflected societies’ post-socialist transitions.
  • Alternatives to the “Nation” and the “National” in 1989:

    • The progressive collapse of the Soviet Empire and socialist internationalism as a mode of international organization.
    • Attempts t reform or salvage socialism in 1989.
    • European institutions and other communities or organizations which offered possible alternatives to the “nation” as nodes of political organization.
    • Religious communities’ relation to the “nation” and socialist governments.
    • Encounters of East Germans and East Europeans with Western European and Transatlantic material culture, art, music, literature, and pop culture.
    • Gender and the collapse of state socialism, “national” mobilization, and/or transnational encounters.
  • The “Nation” and its Alternatives since 1989.

    • The rise of far-right, populist, and anti-immigrant political movements in Central and Eastern Europe.
    • The role of the “nation” in discussions of European integration.
    • Nostalgia for, or national appropriation of, legacies, aspects, and artifacts of socialist dictatorships.
    • The integrating of former citizens of the GDR into a united Germany.
    • The place of art, music, literature, film, and / or theater in defining the scope of the nation or negotiating post-’89 transformations.
    • The role of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches in shaping European and national identities, culture, and politics.
    • Gender and the imagination of European and national values and identities.
    • Nationalism in post-soviet space and Russia’s instrumentalization of minority nationalist politics.


We welcome proposals for both individual papers and full panels. Conference presenters will speak for fifteen minutes. Individual paper proposals should include a title and a brief, 300-600 word abstract. Complete panel proposals should include a 300-500 word panel abstract, as well as paper abstracts for three individual presenters. Proposals should be submitted directly to the Nanovic Institute Website, by June 1, 2019. We will notify you of your acceptance by July 1, 2019. Conference papers will be submitted by October 1, 2019, for pre-circulation within panels.

Please contact the conference co-director, Mark T. Kettler ( mkettler@nd.edu ), with any questions.

Originally published at nanovic.nd.edu.