Trauma Management, Search for Identity, Self-Images and Otherness in East Central Europe and Beyond

Academia Europaea, Budapest, 4 September 2017, 9-1,
Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest

This conference aims to broaden the historical and geographical scope, and refine the methodological analysis of present and historical traumas in East Central Europe and beyond. Its main question is how different communities were able to process their collective traumatic historical experiences, and what can be learned from the outcomes  and dynamics of these processes. From Ireland to Greece, from Belgium to Ukraine, from Estonia to Spain there are signs of symbolic and often non-symbolic civil war. In fact we find divided symbolic public spaces and antagonistic feasts throughout Europe,with their competing victimologies and parallel collective memories, all of which are rooted in unelaborated personal and collective traumas. The anti-liberal turns of some Central and Eastern European countries, the Russian occupation of Crimea and the Eastern part of Ukraine and the overwhelming waves of migration from Africa and Asia to Europe, the narrow minded technocratic executive leadership of the EU, the Brexit and Trump’s winning of the presidential race show old, reborn and new challenges to the integrative and cohesive forces of the diversity and openness of Europe. In spite of major breakthroughs, especially in Germany and the Franco-German reconciliation, we find all over Europe that the experiences and humiliations of previous generations have remained unspoken and unelaborated at both individual and community levels. One of its consequences is ‘the bent twig’. Such narratives and undigested traumas necessarily call for well-advised, learned and thoughtful acts of overwriting and reworking.

The antecedents of this conference:

  • Academia Europaea, Leuven University, 8 September 2010
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, April 2011
  • Academia Europaea, Wroclaw Knowledge HUB, 30 October 2012, October 2014. 


  • European Civil Wars, European Review, 20,4 (October 2012) 455-525
  • Regimes of Memory, European Review, 21,4 (October 2013) 465-593
  • Regimes of Memory II. 24,4 (October 2016) 479-567.


Alessandro Cavalli (MAE, Pavia-Genova-Berlin), Peter Cserne (Hull), Iván Zoltán Dénes (MAE, Budapest), Rotem Giladi (Jerusalem-Helsinki), Gábor Gyáni (Budapest), Pablo Sánchez León (Bilbao), Balázs Trencsényi (MAE, Budapest), Tomasz Zarycki (Warsaw)

Iván Zoltán Dénes (Budapest):
Liberty and trauma elaboration

Introductory Thoughts

How is it possible that politicians entrusted with the representation of public good by the citizens should be able to use old and new forms of autocracy and dictatorship with cynical openness? How is it possible that freedom-loving nations like the Hungarians and Poles put up with the building out of autocratic states? The answer is to be found in the uninhibited power technical exploitation of earlier under-elaborated grievances, fears and traumas.

When a liquid or vacuous situation predominated by uncertainty and fear emerges instead of the construction and consolidation of democratic legitimacy, enemy images will be in good demand. The temptation will be great to pinpoint the final solution to the puzzle in the conspiracy of background forces inimical to the given race or nation or class, and this, in turn, will make masses believe that the one who has unveiled the plot is entitled to do as he likes. In this way, unlimited personal rule replaces the independent institutions that are supposed to enable the fine-tuning of democracy. This limitless personal power is ensured by the concentration of power, instrumentalization of legislation, repression of jurisdiction, personal control, redistribution of common goods, demand for unconditional loyalty to the leader and propagandistic dissemination of his will and world view.

The deconstruction of the rule of law/”Rechtstaat” and the building out of a beastly state results in a state that does not keep its promises, terrifies and threatens. The republican principle of the common good, the aristocratic principle of moderation and the monarchic principle of honour is replaced by fear as the organizing principle of tyranny.[1] This is not the outcome of personal despotism alone. A leader of this kind emerges against the background of political hysteria which has grown out of historical traumas and fear reactions. This has led to the personal rule based on traditional and modern forms of power concentration.

The starting point of a political hysteria is the traumatic experience of a community. As a consequence, the community seeks hundred-percent guarantees for the historical shock never to occur again. This of course cripples the thinking of the community. Issues of the day that need to be solved, if somehow related to the trauma, increasingly become unsurmountable. A false situation develops, in which the community does not face up to the crisis its political strategy and system ended up in. This in turn is covered up by a pseudo-solution, a formula to reconcile that which cannot be reconciled or a compromise, to which the community clings to obstinately. This necessarily brings about disorders of self-assessment. Hysteria is increasingly engrafted into identity, resulting in excesses of power and sense of inferiority, a will to live off entitlements, the devaluation of genuine performances, and a convulsive protection of the false reality. All this implies an urge for repetition, and after the satisfaction of revenge further series of sought-for amends lead to a new disaster, a new shocking historical experience, a new trauma.[2]

What is the standard measure by which we may judge political systems based on mobilized fear? What do we judge them by when we call the possessors of power to account for their deeds, for the politics they determine?

