Clara Leon

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Department:
History
Term:
AY 2016-17

My project explores the life and political trajectories of a generation of communist activists, born in Poland, Hungary, or Romania. Emigrating to France in the interwar period, they participated in the French anti-Nazi resistance during WWII. Returning to their countries after WWII to “build socialism,” many were victims of Stalinist political trials or suffered other persecution in the first decade of the Cold War. Examining the way these activists (often Jews or other ethnic minorities) related to their origins, their ideology, and described their life experience at different stages allows me to ask how nationalism and communism were interrelated for them and for the societies in which they lived. Since most historical writing on nationalism and communism either focuses solely on Yugoslavia or assumes that nationalism and communism in the Eastern bloc were diametrically opposed, with no interaction, until after Stalin’s death, my work will help nuance understanding of these two ideologies, showing how they functioned in society prewar and immediately postwar. Moreover, by going beyond comparison and showing the interconnections between instances of Stalinist persecution – and between the victims, also the perpetrators – in France, Poland, Romania, and Hungary postwar, my work will underscore the connections between those four countries and the interconnection of Europe as a whole. It will also shed light on complex powerplays and self-defense strategies different historical actors used. This will broaden historical understanding of the Stalinist purges, tracking the agency of all involved. Contributing to a growing body of work which looks at the interaction between Soviet leaders and high officials in Eastern bloc communist parties under late Stalinism, my work will show the interconnection between high and mid-level cadres among different Eastern bloc countries as well, thus contributing to a more nuanced picture of communist internationalism in practice.