Head of the Organising Committee
Sanna Turoma
sanna.turoma [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Coordinator
Kaarina Aitamurto
kaarina.aitamurto [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Secretary
Maarit Elo-Valente
maarit.elo-valente [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Intern
Miikka Piiroinen
miikka.piiroinen [at] helsinki.fi

Conference e-mail:
fcree-aleksconf [at] helsinki.fi

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki
phone +358-(0)50-3565 802

aleksanteri [at] helsinki.fi


Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Elena Kochetkova (University of Helsinki/Higher School of Economics-Saint-Petersburg, Russia)

Soviet Engineers, Finland and the Iron Curtain, 1955-64

Recent scholarship has illustrated that the Iron Curtain was penetrable, and in spite of a number of restrictions there were economic, cultural, technological interactions between East and West on the micro level. In my paper I will examine contacts between Soviet and Western engineers intensified in the Khrushchev period. Specifically, I will focus on the case of Soviet-Finnish technological cooperation launched in 1955 after the countries had signed an agreement on the highest level. The cooperation between the states was organized through several practices, in particular trips by Soviet engineers (worked in industrial enterprises, ministerial establishments and research institutes) to Finnish factories, research organizations and companies. In the decade in focus over 600 specialists made short business trips to Finland to learn about new Western technologies, processes and techniques. Their key aim was to bring a positive technological knowledge useful for Soviet modernization being implemented in these years.

Analyzing a dozen of reports made by Soviet travelers, I will examine if these trips, basically of technological nature, were influenced by cultural experiencing of the other behind the Iron Curtain. I will illustrate that the Soviet state, represented by the government and state organizations responsible for science and technology, did not intend that travelling specialists bring anything beyond technologies back to the Soviet Union, and Soviet specialists did not refer to transferring Finnish experience non-technological questions such as work management or labor conditions before their travels. Western technology itself was not seen as a source of evil, although its origin was a source of ideological contamination in the eyes of Soviet authorities, who attempted to control this by limiting the number of specialists going abroad. However, the organization of the trips contributed to a change how these specialists understood the Soviet, or at least stimulated their reflection on the capitalist system. In addition to general impressions that come to people while traveling, the need to visit as many enterprises as possible, the lack of finances, and excessive centralization of communication between Western and Soviet specialists explained the unexpected influences of transfer. In their technical reports, delegates frequently referred to such non-technological issues as capitalist way of living and working as very positive practices to follow. I will illustrate how Western experiences had been debated in the professional communities in the Soviet Union and what role they played in Khrushchev`s thaw on the individual level.