Erik R. ScottSep 24, 2023
How the Illicit Flight of Soviet Citizens Built the Borders of the Cold War World
Oxford University Press 2023
Defectors fleeing the Soviet Union seized the world's attention during the Cold War. Their stories were told in sensational news coverage and dramatized in spy novels and films. In contrast to other refugees, they were pursued by the states they left even as they were sought by the United States and other Western governments eager to claim them. Taking part in a risky game that played out across the globe, defectors sought to transcend the limitations of the Cold War world.
Defectors: How the Illicit Flight of Soviet Citizens Built the Borders of the Cold War World (Oxford University Press, 2023) follows their treacherous journeys and looks at how their unauthorized flight gave shape to a globalized world. It charts a global struggle over defectors that unfolded in a crowded courtroom in Paris, 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. In doing so, the book reveals 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 interest in regulating the unruly spaces through which defectors moved. Disputes over defectors mapped out the contours of modern state sovereignty in previously contested places, 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, it helped forge an international refugee system whose legacy and limitations remain with us to this day
Erik R. Scott is Associate Professor of History and director of the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Kansas.
Caleb Zakarin is the Assistant Editor of the New Books Network.