Literary Pax Sovietica
Late Stalinism in Eastern Literatures
University of Sheffield, UK
May 16-18, 2014
The relationship between Literature and ideology in the communist Eastern Bloc after WWII represents a very important field of research that can contribute significantly to a wider understanding of the foundations of the new political and social order in post-World War II Eastern Europe. Although there have been comparative studies of the Cold War period by scholars, historians and literary critics, studies that were encouraged by the changes that occurred in the 1990s, we are still lacking in in-depth comparative study related to the process of the institutionalization of literature and socialist realism in Eastern European countries. Therefore, 23 years after the collapse of the communist regimes in Europe there are still many issues concerning the relationship between literature and politics, between literature and state ideology issues which need to be deeply investigated by scholars whose academic interest is the East and South-East European Studies.
The establishment of the communist regime and the establishment of the method of Socialist Realism during the first post-War decade in the Eastern Bloc were the main focus of Literary Pax Sovietica: Late Stalinism and East European Literatures, an international conference organized by the Department of Slavonic Studies at the University of Sheffield on May 16-18, 2014. This conference brought together scholars from Europe and the USA whose field of expertise is literature and history of Eastern Europe and the national cultures of these countries during the communist regime.
Professors Evgeny Dobrenko and Natalia Skradol were the organizers of this noteworthy and insightful academic event. This conference was successful not only in accomplishing its goals but also in presenting an example of how can we tackle issues related to literature and communism in Eastern Europe in the present ever-changing context.
The introduction to the conference in day 1 was delivered by Neil Bermel and Evgeny Dobrenko from the University of Sheffield. The conference was organized in six panels. The first panel focused on the concept and application of soft power, brutal force and the significance of words. Scholars from the University of Texas, Arlington - Dr. Patryk Babiracki, from the University of Sheffield - Dr. Natalia Skradol, from the University of Zagreb - Ivana Peruško and from the New University of Bulgaria – Plamen Doinov respectively gave the following presentations: “Soft power and Eastern Europe 1945-1956; “Socialist realism in the Soviet zone: concept and practice”; “Croatian ‘No’ to socialist realism: From Miroslav Krleža's ‘Dialectical Antibarbarus’ to ‘On Cultural Freedom’”; “Writers’ self-criticism: The Soviet model and the Bulgarian experience, 1946–1962”.
The second panel focussed on World Literature in the Eastern Bloc. Professor Katerina Clark (Yale University, USA) presented on ‘World Literature’: Standard Bearer of Soviet Culture in the 1930s and Casualty in the 1940s and cosmopolitanism. Vladislav Zubok from London School of Economics, UK presented on VOKS - Topic TBC. Rossen Djagalov from Koç University in Turkey presented a paper whose focus was Literary Polpredy and the Constitution of ‘The Literature of People’s Democracies’. This session closed with Tatiana Volokitina, from the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Russia, who offered in her presentation the results of the research that she had conducted in the Russian archives about Writers and Political Regimes in Eastern Europe.
The first day of the conference ended with the keynote speaker Galin Tihanov from Queen Mary University of London in UK who presented “The Post-Romantic Syndrome: Intellectual Adventures in Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe, 1917-1989”.
The third panel of the conference took place during day 2 and its main topic was: The Three C’s: Criticism, Censorship and Celebrations. This panel offered a wide perspective on the literatures in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and East Germany. Pavel Janáćek (, , The Czech Republic) presented the paper: “From Literature Censored by Poets to Literature Censored by the Party: Evolution of the Stalinist Censorial System within the Czech Literary Culture of 1945-1955”. Tomáš Glanc (Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany) spoke on “Two Kinds of Czechoslovakian Mayakovsky. Death Celebration, 1950”.
Imre József Balázs from Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania presented a paper on the Impact of the Mihai Eminescu school of literature and literary criticism on the literatures of Romania, 1950-1955.
The last speaker of the session was Tamás Scheibner from in Budapest, Hungary who presented the paper: “Competing Sovietisations: Book publishing and censorship in post-WWII Hungary”.
The topic of the fourth panel was: “Formative Divisions”.
The first speaker in this session was Benjamin Robinson (Indiana University, USA) whose paper was “Representing Opportunity: Between Behaviour and Leadership in the Early GDR”.
Following this presentation and elaborating further on East Germany’s context were two papers: the one presented by Helen Fehervary (Ohio State University, USA), “Competing Visions: East German Writers and Intellectuals' Efforts to Create a Socialist Culture under Soviet/GDR Governance and in the Cold War Context of a Divided Nation” and the paper presented by Anne Hartmann from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany: “The Cultural Renewal in Eastern Germany: Mission Impossible for Soviet Cultural Officers and German Antifascists?”
The last speaker of the session was Carl Tighe from the University of Derby, UK who presented the paper: “Number Crunching the Engineers of Human Souls: Polish Writers in Figures.”
The fifth panel which concluded the second day of the conference focused on another important issue of the Literatures in the Eastern Bloc: Establishing the Literary Establishment. The scholars presenting in this panel where Bavjola Shatro (Aleksandër Moisiu University, Albania) who presented on Albanian Literature during the Establishment of the Communist Regime: State, Ideology, Literary Tradition and the New Literature.
Melinda Kalmár – independent Researcher from Hungary – presented the paper: “Literature and Politics in Hungary, 1945-1956.”
Zoran Milutinović (University College London, UK) presented a paper which focused on Socialist Realism in Yugoslavia, 1944-1952. This panel was concluded by Katarzyna Śliwińska’s paper (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland): “The Institutionalization of a Doctrine: Socialist Realism in Poland.”
The sixth panel of the conference, which was also the last session, took place during the third day of the conference and focussed on the topic Canons after cannons. The contributions of the scholars who presented in this session are the following:
Alexander Kiossev from Sofia University, Bulgaria, whose paper focused on Stalinism and the Canon, The Bulgarian Case;
Andrada Fătu-Tutoveanu from Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, presented the paper: “Controlling Culture, Redesigning the Canon: The Post-War ‘Colonisation’ of the Romanian Literature”.
Wojciech Tomasik (Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz, Poland) who spoke on Socialist Literatures in the Polish Canon, 1945-1955; and Nenad Ivić (University of Zagreb, Croatia) whose paper was entitled: “Will Freedom Sing as Beautifully as Captives Sang about It?”: Reshaping the Croatian Canon, 1945-1955.
After the final session of the conference an iconic movie of the Socialist realist cinema - a blockbuster of the communist propaganda at the time: Conspiracy of Doomed (1950) by Mikhail Kalatozov was screened. The film was preceded by an introduction delivered by professor Evgeny Dobrenko and was followed by discussion and conclusions.
Besides the academic opportunities, the Literary Pax Sovietica conference also enabled the participants to socialize during the meals and the activities that took place during the conference. The participants were also able to visit the remarkable city of Sheffield and the beautiful premises of the University of Sheffield, a university which is well-known for his outstanding academic performance and also for its impressive architecture and history.
This invitation-only conference offered the participants an exceptional opportunity to hear the valuable contributions of scholars from several former communist countries in Europe and from the USA and to participate in very fruitful discussions. It also outlined a feasible and useful path for future discussion in a field of studies, which is open to further investigation and research and whose implications are constantly present in European academy and society.