Rethinking the Cold War: Transnational Encounters within and beyond the Soviet Bloc
Histories of the postwar period have been traditionally dominated by top-down accounts of Cold War tensions and political violence that pit the US-led capitalist world against the Soviet dominated socialist bloc. Joining a growing body of scholarship that explores the peaceful contests and cultural exchanges meant to demonstrate the superiority of the socialist and capitalist systems to a decolonizing postwar world, this panel proposes a bottom-up approach, focusing on transnational travel, exchanges, and encounters within the Soviet Bloc and across the Iron Curtain. Rachel Applebaum’s paper focuses on Czechoslovak students who studied in the Soviet Union in the Stalinist period to interrogate the meaning of exchange and transnational contacts within a highly authoritarian context; Diana Georgescu's presentation will explore how competing visions of “internationalism” structured the transnational encounters between Romanian child ambassadors and foreign youth in international children’s camps in the Soviet Bloc and Western Europe in the late Cold War; and Adelina Stefan's paper will examine how interactions between eastern and western tourists on the Black Sea Coast in Romania prioritized exchanges of goods, ideas, and mores over ideological conflicts. While the panel makes important contributions to histories of postwar tourism, youth, and diplomacy, its primary goal is to revisit Cold War historiography, questioning the presumed homogeneity of the socialist and capitalist camps and rethinking their relationship beyond visions of uncompromising antagonism.