Presentation Abstracts

Gary Baines

Rethinking the Contours of Cold War History in Southern Africa

Following the collapse of the Portuguese Empire and the departure of its forces from Angola and Mozambique, the white minority regimes claimed to be the last bastions of “civilization” in southern Africa. Invoking the twin threats of international communism and African nationalism, South Africa and Rhodesia sought to erect a cordon sanitaire against the black liberation movements operating from across the borders of neighbouring states. Pretoria made a point of stressing that it was safeguarding vital Western interests such as the strategically important sea route around the Cape and its mineral wealth. Certain conservative commentators reckoned that the high stakes warranted the backing of the apartheid state notwithstanding its abhorrent policies; that the West could not afford another “loss” in the Cold War after Vietnam. A rather more radical viewpoint was expressed in the columns of the 27 February 1976 issue of The Guardian newspaper that ‘if the watershed of history was Vietnam, the fatal blow to imperialism and Western capital at home itself could very well be in South Africa’. Whatever their differences, both right- and left-wing pundits agreed that southern Africa had moved from periphery to centre stage in the Cold War.

This opinion appeared to have been confirmed when news broke that South African forces had invaded Angola in late 1975, with the apparent approval of the USA, to prevent the MPLA from seizing power in Luanda. And when it became clear that South Africa had subsequently withdrawn in the face of intervention by Cuban forces supplied with Soviet weapons, then observers concluded that the situation in Angola amounted to a “classic” Cold War scenario. The oil- and mineral-rich country remained a battleground throughout the 1970s and 1980s as the SADF supported its surrogate, UNITA, in its guerrilla war against the MPLA government (FAPLA) forces, and simultaneously conducted pre-emptive strikes against SWAPO bases in Angola. Cuba retained a significant military presence in Angola, whereas a small retinue of Soviet personnel served in an advisory capacity. FAPLA and its Cuban allies avoided engagements with the SADF where possible until the large-scale battle of Cuito Cuanavale (1987-8) that seemed to vindicate the viewpoint that southern Africa had become a “hot spot” in the Cold War (Shubin 2008; Polack 2013). This sequence of events enjoys primacy in the Cold War narrative because it most obviously involved direct foreign intervention of the superpowers and second-tier players on the sides of parties in the Angolan civil war.

If there is a standard narrative of the Cold War in southern Africa, it is one in which the region is regarded as a stage for a drama in which the great powers write the script(s) for local actors. But the approach of scholars has become more nuanced. Although still largely focused on high politics and diplomacy, recent works recognizes a complex, multi-faceted conception of international relations (Miller 2013: 5). Indeed, scholars have drawn our attention to the intertwined local, regional and global dimensions of the conflict, and accord smaller powers agency rather than treat them as proxies of the super powers and regional hegemons. This paper takes issue with the conventional Cold War framework and periodization employed in much of the traditional literature. Drawing upon a rich vein of new Cold War historiography, it offers pointers to an alternative understanding of the Cold War in southern Africa, c.1975-1990.

Song-Chuan Chen

Cold War Child: Economic Lives under Militarisation on the Frontier Islands Matsu

When Chiang Kai-shek’ troops occupied the Matsu Islands in 1949 Lin Xiaoxiao was 11 years old. In the stalemate of the Civil War, even though mainland China was less than ten miles away visible with the naked eye, Matsu belonged to Taiwan—250 miles away. That year, Chiang’s troops started heavy fortification turning the islands into a frontier in their struggle against Communist China. A borderline was created dividing the sea space between the mainland and Matsu into two halves. The islanders which numbered about 10,000 were cut off overnight from their traditional economic life of supplying fresh fish and fish products to the markets of Fuzhou. Lin was 19 years old when he was jailed for three months for stealing American aid flour to feed his hungry mother.

