Literary Pax Sovietica

Overview

Overview

This AHRC-funded project explores the establishment of socialist literatures in post-war Eastern Europe as an attempt to create a unified cultural space under the Soviet rule.

In their work, the researchers proceed from the premise that in the present-day reality, where nearly all major cultural and political projects have an international character, it is all the more vital to examine past attempts at the creation of a unified cultural and political sphere.

The expansion of socialist rule into Eastern Europe after World War II was not exclusively a political enterprise; to no smaller an extent it was an exercise in transforming the national consciousness of the societies involved in the spirit of (forced) internationalism. In so far as literature is at the core of a nation's identity, it is important to examine steps taken towards a unification of literary production and consumption following the introduction of socialist rule in East European countries, during the formative years of the new world order.

At the same time, it is crucial to remember that only in a comparative context can we do justice to the complexity of the matter. Concentrating on a particular national context cannot give one a full idea of the cultural and political mechanics involved in the construction of the new totalitarian reality. The project examines processes related to the institutionalisation of the production and consumption of literature during the first post-WWII decade in various East European countries, which exemplify different literary and political traditions - the GDR, Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia. We investigate how similar events and procedures (all initiated by Soviet authorities) were adapted to specific cultural contexts and how, in turn, the centralised cultural policy responded to the particularities of each country. With the help of colleagues in the relevant countries, we study primary archival documents - both openly published and secret reports of writers'; congresses, transcripts of meetings between writers and readers, as well as between writers and party officials, materials of international literary and cultural events, propagandistic texts and practical instructions related to the implementation of a unified Socialist Realist method of writing across Eastern Europe. By comparing and contrasting similar events and processes in the different cultural and political contexts, we aim to achieve a fuller picture of the formation of socialist ideology in Eastern Europe, the foundations of the Cold War and, to a large extent, the building blocks of the recent cultural memory that is part and parcel of the European cultural heritage today.

Project Team, UK and International Partners

Project Team, UK and International Partners

The Principal Investigator on the project is Prof.Evgeny Dobrenko, professor of Russian at the University of Sheffield, the author of hundreds of articles and some twenty monographs and collected volumes on the culture of Stalinism and post-war Soviet Union (http://bit.ly/2jEyfzT). The Research Associate is Dr.Natalia Skradol, whose interests lie in the sphere of rhetoric of totalitarian societies (http://bit.ly/2l1ZNfC). What started off as a University of Sheffield-based project grew with time to include colleagues and organisations beyond the walls of the University, beyond the municipal borders of Sheffield, beyond the borders of the UK. Dr.Tamás Scheibner (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest) cooperated with Prof.Dobrenko on the organisation of an international conference that took place in Sheffield in March 2013 [http://socialist-realism-in-eceu.blogspot.co.uk/], and remained a supportive colleague and friend whose help in the organisation of two subsequent conferences [http://www.shef.ac.uk/slc/latestnews/stalinism-1.349580 and http://formalismconference.blogspot.co.uk/] was invaluable, just as it was in the subsequent preparation of selected materials for publication. Prof.Plamen Doynov of the New Bulgarian University in Sofia was the inspiration and the source of nearly all the information for an exhibition the team organised in the Central Library in Sheffield in October-November 2015 (http://bit.ly/2l3HrL5). In addition to Tamás and Plamen, Dr.Imre-József Balázs (Cluj-Napoca, Romania), Dr.Vojtĕch Malinek (Prague, the Czech Republic), Dr.Anna Socha-Michalik (Kraków, Poland) and Dr.Elitza Stanoeva (Berlin-Sofia-Florence) provided indispensable help and advice during the collection and processing of some of the primary archival materials related to the project.

As important as personal connections between colleagues are for the success of a project, institutional support is still necessary when formal requirements must be met for applications for, and receipt of, additional funding or in-kind contributions. We are grateful for the assistance we received from the Institute of Literary Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw); the Institute of Czech Literature, Czech Academy of Sciences (Prague); Charles University (Prague); the Institute of World Literature at the Slovak Academy of Sciences (Bratislava); Eötvös Loránd University (Budapest); the House of Illustration (London); Waterstones, Tottenham Court Road Branch (London); the Polish Cultural Institute (London); the Central Library (Sheffield); Off The Shelf Literary Festival (Sheffield); the Sheffield Town Trust; the British Academy; the Prokhorov Centre at the University of Sheffield; CEELBAS; the International Visegrad Fund; the Arts Enterprise department at the University of Sheffield. Without the support and involvement of these organisations and departments the events listed on this website [link to the ‘events’ page] would not have been possible.

Interesting Facts

Interesting Facts

In post-war Bulgaria, there was a ‘prison for books’ – a section in a women’s prison where sometimes whole print-runs of books whose content was .deemed suspicious were locked.

It was common practice in the SU and the Soviet satellites to detroy politically unreliable books immediately upon publication, but it was just as common a practice for officials to keep some copies for themselves and their families.

The first ‘Cold War’ film, The Russian Question, was made in the Soviet Union. Released in March 1948, it bit the first Hollywood production of the same genre by two months. However, heavy censorship and ideologically was not a uniquely Soviet feature. In 1947, the so-called Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals issued a pamphlet entitled “Screen Guide for Americans.” The document contained a list of guiding principles to be followed by all American artists and film-makers who did not wish to be suspected of collaboration with communists. The readers were warned, for example, against glorifying “the common one,” this being “one of the worst slogans of communism,” and advised not to “smear the free enterprise system, the profit motif, or success.”

