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Pursuing trade through the iron curtain: the case of Poland

Bartosz Matyja is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Warsaw’s Doctoral School of Social Sciences. He visited the archives in November and December of 2022 to pursue research for his dissertation, tentatively entitled In Search for a Model of Technocratic Socialism: Scientific and Technical Progress in People’s Poland. 

For Bartosz, post-war historiography on state socialist Poland has been limited in its attention to the influence of other countries beyond the iron curtain. This narrowness in approach fails to capture the early intersection of state socialism with capitalism, and the resulting evolution in Poland’s capitalist structures. It also neglects the apprehension Poland and other countries felt in the face of growing western trade blocks, and the urgency in their strategies to access western markets and new technology.  

Bartosz hopes to widen the focus by looking at moments when Poland was actively engaged with the west, namely during the first UN Conference on Trade and Development, which took place in Geneva in 1964, and during its negotiations to enter the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was realised in 1967. As an important trade block, the European Economic Community (EEC) strongly influenced both of those events, and the relevant holdings at the Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU) help illuminate Bartosz’ argument.

Into the fonds

Bartosz recently completed his research stay at the Archives, and feels confident that the documents he gathered are sufficient to write a journal article, which he will be able to include as one chapter in his dissertation. 

‘The grant was valuable for my research,’ he commented. While he initially had planned to examine mainly fonds from the EEC and the European Parliament, he also discovered rich information in the deposits by the French Foreign Ministry concerning European integration. These included notes from meetings with high Polish officials from the 1950s on economic integration, scientific cooperation, and the Warsaw Pact.  

The IVF Grant

Reflecting on his work in Florence, Bartosz was enthusiastic not only about his fruitful consultation of the archives, but also the chance to participate in the academic and social life of the EUI and the cultural and culinary offerings of Tuscany. 

He also noted the broader value of the IVG grant to other scholars. ‘It is important,’ he said, ‘for people from eastern Europe to have European integration on their horizon.’

The International Visegrad Fund Research Grant Programme at the HAEU offers six grants a year to early stage researchers from the Visegrad four and other affiliated countries. Read more about eligibility requirements and application deadlines here