Lin appeared in official records again when he was 29 for burgling a jewellery store but got away this time because he sold the jewels to secret military personnel operating on the islands. By this time, the new economic lives of Matsu centring on supplying the troops with farming and fishing products were well established. In the process of change, some islanders became richer, some found ways to get by, and some like Lin became poorer. When he was 38 years old Lin crossed the sea border. In the following 20 years Lin was categorised as a communist spy and was put on the wanted list. He returned to Matsu in 1995 after the relationship between the two sides eased. Centring on Lin and other three children who grew up on the Cold War frontier islands Matsu this paper tells the history of Taiwan’s Cold War—also a Civil War —from the perspective of everyday politics of how ordinary people on the Matsu Islands exploited the global Cold War logic to survive and prosper.

Poppy Cullen

‘Playing cold war politics’: The multiple uses of the Cold War in the Anglo-Kenyan relationship

European colonies gained their independence at the height of the Cold War, and the history of decolonisation is intimately bound with that of the Cold War. As scholars have recognised, whilst a bi-polar world could seem to put limits on independent Africa’s freedom of action, it in fact also offered opportunities as newly independent leaders sought to bargain for the best position in seeking patrons. This paper will explore some of the occasions on which thinking about the Cold War affected the relationship between Britain and Kenya. After independence in 1963, Kenya’s leaders sought to extend relationships to the East, and opened embassies in the capitals of leading countries on both sides of the ideological divide. Kenyans also used a rhetoric of ‘non-alignment’, common to many former colonies, and in 1965 defined their economic ideology as ‘African Socialism’. In practice, however, Kenya remained allied with the West, and most especially with Britain. But this does not mean that leading Kenyans did not seek to use the Cold War to their advantage. Kenya’s leaders used the threat of turning to Soviet suppliers as a bargaining tool. On issues including arms and aid, the Kenyans received Soviet and Chinese offers and raised the possibility of accepting these in negotiations with the British. Their intention in doing so, however, was largely to gain the best possible terms from Britain, and although some Kenyans would have liked to pursue closer Eastern relationships, this was not true of Kenya’s President and elite. For British officials, both prior to and after Kenyan independence, Kenya turning to the East was a key British concern in this relationship. In the early and mid-1960s this appeared a real possibility, and meant that British leaders responded to Kenyan threats with greater concessions. This could lead to better terms for Kenya in negotiations as British policymakers worked hard to build and then maintain their position as Kenya’s closest foreign partner. This case study, typically not associated with Cold War historiographies, highlights the ways in which the Cold War could influence relationships beyond those most obviously connected to it, and the advantages it could offer to newly-independent states, as well as the ways in which it shaped British foreign policy.

Edgar Elbakyan

Re-Assessing the Term of “Cold War Conflicts”: The Case of the Conflict around South Azerbaijan

Currently, the issue of South Azerbaijan is an undeclared territorial claim by The Republic of Azerbaijan towards the northern provinces of The Islamic Republic of Iran (historical “Āδarbādagān/Āδarbāygān”). In its essence, those claims carry an irredentist meaning and comply with the phases of nation-building of Azerbaijan. The latter got a new impetus during the Soviet times, which saw the national awakening of the republican nations due to the rightist tendencies holding sway in USSR after the WWII.

Winning the WWII, USSR made endeavours to re-shape the spheres of influence around its borders for its own benefit. This entailed first disagreements among former anti-Hitler allies. One of the first areas of struggle was Iran, with the Soviet elite, longing for the control over the northern parts thereof. With the general historiography narratives, regarding the South Azerbaijan crisis after WWII as the prelude to the Cold War, contemporary Azerbaijani scientific paradigms are also inclined to present the conflict “as the epicenter of the Cold War”[1].

The current presentation aims at investigating the South Azerbaijan crisis during the Cold War, elucidating the interests of superpowers. It is substantiated in the presentation that the essential origins of the conflict had originated before the Cold War and are currently enduring nowadays – after the Cold War. Thus, an important conclusion is drawn that the true understanding and solution of the conflicts, taken place in the years of the Cold War, could be attained through the structural analysis of the local factors, giving birth to a conflictual situation. Herewith, the very formulation of “Cold War Conflicts” is questioned and suggested to be replaced with “conflicts, taken place during the Cold War”.

To substantiate this thesis, the presentation encompasses the historical analysis of the South Azerbaijan conflict before the Cold War and after the Cold War, stressing the unique characteristics of that socio-political phenomenon, the historical scopes of which were not confined within the years of 1945-1991.

