Tomasz Blusiewicz, Harvard University


 

        Tomasz, a native of Poland, is a doctoral candidate in the history department at Harvard University. His collegiate alma mater is the University of Chicago, from which he graduated in 2011 with a double BA in history and philosophy. Tomasz is currently in his sixth and final year of graduate school. His dissertation is entitled: "Return of the Hanseatic League or how the Baltic Sea Trade Washed Away the Iron Curtain, 1956-1991." His project develops a transnational perspective on the Baltic region, from Hamburg in the West to Leningrad in the East. It highlights and compares the role played by the old Hanseatic port cities such as Rostock, Gdańsk, Kaliningrad, Riga or Tallinn, all of which served as "windows to the world" helping the communist-controlled Europe to remain in touch with the outside world. A spotlight is also cast on Hamburg, a logistical hub projecting its commercial dynamism eastward and a Cold War intelligence headquarters. Port cities facilitated all kinds of exchanges and interactions on a truly global scale, not always an option for those otherwise insulated societies. The growing international traffic sparked a grassroots mobility of people, ideas, goods and capital, which ultimately challenged the legitimacy of the regimes. This process became particularly vibrant in Poland, where it critically contributed to the origin of Solidarność in 1980, precisely in Gdańsk, Gdynia and Szczecin. My research focuses on how that critical contribution has been made. The role of those medieval Hanseatic ports as agents opening up the region to "the shock of the global 1970s" should be brought to light to create a more comprehensive picture of the dynamics behind the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Bloc, its Comecon trade system and the Soviet Union itself. This insight is possible through the linkage between particular developments in each country and larger global processes such as the post-1973 oil shock reverberations or the implementation of the Helsinki Accords of 1975.