Constitutionalism in Central Europe: from Ruritania to Borduria (and Back?)

Special Workshop co-organised by the Centre for Legal Education and Social Theory (CLEST) as part of the international conference of the Fontes Association on “Law and Populism”, hosted by Lazarski University in Warsaw.

14-15 September 2019

Ziemowit Szczerek, one of the most interesting Polish writers of the middle generation, has recently recalled, in his novel Międzymorze (Intermarium) the two ways of perceiving Central Europe in the eyes of the West – Ruritania and Borduria. Ruritania is a mythical, rustical and backward Central Europe, which is docile towards Western influence, but at the same time sheepishly naive. Borduria is Central Europe which has rejeced ‘Western values’, and went down the track of nationalism and authoritarianism. ‘Regardless of what it was, Ruritania did not want to be Ruritania – writes Szczerek. – It is understandeable, who would want to be.’ As a result, the ‘Bordurias returned’, and in the Intermarium region ‘a great escape from the West is taking place.’

When back in 2002 Radoslav Procházka entitled his book on constitutional courts in the region with the characteristic phrase Mission Accomplished (suggesting that Ruritania is addressing the Western big Other) nobody expected that the idyllic picture of Westernized Ruritanian neophites, where legal transfers from Western Europe – constitutional courts, judicial independence, ‘rule of law’ functioned ideally – would soon be disrupted by the rise of old Bordurian demons. What happened during these almost two decades which changed the feelings of Central Europeans about following the model of liberal democracy and the rule of law? Are the changes in the region part of a global trend, symbolised by the rise of Trump and by Brexit, or is there a regional specificity to it? In other words, are we facing only a local variation of a global neoauthoritarian, populist trend, or is it Borduria knocking on the doors of Ruritania?

In the 1980s, Central European intellectuals described their region as civilizationally and culturally consistent with the West, temporarily controlled by the uncanny alien East only because of historical misfortune Their manifesto was expressed by Milan Kundera in his famous essay The Tragedy of Central Europe published in The New York Review of Books in 1984. At the same time, as described by Larry Wolff in his Inventing Eastern Europe (1994), western scholars, including Eric Hobsbawm and Robert Brenner, met at conferences such the topics as ‘Origins of Backwardness in Eastern Europe’, where Central European countries were included to the backward East. Therefore, Western imaginaries of Central Europe and Central European imaginaries of itself differed severely. Certainly, this has had an influence on differences in mutual expectations after 1989, and, in consequence, upon the course of processes that have been shaping the contemporary political landscape of Central Europe.

The orientalist imaginaries of Central Europe in the West, the appreciation of the West and will to imitate it (and the eternal sense of belonging to it) in Central Europe encountered the moment of liberation of the region’s countries from the influence of the Soviet Union. Therefore, can it be concluded that Central Europe after 1989 found itself in a post-colonial and neo-colonial situation at the same time?

During our Special Workshop, organised as part of the international conference on Law and Populism, we intend to take a step back from the on-going struggles between politicians and lawyers in Central Europe and try to answer the most fundamental questions from a broad historical and cultural perspective:

  • are Western instiutions of constitutional justice, rule of law and judicial independence merely foreign imports, which have been rejected in Central Europe, or are they part of our legal heritage too?
  • is the trend towards concentration of power in the hands of the executive a return to the authoritarian traditions of pre- and post-World War II ‘Borduria’, or rather a general trend observed globally?
  • are the perspectives of critical legal theory of a Marxist pedigree, such as represented by Stanisław Ehrlich or Jarosław Ładosz, a source of inspiration for the changes in Central Europe?
  • are the reasons behind the rule of law crisis attributable, at least partly, to their weak social legitimacy? have the Central European constitutional courts, at the time when they enjoyed immense law-making powers, use those powers to the benefit of vulnerable social groups (workers, pensioners, unemployed), or rather promoted the agenda of neoliberalism?
  • are there any perspectives for rebuilding constitutional justice and rule of law in Central Europe, and if yes – on what foundations? in other words, is the transition from ‘Ruritania’ to ‘Borduria’ a one-way road, or is there a way back?
  • what were the expectations of Central Europe towards the West in the first period of political transformation, and what were the West’s expectations towards Central Europe? What were the differences between Western imaginations of Central Europe and Central European imaginations about itself?
  • how does the adoption of a post-colonial and neo-colonial perspective (or neo-post-colonial, which is a combination of both these situations simultaneously) affect the assessment of the contemporary politics in Central Europe?

Deadline for submitting abstracts: 3 June 2019. We will inform about the acceptance of papers by 7 June 2019. In order to submit your abstract no longer than 500 words, please use EasyChair.

There is no conference fee. Materials and meals will be provided by the organisers. The organisers are unable to offer any scholarships to cover the costs of tickets and hotels. If you have any organisational questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at: ceenels@ceenels.org

Updates and further information will be published at this website. Full Call for Papers in PDF format can be downloaded here.

Convenors: Dr. habil. Rafał Mańko, Dr. Michał Stambulski, Piotr Eckhardt

Cover photo: Wiktor Baron / baronphotography.eu, CC-BY-SA-3.0