The gauge is the meaning of European political development: a social organization determined by the humanization of power, the replacement of personal rule by impersonal service, the mitigation of suffering, pain, helplessness and fear – a society of mutual services. The elimination of personal and impersonal domination, the bridling and countermanding of old and new power concentrating tendencies, the division of power. A situation with a potential requiring constant effort and readiness, but the liquid periods of which may lead to political hysteria owing to grievances, traumas and fears.[3] This social organization rests on the anthropological insight that man is the only living being who knows that he will die, and the price for his intelligence is the fear of death independently of danger. If he manages to live with this fear and to tame it, he can break away from the vicious circle of tyrannies. Then he won’t want to keep others in fear, dread, subjection and helplessness so as to forget his own fear. Doing away with sub- and superordination, the hierarchic social structure, misery and suffering is the measure of the European political development. It is a standard and a possibility that has to be fought out from time to time through positive collective experiences, with the help of supportive patterns of evaluation and behaviour.[4]

When the possessors of power use and mobilize the grievances, fears and pains, the hierarchic social stratification and existential dependency in order to maintain their own power, they do not promote the humanization of power. Nor do the liquidation of independent institutions, the re-creation of the master−servant relationship or the stifling of communal self-government. These are all signs of the building out and working of a beastly state. All this can be compared to a person – illustrating Plato’s definition of the tyrant – who cannot even control himself.[5] Whereas Aristotle already realized that it is better to live under the rule of laws than under the domination of humans (“where the laws are not authoritative demagogues arise”).[6]

What connects human beings living in a given country when their life situations and backgrounds are widely different, when unsurmountable barriers separate their world views, yet they do not want to live in a permanent civil war with each other?  What turns them into a political community?

The answer is: a set of rules, procedural forms, patterns of socialization devised collectively, which all must practise, abide by and have abided by. The body politic acknowledges as the fundamental measure equal human dignity, freedom and democracy, popular sovereignty as the source of power, division of power, the constantly polished and revised set of checks and balances as antidote to the excesses and concentration of power. The rule of law offers far larger room for the elaboration of traumas than dictatorship that eliminates all independent public spaces which is not restricted to Central and Eastern Europe only.

Of course, in social terms the experience of a perspective and the chances of individual progress, the promotion of human dignity, cooperation and performance as the decisive rules may mean the way out of a vicious circle. One of the preconditions is an array of positive patterns and embeddedness of collective evaluation and behaviour, similarly to the dignity and autonomy of those who represent these patterns. Among others, liberty is the sine qua non precondition, context and programme for trauma elaboration. The outcomes of our discussion, I hope, could articulate and shed more lights on the different versions and contexts of trauma management.    

[1] Cf. Charles de Montesquieu: The Spirit of Laws. II. 1-5, II. 1-11, V. 1-19.

[2] István Bibó: On the Balance of Power and Peace of Europe. In: The Art of Peacemaking. Political Essays by István Bibó. Translated by Péter Pásztor. Edited and with an Introduction by Iván Zoltán Dénes. With a Foreword by Adam Michnik. Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2015. 25-129. (World Thought in Translation).  

[3] Idem, 44-49.; I. Bibó: The Meaning of European Social Development. In: The Art of Peacemaking. 372-441.

 [4]Idem, 374-378, 394-396, 412-416. Cf. Guglielmo Ferrero: Pouvoir. Les Génies invisibles de la Cité. Le Livre de Poche, Libraririe Générale Français, Paris, 1988. 30-38. 

[5] Cf. Plato: The Republic.

[6] Cf. The Politics of Aristotle. Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1885.


