Caragiale in Calcutta: Romania-India cultural relations during the Cold War

by Viviana Iacob

at Spectrum of CommunismSymposium at Blinken OSA, Budapest, 16-17 November, 2017.

In 1969 two plays by Romanian playwright I. L. Caragiale opened in Calcutta: A Stormy Night and A Lost Letter. Both were adapted to Bengali by translator Amita Ray and produced by the group Panchamitram. Ray, a long time correspondent of the Institute for Cultural Relations Abroad (she visited Romania for the first time in 1959) sent clippings from the Bengali papers attesting to her excellent adaptations skills and the overall success of the two productions. The choice of plays was not haphazard. Unusual as they might seem they were in fact the spear head of a cultural diplomacy program that had the XIX century writer at its epicentre. In terms of exporting Romanian socialist culture to the world, Caragiale had quite the career during the communist period. For example, by 1969 The Lost Letter was produced by 9 different companies around the world and besides opening in Calcutta in 1969, it also premiered in Haifa.

Romania’s branching out initiative to the Global South took cue from the Soviet Union.  In the late 50s, information on India was filtered through soviet journals while cultural exchanges were carried out with the support of the Institute for Cultural Relations Abroad and the Friendship Societies it managed. By 1962 four such organizations were founded in India:  New Delhi, Kanpur (1958), Jaipur and Ajmer (1962). Even though they dissolved in later years, a result of the political turmoil that India was going through in the early 60s, the connections that they helped establish were used to carry further bilateral cultural activities. For example, Amita Ray’s second visit to Romania in 1967 coincided with prime minister Indira Gandhi’s and the 1969 performances in Calcutta, also prompted by Ray, preceded Nicolae Ceausescu and Gheorghe Maurer’s visit to India the same year.

Establishing a viable connection with the Global South was an arduous task. Geographical and cultural distance made finding a conversation baseline quite difficult. Furthermore, the cultural plan that Romania devised for the West, at least with respect to theatre, was also proposed to India and it took the sheer dedication of internationalists such as Amita Ray to ensure its success. The paper will outline strategies employed by the Romanian state in its attempt to expand to the global south by taking theatre exchanges with India as a case study.

Socialist Historians and UNESCO’s History of Humanity (1978-1989)

by Bogdan C. Iacob

at the panel Global Institutions and the East-South Circulation of Knowledge, the Fifth European Congress on World and Global History (Budapest, 31 August – 3 September, 2017)


In the second of the fifties, socialist states found a new arena to showcase and perfect their identity narratives – the United Nations system. UNESCO, for instance, would often have for East Europeans the same role as it had for other so-called peripherials – the recently de-colonized societies. It was a platform for cultural emancipation. Peoples whose histories had often been doubted, marginalized, or ignored in Western centric frameworks would claim their place in a global exchange based on the alleged mutually beneficial interconnectedness of civilizations.

My paper will discuss this common ground between the socialist East and the post-colonial South in the context of UNESCO-led efforts to design a new universal history. In 1978, UNESCO decided to draft a second edition of “History of Humanity. Scientific and Cultural Development”, as the first (English title History of Mankind, published during the sixties) was deemed too Eurocentric and out-of-date in contrast with the rise of the Global South. I will examine various stages of the activity of the International Commission created for the new edition simultaneously with developments within the field of historical studies, as evidenced at the International Congresses in Bucharest (1980) and Stuttgart (1985). My aim is to flesh out different responses to the accelerated globalization of history-writing within UNESCO and the International Committee of Historical Sciences.

I am going to focus on East Europeans readings of specific issues such as imperialism, national originality, revolution, or development. I wish to signal out moments of overlap or dissonance between state socialist scholars and representatives of the Global South on matters such as the critique of the West or the affirmation of national/regional identities. In parallel, I will analyze how the dialogue between the East and the South within international fora expanded and internationalized the former’s conceptualizations about modernity.

Socialist Experts and the Population-Development Debate (1960s-1970s)

by Corina Doboș

at the panel Global Institutions and the East-South Circulation of Knowledge, the Fifth European Congress on World and Global History (Budapest, 31 August – 3 September, 2017)


Most of the literature dedicated to the emergence of ‘population’ as an object of scientific research and governmental intervention in the 1960s-1970s focuses on the Global South’s overpopulation and on the ‘challenges’ this process brought to the social and economic development of the region. This dominant narrative reflects the epistemological and historical conditions of the post-war institutionalization of demography.

