Blinken OSA at the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies 2021 Annual Convention

The logo of the ASEEES

The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) Virtual Convention took place on December 1–3, featuring over 400 sessions.

This is the most important annual event of the Association, usually held in the fall in a different North American city each year. The ASEEES annual convention is an international forum of experts allowing the broad exchange of ideas and information, a platform that stimulates further work and synergies of the field.

Like in previous years, Blinken OSA colleagues participated in the Convention and presented papers, organized panels, and chaired discussions. The Convention provided a relevant professional platform for them to introduce the Blinken OSA archival holdings and its research potential.

Ioana Macrea-Toma, Research Fellow at Blinken OSA, gave a presentation titled “The Soul Catchers: The Art and Science of Surveys on Eastern Europe during the Cold War” within the panel on Propaganda and Truth Regimes in Contested Times. In the panel, four papers spurred reflection about current media interactions within divided societies by taking cues from the polarized regime of the Cold War. Her presentation was based on Blinken OSA’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) opinion research collection and on Ioana’s meticulous research and analysis of several thousand opinion interviews and questionnaires found in it. Blinken OSA holds more than 6,000 such documents; starting from 1960s refugees and visitors arriving in the West from RFE target countries (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the USSR) were interviewed upon arrival by RFE researchers as well as by independent Western polling companies. Some scholars argue that these interviews are unreliable due to the nature of RFE/RL as being a propaganda outlet of the West. Ioana’s presentation, however, stressed that it is essential that extensive research should be conducted on these papers while monitoring the production process itself. Thus, the true role of RFE/RL researchers as truth-seekers (at times when they could only rely on scarce information from behind the Iron Curtain) can be assessed, and the view about RFE/RL can be readjusted beyond the bias of the Cold War division.

Anastasia Felcher, Archivist for the Slavic Collections at Blinken OSA, gave a talk on “Monument Wars and the Collapse of the USSR: Synthesizing Global Media Reports” as convenor of the panel on Heritage and Activism in Central and Eastern Europe under Socialism and Beyond. Three papers in the panel sought to reveal the convoluted nature of the interaction between various forms of approaching cultural heritage and historical, political, and religious activism in Central and Eastern Europe under Socialist/Communist rule, as well as after 1989/91. Anastasia’s paper examined printed media reports about the monument removals of significant Communist political figures (revolutionaries, Red Army soldiers, Lenin, etc.) from public spaces across the former USSR. While reviewing the arguments of Western media labeling removals as justifiable, Anastasia argued that this same media was recreating the logic of the Cold War. On the contrary, the Soviet press regarded monument removals in (former) peripheries of the USSR as iconoclasm along with the argument that in civilized countries the past is respected together with the monuments representing it (relevant press clippings are found in the Blinken OSA RFE/RL sub-fonds Soviet Red Archives and Samizdat Archives). In her paper, Anastasia also argued that the multivocality of these press clippings held at Blinken OSA informs on the logic behind RFE/RL’s communication strategy, while also bearing witness to the complexity and very high political implication of the term “monument.”