M. Kohlrausch u.a. (Hrsg.): Expert Cultures in Central Eastern Europe

Expert Cultures in Central Eastern Europe. The Internationalization of Knowledge and the Transformation of Nation States since World War I

Kohlrausch, Martin; Steffen, Katrin; Wiederkehr, Stefan
Einzelveröffentlichungen des Deutschen Historischen Instituts Warschau 23
Osnabrück 2010: fibre Verlag
272 S.
€ 48,00
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Peter Svik, University of Tartu

The reviewed compendium originates from the workshop “The International Community of Experts and the Transformation of the Fatherland. Central Eastern Europe in the European Context since World War I”, held at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw in September 2008. The volume is split into four main sections of which the latter three (11 chapters altogether) consist, in the words of the editors, of the “case studies of particularly telling examples” (p. 10), while the first section (2 chapters) serves as an introduction to the subject at hand. The chronological span of the book covers the period roughly from the end of the Great War until the end of the Cold War.

The focus of this volume is on the evolution of the prevailingly urban middle class of technocrats such as engineers, technologists or scientists and various roles these “professionally qualified individuals” (p. 10) played within the specific context of developments in the Central Eastern Europe during the 20th century. The region is in the book understood as a territory that “was always open towards its neighbouring regions” and “its core lies between the cities Prague, Krakow, Lvov and Budapest” (p. 12). During the time span under consideration, its key structural features included: 1.) “‘forced’ internationalization” imposed by the dominating powers (Habsburgs, Nazi Germany and Soviet Union) on subjugated nations during the most of the century; 2.) the attempts to turn the newly founded states into single nation-states “despite significant minority populations” during interwar period; 3.) genocidal politics accompanied with ethnic cleansing and mass killings during the 1930s and 1940s; 4.) modernization processes instigated by the compromise solutions agreed between the “diversified elites of noble and ‘bourgeois’ provenance” (pp. 12–13).

As for the methodological perspective, the book “examines the relationship between state, experts and nation” by methods of “historical research enhanced by cultural considerations.” According to the editors, such an approach is “particularly rewarding” because of “the strong interdependence between experts and their environments” (p. 10).

There are three key issues to which individual case studies are linked. This also guides the structure of the volume. The first of these, entitled “Technocratic Thinking and Technological Expertise”, asses the role the technology and class of technical experts played in the nation- and state-building processes in the Central and Eastern European countries. As shown in the chapter by Stefan Rohdewald on technocratic networks and scientific management in Piłsudki's Poland and in the comparative study by Valentina Fava on Škoda and Fiat experts' loyalties in between the wars, the technological aspect played a particularly important role in Poland and Czechoslovakia. This claim is further reinforced in the case study by Elisabeth van Meer that stresses the importance of anti-Germanism in the developments of the ‘Czech’ science and technical education. Kenneth Bertrams integrates the Central European perspective into a wider framework and compares the models of techno-corporative management of societies as developed in the United Sates and Belgium. In doing so, he stresses not only the similarities and interexchanges, but also the differences between the two models.

The chapters in the second thematic part of the book – “Expert Networks between National Loyalty and Internationalism” – focuse on the interesting question of how the experts were able to reconcile “the necessity of transnational personal contacts and international collaboration” with the “willingness to sacrifice the interests of science or expertise for the interests of the nation” (p. 22). Dagmara Jajeśniak-Quast exemplifies the point by analyzing the attitudes of Polish economic elites towards the common European market and their involvement in Coudenhove-Kalergi’s Pan-European Movement during the interwar years. Roswitha Reinbothe’s contribution calls attention to the language politics at the scientific congresses held in the Central Eastern European countries after the end of Great War. Despite the strong anti-Germanism, shown at the conferences especially by Poland and Czechoslovakia, the case study by Ingo Loose points out that on the micro-level, that is “at least for the western territories of Poland, the communication between German and Polish experts served as a central and pivotal point for the stability of the entire state” (p. 158).

The last thematic area – “Reconsidering the Iron Curtain: Experts between East and West after 1945” – consists of four case studies. In the first of these, instead of traditional focus on the Western- and particularly US-based German scientists such as Werner von Braun, Christoph Mick assesses the overall social position and working conditions of the German scientists that worked in the Soviet Union after World War II. Pál Gremuska, in his chapter, describes the methods and role which the Soviet advisers played in subjugating the Hungarian military industry to Soviet’s needs in the 1950s. Despite the US instance on technically no East-West trade relations and technology transfers, Sari Autio-Sarasmo shows, using the case of West Germany, that the Western countries pursued a relatively independent policy in this respect. The extent of transfers remained limited, however, because of the Soviet loose attitude towards license and patent agreements. Finally, in the last chapter of the volume, Małgorzata Mazurek demonstrates the importance of consumer rights protection and experts behind this agenda for the fall of communism in Poland.

In general terms, this volume is of great use to every scholar approaching the history of Central Eastern Europe from a transnational perspective. On the other hand, what is missing in this “experts’” volume is a better and more pregnant linkage to the discussion currently ongoing in the philosophy, history or sociology of sciences. One may just recall Pierre Bourdieu’s legacy in this respect, for example. Furthermore, a more in-depth reference to the French realities, and especially link to the Grandes écoles tradition, would seem particularly rewarding for the interwar period. This is because of the strong French ties of the newly founded nation states as also quite well documented by Reinbothe’s chapter in this volume.

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