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Dissidence behind the Nuclear Shield?

The Obninsk Atomic Research Centre and the Infrastructure of Dissent in the Late Soviet Union

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Protagonists of the atomic project often figure prominently in narratives about nonconformist movements in Soviet history. This article provides an in-depth analysis of the dynamic entanglement of nuclear history and the history of dissident networks in a place where they became particularly visible. Via the example of the atomic city of Obninsk, it shows how the independent social activism of the shestidesiatniki originated in the institutional and social infrastructure of Cold War nuclear science, and how their activity became an important substrate for political dissidence during and after the conservative turn of the late 1960s. In the early 1970s, dissident scientists such as Valentin Turchin and Zhores Medvedev could still rely on their local and international scientific networks to provide a certain level of protection against state persecution when disseminating their critical views. Despite their defeat at the hands of Party authorities in the 1960–70s, representatives of the local dissentient milieus again became an active group within the democratic movement during Perestroika.

Drawing on a broad range of original sources, including biographical interviews, private archives and records stored in some of the most important archives of the Soviet dissident movement, this study provides a differentiated view on Obninsk's "atomic intelligentsia". Conceptualised as a social micro-analysis of networks established in a formerly closed nuclear city, it discusses the scientists' activities in a world between technocratic pragmatism, faith in socialism and participation in the troublesome development of nonconformist circles.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2018

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  • The Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas ("East European History") present the discipline in its entire breadth; for thematically focused articles the emphasis lies on the territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. A double-blind review process with international experts ensures adherence to the annals' recognized high quality standards. An extensive section devoted to reviews informs the reader about current trends in German and international research. In addition, the editorial board publishes an electronic review supplement under the title jgo.e-reviews at
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