The View East

Central and Eastern Europe, Past and Present.

2011: A Quick Review


2011 is a year that has prompted numerous historical comparisons, even before it has ended. This has been a year marked by economic turmoil, widespread international protest and revolutionary activity, as evidenced by Time Magazine’s recent announcement that their coveted ‘person of the year’ was to be awarded to ‘The Protestor‘. Throughout 2011, global news coverage has frequently been dominated by the growing wave of protest and demonstrations that swept the Arab World; quickly dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’ by international media and drawing frequent comparisons with the East European revolutions of 1989. Some (including, recently, Eric Hobsbawm) have suggested that comparisan with the ‘Spring of Nations’ of 1848 is more fitting although many have questioned the value of either historical analogy. Similarly, almost twenty years to the day, in the last weeks of 2011, mounting protests against electoral fraud in Russia have evoked memories of the collapse of the communist monopoly of power and the break-up of the USSR in 1991, with the last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev recently advising current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ‘learn the lesson of 1991’ and resign from power, although Russia-watcher Mark Galeotti has suggested that 1905 may turn out to be a more fitting historical parallel.


The increasingly uncertain economic climate and global financial downturn also dominated news coverage throughout 2011, particularly of late due to the growing crisis in the Eurozone. Across central and eastern Europe, economic crisis and social insecurity has generated fresh concern about ‘ostalgie’ with the release of surveys suggesting high levels of nostalgia for the communist era. In recent polls conducted in Romania 63% of participants said that  their life was better under communism, while 68% said they now believed that communism was ‘a good idea that had been poorly applied’. Similarly, a survey conducted in the Czech Republic last month revealed that 28% of participants believed they had been ‘better off’ under communism, leading to fears of a growth in ‘retroactive optimism‘.


Much of the subject matter presented here at The View East aims to combine historical analysis with more contemporary developments. During 2011 a range of blog posts have covered topics as diverse as the Cold War space race (with posts about Sputnik and the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin‘s first successful manned space flight); the role of popular culture (and specifically, popular music in the GDR) in undermining communism; the use and abuse of alcohol in communist Eastern Europe; espionage and coercion (with posts relating to the East German Stasi, Romanian Securitate and the notorious murder of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov) and in relation to continuing efforts to commemorate contested aspects of modern history including Katyn; the construction of the Berlin Wall, German reunification, Stalin’s legacy and the continuing controversy over Soviet-era war memorials. This summer also saw the first ‘student showcase’ here at The View East, which was a great success, with a series of excellent guest authored posts on a range of fascinating topics, researched and written by some of my students at Swansea University.


Something that I constantly stress to my students is the need to recognise how our knowledge and understanding of modern central and eastern Europe was, in many respects, transformed as new evidence and sources of information became accessible to historians of Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism 1989-1991; and the ways in which our understanding continues to evolve as new information and perspectives continue to emerge today. So, with that in mind, here is a quick review of some of my own personal favourite topics of interest, events and developments during 2011. This short summary is by no means exhaustive so please feel free to add suggestions of your own in the comments section below!


Anniversaries for Reagan and Gorbachev


February 2011 marked the centenary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. Today, former US President and ‘Cold Warrior’ Reagan remains highly regarded throughout the former communist block, where he is widely credited with helping to end the Cold War and open a pathway for freedom across Eastern Europe. A series of events were thus organised to mark the occasion across central and eastern Europe, where several streets, public squares and landmarks were renamed in Reagan’s honour and and the summer of 2011 saw statues of Reagan popping up in several former communist block countries, including Poland, Hungary and Georgia. To mark the centenary, the CIA also released a collection of previously classified  documents, along with a report on ‘Ronald Reagan, Intelligence and the End of the Cold War’ and a series of short documentary style videos that were made to ‘educate’ Reagan about the USSR on a range of topics including the space programme, the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Chernobyl disaster, which can be viewed here. An exhibition held at the US National Archives in Washington DC also displayed examples of Reagan’s personal correspondence including a series of letters exchanged with Mikhail  Gorbachev and the handwritten edits made to Reagan’s famous ‘Evil Empire’ speech of 1983.


