Soviet Themes


This compilation features books of the Central European University Press, published since its establishment in 1993, that have some relevance to the Soviet Union. After the latest release, titles in the backlist are arranged by content: contemporary topics are on top, older themes below. For more substantial information about the content and availability, please click on the cover of the book, or on the links inserted into the citations.

“The way in which the Soviet governmental system emerged out of the maelstrom of the Russian revolution featured a strong, centralized Communist Party in charge of a prioritized and powerful military and security apparatus.”—Globalization, Nationalism, and Imperialism.
“Just as 19th-century empires crumbled in 1917–18, fascist and communist imperialisms failed against forces of globalization in 1989–91, again aided by the third force in our dialectics: nationalism.”
“Following the Nazi defeat in 1945, there was an assumption that imperialism in its pre–World War I form was dead. However, to many, the decades of Soviet Union control that followed harked back to the imperial forms and controls of the 19th century and before.”
“How to maintain ‘socialist unity’ in the Soviet Empire became a problem, not just because different subjugated nation-states and their communist leaders often demanded independence, but because the internal institutional design of communist states militated against unity.”          

“Entertainment was deemed an important component of Bolshevik cultural policies in the camps. This not only channeled Soviet ideology and Russian culture to boost the fulfillment of production output plans but the prisoners and their guards would also receive some kind of common education and share in Russian high culture and Soviet culture that would serve as a unifying force for all Soviet citizens.—Imperial Designs, Postimperial Extremes.
“The creation of the most cherished cultural institution in the Karelian Gulag was initiated by the ‘counterrevolutionary’ prisoners who had belonged to the cultural elite. It started from the appearance of the Solovki Theater, in the spring of 1923. It staged productions that had been already banned in the country at large.”
“During the 1930s, amateur art remained an important propagandistic instrument in the camps, coexisting with the professionalized entertainment networks. It was mostly political prisoners, and not criminal offenders, who were actively involved in these activities.”

Volumes from the backlist with a Soviet focus:

  • The Moscow Conceptualism, the last phase of the story of the avant-garde art movement that began in the 1970s.
  • Soviet and Russian modernization of Buryatia; the sovereignty movement taking place in Tatarstan; Kalmykia presented to the English reading academic world; 
  • On the waves of grain and other food shortages in Russia: were Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev right in theory but failed in practice because of the weather?
  • The history and geography of forced migrations in the USSR, and a book on deportation memoirs from the Baltic States.

“To Stalin’s way of thinking, soldiers who had fallen prisoner, even in spite of their best efforts not to, were contemptible. This applied to Soviet prisoners too, toward whom the government and military commands showed no interest whatsoever.”—the story of Italian prisoners of war in the USSR.
“In the Soviet Union, hunger had been a constant since the 1930s. Taking ‘one meager meal a day’ in the Hotel Lux was a treat even for those who, in 1942 Moscow, worked for the Comintern.”
“On 4 September 1943, Sergei and two other met­ropolitans—Aleksy of Leningrad and Nikolai of Kiev—were received by Stalin, who authorized them to organize the appointment of the patriarch, whose seat had been vacant since 1926. Stalin further allowed churches and a certain number of seminaries to be reopened, and decreed alloca­tions for religious practice to be resumed.”

Other CEU Press titles with relevance to the Soviet Union:

Gorbachev: Dangers arise from the transitional situation in the USSR. We’re leaving behind one system of values. We see how the legitimate desire for national self-determination has negative implications: nationalism, separatism, sometimes with religious overtones. A balanced approach is needed; we have a unique responsibility.
Mitterrand: The USSR needs serious, sensible assistance. (July, 1991)
Gorbachev and Bush, now in paperback.
Yeltsin (to Bush): We got together today, Mr. President, the leaders of the three states—Byelorussia, Ukraine, and Russia. We gathered and after many lengthy discussions that lasted about two days agreed that the system in place and the Union Treaty everyone is pushing us to sign does not satisfy us. And that is why we got together and literally a few minutes ago signed a joint agreement. (December, 1991)

Thatcher said Gorbachev was an unusual Russian in that he was much less constrained, more charming, open to discussion and debate, and did not stick to prepared notes.
Reagan: We in the West have great strength—Europe alone has four times the GNP of the Soviet Union. We must deal with the Soviets from a position of strength. (December, 1984)
Conversations of Reagan and Gorbachev, now in paperback.
Gorbachev commented that compared to American expansionism the Soviet side’s was a small child. Reagan responded that there had been four wars in his lifetime, and the U.S. had not gained an inch of territory… He mentioned Berlin. He felt Gorbachev could and should tear down the Wall that day. (December, 1987)
said that the Soviets judged the problem of religion as not a serious one. There were not big problems with freedom of worship. He, himself, had been baptized, but was not now a believer and that reflected a certain evolution of Soviet society. (May, 1988).

