Cold War Eastern Europe provides access to thousands of files from the political departments of the U.K. Foreign Office responsible for dealing with and reporting on the Soviet Union and the socialist states of Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Sourced entirely from The National Archives, U.K., the files provide a uniquely comprehensive, English-language history of post-Stalinist Eastern Europe.
The Foreign Office, along with their embassies and consulates throughout the region, was interested in every aspect of political, economic, cultural, social, and dissident life behind the Iron Curtain. They consequently reported on a hugely diverse range of issues, from state leadership to protest movements; agricultural output to international trade agreements; scientific progress to minority populations; religion to sporting events; and state-run media to popular culture. They also provided reports on, and in some cases eyewitness accounts of, key milestones of the Cold War, such as the Hungarian Revolution, Khrushchev's "Secret Speech", and the building of the Berlin Wall.
With coverage of every country in Eastern Europe, the resource enables comparative study of trends across the region, or in-depth analysis of individual countries. The countries featured in this resource are:
- East Germany and Berlin
- Soviet Union
Cold War Eastern Europe has been published in chronological modules.
Module I covers the years 1953 to 1960, and consists of files selected from The National Archives series FO 371.
Series FO 371 (Foreign Office: Political Departments: General Correspondence from 1906-1966) contains the files of the Foreign Office's Northern, Southern, Central, and Western Departments pertaining to each of the socialist states of Eastern Europe. Every file relevant to the region from 1953 to 1960 – a total of nearly 7,000 files – is included in this resource.
Commencing in the year of Stalin's death, Module I provides unprecedented coverage of the "Khrushchev Thaw" and the process of "de-Stalinization". These years witnessed reform and an end of political terror in the Soviet Union, but a contrasting reassertion of Soviet power across the Eastern bloc with the formation of the Warsaw Pact and the military suppression of uprisings in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary. Concurrently, the death of Stalin and the inauguration of U.S. President Eisenhower ushered in a new phase in Cold War international relations. Module I provides in-depth reporting on and analyses of East-West relations as they evolved, and key milestones in Cold War history, including summit meetings, leaders' diplomatic visits, and crises.
Key events featured in the files of Module I include:
- East German Uprising of 1953
- Founding of the Warsaw Pact
- Poznań Uprising in Poland
- Hungarian Revolution
- Khrushchev's "Secret Speech"
- Khrushchev's visit to the USA
- U-2 spy plane incident
In addition, the full run of FO 371 Russia Committee files dating back to 1946 – totalling 41 files – have been included. These complete the set of FO 371 Russia Committee meeting minutes and reports dating up to 1957, and provide context to Britain's Soviet policy in the early Cold War.
Module II covers the years 1961 to 1966, and consists of over 3,300 files sourced entirely from The National Archives series FO 371. Every file from this series relevant to the former socialist states of Eastern Europe dated between 1961 and 1966 has been included.
The first half of the 1960s witnessed a series of international crises and realignments as Cold War tensions heightened, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Sino-Soviet split, and the construction of the Berlin Wall, which solidified the divide between East and West. Module II provides insight into all of these major international events and more, in addition to in-depth coverage of life behind the Iron Curtain in a period of economic reform, space travel, and the rise to power of Brezhnev and Ceauşescu.
Key events featured in the files of Module II include:
- The building of the Berlin Wall and escape attempts from East Berlin
- Yurii Gagarin's orbit of the earth
- Detonation of the "Tsar Bomba"
- John F. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech
- The ousting of Khrushchev and the rise of Brezhnev as leader of the U.S.S.R.
- The Sino-Soviet split
Module III covers the years 1967 to 1975 and consists of over 3,400 files sourced from The National Archives series FCO 28 and FCO 33. Every file from these series relevant to the former socialist states of Eastern Europe dated between 1967 and 1975 has been included.
FCO 28 (Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Northern Department and East European and Soviet Department) contains the files of the Northern Department of the Foreign Office and its successor, the Eastern European and Soviet Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, pertaining to U.K. political and economic relations with the Soviet Union and the Baltic states, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Albania, and Yugoslavia from 1967 onwards.
