Dis-/Сonnecting the World: Subjectivities, Networks, and Transcultural Encounters across Cold War Boundaries

Dis-/Сonnecting the World: Subjectivities, Networks, and Transcultural Encounters across Cold War Boundaries

Nadezhda Beliakova / Frank Grüner / Oxana Nagornaja / Alexey Tikhomirov, Universität Bielefeld
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
05.10.2023 - 06.10.2023
Anastasiia Zaplatina, Fakultät für Geschichtswissenschaft, Philosophie und Theologie, Universität Bielefeld

Since the seminal studies of Jochen Hellbeck and Igal Halfin1, „subjectivity“ has become a central analytical category in the field of Soviet studies. The merit of the conference organizers is that they went beyond the nation-state and imperial framework by proposing the term "transnational subjectivity" for understanding the dynamics of the ‘Cold War’ and cross-border communication. In their introduction FRANK GRÜNER (Bielefeld) and ALEXEY TIKHOMIROV (Bielefeld) suggested to analyze transnational subjectivities as multiple centers of this global conflict. Such polycentricity of the ‘Cold War’ in the actors and their lives across time and space offer the heuristic recognition of entanglements between the private, the public, the national, and the global. By exploring the individual dimensions of transcultural communication, spaces of agency, and networks the workshop was a pivotal methodological contribution to the emergence of the global microhistory of the ‘Cold War’.

Opening the first panel “Experts across Cold War Borders“, RAICHEL APPLEBAUM (Tufts) presented her research on teachers, primarily females, who taught Russian as a foreign language in Africa and Asia, including Afghanistan, Chad, Senegal, etc., in the 1960s and 1970s. In this field, they found themselves in competition with their English-teaching colleagues, mostly members of the Peace Corps. The author argued that pedagogy was one of the fields of rivalry between the superpowers, which has been mostly overlooked in historiography. Although these two groups of actors represented two competing ideologies, they shared the same goals and methods of work. Using a comparative approach, Applebaum focused on the teachers, while the figure of students, their reception of the lessons, their results, and interest in learning both languages remained silent.

OXANA NAGORNAJA (Berlin) explored the role of Soviet experts who contributed to UNESCO projects aimed at preserving cultural heritage and promoting literacy in postcolonial countries during the "long 1970s." She contended that these experts acted as cultural brokers, adeptly navigating the interests of the hosting organization in the West, their Soviet employers and supervisors, and the host countries in the Global South. When hiring Soviet experts, UNESCO was primarily interested in their typically unique expertise and language proficiency. The USSR authorities also endeavored to capitalize on the interest in Soviet experts from this influential international organization, using it to extend their influence in the postcolonial world. Therefore, the role of Soviet experts in cultural internationalism was more significant than initially perceived, as they constituted an integral part of global networks.

The second section focused on Literature, Media, and Communication through the Iron Curtain. ANJA SCHADE (Hildesheim) utilized the example of Sechaba, a journal published by the African National Congress (ANC) from 1967 to 1990, to demonstrate that the Iron Curtain was not an impenetrable barrier. She traced the networks between the South African intelligentsia and activists, illustrating the journey of the Sechaba manuscripts. These manuscripts, written and edited in London, traversed the borders between the Western and Eastern worlds to reach East Berlin, where they were printed. The Solidarity Committee of the GDR covered the costs, and the journal was ultimately distributed to more than 60 countries, including South Africa itself.

ROSA MAGNUSSDOTTIR (Reykjavik) and BIRGITTE BECK PRISTED (Hildesheim) presented an intriguing story of how the international bestseller "The Thorn Birds" by Australian author Colleen McCullough found its way onto Soviet bookshelves in 1980. The negotiations between the copyright owners from the USA and the Soviet publishing house, which occurred at the Moscow International Book Fair in 1977, represented a fascinating example of diplomacy through the book market. Alongside "Gone with the Wind," published in Russian in 1982, it sparked widespread interest in romantic novels and connected Soviet readers with the global literary landscape.

VITALIJ FASTOVSKIJ (Munster) examined the Tolstoy Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by Alexandra, the daughter of Leo Tolstoy. The foundation operated in the USA and primarily focused on assisting migrants of Russian origin. The controversial aspect of their work was connected to the antisemitic position held by the leaders of the foundation, which was common in the émigré circles. However, as the author argued, after World War II, the foundation had to navigate between different forces. Tolstoy portrayed herself as a mediator and a bearer of knowledge about her father, positioning herself as a rival of Bolshevism for the English-speaking audience. Simultaneously, in Russian, she wrote about competing for resources with other categories of migrants, especially Jewish refugees.

IRINA KOTKINA (Bucharest) emphasized the role of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow as a cultural bridge that hosted opera singers from Western countries during the late 1950s to the 1980s. In her presentation, she noted that although the Bolshoi established a close partnership with La Scala, the first international singers were Americans from the Metropolitan Opera who came to sing at the Bolshoi in 1958-1959, aiming to showcase the absence of racial discrimination and promote international friendship. Despite this, the author concluded that international exchanges significantly influenced the opera theater in the Soviet Union and also led to stylistic changes in both scenography and vocal performance.