[1] See for example Gasanly Dž, SSSR-Iran: Azerbajdžanskij krizis i načalo xolodnoj vojny (1941-1946) (USSR-Iran: The Azerbaijani Crisis and The Beginning of the Cold War (1941-1946) – in Russian), Moscow, 2006.

Sinae Hyun

“Others Within” during the Cold War: Counterinsurgent Nation-Building by the Thai Border Patrol Police

Building upon Thongchai Winichakul’s article “Others Within (2000)”, this essay examines the ways in which Thai ruling elite’s ethno-spatial discourses in the nineteenth century influenced on the domestication of the ethnic minority during the Cold War. The formation of the Border Patrol Police (BPP) by the Thai and U.S. governments in 1951 indicates changes in the Thai elite’s treatment of the ethnic minority from differentiation to domestication. In the beginning years of their joint counterinsurgency among the ethnic minority groups in northern Thailand, the Thai BPP and U.S. officials took civilian approach in their domestication effort. The growing rural insurgency alongside the Vietnam War tension from the 1960s however prompted transition of the Thai BPP and American’s domestication approach to militant suppression.

To understand the transformation, this survey focuses on the two following questions: first, how did the counterinsurgent nation-building influence on the changes of Thai ruling elite’s attitude towards the ethnic minority?; and second, what are the policies and projects undertaken by the Thai BPP with the help of the U.S. organizations to domesticate the ethnic minority during the Cold War? Based on this examination, I will argue that the Thai ruling elite’s counterinsurgent nation-building transformed the “others within” into “enemies within” to maintain the hierarchical domain of Thai nation and to strengthen the authority of incumbent military regimes during the Cold War. By domesticating the ethnic minority through infantilization and incrimination, the BPP’s civic action ultimately generated the source of tension and conflict between the state center and national margins.

Hyung-Wook Kim

Localized Cold War and Its Derivatives in Korea

Contrary to the general belief that the “Cold War” was finally over with collapse of regimes in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cold War narratives on the Korean peninsula are still vigorous enough to influence many aspects in society. Arguably, the establishments of the Republic of Korea (hereafter South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter North Korea) in 1948 reflect how a Cold War order panned out in East Asia, and the Korean War in 1950 was is consequently a clash better understood within structure of the Cold War. However, the outbreak and consequences of the Korean War only explain in part how Cold War made impact on Korean society.

What makes the case of the Cold War in Korea more interesting is that the colonial experience also closely links to the perception and discourse of the Cold War in Korea, and Cold War discourse still remains intact. Newly established South Korean government managed to handle issues following liberation from Japanese colonial rule by taking advantage of tensions propelled and ascended in Cold War era, and both South and North Korea have ardently made efforts to maximize Cold War outcomes in order to consolidate their political legitimacy in respective territories. Unlike many Eastern European countries where the end of the Cold War is often considered the cause of revitalizing nationalism, it is not all rosy in prospect in the relationship between the two Koreas even in the post-Cold War era as shown since 2008. It is crucial to bring closure to old political framework of Cold War by replacing it with more a productive norm in order to find possible discourses for reconciliation between two Koreas and promoting friendly relations among countries in East Asia.

Chien-Wen Kung

Practicing Anticommunism: Elites, Criminals, and Ideological Accommodation in Philippine-Chinese Society, 1948-1952

This paper analyzes a range of social practices, from civic associationism to crime to rumor-mongering, that Chinese social groups employed in response to the anticommunist, Sinophobic environment in the Philippines during the early Cold War. Anticommunism for both traditional Chinese elites and their challengers alike was less about rooting out subversives, ideological authenticity, or supporting Chiang Kai-shek, but was rather a means of enhancing their social and political reputations and pursuing vendettas against supposed “communist” enemies. Collectively, the practices of ideological accommodation that it examines rethink anticommunism as more than a series of state policies or systemic alternatives to radical leftism. In doing so, it provides a framework for understanding how the Chinese adjusted to being ethnic minorities in postcolonial Southeast Asia that goes beyond conventional, elite-dominated narratives of political integration, shifting ethno-cultural identities, and state-business collaboration.

