First panel session

Panel 1: Functional Constitutionalism I: High Points in the Low Countries

Chair: Dr Judit Beke-Martos (Ruhr University in Bochum)

Speakers: : Prof. Frederik Dhondt (Free University of Brussels & Ghent Legal History Institute), Dr Klaas Van Gelder (Ghent University), Dr Brecht Deseure (Free University of Brussels)


Panel overview

The participants take a functional approach to law as an instrument. Through the connecting link of Belgian history, the panelists examine individual chapters, where seemingly contradicting events prove the instrumentality of law. During the period of constitution-making in Belgium, between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, numerous events and people (presented in the papers) demonstrate the functionality of the constitution. Professor Dhondt examines resistance against attempts to centralize and unify administration in the Southern Netherlands, and delves in to the legal components of opposing political narratives.

Dr. Van Gelder examines the understanding and evaluation of the Treaty of The Hague (1790) as being at the same time a violation of a constitution (Brabant) and an opportunity to improve the existing legal order (Flanders). Dr. Deseure analyzes the political players during the formation and adoption of the 1831 Belgian Constitution with special emphasis on the effects of the Ancient Constitution as an example of how legal texts function as (political) instruments. The papers contribute to a panel, which explains the constitutional development and political debate of the time period.


Prof. Frederik Dhondt

Free University of Brussels & Ghent University



Legal Literacy and Political Activism From Below: the Case of Jan Joseph Raepsaet (1787-1815)


Dr Brecht Deseure

Free University of Brussels



The Radical Potential of the Ancient Constitution in the Belgian Revolution



Panel 2: The Legal Transplant and the Building of National Legal Identities In Central Eastern Europe

Chair: Philippe Hellwege (University of Augsburg & University of Oxford)

Speakers: Prof. Manuel Gutan (University Lucian Blaga of Sibiu), Dr Martin Belov (University of Sofia "St. Kliment Ohridski"),
Dr Michał Gałędek (University of Gdańsk) & Dr Piotr Pomianowski (University of Warsaw)


Panel overview

This panel is proposing an historical analyses of the theoretical (ideological) and practical strategies developed by the national legal elites of the CEE countries, in the 19th century in order to build a national legal identity, as a response to / in the context of the (more or less) massive legal transplant undertaken from the Western European legal models.

Which would be the scientific relevance of this theme? Different answers are possible but only few are worthy to be emphasized at this moment: to develop a thorough analyses,  in English language, of the CEE countries’ legal history, especially about their perspective on the process of legal transplantation; to feed the increase interest in the topic of ‘legal identity’ manifested in Comparative Legal Studies, and to offer the chance to capture, in a comparative-historical perspective, the particularities of the CEE countries’ legal identity; last but not least, to respond to the increasing interest in the topic of ‘legal identity’ manifested in the context of European legal integration.

There is nowadays a significant lack of thorough knowledge among the Western and Eastern European legal scholars as regards the specificity of the CEE countries’ legal history and legal culture and an uncritical disregard of their particularities. This situation is explained both by the lack of language skills and by the lack of comprehensive literature in English language. Moreover, the Western European literature treating the legal transplants are mainly self-centered, focusing either on the recent legal transplants between the ‘Roman-Germanic’ and ‘Common Law’ legal traditions or on the Western legal traditions’ expansion to the Eastern Europe. In this context, a perspective from within, in English language, would have the chance to partially fill the existing gap. On the other hand, a particular comparative analyses regarding the pre-communist paths towards national legal identity in the CEE countries would be enlightening in the framework of Comparative Legal Studies and Comparative Legal History. Analysing the development of national legal identities in particular socio-legal, economic, political and cultural contexts of the CEE countries, as a response to the massive legal transplants undertaken for modernizing purposes, could produce seminal knowledge inside the above mentioned disciplines.

Finally, there is an increasing scientific interest in the national legal identities in the context of European legal integration. The unexpected and, sometimes, undesired magnitude of the legal transplantation process, more or less willingly undertaken by the member states’ legal systems and the manifested (mainly academic)


 reluctance towards the process of legal unification at the European level is encouraging the debate about national legal identity (especially about national constitutional identity). This issue has particular coordinates in the CEE region, where (generally) former socialist and transitional countries have joined EU after the fall of the communist regimes. Their transitional status developed European expectations not only as regards their capacity to transplant the huge mass of European regulations and directives but also as regards their capacity to develop necessary legal-cultural sameness with the Western European legal traditions. Unfortunately, some contemporary legal comparatists superficially appreciate the fall of the communism in CEE as a (legal) cultural collapse, creating a legal-cultural void in need of a Western legal model to rebuild from the ground. This perspective ignores an irrefutable truth: not only the CEE countries have had pre-communist national legal traditions, but also they are interested to recover and fructify them after the fall of the communism

It is well-known the fact that the legal modernization in the CEE countries occurred, during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, through more or less massive appeal to legal transplants from the Western legal traditions. But this process did not imply a comfortable and unrestrained march of the Western legal values, principles and institutions through the legal cultures of the CEE countries. Indeed, in most of the cases, the legal transplantation was willingly done by the legal and political elites. However, legal modernization through legal transplant wasn’t a pure process of westernisation by way of successful adaptation of the transplanted legal institutions to the importing societies. It was frequently marked by failure and resistance. It also frequently implied a wide range of ideological debates and tensions between the adepts of the slow and urgent modernisation, between the ‘fans’ of the organic grow and the ‘fans’ of the artificial synchronization, between the conservative and liberals, between the defenders of the national legal traditions and the promoters of the Western legal traditions. This is why, beyond the effective processes of the legal transplantation and the adaptation of the transplanted institutions in the importing societies, legal modernization meant a deep and intense ideological quest for the national legal-self. The ideological ‘fight’ for the national legal identity as a concrete reaction to the legal modernisation through legal transplant has been a particular mark of the CEE countries in the period of building and consolidating the nation-state.


Prof. Manuel Guțan

Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu



The Legal Transplant and the Building of  the Romanian Legal Identity in 19th Century

Dr Martin Belov

University of Sofia "St. Kliment Ohridski"


The Idea of “Europe” as a Factor in the Building of the Bulgarian Legal Identity




Panel 3: New Vehicles and Transport Infrastructure: International Influences and Instrumentalism in Nordic Law, 1890-1940

Chair: Prof. Steven Wilf (University of Connectictut)

Speakers: Mr Jussi Sallila (University of Helsinki), Prof. Mia Korpiola (University of Turku), Dr Markus Kari (University of Helsinki)

Dr Markus Kari

University of Helsinki



The Instrumentalism of the Early Air Law (1919–1939)