Monthly Archives: April 2005

China’s Role in Encouraging the Hungarian Revolt in 1956

In order to obtain more autonomy from Moscow [after the death of Stalin], some Eastern European countries turned to Beijing for inspiration under the pretext that China was in the stage of socialist transition (from the “New Democracy” to socialism) similar to that of Eastern Europe, whereas the Soviet Union had entered a much higher stage of socialist construction….

In Hungary, the Chinese influence was reflected in the ideology of emerging Hungarian nationalist communists, particularly in Imre Nagy’s admiration of China’s Five Principles of coexistence [especially nonintervention]. Nagy, who was purged during Stalin’s later years, rehabilitated during the New Course, and appointed as Hungarian premier from late 1953 to 1955, proposed his reformist line that included easing the tempo of industrialization, allowing peasants to leave collective farms, and relaxing police terror. For this he was ousted in March 1955 by Hungarian Stalinists led by Matyas Rakosi….

After the CPSU’s Twentieth Congress, with the discrediting of Stalinist policies coming into air, China became more attractive in Eastern Europe, and China’s activities promoting its influence became more aggressive. Marked by the publication of “Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom, Let One Hundred Schools of Thought Contend,” a policy report made by Lu Dingyi, the head of the propaganda department of the CCP, in May 1956 and published by People’s Daily on 13 June, China initiated an intellectual liberalization aimed at releasing accumulated internal pressures in the short run, with a long-run purpose of allowing some flexibility and criticism within the regime in order to win popular support and detect mistakes. The Double-Hundred policy soon became a new focus of the Chinese attractiveness in Eastern Europe. In September the CCP’s Eighth Congress opened, and all Eastern European communist parties sent delegations to Beijing. The event was used by Beijing at that critical moment to introduce its own road toward socialism and to build up relations with the post-Stalinist generation among Eastern European leaders. For example, Janos Kadar, the head of the Hungarian delegation, who was purged during Stalin’s years but rehabilitated in 1954, was very popular in the Hungarian party for his anti-Stalinist stand. Chinese leaders were very interested in this emerging new leader, and Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, and Zhou Enlai all had long conversations with him. On 1 October Kadar once again represented the Hungarian party at the celebration of China’s National Day in Beijing.

One point that has not received adequate attention on the Double-Hundred policy is that the metaphoric expression (directly from Mao himself and characteristic of his style) created a false impression of tolerating various–if not all–ideological opinions, especially among those who were unfamiliar with the CCP’s ideologically oppressive past, such as the Yenan Rectification in the 1940s and the Thought Reform Campaign in the early 1950s. This was particularly the case when the Double-Hundred policy aroused widespread pro-Chinese sympathy in Eastern Europe, where people were excited by the slogan itself but did not have adequate knowledge about the CCP’s history and had no chance to scrutinize the specific contents of the Chinese materials introducing the new policy. In Hungary the Chinese ambassador took the opportunity to enhance pro-Chinese sentiment by providing more information to Hungarian intellectuals and students, and he even made a special effort to publicize the CCP’s Eighth Congress, which opened in September and confirmed the Double-Hundred policy, by supplying abundant information to Hungarian press and radio. As a result, the CCP’s Eighth Congress was given a great deal of publicity by Hungarian media, which further nourished the pro-Chinese sentiment. Many dissenting Hungarian intellectuals came to believe that the Double-Hundred policy truly reflected the intention of the Chinese communists. In the meantime, with Nagy’s rehabilitation and reappointment as premier, China’s Five Principles of coexistence were used against Soviet “big-power chauvinism”–a term also coined by the Chinese. The Hungarian illusion of China lasted until the last minute, when Irodalmi Ujsag (Literary gazette; the organ of the revolutionary writers) declared on 2 November (two days after China urged Khrushchev to crush the Hungarian revolt) that “The West and the East are on our side. America has proclaimed her faith in our cause as clearly as have powerful nations like China and India.” (emphasis added)

SOURCE: Yinghong Cheng, “Beyond Moscow-Centric Interpretation: An Examination of the China Connection in Eastern Europe and North Vietnam during the Era of De-Stalinization,” Journal of World History 15:487-518 (Project Muse subscription required).

