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Aleksanteri Conference







Encounters from the Third Kind: Cultural Interactions Across the Iron Curtain

The ideological and geopolitical contestation of the Cold War was accompanied by extensive efforts on behalf of all participants to gain as much knowledge as possible about the other side of the iron curtain. Side by side with intelligence and data gathering, both sides also engaged in cultural observations and analysis, attempting to comprehend the culture of the other side, and most importantly – its people. Central to this project of understanding were the actual encounters between the people from both sides of the iron curtain and their interactions. As a result of these contacts, both sides developed new understandings and insights, which were often surprising and unexpected for the organizers and the participants alike. While using a comparative perspective our panel will explore the dynamics of three important types of cross-curtain interactions between the people of the Soviet Union and the United States and their outcomes.

Simo Mikkonen’s paper, 'Weapons or Victims? Soviet Emigration in attendance of Superpower politics' focuses on propaganda uses of Soviet emigres in the Cold War. In his paper Mikkonen examines the ways in which people who had recently left the Soviet Union were used both as informants about USSR and as active participants in Cold War politics. In the early 1950s, U.S. officials tried to organize Soviet emigres into a political force to be used against the Soviet Union. This paper takes a look at the motivations and outcomes of this project as well as Soviet countermeasures, as it came to be a subject of fierce propaganda struggle between the Superpowers, in which both sides aspired to use Soviet emigres as part of their public policy.

Dina Fainberg’s paper, "The heirs of the future - Foreign correspondents  meeting youth on the other side of the iron curtain”', will discuss the interactions that Soviet and American international correspondents, assigned to cover the other superpower, had with people on the other side of the iron curtain. She examines how the journalists represented the “average American” or “Russian” through stories of the personal interactions they had with various people. She also follows the dynamics and techniques of the processes of “cultural translation” conducted by the journalists in order to make the people of the other side and their daily experiences more understandable to their audiences. The paper will argue that the journalists used the stories about people on the other side and the images of the “average person” as educational tools that would demonstrate the advantages of liberal democracy or socialism and help their readers construct a universal identity through a counter-reference to people on the other side.

Tomas Tolvasias’ paper, 'Cold War Communications: American Exchange Exhibitions in the USSR, 1959-1991' will focus on one of the key means of American cultural diplomacy during the Cold War: the American exhibits to the Soviet Union. He analyzes the content and significance of the interactions between American guides and Soviet citizen.  He also discusses the training of the guides and how their experiences in the Soviet Union influenced their own subsequent careers. While reflecting upon immediate and longer-term challenges and rewards associated with these cross-cultural communications, he will argue that contrary to the goals of Washington planners, the exhibits were less successful at enhancing their audiences’ understanding of democracy and capitalism and more successful in gauging popular opinions, describing the American way of life, and stimulating good will toward the United States. 
Taken together, our papers will shed new light on one of the major projects of the cultural Cold War – interacting with the other side and comprehending it. Our comparative focus will help to flesh out previously unacknowledged similarities as well as more nuanced differences in the ways both the United States and the Soviet Union conceived of understanding the other and incorporated the lessons they learned into their conduct of the cultural Cold War and its strategies.

Thursday 29 Oct 13.45-15.45 Session 2