Spying, Archiving, Reporting: Information in Eastern Europe

Spring 2019

In the last 30 years, scholars have gained access to the archives of the secret police, state institutions, media, and communist parties in the former communist states of Eastern Europe. These documents show how these states collected information on their populations, classified them, and deployed that knowledge to govern. Scholars have made valuable use of this information to show the complexity of life under communism. Archives and their contents, however, are never neutral. Some current governments in Eastern Europe are selectively utilizing archives to construct the historical memory for new nation states. Moreover, as several former communist states become more authoritarian, how we access information, particularly from media, is crucial to how we engage these countries and their societies.

This series address these issues through three live interviews and a roundtable with scholars and journalists on the issue of “information” in Eastern Europe from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Thursday March 7

Spies, Coups and National Liberation: Warsaw Pact Espionage in Africa During the Cold War

A live interview with Natalia Telepneva, University of Warwick

The Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites were ideologically, materially, and geopolitically committed to aiding national liberation struggles in Africa during the Cold War. Communist states gave economic aid, provided weapons, and sent spies and military advisors. This live interview with Natalia Telepneva will explore the relationship between Soviet and Warsaw Pact policy and activities in African anti-colonial struggles, the role of espionage in the Cold War and the influence of Soviet and Warsaw Pact secret services on the development of state security in post-independent Africa.


Thursday March 28

Peering Under the Rug: Sources of Information about Russia

Mark Galeotti, Senior Associate Fellow at Royal United Services Institute

Maxim Trudolyubov, Vedomosti, Kennan Institute

Kevin Rothrock, Meduza

A popular meme about Russian politics is that it’s like “bulldogs fighting under a rug.” Namely, it’s opaque, shadowy, full of rumors, and driven by conspiracies. This image has become more common in the West over Putin’s long reign, and intensified since Russia’s interference in the 2016 US Presidential election. Where can we turn for clearer vision given the supposed murkiness of Russian politics? This moderated roundtable discussion with Mark Galeotti, Maxim Trudolubov, and Kevin Rothrock will explore media and human sources of information about contemporary Russia and its many promises and roadblocks.

Tuesday April 2

Shaping National Memory: Ukrainian Secret Police Archives and WWII

Jared McBride, University of California, Los Angeles

Following the Maidan Revolution, the Ukrainian government opened the former KGB archives after years of ambiguous policies. The impetus was mostly political: to show the Ukrainian nation as a victim of Russian/Soviet aggression and to valorize controversial Ukrainian nationalist movements. Former police archives, however, make for poor political props. This live interview with Jared McBride will discuss these archives, the ways scholarly work has often been at odds with the archive as a tool to remake civil society, and place of police archives in the larger contexts of post-Soviet Eastern Europe.

Thursday April 18

The Stories Polish Secret Police Files Tell Us

Anna Krakus, University of Southern California

Police files tend to catalog a suspect’s crime. Police files in communist countries, however, go much further and document a suspect’s biography. This was the case in Polish police files where genres of biography and criminal surveillance blurred, turning the cop into a kind of literary author. Communist police files, therefore, told stories—not just about the factual and fictive biographical characteristics of a subject, but also intimate aspects of their personal lives and relationships. This live interview with Anna Krakus will delve into the police as author and the ways police files reflected literary elements that intersected with literary genres found in communist Poland.


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