“In many cases (Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, etc.) there was a tradition of national history that had emerged at the turn of the 20th century. However, in the Soviet era, all national histories were unified in the framework of the ‘History of the USSR,’ and master narratives created before 1917 were declared ‘nationalist’ and banned.”—Memory Crash.
“In the middle of the 1980s, some Ukrainian historians were involved in counter-propaganda activities to oppose ‘the insinuations of Western propaganda’ about the famine of 1932– 33. The Party mobilized historians to prove that there was no famine; they were only allowed to mention ‘food difficulties’ sometimes.”
“According to various data, by 1990, there were between four and five thousand statues of Lenin in public places across the Ukrainian SSR.”
“Overall, the negation of the Soviet period, characteristic of the 1990s and the 2000s, stopped and was replaced by its ‘normalization,’ not to mention more recent ‘re-Stalinization.’”

“The exponents of ‘legal Marxism,’ including Berdyaev and Sergei Bulgakov, were able to detect the seeds of political religion in Marx’s work. God-builders, with Lunacharsky, advocated the need for a new religion linked with the proletariat’s total revolution.”—Totalitarian Societies and Democratic Transition.
“Stalin viewed the ideological education of the population as primary among his tasks. He did not hesitate to sacrifice people and resources to transform the USSR into a first world superpower.”
“Zaslavsky criticized one of the editors of this book for exaggerating the role of Gorbachev’s personality in the story of Soviet collapse. He believed this collapse was socially overdetermined.”
“One hears about the need to ‘tighten up the belts’ for the sake of restoring Russia’s great power role in the world. This rhetoric, perfectly in line with Putin’s attempt to consolidate his power for the foreseeable future, makes it more difficult, perhaps impossible for Russia to overcome the terrible totalitarian legacy of the 20th century.”

“The Soviet party-line towards the Holocaust was as variable as Soviet Jewish confrontations with it—there was neither a coherent and linear policy of suppression regarding the Holocaust in public discourse, nor was there a monolithic Soviet Jewish coming-to-terms with it.”—Growing in the Shadow of Antifascism.
“The 2.5–2.7 million Soviet Jewish Holocaust victims were simply folded into the 26.6 million Soviet war victims (military and civilian) in total.”
“Recent research highlights the attempts by Jewish Antifascist Committee members Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman to negotiate the commemoration of the particular Jewish suffering during the war with the universalist Soviet ideas of antifascism.”
“The reformed war narrative gave rise to de-homogenized war accounts, in which hitherto prohibited topics—like Soviet prisoners of war in Germany, collaboration, or the Holocaust—became accessible to Soviet readers. Rybakov’s Heavy Sand is one of the few Soviet works that can be properly called a Soviet Holocaust novel.”

“In January 1968, the Moscow dissidents Lariza Bogoraz and Pavel Litvinov pioneered what would become a central political practice of the dissident movement in the entire Soviet bloc—an appeal to world public opinion to intervene against a political trial. Later that year, Natalya Gorbanevskaya became the unofficial editor of the newly-founded Chronicle of Current Events, a template for human rights publications elsewhere in the Soviet bloc.”— evoked during the debate about the current state of East-West relations.
“The formation of the first human rights groups in the Soviet Union triggered the creation of additional committees including an Initiative to Defend the Rights of Disabled People, a trade union, and a Christian Committee to Defend the Rights of Believers.”
“Between 1945 and Gorbachev’s rise to power in 1985, only one woman became a voting member of the Soviet politburo.”

“While underground artists like the Moscow Conceptualists—such as Ilya Kabakov, Andrei Monastyrsky, and Dmitri Prigov—openly aim to subvert high culture, Petrovich in Makanin’s novel views canonical Russian literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as his collective judge”—the aesthetic underground in the Soviet Bloc.
“The hero of the poem, named Venichka—Venedikt Erofeev’s namesake— rambles incessantly: about philosophy, literature, and European art; about ethno-psychology and Soviet daily life; about drinking, women, the Russian ‘spirit,’ and God. ‘I’ll remain below and from below I’ll spit on their social ladder. Right, spit on every rung of it””
“The period of Soviet decline and collapse of communism elevated Lviv's Bubabists, with their radically creative wit, catchy provocations, and sexualized metaphors, to a dual status, being both symbols of the democratic transition and pop stars.”

