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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.3 (2003) 105-107

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Philipp Ther and Ana Siljak, eds., Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948. Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. 343 pp. $79.00 hardcover, $34.95 softcover.

Reading this collection of essays—the first volume in what promises to be a very useful series—one is struck by an interesting parallel between the Cold War writ large and the narrower subject at hand, ethnic cleansing at the end of World War II. One tenet of Cold War diplomacy was that good fences between ideological systems would lead to a kind of peace rather more preferable than close ideological combat. Good neighbors they might not have been, but they could learn to live apart.

The same era saw similar conclusions being reached about ethnic integration in Europe. Arguably, the early postwar years saw the pinnacle of Wilsonian ethnic cleansing—that is, ethnic cleansing regulated to some extent by international agreement—which sought to create peace through a semblance of cultural homogeneity. It is useful to be reminded that ethnic cleansing was not suppressed by the ideological stalemate (only to resurface in Yugoslavia and elsewhere after Communism's fall, as is often assumed), but was indeed an integral part of it.

The volume at hand is drawn from a 1997 conference in Gliwice, Poland, and includes thirteen articles on aspects of ethnic cleansing in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Germanys, plus two substantive introductions and a [End Page 105] conclusion by the book and series editors. The authors represent the Central European and Anglo-American scholarly communities; most (though not all) offer fruits of the kind of post-Cold War archival research that has been the hallmark of the Cold War International History Project and the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies (of which the Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series is a worthy outgrowth).

A promised comprehensive bibliography on the topic (p.21) is missing, but the copious footnotes to Mark Kramer's introductory essay should more than suffice. Kramer's essay nicely complements Philipp Ther's introductory chapter; or perhaps it is the other way around, for Ther's discussion of the theoretical issues surrounding ethnic cleansing is simply masterful, and essential reading. Ther draws a distinction between structural and psychological factors making ethnic cleansing a possibility, while reminding the reader of the importance of contingency. Because it has been easy (a là the Wilsonian perspective mentioned above) to regard ethnic cleansing as inevitable, this reminder is extremely useful.

The contributors take us beyond mere numbers (which is fortunate, since one or two small errors creep in: the figure given by Ther for Hungarians expelled from Slovakia, on p.57, is slightly off; the correct breakdown is provided by Kramer on pp.15 and 38) to a broader sense of the complexities of population transfers at war's end. Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Czechs, Hungarians, and others were moved into, within, and out of the region. The basic story all the chapters present could be generalized as follows: What the Allied powers decreed did not always happen, especially because the decisions often came well after expulsions and transfers had already begun. Second, what the Central European governments ordered often had little to do with what actually occurred on the ground. Although they aimed for a "legible" society (to use James Scott's term for the "high modernist" agenda), cleansed of cultural pluralism, the ideal proved elusive. Local officials routinely found themselves swamped by refugees and unable to provide transport, housing, food, or security. Some were unwilling to extend any protection to expellees or new arrivals; others fought to retain expellees (Germans in particular), even if this meant violating quotas and timetables handed down from above. The cold numbers—somewhere around 15 million, with 1.5 million casualties (p.2)—underestimate both the terror that expulsion meant and the good will sometimes shown in the region. The story of ethnic cleansing in East-Central Europe is a good introduction to the...