Imagining Central Europe


University of Vienna

  • 00Days
  • 00Hours
  • 00Minutes

(Re-)Shaping a Geopolitical Concept in Literature, Visual Arts, and Popular Culture

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” the CENTRAL network will host a three-day international conference, held at the University of Vienna (Marietta-Blau-Saal, main university building) on 23-25 September 2024. The conference is held to mark the network’s 10th anniversary. 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.

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. 


23 September 2024



@ Main Venue: Marietta-Blau-Saal (University of Vienna, Main Building)


Greeting & Introduction

@ DIFFERENT VENUE! HS21 (University of Vienna, Main Building)


Keynote Lecture by Prof. (emer.) Dr. Dr. h.c. Aleida Assmann

@ DIFFERENT VENUE! HS21 (University of Vienna, Main Building)

Chair: Alfrun Kliems


Coffee Break


Panel 1

(Re)Locating Central Europe in 21st Century Literature

@ Marietta-Blau-Saal (University of Vienna, Main Building)

Chair: Paula Wojcik

Alfrun Kliems (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Towards a (New) History of Central European Literature. Reflections on a Seemingly Spent Topic >>

Danuta Sosnowska (Uniwersytet Warszawski)

The Invisible Religiosity in Central European Culture: The Case of Czech Literature in the First Decade of the 21st Century >>

Petr A. Bílek (Univerzita Karlova v Praze)

Heterotopias of crisis: The 1980s debate of Central Europe of the political and cultural as a typical binary opposition concept >>

Csongor Lőrincz (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Border politics between sovereignty and trade in Ádám Bodors’s The Sinistra Zone >>


Central European Culture Salon

(Volkskundemuseum, Laudongasse 15-19, 1080 Wien // Großer Festsaal // or via Zoom)

Public discussion about the current state of the arts and culture industry, their projects and cultural exchange within Central Europe. Confirmed guests are: Tanya Malyartschuk (Ingeborg Bachmann Prize 2018), Ziemowit Szczerek (Paszport Polityki 2013, Nominee for Angelus Award 2015), Iryna Herasmovich (Belarusian artist and translator in exile), Tino Schlench (literary blog literaturpalast), and Katharina Raabe (Suhrkamp publishing house).

Moderated by Martin Thomas Pesl

For online participation via Zoom please register here.

Co-funded by Stadt Wien – Kultur

24 September 2024


PhD Elevator Pitch Event

@ Marietta-Blau-Saal (University of Vienna, Main Building)

During this event, 10 PhD students have three minutes each to present their projects in front of more experienced scholars. The presentations will be held in three rounds. After each round, the experts will be invited to note their questions. After the presentations, we will draw three questions from a feedback-box to stimulate discussions that will be continued afterwards in smaller groups. 
Moderated by Josef Šebek


Coffee Break


Panel 2

Shifting East: Central European Discourse(s) in Belarus and Ukraine

Chair: Anna Seidel

Olena Pavlova (KNU Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv)

“Laughable” ephemera in the context of “construction” of Central Europe: Ukrainian perspective on the media landscape >>

Heinrich Kirschbaum (Universität Freiburg) & Yaraslava Ananka (Universität Leipzig)

Divertimenti of Decolonization: Belarusian Literature on and in “Central Europe” >>

Manuel Ghilarducci  (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) 

The Shadows of the Kingdom of Belarus. (Re)Imaginations of Central/Middle Europe in Ihar Babkoŭ’s Works >>


Lunch Break


Panel 3

Intermedial (De)Constructions of Central Europeanness

Chair: Josef Šebek

Libuše Heczková & Kateřina Svatoňová (Univerzita Karlova v Praze)

Beer in Film: An Imagined National Identity!? >>

Mónika Dánél (ELTE Budapest)

Accented Territories, Porous Borders – East-Central Europe as a Multilingual Geopoetical Space in Literature and Film >>

Dobrota Pucherová (Slovak Academy of Sciences / Universität Wien)

Central Europe in Contemporary Slovak Theatre >>


Coffee Break


City Drift: Traces and Spots of Central Europe in Vienna

The City Drift will lead the conference participants to spaces and places that epitomize Vienna’s ‘Central Europeanness’. The drift will be a mixture of a structured walk and a so called situationist dérive, meaning that there will be spots the participants will explore together as a group and parts the participants can discover by themselves.


Dinner (speakers only)

25 September 2024


Panel 4

New Media – New Borders: Digital Re-Shapings of Central Europe

Chair: Danuta Sosnowska

Anastasia Tormakhova (KNU-Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv)

Ukrainian Art of the 21st Century: The Struggle for Central European Values in Digital Media >>

Justyna Jaworska (Uniwersytet Warszawski)

Centralisation and Carnival Resistance: The Case of the Monthly “Dialog” >>

Tomasz Majkowski (Uniwersytet Jagielloński w Krakowie)

Glory to Arstotzka! Imagining Central Europe in Digital Games >>


Coffee Break


Panel 5

Voices from Outside: Exoticizing (?) Central European Space(s)

Chair: Stephan Krause

Miriam Finkelstein (Universität Konstanz)

In Search of Old Homeland. Imaginations of Poland in Contemporary Kazakhstani Literature >>

Dariusz Skórczewski (Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski Jana Pawła II)

Europe of dreamers, beggars, and solidarity. Tropes of Central European discourse in Wojciech Kudyba’s narrative prose >>


Lunch Break


Open Space Workshop: New Perspectives, Questions and Challenges in Central European Cultural Studies


Introduction to the Open Space Method


Working Phase

Identifying Topics, Creating Working Groups, Working on Project Outlines (participants decide on breaks and time structures of their work on an individual level)


Presentation of outcomes


Closing of the Conference


Registration is possible from July 1st

Academic Directors

Anna Seidel, M.A., M.A
(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Assoz.-Prof. Dr. Paula Wojcik
(Universität Wien)

Prof. Dr. Alfrun Kliems
(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Organizing Committee

Chair of the Organizing Committee

Anna Seidel
(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Members of the Organizing Committee

Paula Wojcik
(Universität Wien)

Danuta Sosnowska
(Uniwersytet Warszawski)

Josef Šebek
(Univerzita Karlova v Praze)

Stephan Krause
(GWZO Leipzig)

Alfrun Kliems
(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)