“Historiography on the events of World War II has always been sharply divided. One school emphasized the national qualities of the Latvian Legion while essentially ignoring the Latvian Rifle Corps.”—Defining Latvia.
“Beria stoked nationalist sentiments in the Soviet republics in 1953 when he unveiled a ‘New Course’ in Soviet nationality politics, which involved replacing ethnic Russian officials in the republics with cadres from among the titular nationalities.”
“The odious figure of Pelše set Latvia apart from those Soviet republics where the first secretaries of the local Communist Parties, like Sniečkus in Lithuania or Shelest in Ukraine, often succeeded in playing their own game vis-a-vis the Soviet central government.”
“The 1989 Soviet census had served as a call to arms for Latvians as it revealed that, thanks to several decades of Russification, ethnic Latvians made up just 52% of the population of the Latvian territories.”

“In the Soviet Union in the 1970s and ’80s there was a growing academic interest in Roma, and inquiries were predominantly based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted by scholars who spoke Romani language. Besides academic interest, Roma throughout the Soviet Union appeared to have a steadier place in society than in Eastern Europe.”—Constructing Identities over Time.
“Soviet schools evidently played a vital role in overcoming ‘Gypsy backwardness,’ in teaching not only literacy, but also habits that come with a more educated routine, such as keeping order and hygiene. Enlightenment also took a form of exposing old traditions—such as the oppression of women or itinerant life.”
“In the interwar period while the Hungarian state was increasingly aligned with the Hungarian nation, excluding and marginalizing other ethnic groups, the early Soviet Union had an international vision of communist society, that Roma were to be part of.”

 “Communist regimes borrowed many projects from the pre-communist era. Even in the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks initiated projects that had been planned since the Tsarist period, such as the mammoth White Sea–Baltic canal, the Moscow Canal, and the forestation of southern Russia. Their policies should be understood as a radical extension of rather than a full break with the past.”—Sugarland.
“Albania had a disproportionate influence on the USSR’s post-Stalinist quest for global supremacy. For the Soviet leadership, Albania, with its Muslim majority population, represented a model for the Third World and Muslim countries.”
“The Soviet leadership would soon learn that the new elites of the decolonized world were unreliable, capricious, and ideologically unorthodox. Hoxha had the same commitment to political independence and self-sufficiency as leaders like Nasser, Nehru, Sukarno, and Nkrumah, who sought to modernize their countries using both American and Soviet financial and technological aid.”

“During the first Soviet occupation, no one knew who was fated to be arrested or deported, and this had a terrifying and paralysing effect on people. Hitler spoke about his goals openly and everyone knew that he posed mortal danger to Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and the mentally disabled, but Stalin was more inclined to shroud his horrors in silence or lies.”—from a memoir in conversations.
“When I arrived in Moscow in 1948, my uncle Sasha tore up my letters and many of the photographs that I had, explaining that, in the Soviet Union, keeping a diary is like reporting on oneself, like writing a denunciation—a донос, in Russian.”
“You know, my dear girl, replied the professor, in the Soviet Union psychology is not a science.”
“The third place that I cried in America was a dentist’s office. That is where I learned that it is possible to receive dental care without the terrible pain we all experienced going to Soviet clinics.”

“The contrast between the rocket speed of Soviet space travel and the snail’s pace of queues in department stores was not experienced as an absurd contradiction, as it would have been in Western society.”—Making Sense of Dicatorship.
“In the Soviet Union with the All-Russian Society for the Care and Preservation of Historic and Cultural Monuments, which already had 22 million members in the mid-1970s.”
“In 1973, the historic center of Moscow was divided into nine conservation zones, which meant that projects like the modern Rossiya Hotel next to the Kremlin or the reconstruction of the Arbat quarter in this period would no longer be allowed.”
“In a society that had become accustomed to censorship over sixty years, the ban on the Soviet magazine Sputnik in November 1988 unexpectedly led to mass protests.”

“In the Soviet Union it took only a year—from 1929 to 1930—to not only eradicate urban unemployment, but to create a severe shortage of labor. The average Soviet worker changed jobs every eight months in 1930, and turnover rates were more than 100 percent per year in heavy industry.”—from a book on labor under communism.
“In postwar Eastern and Central Europe, the Stakhanovite movement took a less heroic form than in the Soviet Union. It lost its momentum at the end of the 1950s, together with other instruments for enhancing productivity coming through Soviet chan­nels.”
“The organization of production according to the Soviet-Tay­lorist model debilitated old solidarities.”
“In the GDR some overzealous functionaries even recommended cen­soring the Soviet media. In 1989 the party committee of the factory in­formed the district party leadership that on a Soviet cinema day the audience criticized the movies for displaying a negative image of the Soviet Union.”