A statue of former US President Ronald Reagan, unveiled in the Georgian capital Tblisi in November 2011. The centenary of Reagan's birth was celebrated throughout the former communist block in 2011.


Today, citizens of the former East Block tend to view Reagan much more kindly than his Cold War counterpart, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who celebrated his 80th birthday back in March. Still feted in the West, Gorbachev was the guest of honour at a celebratory birthday gala in London and and was also personally congratulated by current Russian President Medvedev, receiving a Russian medal of honour. In a series of interviews, Gorbachev claimed he remained proud of role in ending communism, although for many, his legacy remains muddied.  April 2011 saw the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, while August 1991 marked the twentieth anniversary of the failed military coup launched by communist hardliners hoping to depose Gorbachev from power and halt his reforms and finally, the 25 December 2011 was 20 years to the day since Gorbachev announced his resignation from power and the formal dissolution of the USSR. Recently released archival documents have also provided historians with more detailed information about the dying days of the Soviet Union as a desperate Gorbachev tried to hold the USSR  together.


March 2011 - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev shakes hands with Mikhail Gorbachev during a meeting to celebrate his 80th birthday. Gorbachev was awarded the Order of St Andrew the Apostle, Russia's highest honour.


Half a Century Since the Construction of the Berlin Wall


August 2011 marked 50 years since the construction of the famous wall which divided Berlin 1961-1989 and became one of the most iconic symbols of Cold War Europe. The anniversary was commemorated in Germany as I discussed in my earlier blog post here and was also widely covered by international media including the Guardian and the BBC here in the UK. I particularly enjoyed these interactive photographs, published in Spiegel Online, depicting changes to the East-West German border. In October, the CIA and US National Archives also released a collection of recently declassified documents relating to the Berlin Crisis of August 1961, which have been published online here.


13 August 2011 - A display in Berlin commemorates the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall.


Thirty Years Since Martial Law Crushed Solidarity in Poland


13  December marked 30 years since General Jaruzelski’s declaration of Martial Law in Poland in 1981, as the emergent Solidarity trade union was declared illegal and forced underground. NATO have released a fascinating series of archived documents relating to events in Poland 1980-81 which have been published online here.  Today Jaruzelski still argues that he ordered the domestic crackdown to avoid Soviet invasion, claiming in a recent book that  his actions were a ‘necessary evil’ . but intelligence contained in the newly available NATO reports suggest that the Soviet leadership were actually ‘keen to avoid’ military intervention in Poland. Fresh attempts to prosecute 88 year old Jaruzelski for his repressive actions were halted due to ill health in 2011, as the former communist leader was diagnosed with lymphoma in March 2011 and has been undergoing regular chemotherapy this year.


13 December 2011 marked 30 years since General Wojciech Jaruzelski's declaration of Martial Law in Poland, designed to crush the growing Polish opposition movement, Solidarity.


The Communist-Era Secret Police


Stories about communist-era state security are always a crowd pleaser and 2011 saw a series of new revelations from the archives of the notorious East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or Stasi. I particularly liked the archived photos that were published in Spiegel Online, taken during a course to teach Stasi agents the art of disguise, as discussed in my previous blog post here and, in a similar vein, information from Polish files about espionage techniques used by Polish State Security which was published in October. In November, new research published in the German Press suggested that the Stasi had a much larger network of spies in West Germany than was previously thought, with over 3000 individuals employed as Inofizelle Mitarbeiter or ‘unofficial informers’, to spy on family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. The Stasi even compiled files on leading figures such as German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and former East German leader Erich Honecker, gathering information that was later used as leverage to force his resignation in October 1989. A new book published in September also detailed the extent of Stasi infiltration in Sweden, with information published in the German media suggesting that Swedish furniture manufacturer  IKEA used East German prisoners as a cheap source of labour in the 1970s and early 1980s.