Not much discursive space is left for alternative, regionally defined, population ‘problems’. Europe’s, both East and West, specific population issues (e.g., aging or decreasing birth-rates) are hardly addressed. By using Romanian and French archival sources and new readings of mostly French-based demographic literature, my presentation seeks to fill in this gap. It explores the socialist experts’ views on the population concerns and solutions discussed in Europe across the Iron Curtain.

The history of population sciences in Eastern Europe and the USSR is characterized by tumultuous political and social contexts determined by international debates and domestic circumstances. I argue that the development and institutionalization of population sciences in Eastern Europe were conditioned by the Cold-War along fairly similar lines as the situation in the USA (Sharpeless, Greenlagh). They were also conditioned the social-economic plans at home (massive urbanization, industrialization, expanding needs of the labor force, fall of the birth-rates, increased life-expectancy and ageing population, or massive female employment).

I explore the opinions they expressed during several East-European, continental and World- meetings on the demographic challenges brought by population-ageing, use of modern contraception, availability of abortion, women’s participation on the labor market. I wish to explore whether a coherent ‘socialist’ perspective came about on the relationship between population dynamics and economic-social development. I examine these experts’ convergence or divergence of opinions during regional versus international meetings in relation with traditions and the mainstream within the global field of demography.

Cold War Epistemics, Revisited

Cold War Epistemics, Revisited: Resistance and Legitimation in the Social Sciences
Central European University, Budapest,  February 5-6, 2016

In recent years, a renewed interest in postwar epistemic shifts invited the reconsideration of Cold War geographies (pointing to alternative globalization projects, the idea of a „socialist world,” the epistemic outcomes of Second-Third World encounters), temporalities (with regards to both the continuities and ruptures between the interwar and postwar orders, and the research into the emergence of „the future” as an object of scientific study and governance in the postwar period), and the complex role of transnational and international networks for the circulation of knowledge and expertize.

Taking heed of these lines of inquiry, the workshop invites participants to discuss their methodological and theoretical implication for the study of Cold War knowledge production, as well as to reflect, from the viewpoint of their specific research interests, on the issues of resistance and legitimation in postwar social sciences.

First, this entails exploring how social scientific knowledge production simultaneously worked to consolidate the emerging postwar social and political orders, while opening up spaces for dissent and critical reflection. Second, resistance and legitimation, as intellectual, professional, and existential strategies developed in the unstable context of the postwar expansion and reshuffling of the social sciences, can be considered as mutually enabling, rather than mutually exclusive responses to the challenges of postwar reconstruction. Finally, the topic of intellectual resistance and legitimation might itself be historicized as the product of the Cold War divisions and hierarchies of epistemic power, with a lasting presence and a major symbolic role in Central and Eastern Europe and its transitions from socialism.

Workshop program:

Friday, February 5, Gellner Room (Monument Building, first floor)

9.00 – 9.30 Welcome & introduction

9.30 – 11.30 Panel 1 – Chair: Victor Karady

János Mátyás Kovács (Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna)

Ágnes Gagyi, Zoltán Ginelli, András Pinkász (The Working Group for Public Sociology “Helyzet”)

12.00 – 14.00 Panel 2 – Chair: Karl Hall

Egle Rindzeviciute (Kingston University London) – “The Rise of System-Cybernetic Governmentality”

Vítĕzslav Sommer (Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Institute for Contemporary History) – “The Politics of Social Knowledge in Late Socialism: Socialist Governance in Czechoslovakia and Limits of Lay Expertise, 1970s–1980s”

15.00 – 17.00 Panel 3 – Chair: Balázs Trencsényi

Nenad Stefanov (Humboldt University of Berlin) – “Entanglements and Fragile Networks between the Intellectuals of West Germany and Socialist Yugoslavia”

Agata Zysiak (University of Łódź) – “Postwar Modernization and University for Working Class in Poland”

Saturday, February 6, Gellner Room (Monument Building, first floor)

9.00 – 11.00 Panel 4 – Chair: Ioana Macrea-Toma

Marcia Holmes (Birkbeck, University of London) – “Legitimate Resistance: Cold War Brainwashing, Interrogation, and the Behavioral Sciences”

James Mark (University of Exeter) – “Alternative Globalizations: Between Eastern Europe and the ‘Global South’”

11.30 – 13.30 Panel 5 – Chair: Constantin Iordachi

Aliki Angelidou (Panteion University)

Călin Cotoi (University of Bucharest) – “Social Sciences in Socialist Romania: The Absent Theory”

14.30 – 15.30 Roundtable discussion – workshop conclusions and future plans

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