Monday, 5 June 2017

WEast Workshop, May 19-20 2017 in Bucharest

This blog post was written by
Cristina Victoria Radu,
PhD student at University of
Southern Denmark
The WEast workshop recently took place in Bucharest on the 19th and 20th of May, bringing together scholars working on a wide range of topics in economic history, growth and development dedicated to countries from Eastern and Central Europe. The WEast initiative, which is sponsored by the European Historical Economics Society (EHES), has a long tradition of organizing annual workshops on these subjects in different cities of Eastern Europe and is organized by Dr Mikolaj Malinowski (Lund University), Dr Tamás Vonyó (Bocconi University), and Prof Jacob Weisdorf (University of Southern Denmark).

The Bucharest workshop was hosted by two leading local universities: The Faculty of Theoretical and Applied Economics at the Bucharest University of Economic Studies, and the Faculty of History at University of Bucharest. The local organizers, who made sure the event was a successful one, were: Prof Florentina Nițu, Dean of the Faculty of History at University of Bucharest; Prof Grigore Piroșcă, Dean of the Faculty of Theoretical and Applied Economics at Bucharest University of Economic Studies; Prof Roxana Sârbu, Vice-Rector of the Bucharest University of Economic Studies, and myself - Cristina Victoria Radu, PhD student in economics at the University of Southern Denmark.

On the morning of the first day, the workshop was held in a building of the Faculty of Theoretical and Applied Economics, starting with a warm welcome address by the local organizers. Our first keynote speaker was Sheilagh Ogilvie (Cambridge University) who opened the meeting with a captivating lecture entitled: “The Second Serfdom in Early Modern Central Europe” in which she offered an interesting perspective of the impact of the second serfdom on peasants’ lives in Czech villages. One of the pillars of her speech was the advocacy for shifting focus from the question “did serfdom matter?” to “how did serfdom matter?”. By her way of lecturing, she established a very positive energy, which lasted for the rest of the workshop. 

After a short 15 minutes break, which was mainly used to set the Wi-Fi connection on the phones, the first session of the meeting began. Named “Institutional development and markets”, the session was (strictly!) chaired by Jacob Weisdorf. The first presenter, Mikolaj Malinowski (Lund University) talked about “Economic Consequences of Anarchy; Legal state capacity and market integration in Poland, 1505‐1772” arguing that the early modern Polish parliament had a strong impact on lowering transaction costs, thus the Polish parliamentary crisis contributed to domestic market fragmentation. This suggests that legal state capacity could have been important for market development in preindustrial Europe, and could partially explain the origins of the Little Divergence. The second speaker was Iosif Marin Balog (“George Baritiu” Institute of History Cluj Napoca) who presented his paper: “State‐economy relationship in the Habsburg Monarchy at the Middle nineteenth century: some considerations”. He pointed out the main aspects of the economic policies of Vienna in Transylvania between 1850-1867 and concluded that the legal and institutional mechanisms had major and lasting effects on the economy, while the state showed little interest in large scale economic activities in this province. Further on, Constantin Ardeleanu (Utrecht University and New Europe College, Bucharest) gave a presentation about “The coming of capitalism to the lower Danube. Grain trade, transport infrastructure, international institutions, and national economic policies (1829–1914)” in which he touched upon the important moments in the history of Romania’s maritime ports, with quantitative details and relevant national and international developments. The last presenter from this session was Olga Ivashchenko (The Institute of Sociology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine) who spoke about “Post‐soviet Ukraine 25 years way of transition: overcoming the inherited market obstacles and ideological traps”, presenting an analysis of how the soviet ideology affected the social transformation to a market economy in the country.

The second session was chaired by Mikolaj Malinowski and was called “Ethnicity, violence and welfare”. Jacob Weisdorf (University of Southern Denmark) initiated the session with a presentation entitled “Living standards in Eastern Europe in the long run”. Building on Allen’s paper from 2001 (The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War), his animated talk inoculated the belief that collecting data on wages and prices for Eastern Europe is actually feasible, which would help place this part of the continent in the Great Divergence debate. The next presenters, Jörg Baten and Thomas Keywood (University of Tübingen) jointly offered a presentation of their paper named “Determinants of Violence in Eastern Europe, 5th‐19th Century” for which they used regicide (the murder of royalty) as a proxy for societal violence, comparing Eastern and Western Europe between the 5th and 18th centuries AD.

Thomas Keywood and Joerg Baten. – debates in the second session at The Faculty of Theoretical and Applied Economics

The subsequent speaker, Beatrice Nicolle Crețu (University of Bucharest) presented “Into the Rose Garden: The Impact of Humanitarian Assistance on the Economy of a City under Siege (Sarajevo, 1992 – 1996)” and provided insights about the effects of humanitarian assistance on the lives of people from Sarajevo in terms of the distribution of food, water, medicine and other items of value during the siege. Her work shows that despite an inherent development of black markets, the humanitarian relief was crucial for their well-being. Young‐ook Jang (London School of Economics) closed up the session by presenting his paper “The Road Home‐the role of ethnicity in Soviet and post Soviet migration”. In this study, he constructed a new dataset for regional ethnic migration by using Soviet and post-Soviet census data and administrative vital records, employing it to bring evidence that ethnic identity was an important factor in shaping migration patterns during the transition period.

