Industrial equipment arrives in Albania from the Soviet Union, 1951.
On Socialist Globalization
By Elidor Mehilli
The “Reluctant Internationalists” project is about the history of international collaboration—experts, policy-makers, doctors, planners, and diplomats—and the intended and unintended consequences of these exchanges in the twentieth century. Reflecting this theme, the project itself is international in conception: fellows come from across the Atlantic, as do occasional visiting scholars. This is a major strength.
One other important contribution of the project, to my mind, is the emphasis on Europe’s place in the story of internationalism. Histories of internationalist movements and the global Cold War have often intentionally looked beyond the European continent to highlight the role of non-European actors. Such efforts can be valuable. But they ignore the fact that there have been historically neglected and abused peripheries within Europe. This is a good opportunity to assess these internal divisions within a supposedly integrating continent and “periphery-periphery” relations in the world more broadly.
A highlight of the project, this past summer, was the conference “Agents of Internationalism,” which brought together scholars working on population transfers, relief workers, child-welfare programs, and transnational approaches to disease—among other topics.
During my residency in London (June—July 2014), I worked on a book on socialist globalization—the state-directed but also informal circulation of practices and planners—through the angle of Albania under Yugoslav, Soviet, Eastern bloc, and Chinese patronage. After the Second World War, tiny Albania came to embody the ethos of socialist internationalism, as Soviet advisers, East German engineers, and Czechoslovak technicians descended on the country to lift it up from poverty and deliver on the promise of a workers’ state (which governed an overwhelmingly rural populace). But by the early 1960s socialist internationalism seemed broken. China and the Soviet Union quarreled, Albania and North Korea sought to go their own way, and Third World countries desperately tried to negotiate space for themselves. My book, then, is a study of local and global socialist commonalities that take shape despite political allegiances.
During my residency, I was fortunate to present a chapter of my manuscript to the project participants and receive a good deal of valuable feedback. Informal chats were as productive. London, needless to say, offers fantastic resources. My only disappointment was the fact that England, my lifelong favorite national soccer team, was kicked out early from the World Cup in Brazil. To share the pain in the pub was, at least, of some consolation.
Elidor Mehilli was the 2014 Visiting Research Fellow of the Reluctant Internationalists project. Applications are currently being accepted for the 2015 Visiting Research Fellowship. Please see the Call for Applications.