Eugenics in the making

Examples from the history of eugenics in East and Central Europe

Date: 1 September 2017, 04:00–06:30

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 3002



This panel brings together young scholars dealing with the history of eugenics, which represented an intrinsic part of the new nation-building strategies after the first world war. A wide spectrum of different forms of eugenic thinking and movements will be addressed, with panelists discussing examples ranging from the position of scientific racism, the social networks of eugenicists, the impact of the civil war on the development of post-war eugenics to the ethnic minorities’ eugenic movements.


Marius Turda (Brookes University Oxford)


Zsuzsa Bokor (The Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities)

Ana Paradiž (University of Ljubljana)

Attila Kund (University of Pécs)

Alexandra Barmpouti (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)



Zsuzsa Bokor: Youth and health in the national regeneration discourses in the interwar Transylvania

Even though many historical studies have analyzed the history of Hungarian minority in the interwar period, there has been very little attention devoted to the use of eugenic terminology and to the idea of biological improvement of this community after the war. Investigations so far have been confined rather to the cultural, linguistic, social and political, than to the biological aspects, of this ethnic community. The purpose of the present study is therefore to investigate the different tendencies of Hungarian ethnic leaders and physicians who adapted the eugenic terms – even in the lack of specialized eugenic institutions – and put in practice through their “underground” public health activities and social activism. My paper will show how the notion of the healthy and young body got a completely new meaning after the war in association with the nations’ body and became embedded in public health activities that targeted the infants, young women (as mothers) and the powerful stratum of young intellectuals.

Ana Paradiž: Slovene eugenicists after World War I and World War II

After WWI, Slovene lands experienced radical border changes and later also fascism. After WWII, they were faced again with border changes and the consequences of the socialist revolution. By taking into account ego documents, periodicals and archival documents, the paper will explore how these ideological and political breaks influenced the work and social networks of Slovene eugenicists. Did they modify their attitude towards eugenics right after 1918 and after 1945? Did their “scientific transfer” take new shapes and directions in these periods? Did political breaks affect their connections with foreign scientists? Were Slovene eugenicists included in state’s post-war reconstruction? 

Attila Kund: Racism, science and academia in counter-revolutionary Hungary

The presentation aims to review the position of scientific racism, anti-Semitism, and nationalistic eugenics at academia in the 1920s counter-revolutionary Hungary. Here I explain how controversies around well-known professors like Lajos Méhely and János Bársony incited different reactions from the different scientific institutions. I argue that universities and particular professional associations tended to adapt to the new right wing zeitgeist while the Hungarian Academy of Sciences maintained a form of pre-World War I liberalism shaping their reaction to racism and racial anti-Semitism. Finally, I review the literature concerning racism and anti-Semitism in 1920s academia in the light of my findings. 

Alexandra Barmpouti: “Save the nation”: Eugenics and social transformation in Greece

Under the pretence of national protectionism, eugenics ideology thrived in many countries. Social transformation and population management were central to eugenics rhetoric which sought to establish a biopolitical authority in order to save the citizens from biological degeneration and social decay. After the defeat of the Communists at the end of the civil war (1949), Greek eugenicists often expressed anti-communist feelings when discussing about the restoration of sociopolitical stability in the country. In my paper, I will discuss the impact of the civil war on the development of post-war eugenics regarding national protection and social transformation. 

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