Passing Through the Iron Curtain (From the Editors) (Communism in the Soviet Union and East Central Europe‪)‬

Kritika, 2008, Fall, 9, 4

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Beschreibung des Verlags

This special issue of Kritika presents seven articles on the transnational and cultural history of communism in the Soviet Union and East Central Europe. Three of them center on the USSR, two on East Germany, one on Czechoslovakia, and one on Poland. Long gone are the days when Russia and Eastern Europe were regularly studied in tandem and formed part of a more or less coherent area studies field. Since the breakup of the communist bloc two decades ago, in 1989, the Russian and East European fields have grown far enough apart that the direct cross-fertilization present in this collection is now something of a rarity. To be sure, geopolitics was an even worse academic organizer during the Cold War than it is now, and it made little sense then for East European studies to be so exclusively linked to the Russian field. At the same time, current politics and the configuration of academic fields should not be allowed to handicap the study of the past. It is now far less likely for Russianists to be versed in East European historiography, and vice versa; the dislocation is particularly meaningful for the communist period, when, of course, the histories of the two regions were most closely intertwined. Even in Germany, where the institutionalized field of Osteuropa incorporates Russia into the concept of Eastern Europe, the history of the GDR is commonly studied either within a German-German framework or with surprisingly insufficient reference to directly related Soviet historiography. The impresario behind the series of "Imagining the West" conferences and workshops that produced these synergistic articles, Gyorgy Peteri, began his initiatives to bring specialists on Soviet and East European communism together in the early 1990s, precisely when geopolitical and institutional imperatives pushed the two fields apart. (1) A second notable feature of the articles contained in this number of the journal is that they reflect and further what has sometimes been called the transnational turn. Much as this rather awkward buzzword (and the declaration of yet another "turn") can serve to obscure historiographical continuities and the interconnections among various approaches, the case can be made that the mode of historical inquiry represented in this issue is distinguishable and significant. Transnational history crosses over national borders to address phenomena potentially different from those conventionally brought out in the study of international organizations, relations among states, and comparative history. The transnational is frequently understood to signify the movement of groups, goods, technology, or people across national borders; and in this definition the accent is on movement transcending the borders of the nation-state. (2) Yet in the study of communism, the received boundaries that need to be transcended are not necessarily those of the nation-state but of the Iron Curtain, or more precisely the often relentlessly internalist narratives that arose to study Stalinism. The study of communist societies thus offers something distinctive to transnational history. In this set of articles, the emphasis falls not so much on movement itself (which was often restricted). Rather, it is on grasping the many dimensions of particular types of interaction with the outside world--those with the "West," at once the gold standard for advanced development and a hostile order soon to be, if not in many ways already, surpassed.

22. September
Slavica Publishers, Inc.

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