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Opening floodgates of secret archives.

Some call it the "Wild West" of scholarship, a place of overwhelming vastness, few rules, and some hardship for prospectors. Soviet and East European scholars with access to government and party archives in Moscow, Berlin, Bucharest, Budapest, and Prague are mining information by sifting through mountains of paper and microfilm they never dreamed they would see.

It's not a job for amateurs or the impatient. "You can easily get distracted unless you force yourself on a [narrow] subject," explains Robert Conquest, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution who has spent a good part of his life reading smuggled documents and eyewitness accounts of the Stalinist era. "Suddenly, we have access to 30,000,000-plus files in the Communist Party archives, with an average of 120 pages each. There's a similar number in the police archives, and that's only what's in Moscow."

The scholars are impressed with the professionalism of the former Soviet archivists and the thoroughness of their collections, even though many sensitive documents have been removed to special collections and need to be reintegrated. "It appears almost nothing was destroyed because people were trying to cover their rear ends," points out Stanford historian Terence Emmons. "They wanted to show the orders they were given." Documents leaked to "settle political scores" make big headlines inside Russia and other Eastern European countries, but the Stanford scholars say they've found little to cause them to reinterpret 20th-century Soviet history. Still, the documents are exciting because they help explain the whys and hows of what was already known to have happened.

"You could probably collect 100 to 200 Soviet documents and have most of the important formal history of the last 70 years," Conquest indicates. Nevertheless, he finds "oddities" among the details that are important, if only because "they can make our jaws drop." The 1939 census, for instance, was totally faked, as were more recent tourist maps of Moscow and Soviet agricultural production figures. "The CIA didn't accept Soviet statistics, of course, but they took them as a basis of something that the Soviets adjusted upwards. Now we see that they were simply faked."
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Title Annotation:Eastern Europe
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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