Iván Zoltán Dénes is a historian of ideas, an independent scholar and tutor, initiating, among other things, research on liberal nationalisms (1988–2005) and on historical traumas and trauma management in Europe (2009–). He has authored 12 books, including seven monographs, edited three series of books (34 volumes) and 14 books besides the series. He served as researcher at the Institute of Philosophy, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1973–1997) and distinguished scholar, professor, and Chair of Political Science at the University of Debrecen (1997–2011). He founded the István Bibó Center for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences in Budapest (1996) and served as its Chair (1996–2012). He was awarded scholarships by the British Academy, the Fulbright Association, the International Exchange of Scholars, and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, and held visiting fellowships and lectureships at among others London, Cambridge, Paris X, Bologna, Amsterdam, Rome, Lisbon, Tel Aviv, Stanford, Johns Hopkins and Harvard. His most recent books in English include: Liberty and the Search for Identity. Liberal Nationalisms and the Legacy of Empires (editor and contributor, Central European University Press, Budapest/New York: 2006); Conservative Ideology in the Making (Budapest/New York: Central European University Press, 2009); The Art of Peacemaking. Political Essays by István Bibó (ed, intr.) (Yale University Press, New Haven, CT; London: 2015). He has published various essays in different distinguished international scholarly journals, and edited three focuses of the European Review. He is a member of the Academia Europaea (1995–).

Gábor Gyáni (Budapest):
Shocking Event, Traumatic Experiences: Memory of the Two World Wars in Hungary


Shocking events had happened in large number in Hungary throughout the 20th century (Great War, Trianon, Holocaust, WWII, Communist terror of the 50s, retaliation after the ’56 revolution). Still, the two world wars as limit events were to brought about the most extreme traumatic experiences by causing the casualties of more than one and half a million people on Hungarian side who died either at the fronts or the death camps operated by Nazi Germany. The cult of the fallen soldier so vital in the aftermath of the Great War had the function both for society and the state to remember the sufferings and the death of a great number of average citizens. Erection of monument, a material sign sustaining the cult-like memory of the fallen soldiers was as everywhere else in Europe and out of it, the generally committed way of doing this memory work. The war monuments set up in every settlements (the villages included) were designed to pay tribute to the memory of the dead soldiers, together with an overt political (nationalist) agitation function. Similar memory work failed to come following WWII, which could thus emerge much later only as a result of a television documentary film based on interviews with a few surviving soldiers of the Hungarian Second Army, shot in the 1970s. This was soon followed by making available to the public the traumatic experiences of the Jewish victims of the Hungarian Holocaust, in the form of publishing the personal testimonies of their biographic memory. The two combined started to create a wholly new kind of sensitivity and awareness of the victimhood, which could not be articulated before due to the repressive Stalinist and Communist memory (identity) politics imposed on contemporary Hungarian society. 


Gábor Gyáni, who is full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, works as Research Professor at the Institute of History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and also teaches both at Eötvös Loránd University and Central European University. He is a social and mentality historian with particular interest in the urban world and historical theory. His English-language books: Parlor and Kitchen. Housing and Domestic Culture in Budapest, 1870–1940 (2002); Identity and the Urban Experience: Fin-de-Siécle Budapest (2004); Social History of Hungary from the Reform Era to the End of the Twentieth Century (2004) [co-authored with György Kövér and Tibor Valuch].

Rotem Giladi (Jerusalem-Helsinki):
The ‘Horror on the Rhine’ as Legal Trauma:  Race, the Laws of War, and International Lawyers.


The paper explores the failure of international lawyers to come to terms, even address, the debate on the employment of French colonial troops, under the 1918 armistice, on occupation duty in the German Rhineland. It traces the prevalence of antebellum international law doctrine on the question of employing ‘Barbarous Forces’ in ‘European’ war, as well as the anxieties underpinning the approach of leading German, French, and English scholars on this iteration of the legal category of ‘colonial war’. The paper proceeds to record the silence of postbellum legal scholarship on the ‘horror on the Rhine’ – an orchestrated campaign of allegations of rape framed in racialised terms of humanity and the requirements of the law of civilised warfare. Among competing explanations for this silence, the paper follows interpretations of the Rhine scandal as a crisis in masculinity, white domination, and civilization that combined to haunt international lawyers – self-appointed bearers of progress, civilization, and humanity.  This crisis – the collapse of the colonial war category – not only touched the anxieties of antebellum jurisprudence about the capacity (and implications) of black soldiers being ‘drilled white’. It also deprived postbellum lawyers of the vocabulary necessary to address what it signified: collapse of the laws of war in WWI; evident, self-inflicted European barbarity; and the collapse of international law itself, embodied by the Versailles Diktat treating Germany, as Jan Smuts warned, ‘as we would not treat a kaffir nation’ – a colonial ‘object’ of international law, as Carl Schmitt lamented. Finally, the paper assesses the impact of the Rhine debate on Versailles architects to reveal how, at the moment of its collapse, the lawyers’ trauma could be overcome or, at least, pass from their collective, professional memory. In Versailles, the colonial war category found a new life. Its resurgence, moreover, was registered in the very instrument signifying its collapse. Article 22 of League Covenant reasserted control over the colonial object – furnishing lawyers with the vocabulary to address the employment of colonial troops and the Rhine. Postbellum tomes could now reference that occupation (sans mentions of race or rape) – no longer as a question of the ‘laws of war’ but as a question of mandates, part of the international law of ‘Peace’. The Rhine horror collapsed the rule on employment of savage troops, and the colonial war category itself; out of the ashes, driven by the same anxieties, both rule and category re-emerged. Versailles codified control; and codification internationalized, and institutionalized, imperial governance.


