română/ bucurești/ cluj/ iași/ sibiu/

The appeal of hitting rock bottom: International Relations and the notion of a point zero

Lecture by Gergely Romsics

Thursday, 30 March 2023, 7 PM.

Moderator: Tibor Toró

[The lecture will be held in English]

tranzit. ro/Cluj, Napoca Street, no. 16, 1st. floor
Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Thinking about various “point zero” moments in international history is rooted in a venerable and long-standing tradition. The traditional assumption, according to which a global point zero would constitute a return to the „state of nature”, a moment of anarchical self-help and violence, has been superseded in the 20th century by theorizing about the potential of such a point zero to overcome difficult legacies of power politics, opening a new vista for constructing an international utopia, a Cosmopolis or “world city” of universal rights and security. Such legacies and hopes clashed in 1918-1919, as World War I drew to a close and the Paris Peace Conference was preparing to convene, and again from 1943 onwards as planning began about a new Europe and a new world after the elimination of the Nazi, fascist and imperial Japanese threats. 1989 brought about a return to utopian thinking about „overcoming” anarchy and insecurity in the international system, a process conceptualized in surprisingly similar terms to patterns of thought familiar from 1918-1919.

The presentation is less concerned with registering the now obvious errors of these optimistic calculations about what a point zero might mean in international relations and focuses instead on a critical investigation of how point zero states of the international system have been invoked to amplify hopes about the mutability of power politics.

Gergely Romsics is a senior researcher at the Research Center for the Humanities in Budapest. He is also an associate professor of modern and contemporary international history at Eötvös Loránd University. He majored in History and International Relations at the same school and Central European University and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the memory of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as a Zeit-Stiftung fellow. Gergely Romsics has a sustained interest in studying the conceptualization of international order with a special focus on Central and East Central Europe, as well as critically engaging with the so-called Realpolitik and geopolitics legacies shaping our imaginaries on these subjects. His current book project, soon to be available, covers the history of Hungarian foreign policy thinking in the turbulent years from 1917 to 1921.

Tibor Toró is a political scientist and Associate Professor at the Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania. He obtained an MA (2007) in Nationalism studies at CEU and Ph.D. (2013) in philosophy at UBB-Cluj. Main research interests: ethnopolitics, language policy, nationalism, and minority rights. His papers were published among others in Nationalities Papers, Language Policy, and the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development.

The lecture is part of Zero Point Summer School program developed by in 2023. The main challenge of the summer school is to identify the barriers in our scientific and creative thinking that treat crises and the automatic responses to them as natural and prevent us from experimenting with new approaches and utopias. We will focus on historical turning points, crises caused by catastrophes, and architectural visions that do not offer convenient and one-dimensional answers for political and economic leaders, designers, and creative communities.

Invited speakers and workshop leaders will tackle the abstract and utopian idea of the (re)starting point from different perspectives, embedded in narratives of political history, design and architectural history, social science, heritage conservation, and ecology. The Zero Point Summer School is open to students, young researchers, and to anyone interested in searching for new starting points, and projects a vision of a society based on solidarity and autonomy.

The project is curated by
Virág Bogyó and Ágnes Patakfalvi-Czirják.

Virág Bogyó is a contemporary artist, cultural worker and researcher based in Budapest. She holds a BA in Graphic Design, and an MA in Media Design (Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design). She is currently a doctoral candidate at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. She often works in collaboration and has been a member of several art collectives throughout her career. Her working method is research-based, participatory, and often deals with public space.

Ágnes Patakfalvi-Czirják, Ph.D. is a sociologist-anthropologist. Until recently she was a Postdoctoral Researcher in the European project “Popular Music and the Rise of Populism in Europe” (, and now she is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology and Communication, at Budapest University of Technology and Economics. “Her book A székely zászló a politikától a hétköznapokig” (“The Szekler Flag from Politics to Everyday Life”) was published in 2021 by Napvilág, which was awarded the Karl Polányi prize in 2022.

Reconstruction works, Leipzig, 1948 / photo: Renate Rössing