After the two interactive sessions with constructive debates, we had lunch at a quiet cantine in the university, enjoying tasteful traditional Romanian dishes among which the “Ciorba de perisoare” (meatball soup) was included. Later, we had a walk, accompanied by sunny weather and pleasant conversations, to the Faculty of History at the University of Bucharest. There, we started the third session of the workshop (a bit later than we had initially planned) chaired by Marta Christina Suciu and labeled “Financial development and business networks”. The first presenter was Anna Gladysheva (Russian Academy of Sciences) with her paper “Joint stock companies – construction element for the new economic relations between the USSR and Central and South‐Eastern European Countries” in which she described the Soviet joint stock companies and their role in Romania and Hungary for the period 1945-1949, showing that the Soviet intervention had a positive influence on the economic recovery for this particular case. Another author, Alexander Opitz (University of Hohenheim) presented “The network of corporate banks in interwar Germany” analyzing the profitability and market valuation of all Berlin-listed German corporate banks in 1920, in context of the formation of a business network through bankers holding various board memberships.

Alexander Optiz during his talk, and the audience

Further, Nikolaos Leonidakis (University of Crete) conveyed a presentation of his essay “Post Greek civil war loans in Greek textile companies ‐ The example of Erioklostiria Pennie‐Lanara Bros SA” in which he studied the economic progress of the textile industry, before and after receiving funds from the Marshall Plan, concluding that the centralized postwar Greek credit system favored a close relationship between the political and the business banking elite. The last speaker from this session was Robert Nagy (Babeș‐Bolyai University) who delivered the talk entitled “State policy and capital investments in Transylvania 1800‐1918” in which he presented the major economic trends and processes as well as the main branches of the economy that saw significant foreign investment in the period 1880-1918, for historical Transylvania and for the Eastern parts of the Hungarian Kingdom. 

After a break and some savory pastries, the 4th session began, having Christian Nasulea as chair. The session was called “Economic and social policies” and started with Suzana Mihajlović Babić (University of Belgrade) presenting “The economic thought influence on the social policy development in the nineteenth century in Serbia”. The main objectives of her work were the description of the economic policies of that period, highlighting the link between the influence of  Enlightenment, civic economic thought and the economic thought of socialism with measures in the field of social policy. Afterwards, Dragoș Sebastian Becheru (University of Bucharest) gave a presentation named “Romanian trade with the Middle East, under the influence of the Arab League’s Central Bureau of Boycott. 1970‐1978” describing Romania’s diplomatic and commercial relations during this period and their impact on the economy. Based on financial data, he analyzed overall and individual losses suffered by Romanian companies during the duration of the Arab League’s boycott. Roberta Stanef‐Puică (The Bucharest University of Economic Studies) closed the session with a paper entitled “Considering the new historical and economic context is the EU forced to adopt a Common Defense Policy?” presenting the key features of the Common Security and Defense Policy, how current global events have undermined the EU's role as a security actor in recent years, and the necessity of a common defense policy. 

The day ended with the second key-note lecture by Bogdan Murgescu (University of Bucharest), entitled “Explaining the Ups and Downs of Economic Performance in European Socialist Systems. Structural Change, Human Capital and Institutions in Romania (1948‐1989)”. He gave a stimulating and motivating overview of the performance of Romania’s economic history during the communist period, seen in an international context.

Bogdan Murgescu giving his keynote lecture at the Faculty of History

Emerging background music coming from a nearby concert along with the key-note lecture, signaled that a fruitful day of presentations had come to an end, so that we could receive a well-deserved dinner at “Casa Universitarilor”. The official day was completed with an affectionate speech by WEast organizer Mikolaj Malinowski, followed by unexpected chocolate gifts from the WEast organizers to the local organizers.

The second day of the workshop started with a provocative session named “Urbanization, growth and development”, chaired by myself. Katarzyna Wagner (University of Warsaw) opened the session by presenting her paper “Did large cities exist in the 17th century Polish‐Lithuanian Commonwealth? An attempt at definition”. Analyzing the registers of both municipal szos and Swedish contributions, attempts were made to define the metropolis status in the 17th century Crown by taking into account big discrepancies between the wealth of city residents, as well as type of housing, number of tenants and occupational structure of the residents. The session continued with Uygar Karaca (Koç University) offering a presentation named “A Comparative Analysis of Economic Development and Urbanization in Southeast European and Western Anatolian Towns, 1840‐1940”. This paper, coauthored with M. Erdem Kabadayı, analyzed micro-level occupational data extracted from the 1845 Ottoman tax survey to compare levels of urban economic development. This data, together with migration data, painted a picture of structural change, at the end of the Ottoman Empire, in Southeast Europe and Anatolia. The third presenter, Michal Ďurčo (Slovak academy of sciences) provided an innovative talk entitled “Road infrastructure development as a prerequisite for socio‐economic development of the regions of Slovakia during the interwar period” in which he discussed construction policy, motorization and the impact of the new roads. The speaker who ended the workshop was Ilya Voskoboynikov (National Research University Higher School of Economics) with “Labor productivity growth and structural change in the union republics of the USSR in 1966‐1990”. His research, based on a new dataset on input-output tables, analyzed the consequences of the planned economy of the Soviet Union for long run economic growth. 

After the session, final remarks and conclusions were expressed by the audience and key-note speakers, followed by a lovely excursion to one of Romania’s most beautiful scenes: the mountain resort of Sinaia and the Peleș Castle.

Group photo at the Peles Castle in Sinaia
This blog post was written by Cristina Victoria Radu, PhD student in economics at the University of Southern Denmark

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