'Havarien', a communist type of disaster? Regime society interaction in states of emergency and trauma
In the planned economies of communist countries large industrial accidents in the industry and transport systems carried a name of their own: ‘Havarien’. Originally a French term for a major ship or aircraft breakdown, _Havarien_ in Sovietized languages represented extended and thereby costly interruptions of industrial production and transport disasters. Due to the totalitarian centralism of competences and responsibilities such major accidents eventually claiming high numbers of casualties and disrupting sensitive infrastructures required immediate intervention of the communist party state, including the secret police.
This is why in communist archives _Havarien_ constitute a recurrent subcategory of _besondere Vorkommnisse_, i.e. ‘specific incidents’: Depending on the gravity and outreach of the individual event they were thoroughly investigated by the state security organs, safety inspectors, economists, scientific and technical experts, and party commissions. _Havarien_ can therefore be used as suitable points of observation for the interaction between different actors of the social universe under communist rule during and after situations of emergency and trauma: Workers, shop stewards, party organizers, engineers, scientific staff and directors, and their counterparts on the intermediary and top level of the communist power structure all participated in one way or another in the efforts to overcome the rupture of routine and safe procedure, to come to terms with the human and material loss, to investigate its causes, and to draw the necessary consequences.
As my first inspections into some East German cases have shown _Havarien_ and their aftermath provide excellent occasions for close-up studies of regime society relations integrating micro, meso and macro levels of industrial relations, ideological communication and the power games between different status groups of the state socialist polity. Nevertheless such incidents have been rarely used as a heuristic device to deepen our understanding of communist societies and their everyday life. Only the one incident bringing about the worldwide familiarization of _Havarie_ in the broader sense of accident, namely the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986, has been researched upon extensively (which is why it will NOT be treated again in the panel proposed here for this year’s GSA conference).
Colleagues working on such _Havarien_ in the GDR or one of the Central East or East European communist dictatorships are invited to submit paper proposals for a panel planned for the 2013 GSA conference. The panel should mark a first step in developing a comparative view on the significance of large scale industrial and/or traffic accidents in communist societies. Papers should be based on empirical research such as single case studies, biographical research or the study of discursive and literary receptions of _Havarien_ allowing for an integrated view of its economic, social and cultural dimensions. Papers might address one or several of the following topics:
- How did political leaders react to such accidents? Did they instrumentalize it for political purposes, e.g. by staging a sense of ‘socialist community’, putting the blame on sabotage on the hands of the ‘class enemy’, or intensifying propaganda for the plan?
- How did the affected workforce and their local neighborhood react? By voicing complaints, or even protest, or rather by closing ranks with their superiors and showing compliance in the face of extreme calamity?
- How was imminent care for the families of casualties and for injured workers organized? Which rhetoric and symbols were engaged when it came to commemoration ceremonies and obituaries?
- How did political leaders deal with such events in secret? Did they try to frame culprits for legal persecution? What was the role of secret police in handling _Havarien_?
- How did intermediary instances such as Health and Safety inspectors, trade union functionaries, engineers and scientific experts, managers and bureaucrats of the planning hierarchy get involved on such occasions? Did they capitalize on their specific competences and knowledge, or engage in rivalries and power games?
In a generalizing perspective it may be discussed to what extent
_Havarien_ can be considered as a specific feature of state socialist economy, infrastructure, and even way of life, eventually contributing to its long term failure. This might allow for thematizing
- the changing gravity and frequencies of large industrial and traffic accidents over time
- _Havarien_and their perception in the context of state socialist concepts of safety/security
- _Havarien_and their environmental consequences
- _Havarien_as a motive in literary and filmic representations of state socialist reality
- _Havarien_as epitomes of failing economies and failing political utopias, as a factor of the social and political disintegration of communist power.
The German Studies Association Annual Conference providing an ideal and internationally renowned forum for scholars of German and European contemporary history, _also experts of non-Germanic countries are encouraged to participate_ in an exchange of their research results on the proposed topic in a transnational perspective, be it as paper giver or commentator.
GSA panels include 3 to 4 papers of 20 minutes each, and a commentary. Papers will have to be circulated in advance two weeks before the conference.
Please submit proposals of appr. 300 words together with a short CV/bibliography via email to the panel organizer Thomas Lindenberger, firstname.lastname@example.org, until 31th January 2013. An answer about the final composition of the panel will be communicated until 7th of February.
Panelists will have to come up themselves for their costs of travel and conference participation. For further regulations regarding GSA conferences see www.thegsa.org.
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