About the project

Both social science theorizing and historical research have traditionally assumed that people-to-people relations are a sanctuary from the control claims of authoritarian regimes. In this vein, the cross-border dialogue was long regarded as the Achilles heel’ of Communist regimes. However, with the opening of archives, research has confirmed that in fact, countries such as former East Germany (GDR) had an extensive and well-established administrative system to control foreign contacts. This so-called travel cadre system screened travellers for regime loyalty. But the system also had other tasks. The travel cadre attended practice sessions on how to reason and argue on various social and political issues, to try to influence the people they met in the West. Furthermore, the travel cadre was instructed to report on their international colleagues, focusing on who was a "friend" or "enemy" of the GDR and other communist regimes. This information was then the basis for continued efforts at influence towards individuals and institutions. The book I want to write describes and analyzes the administrative structure and routines of the GDR s travel cadre system, based on examples from university contacts with Sweden. These historical findings raise questions concerning how Western countries were affected, during the many decades of the Cold War, about today's communist regimes such as China, and which tools it uses to try to influence the open societies of democratic countries.