Magdalena López

The “anticommunist” Paraguay: a revision of Stroessner’s dictatorship (1954-1989), Cold War and actual democracy

Between 1954 and 1989, Paraguay was ruled by Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda, a dictator who leaded an authoritarian government based on the military forces, the structure of the state and the traditional political party Asociación Nacional Republicana known as Partido Colorado.

Since the beginning of 1940, the discourses against communism and “foreign ideologies” (as were called by many politicians and writers who supported the Partido Colorado) became official and very popular both among the leaders of the traditional political parties and the population. This went more intense during Stroessner’s dictatorship when the anticommunism was a strong strategy to persecute, torture, punish and incarcerate opposition and different leaders of movements.

In this context, Cold War was a way to legitimate and organize, as much as a way of including Paraguay into the international and regional “order”, but it was not the beginning of the war against communism and ideas related to socialism because these ones were visible even before the civil war (1947), that was declared against communism and its allies.

The marks of the anticommunism are still present today and very often these narratives are used to accuse and discredit new political organizations. This was also used in 2012, during democratic times, to illegally remove a president (Fernando Lugo) accused of encourage class struggle, among other reasons.

This presentation aims to analyze the anticommunism that characterized the government of Stroessner, describe the publications and manuals to fight against communism that were published in the country during the Cold War and to explain how some of these elements are still used today to stigmatize groups which demand economic improvements and social justice.

Masuda Hajimu

The Cold War as Social Mechanism: Why Do We Unlearn Cold War Narratives and What Are the Aims and Prospects?

In this welcoming and opening speech, I would like to outline the overall structure of the workshop, explaining its basic focus and aim. To begin with, its title is: “Unlearning Cold War Narratives.” Why, in the first place, do we need to “unlearn” Cold War narratives? How can we do so? Inherently, the process of “unlearning” should involve the process of “learning” something new. In this workshop, I have two things in my mind. First, obviously, we will learn quite a lot about local struggles, social conflict, culture wars, ethnic hostilities, etc., conducted under the banner of the global Cold War, in many parts of the world. Through this process of learning, we will deepen our understandings of local contexts and local agencies.

However, I would like to push our exploration even further. Instead of stopping and simply pointing out local contexts, I hope we can raise much more fundamental questions as to the standard narrative of what the Cold War was through paying careful attention to issues of similarity, simultaneity, and commonality among the diverse local cases we discuss. In other words, what we can do here is to explore local history and global history, and social history and political history, at the same time, with the aim of reconceptualizing the global phenomenon we usually call the Cold War. As a kickstart for our discussion, I would like to introduce my own study, in which I’ve characterized the Cold War in three different ways: “Imagined global war,” “real social warfare at home,” and “ordinary people’s everyday war.” Through explaining these concepts, I would like to highlight the possibility and potential of such an approach, in order to spur our dialogue in the workshop.

David Milles

Rhetoric Works Both Ways Between People and Governments

Some American historians are examining the ways in which the Cold War played out regionally, moving beyond the great statesmen/great nation analysis. The results are often surprising when state and local authorities use the language of preparation and danger for their economic benefit.

The American Northern Great Plains—specifically the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana— experienced a colonial relationship with eastern business interests for almost a century by the start of the Cold War, with banks and manufacturing entities taking money and raw materials out of the region, while putting little back into it. The Cold War offered ample economic opportunity for developed regions, but the northern plains had little manufacturing or research infrastructure. However, they did have land suitable for airbases. The people of the region began parroting back the threat of Soviet atomic bombing to the federal government, and offered/demanded the construction of military bases to ensure American security. When the federal government showed interest in establishing bases in the region, there was an intense competition among local communities to attract a base near them. Of course, the presence of a military complex meant nuclear annihilation in the event of war, a fact these authorities and populations ignored. These grassroots efforts led to the construction or reactivation of five military bases, a thousand nuclear missiles, and an Anti-Ballistic Missile complex built between the 1950s and 1970s.

