Cold War culture

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The Cold War was fought not only regionally and militarily, but also culturally.Photo: Wikimedia

East-West animosity and fear of communism shaped society in the decades of the Cold War and didn’t stop at culture either.

05/22/2022, 17:3505/22/2022, 18:48

Dominic Landauer / Swiss National Museum

During the long decades of the Cold War between 1945 and 1989, the source of evil was always clear: from the East. From the Soviet Union, from Russia or from the dependent countries of Eastern Europe, namely the German Democratic Republic.

In the novels and films of the time, this was played constantly, starting with the classic “The Third Man” From 1950 around “The Spy Who Came From the Cold” From 1965 to the movie Submarine Searching for Red October by Tom Clancy from the 1984 and 1990 film adaptation.

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In literature and cinema it was about the fear of invasion and the use of nuclear weapons, but also about the fear of psychological impact or, even worse, the hijacking of communist ideas entirely.

Brainwashing was the key, and that’s what the novel is about “Prismatic filter” From 1959, which was also released as a movie in 1962: An American officer is captured by Soviet commandos during the Korean War and “turned” into a communist with brainwashed.

Conspiracy theories played an important role in the imagination of the time. Swiss historian Jan Rudolf von Salles (1901-1996) spoke of anxiety psychosis: “There are those who feel the existence of a Bolshevik conspiracy in a harmless consumer cooperative.”

The firm belief that influence could be exerted through psychological means was a defining moment in the Cold War. The practice of winning hearts and minds has already been practiced – the motto of psychological warfare. So did the US intelligence CIA A major propaganda operation began after the Second World War: we are talking about the Conference on Cultural Freedom (Congress for Cultural Freedom, CCF).

From 1950 to 1969, the Conference for Cultural Freedom funded left-liberal artists such as Heinrich Böll (1917-1985) and Siegfried Lenz (1926-2014), as well as think tanks such as “the month” In Germany, “Braves” in France and «Tempo Presente» in Italy and thus indirectly supported the abstract art movement which became more popular in these decades.

Swiss writer Max Frisch (1911-1991) also benefited from this money. He worked on the novel during a research year in New York in 1951 “calm”. The money for this stay came from The Rockefeller Foundationalso dated CIA It was funded. The concept of psychological warfare using cultural products still exists today – and it’s given the name soft power discuss.

Photo by Max Frisch, 1990.Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum / ASL“/>

Economically there was also a fresh start in Switzerland after World War II, but mentally the country was stuck in a spiritual national defense ideology of war. The enemy was now communism.

The atmosphere at the time was fraught, almost hysterical from today’s perspective. Anti-communism transcended democratic criticism and had something of a ritual around it: the playwright Friedrich Dürnmatt (1921-1990) called it Swiss tribal dance. This can also be seen at the Expo 64 in Lausanne, whose symbol was a pavilion with nails: the exhibition program also included a large display of weapons by the Swiss army.

The main pavilion of Expo 64 in Lausanne in the form of a hedgehog: The National Gallery was strongly influenced by the spirit of the Cold War and the spirit of national defense.

The main pavilion of Expo 64 in Lausanne in the form of a hedgehog: The National Gallery was strongly influenced by the spirit of the Cold War and the spirit of national defense.Photo: Swiss National Museum

Drama by Friedrich Dornmatt “physicists” From 1961 captures the mood of those years in a strange way: three physicists sit together in an insane asylum. One of them has a discovery that could destroy the world. The other two are actually agents of foreign countries who want to steal the secret. The drama had its world premiere on February 21, 1962 at the Zurich Schauspielhaus and was the most frequently performed play in the German-speaking world in the 1960s.

Writer Walter Matthias Degelmann (1927-1979) was also an important voice in those years. in the novel “Harry Wind Interrogation” He portrayed an unscrupulous communications consultant who was a role model for Zurich PR specialist Rudolf Varner.

in this book “the legacy” It concerns, among other things, the smear campaign against the communist art historian Konrad Varner (1903-1974): after the Hungarian uprising in 1956, middle-class newspapers published his address in Thalwil, where his family received death threats and protest marches were held. In front of his house windows were smashed.

The Hungarian uprising of 1956 was also a formative event for Switzerland.  Solidarity rallies were organized in various places and relief supplies were sent to Hungary.  At that time, Switzerland took in thousands of refugees.Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum / ASL“/>

The Hungarian uprising of 1956 was also a formative event for Switzerland. Solidarity rallies were organized in various places and relief supplies were sent to Hungary. At that time, Switzerland took in thousands of refugees.Photo: Swiss National Museum / ASL

The Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was one of the most important critics of the Soviet Union and communism, and is the author of “Gulag Archipelago”. After leaving in 1974, he lived in Switzerland for two years as a guest of the mayor of Zurich, Sigmund Widmer.

In order to protect him from prying eyes, the mayor gave him his holiday home in Sternberg in the Zurich Oberland. It later turns out that the secretary who was assigned to him was KGB a job. Solzhenitsyn left Switzerland in 1976 and went to Vermont, USA.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn arrives in Zurich in 1974.Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum / ASL“/>

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books sold well in Switzerland – not only because of the anti-communist spirit, but also because of the general interest in Russia. Traveling to the “Eastern Bloc,” they said, had been a taboo for decades.

The success was even greater when travel pioneer Hans Imholz offered flights to Moscow and Budapest at a hefty price at the end of the 1960s, along with many other trips to European capitals. Here, Swiss travelers who love to travel get a glimpse behind the “Iron Curtain” for the first time. But another 20 years passed before that curtain fell.

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50 years of the Lausanne exhibition

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