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Exile: Native Opposition Abroad

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During the Cold War, every new political crisis in Eastern Europe sent a new wave of people into emigration; the most prominent of those people who were forced to leave their home country because of their political views were considered "exiles." This term gained more and more currency over the decades, and defined a position for a person who remained in a distinctly oppositional stance to their home country's government, while continuing a public life abroad. Eastern European exiles played a unique role in the politics and culture of the period: as a liaison with Western intellectuals; as spokesperson for their home country's opposition in the Western press; and always in some tension with their respective linguistic diaspora. In this module we will cover the role and functions of exiled intellectuals in this system, their impact on Western discourse, their importance to the foreign radio broadcasting programs, and in some cases the stories of their return to Eastern Europe as the state socialist regimes weakened and fell.




  • Kind-Kovács, F., & Labov, J. (2013). Samizdat and Tamizdat: Entangled Phenomena? In F. Kind-Kovács & J. Labov (Eds.), Samizdat, Tamizdat, and Beyond: Transnational Media During and After Socialism (pp. 1–19). Berghahn Books.

Featured Items from COURAGE Registry (selection)

Related Collections from COURAGE Registry (selection)


Further Sources


In-class or short-term assignments
1) Look through the list of featured items associated with this module. Can you determine which ones were written with a Western audience in mind, and which ones were written for the audience back home?

2) What role does it seem to you like foreign radio broadcasting played in the exiles' lives? How were they featured on the radio? Who were they addressing? See if you can find some live recordings online of foreign radio broadcasting during the Cold War. (Hint: search for Radio Free Europe, Hoover Institution Archive's RFE collection, or Blinken OSA's RFE collection.)

3) Find one example of an exile writing a letter to someone in his or her home country, and another example of someone in an East European country writing to an exile (either in the Registry or elsewhere). Compare the tone, the references, and the overall atmosphere of these two letters. Do you think either of the letters was censored? Do you detect any self-censorship?

4) Look through the list of encyclopedia entries in this module. Select 6 people who were born in the same decade and compare their life stories: what early activities in their life led them to leave Eastern Europe and resettle elsewhere? How did they continue with their activism while abroad? Did they return to Eastern Europe after 1989 or not?
Offsite, longer-term assignments
Collect basic information about as many individual East European exiles (during the Cold War) as you can, from as many satellite countries as you can, living all over the world, and make a list. Either by hand or using GIS software (like google maps, google earth, QGIS or ArcGIS), create a map which shows where exiles were located, in which countries, and when. Do you notice any patterns of settlement? Are there links to where the larger diaspora of each respective country lived, or on their own trajectory? Which countries were home to the largest numbers of exiles from Eastern Europe? What types of institutions drew them to these places?


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