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Sixteen Months in the Life of Hava Volovich

Against everything that has been written about the selfishness, the venality of the women who bore children in the camps, stands the story of Hava Volovich. A political arrested in 1937, she was extremely lonely in the camps, and deliberately sought to give birth to a child. Although Hava had no special love for the father, Eleonora was born in 1942, in a camp without special facilities for mothers:

There were three mothers there, and we were given a tiny room to ourselves in the barracks. Bedbugs poured down like sand from the ceiling and walls; we spent the whole night brushing them off the children. During the daytime we had to go out to work and leave the infants with any old woman who we could find who had been excused from work; these women would calmly help themselves to the food we had left for the children….

Every night for a whole year, I stood at my child’s cot, picking off the bedbugs and praying. I prayed that God would prolong my torment for a hundred years if it meant that I wouldn’t be parted from my daughter. I prayed that I might be released with her, even if only as a beggar or a cripple. I prayed that I might be able to raise her to adulthood, even if I had to grovel at people’s feet and beg for alms to do it. But God did not answer my prayer. My baby had barely started walking, I had hardly heard her first words, the wonderful heartwarming word “Mama,” when we were dressed in rags despite the winter chill, bundled into a freight car, and transferred to the “mothers’ camp.” And here my pudgy little angel with the golden curls soon turned into a pale ghost with blue shadows under her eyes and sores all over her lips….

I saw the nurses getting the children up in the mornings. They would force them out of their cold beds with shoves and kicks … pushing the children with their fists and swearing at them roughly, they took off their nightclothes and washed them in ice-cold water. The babies didn’t even dare cry. They made little sniffing noises like old men and let out low hoots.

This awful hooting noise would come from the cots for days at a time. Children already old enough to be sitting up or crawling would lie on their backs, their knees pressed to their stomachs, making these strange noises, like the muffled cooing of pigeons….

The nurse brought a steaming bowl of porridge from the kitchen, and portioned it out into separate dishes. She grabbed the nearest baby, forced its arms back, tied them in place with a towel, and began cramming spoonful after spoonful of hot porridge down its throat, not leaving it enough time to swallow, exactly as if she were feeding a turkey chick….

On some of my visits I found bruises on her little body. I shall never forget how she grabbed my neck with her skinny hands and moaned, “Mama, want home!” She had not forgotten the bug-ridden slum where she first saw the light of day, and where she’d been with her mother all of the time…

Little Eleonora, who was now fifteen months old, soon realized that her pleas for “home” were in vain. She stopped reaching out for me when I visited her; she would turn away in silence. On the last day of her life, when I picked her up (they allowed me to breast-feed her) she stared wide-eyed somewhere off into the distance, then started to beat her weak little fists on my face, clawing at my breast, and biting it. Then she pointed down at her bed.

In the evening, when I came back with my bundle of firewood, her cot was empty. I found her lying naked in the morgue among the corpses of the adult prisoners. She had spent one year and four months in this world, and died on 3 March 1944 … That is the story of how, in giving birth to my only child, I committed the worst crime there is.

SOURCE: Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum (Anchor Books, 2003), pp. 319-321

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When Paducah (Kentucky) Goes International

Once a year, Paducah goes international, headlines the 21 April 2005 Paducah Sun (subscribers only):

The quilt show isn’t the only reason Pauline Jewell traveled halfway around the world to Paducah this week.

“Even if there was no quilt show, I would come to Paducah,” said Jewell of Jakarta, Indonesia, who uses a wheelchair. “I just love the area. I feel it’s welcoming and relaxing, and everyone is really helpful, especially being in the wheelchair. People go out of their way in a way I don’t find anywhere else in the world.”

