Eastern Europe’s Minorities in a Century of Change

To mark the Institute for Historical Research’s centenary, the BASEES Study Group for Minority History is proud to present ‘Eastern Europe’s Minorities in a Century of Change’, a podcast series on the history of minorities and minority experiences in twentieth-century Central and Eastern Europe. While often presented as simply long-suffering victims of historic persecution, this series investigates the historical roles such groups played in this vast and complex region spanning the Baltics to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Rhine to the Ural Mountains.

Bringing together a range of interviews with internationally recognised experts, it considers how the momentous changes that befell the region in this period impacted upon the lives of millions, such as the creation of new countries on the ruins of Europe’s former empires.

Guests include Orlando Figes (Birkbeck, University of London), Molly Greene (Princeton University), Mark Levene (University of Southampton), Cathie Carmichael (University of East Anglia), Andrii Portnov (European University, Viadrina), Matthew Frank (University of Leeds), Raul Carstocea (Maynooth University), Boerries Kuzmany (University of Vienna), John Paul Newman (Maynooth University), and Tomasz Kamusella (University of St Andrews). Each episode will be released weekly from early October and will be made available for free via a range of online platforms including the official IHR and BASEES websites.

Episode 1: “Greeks and Muslims in the Classical Ottoman Empire”

Prof Molly Green (Princeton University) in conversation with Samuel Foster

In this episode, Molly Greene, Professor of History and Hellenic Studies at Princeton University, talks to us about civil and cultural relations during the Ottoman Empire’s ‘Classical Age’ from 1300-1800. Focusing on the Empire’s Christian Greeks, Molly considers how this period would define modern Greek identity. Key to this was a perceived sense of historical persecution, necessitating a Christian ‘flight to the mountains’.

Episode 2: Minority Protection and Population Transfers in interwar Europe

Matthew Frank (University of Leeds) in conversation with Michal Frankl

In this episode, Michal Frankl, principal investigator of the ERC-funded project “Unlikely refuge? Refugees and citizens in East-Central Europe in the 20th century” at the Masaryk Institute and Archive of the Czech Academy of Sciences talks to Matthew Frank, Associate Professor in International History at the University of Leeds about the mass displacement of minority populations in interwar Europe. Focussing primarily on the ideologies and actions of governments and international organizations, Matthew considers how such population transfers concurred with the nascent minority protection regime set out by the League of Nations and came to be widely accepted as a state-building mechanism for the newly established nation-states of Eastern Europe.

“Unlikely refuge? Refugees and citizens in East-Central Europe in the 20th century” www.unlikely-refuge.eu/

Matthew Frank, Making Minorities History. Population Transfer in Twentieth-Century Europe (Oxford UP, 2017): global.oup.com/academic/product/…41?cc=ua&lang=en&

Episode 3: Minorities in Interwar Romania and the Rise of Fascism

Raul Cârstocea (Maynooth University) in conversation with Roland Clark (University of Liverpool)

In this episode, Raul Cârstocea, Lecturer in European History at Maynooth University and Honorary Fellow at the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Leicester, talks to Roland Clark (University of Liverpool) about historical antisemitisim and the rise of fascism in interwar Romania. He discusses the dramatic expansion of Romania’s borders following the First World War and the appearance of greater diversity in what had previously been a relatively homogenous population. The newly-incorporated territories included many Jews, who became a scapegoat for many of Romania’s postwar socioeconomic problems. Raul considers the role antisemitic narratives played in the emergence of the native fascist movement, and what distinguished it from other far-right groups in Europe before the Second World War.

Episode 4: The Minority Question in Poland: Past and Present

Tomasz Kamusella (University of St Andrews) in conversation with Olena Palko

In this episode, Tomasz Kamusella, Reader in European History at the University of St Andrews, talks to us about the national and minority questions in modern Poland. Focusing on Poland’s language and minority policies from 1918, Tomasz considers how Polish nationalism came to define the ethnic make-up of interwar Poland and keeps shaping a particular idea of the country as an ethnically homogeneous nation-state. Tomasz discusses language politics, both in Poland and Central Europe in general, to show how national activists and politicians constructed languages and minorities in this region.

