During the workshop, the organizers challenged the main postulate about the détente era by asking the following questions: how the détente did transform the cultural exchanges? What’s about the new actors: China and the Third World? What’s about the “small countries” and which role did they play (such as Finland and Romania)? What’s about students and their role in the détente?

First panel. Sports events. With Philippe Vonnard.

In his presentation “A European football way of life?”, Philippe Vonnard from the University of Lausanne, focused on the role of football in the European integration process, or the Europeanization of the football. He handled the topic by asking the following questions: What is a European competition in football? Does it concern all European countries? What kind of competition does exist during the Cold War?

One of the important aspects of his research questions the immense popularity of football in Europe during the Cold War. He explains it that the football’s popularity is due to the following factors: the popularity of the sport, the existence of strong European exchanges and football matches since the interwar periods, economic interests, as well as the “apolitical” vision of the football leaders. 

He emphasizes that the football tradition was also strong behind the Iron Curtain, many football teams wanted at any price to play with the Eastern countries, especially with Czechoslovakian and Hungarian teams! 

However, as he claims, the impact was quite limited, but the matches took place (it was really great, except in 1968). East-West games were very popular, which could gather a lot of people. in the socialist and Soviet republics, the control of the stadiums and spectators were strong (with filming, checking, filtering, etc.), as these countries wanted to show themselves in a good way. Besides, there was a visa problem, as well as the fact to handle the matches in the “closed” cities such as in Dniepropetrovsk.

In conclusion, the impact of football was limited during the détente, if even he emphasizes that the researchers still need to put it in a long-term perspective. Philippe also questions the following possible openings for further development: the Soviet Union’s position is still need to be studied. It could extremely interesting to study the players’ and sports fans’ travels and their memories during the 1970s, as well as the broadcasting. 


Sylvain Dufraisse (University of Nantes) and Lidia Lesnykh (University of Lausanne): the sports panel.

The presentation of Sylvain Dufraisse ” Sport events were they an exchange space during the détente? A Soviet point of view” was captivating, as he focused on the “human exchanges”, on the sportsmen, and the relations created during the matches. Sylvain discussed the archives, and how they “are terribly similar”, particularly in the 1970s, they all follow the very formal presentation and description. Mainly in the archives there are “guides of the proper Soviet behaviour abroad” in order to prevent any problem. The Komsomol archives are also of the big interest, as they denounce some behaviour.

Soviet sport has been shaken by a series of scandals in the 1950s, so every sportsman had a supervisor and was tightly supervised. Moreover, in the late 1960s, Soviet sports teams have been exempt from customs duties, which stimulated for shopping abroad! There was real traffic of goods: Soviets brought vodka (mainly to Scandinavian countries), silk scarfs and caviar (to France), while in exchange they purchased all missing goods abroad. the whole network of smuggling and resale has been established. the hotel played an important role in it, as the main traffic platforms.

the KGB played an important role in supervising and checking Soviet citizens, particularly during the international crisis, such as in 1968, or in during the terrorist acts against Israel.

Sylvain’s presentation arose a lot of questions and a lively discussion. Let’s focus on the few of them. the question of memoirs and diaries was evoked, as Sylvan emphasized the athletes liked to write memories and were extensively published in the special series “Molodaya grardiya” in the late 1960s. In their narratives, they immutably depicted as the great heroes. Obviously, as Sylvain claims, these narratives have been written and compiled by a professional writer, “les petits nègres”, which always evoke the same life story with the hard childhood.

Going abroad was prestigious, the purchases have been exonerated, and it was possible to make a great career after, as a sports coach. For many reasons, there were no defections among sportsmen, as they did not see the goal in defecting. What should they do abroad once defected? NObody really needed them? Only one couple of figure skating defected and finished in Switzerland as a second career. Moreover, as Sylvain claims, sportsmen were not intelligentsia, they mostly came from the poor families and made a spectacular social mobility. they were grateful to the Soviet regime, and did not see the goal to emigrate or to defect. They were rather loyal citizens and they were easy to handle by the regime and the KGB.

All countersides used and overused the travels abroad to go shopping and to bring goods home (and to resale them).

Pia Koivunen (University of Tampere)

Pia Koivunen from the University of Turke focused the World Youth festivals: political sloganeering or Free Exchange of views?  in her research, she mixes culture, sport and politics. She claims that the 1973 Berlin Youth Festival was the last the most successful festival. Communist countries participated a lot in these festivals, it is well researched. in her presentation, she focused on the freedom of speech, and how Westerners focused on it. But as she admits, the freedom of speech is rather difficult to measure.

During the festival, there were spaces for meetings and discussions, for instance there were discussions among young Christians and communists about the origins of life, but only 25 people registered. 

Another point of her presentation focused on the selection of the “capitalist” cities, it was rather hard to organize as the organizers feared the defection and the free discussion. Mostly the organizers worked with local Communist parties and there were strict rules of selection. 

Pia Koivunen (University of Tampere)
Sonja Grossmann, ADelina Stefan and Jean-François Fayet discussing the tourism and VOKS organizations.
Discussing the books of Fribourg’s MA student, Magali Michelet “Reve et réalité d’un exil: parcours de Tchécoslovaques en Suisse (1968-2018) with Roman Krakovsky (University of Geneva).