UCL European Institute


Wilson's white world: the foundation of Central-Eastern European nation-states after World War I

12 March 2024, 6:00 pm–7:30 pm

James Mark

Join us for the fifth and final event in the [Black Europe] Speaker Series, as Professor James Mark (University of Exeter) discusses the birth of Central-Eastern European nations through the apparatus of colonial and racial thought.

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Olivia Scher


IAS Forum (G17)
South Wing

In Spring 2024, Off white: Central and Eastern Europe and the global history of race, a volume edited by Catherine Baker, Bogdan C. Iacob, Anikó Imre, James Mark, will be published with Manchester University Press. The work examines why Central and Eastern Europe has long been removed from global histories of race, and explores the region’s modern development as a white European periphery integrating into the racially hierarchical international order over the last two hundred years. James Mark will introduce the book and present his own contribution to the volume.

This paper will explore the ways in which the region’s self-determination and nation-building was conceptualised, enacted (and contested) as part of a broader world of colonial and racial thought. Contemporary Black American intellectuals and some anti-colonial leaders discussed the emancipation of the ‘weak and white’ Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Baltic states, and the simultaneous denial of statehood to the ‘darker nations’, as the defence of a white world now felt to be under threat from a rising East and anti-colonial movements in the South. Nationalists in the region itself often performed this commitment to a white colonial Europe: as protectors of the continent’s eastern borders from ‘Asiatic barbarism’; as potential colonists in Africa; or as bringers of white bourgeois European culture to their own ‘darker’ poorer minorities within. Rising leftist movements criticised this conception of Europe. This paper concludes with a history of how the memory of these ‘raced pasts’ was sidelined, particularly after the Second World War. This silencing under both Communism and liberal democracy underpinned an idea of racial innocence which has been recently exploited by populist movements.

James Mark's main areas of research are Eastern European cultures of memory, the social and cultural history of Communism, and the relationship between Eastern Europe and global histories of imperialism, anti-imperialism, and race.