Sidnei J. Munhoz

Political and Social Conflicts in Brazil at the Onset of the Cold War

The purpose of this paper is to advance the study of possible relationships between the emergence of the Cold War and the political and social conflicts that took place in Brazil in the aftermath of World War II. Additionally, it examines the hypothesis that there were both endogenous and exogenous origins of the political repression. Furthermore, it supports the idea that the Brazilian elites, faced with the deterioration of the wartime alliances, returned to their conservatism. As result, the registration of Communist Party was cancelled, the working-class movement and other popular organizations were repressed, the press was censured and even progressive military groups and suspected left-wing diplomats became targets of repression.

These events took place in the aftermath of World War II, when Latin America went through a rapid process of transformation, which affected the political structure of most governments in the region. In Brazil, in October 1945, after a decade and a half in power, President Getúlio Vargas was deposed by the very same military men who had instigated the coup that established the Estado Novo [New State] dictatorship. His successor, General Eurico Gaspar Dutra, was elected after the most widespread electoral process the country had seen. Approximately four times more voters participated in this presidential election than the preceding one.

A more detailed analysis of the process in question would require a discussion of the specificities of each Latin American country, encompassing a wide range of demands from an economic, political and social point of view. Consequent conflicts particularly brought to the fore both the organization and strengthening of trade unions, the political activism of workers linked to the Communist Party and nationalistic objectives which were opposed, to a greater or lesser extent, to American capital. In the immediate post-war period, the enemy was no longer represented by the old authoritarian regimes with fascist tendencies, but by reformist governments or social movements, which could press for social and political reforms leading to a reduction of the United States’ capacity to intervene in the Continent.

This research demonstrated the relationship between political repression, which took place in Brazil during Dutra Government and the strategies associated to the Cold War developed by the United States and their allies. In summary, it is possible to argue that during the Dutra Government the country underwent a process of retrocession in relation to the political opening, which had been initiated at the end of the Vargas dictatorship. It is also possible to verify the development of an anti-communist action, which had its roots both within and outside Brazil. Furthermore, it is also possible to conclude that the unconditional alignment of the country to the United States reduced its capacity for negotiation. This meant the end to expectations of preferential treatment by the United States and to acquiring the status of a regional power.

John Munro

The Early Cold War Conjuncture as Racial Capitalism and Settler Colonialism

“The truth about stories,” explains Cherokee novelist and scholar Thomas King, “is that that’s all we are.” If the standard account of the cold war story is the only narrative we have to explain global history after 1945, then we need new stories, many of them. In this paper, one that contextualizes US history and focuses on the 1945-1960 period, I will offer two stories that seek to retract as much as revise the idea of the “cold war”: racial capitalism and settler colonialism. These two frameworks, both of which have been influential outside of cold war studies, provide useful ways to problematize and reimagine cold war constructions of the mid-twentieth century. My argument is not that one or the other of these concepts is the more fundamental, nor do I wish to suggest that they seamlessly mesh as analytical rubrics. But by way of an overview of spatial, diplomatic, and cultural elements of the postwar United States, my paper will first contend that racial ideological rollback within the country was integral to the international reach of US foreign policy. From here, I will provide an analysis of how the settler foundations of postwar US empire pervaded and enabled a “settler common sense” that proved pivotal in mobilizing popular consent for a bipolar geopolitical epistemology. In putting forward racial capitalism and settler colonialism as alternative possibilities for understanding the US and the world after 1945, this paper will join others at NUS not only to help unlearn the all too familiar cold war story, but also to help formulate new narrations that might augment if not supplant it.

Vanni Pettinà

México and the Third World Project (1958-1964): reconnecting the Western Hemisphere to the Global Cold War.