‘Tourist with Camera’ – a favoured disguise used by Stasi surveillance agents, unearthed from the Stasi archives and part of a new exhibition that went on display in Germany earlier this year.


The Death of Vaclav Havel


2011 ended on something of a sombre note, as news broke of the death of communist-era dissident and former Czechoslovakian/Czech President Vaclav Havel on 18 December. An iconic figure, Havel’s death dominated the news in the lead up to Christmas, (only eclipsed by the subsequent breaking news about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s death on December 17!) with numerous obituaries and tributes to Havel and his legacy appearing in the media (such as this excellent tribute in The Economist, ‘Living in Truth‘), as discussed in more detail in my recent blog post here. Havel’s funeral on 23 December was attended by world leaders, past and present and received widespread media coverage. In recent interviews, such as this one, given shortly before his death, Havel commented on a range of contemporary issues including the Arab revolutions and the global economic crisis. RIP Vaclav – you will be missed.


December 2011 - News breaks of the death of playwright, communist-era dissident and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. Hundreds of candles were lit in Prague's Wenceslas Square in his memory, thousands of mourners gathered to pay their respects and tributes poured in from around the globe.


The Growth of Social Networking


The use of social networking as a tool for organising and fuelling protest and opposition movements has also been a regular feature in the news throughout 2011 with particular reference to the Arab Spring, the UK riots and the recent ‘Occupy’ movement. Many more universities and academics are also now realising the potential benefits of using social media sites to promote their interests, and achievements, disseminate their research to a wider audience and engage in intellectual debate with a wider circle of individuals working on similar areas of interest, both within and beyond academia.  The potential benefits of Twitter and other social networking sites for academics has been promoted by the LSE and their Impact Blog during 2011, including this handy ‘Twitter guide for Academics‘.  On a more personal note, promoting The View East via Twitter has also helped me develop a much stronger online profile and contributed to an increased readership in 2011, something I discussed further in a September blog post here.


Was 2011 the year of the 'Twitter Revolution'?


As 2011 ends, our twitter feed @thevieweast is heading for 500 regular twitter followers; most days The View East receives well over 100 hits, the number of regular email subscribers has almost doubled and I’ve been able to reach a much wider audience – some older blog content I wrote relating to Solidarity was recently published in a Macmillan textbook History for Southern Africa and in the last twelve months I have given interviews to ABC Australia, Voice of America, and Radio 4, all in relation to subjects I’d written about here at The View East. So, as 2011 draws to a close, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have read, commented, followed and re-tweeted from The View East in 2011 – A very Happy New Year to you all, and I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2012!


Happy New Year from The View East!

December 31, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bluff of the Century: Sputnik and the Cold War.


Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs … This is our generation’s Sputnik moment”

The quotation above, taken from US President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address on 26 January 2011, relates to his plea for the necessity of continued US investment in research and technologyin the contemporary world. His words also serve as a powerful testament to the enduring legacy left by the successful Soviet launch of the satellite Sputnik on 4 October 1957. The launch of Sputnik ignited the Cold War Space Race in earnest; as George Reedy, an aide to US President Lyndon Johnson famously declared: ‘the Russians have left the earth and the race for control of the universe has started’.

In this article, guest author Harry Hopkinson argues that Sputnik actually functioned as something of a ‘military boomerang’ for the USSR – temporarily boosting Soviet prestige but at the expense of galvanising America’s own technological and military development in the longer term and ultimately pushing the Soviets into making technological and military commitments that they would struggle to maintain – while also considering some of the ways in which Sputnik’s influence permeated the Cold War beyond the military and technological spheres after its launch in 1957.


The Bluff of the Century: Sputnik and the Cold War.

By Harry Hopkinson.


Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, was successfully launched on the 4th of October 1957. Serving as a demonstration of Soviet technological advancement, its launch was met with a response of shock, awe and fear which reverberated across both sides of the Iron Curtain. Sputnik spent a total of 3 months orbiting the Earth, emitting a simple signal that was picked up by amateur radio operators around the world. The satellite weighed 184 pounds, and the R-7 rocket that launched Sputnik into orbit was capable of generating 1,120,000 pounds of thrust.


Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, was successfully launched by the Soviet Union on the 4th of October 1957.


Soviet technology thus appeared to be firmly in the ascendency, with the implication that the Soviet Union was now also capable of launching a long-range nuclear strike. In the political climate of the Cold War, Sputnik proved to be a huge propaganda coup for the Soviet Union. Soviet prestige was bolstered while the United States faced political and national embarrassment due to perceptions of their lack of comparable technology. However, the initial embarrassment that the United States experienced as a result of Sputnik’s success had a galvanising effect on American attitudes towards competition with the USSR, the exploitation of Space and the development of nuclear weapons. As a result, while Sputnik is traditionally perceived as being an off-shoot or catalyst for the Cold War arms race, as well as kick-starting the Space Race, the satellite also left a much wider legacy. The Sputnik launch and the response of the United States set the tone for the remaining years of the Cold War, and many aspects of Sputnik’s wider legacy continue to reverberate to this day. 


VIDEO: ‘Sputnik beeps overhead: Americans in awe’



Sputnik: The Soviet Bluff

Following the Second World War, the creation of advanced technological weaponry in the form of an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that was powerful enough to launch a nuclear warhead thousands of miles was a key aim shared by both the USA and the USSR. Sputnik’s launch seemingly demonstrated to the world that the Soviet Union had attained this goal, and was capable of threatening the USAwith nuclear ICBMs. This short animated video, shown on an American News programme, provided a simple demonstration of the science behind the Sputnik launch:



The reality of the situation however, was that the powerful R-7 rocket that lofted Sputnik into orbit possessed many problems that made it unsuitable as an ICBM. The key problem was that the heat shield that would protect the warhead from the heat of atmospheric re-entry had not been sufficiently developed. This meant that the R-7 could not function as a nuclear weapon. Khrushchev himself later acknowledged that the R-7 was a ‘symbolic threat’ and that it was ‘reliable neither as an offensive or defensive weapon’ (Quoted by Matthew Brzezinski, Red Moon: Sputnik and the Rivalries that United the Space Age, Bloomsbury: 2007). Though the rocket would continue to prove an excellent motor for Space exploration (and would also be used to propel Yuri Gagarin into orbit during the first manned space flight in April 1961), as a weapon it was clearly not capable of threatening the United States when Sputnik was launched in 1957, while in contrast, the United States had assembled a large bomber fleet that was capable of striking at the Soviet Union from bases within Europe and America.

The Sputnik launch can therefore be seen as something of a bluff on the part of the Soviet Union; giving the illusion that Soviet rocket technology and its nuclear capability was more advanced than it actually was. From a Soviet perspective, the ability to bluff an ICBM advantage was important as this could deter the USA from any pre-emptive strike on the USSR in the event of a nuclear war.  By bluffing about their nuclear capacity and creating the illusion of capability to ensure ‘mutually assured destruction’ the Soviet Union thus sought to bolster their own security. The concept of nuclear deterrence was crucial for Soviet foreign policy at a time when Khrushchev was actively seeking to establish a policy of rapprochement with the USA. The Sputnik bluff thus helped to set the stage for the doctrine of ‘peaceful co-existence’ between the USA and the USSR. 


Sputnik: The American Response

Although the Eisenhower administration recognised that Sputnik did not dramatically shift the nuclear balance of power, they still reacted sharply to the technological achievement demonstrated by the Soviet satellite and implemented several changes to existing policy in direct response to Sputnik. One immediate change was the revamping of the USA’s ICBM and satellite programmes. The Navy’s experimental missile project Vanguard was tasked with launching a satellite, despite the fact that its rocket had still not been fully tested. The accelerated launch of an American satellite was intended to placate public concerns that the USA had fallen behind the Soviet Union technologically. Unfortunately the experimental Vanguard rocket exploded spectacularly on its launch pad on the 6th of December 1957, prompting wide-spread derision from the American media. The New York Times referred to the debacle as ‘Sputternik’ (7th December 1957), while Time Magazine dubbed it ‘Project Rearguard’ (7th December 1957). Following Vanguard’s failure, missile development and satellites became a highly politicised issue, fuelled by the popular public perception that the USA were in danger of falling further behind the USSR.

