The Slovenia Times

Cold War explored from Alps-Adriatic perspective

Science & Education
Borut Klabjan, a researcher at the Koper Science and Research Centre.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

A research project that will be looking at how cross-border cooperation was fostered in the Alps-Adriatic region between Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia during the Cold War is Slovenia's first recipient of the European Research Council (ERC)'s Advanced Grant in social sciences and humanities.

Europe's history during the Cold War is quite different when we look at it from the Alps-Adriatic area rather than from atop the Berlin Wall, says Borut Klabjan, a historian at the Koper Science and Research Centre who won the €2.5 million grant for his Open Borders project.

"The aim of the project is to rethink Europe's history during the Cold War and to look at it from a different perspective to the one that has gained traction in recent years, one which says that at the end of World War II Europe was a divided continent," Klabjan has told the STA.

"We want to include an Adriatic perspective and encourage reflection on our recent history. How is it that cooperation was possible at a time when the West and the East were on the opposite sides of a global division?" Klabjan says about the premise of his project.

The project was chosen for the grant as one of 13 out of 85 applications in April. The application process took several years. Klabjan believes it is the idea that won the judging board over, because the project will help the European Commission to encourage outside-the-box thinking.

An area of cooperation that went beyond borders

The project focuses on the Alps-Adriatic area encompassing north-eastern Italy, Austria's south, along with Slovenia and Croatia when they were still part of the former Yugoslavia. Klabjan sees this as an integrated area that fostered cooperation in Europe that extended beyond borders long before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill coined the concept of the Iron Curtain in 1946, spanning from Szczecin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, he co-authored the narrative of an airtight division between countries in the West and the East which still prevails to this day.

The history of cross-border cooperation in the Alps-Adriatic region offers a different, more nuanced narrative, even in the shadow of World War II atrocities. That this area was integrated was evident in everyday life; people from Yugoslavia would buy washing machines in Italy, Italians would celebrate their children's confirmation in Yugoslavia, and Austrians would cross the border to buy Slovenian sparkling water.

The project will specifically focus on hiking as a form of cross-border cooperation, and on mountains and mountain lodges as meeting points. The triborder area of Austria, Italy and Slovenia has hosted an annual hikers' meet since the 1970s. This is also in direct contrast to the mountains often being talked about as a place of exclusion and fight for national identity in the past.

"The Alps-Adriatic region is not a completely isolated case of cross-border cooperation in Europe. The first to do so were the Benelux countries, Poland, Germany and others. The region was however specific because it included countries with different political, military, and economic systems into a single, integrated area. In this sense, it is proof that cooperation was possible regardless of conflicting political systems," Klabjan says.

Archival material and personal stories

With the help of the €2.5 million grant, project partners plan to publish three monographs, 15 research papers, and organize a number of public events with the aim of reaching out to the public and going beyond the academic sphere.

"Those working on the project are mainly historians who have various approaches to the topic and combine them with research interests such as anthropology, sociology, diplomacy, and politics. These are essentially all different ways of viewing historiography," Klabjan says. They have managed to attract the young and highly-skilled generation as well as established researchers.

"It is a blend of approaches based on revising different types of archives, varying from personal correspondence found in an attic, letters left behind by a descendant, to archival materials, such as those at the Foreign Affairs Ministry."

They will also include personal stories that they recorded during interviews with people who took part in cross-border cooperation, ranging from former ministers and consuls general to ordinary people who were part of this cross-border cooperation.

The project will officially get underway next year. Klabjan says the knowledge they accumulate will answer some questions while raising others.


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