Until recently, Latin America’s Cold War was largely treated as the history of the continent’s relations with the United States between 1947 and 1989. Moreover, the history of this relationship was predominantly analyzed from an American perspective, largely neglecting Latin American countries’ point of view, experiences and agency. Thus, we currently have scarce knowledge regarding Latin American relations with the broader Third World, the Socialist Bloc or even the Non-Aligned Movement. At the same time, we do not know much about the role that Latin American countries played in shaping debates on crucial issues of the Cold War period such as, for example, economic development. Whilst for other regions of the Third World, historical accounts have embraced a global and nuanced approach, historiography on Latin America is still predominately one-dimensional. Analyzing Mexico’s relations with the Third and the Second World between 1958 and the 1964, this paper aims to contribute reintegrating post 1945 Latin America’s history into the broader debate on the Global Cold War. In the first place, this paper will show that to some extent Mexico was able, like other Third World countries, to use bipolar competition in support of the country’s main political objective after the triumph of the 1911 Revolution: state-led economic development. This paper will argue that the Cold War in Mexico coalesced, influencing but not generating it, with a historical process that had deeper roots: that of socio-economic transformation of the country which began in the late 1920s. Second, this paper will show that Mexico had a complex and global perception of the challenges the country’s development project faced. Particularly, this paper will look at the role which Mexico played within the Non-Aligned Movement and at the country’s relations with the USSR during 1960s as part of its attempt to modify those international economic structures that allegedly hampered the economic “modernization” of the country. This will allow us to appreciate that while Mexico’s relation with the United States was certainly important, Mexico’s Cold War was also more than that.

Hopefully, the study of the Mexican case can help scholars break what Tanya Harmer has defined as the “historiographical Monroe Doctrine” which, for decades, has cut-off Latin American history from the broader Third World’s historical narratives. Reconnecting Latin America to the global Cold War can also help us to achieve a more complete picture of the relations between the Cold War and the process of socio-economic changes in the so called peripheries after 1945.

Fernando Purcell

Peace Corps, Community Development and Local Realities during the Cold War in South America, 1960s.

The Peace Corps was a volunteer project established in 1961 by John F. Kennedy that sent young Americans to collaborate in community development in the Third World. Some 20 thousand volunteers arrived to South America in the 1960s. Their presence in remote areas was hardly divorced from the overriding logic of the Cold War. On the contrary, it was very much in line with the Cold War’s main challenge of progressing toward modernization through social and economic development.

The paper contributes to an alternative understanding of the Cold War by paying attention to how ordinary people experienced and gave shape to the Cold War at a community level. Moreover, it problematizes the analysis of the Cold War by decentralizing its main narratives reassessing the North-South unidirectionality.

The historical relevance of the Peace Corps is not limited to its connections with US foreign policies. Its work was also linked to local institutions, public and private, in host countries. Within this institutional convergence, distinct and often contending visions arose regarding the transnational challenges of the Cold War, that were embedded in initiatives such as the Global War on Poverty. Thus, through their experiences, volunteers became part of transnational processes as they connected and dialogued with different visions, contributing to the configuration of a global community organized around the challenge to overcome poverty in the world.

Countries such as Chile, Colombia, and Peru also became part of this global effort. When they welcomed the Peace Corps, it was not simply because they passively accepted United States’ proposals. Rather, they sought to strengthen their own local development initiatives, many of which preceded the establishment of the Peace Corps. Moreover, they used the Peace Corps to their political advantage to expand the State presence in remote areas, through the creation of new institutions related to housing, health, education and the creation of local cooperatives.

Victoria Vasilenko

Contemporary Russian Historiography of the Cold War: Is There a Room for Reassessment?
A couple of years ago few scholars would say that the Cold War theme would be that acute as it is today being almost a matter of every-day communication in certain countries. The present political situation which practically involves the traditional key players of bipolar confrontation – the USA, Russia, Western Europe, NATO – unfolds according to the standard narrative of the Cold War. This makes reconsideration (and deconstruction) of the classical Cold War narrative especially important.

In this paper I focus on how the Cold War is being studied in the contemporary Russian historiography (mostly on the example of the Cold War genesis) giving special attention to new angles, agencies and methodologies, including the influence of the ‘cultural turn’, and to the factors which contributed to their development. I then place new approaches into the established tradition of the Cold War studies in Russia and the politics of memory focused on ‘usable past’ in order to reveal their prospects.