Dr. Rotem Giladi (LLB, University of Essex; LLM, Hebrew University; SJD, University of Michigan Law School) is a historian of international law. He is a Docent in International Law and researcher at the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki. He also teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His research focuses on the history of international law and institutions – especially the laws of war – and on Israeli diplomacy. He published articles with the European Journal of International Law; the Goettingen Journal of International Law; the International Review of the Red Cross; The International History Review; Diplomacy and Statecraft; and The English Historical Review; and other journalsin addition to chapters in edited volumes published by Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. Previous to his academic career, he worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is currently writing a book, under contract with Oxford University Press, on the political and ideological aspects of Jewish engagement with international law in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Pablo Sánchez León (Bilbao):
Telling a Different Story. Narrative Re-Elaboration and the Politics of Recognition on “Historical Memory” in Spain


It is well-known that, at the micro-psychological level, the management of trauma ultimately deals with the victim´s re-elaboration of the traumatic events. At the macro-sociological level, instead, it has to do mainly with public recognition and justice. The paper will exchange the topics in this conventional approach and argue in favor of the relevance of narrative re-elaboration of the traumatic past at the macro-social level and (less so) of public recognition and justice at the micro-psychological level. In practice it will focus on the context in Spain, where for over a decade now the movement for “historical memory” has been demanding recognition of collective and individual trauma deriving from Francoist repression. The first part of the paper will contrast the hegemonic narrative framework on the Spanish Civil War with emerging alternative interpretations drawing from the paradigm of human rights´ justice. The second will signal problems and limitations in the latter and outline the framework for a narrative re-elaboration of Franco´s repression relevant to the public recognition and justice of victims.


Pablo Sánchez León is researcher at the Universidad del País Vasco in Bilbao. He is specialist in the history of social movements in early modern and modern Spain from different perspectives and methodologies. He is interested in theoretical and historical approaches to the functioning of patterns of collective memory in general, and of “regimes of memory” in particular. He has contributed to build this latter concept in “Overcoming the Violent Past in Spain, 1939-2009” and “Past Jihads, Citizenship and Regimes of Memory in Modern Spain”, both published in European Review (2012 and 2016, respectively). He has just published (with Jesús Izquierdo Martín) La guerra que nos han contado y la que no. Memoria e historia de 1936 para el siglo XXI [The war we were told and the one we were not told. Memory and history of 1936 for the 21st century] (Madrid, Postmetropolis, 2017).

Tomasz Zarycki (Warsaw):
The Social Construction of the Historical Traumas: The Polish Experiences of Uses of History in An Intelligentsia-Dominated Polity


As the paper will argue, Poland’s mainstream national historical narrative, at least as far as the last two centuries of history of Poland is concerned, is full of “traumatic” motives which are regularly used and developed in diverse contexts of current politics. Polish history is imagined to a large extent as constant chain two hundred years of sufferings, caused among others, by occupations, wars, and exploitation, which are usually seen as not fully recognized in other countries, in particular in the West. The paper will first of all attempt to explain this specific nature of Poland’s historical identity by the privileged role of the intelligentsia, understood as a specific type of elite based on possession and control of cultural capital. It will also point to a very biased nature of the mainstream narrative in question, even regarding its selective choice of potential “traumas” which are assigned a national status. In the second part, the paper will try to show how different factions of the intelligentsia use the narratives of historical traumas in order not only to legitimize and build their positions in what can be called Polish “field of power” to use the notion proposed by Pierre Bourdieu. The particular configuration and recent history of the field of power in Poland will be reconstructed in order to explain different strategies of what can be called social and political construction of historical traumas in Poland.


