Post-Imperium Identity Formation and Institution Building: Taiwan, Hong Kong and Central/Eastern Europe Compared

Panel organizer & chair

Thomas Gold (University of California, Berkeley, USA)

Discussants & Contributors

Felix Brender (London School of Economics and Political Science [LSE])
Tana Dluhosova (Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Science)
Zlatko Sabic (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Miroslaw Michal Sadowski (McGill University, Canada [Poland])

Panel abstract

Taiwan and Hong Kong were both parts of larger empires and built new identities and institutions but their autonomy remains threatened by China, sparking resistance movements in those societies. The experience of postimperium states in Central and Eastern Europe offers lessons in what challenges need to be faced and how they can be met.

The rise of China as a global power has also spawned resistance movements in the former colonies of Taiwan and Hong Kong respectively, societies that Beijing claims as its own. Activists in those societies have employed historical research, cultural expression, mass movements and external support to assert distinct identities separate from that of China, and build institutions to embody these identities. The core idea for the panel is that these activities are reminiscent of similar efforts in Central and Eastern Europe after the collapse of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the USSR and Soviet bloc, in the 1990s, and offer lessons for Hog Kong and Taiwan. The process of identity formation occurred simultaneously with building new democratic institutions to embody and express political change. The nations that emerged had also historically been part of earlier empires, so the processes of identity formation and institution building have a very long legacy.

Research questions addressed in the papers include: how is a new comprehensive identity formed out of people of diverse ethnic, racial and linguistic backgrounds? How is this identity expressed in visual and performing arts, and in history museums? How do leading figures emerge who can impose their vision over the population, bringing together elites and masses? How do they deal with the non-democratic legacy of the past imperium? Is there authoritarian nostalgia? What role do external actors play in legitimizing and supporting – or obstructing – the new identity? Do societies learn from each other? How do institutions, such as education, law, religion and the bureaucracy adapt to and help legitimize (or obstruct) the new identity? How is new media used? Do elements from the old imperium try to subvert the process? Does democratization facilitate or delay change? How does geography have an impact? Has violence been part of the process? The individual research foci address social change in Taiwan and/or Hong Kong as well as Central/Eastern Europe.

Felix Brender: Sleeping Dogs Won’t Lie Long —

Transitional Justice (TJ) mechanisms have been applied in a number of postconflict spaces and commonly hailed by the academy as a – if not the – route to lasting positive peace in Galtung’s taxonomy. Under the first Tsai administration, Taiwan launched its own TJ programmes – chiefly its two main mechanisms, the Truth and Justice Commission (促進轉型正義委員會, TJC) and Ill-Gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee Committee (不當黨產處 理委員會, CIPAS).

This paper opens with a brief review of extant scholarship. In its analysis, this paper approaches Taiwan’s TJ efforts first through the lens of constructivist Peace Studies, asking if and how Taiwan’s endeavours differ structurally and substantially from those seen e.g. in South Africa and former Warsaw Pact States, and how both the fact of such programmes and the specific features thereof impact Taiwanese identity building efforts. I go on to then show that the setup of the Taiwanese TJC and CIPAS responds to issues earlier such efforts have encountered elsewhere as well as academic critiques, and is thus much more likely to both uncover truths from the White Terror Period and produce justice for  victims and their descendants. As such, Taiwanese TJ is located both within a domestic identity discourse on democracy as a key feature of Taiwanese identity (Harrison 2006) as well as an international discourse with Taiwan simultaneously reasserting its membership in an international imagined community of democracies (cf Rowen and Rowen 2017), thus reifying and consolidating Taiwanese identity as a democratic, just nation both internally and externally. This paper hopes to contribute a new perspective to both

Peace Studies, in which Taiwanese TJ has been understudied, and area studies, especially Taiwan Studies – by providing a Peace and Conflict Studies perspective – and scholarship on Central European countries – for which a more detailed understanding could provide additional impetus and a blueprint for readdressing authoritarian pasts in other young democracies.

Tana Dluhosova:

The Central/Eastern European countries and Taiwan are being compared as representatives of the third wave of democratization, and many processes were indeed similar. But in terms of the elite trajectories, the situation is different. In a nutshell, in Czechoslovakia, political elites from the previous period turned into high profile businessmen and built on networks they had from the communist past. In Taiwan, this situation has not changed much across the 1980s divide.  This paper seeks to understand the reasons for this divergence.

Zlatko Sabic: 

Three decades since the independence, Slovenia’s foreign policy identity continues to be a work in progress, worryingly, because identity concerns begin

 to affect its decision-making. Many foreign policy fluctuations in the past, such as separation from the Balkans, then returning to the Balkans, looking down on ex-Communist countries and then striving to be a country with Central European identity, are but some of the manifestations of this trend. The most recent example is the government’s decision to join the Trump administration’s “anti-Huawei bloc” which perhaps best portrays the gist of Slovenia’s inability to formulate foreign policy based on foreign policy choices. The discussion seeks to understand the background of such decision-making and the impact it can have fore Slovenia’s foreign policy both in terms of transatlantic relations and relations with the East Asian region.


2019 and 2017 marked thirty and twenty years since the transitions in Poland and Hong Kong, respectively. Over this long period of time, significant political changes took place both in the Central European country and the South-East Asian SAR, particularly in the second decade of the 21st century. Were these changes marking as end of the transitions, the result of revolutions, or steps in the evolution of the political systems? The purpose of this paper is to analyse these changes in Poland and Hong Kong, with a special focus on law and collective memory, which have been crucial in both initiating as well as responding to the changes. In the first, introductory part of the paper the author gives background of the 1989 transition in Poland and the 1997 transition in Hong Kong, focusing on the seemingly aligned vectors of these transformations: towards a democracy. The second part of the paper is devoted to the 2010s decade in Poland, with the author concentrating of the country’s experience with illiberalism: the journey towards it, its implementation and what came after. In the third part of the paper the author turns toward the 2010s in Hong Kong, focusing on the omnipresent conflict that has engulfed the SAR since the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. In the fourth, final part of the paper the author compares and contrasts the recent experiences of the country and the SAR, venturing to classify them along the eponymous lines. Ultimately, he ponders about the political future of Poland and Hong Kong.