My conclusion is that it is definitely fruitful to study further the complex social fabric of confrontation, exchange and cooperation in the Cold War – in order to deepen our understanding of the motives of opposing sides in the Cold War, of where and how cooperation developed, and of the failures of mutual expectations. At the same time, the recent dominant trend in understanding of the nation`s past, which Olga Malinova (2015) defines as ‘apologetic narrative’, to a certain extent narrows the room for that.

Dean Vuletic

Competition and Cooperation in Cold War Popular Culture: The Eurovision and Intervision Song Contests

This paper will examine popular culture in the Cold War with a focus on the Eurovision and Intervision song contests, which were two of the most popular television programmes in Western and Eastern Europe respectively. Existing scholarship on culture in the Cold War has overemphasised the differences in Eastern and Western Europe, especially by stressing political censorship and propaganda in the former and cultural freedom and consumption in the latter. Based on pioneering research undertaken in television archives in several European states, this paper will argue that there was more cooperation and exchange in popular culture between Eastern and Western Europe than historical narratives that emphasise competition and conflict betweenthe two blocs suggest. The paper will also propose that Eastern European states were more open to popular-cultural influences from Western Europe than vice versa.

The Eurovision Song Contest is the biggest and most famous song contest in the world, with some 200 million television viewers watching the edition that was staged in Vienna in 2015. The European Broadcasting Union, which was established in 1950 as an association of national public radio and television broadcasters from states in Western Europe and the Mediterranean rim, has organised the Eurovision Song Contest for its members annually since 1956. Eastern European states did not enter the Eurovision Song Contest during the Cold War but had their own international broadcasting organisation, the International Organisation for Radio and Television. It staged its own song contests, the most notable of which was the Intervision Song Contest that was held from 1965.

As entries in the Eurovision and Intervision song contests always represented states, the song contests spotlighted the cooperation, conflict and realpolitik that defined international relations in the Cold War, both between the Eastern and Western blocs as well as among states within them. The two song contests may appear to have been rivals because they were based on Cold War divisions. However, this paper will demonstrate that there was extensive cooperation between television stations, record companies and popular music artists from Eastern and Western Europe through the Eurovision and Intervision song contests. The paper will argue that the professional networks that were developed through the two song contests produced common cultural references for Europeans acrossthe Eastern and Western blocs rather than separate popular culturesfor eachone. In this regard, popular music and television were instruments of cultural cooperation and exchange rather than of cultural infiltration and propaganda. The paper will also challenge scholarly preconceptions that view Western Europe as more culturally open than Eastern Europe, considering that the Intervision Song Contest sometimes included Western participants while the Eurovision Song Contest never invited Eastern European states, and that the Eurovision Song Contest was broadcast in some Eastern European states whereas the Intervision Song Contest was not shown in Western Europe.

Regarding my experience in researching and teaching the history of the Cold War, I have taught undergraduate and graduate courses on culture in the Cold War at institutions including Columbia University and the European University Institute. I have researched popular music in the Cold War through my doctoral dissertation Yugoslav Communism and the Power of Popular Music and my post-doctoral project on the history of the Eurovision Song Contest. I have also published several book chapters and journal articles on topics related to culture in the Cold War

Xiaojue Wang

Radio on Screen: Cold War Hong Kong Films

Studies of Cold War broadcasting tend to focus on radio as a predominant medium of propaganda, a mouthpiece of the state. This paper examines the role of radio in shaping people’s everyday life across ethnic and social divisions in Hong Kong during the 1950s and 60s. Radio as a form of communication and expression helped define notions of cultural identity, home and diaspora, tradition and modernity, in various Chinese-speaking communities.
The three radio stations—Radio Hong Kong (RHK) run by the colonial government, Radio Rediffusion (RDF), and Hong Kong Commercial Radio (CRHK) produced richly diverse programming—news, current affairs, the “sky fiction” (airwaves novels), dramatized fiction, and music, etc.—broadcast in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and other Chinese dialects such as Shanghai, Hakka, Minnan, Chaochow, and Amoy. Listening to radio constituted an integral part of local daily lives and generated a strong sense of belonging to an audible, imagined community.