Tomasz Zarycki is Associate Professor and Director of the Robert Zajonc Institute for Social Studies at the University of Warsaw, Poland. He holds “habilitation” degree in sociology from the Institute for Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. His research focuses on sociology of politics, sociology of culture, sociology of knowledge, critical sociology and discourse analysis with particular focus on Polish and Eastern European societies. His latest book is Ideologies of Eastness in Central and Eastern Europe (Routledge, 2014). His earlier books include “Peryferie. Nowe ujęcia zależności centro-peryferyjnych” (Peripheries. New approaches to centre-periphery relations, Warsaw: Scholar, 2009), “Kapitał kulturowy. Inteligencja w Polsce i Rosji” (Cultural Capital. The Intelligentsia in Poland and Russia, Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego 2008), “New Regional Identities and Strategic Essentialism. Case studies from Poland, Italy and Germany” (co-author, Münster: LIT Verlag, 2007), „Region jako kontekst zachowań politycznych”, (Region as a Context of Political Behavior, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe “Scholar” 2002). His articles appeared in such journals as “Communist and Post-Communist Studies”, “East European Politics and Societies”, “Europe-Asia Studies”, “GeoForum”, “Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics”, “Kultura i Społeczeństwo”, “Russian Education & Society”, “Theory and Society” and several others.

Balázs Trencsényi (Budapest):
Identity Politics and Anti-Liberalism in Post-Transition East Central Europe


In the paper I give a short overview of the most important aspects of the reconfiguration of political discourse in East Central Europe during the last decade. By doing so, I will try to hint at some of the factors which distinguish the dynamics in this part of the world from other meso-regions but will also try to indicate certain aspects that seem to be fitting into a trans-regional, perhaps global transformation. The “liberal consensus” of the transition years was increasingly overwritten by new ideological projects which stressed the incompatibility of world-views and the necessity of political struggle. These projects draw on the pre-1989 and also pre-1945 cleavages in these societies an also the concomitant historical traumas of loss (of independence, power, status, territory, etc). There have been various internal and external attempts to analyze the emerging new patterns in terms of a new, “illiberal” or “hybrid” form of government, but these patterns were rarely put into a broader regional comaprative and historical perspective. The paper attempts to do exactly this, placing the post-2004 developments into the longue durée history of cultural and political ambiguity of this region concerning Western forms of liberal democracy.  


Balázs Trencsényi is Professor at the History Department of Central European University, Budapest. He is the author of The Politics of ‘National Character’: A Study in Interwar East European Thought (Routledge, 2012), co-author of A History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe. vol. I: Negotiating Modernity in the “Long Nineteenth Century” (Oxford UP, 2016); and co-editor of Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1775–1945) vols. IIV (CEU Press, 2006–2014). He is a member of the Academia Europaea.

Alessandro Cavalli (Pavia):
Age Cohorts and the Memory of Traumatic Events


In specific contingencies traumatic events intervene in breaking the continuity of the life of social communities or whole societies. Research in past years were conducted in several Italian communities hit by natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes or floods. These events, some anticipated and other unexpected, can be studied as a series of processes, some short term (emergency, help supply, temporary recovery), other medium or long term (reconstruction, normalization, working out memory and transmission). In disaster communities these processes can be studied like in a kind of laboratory, since same or similar processes concern also whole societies after major discontinuities like wars or revolutions. There are of course significant differences that  should not be disregarded: “natural” catastrophes are often – but to always – single events, wars on the contrary are sets of events placed in time between a beginning and an end. The transition in Eastern Europe from a regime to the next was not a single event, however a single event can be interpreted symbolically as a crucial turning point distinguishing a time before and a time after. One important variable is the time duration of the different phases of the process. A second crucial variable in memory construction seams to be the age span of the population in which the various phases of the process occur. Childhood, adolescence, youth, early adulthood, maturity, old age are more or less clearly defined phases in the life course. In any case, it makes a difference in which phase of the life course the traumatic events occurs. The memory of the event depends on a mixture of personal experiences, on the experience and tales of relevant persons (parents, great parents), on tales of the event by the media. Memories of traumas are socially constructs, however there is never a single memories but always a set of sometime conflicting memories.