Public concern about Sputnik was also exploited by the Democratic Party for political gain. Senator Lyndon Johnson proclaimed of the Russians ‘Soon, they will be dropping bombs on us from space like kids dropping rocks onto cards from freeway overpasses’ (Quoted by Paul Dickson,  Sputnik: The Shock of the Century, Berkley: 2001) while Charles Bewton, a Democrat senatorial aide, drafted a memo for Democrat George Reedy stating that ‘the issue (Sputnik) is one which, if properly handled, would blast the Republicans out of the water, unify the Democratic party and elect you President…’ (Quoted by Walter McDougal in The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age, John Hopkins University Press: 1985).

The Democrats repeatedly argued that a ‘missile gap’ existed between the USA and the USSR, and this became a decisive issue in John Kennedy’s winning election campaign in the run up to the 1960 Presidential elections. That Kennedy’s presidency was won on this premise illustrates that the Democrats were able to use Sputnik for political ‘leverage’: exploiting the concerns of the general public, who worried that America may lose power, prestige and international leadership.

The Sputnik bluff was therefore initially successful: it boosted Soviet prestige at the expense of the USA; marked a triumph for Soviet science and technology and changed world perceptions of the Soviet Union. Being the first into space meant that the USSR was viewed as a serious rival to the USA. This was later compounded by the Space Race, where the USA actively competed with the USSR for scientific and technological supremacy. The idea that America thus had to compete with the Soviet Union, not just militarily but in every walk of life, was established by Sputnik. Sputnik can therefore be seen as an ideological victory for the Soviet Union as it changed American perceptions of the USSR and set the tone for the remaining Cold War.


This cartoon, by Edwin Marcus, accurately illustrates the impact that Sputnik was perceived to have had, by 'waking up' the USA.


Sputnik also had a galvanising effect on American missile development and by 1960 the USA had begun to overtake the Soviets in numbers of ICBMs, while also retaining its large nuclear bomber fleet. Sputnik precipitated this galvanisation and so ironically, actually helped to put more nuclear pressure on the Soviet Union. As Sputnik served to strengthen America’s position in real terms while offering only the illusion of strength to the USSR, as a bluff it was ultimately to be to their detriment. This gulf, between the perceived Soviet capabilities that Sputnik granted and the reality of the situation, would go on to have several further influences on the Cold War.


Sputnik: The Wider Impact

One key impact was that Khrushchev sought to address the growing nuclear imbalance by placing missiles in Cuba, sparking the now infamous Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. A Soviet memorandum from the 24th May 1962 outlined Soviet plans to place launchers and a missile division on Cuban soil. Placing missiles in Cuba marked a shift, as the Soviet Union now had missiles capable of threatening the USA with nuclear strikes. Khrushchev stated that levelling the nuclear balance of power was the principal aim of his decision to place missiles in Cuba in his memoirs. He asserted ‘We had to establish a tangible and effective deterrent to American interference in the Caribbean’ and went on to acknowledge how unfavourable the nuclear balance of power between the USA and USSR was at that time because ‘The United States had already surrounded the Soviet Union with its own bomber bases and missiles. We knew that American missiles were aimed against us in Turkey and Italy, to say nothing of West Germany’ (Khrushchev Remembers, Penguin, 1977). This suggests that the skewered balance of power created by Sputnik was a primary motivation for the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Sputnik bluff also created tensions between the Soviet Union and its allies. China was highly critical of Soviet attempts to make overtures towards ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the USA, instead pushing Khrushchev to adopt more aggressive political manoeuvring, given their perceived technological ‘superiority’. Ultimately, part of the reason for the Sino-Soviet split in 1961 was because the USSR would not share nuclear technology with China. Arguably then, the Sputnik bluff gave the Chinese an inaccurate view of the true nuclear capacity of the USSR in relation to the USA, and while this was not the sole reason for the split, it was influential. Polish leader Gomulka also sent a letter to Khrushchev on 8th October 1963 arguing against Soviet proposals for a non-proliferation treaty with the USA. Gomulka asserted that the presence of missiles in Europe due to NATO would still threaten Eastern Europe and the Warsaw Pact, and argued that the USSR should share nuclear weapons with China. Gomulka does not encourage the use of nuclear missiles but does assume that the USSR is capable of dealing with the USA as an equal.

