Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Patryk Babiracki's "Soviet Soft Power in Poland"

Patryk Babiracki is assistant professor in Russian and East European history at the University of Texas at Arlington and a Volkswagen–Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Soviet Soft Power in Poland: Culture and the Making of Stalin's New Empire, 1943-1957, and reported the following:
Soviet Soft Power examines postwar Soviet efforts to build empire in Eastern Europe through culture during the formative postwar decade.

I focus on Soviet-Polish relations in a broader Cold War context. The chief argument of my book is that many Soviet officials and cultural figures knew how to use culture to build mutually satisfying reciprocal relationships--the kinds that would have made empire more attractive to East Europeans. However, the Soviet system, and particularly its Stalinist version, paralyzed many such efforts to use "soft power," or power of attraction, making it even easier for the disgruntled East Europeans to resent Soviet interventions.

Page 99 of my book takes the reader to the very opening of Chapter 3. That chapter examines the years 1948-1954, the peak of Stalinism both in the USSR and Poland. State terror and official xenophobia were in their apex; widespread hopes for genuine cultural cooperation have largely evaporated. On page 99, I begin the story by reconstructing the experiences of Soviet diplomat Vladimir Iu. Bernov, who arrived in Poland in 1952. In his memoirs, Bernov emphasized the profound "fear and anxiety" that accompanied him as he traveled to Poland by train. He was afraid because he knew that even though he was traveling on official business to a friendly socialist country, the fact that he was leaving the Soviet Union made him particularly vulnerable to false yet fatal charges of disloyalty, espionage or "kow-towing to the West."

Bernov's detailed, introspective account of his experiences in Eastern Europe during those exceptionally difficult years is a rare one. But anyone who was involved in cultural outreach to Eastern Europe in the Soviet Union would have been familiar with the fear he described. Afraid to compromise, prevented from taking into account local cultures and political conditions, and often forced to Sovietize Eastern Europe against their better judgment, Soviet officials and cultural figures alienated their elite counterparts and masses throughout Eastern Europe. On the long run, by turning potential friends into foes, and giving existing enemies more reasons to resist Soviet policies, these Soviet cultural workers destabilized the empire they were sent to consolidate.
Learn more about Soviet Soft Power in Poland at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue