Studying to Be Stalinist: Educational Exchanges in the Socialist Bloc, 1946–53

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:00 AM
Salon B (Hilton Atlanta)
Rachel Applebaum, Tufts University
In 1946 the Soviet Union launched a program to educate students from the nascent Communist countries of Eastern Europe. Study in the Soviet Union was supposed to achieve two goals: first, to teach the foreign students technological and political skills that they could use to “build” Communism back home, and second, to foster transnational friendships between Soviet and foreign students that would strengthen the integration of the “socialist world” in the Cold War.

This paper draws on extensive research in the former Communist Party archives in Russia and the Czech Republic to assesses the successes and failures of Soviet-run educational exchanges in the Stalinist period. It begins by outlining a series of academic, political, and social challenges that the Eastern European students confronted in the USSR, including a 1947 law that forbade Soviet citizens from marrying foreigners. The paper then focuses on a scandal that occurred in 1952, when Soviet students accused a group of Czechoslovak students in Moscow of displaying “bourgeois nationalism” and of deliberately isolating themselves from their Soviet peers. In response, the Czechoslovak students held a series of meetings where they employed Soviet tools of criticism and self-criticism to expiate their anti-Soviet actions. I use the story of this scandal to investigate the nature of exchange within the transnational but highly authoritarian Stalinist system.  I argue that while the Soviet foreign student program may not have achieved its stated goals of technological transfer and social integration, it did result in the circulation of Stalinist political tactics across the borders of the socialist bloc.

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