In past years, Jewell has traveled from her former homes in Shanghai, China, and Hong Kong to Paducah. “I enjoy the atmosphere,” she said. “It opens your mind to different ideas. I learn what’s new, and there’s the shopping. Let’s not forget the shopping.”

Foreign accents are common in the halls of the Paducah Expo Center as the American Quilter’s Society Quilt Show & Contest is becoming an international destination.

International quilters had 137 entries in the show this year, with 89 from Japan, nine from Australia and eight apiece from the United Kingdom, Canada and Turkey.

Salinder Gammage of Cardiff, Wales, Rosemary Burton of South Yorkshire, England, and her “mum-in-law,” Pearl Burton of West Yorkshire, England, traveled to Paducah with a tour group of 45 quilters from England, Scotland and Wales. They visited St. Louis and the Amish in Iowa before coming to the quilt show.

“Everybody assumed we’re going to Florida,” Rosemary Burton said. “I said, ‘I’m not going to Florida. I’m going to Kentucky.’ Oh, then there was a change of subject.”

Gammage said cheaper prices meant they could afford to take home more fabric and souvenirs. “We had to buy extra suitcases,” she said.

Helen Van Loon of Forest, Ontario, walked around the exhibits wearing a small Canadian flag stuck in her straw hat. Van Loon and friends from New York and Mississippi, whom she met through an Internet group called “Quilting Around the World,” are visiting Paducah together.

“I’ve been having a ball,” she said. “It’s been just a riot. Two buses I know about came down to Paducah from my area.”

Heinui Hanere, a Tahitian now working as a vendor for Roxanne International of Lathrop, Calif., spoke Japanese to several Japanese quilters who strolled by his booth. “I speak it a little bit,” Hanere said. “Every year people come from all over the world — Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and even France.”

Christian and Christine DuFrix of Bordeaux, France, are taking photos of quilts for an article Christine is writing about the show for France Patchwork magazine. “I came two years ago, and it was very marvelous,” she said. “That’s why we came back. But it’s very difficult to find a room. We had to stay in Cairo (Ill.).”

Tadako Nagasawa of Nagano, Japan, who has entered a quilt in the contest for five years, brought her husband, Mitsuru, to the show for the first time — literally. She does all the driving. “I cannot drive,” said Mitsuru Nagasawa, president of Toyota Technological Institute in Nagoya. “I lived in St. Louis 45 years ago, so I have many friends in St. Louis. They are coming here.”

The Nagasawas are going to meet their friends today in front of her quilt, “A Memory of Sicilia,” which recalls a trip to the Palace of Palermo.

Japanese quilters who don’t speak English received help from translator Seiko Dickson, a Paducah resident who is from Okinawa, Japan.

Dickson, who wore a traditional Japanese kimono made by her mother, also served as a white-glove hostess.

Americans “think I’m the one who made the quilt,” she said. “Japanese don’t think I’m Japanese. They just think I’m a volunteer. They can understand English a little bit, but they don’t speak it. I like to meet them and help them.”

Lorraine Downey, a quilt shop owner from Sydney, Australia, is in Paducah this week helping a vendor, Paper Pieces of Sycamore, Ill.

“It took me 24 hours door to door (of traveling time), but it’s worth it,” Downey said.

“Australian quilters love to come to Paducah. We’re amazed at how the town makes you feel so welcome, and we feel safe here. When I go home, I say, ‘Hi, y’all,’ and they know where I’ve been.”

via a Paducah Sun subscriber

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China’s Connection to De-Stalinization

