Student thesis takes a look at Soviets during Cold War

After World War II, the Soviet Union saw itself as a liberator, rehabilitator, modernizer and deliverer of democracy with a historical right to involve itself in the Baltic states, according to a DU history student.

That’s the case senior history major William Burke makes in his recently completed thesis, “Through the Eyes of the Kremlin: The Soviet Union’s Involvement in the Baltic States.”

To complete his thesis, Burke used the Soviet newspaper, the USSR Information Bulletin, along with photos from the 20th century Soviet Jewish photographer Semyon Fridlyand, whose 12,000-image archive is now housed at the University of Denver.

“The photos reinforced and supported the newspaper, and it all helped me understand how Soviet rhetoric attempted to justify the Russian presence in the Baltics,” Burke says.

The Bulletin
, Burke says, argued that the Soviet nation was very modern and democratic.

“To see those words come to life, I’d use the Fridlyand archive to understand how the USSR was modern,” he says.

Some of the photos showed Russians building bridges, working in the factories and women voting.

“This all served as great evidence that the Soviet Union wanted to portray itself to the world that indeed the nation was modern and democratic,” Burke says.

Burke adds that what surprised him most was learning when The Bulletin was distributed to the American public — July 1941.

“The Americans had not yet entered the war,” Burke says. “So what makes this interesting is the rhetoric the Soviets used in attempt to pull the U.S. into battle against the Nazis.

“Then after the war, the Soviets boasted themselves as this new socialist world power competing along side the capitalist Americans. With the socialist rhetoric that the Soviets had been illustrating, The Bulletin really seemed to lay out the scene for the Cold War.”

Burke’s adviser for the project, David Shneer, associate professor of history, says the thesis helps uncover how the Soviet Union sold itself to the U.S.

“Burke showed how although the Soviet Union tried to sell itself to its American allies, it never backed down from its true vision of showing off the superiority of socialism,” Shneer says.

The most important lesson Burke says he learned from the thesis: “History is far more complicated than what meets the eye,” he says.  “I think this is true for all disciplines in life.”

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article said
The Bulletin was distributed to the American public in 1944. We regret the error.]

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