Plural Solidarities: Representations, Discourses and Practices around a 'Universal' Concept (1975-1985)

 FNS Project (november 2019- october 2023)


 Around 1980, solidarity was everywhere. It gives its name to the Polish union Solidarność, qualifies prerogatives guaranteed by an African interstate charter and even designates a new generation of human rights, while remaining one of the notable components of Soviet foreign policy. What does this sudden effervescence mean? Is it purely coincidental? This research postulates that the analysis of solidarity, as it is expressed in representations, discourse and practices during the decade 1975-1985, sheds new light on the outcome of the Cold War. Better still, it encourages enriching our reflection on the imaginary of living together today.

With a historical dimension, this project proposes to explore on three levels of analysis the concept of solidarity and the role of solidarity practices in the outcome of the East-West conflict. A first axis will be devoted to the examination at the micro-historical level of the link maintained by representatives of civil society, individuals or NGOs, to discretionary solidarity, by deciphering the echo that Solidarność had in Switzerland, a country to strong humanitarian tradition. The second axis will be on a more governmental and interstate level, through the analysis of the African Charter (also known as the Banjul Charter). It is then a question of probing the repercussions of the watchword of solidarity which, on the fringes of the East-West binomial, has a fair connotation. Finally, a final axis will unravel the international challenges of egalitarian solidarity, scrutinized through its (mis) discursive and axiological uses at the United Nations. Solidarity thus presents itself as a privileged angle of approach to shed light on still little explored areas - bottom-up influences, impact of African hopes and conceptual approach - of the end of the Cold War.

The three axes of the project use and combine the usual methods on the basis of important archives, several of which are unpublished: archives of trade unions in Switzerland and documents of the Solidarność Delegation (in Switzerland and Poland), archives of international organizations, as well as African archives (Commission of the African Union, from the Kéba Mbaye foundation) - almost never consulted before. Finally, the project will take advantage of the chronological proximity of the theme addressed to favor the methods of oral history.

This study seeks to fill a historiographical void, by proposing a new reading of the cold war over a period of ten years rather neglected until now by researchers. Because, if the concept of solidarity is the subject of several studies, it has never been examined in the plural context approached here, which combines the end of the East-West conflict with a decentralized perspective - African and East-European - in link with human rights. This project aims to popularize scientific research and promote dialogue with the city, through an exhibition and a series of seminars open to the general public. This will respond to the public's curiosity for the history of the present time and arouse interest in oral history.