“John von Neumann would have preferred to risk war with the Soviet Union right after World War II rather than later. He was committed to the arms race and deployment. Even though he advocated preventive war against the Soviet Union, he was considered a dove compared with the hawks, like Teller.”—Brilliance in Exile.
“Leo Szilard’s most important activities during the Cold War period were aimed at arms control. He wrote to the top, first to Stalin, later to Nikita Khrushchev. Stalin never responded, but he had better luck with Khrushchev. In 1960, Khrushchev came to New York, and he invited Szilard for a brief meeting. He advocated a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing. Khrushchev liked this because the Soviet Union at the moment was not much interested in further testing.”
“At that time Landau was enthusiastic for the Soviet regime and donned a red jacket to express his devotion. Upon his return, he moved to Kharkov. For a while, Kharkov became a significant hub of theoretical physics.”

“During the invasion and the immediate postwar years very likely hundreds of thousands of women were raped. Yet, there was another side to Soviet soldiers. Many gave food to women and they were especially fond of children. In the words of a woman in Berlin: ‘They love to play Father Christmas.’”—Ireland's Helping Hand to Europe.   
“Marshal Zhukov was rather magnanimous and favoured a constructive occupation of Germany. Thanks to his efforts, essential services and agriculture were restored in the Soviet-Occupied Zone. In the end, Zhukov’s main problem was that he had to face an inconsistent occupation policy conceived by the Kremlin.”
“The European Recovery Program, more commonly known as the Marshall Plan, went into effect on 3 April 1948. Whereas the Americans had invested $13 billion in Western European economies, it has been estimated that the Soviets removed at the very least $13 billion from Eastern Europe.”

“Soviet communism was popularly and intellectually endorsed first by enthusiastic fantasies, followed by naive pleading for reform, then cynical surrender and despair, and finally a moral stance on the necessity of a civic revolution.”—One Hundred Years of Communist Experiments.
“A perfect continuity from the first Stalinist generation to the contemporary distant, cold, pseudosophisticated cultural (ideological) clerk making use of Marxist rhetoric in order to cover his moral and intellectual vacuum.”
“The Nazis waged war on ‘Jewish Bolshevism’ yet it was the Soviet Union and its armed forces that played a major role in the defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazi occupation and mass murder.”
“All the ‘deadweight’ of the planned economy was tolerated because it prevented the road from economic development to political reform that Europe had experienced. Welfare of citizens was irrelevant. Today, Putin’s kleptocracy and dictatorship are the newest, and hopefully final, stages of the communist economy.”

“In late September 1939, two writers crossed a state border that had just ceased to exist. Their texts were translating this new territory into a ‘Soviet’ place, for justifying moving revolution across the border, and affirming the exclusive right for communism as the project of the future.”—two cities fundamentally transformed by World War Two.
“A team of architects determined that the city was set on the path of becoming “in the nearest future one of the most beautiful cities of not only Soviet Ukraine, but also the Soviet Union.”
“Those artists coming from pre-war Soviet Ukraine to Lviv considered the local actors ‘totally illiterate,’ and took it upon themselves to re-educate and ‘raise their artistic qualifications’.”
“While the Polish, Yiddish and Ukrainian academic theaters seem to have suffered from the imposition of the Soviet cultural structures, somehow the urban entertainment world seems to have oddly flourished. Soviet officialdom loved entertainment.”

“When war broke out in Europe, morale in Tokyo was low. On August 23, 1939, when Germany announced that it had concluded a so-called non-aggression pact with the USSR, the Japanese—to a man—felt that the anti-Comintern pact had been violated.”—as big powers interfered into Middle Europe.
“During the Red Army counteroffensive in front of Moscow, Stalin gave the British a detailed account of Soviet war aims.  After the war Romania was supposed to conclude a military alliance with the USSR and to grant Moscow its military and air bases. Hungary, on the other hand, was supposed to lose part of its territories to Romania and Czechoslovakia.”
“The Soviet military successes of 1943 were accompanied by the warming up of its relations with the Western Allies. The Kremlin took some demonstrable steps in this direction by dissolving the Comintern.”
“Particularly interesting is the Soviet use of the traditional great power strategy of achieving regional influence by exploiting hostility between smaller states.”

