Commemoration of Stalin's death, Tiranë, Albania, 1953, ATSH.

Commemoration of Stalin's death, Tiranë, Albania, 1953, ATSH.

Authoritarianism

Authoritarian regimes can be resilient. In times of instability, they can give voice to historical grievances. Threatened by geopolitical changes, they can appeal to a sense of insecurity, which, in turn, they can magnify. Understanding the interplay of security, ideas, and institutions requires immersion in local sources but also a keen sense of how authoritarian regimes interact regionally and globally.

Take, for example, the international history of Stalinism. Any standard account of the 20th century will highlight Stalin's death in 1953, subsequent efforts in the Soviet Union and much of Eastern Europe to bring about reform, and the brutal repression of those movements (which nevertheless did not kill the dream of reform). But not everyone in the Communist world dealt with Stalinism the Soviet way. And definitely not the Polish, Hungarian, or Czech way—the predominant case studies that many Western journalists and academics have taken as emblematic. As international history, Stalinism offers an opportunity to address variation while not obscuring the international appeal of illiberal politics. 

I have shown how imported Stalinism could survive Soviet attacks on Stalin and that, in the Albanian example, geopolitics could make systemic change seem destabilizing to the nation. Soviet policies helped bring together unlikely partners: Albania and North Korea, for example. A closer study of these episodes shows that radical 'independence' in a globalizing world—too often romanticized by Western and non-Western critics of big powers—often comes at a steep price.