Erik Scott's Talk: "Uncertain Refuge: Defectors, Embassies, and Extraterritoriality in the Cold War"
In 1948, Oksana Kasenkina, a schoolteacher tasked with educating the children of Soviet diplomats, jumped from the window of the Soviet consulate and claimed asylum in a New York hospital room. Occurring amidst the Berlin Blockade, her actions drew the world’s attention to the far more nebulous borders that surrounded diplomatic missions in the burgeoning Cold War. If Soviet embassies abroad sometimes served as points of escape, embassies of Western countries within the socialist camp came to be seen as potential places of refuge. Looking at defectors who fled Soviet embassies abroad—as well as Soviet citizens who showed up at the door of Western diplomatic missions to seek refuge—this talk examines how both sides grappled with extraterritoriality over the course of the Cold War. In this period, a battle between the superpowers played out around the gates of diplomatic missions, but perhaps more surprisingly, the Cold War rivals ultimately came to a consensus based upon reciprocity and self-interest that cemented the existing state system and left diplomatic asylum uncodified, even if it persisted in practice.
Erik R. Scott is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Kansas. His first book, Familiar Strangers: The Georgian Diaspora and the Evolution of Soviet Empire, was recently translated into Russian (Свои чужаки: Грузинская диаспора и эволюция Советской империи, НЛО, 2019). His current book project, Soviet Defectors and the Borders of the Cold War World, follows the global journeys of Soviet citizens through the contested borderlands of the period of superpower conflict, including refugee camps, diplomatic missions, international waters, and airspaces.
The seminar will take place on April 19 at 5 pm at Moscow, Staraya Basmannaya 21/4, room L-405.
We kindly ask our guests to order a pass to the building in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org
HSE students and staff should present their ID to enter the building.
The seminar will be held in English.