Historical Representations of the Cold War at European Borders (The Cold War in Communicative Memories and Public Spheres. Ten Case Studies in European Border Communities)

I designed this project together with the founding director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History and Public Spheres, Oliver Rathkolb, and directed it from 2005/6 until my departure from the institute in February 2010. The institute came under new leadership and was subsequently closed in 2013, taking the project down with it.

Research questions
The Cold War is a code word for almost 50 years of world history – a code, though, that at first glance seems to be easy to decode for anybody, a code that is not meant to obscure but to explain something. The term is presented as a general explanation of recent European and global history by the dynamics of a bipolar competition of ideological, economic and military blocks that dominated global politics between WW II and the collapse of the USSR. On the other hand, Cold War is also a “code word” in the actual sense of the term, i.e. it hides a complex correlation of dynamics behind a simple sounding explanatory model. In this sense, it is not easy to decode at all.

This research project approaches the Cold War and the marks it has left on Europe from a double perspective, one being objective and one constructivist:

• What is remembered about the Cold War in Europe? Which of the events that triggered public debates at their time are still recalled? And, concerning contemporary discursive agency, who perceived what about the Cold War during the period itself – i.e. which transnational, national or group-specific public spheres have developed in Europe since 1945?
• How is the Cold War represented in different European memory cultures? Has it structured the historical and political thinking of Europeans? Has the divide in political discourse and everyday experience had a lasting effect on the construction of historical perceptions, of self-perceptions and perceptions of the "Other"?

The theoretical concept behind this approach encompasses various disciplines (history, political science, media studies, political iconography, and social geography). Its main components are the theory of “politics of history” (Edgar Wolfrum), introducing the idea of social memory agency (Jay Winter), as well as the concept of everyday history developed by Alf Lüdke. Looking for the symbolic and sense making power that the perceptions of recent history, of the “self” and of the (ideological, ethnic, national) “other” hold in different peripheries of Europe, this general research interest implies various other levels:

• Juxtaposing current social memory content (oral history interviews) and the diachronic reconstruction of border and Cold War discourses (local media clippings and political documents from the period) the project highlights certain differences between political discourse at a time and its traces in communicative memory.
• By the interrelation of local/peripheral and national/central media and documents, the relevance of certain events and the discourses about them in different public spheres will become visible. This is particularly interesting for Iron Curtain border communities during the Cold War as they supposedly were rather in the centre of the political crisis.
• By choosing border communities that have shared a common hinterland for centuries, but are separated by national and/or ideological borders, we can – especially through the media analysis of public spheres – examine the (non)existence and nature of regional, trans-border public spheres.

To investigate these research interests, the study resorts to the fault line of the Cold War, the former Iron Curtain between East and West, as well as to the borders within the former blocs. The proximity of the border regime as one of the Cold War’s strongest manifestations and of the "Other" beyond the border allows scrutinizing the construction of symbolic community and historical memory. The research locations are ten pairs of neighbouring border communities, with each case study covering two towns separated, or even one divided, by a state border.

In each of these twenty towns oral history-studies are conducted encompassing interviews with representatives of different generations, professional and political milieus and of both sexes. Simultaneously, documentary sources (archival documents, political writings, and newspaper clippings) are being collected. The underlying interest is, then, to study how the proximity of the border and of the "adversary" ideology have been perceived and are being remembered.
The findings of the project aim to contribute to a both trans-national and trans-disciplinary understanding of European contemporary history and public spheres. They will provide empirical evidence for the critical revision of long-held assumptions about European identities and about the history of its integration after 1945.

Research locations
The project’s coordinating headquarters are located at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History and Public Spheres in Vienna (ehp.lbg.ac.at). A pilot study was conducted in Gmünd and Ceské Velenice at the Czech-Austrian border, which’s results were published in German and Czech:

• Blaive, Muriel/Molden, Berthold: Grenzfälle. Österreichische und tschechische Erfahrungen am Eisernen Vorhang, Weitra: Bibliothek der Provinz 2009;
• Blaive, Muriel/Molden, Berthold: Hranice probiha uprostred reky: Státní hranice probíhají hrani?ním vodním tokem. Odrazy historie ve vnímání obyvatel Gmündu a Ceských Velenic v cesko-rakouském pohranicí, Brno: Barrister & Principal 2010.

