A Music So Popular That No Curtain Could Contain: Popular Music and Cultural Transfers during the Cold War

Event: International Workshop

Location: NEC conference hall & Zoom

5 December 2022, 9.00 (Bucharest time)

Convener: Claudiu OANCEA (Project director)


Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 841 9495 6478
Passcode: 717048


It has been a long standing academic mantra that, during the Cold War, the Socialist Bloc was more or less a closed system, made of several satellite states which followed the communist path, as designed by the USSR. Over the past decade, cutting-edge scholarship has started to dismantle this mantra and show that the Socialist Bloc was a much more complex and heterogeneous system than previously considered. East European socialist states had different political, economic, cultural and (last but not least) historical backgrounds, and they followed different paths during the Cold War period as well. Furthermore, despite collective endeavors within the Bloc, each state sought to establish its own connections with other states from the Global South, or with capitalist states.

Given its global dynamic during the second half of the 20th century, popular music can prove to be an extremely fruitful ground of research for analyzing the cultural differences between socialist states, as well as the cultural transfers between these states and the Global South or the capitalist West. From local, regional, or national folk influences, to Western based, but global reaching music genres, such as jazz, or rock, from national scenes of light music, to crossovers stemming from classical music, popular music has provided researchers with an immense canvas, which has been thus far covered only in part.

The purpose of the workshop “Popular Music and Cultural Transfers during the Cold War” is to investigate the means through which popular music developed in the Eastern Bloc and circulated across  borders and the Iron Curtain (on either side). In particular, we are interested in exploring how popular music was influenced by cultural, technological, and informal transfers, by the larger processes of modernization and development of leisure life, as well as by institutional cooperation between various states, either within the Socialist Bloc, or beyond it.



9.00 – 9.15
Opening Remarks

Valentina Sandu-Dediu
Professor, National University of Music Bucharest; Rector of the New Europe College; Mentor of POPCOM Research Project

Claudiu Oancea
Director of POPCOM Research Project; NEC Alumnus

9.15 – 11.00
Panel 1: Music Through Official Lens, Behind and Beyond the Iron Curtain: A Soft Power Approach

Nela Erdeljac (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zagreb)
Living and behaving their country’s ”middle man” position: Yugoslavia’s musicians and their Cold War music diplomacy in action

Elitza Kotzeva (American University of Armenia)
Rock Music in Eastern European Films during the Cold War

Irena Šentevska (Independent Scholar)
Shaking the Iron Curtain: Laibach’s Occupied Europe Tour

Pawel Sowinski (Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Science)
Smuggling Sound and Picture. A Visual History of Transatlantic Europe

Adelina Ștefan (University of Luxembourg)
Popular Music and International Tourism: Promoting Romania as a Tourist Destination in the 1960s and the 1980s

Kateryna Yeremieieva (Faculty of History and Philology, Ukrainian State University of Railway Transport)
“The New World was Born in the Chords of Rock Music”: Images of Rock Music and Jazz in Radyanskiy Satire of the Perebudovi Period

11.00 – 11.15
Coffee Break

11.15 – 13.00
Panel 2: The East Through Western Lens? Socialist Interpretations of Western Musical Culture

Dragoș Carasevici (Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iași)
“We want to break free”. Between Myth and Reality: the First Western Stadium Concert Behind the Iron Curtain.

Waldemar Kuligowski (Institute of Anthropology and Ethnology at Adam Mickiewicz University)
Towards a New Music Geography: Big-beat, Woodstock and Punk in Eastern Block.

Mihai Lukács (The Dialectical Center, Bucharest)
Red Country. Western Music and Cinema Soundtracks in Socialist Romania.

Bogdan Popa (Transilvania University, Brașov)
Between ABBA and Cabaret. A Shift to Re-appropriating Anti-Fascist Themes in the mid-1980s Romanian Film?

Nenad Zivanovski (Independent Journalist and Researcher)
Influence of British Pop Music on the Development of the Yugoslav Music Scene During Socialism

Marko Zubak (Croatian Institute of History, Zagreb)
Disco and Late Socialism: Boney M in Eastern Europe

13.00 – 14.30
Lunch Break

14.30 – 16.15
Panel 3: From Ego-Histories and Case Studies to Record Industries: Music between Self-Identity and State Enterprise

Adrian Schiffbeck (West University of Timisoara)
Celelalte Cuvinte [The Other Words] and Their “Other” Sound: The Elaborate Romanian Rock Music of the 80`s and Its Gradual Fade to Black

Alex Mușat (National University of Music in Bucharest)
Cei Ce Ne-au Dat Nume: How the July Theses Happened to Create One of the Most Unique Musical Experiments in the Socialist Republic of Romania

Cătălin Partenie (National School of Political Studies and Administration, Bucharest)
Coming of Age in Romania in the late 1970s and early 1980s

Alexandra Bardan (Faculty of Journalism and Communication Studies, University of Bucharest)
Cultural Transfers within Electrecord’s Popular Music Records: A Cultural Industries Approach

Claudia Lonkin (Department of History, New York University)
Industry as Culture, Culture as Industry: State Cultural Production and Vinyl Manufacturing. The Case of Cuba’s Enterprise of Recording and Musical Editions (EGREM)

Jelka Vukobratović (Music Academy in Zagreb)
Production of foreign popular music in the post-war Yugoslavia

16.15 – 16.30
Coffee Break

16.30 – 18.15
Panel 4: Going Beyond Borders, Underground Style: Cultural Transfers and Appropriations, Local Music Scenes, and Transnational Networks  

Lech Ceran (Doctoral School of Humanities, University of Lodz)
The beginnings of hip-hop music in the last years of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria

Jānis Daugavietis (Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia)
A new form of institutionalised control of underground rock music: the Riga Rock Club (founded 1983)

Andreea Ferigeanu (Doctoral School in Literary and Cultural Studies, University of Bucharest)
From Phonetic Translation to Folk Music – Dorin Liviu Zaharia

Marco Gabbas (Invisible University for Ukraine)
Music and (Counter?)culture in a Soviet Province. The Case of Izhevsk

Marta Haiduchok (CEU, Vienna)
Polish Rock-Music as a Bridge between West and Soviet Lviv

Elizabeth Abosch (Department of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
The Emigrants of New York’s “Little Odessa” and Soviet Underground Song Culture: Subverting Soviet Power while Connecting to Soviet Culture and the Reinterpretation of History through Musical Folklore

Closing Remarks


This workshop is organized within the framework of the project “Rocking under the Hammer and the Sickle: Popular Music in Socialist Romania between Ideology and Entertainment (1948-1989)”, supported by a grant of the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digitization, CNCS – UEFISCDI, project number PN-III-P1-1.1-PD-2021-0244 within PNCDI III.