SZABOLCS LÁSZLÓ (Budapest) offered a different dimension of music as a Cold War soft power by presenting how the "Kodaly-method," originating in Hungary for early music education, was promoted to Western countries, especially the USA. The Hungarian musician Zoltán Kodály created a new method of teaching music for kids, aiming at implementation his utopian idea of making singing and composing accessible for everyone. The international interest in this method created a network of experts who managed to widely implement it in schools around the USA. As a result, the Kodaly method became an internationally known brand and an object of cultural diplomacy.

Unlike the two aforementioned presentations, SIMO MIKKONEN (Jyväskylä) emphasized the agency of three Soviet musicians who visited Finland for various business affairs – namely Igor Bezrodny, Arvīds Jansons, and Dmitry Aleksandrovich Bashkirov. The author argued that although the three actors came to Finland under different circumstances, their contact with Finland enabled them to advance their careers and professional development. Additionally, they were able to play and promote in Finland, and consequently to works of Soviet composers banned at home in Finland, reaching the Western public.

OLGA OLKHEFT (Bielefeld) emphasized how the concept of the Russian Avant-Garde was invented and instrumentalized during the Cold War to present it as a Soviet advancement to the Western public in the cultural Cold War. Artworks by modernists from the former Russian Empire, created during the 1900s–1920s, were first showcased in the West at the exhibition in the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1979. Despite the different political agendas of the artists and the ongoing ban on modernist art from the 1930s, these paintings were rediscovered and labeled as part of the Russian Revolution, a designation that has remained commonplace in art history to this day.

The next panel offered fascinating insights into lives of religious activists and their networks. JOHANNES DYCK (Detmold) presented an outstanding biography of Árpád Arder. Born in Estonia, which was annexed by the Soviet Union, Arder converted to Christianity while under Nazi occupation. After the end of the war, he switched in 1947, sought baptism, and began his career at the Estonian Evangelical Christians-Baptist Union. Later, in the 1960s, as a member of the Estonian Presbyter, Arder was able to travel abroad, smuggle Bibles, and establish networks that connected believers from the entire Soviet Union with the European community.

MIRIAM DOBSON (Sheffield) focused on missionary activities on the other side of the “Iron Curtain” and presented the history of American organizations and activists engaged in supporting Evangelicals in the socialist Bloc. The presentation was particularly interested in discovering the interests of the involved actors, which included, but were not limited to, connections to the Russian émigré community, a sense of spiritual calling, and, as the author discovered, concern about the rising secularization of society.

Continuing the topic of religious cooperation, NADEZHDA BELIAKOVA (Bielefeld) analyzed the practice of smuggling Bibles into the USSR in the 1970s from the perspectives of both religiousness and materiality. Smuggling Bibles was an established practice that functioned within communities of people who perceived it through the framework of the idea of Christian solidarity. At the same time, traveling to the Soviet Union was seen as an adventure that was then presented as a spiritual journey.

SUSAN REID (Durham) studied amateur collecting practices and the ways these collections were displayed in late Soviet homes. She compared these practices with the collecting of exotic colonial artifacts in 17th-century Netherlands depicted by Hans Holbein. Similarly, the collected visual evidence and artifacts enabled the author to characterize Soviet apartments as "global assemblages," where items from various origins served as decorations in "Khruschevki."

KSENIA TATARCHENKO (Singapore) examined the history of cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence in the context of the Cold War, focusing on the 4th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence held in Tbilisi in 1975. Using a biographical approach, she illustrated how inner contradictions between individual, institutional, and ideological interests made successful cooperation between countries difficult.

The workshop brought together leading and young scholars in the field to explore transnational exchanges, networks, and contact zones among multiple individuals and institutions. The variety of discussed topics contributed to the main goal of the workshop: to demonstrate the polycentric nature of the Cold War through transcultural subjectivities. Chosen case studies and methodologies highlighted the weaknesses of the outdated view of the Cold War through binary structures. Various agencies, institutions, and materialities should be examined through their entanglement and interplay between individual, institutional, and other interests. The key point of the discussions during the panels and at the roundtable centered around the necessity of further research on Cold War subjectivities through the eclectic lens of everyday history, history of emotions, history of mobility and dis:connections.

