- Between East and South: Spaces of Interaction in the Globalizing Economy of the Cold War ed. by Anna Calori
The essays included in Between East and South: Spaces of Interaction in the Globalizing Economy of the Cold War ably demonstrate the variety and complexity of global economic relations in the final decades of the Cold War. Focusing, as the title suggests, on the relationship between countries in the Cold War East and the Global South, they greatly expand our empirical knowledge of the diverse forms and motivations for joint ventures, traveling experts, and construction projects. One of the most valuable aspects of the book is the way it so effectively illuminates the range of subjects and players, looking well beyond the most famous aid and trade connections of the Cold War.
Although the essays range over a substantial geography, a few broad generalizations are possible. First, the South in this book is tilted toward former European colonies in Africa, though Syria, Iraq, and to a lesser degree Cuba also play a role. Second, the essays focus their attention on the latter stages of the Cold War, going in a few cases right up to (or even beyond) the dissolution of the Eastern bloc in 1989—filling in a major lacuna in existing historical scholarship. Although a handful of essays look back to the 1950s, the timing of decolonization in Africa—especially of the Portuguese colonies that are the focus of multiple essays—dictates this temporal frame. Finally, most of the essays deal not with bilateral relations but ultimately with a dense web of players and with power and influence moving in multiple directions.
The best of these essays are able to analyze their subjects from the perspective of multiple sides. Thus, for instance, Bogdan C. Iacob and Iolanda Vasile examine Romanian efforts to improve Mozambican health care and oil sectors from multiple angles. They bring to bear archival documents from both countries, thus providing texture and differentiation that looks past the bland platitudes of official pronouncements of economic cooperation. Thanks to some oral histories, Iacob and Vasile are able to work at multiple levels, incisively showing how "official discourses of solidarity" related to "microhistories of experience[e]" (p. 134). The use of both Romanian and Mozambican primary sources has given Iacob and Vasile insights into multiple and conflicting perspectives between—and even within—both countries.
Many of the other essays seek to include multiple perspectives but face serious obstacles. Most notable is archival access, and it is hard to fault any historian for being [End Page 256] unable to conduct research in war zones like Syria and Iraq. Even though conditions in Zanzibar, for instance, are more peaceful, the archival holdings there seem to be all but nonexistent. That said, only some of the essays examine even official documents in the relevant languages (e.g., Arabic, Amharic, Portuguese, or Kiswahili). As a result, the perspective and actions of many developing countries are explicated through European documents. Fortunately, the work done in Central and East European archives, most notably East German records, is impressive in its scope.
The issue of multiple perspectives recurs frequently in this book because so many of the essays seek to map subaltern agency. They deal, generally, with at least two groups of subaltern states: the people's republics of eastern Europe, which used relationships with the Third World to find room to maneuver around the Soviet Union; and the countries in the South themselves. In both cases, another key actor is involved: the capitalist West. The editors' introduction and Max Trecker's impressive contribution on Bulgarian and East German aid to the Syrian cement industry, for instance, both deal head-on with the changing economic relationship between the developing world and the West as well as across the East-West divide in Europe. The West lurks just off-stage in numerous other essays. For instance, East German outreach to the newly independent countries was profoundly shaped by competition with its West German counterpart...