FCO 33 (Foreign Office, Western Department and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Western European Department) contains files of the Western Department of the Foreign Office pertinent to U.K. relations with East Germany between January 1967 and October 1968, and the files of its successor, the Western European Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, pertinent to relations with East Germany from 1968 onwards.
The closing years of the 1960s saw attempted reforms and social change in the Eastern-bloc members Czechoslovakia (in the Prague Spring) and Poland (in the 1968 crisis and protests of 1970), and the subsequent reinstatement of the Soviet model through suppression by internal security forces and military intervention by the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact members. The period of "Détente" from 1967 through the 1970s saw the steady easing of tensions between the East and the West, and growing cooperation that is reflected in the Four Power Agreement on Berlin, Richard Nixon's visits to Moscow, and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Module III provides in-depth reporting on and analyses of these events, as well as the continued economic stagnation of the Eastern-bloc countries.
Key events featured in the files of Module III include:
- The Vietnam War
- Polish Political Crisis,1968
- Prague Spring, 1968
- Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968
- Polish Worker's Protests, 1970
- Four Power Agreement on Berlin, 1971
- Richard Nixon's visit to Moscow, 1972
- The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, 1973
Cold War Eastern Europe Module IV covers the latter Brezhnev years of 1976 to 1982 and consists of over 3,000 files sourced from The National Archives, U.K., series FCO 28 and FCO 33. Every file from these series relevant to the former socialist states of Eastern Europe dated between 1976 and 1982 has been included.
The mid-1970s saw the continuation of the “Era of Stagnation” in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, characterized by steady economic decline across Eastern Europe. Decreasing industrial growth rates and the heavy-handed suppression of social reform led to popular acts of defiance such as the signing of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia and the Solidarity movement in Poland, founded during the Gdańsk strikes in 1980. Tensions heightened as the period of “Détente” ended abruptly in 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The threat of nuclear war increased as the Cold War expanded internationally, with Soviet influence reaching to Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Events such as the non-ratification of SALT II and the Western boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics reflected the heightening tensions of the early 1980s.
Key events featured in the files of Module IV include:
Cold War Eastern Europe facilitates research and teaching on a vast array of subjects, a small selection of which include:
- The development of the United Kingdom's diplomatic, economic, and cultural relationships with the Soviet Union and other Eastern European states, and on Soviet and East European relations with countries around the world, including the U.S.A. and China.
- Soviet projection of power in Eastern Europe, and the development of relations between the Soviet Union and the socialist states of Eastern Europe.
- Relations between East and West Germany, and records of the four-power talks (between the Soviet Union, the U.S.A., the U.K., and France) on the potential reunification of Germany.
- The status of Berlin and the evolving situation in the city, including sector administration, border tensions, and escape attempts.
- The fate and (mis)fortunes of leading figures in the socialist states, from Khrushchev and Brezhnev to Lavrentii Beriya and Imre Nagy.
- Dissidence, protest movements, and revolts within the socialist states, as well as regime responses, ranging from the structure of state security forces to purges, arrests, deportations, and military repression.
- Communist propaganda and counter-propaganda in Eastern Europe and the U.K., including state-controlled press and broadcasting, Radio Free Europe, and speeches by leading party and state figures.
- Industrial and agricultural policy, and the aims, progress, and outcomes of economic plans, including five-year plans within the Soviet Union and the Soviet satellite states.
- Domestic social welfare policies (such as those relating to healthcare and housing) and changing living standards throughout the period in Eastern Europe.
- The process of de-Stalinization and the end of the cult of personality in the Soviet Union and across Eastern Europe.
- Crime and punishment, including crime levels, prison systems, labor camps, and executions.
- Youth culture in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, including communist youth movements, festivals, and education.
- British reporting on Soviet scientific and technological progress, including atomic energy, atomic weapons, and the space race.
- Testimonies of life under communism, contained in the files as records of conversations held by British embassy and diplomatic staff with local people.
For more information on the themes and documents in this resource, please see the Material Classification page. For examples of research based on the files in Cold War Eastern Europe, please see the Subject Essays page.
The material is predominantly in English, but does contain some original content in other languages, including Russian, German, French, and the languages of Eastern Europe.