Cold War Internationalisms: The USSR in UNESCO, 1945-1967 Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Porter, Louis
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation examines the participation of the USSR in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) during the Cold War as a case study of the role of international organizations in Soviet engagement with the outside world. Utilizing archival material tapped in Russia and at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, France, I provide the first analysis of how a noncommunist international organization integrated the USSR into the transnational flow of people, publications, and ideas in the postwar era before the onset of détente in the late 1960s. I contextualize Soviet internationalism in the Western internationalist movements surrounding UNESCO, reinterpreting the post-Stalinist leadership’s policy of “peaceful coexistence” as an acknowledgement that noncommunist international organizations were the legitimate venue for multilateral diplomacy. Approaching UNESCO from the perspective of Soviet citizens, I historicize the UN system by highlighting how these citizens, coming to the organization as outsiders, assessed the “UN idea.” Before the death of I. V. Stalin in 1953, the USSR boycotted UNESCO and other noncommunist international organizations outside the realm of security, using the internationalism of these organizations as a foil in the antiforeign and anti-cosmopolitan campaigns of late Stalinism. Because of the absence of the USSR from UNESCO, the West shaped the organization’s culture, politics, and administrative practices in its first decade. After Stalin’s death, the USSR under N. S. Khrushchev joined UNESCO in 1954. From 1954 to 1967, UNESCO extended to Soviet citizens new ways of thinking internationally and appraising the USSR’s place in the world, involving them in international public service, an international public sphere, and an international reading public. Members of the Soviet intelligentsia attended UNESCO events; Soviet professionals worked for years abroad in UNESCO’s bureaucracy; and a range of citizens read UNESCO publications inside the USSR. Once it resolved to permanently stay in UNESCO after 1959, the USSR made progress toward rivaling the West in the organization. But as decolonization accelerated in the 1960s, the pluralizing world order attenuated the impact of this progress. Nevertheless, UNESCO’s brand of internationalism offered Soviet citizens an alternative to Soviet internationalism once the latter grew hollow in the 1980s.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Raleigh, Donald
  • Pennybacker, Susan
  • McReynolds, Louise
  • Tasar, Eren
  • Bryant, Chad
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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