Idei în Agora. Transitional Historiography and Retrospective Justice. Convened by Sorin Antohi, featuring Antoon De Baets

Idei în Agora / Ideas in the Agora

Transitional Historiography and Retrospective Justice


Convened by Sorin Antohi, featuring Antoon De Baets

24-25 April 2024

MMB (Bucharest City Museum) and IICCMER (Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile)

1. MMB, Casa Filipescu-Cesianu, Calea Victoriei 151

24 April, 18:00-20:00 Transitional Historiography. Open Letters of Historians in Romania, Chile, and the Philippines. Lecture by Antoon De Baets, introduced and followed by a dialogue with Sorin Antohi.

2. IICCMER, Str. Alecu Russo, nr. 13-19, et. 5, ap. 10

25 April, 10:00-12:00 Transitional Historiography and Retrospective Justice. Roundtable. Antoon De Baets, Gabriel Andreescu, Cosmin Popa, Daniel Filip-Afloarei and other IICCMER experts. Introduction and Moderation: Sorin Antohi.

To discuss the crucial topics of transitional historiography (which is linked to a recurrent topic at Ideas in the Agora, Break and Continuity), we propose a two-part colloquium. In Part I, our special guest, Antoon De Baets, President of the International Commission for the History and Theory of Historiography (ICHTH), will deliver a lecture (see the abstract below), followed by a dialogue with me. Part II will follow up on the previous evening, with the participation of several Romanian experts: Gabriel Andreescu, a former dissident who became the pivotal figure of this country’s debate on history, memory, ethics, and human rights; Cosmin Popa, a historian specializing in Soviet and Russian studies and in Romanian recent history; Daniel Filip-Afloarei and some of his IICCMER colleagues, who will be sharing their experience in the fields under discussion. I will insist on my concept, retrospective justice, as different from, if not opposed to, retroactive justice. In other words, a mutant form of justice, more historical (at best) than juridical/legal, deeply connected to what I call epideictic history. I propose this latter concept in my paper to the major forthcoming conference (‘congress’ would be a better term), History & Responsibility: Doing History in Times of Conflicting Political Demands, organized by the International Network for Theory of History (INTH), with panels sponsored by ICHTH (Universidade Nova, Lisbon, 21-24 May 2024). Our colloquium, in a modest way, is a prequel to that global forum.

Here is, in a nutshell, what I will say there and then about epideictic history: „In the region [the former Soviet bloc], history had long been a form of epideictic discourse (in Aristotle’s sense), i.e., a praise-and/or-blame game usually catering to the taste of the largest possible majority and to the needs and dictates of the power elites. In other words, historians have been preaching to the believers. When and where necessary, following almost a circular logic, believers were first formed by means of state education, nationalist high culture, and Volksgeist-focused popular culture. As such, history as a discipline and a discourse has lapsed into irresponsibility, down to the level of instrumental (Party-)state lies. Over the last decades, it has also reached irrelevance, as both the common culture and the states can (and do) use historical mythology, ideology, and political propaganda instead of critical historical studies, i.e., responsible history. One dramatic such example is the uselessness of historical studies in the painful process of retroactive justice.”

I am grateful to the three institutions that made this event possible: MMB, IICCMER, Fundația Eastern Marketing Insights.

Sorin Antohi


Transitional historiography: Open letters of historians in Romania, Chile, and the Philippines

Lecture by Antoon De Baets


In societies that found themselves in transition from authoritarianism to democracy or vice versa, historians have sometimes sought the public arena and published open letters about the state of their profession. This was the case in Romania, where fourteen historians wrote a “Declaration of the Committee of Free Historians of Romania” in December 1989; in Chile where eleven historians published a “Manifiesto de historiadores” in February 1999; and in the Philippines, where nine academics drafted a “Manifesto in Defense of Historical Truth and Academic Freedom” in May 2022. In each of these cases, leading historians tried to formulate a vision of historiography for the future. The purpose of this talk is to compare these three attempts. The main question is to which values these historians appealed in times of transition when they confronted the legacy of dictators (Ceauşescu, Pinochet, and Marcos respectively) and when their ethics were tested in practice.


Antoon De Baets (b. 1955) is an Emeritus Professor of History, Ethics, and Human Rights, University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Since 1995, he is the coordinator of the Network of Concerned Historians. Current President of the International Commission for the History and Theory of Historiography (2022-2026). Born in Belgium, he has studied at the University of Ghent (B.A., two M.A.s, Ph.D.). His many publications, his teaching, and his academic leadership ubiquitous academic presence made him a central figure in the global debates and actions conceptualizing and promoting the inextricable combination of history, ethics, justice, and human rights. More at


Sorin Antohi (b. 1957) is a historian of ideas, essayist, translator. Member of Academia Europaea. More at


Idei în Agora / Ideas in the Agora is a program devoted to the analysis of the public spirit. It was initiated in 2017 by Sorin Antohi, and is supported by Adrian Majuru. Organized by Muzeul Municipiului București (Bucharest City Museum), in partnership with Orbis Tertius Association. In various formats (dialogue, lecture, roundtable, colloquium, conference), currents, movements, personalities, worldviews, theories, ideologies are engaged. The videos :  The archive:

The series started on 21 June 2017, with a dialogue between Gregory Claeys and Sorin Antohi, Marx and Marxism: Utopia, Dystopia, History. 95 events and 3 related events, 115 guests (some came more than once) from 17 countries: Romania (most of them), Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Republic of Moldova, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Ucraine, United Kingdom, United States.

Up next: IIIC: Eliade, Culianu și rădăcinile românești. Florin Cîntic în dialog cu Sorin Antohi. 28 mai 2024, 18:00. IIC: Ruptură și continuitate. Ce spune teoria rețelelor sociale? Marian-Gabriel Hâncean și Bianca Mihăilă în dialog cu Sorin Antohi. 11 iunie 2024, 18:00. IC: Culianu și Eliade. Moshe Idel în dialog cu Sorin Antohi. 18 iunie 2024, 18:00. C: Seria Idei în Agora, 2017-. Sorin Antohi în dialog cu invitații săi. 25 iunie 2024, 18:00.

Not in the series, but related to it: România Mare 2.0. De la insula de latinitate la arhipelagul global, conference convened by Sorin Antohi (23-24.11.2018); Royal Colloquium IV, From Dystopia to Posthistory. Conveners: Sorin Antohi and Gregory Claeys (23.06.2019); The Museum of the Future / Muzeul Viitorului / Museum der Zukunft. Public debate. Volker Rodekamp, Anselm Hartinger, Adrian Majuru. Moderator: Sorin Antohi (3.10.2019).