By 1963 the USSR was beginning to ‘catch up’ with the US in terms of its own missile production; however the sheer volume of nuclear weapons that the USA possessed by this point made any war so potentially devastating that there was no political incentive to fight one. Although Sputnik had given the illusion of the Soviet power equalling that of the USA, in reality their ability to use their nuclear force for political gains had sharply decreased. Therefore, the Sputnik bluff gave the Soviet Union’s allies an inaccurate view of the nature of the nuclear balance of power between the two super-powers and created a false impression of Soviet capability to use nuclear missiles to barter for political concessions with the USA.


Assessing Sputnik’s Legacy

The Space Race kick-started by Sputnik would open up further space exploration and go on to shape a generation of technology.  Due to the reorganisation of research and development under Eisenhower, the USA was better poised to exploit the technology it developed, while the USSR remained rigidly bound by its centralised bureaucracy and did not throw its economic, technical and human resources  in to such projects to the same extent as the USA. The subsequent success of NASA in the space race would ultimately go on to influence Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) in 1983, making the prospect of a space-based weapons platform seem possible, if not entirely feasible. The extent to which Regan’s SDI was the main motivator in Gorbachev’s subsequent disarmament efforts is debatable. However this provides another example of Sputnik’s continual influence throughout the Cold War period, as it introduced the possibility that a second, space-based arms race could occur between the USA and the USSR in the 1980s, before the disarmament overtures made by Gorbachev squashed this.

Sputnik inadvertently locked the USSR into an arms race that was mirrored in a technological race between the two super powers to exploit space. The USA came out ahead in both of these races. Sputnik then, can be seen as a bluff that, while initially successful, ultimately back-fired. Militarily it was a ‘boomerang’: Sputnik temporarily boosted Soviet prestige but at the expense of galvanising America into a vast military build up. Despite initial Soviet success, the USA would also go on to dominate space through its use of satellites and the influence of NASA. The USSR struggled to catch up with both of these movements, so in many ways Sputnik can be seen as pushing the USSR into technological commitments that it would subsequently struggle to meet. Therefore, Sputnik’s influence set the tone for the Cold War from its launch in 1957 until theSoviet Union’s collapse in 1991. Sputnik can thus be seen as a turning point in the dynamic between the USA and the USSR, due to its role in changing American perspectives of the USSR and its pivotal involvement in the arms race between the two countries. Ultimately then, Sputnik allowed the USA to become more scientifically advanced while the USSR would go on to stagnate.


About the Author:

Harry Hopkinson recently completed his BA (Hons) in History at Swansea University, graduating with First Class honours in July 2011. Harry is particularly interested in the history of science, the Cold War and the Soviet Union and during his final year of study at Swansea he decided to combine these interests, to good effect! The result was an extremely accomplished history dissertation, Sputnik: Bluff of the Century. Harry is currently travelling in America and is considering  undertaking further historical research in the future.


For more information on this topic, see:


David Scott & Alexei Leonov with Christine Toomey, Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race (Simon & Schuster: 2004)

Hardesty, Von & Eisman, Gene Epic Rivalry: The inside story of the Soviet and American Space Race (National Geographic: 2007)

Brzezinski, Matthew Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the rivalries that ignited the space age. (Bloomsbury: 2007)

McDougall, Walter A.  A Political History of the Space Race…The Heavens and The Earth (The Johns Hopkins University Press: 1985)

Siddiqi, Asif A.  Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge and The Soviet Space Race with Apollo (University Press of Florida: 2003)


July 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Student Showcase: Forthcoming Guest Authored Blog Posts by Swansea University Students.


