Transnational Approach to Cold War Immigration

Jul 2, 2017

Pauli Heikkilä, who received his PhD from the University of Helsinki, was the 2016 AABS Emerging Scholar.

My research deals with the political emigrants from Eastern Central Europe in the US during the Cold War, and especially their international cooperation, where the Assembly of Captive European Nations (1954-1972) was the most prominent organization. As my research focuses on Estonians, it has naturally expanded to their closest national groups, Latvians and Lithuanians. Despite old antagonisms, the emigrants wanted collaboration in their fight against the common enemy, the aggressive Soviet Union occupying or otherwise ruling their home-countries. Whereas the ultimate goal was to restore national independence and liberal democracy, a more solid international and European organization was considered a parallel objective. Therefore various plans for regional and continental unions were floated especially in the 1950s.

Thanks to the Emerging Scholar Award I was able to complete my archival studies at the Immigration History Research Center by the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The archives of the ACEN was taken there at the end of the Cold War but it has hardly been utilized by historians. In addition to international cooperation, they reveal disagreements within each national group, which typically escalated in exile but were concealed until the very recent historical research.

Additionally I visited the Lithuanian Museum-Archives of Canada in Mississauga (near Toronto) to study material by Martynas Anysas, who proposed a regional union for the three nations in 1954. The plan was discussed by Latvians and Estonians within their Baltic Federation in Canada. Although the concept of the Baltic had become recognized as regional cooperation, there were only few proposals like this during the Cold War.

I’m grateful for the AABS for supporting my transnational project. Most of the research on Cold War emigration is done on the national basis, which leaves international cooperation in the dell, especially when the AABS and the Baltic cooperation in general are excellent examples of enlarged identities in exile. My history briefly overlaps the history of the AABS: one of the last documents in the ACEN archives is an appeal by Edgar Anderson and Heino Jõgis to assist the new organization in May 1970.

Photo by Adéla Smolová