THE YEARS 1956 and 1957 marked the first serious crisis in global communism during the Cold War with many significant events. Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in February 1956 revealing Stalin’s crimes shocked the communist world and initiated a course of de-Stalinization, which soon led to challenges to the communist system itself, as the revolts in Poland and Hungary in October and November 1956 demonstrated. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, although violent eruption of political protest was largely absent, inner party debates and intellectual dissent were common, accompanied by sporadic strikes of workers and students. In Asian communist countries, the intellectual dissent and criticism of the party became conspicuous in China, especially in the spring of 1957, during the Double-Hundred movement and the Rectification period, with a few cases of workers’ strikes and student protests. In North Vietnam the intellectuals directly challenged the party during the so-called Nhan Van/Giai Pham (the names of two journals critical of the party) period in the fall of 1956, coupled with the peasant rebellion in Nghe-An Province and turbulence in the cities. The Hungarian revolution was suppressed in November 1956, and the entire atmosphere of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe underwent dramatic change. As Chinese intellectuals were still encouraged to criticize the party in the spring of 1957, Vietnamese intellectuals resumed their criticism of the regime as well. In June 1957, however, China launched the anti-Rightist campaign and ended the so-called “liberalization,” and so did Vietnam after the new year of 1958. Thus a cross-communist world crisis was overcome….

This article examines the process of de-Stalinization, or liberalization, from a perspective based on the China connection in Eastern Europe and Vietnam, which has been either underestimated or left out in many Moscow-centric narratives. The term “China connection” means either a direct Chinese influence or parallels between these countries and China. The article presents and connects two cases. The first is the Chinese influence in some Eastern European countries, and even the Soviet Union as well, from 1955 to 1958. The second is Vietnamese intellectuals’ challenge to the regime and the regime’s response, both of which show interesting parallels between the two countries. The China connection in both the Eastern European and the Vietnamese cases clearly indicates a different source contributing to de-Stalinization and even suggests an expanded time frame of such turbulence from as early as 1955 (before Khrushchev’s secret report) to as late as 1958 (one year after the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising), thus enriching our understanding of the global communist crisis with broader sources and longer duration.

SOURCE: Yinghong Cheng, “Beyond Moscow-Centric Interpretation: An Examination of the China Connection in Eastern Europe and North Vietnam during the Era of De-Stalinization,” Journal of World History 15:487-518 (Project Muse subscription required).

This is the kind of article that just makes you keep slapping your forehead in recognition of suddenly obvious connections among so many things you never tied together before. It’s the best kind of historical revisionism and a wonderful illustration of the value of taking a global view of the diffusion of ideas across national boundaries.

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Gulag Guards

In recent years, it has become fashionable to point out that, contrary to their postwar protestations, few Germans were ever forced to work in concentration camps or killing squads. One scholar recently claimed that most had done so voluntarily–a view which has caused some controversy. In the case of Russia and the other post-Soviet states, the issue has to be examined differently. Very often, camp employees–like most other Soviet citizens–had few options. A labor committee simply assigned them a place of work, and they had to go there. Lack of choice was built right into the Soviet economic system.

Nevertheless, it is not quite right to describe the NKVD officers and armed guards as “no better off than the prisoners they commanded,” or as victims of the same system, as some have tried to do. For although they might have preferred to work elsewhere, once they were inside the system, the employees of the Gulag did have choices, far more than their Nazi counterparts, whose work was more rigidly defined. They could choose to behave brutally, or they could choose to be kind. They could choose to work their prisoners to death, or they could choose to keep as many alive as possible. They could choose to sympathize with the prisoners whose fate they might have once shared, and might share again, or they could choose to take advantage of their temporary stretch of luck, and lord it over their former and future comrades in suffering.

Nothing in their past history necessarily indicated what path they would take, for both Gulag administrators and ordinary camp guards came from as many different ethnic and social backgrounds as did the prisoners. Indeed, when asked to describe the character of their guards, Gulag survivors almost always reply that they varied enormously. I put that question to Galina Smirnova, who remembered that “they were, like everyone, all different.” Anna Andreeva told me that “there were sick sadists, and there were completely normal, good people.” Andreeva also recalled the day, soon after Stalin’s death, when the chief accountant in her camp suddenly rushed into the accounting office where prisoners were working, cheered, hugged them, and shouted, “Take off your numbers, girls, they’re giving you back your own clothes!”

