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Dealing with Dictators

By Jaime Bue

 

Dr. László Borhi is the Peter A. Kadas Chair Associate Professor of Central European Studies at the Department of Central Eurasian Studies. Professor Borhi also serves as Scientific Counsellor of the Institute of History, Center for Humanities of the Hungarian Academy. He is the author of Hungary in the Cold War, 1945–1956: Between the United States and the Soviet Union (2004), as well as the co-author and co-editor of Soviet Occupation of Romania, Hungary and Austria, 1944–1948 (forthcoming). He is the recipient of the Gold Cross of Merit of the Hungarian Republic (2006), the Zoltán Bezerédj Prize of the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage of Hungary (2006), and the György Ránki Prize of the Hungarian Historical Association (1995).

Professor Borhi’s new book, Dealing with Dictators: The United States, Hungary, and East Central Europe, 1942-1989 is scheduled for publication on June 21st, 2016 with Indiana University Press. Dealing with Dictators is the result of over ten years’ worth of archival research that spans three countries and two continents. The amount of archival research that the book relies upon is impressive and includes: Hungarian National Archives’ Hungary Party Records (MDP and MSZMP) 1945-1989, along with the HNA’s State Security Archives and Manuscript Collections; documents from the U.S. National Archives at the George W. Bush Library, the Jimmy Carter Library, the Ronald Regan Library, and the Library of Congress; as well as the Russian Party Archives.

Dealing with Dictators examines objectives, perspectives, and outcomes of U.S. Foreign Policy towards Eastern Europe throughout the course of the Cold War and challenges popular belief of the role of the United States in contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The book asserts that historians and area studies specialists, through engagement with multi-sided sources, enhance U.S. foreign policy analysis by offering a comprehensive assessment of a policy’s impact beyond a U.S. perspective.  Such analysis is critical, otherwise scholars and decision-makers only rely on one set of historical narratives riddled with self-confirming ideas, without reflection on the reliability of such an interpretation. Throughout Dealing with Dictators Professor Borhi demonstrates how such misinterpretations lead to shortcomings in policy planning, as well as policy failure. The book enhances both Cold War as well as foreign policy literature by emphasizing the need to examine sources from all sides of policy engagement in order to analyze the impact.

Professor Borhi describes the book as having five main foci:

1.)    The opportunities and possibilities facing states that were still under the domination of stronger powers from World War II to the end of the Cold War.

2.)    A comparison of the various policies the United States implemented towards Hungary and Central Eastern Europe from 1942-1989. Throughout this time the U.S. experimented with policies of isolation and embargo versus engagement. By using U.S., Hungarian, and Soviet sources Borhi analyzes which policies worked, why, and when was best to employ such strategies.

3.)    The various opportunities available for American foreign policy in Central Eastern Europe throughout the Cold War and how such policies were exploited.

4.)    Coverage of Cold War Flashpoints: 
- The U.S. response to Hungarian and Romanian efforts to leave the Axis powers, which Professor Borhi ultimately uncovered resulted in the U.S. encouragement of the German invasion in 1944.
- The role of the U.S. in the Sovietization of Eastern Europe. Professor Borhi argues that the U.S. had no role and the fate of Eastern Europe was due to Soviet policy alone.
- U.S. strategies for dealing with the Stalinist ideologues in the 1950’s.
- The redefinition of American goals in Eastern Europe after the failure of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

5.)    Examination of U.S. Cold War policy towards Eastern Europe in the broader context of Soviet-American relations and the Cold War

Professor Borhi’s systematic analysis of multinational sources challenges popular U.S. assumptions about the Cold War by showing that the 89’ collapse of the Yalta System was due to profound and dramatic political changes in Poland and Hungary within the context of Gorbachev’s new approach to Eastern Europe. These changes led to the German reunification and collapse of the Warsaw Pact, which contributed to the weakening of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s (CPSU). Through the contextualization of sources Dealing with Dictators challenges popular American Cold War attitudes to reflect on the reliability of the interpretation of a U.S.-led liberation of Soviet states. The redefinition of American policy goals in Eastern Europe, from liberation to acceptance of the division of Europe led to the construction of cultural and economic ties with the communist states, which in turn, as an unintended consequence contributed to the weakening of the communist regimes, and thus, indirectly, to the roll back of Soviet influence.