Introduction: Fascism in Interwar East Central and Southeastern Europe: Toward a New Transnational Research Agenda

In: East Central Europe
Constantin Iordachi
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This introductory essay provides a first, much needed comprehensive overview of the recent scholarship on fascism and the radical right in East Central and Southeastern Europe in local and international historiography. Its aim is to identify a new research agenda for studying fascism comparatively, potentially contributing to the fine-tuning or substantial modification of the existing explanatory paradigms. It is argued that comparative research on fascism and the radical right in these regions should be set on new theoretical and methodological foundations, as part of an effort toward greater interaction and convergence between scholarly research traditions in Eastern and Western Europe. My endeavor is based on the assumption that the study of fascist movements and regimes in East Central and Southeastern Europe is essential to the more general scholarly effort to understand radical politics in interwar Europe; without it, comparative research results remain partial and incomplete. Yet, this analytical effort does not simply mean an extension of the existing theoretical framework of generic fascism to previously uncharted regions. Regional explorations of fascism might function as a laboratory for further methodological innovation and as a field of experimentation and interaction of scholars from various disciplines and national historiographic traditions. They can potentially lead to the rejuvenation of fascist studies by renewing their thematic scope and by redirecting research from the prevailing Weberian ideal-type methodology fixated on the fascist “ideological minimum” to new comparative-historical analyses focusing on the triad ideology-movements-regimes. This novel agenda of research prompts scholars to rethink their units of analysis, and to renounce teleological comparative perspectives still prevalent in Cold War-type scholarship which takes Western Europe as a measuring stick and normatively evaluates other historical case studies only by means of negative comparisons (e.g.: what was missing, or what “went wrong” in non-Western regions). Instead of treating fascist movements and regimes in these regions as carbon copies of their more “genuine” Western counterparts, scholars should rather explore multiple laboratories for the elaboration of fascist ideology in interwar politics and the transfer of illiberal political ideas and practices over spatial or temporal borders, resulting in radical political experiments in East and West alike.

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