SOURCE: Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum (Anchor Books, 2003), pp. 269-270

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National Minorities in the Gulag

The most fundamental, and ultimately the most powerful, of the political clans [in the Gulag] were those formed around nationality or place of origin. These grew more important during and after the Second World War, when the numbers of foreign prisoners increased dramatically. Their derivation was natural enough. A new prisoner would arrive, and immediately search his barracks for fellow Estonians, fellow Ukrainians, or, in a tiny number of cases, fellow Americans. Walter Warwick, one of the “American Finns” who wound up in the camps in the late 1930s, has described, in a manuscript he wrote for his family, how the Finnish speakers in his camp banded together specifically in order to protect themselves from the thievery and banditry of the professional criminals: “We came to the conclusion that if we wanted to have a little rest from them, we must have a gang. So we organized our own gang to help each other. There were six of us: two American Finns … two Finnish Finns … and two Leningrad District Finns” …

Because of their small numbers, the West Europeans and North Americans who found themselves in the camps also found it difficult to form strong networks. They were hardly in a position to help one another anyway: many were completely disoriented by camp life, did not speak Russian, found the food inedible and the living conditions intolerable….

But the Westerners–a group which included Poles, Czechs, and other East Europeans–had a few advantages too. They were the object of special fascination and interest, which sometimes paid off in contacts, in gifts of food, in kinder treatment. Antoni Ekart, a Pole educated in Switzerland, was given a place in a hospital thanks to an orderly named Ackerman, originally from Bessarabia: “The fact that I came from the West simplified matters”: everyone was interested in the Westerner, and had wanted to save him. Flora Leipman, a Scottish woman whose Russian stepfather had talked her family into moving to the Soviet Union, deployed her “Scottishness” to entertain her fellow prisoners:

I pulled up my skirt above the knees to look like a kilt and turned down my stockings to make them look knee high. In Scots fashion my blanket was thrown over my shoulder and I hung my hat in front of me like a sporran. My voice soared with pride, singing “Annie-Laurie,” “Ye Banks and Braes o’Bonnie Doon,” always finishing up with “God Save the King”–without translation.

SOURCE: Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum (Anchor Books, 2003), pp. 295-297

A Step at a Time has a related post (via Siberian Light):

TALLINN, April 13 (AFP) – Two Estonians who were held in labour camps as political prisoners during the Soviet occupation of the Baltic state urged world leaders in a letter published Wednesday to boycott events in Moscow on May 9 to mark the end of World War II.

And another about a Pole who’s feeling less than celebratory about commemorating his “liberation” from the Nazis by the Soviets.

“If you did something bad in the German camp, a guard would take out a gun and kill you immediately,” he recalled. “But in a Soviet camp, they would starve you to death so the death was longer and more painful and then they would shoot you and finish you off with a sickle.”

Olizarowicz’s “crime” was serving in Poland’s Home Army, the clandestine force that fought the Nazis, and which the Soviets feared would remain a rallying point for resistance. Convicted in 1947 of “anti-Soviet activity,” he was among nearly 800,000 Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians shipped to labor camps.

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Japanese in the Gulag

Life was not much better for the Koreans, usually Soviet citizens of Korean extraction, or the Japanese, a staggering 600,000 of whom arrived in the Gulag and the prisoner-of-war camp system at the end of the war. The Japanese suffered in particular from the food, which seemed not only scarce but strange and virtually inedible. As a result, they would hunt and eat things that seemed to their fellow prisoners equally inedible: wild herbs, insects, beetles, snakes, and mushrooms that even Russians would not touch. Occasionally, these forays ended badly: there are records of Japanese prisoners dying from eating poisonous grasses or wild herbs. A hint at how isolated the Japanese felt in the camps comes from the memoirs of a Russian prisoner who once, in a camp library, found a brochure–a speech by the Bolshevik Zhdanov–written in Japanese. He brought it to a Japanese acquaintance, a war prisoner: “I saw him genuinely happy for the first time. Later he told me that he read it every day, just to have contact with his native language.”

SOURCE: Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum (Anchor Books, 2003), pp. 299-300

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