“In the mid-1930s the campaign of Latinization was abandoned in the Soviet Union, and most of the country’s languages were (re-)Cyrillicized, namely, their Latin alphabets had been replaced with Cyrillic by the mid-1940s.”—Words in Space and Time.
“The only place where the Hebrew script became official was Soviet Belarus, which between 1924 and 1938 was quadrilingual, with Belarusian, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish as its official languages.”
“Between 1940 and 1956 the now largely forgotten sixteenth Soviet Union republic existed, the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1940, the region’s Cyrillic-based Finno-Ugric language of Karelian was replaced with Finnish written in Latin letters.”
“The Kremlin decided to retain a considerable number of ethnic Poles in Soviet Lithuania and founded a full-fledged Polish-medium minority educational system for them, which functions to this day. It was a means to frustrate Lithuanian nationalists’ dream of ethnolinguistic homogeneity.”

“Hrdlička adored the Soviet Union, but for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. Instead of highlighting the transformative power of socialism, he believed fusion was possible because the population was already biologically similar: most people in Soviet territory were already White, Yellow-Browns quickly turned into Whites through interbreeding, and there were no Blacks to stand in the way of progress.”—The Perils of Race-Thinking.
“No one, according to Hrdlička, should think of the Whitening of the Soviet Union as imperialistic conquest. The Slavic march to the Pacific was a ‘natural’ and leisurely ‘spreading out’ and nothing like the ‘predatory invasions of the Goths, Huns, or Teutons’ in the Middle Ages. Unlike Germans, ‘the Slavs penetrate peacefully.’”
“He cheered aggressive Soviet foreign policy. For communist fans of the Soviet Union, the 1939 Soviet treaty with Nazi Germany was uncomfortable, but for Hrdlička the German and Soviet plunder of Poland was strategic for Russia, which was only ‘trying to get back its own.’”

“In Moscow, Panait Istrati met Nikos Kazantzakis. Together they left for Odessa where, out of a strong revolutionary fervor, they embarked for Greece in order to spread the Bolshevik gospel.”—from the volume on intellectuals and the totalitarian temptation.
“By faithfully applying the 21 conditions of the Comintern, KKE followed policies promoting its Bolshevization. Particularly devastating was the imposition of a political line of social-fascism.”
“The German invasion constituted a first-rate political opportunity for the KKE. At that time, a small circle of leading Comintern figures in Moscow implemented the national front strategy.”
“The new conditions of the Civil War alienated all those new intellectuals who had been attracted by the nationalist discourse of the party during the occupation.”
“We should not overestimate the role of intellectuals in the configuration of the party’s identity. They mainly specialized in propaganda rather than in decision-making or in drawing up policy.”

  • The last conversations of superpower leaders of the Cold War era on 1000 pages, and the true motivations of Gorbachev and other global politicians as revealed in 122 top-level Soviet, European and American archival records from 1989.
  • Artistic interactions within the Soviet bloc and with the West between 1945 and 1989.
  • Books in Russian (Mandelshtam, Pasternak, Sakharov, Sinyavski, the Medvedev brothers etc.) in the cold-war book distribution program of the CIA, the impact of western broadcasts on the USSR, and the vicissitudes of non-conformist writers’ and intellectuals’ in the Soviet Union.
  • Essays on women and war mirrored in the arts, including Russian (and Soviet) cases.
  • The place of theater in the former Soviet bloc countries.
  • Fresh interpreta­tion of the contexts, meanings, and consequences of the revolutions of 1989 discusses the demise of the Soviet Union from various angles.
  • Studies on subjects like motherhood, childbearing, single mothers, divorce etc. present family life and childhood in Soviet times and in post-Soviet Russia and the Baltic States. 
  • The analysis of core-periphery relations and globalization embraces a broader scope in time and space: Russia is a recurrent topic also in these contexts.  
  • A new, Euro-centered account of the Cold War.
  • When Russian intelligentsia began losing any hope of reforming Soviet-style communism: did the 1968 spring in Prague and Paris have an impact on this?
  • The Soviet occupation of Romania, Hungary, and Austria.
  • The period of “high Stalinism” has been revisited by multiple generations of scholars: Stalin and his rule provides ample material for historians.
  • The autobiographical account of Juozas Luksa, written before his fatal return to join his fellows in arms, fighting against the Soviets in the forests of Lithuania.
  • Moscow, the showcase of Soviet modernity.
  • An early communist protagonist in Hungary as József Pogány, a Comintern envoy in America as John Pepper, characteristically found his death in Stalin’s purge.