Two further case studies on the Austrian-Slovak and the Austrian-Hungarian border (in cooperation with ERSTE Foundation, http://www.erstestiftung.org/) will provide specific comparative data for this case. Two studies on Austrian-German borders as well as one on the Bulgarian-Turkish border are currently being prepared. The remaining case studies are planned for the period 2010-2012.

1. The Iron Curtain and Yugoslavia
Bad Sooden-Allendorf (FRG) – Asbach-Sickenberg / Wahlhausen (GDR)
Gmünd (A) – Ceské Velenice (?SSR/?R)
Klingenbach (A) – Sopron (HU)
Wolfsthal (A) – Petržálka (SLO)
Gorízia (I) – Nova Gorica (SL)
Svilengrad (BG) – Edirne (TR)

2. "Borders in the East"
Salonta (RO) – Méhkerék (HU)
Komárom (H) – Komárno (SK)
Görlitz (DDR/BRD) – Zgorzelec (PL)
Narva (EST) – Ivangorod (RUS)

3. "Borders in the West"
Cerbère (F) – Port-Bou (E)
Jersey (Channel Islands)
Kössen (A) – Reit im Winkl (FRG)
Braunau am Inn (A) – Simbach am Inn (D)

Oral History-Study
This is the central part of the project’s methodology to which the other research strands relate as complementary, but nevertheless significant sources. They outline the diachronic development of local (and national) public discourses which contextualize the oral history results concerning today’s representations and discourses of historical memory in border communities. The interviews follow a half-open procedure, i.e. a general questionnaire identical for all case studies from which the interviewee is invited to elaborate on certain points. This questionnaire touches the following major topics:

• Border proximity and identity
• Opinions about the „Other“ beyond the border
• The „ideological memory” of the system border
• Changes and continuities since the 1940s

In each town, 30 interviews will be conducted (50% each women/men). It is important to include specific age groups and, within them, a certain professional, educational and “ideological” diversification.

The interviews are submitted to a hermeneutical content analysis, based on a code system common to all case studies. They are transcribed in their original language, but encoded in English and fed into a unified data base. At the end of the project, this data base will comprise approx. 840 interviews in 15 languages, but apt for comparative analysis. As the primary research interest is the construction of historical perceptions, the encoding scheme combines process-related and strategy-related categories with descriptive categories.

Print Media Study
To capture possible gaps between public spheres in the centres and the periphery we analyse one or two papers of national range (if possible one centre left and one centre right paper) and – if available – one local paper. Ideally, the local paper is published in the town where the research is conducted or otherwise covers the region of the border town. The articles selected from the national media are reflexive articles (editorials, commentaries etc.) which refer directly to the communication events investigated in this study – e.g. the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the opening of the Iron Curtain in 1989. All selected local articles contain references to one or more of the following subjects/research:

• specific communication events of the Cold War
• the Cold War or the "ideological enemy" in general (East/West)
• the Iron Curtain or the respective border
• the "Other", i.e. the neighbour beyond the border (town, state or people)

This part of the project design has been developed on the basis of previous research of a former research partner of the LBI-EHP: the Forschungsbereich Öffentlichkeit und Gesellschaft (fög) at the University of Zurich.

Archival documents
A selection of documentary sources from local, regional and national archives serves a double purpose. On one hand, this material is important for gathering the necessary contextual knowledge as it helps to establish the local history of the border town. This is crucial for our other methodological approaches because it identifies important local events that have to be taken into account when conducting the interviews and scrutinizing local media. On the other hand, some of these documents may be submitted to a qualitative text analysis as described above. Depending on the specific situation, such sources may include:

• town council records / local communist party committee records
• election material, internal meeting records, etc. from local party archives
• secret police files (formerly communist countries)
• other material from local archives

Research Team
The project is a transnational endeavour with its home base at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History and Public Spheres headquarters in Vienna. Partners from inside the institute have been collaborating at the foeg in Zurich, at the ZMI in Giessen and at the IMER in Malmö, while other researchers were contracted for each case study.

The researchers in charge of the case studies include: Máthé András, Natalija Bašic, Muriel Blaive, Piotr Buras, Christian Gerbel, Gabriela Ghindea, Alexander Knoth, Sabina Mihelj, Katarzyna Mlynczak, Alena Pfoser, Monica Rebescini, Ágnes Simon and Barnabás Vajda.

Furthermore, Jens Lucht and David Tréfás from the foeg in Zurich helped with the fine-tuning of the project’s transdisciplinary approach. They contributed the research design of the transnational media study. The local media analysis has been conceived to match the large-scale investigation of European media conducted at the foeg.