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Conference Series November 2011

The Doctoral College European Historical Dictatorship and Transformation Research at the University of Vienna organised a conference that consisted of two parts.

The first part Images of Power / Representations of the Past took place on November 7th-8th 2011 and focused on the social, political and ideological utilization and function of images in European dictatorial regimes of the 20th century, as well as on the representations of the past in post-dictatorial societies in transformation. The goal of the second part Public Sphere, Ideology, Transformation of Power, which will take place on November 24th-25th 2011, is on the one hand, to examine different strategies of the key representatives of European dictatorial regimes of the 20th century used in order to shape public opinion, and on the other hand, to analyze the initiatives introduced by various social groups as a response to a regime.

A highlight of the first day of the conference on November 7th was the public lecture Ende der Transformation - Ende der Demokratie? given by the renowned professor of Political Science Klaus von Beyme (University of Heidelberg). A video stream of the lecture will be available on this website soon.

International Conference “Images of Power / Representations of the Past”, 7. - 8. November 2011

The conference „Images of Power / Representations of the Past“ consisted of six panels. The panel “Visualizing Stereotypes” treated caricatures as a popular form of visualizing ideological enemies in democratic systems (examples: post-soviet Lithuania and Latvia) as well as in authoritarian regimes of the Cold War period (examples: Yugoslavia and Poland). Another contribution treated the instrumentalization of photography for the reinforcement of foe images in the communist press in contemporary Moldova. Prof. Roswitha Breckner who chaired this panel pointed out that images and imagination accompany every human action without necessarily reaching the consciousness of the actor. The discussion centered on the question of the existence of universal visual archetypes in caricatures (traditions of visual representations of heroes, enemies, etc.) and on the key to understanding visual perception.

A panel called “Constructing Identities” treated the role of art in binding citizens to the state and regime. The lecturers elaborated on the exhibition policy of the Portuguese Estado Novo and the Nazi regime in Austria after the “Anschluss” 1938 as well as on the creation of a Soviet identity through art in Vilnius. The focus lay on the iconological peculiarities of the presented pictures and motives and also on the methodological challenges of archival research of pictures. The panel was chaired by Dr. Karin Liebhart.

The panel “Breaking Official Narratives” examined alternative narratives and specific features of their form of representation in authoritarian and democratic political systems. Political institutions observed and controlled media like photographs, caricatures, stamps and posters less strictly than newspapers. “In spite of their ‘marginality’” Turkish army-critical caricatures were able “to transport alternative narratives and challenge the system in a way that the simplicity of these pictures became their power.” Thus the chair of the panel Prof. Annegret Pelz commented and explained that this was possible because of these caricatures’ subtle allusions, their neglect by the holders of power and most importantly because of their closeness to the daily life of the addressees.

The second conference day was opened by the panel “Mobilizing the Masses”. The discussion centered on Soviet images of female workers of the 1930s, propagandistic photographic representations of Greek and Italian interwar dictatorships and the “embodiment” of a positive memory of Greek interwar dictatorship by the military junta in the end of the 1960s. Prof. Maria A. Stassinopoulou, chair of the panel, raised the question of the degree of factual mobilization of the masses through these media (photographs, posters and memorials). The subsequent discussion concluded that in times of massive illiteracy (interwar USSR, but also Greece and Italy) visual media played a major role in binding together the masses and the regime emotionally. For the Greek dictatorship of the 1960s we cannot speak of a mass effect of its memory politics. However, by erecting memorials and institutionalizing state commemoration days supporters of the junta were mobilized and at the same time debates on the past were initiated in the oppositional political camp. Thus objects of visual propaganda could also provoke critical opinions contrary to the intention of its authors.

“Representing the Past in Politics” was chaired by Prof. Carola Sachse and examined history as an inspiration and source of legitimation for regimes. Political function and relevance of the past in contemporary democratic systems were exemplified through parliamentary enactments of commemoration (Poland), through the treatment of relict memorials of a totalitarian regime (Bulgaria), and through the role of the Dollfuß-cult in Austrian politics. The discussion touched the role of political actors and the problem of the involvement of historians in historical and political discourses and also the initiation of such discourses through historians.

A panel titled “Staging Power” chaired by Dr. Andreas Pribersky concluded the conference “Images of Power / Representations of the Past”. It enquired into moving pictures (cinema and theater) and their functions for communist regimes of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Serbia before and after 1989. The discussion reflected upon cinema and theater art as performance for the masses and as media of entertainment for political elites in authoritarian states. Furthermore, historical myths and their role for the creation of national identities were discussed.

International Conference: Public Sphere, Ideology, Transformation of Power (24.-25. November 2011)

Photos and report on the second conference is coming soon.

Conference Materials


flyer (public lecture)


programme (both conferences)


poster (both conferences)

Vienna Doctoral College for "European Historical Dictatorship and Transformation Research"
University of Vienna

Spitalgasse 2-4, Hof 1
A-1090 Vienna
University of Vienna | Universitätsring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43-1-4277-0