ALESSANDRO CAVALLI (born in 1939) was Professor of Sociology at the University of Pavia (Italy). After taking his doctoral degree in Milan, he studied at Yale University and the University of California (Berkeley) as Harkness Fellow of the Commonwealth Fund. Member of the Executive Committee of the International Sociological Association (1982-1986), taught as Max Weber’s Gastprofessor at the Heidelberg University (1989), as L. Leclerq Professor at the Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve (1994), was Fellow of the Collegium Budapest (1995), member of the Editorial Board of the Enciclopedia delle Scienze Sociali, Editor of Il Mulino, Journal of Culture and Politics (1994-2002), member of the Academia Europaea, of the Accademia delle Scienze (Turin) and of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Rome), is actually Honorary President of the Associazione Italiana di Sociologia. His fields of study and research are: German Social Thought between xixth and xxth Century; Sociology of Youth and Higher Education; Generations and Memory Studies, Social and Territorial Unbalances in Comparative Perspective.

Péter Cserne (Hull, UK):
Thinking about Judicial Formalism in Central and Eastern Europe – Symptom of an Inferiority Complex?


In both practitioners’ comments and the academic literature on Central and Eastern European legal cultures, there has been a general understanding and much lament about the persistence of certain features of legal thinking of the socialist era. In particular, the judicial style in CEE is often characterised as formalistic, magisterial, terse, and deductive. Post-communist CEE is sometimes called “the last bastion” of formalism. Most current empirical research and quasi-empirical writings on the alleged formalism suffer from both conceptual and methodological difficulties. Yet, this paper suggests that before pursuing either an empirical analysis or serious normative arguments about judicial formalism in CEE, it is worth reflecting on the very way this issue is framed in current discourse. My hypothesis is that it is symptomatic of CEE political cultures that the debate has been conducted in simplified and misguided terms. I reconstruct two ideological narratives about the formalist heritage of CEE judiciary, variants of which seem to have dominated academic and policy debates in the last two decades. One of the reasons for this is that historical and normative claims are too easily linked with each other, as well as with practical (often reformist or conservative, EU-optimistic or EU-sceptical) agendas. The result is a discourse which falls short both in terms of normative and historical plausibility. I argue that we do not need to decide which of the two opposing positions is correct since their common assumption, the distinctiveness-of-formalism is misguided. I will also suggest that it is symptomatic of CEE political cultures that the debate has been conducted in these misguided terms, furthermore, that it is both practically and academically counterproductive to continue doing so. Yet the discourse makes an interesting case study if we understand it as a symptom or symbolic battleground. The debate on legal formalism is embedded in the political culture of the region and reflects patterns of thought and unresolved problems of collective (political) identity in the region. As the debate about judicial formalism becomes linked to deeply rooted and long term, sometimes traumatic issues of national and political identity, patterns of ideological thinking resurface easily. Formalism easily becomes a battleground for fierce controversies about collective political identity. The paper is best seen as an effort to diagnose how discussions on formalism may go astray because of the unreflective mixing of historical and normative arguments, leading to a misperception of formalism as a distinct feature of CEE judiciary. At present, this is not more than a hypothesis: a thorough analysis of this discourse would require detailed case studies as well as the analytical tools of cultural anthropology, political and social psychology. Perhaps the phenomenon of judicial method becoming a battleground for debates about collective identity is not a distinctive feature of CEE political cultures. Other weak or peripheral legal cultures also face and struggle with issues of national identity and collective inferiority complexes.


Péter Cserne is senior lecturer in law at the University of Hull, United Kingdom. His main research interests are philosophy of law, law and economics and the history of legal and political thought. He is the author of Freedom of Contract and Paternalism: Prospects and Limits of an Economic Approach (Palgrave 2012) and Közgazdaságtan és jogfilozófia: Rendszertelen áttekintés a jog gazdasági elemzésének elméleti és módszertani alapjairól [On the Theoretical and Methodological Foundations of the Economic Analysis of Law; in Hungarian] (Gondolat, 2015), co-editor of Legal and Political Theory in the Post-National Age, with M. Könczöl (Peter Lang 2011), National Legal Systems and Globalization: New Role, Continuing Relevance, with P Larouche (Springer – T.M.C. Asser 2013), and The Rule of Law and the Challenges for Jurisprudence, with M Könczöl and M Soniewicka (Peter Lang 2014). He is the co-founder and member of the advisory board of the Central and Eastern European Forum for Legal, Political and Social Theorists (

Budapest, 30 January 2017

Iván Zoltán DÉNES