A particular focus of this paper is how radio as the sound medium is incorporated into the audiovisual space of film—a common practice at the time. Filmmakers used the medium of radio as a narrative device to reflect on social and cultural problems caused by recent national divide and migration. Radio on screen was portrayed as a means of building closer ties across cultural and ethnic differences, as well as fostering a new form of communal space, in which people dealt with a traumatic situation of family separation and loss, migration and displacement, assimilation and identity crisis in Cold War Hong Kong.

Colleen Woods

Globalizing Huklandia: Counterinsurgency, Decolonization and Anti-Communist Geographies

From 1946 to 1954, the Philippine Armed Forces waged a brutal counterinsurgent war in “Huklandia”— a term that combined four provinces in the center of the Philippines’ most populous island, Luzon. Though Huklandia appeared on maps—military, political, and journalistic—it was not an official territory. However, Huklandia defined a geographic territory where the Philippine state could—with assistance from U.S. military advisers and U.S. military aid—legitimately wage a violent campaign against its civilian population. To them, Hukandia linked the political demands of the Huks to what American and Philippine political elites claimed was a global communist movement.

In this paper, I argue that a re-scaling of the crisis from local to global, justified the violence mobilized by the newly independent Philippine Republic in Huklandia, and the role that U.S. military aid played in the conflict. I will show how anti-communists’ use of spatial politics made it possible for the emergence of a new set of political responses—ranging from asymmetric economic development to the use of state violence—to legitimately exist alongside affirmations of Philippine independence. Ultimately, in analyzing how geographic scales are made meaningful in historically specific ways, I reveal how global-anticommunism was rooted in the concerted, collaborative efforts of a transnational colonial class who sought to control the outcome of decolonization movements.

Xu Lanjun

The Southern Film Corporation, Opera Films and the PRC’s Cultural Propaganda in Cold War Asia, 1950s-1960s

This essay retrieves one aspect of the forgotten history of the CCP’s cultural propaganda by describing and analysing in detail its use of opera-related cultural activities and rhetoric rich in cultural meanings to transmit a lyrical, more feminine, and thus softer image of China to its neighbours in Cold War Asia, especially among overseas Chinese audiences. Based on recently declassified archival materials, oral histories, film studio records, press coverage, and government documents, this essay takes a close look at the Hong Kong based Southern Film Corporation, which was one of the most important distributors of Chinese films to Southeast Asia in the 1950s and 1960s, and explores the strategies the SPC took to find local agents to receive these films. It attempts to shed light on the complex interactions between communist propaganda, cultural diplomacy, and the popularity of Chinese opera films in Cold War Asia by investigating the production and circulation of the PRC opera films and to map out significant cultural interactions of the time among the regions of mainland China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia.


After the crisis of the Sino-Soviet nexus in the late 1950s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) treated export of films as an important way to transcend and transgress the boundaries of First World capitalism, Second World socialism, and Third World development, and as a result, one essential element of the monumental project to “export Chinese revolution to the world” was to transmit to a global audience a wide range of cultural products, including literature, film and also Mao’s work. Their target audience and readers mainly refer to those people who were politically between the radical leftists and the rightists, and geographically in the “in-between” regions including those in the capitalist countries and in the imperialist countries, as well as in the developing countries, mainly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, that were fighting for independence from imperialism.


I also argue that the hybrid identity of the SFC, as a combination of a propaganda institution of the PRC, a film distribution company, and a business organization, greatly facilitated the export of Chinese films into non-socialist countries by diluting the political tone of the process. This represented flexibility on the part of the PRC in its cultural dealings with non-socialist countries. It also perfectly served Mao’s directive to make friends with countries in the intermediate zone. In terms of film history, we find that the decline in Sino-Soviet imports and exports of film in the late 1950s led to another restructuring of China’s film industry.


Certainly, my focus on these films’ role in the PRC’s foreign propaganda work should not overlook how these films were received locally among the transnational Huaren community, even though such studies may be limited by the lack of audience information of the time. Opera films could be imported more readily and find a warmer reception because of their seemingly apolitical themes, often adapted from traditional folklore. Ironically, however, in some cases the reception of such films and musicals was intertwined with local political movements. The reception of the musical Third Sister Liu in Singapore, which will be examined in this essay, is a good case for such a study.