Research Programs: Fellowships

Period of Performance

1/1/2020 - 12/31/2020

Funding Totals

$60,000.00 (approved)
$60,000.00 (awarded)

Illegal Emigration: Soviet Defectors and the Borders of the Cold War World

FAIN: FEL-262095-19

Erik R. Scott
University of Kansas, Lawrence (Lawrence, KS 66045-7505)

Preparation of a book that explores Soviet defectors from the Cold War era to the 1970s and the changing nature of defection as a global phenomenon.

This book project challenges the notion of the Cold War world as a place of stable boundaries and illuminates the strategies of the Soviet state and its citizens in an era of creeping globalization. It examines defection as a global phenomenon produced by the criminalization of emigration by socialist states and the strategic encouragement of departure by capitalist states during the Cold War. Drawing on archival documents from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic states, the U.K., and the U.S., the project will produce a book tracing the global journeys of defectors through the contested borderlands of the period, including refugee camps, restricted border zones, international waters, and airspaces. Exploring the history of defection from 1945 to the present, the book considers how the competition for Soviet migrants helped shape the governance of global borders and reinforce an international refugee regime whose legacy and limitations remain with us to this day.

Associated Products

Defectors: How the Illicit Flight of Soviet Citizens Built the Borders of the Cold War World (Book)
Title: Defectors: How the Illicit Flight of Soviet Citizens Built the Borders of the Cold War World
Author: Erik R. Scott
Editor: Susan Ferber
Abstract: Defectors fleeing the Soviet Union seized the world's attention during the Cold War. Their stories were given sensational news coverage and dramatized in spy novels and films. Upon reaching the West, they were entitled to special benefits, including financial assistance and permanent residency. In contrast to other migrants, defectors were pursued by the states they left even as they were eagerly sought by the United States and its allies. Taking part in a risky game that played out across the globe, defectors sought to transcend the limitations of the Cold War world. Defectors follows their treacherous journeys and looks at how their unauthorized flight via land, sea, and air gave shape to a globalized world. It charts a global struggle over defectors that unfolded among rival intelligence agencies operating in the shadows of an occupied Europe, in the forbidden border zones of the USSR, in the disputed straits of the South China Sea, on a hijacked plane 10,000 feet in the air, and around the walls of Soviet embassies. What it reveals is a Cold War world whose borders were far less stable than the notion of an "Iron Curtain" suggests. Surprisingly, the competition for defectors paved the way for collusion between the superpowers, who found common cause in regulating the spaces through which defectors moved. Disputes over defectors mapped out the contours of modern state sovereignty, and defection's ideological framework hardened borders by reinforcing the view that asylum should only be granted to migrants with clear political claims. Although defection all but disappeared after the Cold War, this innovative work shows how it shaped the governance of global borders and helped forge an international refugee system whose legacy and limitations remain with us to this day.
Year: 2023
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Type: Single author monograph
Copy sent to NEH?: No