During July, The View East is very pleased to be hosting a ‘student showcase’, featuring a number of short articles written by history students from Swansea University.


During the final year of undergraduate study, many students invest a lot of time and energy into their studies and produce some really excellent work as a result. However, the vast majority of work produced by undergraduate students is generally not accessible to a wider audience. Most dissertations, essays and research projects are read only by the student themselves, their supervisor, one or two other examiners and perhaps a couple of family members or close friends who may be drafted in to proofread the finished article. Reading through some of the excellent work submitted by students I’ve worked with at Swansea University over the course of the last year led me to reflect that this was rather a shame. Hence my idea to host a ‘student showcase’ here on The View East was born, by asking some of my students to write short articles related to some of the research they had conducted over the past year.


The students I approached have risen admirably to the challenge! Over the next three weeks The View East will feature seven short guest authored articles. All articles have been written by students from the Department of History and Classics at Swansea University. All of the authors have recently completed the final year of their undergraduate degrees and will be graduating this month. All of the students featured here either took my ‘special subject’, specialising in the study of Eastern Europe 1945-1989 during the final year of their degree, or chose to research and write their dissertation on some aspect of modern East European history, under my supervision. All of the students featured as guest authors consistently produced excellent work over the course of the year, just a small sample of which is included here. Sadly, it was not possible to feature the great work done by all of the students I have had the pleasure of working with this year, as many (particularly in the case of my dissertation group) produced excellent research, but on topics that lie outside of the scope of this blog’s focus.


By way of a brief introduction, our guest authors during the next three weeks are writing on the following topics:


Week 1:

On Monday 11 July we begin with Harry Hopkinson’s fascinating article Sputnik: Bluff of the Century. Here Harry explores the implications of the successful launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957, not only in terms of technological and military developments but also in terms of its wider impact on the development of the Cold War.

On Wednesday 13 July we have the first of a trio of articles focusing on various aspects of the history of the GDR. In this article Rosie Shelmerdine provides a fresh and timely analysis of the 1953 East German Uprising, exploring the true nature of the rebellion by asking whether the events of June 1953 are best considered as ‘Western Provocation, Workers Protest or Attempted Revolution?’.

Our first week concludes on Friday 15 July, with James Shingler’s intriguing article ‘Rocking the Wall’, which follows on nicely from Rosie’s study of a popular uprising by exploring a rather different aspect of protest and resistance in the GDR, focusing on the impact of popular music in 1970s and 1980s East Germany.


Week 2:

The second week of the student showcase opens by concluding our focus on the GDR. On Monday 18 July David Cook’s article ‘Living with the Enemy’ provides an insightful and intelligent analysis of the infamous East German secret police – the Stasi.

On Thursday 21 July Nelson Duque’s article ‘Inside Ceausescu’s Romania: An Unquestionably Efficient Police State’ follows nicely on from David’s study of the Stasi by considering the repressive nature of another East European regime: that of Ceausescu’s Romania and his much feared secret police, the Securitate.


Week 3:

On Monday 25th July our penultimate article, written by Carla Giudice, takes us back to the immediate aftermath of World War Two by considering some of the factors that influenced the contrasting fates of three leading individuals who featured in the 1945 Nuremberg War Crimes Trials: the ‘Good Nazi’ Albert Speer, the ‘Bad Nazi’ Herman Goering and the ‘Mad Nazi’ Rudolf Hess.

In recent months there has been a renewed focus on war crimes in relation to the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, due to the recent arrest and indictment of former Bosnian Serb Army chief Ratko Mladic on charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity. On Wednesday 27th July, our final guest authored article by Simon Andrew thus provides a fitting conclusion to the student showcase, by considering some of the circumstances surrounding the bloody break up of Yugoslavia.



July 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments