War and Peace on the Air: Radio and the Shaping of National Belonging in Polish-German Borderlands during the Twentieth Century

AHA Session 221
Conference Group for Central European History 6
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Wellesley Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Francis D. Raska, Charles University, Prague
Richard Blanke, University of Maine

Session Abstract

This panel will feature paper presentations and a discussion on the role of radio in the shaping of collective identities and relations between nation-states. Scholars working on international relations have traditionally focused on the roles of diplomacy and on high government elites in these processes. The role of grass-roots politics has been more a subject of focus for studies dealing with intra-national, and regional, rather than international politics. The papers of this panel all challenge this traditional approach: they shed light on the dynamics of relations between nation-states by studying how popular propaganda and media technology shaped grass-roots public opinion in transnational perspective. The presentations are on the role of the radio as an instrument of popular mobilization for the drawing of sides in conflicts between nation-states, as well as of peacemaking based on the undoing of antagonistic public mindsets. They also study the content broadcasted through this medium, focusing on the issues most important to nation-state relations: discourses on particular points of antagonism, including contested territories, and on notions of the core nation and who belongs to it. 
           The prime geographical focus of the papers on this panel is on Poland and Germany, and on the role of radio programs in shaping relations between these nations. The twentieth-century Polish-German conflict has been largely one over common borderlands, and the various attempts made by each state to nationally homogenize these multiethnic areas. This long-standing antagonism has been a backdrop of the some of the most massive and violent episodes of ethnic cleansing in history, including the Holocaust and post-WWII forced population movements. The panelists will address the function of the radio in the construction and deconstruction of the ideological predispositions to this scenario of violence and antagonism. Peter Polak-Springer will present on how Polish and German radio stations in the contested border area of Upper Silesia competed against one another to homogenize the nationally-mixed local population (1925-1939). His paper will demonstrate how these programs served to legitimate ethnic cleansing by symbolically erasing the culture, and promoting hateful stereotypes, of the national “other.”  Nicholas Schlosser’s paper analyzes the programs of the Sender Freies Berlin (West Berlin Broadcasting Station) during the 1950s that addressed post-WWII expellees from Poland and other parts of East-Central Europe. He demonstrates how these broadcasts contributed to a specific “Ostdeutsche” (“East German”) collective identity in West Germany based on an antagonistic ethos that played a pivotal role in fueling the German conflict against Poland and the Soviet Bloc in general. In contrast to these studies of the construction of antagonistic predispositions, Annika Frieberg will present on the role of radio in Polish-West German reconciliation during the 1970s. Her paper will demonstrate how radio agents in both countries now strove to reconstruct conflict-ridden official memories of lost territories and violence along conciliatory lines. This panel will be of appeal to anyone interested in Central Europe, borderlands and identity, international relations, as well as the role of technology and the media in nation-building and politics.

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