The National Security Archive
Openness in Russia and Eastern Europe Project


    As part of its mission to establish venues for the dissemination and assessment of new evidence on Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, the Openness Project has organized a series of academic meetings and “critical” oral history conferences to explore key turning points in the region’s recent past.1  These conferences bring together (usually for the first time in many years) leading figures from the Communist era – former Party first secretaries, prime ministers and cabinet-level officials; one-time opposition leaders and dissidents; and senior officials from the U.S. and former Soviet Union – to discuss the context, details and impact of their decisions and actions during those critical years.  The discussions center around a collection of high-level, contemporary documentation, provided by the Archive and its partners, while a panel of recognized academic experts helps to guide the deliberations in the most fruitful directions.

Since 1994, the Archive and its partners have put together several ground-breaking events aimed at stripping away the myths surrounding such important historical moments as the 1953 workers’ uprisings in East Germany,  the 1956 Hungarian revolution, the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, the 1980-81 Solidarity crisis in Poland, and the 1989 collapse of Communist regimes throughout the region.  For years, official censorship and massive propaganda campaigns have kept those most directly affected by these events from having a full accounting of them and of the roles played by various actors.  Thus, Solidarity figures Zbigniew Bujak, Karol Modzelewski and Janusz Onyszkiewicz could confront ex-Party and government leaders Wojciech Jaruzelski, Stanislaw Kania and Mieczyslaw Rakowski about their decision to impose martial law in December 1981.  Hungarian  revolutionary Maria Wittner, who spent 14 years in prison for her role as a street fighter in 1956, was able to grill former officials from Radio Free Europe whose broadcasts arguably misled anti-regime rebel into expecting Western military help against the Red Army.  And conference participants in Prague in 1999 had the rare chance to ask Czech President Václav Havel about his experiences in the Velvet Revolution ten years earlier.

The following are the main international events the Openness Project has organized.  They do not include the many dozens of smaller conferences, workshops, panel discussions and other scholarly forums the project and its partners have organized, hosted and participated in throughout Europe and the United States since 1992.  Primary support for these conferences has come from The Open Society Institute (New York) and The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Chicago).  A variety of other American and European foundations have contributed generously to individual events.
· “Poland, 1986-1989: The End of the System,” Miedzeszyn-Warsaw, October 21-23, 1999.  Co-organized with The Institute for Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw).
· “The Democratic Revolution in Czechoslovakia: Its Preconditions, Course, and Immediate Repercussions, 1987-89,” Prague, October 14-16, 1999.  Co-organized with The Czechoslovak Documentation Centre (Prague), and The Institute of Contemporary History, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (Prague).
· “Political Transition in Hungary: 1989-1990,” Budapest, June 10-12, 1999.  Co-sponsored with the Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (Budapest), the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Washington), and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest).
· “The End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989: ‘New Thinking’ and New Evidence,” Musgrove, St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, May 1, 1999.
· “Poland 1980-1982: Internal Crisis, International Dimensions,” Jachranka–Warsaw, November 8-10, 1997.  Co-organized with The Institute for Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw), and CWIHP.
· “The Crisis Year 1953 and the Cold War in Europe,” Potsdam, November 10-12, 1996.  Co-organized with CWIHP.
· “Hungary and the World, 1956: The New Archival Evidence,” Budapest, September 26-29, 1996.  Co-sponsored with the Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (Budapest), and CWIHP.
· “Czechoslovakia and the World, 1968: The New Archival Evidence,” Prague, April 18-20, 1994.  Co-sponsored with The Prague Spring 1968 Foundation (Prague), and CWIHP.

1 Jim Blight and janet Lang of Brown University's Thomas J. Wastson, Jr. Institute for International Studies have pioneered this model of oral history from multiple perspectives.  The National Security Archive has collaborated on most of these conferences, including the series of meetings on the Cuban missile crisis, the Carter-Brezhnev years and the Vietnam War.

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