CfP: Social Movements and the Challenges to State Socialism in Central and Eastern Europe

Call for papers, deadline 20 January 2020

Northumbria University

"Histories of Activism" Research Group & Institute of Humanities and the Society for the Study of Labour History (SSLH), Northumbria University
27.03.2020 - 28.03.2020

Following the dramatic events of 1989, the political landscape looked significantly different and continued to be in flux throughout 1990. The German Democratic Republic held its first (and final) democratic election in March 1990, setting a path that ultimately led to reunification in October that year. In June 1990, the holding of parliamentary elections in Czechoslovakia confirmed the outcome of the previous year’s Velvet Revolution. And in Poland, the country’s political transformation was symbolised by the election of Solidarność founder Lech Wałęsa to the presidency in December 1990. Throughout the year, challenges to the status quo in the Soviet Union came from a variety of national, political and environmental movements, extending into many aspects of everyday life.

Thirty years on from these seismic changes, our conference intends to offer a fresh assessment of the way in which communist rule was being contested before the collapse of state socialism. We are particularly interested in the ways that social movements and transnational actors challenged the existing systems and power relations. We invite proposals on different countries in the region, with a focus on movements and events in the 1970s and/or 1980s. Potential angles include the following:

- The extent to which different activist currents – including pacifism and environmentalism – questioned the principles and practices of state socialism;
- The responses of Western trade unionists, socialists and communists to dissident movements in the East;
- The interactions between a new politics of human rights and traditional forms of social and political activism;
- The ways in which particular modes of cultural expression represented and advanced political challenges;
- The envisaging of socialist alternatives – or alternative socialisms – within the countries in the Soviet bloc.

Alongside contributions from the discipline of History, we welcome papers that draw on examples from Literature, Music, Art and Film.

Please send your abstracts of up to 300 words as well as a short biographical note to Charlotte Alston ( and Daniel Laqua ( no later than 20 January 2020. We intend to publish a selection of papers that are presented at this event.

The event is hosted by the ‘Histories of Activism’ research group at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, with support from the university’s Institute of Humanities and the Society for the Study of Labour History (SSLH).