Soviet Soft Power in Poland: Culture and the Making of Stalin's New Empire, 1943-1957

Soviet Soft Power in Poland: Culture and the Making of Stalin's New Empire, 1943-1957

Soviet Soft Power in Poland: Culture and the Making of Stalin's New Empire, 1943-1957

Soviet Soft Power in Poland: Culture and the Making of Stalin's New Empire, 1943-1957

Synopsis

Concentrating on the formative years of the Cold War from 1943 to 1957, Patryk Babiracki reveals little-known Soviet efforts to build a postwar East European empire through culture. Babiracki argues that the Soviets involved in foreign cultural outreach tried to use “soft power” in order to galvanize broad support for the postwar order in the emerging Soviet bloc. Populated with compelling characters ranging from artists, writers, journalists, and scientists to party and government functionaries, this work illuminates the behind-the-scenes schemes of the Stalinist international propaganda machine. Based on exhaustive research in Russian and Polish archives, Babiracki's study is the first in any language to examine the two-way interactions between Soviet and Polish propagandists and to evaluate their attempts at cultural cooperation. Babiracki shows that the Stalinist system ultimately undermined Soviet efforts to secure popular legitimacy abroad through persuasive propaganda. He also highlights the limitations and contradictions of Soviet international cultural outreach, which help explain why the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe crumbled so easily after less than a half-century of existence.

Excerpt

On August 20, 1953, Soviet journalist Nikolai Bubnov hurried to meet the Soviet ambassador to Poland, Georgii M. Popov. Poland’s capital, having been razed to the ground during World War II, was still rising from the ruins. The Soviet embassy occupied a spacious building in the city center on Aleja Szucha 2/4. When Bubnov entered, the ambassador received him immediately. His suit jacket undone, trousers hanging well below his bulging belly, Popov paced nervously back and forth “like a lion in a cage.” Although the two men were meeting for the first time, the ambassador ignored formal introductions. He made straight to the point, “heatedly” telling Bubnov about the situation in Poland. “You see, redaktor, each day in Brest we’re handing over to the Poles thousands of wagons of grain,” Popov said, referring to a town on the Soviet-Polish border. “And they? If they keep acting this way, they’ll turn all of Poland into shit.” Bubnov listened in silence, aware that Popov had been a powerful Party functionary before assuming diplomatic duties in Poland. On the very same day, the Soviet government admitted to a successful detonation of a hydrogen bomb—Bubnov learned firsthand about the explosive nature of culture in Soviet-Polish relations.

The diplomat was widely known for his rude demeanor and irascible temperament. Popov’s indignation over Poles’ lack of gratitude for Soviet grain shipments seems misplaced; the USSR derived enormous economic advantages from its new vassal state, which paid for the grain many times over. Bubnov waited. It was clear that Popov was not angry over a mere grain loan. Art threw Popov over the edge of civility—an invitation to a recent exhibition of Polish art. The gallery featured a painting by nineteenthcentury Polish master Jan Matejko titled Bathory at Pskov. It depicted envoys of the sixteenth-century Muscovite tsar Ivan the Terrible, paying homage to the Hungarian-born king of Poland Stefan Batory. As other Soviet observers were quick to point out, the scene shows an invented aftermath . . .

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