Jessica Reinisch‘s research contribution to The Reluctant Internationalists focuses on the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), an organisation which operated in the gap between the collapse of the League of Nations and the creation of the permanent specialised agencies of the United Nations.
UNRRA’s brief existence corresponded precisely with the crucial interlude between the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. This was no coincidence. UNRRA, by virtue of its two-fold task of inaugurating a new format of international collaboration on one hand, and rehabilitating a war-wrecked world on the other, itself exposed and exploded the contradictions of the post-war world. It became a yardstick for how much priorities for and patterns of international collaboration had shifted between 1943 and 1947, and formed a measure against which policies formulated in its wake were judged.
Jessica is particularly interested in UNRRA’s work at the frontline of the emerging Cold War. The vast bulk of its resources were spent on its programmes in central, eastern and southern Europe, including in Greece, Yugoslavia, Albania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, two Soviet Socialist Republics (Ukraine and Byelorussia), Italy, Austria, Hungary, and the Displaced Persons operation in Germany. By 1946, the most significant work was carried out in areas which diplomats in Washington and London recognised to be the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.
Her research will probe into the nature and implications of UNRRA’s activities in this part of the continent. The organisation’s preoccupation with relief programmes in central-eastern Europe reflected above all an anticipation of greatest relief needs. This assumption was further reinforced by previous experiences of relief and rehabilitation, such as those by relief workers fighting epidemic and political crises in Poland, Ukraine and Russia in the aftermath of the First World War. However, as self-evident as this geographic focus seemed in 1943, in 1947 it proved to be UNRRA’s undoing. Jessica’s research will explore the legacies of the UNRRA interlude for the receiving countries in the Eastern block, as well as the consequences for post-war models of international collaboration and implications for emerging notions of ‘Europe’ and European-based internationalism.