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  • Introduction
  • Hermina G.B. Anghelescu (bio)

The Great October Revolution of 1917 brought about the establishment of the Soviet Union, the world’s first self-proclaimed socialist state. It was led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who based his political philosophy on the writings of Karl Marx. The intent of Marxism-Leninism was the development of a state where the working class (a union between workers and peasants in natural conflict with the bourgeoisie) was to be governed by a revolutionary party through the process of democratic centralism. Marxism-Leninism promoted the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and perceived political pluralism as an ineffective and dysfunctional element within society (Adams, 1993). Marxist-Leninist policy supported the abolition of private property and an education that taught citizens to abide by a disciplined and self-fulfilling lifestyle dictated by the social norms of a socialist regime; by these means, a new social order would be established (Pons & Service, 2012). This brave new world assumed workers’ communal ownership and control of the means of production and their democratic participation at every level of economic and state administration, while major planning decisions were to be delegated to elected officials and administrators (Clegg & Cooper, 2008). In reality, democratic structures were soon swept away, to be replaced under Stalin by a virulent totalitarianism.

The end of World War II saw the emergence of the Soviet Union as a superpower with strong influence in Central and Eastern Europe (C&EE) and parts of Asia. Governments modeled on Soviet communism took power with Soviet assistance in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Albania, and Yugoslavia. Because communism viewed Western democracies and their capitalist economies as a threat, East–West rivalry peaked during the cold war as the world’s two remaining superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, polarized [End Page 112] most of the world into two camps. This was characterized in the West as the Free World versus the World Behind the Iron Curtain (Jakubowicz & Miklós, 2008). Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, Sofia, and Tirana—all of these famous cities found themselves sucked into the Soviet sphere and became subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence, but also to a very large measure of control from Moscow. The term Iron Curtain came to represent the political, military, and ideological barrier erected by the Soviet Union to seal itself and its dependent C&EE allies off from open contact with the West. The construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 amplified the rigid East–West divide, a physical border that reinforced the ideological conflict between capitalism and communism. The Iron Curtain largely ceased to exist in 1989–1990 with the communists’ abandonment of the one-party rule in C&EE (Iron Curtain, n.d.). The fall of the Berlin Wall and the social revolts that ensued throughout the Eastern bloc signaled the end of the Iron Curtain, as communism collapsed from within and freedom and democracy came to the region (Pryce-Jones, 1995). The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 freed up the former Soviet republics, many of which declared their full independence from the Soviet government.

The postcommunist era saw the unification of East and West Germany, the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and the splitting (into two) of Czechoslovakia. Many of the Eastern bloc countries are now members of the European Union. The new geo-political configuration of the post-Soviet space has affected the library scene as well. The new independent states had to reconfigure their library systems, which were previously under a centralized, government-controlled system (Wołosz, 1991). New national libraries claimed their roots from prominent libraries that were well-anchored in the past and have designed development strategies for the new era (Lehmann, 1994).

Libraries as Casualties of War

In a few instances, libraries became visible players during the fight for regime change. In December 1989, during the anticommunist popular uprising that ended the Ceauşescu regime in Romania, the Central University Library in Bucharest was engulfed in flames that destroyed some 500,000 books, many of them rare and valuable, and 3,700 irreplaceable manuscripts (fig. 1). With UNESCO...


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