Episode 5: Minority crises in ‘the Rimlands’

Mark Levene (University of Southhampton) in conversation with Raul Cârstocea (Maynooth University)

In this episode, Mark Levene, Emeritus Fellow in History at the University of Southampton, talks to Raul Cârstocea, Lecturer in European History at Maynooth University and Honorary Fellow at the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Leicester, about historical ethnic and religious diversity in Central and Eastern Europe and the challenges the region and its people have faced throughout the 20th century. Key to this was the ethnic violence that accompanied the collapse of the European empires from 1917 to 1923 and the atrocities of the Second World War, as well as the ongoing climate crisis as experienced by the region’s minority groups.

Episode 6: Herzegovina’s Minorities under the Habsburgs


In this episode, Cathie Carmichael, Professor of European History at the University of East Anglia, talks to us about the military occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary and its impact on the various minority groups that comprised its multiethnic population from 1878 to 1918. This was especially notable in the territory’s more remote southern region of Herzegovina where the Habsburg military’s ‘civilizing’ efforts faced a plethora of social challenges and rising political tensions. 

Episode 7. Andrii Portnov: The entangled history of Ukraine’s minorities

In this episode, Andrii Portnov, Professor of Entangled History of Ukraine at the European University Viadrina (Frankfurt/Oder), talks to us about the historiographical challenges of Ukraine’s ethnic and confessional diversity. Once the borderland of three different empires, the territory that forms modern-day Ukraine had failed to secure its independence in the aftermath of the First World War and remained split between the Soviet and Polish governments until 1939. Even after seceding from the Soviet Union in 1991, however, Ukraine continues to grapple with these imperial legacies while struggling to politically embrace its historical and modern-day heterogeneity.

Episode 8. Boerries Kuzmany: Minorities and Non-Territorial Autonomy

In this episode, Boerries Kuzmany, assistant professor for Habsburg and East European History at the University of Vienna, talks to us about ethnic and religious diversity in the Habsburg province of Galicia, specifically the city of Brody located today near Ukraine’s border with Poland.

Boerries is also the principal investigator for the “Non-Territorial Autonomy as Minority Protection in Europe” project, funded by the European Research Council. He explains the concept of non-territorial autonomy and its potential for minority protection. Originally articulated by Austrian Social Democrats at the turn of the 20th century, the idea of non-territorial autonomy was incorporated into the political agenda of several newly established governments in Eastern Europe in the interwar period as a method for managing ethnic diversity. Despite its recognized limitations, Boerries argues that the concept endures as a suitable model for multi-ethnic states and continues to appeal to politicians and theorists worldwide.

Episode 9. John Paul Newman: Yugoslavia’s Disabled Veterans as a Social Minority

In this episode, John Paul Newman, Associate Professor in Twentieth-century European History at Maynooth, National University of Ireland, discusses his ongoing research into the lives and experiences of physically disabled military veterans in the Former Yugoslavia during the inter-war and Cold War eras. Despite receiving official and public praise for their sacrifices in the First and Second World Wars, former soldiers often struggled to reintegrate into civilian life, frequently coupled with inadequate state welfare provision. This, in turn, gave rise to a partial sense of social identity among disabled veterans, one with the potential to transcend ethnic and historical divisions.

Episode 10. Orlando Figes: The ‘Nationalities Dilemma’ in the Russian Empire

In this episode, Orlando Figes, Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London, discusses ethnic and religious diversity in the late Russian Empire and its impact on the outcome of the 1917 revolutions in the broader historical sense. Orlando also highlights important, and often overlooked, issues of continuity between Imperial Russian and early Soviet history in relation to nationality and minority concerns, and the benefits of following a transnational approach when it comes to studying modern Russia’s history and culture.

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