B. Triebel: Nation, Sozialismus, globaler Kalter Krieg

Nation, Sozialismus, globaler Kalter Krieg. Die slowakische und kroatische Kulturpolitik in Afrika und Asien in den 1970er Jahren

Triebel, Brigitta
Forschungen zur Geschichte und Kultur des östlichen Mitteleuropa
Dresden 2022: Sandstein Verlag
260 S.
€ 52,00
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Ewa Anna Kumelowski, Paris

Within an expansive corpus on Cold War cultural diplomacy, Brigitta Triebel’s Nation, Sozialismus, globaler Kalter Krieg: Die slowakische und kroatische Kulturpolitik in Afrika und Asien in den 1970er Jahren represents an innovative attempt to address the diplomatic presence of European socialist states in the Global South. Focusing on cultural diplomacy efforts led by the Socialist Republic of Croatia and the Slovak Socialist Republic in Asia and Africa, Triebel introduces a new perspective to East–South relations at the end of the 20th century. As a published dissertation, the monograph investigates how individual republics belonging to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia presented themselves in the international arena and the extent of autonomy they exercised in doing so. By contrasting these republics and the federal states of which they were a part, Triebel exposes the interplay between policies on both levels, anchoring her work in the literature on diplomatic history and cultural diplomacy, and archival sources primarily comprised of documentation from official state and federal institutions.

The work is guided by three main assertions discussed by the author that center on music and visual arts exported by Slovakian and Croatian actors. She first analyzes the claim that the deeper federalization in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia of the late 1960s and 1970s, respectively, encouraged cultural diplomacy efforts abroad. This first argument holds ground when examined against empirical materials, despite a lack of continuity or uniformity between the two states. Triebel’s second hypothesis rests on the contention that Slovakian and Croatian actors mobilized their newfound access to broader diplomatic tools to popularize their independent cultures abroad and to improve their political image as a republic. While both parties emphasized the modern aspects of socialist cultural models, Slovakian actors were decidedly keener to promote Slovakian artists, while their Croatian counterparts primarily appeared to uphold the Yugoslav slogan of “brotherhood and unity” through their cultural diplomacy. Finally, the hypothesis surmising that the Croatian republic was much more active in the Global South than Slovakian actors is debunked. In contrast, Slovakian cultural actors are shown to have actively engaged with diplomatic tools to promote their republic and build Czechoslovakian political capital amidst tensions related to Soviet political dominance.

Methodically dividing her project into three analytical chapters, Triebel builds her argument on an examination of internal political shifts and developments in the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav states, analyzing the effects of the Prague Spring in 1968 and the Yugoslav constitutional reform of 1974 within the context of foreign relations. Here, the global impact of the Soviet invasion and subsequent “normalization” of society in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslav participation in the Non-Aligned Movement are presented to contextualize their impact worldwide. Furthermore, foreign policy toward the Global South is briefly outlined. The following section expands on these cultural policies and their implementation in African and Asian countries, offering a broad overview that outlines the mechanisms, actors, and institutions involved in international cultural initiatives at a state and federal level. Triebel then explores the practical impact of these policies and actors on specific case studies of cultural diplomacy.

The study guides the reader through the dense histories of both Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, treating the two entities side-by-side while introducing the historical conditions necessary to understand the foreign policy developed and promoted in the 1970s. Triebel’s work confirms assumptions about the theoretical importance of cultural diplomacy within the Cold War conflict while contrasting it with the lack of allocated resources. In short, she argues that tangible instances of cultural diplomacy were extremely limited compared to expectations. Concentrating on the cultural activities of individual republics rather than their federalized wholes offers some additional advantages: the smaller scale lends itself well to detailed analyses, and assumptions about regional political developments are addressed and tested. In this way, Triebel concludes that despite similarly strong voices advocating for Slovakian and Croatian autonomy in the 1970s, Croatian actors continued to label their cultural productions as “Yugoslav” abroad despite broader internal decentralization, contrasting with their Slovakian counterparts. In part, this difference is explained by Czech dominance in the Czechoslovak political arena as opposed to the relative strength of Croatia as a major Yugoslav cultural center where leaders did not see the necessity for the external promotion of an independent Croat cultural scene.

These differences also appear in other contexts. For example, Croatian cultural initiatives primarily supported other diplomatic tools, such as Josip Broz’s Tito’s extensive tours visiting Non-Aligned allies. In contrast, Slovakian political parties appear to have relied on music or art events as elemental to the expansion and maintenance of diplomatic relations with countries whose governments were less favorable toward a Soviet-backed socialist state. Some similarities existed in the targeted audiences of imported cultural events: Slovakian and Croatian institutions focused their efforts on North African and Arab states, with cultural cooperation with Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, and Syria appearing most popular While some of these programs did not necessarily follow clear-cut ideological motivations, they generally adhered to the political line of both federal states.

One of this text’s greatest strengths lies in the authors’ comparative approach to the cultural history of two inherently competing socialist states, bridging two fields of study that are often at odds. Whereas the diplomatic history of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia has not been entirely overlooked, discussing both states side-by-side allows for a nearly linear tracing of expected similarities and their trajectories. Furthermore, the rigorous outlining of institutions, processes, and actors that were responsible for and formed the bases for cultural exchanges between Yugoslav, Czechoslovak, and non-European states undoubtedly contributes to the foundation on which this book is built. It also provides an empirical framework with which to identify new areas of interest, such as comparisons with cultural diplomacy issued from other parts of the federal states.

Perhaps the main limitation lies in the failure to thoroughly and systematically frame the research subject, which sometimes leaves the reader uncertain about the scope of the study. Although the introduction confines the topic geographically, as indicated in the title, to Africa and Asia, the author also references the cultural programs initiated in Latin America, irrespective of the geographical disparity and possible analytical similarities. At the same time, Triebel avoids the deeper contextualization of such diplomatic interactions while including them as supportive arguments, leaving the reader uncertain about geographic limitations. Similarly, while the topic of the study is limited to the 1970s, the need for contextualization and an extensive historiographical review sometimes contribute to a sense of temporal displacement that would be better managed with a clearer delimitation of the subject at hand. Such detours into adjacent themes at times leave the reader wanting more, which is occasionally further compounded by a scarcity of references to post-colonial positions and source material from the countries at on the receiving end of Slovakian and Croatian cultural diplomacy. However, they do not necessarily detract from the book’s primary argument.