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25 Years after the Berlin Wall:  GWU Panel to Examine Challenges of Scholarship Since Communism’s Collapse

October 30, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 11.07.16 AMNational Security Archive Executive Director Tom Blanton will moderate an exciting panel on the research challenges scholars face studying Russia/the former Soviet Union and Central/Eastern Europe in the years since the collapse of communism. The panel, which will include Archive Senior Analyst Svetlana Savranskaya and professors Jim Hershberg, Sharon Wolchik, and Robert W. Orttung, will be held on November 6 at GWU’s Gelman Library.

The panel coincides with the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet-led communist bloc in Eastern Europe – 1989 was the annis mirabilis, the year of miracles, that witnessed political revolutions in several countries whose populations demanded a change from decades of one-party rule to more representative multiparty systems.  Poland was the first to hold partially free elections (in June), followed by similar expressions of independence in Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania.  Only Romania experienced violent upheaval as a defining element of its transformation.

Political change soon led to dramatic, if in some cases short-lived, access to the previously hidden history of the region. A wave of international scholarly and public interest in every aspect of life under the old regimes helped uncover archival jewels few ever expected would see daylight. Former representatives of the powers-that-were joined in the act, giving interviews and pumping out memoirs that tended to be self-serving but inevitably added important perspective to the world’s attempts to understand the communist period. In some instances, such as East Germany, the need to be rid of historical burdens prompted extraordinary feats of openness – the laying bare of the Stasi files, for example. Elsewhere, as in Russia, reflexive political instincts snapped back into place, slamming shut key archives before they could be fully explored.

This incomplete and uneven access has been a nagging frustration for scholars. Even the most open governments shield their particular secrets, including those dating from the Cold War. But the most critical gaps and questions that still loom from that period tend to relate to the Soviet bloc and to the attitudes and policy choices of those regimes’ elites.  Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the distinguished scholars named above will look back at the experiences of the past generation of scholarship about the Communist era, and offer their first-hand assessments of its successes, shortfalls, impact and evolution since the demise of that system.

The event promises to be an eye-opening journey through history, the politics of memory, and the challenges of academic inquiry in a part of the world that in some respects is still finding its way out of its past.

Specifics:  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

1:00 – 2:30 p.m.

Gelman Library, Room 702

The George Washington University

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