Accepted Paper:

'It's a good time to be Hungarian': geopolitical temporalities and Economic Nationalization in Post-Mečiar Slovakia  
Brian Schwegler (University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

Convergence with global market structures in the late 1990s and early 2000s weakened Slovakia's economic sovereignty yet paradoxically strengthened conceptions of discrete national economies within modalities of ethnic (Slovak/Hungarian) differentiation along Slovakia's border with Hungary.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the confluence of iconic, metaphorical, and institutional structures of differentiation between Slovak and Hungarian national spaces, identities, and economic formations in Slovakia during the late 1990s-early 2000s. In Slovakia, it argues, the weakening of state economic sovereignty following the 1998 defeat of populist premier Vladimir Mečiar paradoxically strengthened the social significance of conceptions of Slovak and Hungarian national economies. Grounded in fieldwork conducted in an ethnically mixed town on Slovakia's border with Hungary, it argues that local residents' perceptions of Slovakia's stasis and Hungary's progress in EU accession negotiations and postsocialist economic transformations underscored understandings of discrete national economic formations within the global economy.

Ethnographic data for the paper was collected during the transition from Mečiarist economic protectionism to post-Mečiar neoliberalism and the rise of the Slovak economic 'tiger.' Transformations in economic policy manifest a geopolitical progression for Slovakia from postsocialist Eastern European marginalization to Central European membership in the EU, OECD, and NATO. This process of boundary erasure underscored conceptions of the national economy as a nexus of social and political change that produced referents for local, intimate processes of social differentiation. Residents of the border region in Slovakia performed ethnic, postsocialist, and European selves by moving between sites and practices they ascribed to Slovak and Hungarian national economies—e.g., through commercial crossings of the political border, by maintaining linguistic boundaries between state bureaucratic and local commercial interactions, and through educational choices for themselves and their children.. These diverse acts formed an idiom of demarcation that incorporated the geopolitical temporalities of postsocialist transformation, EU accession, and Central and East European belonging into the production of local social boundaries.

Panel W041
Eastern boundaries, money and gender: exploring shifting locations of identity and difference on the European peripheries