Overview

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, were interested in every aspect of the 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, and in some cases eye-witness accounts, on key milestones of the Cold War, such as the Hungarian Revolution and Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’.

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:

  • Albania
  • Bulgaria
  • Czechoslovakia
  • East Germany and Berlin
  • Hungary
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Soviet Union
  • Yugoslavia

 

Cold War Eastern Europe will be 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, with the exception of any files retained by the government (a full list of retained files is available here).

Key events featured in the files of Module I include:

  • The East German Uprising of 1953
  • Founding of the Warsaw Pact
  • The PoznaƄ Uprising in Poland
  • The Hungarian Revolution
  • Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech”
  • The onset of the Sino-Soviet Split
  • The U2 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.

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, trade 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 China and the U.S.A.
  • 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, U.S.A., the U.K., and France) on the potential reunification of Germany.
  • The status of Berlin and evolving situation in the city, including sector administrations, border tensions and escape attempts.
  • The fate and (mis)fortunes of leading figures in the socialist states, from Khrushchev and Brezhnev to Lavrentiy Beria and Imre Nagy.
  • Dissidence, protest movements, and revolts within the socialist states, as well as reports on regime responses, ranging from the structure of state security forces to reports on purges, arrests, deportations, and military repression.
  • Communist propaganda and counter-propaganda in Eastern Europe and the U.K., including reports on state-controlled press and broadcasting, on Radio Free Europe, and on 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 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 reports on crime levels, prison systems, labour 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.

 

 

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