As part of the campaign to implement socialist realism as the only method of writing and artistic creation in general in Eastern Europe, Soviet authorities dispatched cultural officials to each of the newly socialist countries. Seminars with local writers, artists critics were conducted and enthusiastic reports were produced without fail. However, those sometimes came accompanied with a note that the Soviet officials themselves, unfortunately, could not read the works written following their visit, as neither they nor anyone else in the relevant organisations knew the language of the country in question.

Just like their Soviet colleagues, writers and scholars in Eastern Europe soon realised that writing books for children, translating the work of other writers or being part of a team working on the compilation of a dictionary were much safer pursuits than being a writer or a scholar. As a result, the quality of some of the literary translations, popular science writings or books for children that saw light under the Soviet regime is still unsurpassed.

Events and Testimonials

Events and Testimonials

Since the beginning of the project, Prof.Dobrenko has given talks in Princeton, Berkeley, New York, Washington, San Antonio (USA); in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Xi'an Jiaotong (China), and at multiple venues in the UK, in Russia, Eastern Europe and Germany. There have been radio and TV interviews (Radio Liberty; BBC World; local television in Moscow, Vilnius, Sofia) and newspaper reports.

Dr.Skradol has spoken at the Ideas Live as part of the Off the Shelf festival and in the Central Library (Sheffield); at Waterstones and the House of Illustration (London); at conferences in Moscow, Boston, San Antonio and Washington, and on multiple occasions at the University of Bochum (Germany). She has presented a poster at the Open Day in the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield and spoke about cold war caricature to the students and staff from different departments at the Sheffield World Week (http://bit.ly/2jL5KvC). She was quite nervous when she was interviewed for television following the exhibition in the Central Library in Sheffield (https://vimeo.com/142505629).

We have been the proud hosts of the renowned translator from Polish Antonia Lloyd-Jones (http://bit.ly/2jFKR9N) and her colleague Anna Blasiak (http://annablasiak.com/), as well as of the writer and memoirist Iva Pekárková (http://pekarkova.blog.idnes.cz/) and the poet Wioletta Grzegorzewska (http://bit.ly/2iYdoUf). We are now looking forward to hosting Maria Jastrzebska (http://bit.ly/2l32Jsd). None of them lives in Sheffield, all of them came from different parts of the UK, bringing with them some experience of what it means to be an (im)migrant intellectual. Not only did people in Sheffield come to meet our guests, but their responses confirm that they would like to meet them again, and again, and read their books, and maybe even learn their languages. “Can we have more?”, written in different handwritings and with minor variations in the wording, is the most recurrent comment we’ve received when we asked for the audience’s responses to our events. It made us proud, and it made our guests happy.

Academic conferences are an indispensable part of our work. Since March 2013, we’ve organised, hosted and followed up on three conferences directly related to the topic of the research: Socialist Realism in Eastern and Central European Literatures: Origins, Institutions, Discourses in March 2013 [http://socialist-realism-in-eceu.blogspot.co.uk/], Literary Pax Sovietica: Late Stalinism and East European Literatures in May 2014 [http://www.shef.ac.uk/slc/latestnews/stalinism-1.349580], and Russian Formalism and Eastern and Central European Literary Theory: A Centenary View in May 2015 [http://formalismconference.blogspot.co.uk/]. Two collected volumes based on selected contributions from these events are now in preparation, with the first one due to be published by Anthem Press in 2017 [http://amzn.to/2k9HUgb].

Publications

Publications

[in preparation] Skradol, N. “’By Means of Their Profession’: Competing Visions of GDR Literature between January 1956 and October 1957.” For submission to Monatshefte.

[in preparation] Skradol, N. “Creating a 'Creative Exchange': Writers As Friends As Teachers As Students in the early GDR.” For submission to Slavonic and East European Review.

[forthcoming] Dobrenko, E. and N.Skradol. “Introduction.” Socialist Realism in Central and Eastern European Literatures: Institutions, Dynamics, Discourses. Eds. E.Dobrenko and N.Skradol. London: Anthem Press, 2017.

[forthcoming] Dobrenko, E. “Once Dr Faul Has Left: The Agony Of Socialist Realism in Poland, 1956-6.” Socialist Realism in Central and Eastern European Literatures: Institutions, Dynamics, Discourses. Eds. E.Dobrenko and N.Skradol. London: Anthem Press, 2017.

[forthcoming] Skradol, N. (2017). “There Will Be Millions of Friends: Friendship as a Cultural Institution in the Soviet Bloc.” [accepted pending minor revisions]. Amity: The Journal of Friendship Studies.

Skradol, N. (2016). “A Matter Of Definition: The Birth Of Socialist Realism In The West.” Critique and Humanism 46 (2016) (2): 261-279.

Dobrenko, E. (2014). “Linguistic Turn à la Soviétique: The Power of Grammar, and the Grammar of Power.” The Vernaculars of Communism: Language, Ideology and Power in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Eds. P. Petrov and L. Ryazanova-Clarke. London & New York: Routledge, 2015. Pp. 19-39.

Skradol, N. “Conference Report on Literary Pax Sovietica: Late Stalinism and East European Literatures.” NLO (New Literary Review) [in Russian], 113 (2015) (3).

Skradol, N. “The Salon in the Camp: Friendship Societies and the Literary Public Sphere in the SBZ and in the early GDR.” Socialist Realism in Central and Eastern European Literatures: Institutions, Dynamics, Discourses. Eds. E.Dobrenko and N.Skradol. London: Anthem Press, 2017.