Conference Invitation: Imagining Central Europe


The conference will take place at the University of Vienna from 23.-25.09.2024 and is devoted to the (re-)Shaping of Central Europe as a Geopolitical Concept in Literature, Visual Arts, and Popular Culture

The conference "Imagining Central Europe", co-organised by Assoz.-Prof. Paula Wojcik, will take place at the University of Vienna from 23.9.-25.9.2024. More information about schedule and registration can be found here. The conference is open to registered participants (no conference fee). You can participate in the conference both on-site and online (via Zoom).  If you would like to participate, please register and specify whether you will attend online or on-site. 

In his 1983 article “The Tragedy of Central Europe,“ Czech-French writer Milan Kundera, points out how the geopolitical shifts after 1945 created a Central Europe that culturally identified itself with the West, but politically was directed toward the East. Kundera did not see the tragedy of Central Europe in this lack of political success, but rather stated that the real tragedy was that the Central European countries had “vanished from the map of the West.” The question of Central Europeʼs political and cultural visibility within Europe is all the more relevant today. The Western European discussion about legitimizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 showed, as Polish writer Szczepan Twardoch polemically yet aptly notes in an article about “westsplaining” that for many Western European intellectuals (East) Central Europe represents a kind of “terra nullius,” an exotic in-between between Europe and Asia, a magical or cursed no-man’s land, always ready to act as a projection space for Western European imaginations. So again, Central Europe seems to be forgotten by the West.

Forty years after the Czech dissident’s article, the conference will be guided by its oft-quoted words: “Central Europe is not a state: it is a culture or a fate. Ist borders are imaginary and must be drawn and redrawn with each new historical situation.” Building on this, the conference will discuss the following questions: How have Central Europe’s destiny, cultural shape and heritage changed? How is Central Europe being culturally imagined today? What regional differences can be identified? What impact does contemporary Jewish culture have on imaginative processes—a culture that shaped Central Europe for such a long time? And what role does the increasing digitalization of cultural life play in this process? Finally, we also want to ask, what function arts and culture assume in recent protest movements and geopolitical transitions in countriessuch as Belarus and Ukraine?

“Imagining Central Europe. (Re-)Shaping a Geopolitical Concept in Literature, Visual Arts, and Popular Culture” is a three-day international conference, held at the University of Vienna (Marietta-Blau-Saal, main university building) on 23-25 September 2024. It aims to critically continue the discourse on Central Europe in the cultural sciences and the humanities. At the same time, the conference updates it by addressing current media and political transformation processes from an explicitly interdisciplinary perspective. 

In five panel sessions with speakers from diverse fields of Central European Cultural and Media Studies, we will explore old and new perspectives in the studies of Central European arts, culture and media. A diverse social program will solidify new networks and discourses. It includes cultural events, such as a City Drift that will bring the participants closer to the concrete ‘Central Europeanness’ of the host city. In the Central European Culture Salon, we bring together scholars, artists, editors and bloggers whose work is centered geographically and thematically in Central Europe. Finally, we will organize an Open Space Workshop during which we will wrap-up the results of the conference and create a foundation for future scientific cooperation. The workshop will be open to registered participants (online and on-site) and will give them the opportunity to create thematic working groups and plans of action, both of which they can establish in a self-organized and self-responsible manner.

To give young scholars an even larger platform, we plan to hold an Elevator Pitch Event, during which ten PhD students will be given the opportunity to introduce their projects in short presentations and get feedback.