Conference overview:

Panel 1: Experts Across Cold War Borders
Chair: Frank Grüner (Bielefeld)

Oxana Nagornaja (Berlin): Cultural Brokers of the “Cold War”: Soviet UNESCO Experts, Global Spaces of Culture, and the Search for Transnational Subjectivity

Rachel Applebaum (Medford): The Linguistic Cold War: Russian and English Language Teachers in the Global South

Nataliya Shok (Washington, D.C.): Physicians against Nuclear War: Soviet-American Medical Cooperation and Solidarities in the 1970s and 1980s

Discussant: Klaus Gestwa (Tübingen)

Panel 2: Literature, Media, and Communication through the Iron Curtain
Chair: Nadezhda Beliakova (Bielefeld)

Anja Schade (Hildesheim): From the Manuscript to its Distribution: Sechaba as an Example of the Transnational Dimension of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle during the Cold War

Rósa Magnúsdóttir (Reykjavik), Birgitte Beck Pristed (Aarhus): Forbidden Love: The Thorn Birds and Soviet Readers’ Emotional Responses to Translated Western Bestsellers during the Late Cold War

Luca Nigro (Pisa): Translating and Exporting Revolution: The Role of Italian “Foreign Experts” in Maoist Internationalism in Western Europe (1956–1966)

Discussant: Miriam Dobson (Sheffield)

Panel 3: Subjectivities in Flux: Migration, Humanitarian Aid, and International Exchange Initiatives During the Global Conflict
Chair: Anastasiia Zaplatina (Bielefeld)

Galina Zelenina (Independent scholar): Notes from the Top of the Intourist Hotel:How Western Travelers Helped Soviet Jews Betray Their (Step)Motherland

Vitalij Fastovskij (Münster): Narrating Migration in the Cold War: The Tolstoy Foundation, Displaced People, and “Eastern Bloc Refugees” (1949–1989)

Wallace L. Daniel (Macon): Henry Dakin, Personal Diplomacy, and the Cold War
Discussant: Rósa Magnúsdóttir (Reykjavik)

Panel 4: Mastering Space and Mapping the “i” in Transnational Solidarities
Chair: Konstantin Kotelnikov (Bielefeld)

Irina Kotkina (Bucharest): To What Extent was the “Iron Curtain” Soundproof? The Bolshoi Theatre Opera and In-/Formal Relationships with the West, 1955–1989

Maria Zolotukhina (Independent scholar): Soviet Schools in a Non-Soviet Environment: Growing Up Abroad in the 1970s and 1980s

Uladzimir Valodzin (Florence): “You Came to Study, Not to Amuse Yourself”: Conflicts between the University Administration and Students from the Global South in Soviet Minsk in the 1960s

Discussant: Eleonora Gilburd (Chicago)

Panel 5: Art and Music through the Iron Curtain: Entanglements and Exchange
Chair: Réka Krizmanics (Bielefeld)

Olga Olkheft (Bielefeld): Inventing the Russian Avant-garde in the Cold War

Szabolcs László (Budapest ): Democratizing Music through the Kodály Method: Mapping a Transnational Network of Hungarian and American Music Educators during the Cold War (1960s–1970s)

Simo Mikkonen (Jyväskylä): Negotiating Transcultural Space: Soviet Musicians in Cold War Era Finland

Discussant: Birgitte Beck Pristed (Aarhus)

Panel 6: Religious Activists and Networks across Political Blocs
Chair: Luise Fast (Bielefeld)

Miriam Dobson (Sheffield): “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told”: Western Missionaries and Soviet Evangelicals in the Late Cold War

Nadezhda Beliakova (Bielefeld): Smuggling Bibles through the “Iron Curtain” as Personal Experience and Cold War Adventure

Johannes Dyck (Detmold): “I Drew Árpád Arder's Attention to the Fact That He Is a Citizen of the Soviet Union”: A Citizen of the World within the Confines of Estonia

Discussant: Katja Tolstaya (Amsterdam)

Panel 7: Divided Ideologies, United Ways of Life: Cold War Materialities, Universal Values, and the Search for Global Modernity
Chair: Alexey Tikhomirov (Bielefeld/Münster)

Susan Reid (Durham): Global Assemblages: How Cold War Connections and Disconnections Shaped the Late Soviet Home

Ksenia Tatarchenko (Singapore): On Rights and Autonomous Agents: Тhe 4th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence and the Conflict of Cold War Universalities

Anna Ozhiganova (Erlangen): Soviet-American New Age Diplomacy in the 1980s: Ambassadors, Projects, and Mutual Impacts

Discussant: Simo Mikkonen (Jyväskylä)

Concluding Remarks and Roundtable: Dis-/Connections, Entanglements, Translations, Ruptures: Cold War Subjectivities, Networks, and Spaces in Understanding Historical Change
Chair: Katja Tolstaya (Amsterdam)

Miriam Dobson (Sheffield) / Eleonora Gilburd (Chicago) / Frank Grüner (Bielefeld)

1 Igal Halfin, Terror in My Soul. Communist Autobiographies on Trial, Cambridge Mass. 2003; Jochen Hellbeck, Revolution on My Mind: Writing a Diary under Stalin, Cambridge Mass. 2006.

Veröffentlicht am
Weitere Informationen
Land Veranstaltung
Sprache(n) der Konferenz
Sprache des Berichts