PhD Research

My research on the Free Europe University in Exile started in December 2006. At that time, I was in my first year of research for my master’s degree in History at Université Marne-la-Vallée in Paris, France as a Conseil régional d’Île-de-France (French Regional Council) fellow, through their prestigious program. Instead of working on a Marxist interpretation of the French Enlightenment in Hungarian literature, which was my first research interest, I turned my attention to Eastern European dissidence in France on the advice of my French supervisor, Professor Georges Lomné. In my research, I found an intriguing reference to the Free Europe University in Exile’s study center, the Collège de l’Europe libre, in a French book about immigration history in France after WW2:

“The refugees from Eastern Europe were supported mainly by American organizations such as the Free Europe Committee or the Assembly of Captive Nations of Europe, as well as by youth movements which promised to liberate countries under Soviet yoke. The Collège de l’Europe libre, located in the castle of Robertsau, near Strasbourg, and funded—without the knowledge of its students—by the CIA, taught national cultures and sought to curb the assimilation of young people from Central Europe so that they could take up responsibility in their home countries after the overthrow of the communist regimes.” (Ralph SCHOR, Histoire de l’immigration en France de la fin du XIXe siècle à nos jours. Paris, Armand Colin, 1996, p. 222)

The book section did not provide a footnote, nor a reference. After researching online, I quickly found that there were no publications dedicated to the FEUE, except for brief mentions in miscellaneous sources. I told my supervisor that I wanted to tackle the challenge of filling this gap, and the FEUE became my research topic.

In the absence of any historical account or academic work, I tried to gather as many archives as possible. Since online archives were limited at that time, I spent a considerable amount of time contacting archives, inquiring about records, and preparing research trips. Additionally, on my own initiative, I contacted Eastern European cultural centers and libraries in France with a double aim: to search for archival holdings and to spread the word about my research on the FEUE in the hopes of finding former fellows or officers involved in the operation. Thanks to this inquiry, I was able to obtain more material from public and private archives as well as oral testimonies.

In October 2009, I completed my master’s degree under the supervision of Professor Fabienne Bock, as Professor Lomné left to head the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima, Peru. Thanks to Professor Bock’s support and the approval of my research plan by the scientific committee at Université Paris-Est, I started my PhD in October 2010 with a full-time doctoral contract for three years.

The main aim of my doctoral research was to complete French sources with American archives, since the FEUE and its auxiliary, the Collège de l’Europe libre, were US-sponsored institutions. With the financial support of mobility fellowships from my doctoral school and research unit, I traveled several times to the US to conduct research in presidential and university archives and libraries. Alongside my research, I shared my findings at international conferences, and in 2013 I published a book chapter in an American edited volume on US Cold War assets. I got acquainted with scholars specializing in Cold War history who became interested in my work, which helped me build an international academic network. Consequently, the Free Europe University in Exile started becoming a recognized topic, and my work was cited by well-known academics such as Giles Scott-Smith and Eric Karpeles, as well as institutions such as the Dumbarton Oaks Museum.

Because of the originality of my research, I was invited to unprecedented conferences. The international symposium and workshop “From Free Europe to Free Poland: Free Europe Committee in the Cold War,” held at the University of Gdansk in Poland on 5-6 September 2014, was the one and only comprehensive scholarly review of the Free Europe Committee’s activities with the participation of senior and junior European and American scholars. Another international conference, devoted to the Polish emigration review in France called “Kultura” and its founder-editor, Jerzy Giedroyc (“Think and practice politics differently: the lesson of Jerzy Giedroyc and ‘Kultura’”) held at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Paris and at Université Paris-Sorbonne on 28-30 October 2021, was the first one of its scopes, bringing together Polish, French, and English scholars. This conference gave me the chance to shed light on the origin of the Free Europe University in Exile and the role of Polish émigrés.

Over ten years of research, I gathered more than ten thousand archival items from twenty-five public archival holdings and private sources. I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing former FEUE fellows; American FEUE staff members’ relatives; the wife of the late French assistant dean Maurice Galy; Antony Hruby, the last living exile teacher who supervised Czech students at the Collège de l’Europe libre from 1952 to 1955; John Richardson Jr., president of the Free Europe Committee from 1961 to 1968 (see the picture above); and John Foster Leich, in charge of exile relations at the Free Europe Committee from 1950 to 1965. Although most of my research was successful, many avenues failed for various reasons. My trial and error shaped the corpus of documents and the framework of my research topic. While gathering sources essentially in connection with the FEUE, I found archival items from the French counterpart of the Free Europe Committee as well as other US-sponsored exile organizations in France.

Thanks to the doctoral contract and to the continuous support of my supervisor and research unit, I could fully devote myself to the research. Finishing my dissertation, however, took longer than expected for personal reasons: the birth of my first child in Paris, France in 2013, the completion of my law studies in Budapest, Hungary in 2015, and my move to Munich, Germany following my expatriated husband in 2016. The doctoral dissertation was written in French, using archives in English, French, Polish, and Hungarian, and its bibliography contains nearly 200 sources. During the summer, I had the chance to work at the Central European University’s library in Budapest, which holds the former Radio Free Europe’s library collection beyond its outstanding catalog. I finished writing the dissertation in Munich where, when I wasn’t at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, I worked at the former Radio Free Europe’s building in the Englischer Garten, running today as a university library.

On 15 March 2018 at Université Paris-Est, I successfully defended my dissertation in French entitled “Le Collège de l’Europe libre : une opération de guerre psychologique américaine menée en France à l’égard de la jeunesse des pays communistes de l’Europe de l’Est (1948-1958) » (in English : “Free Europe University in Exile : An American Psychological Warfare Operation Targeting Youths from Soviet Satellite States in France, 1948-1958”).

Its strengths can be outlined as follows:

  • It narrates the history of the Free Europe University in Exile and the Collège de l’Europe libre from its origins in 1948 until its phasing out in 1958,
  • It presents the FEUE essentially from the angle of US strategy towards Eastern Europe; as an American psychological warfare operation, based on US governmental archives,
  • It explains the FEUE’s place and role within the Free Europe Committee’s framework, providing an interesting historical account about this important American Cold War asset,
  • It details the impetus behind creating a university for Central and Eastern European youth refugees, which stemmed from a group of Polish exiles in France, associated with the Polish emigration review “Kultura”, and how this university was finally established by the Free Europe Committee,
  • It recounts the establishment of FEUE’s study center in France and the relationships between the Collège de l’Europe libre and national and local bodies during its existence, while the French police’s secret services kept a close watch on the institution,
  • It highlights the shifts in French-American relationships during the first decade of the Cold War and the Fourth French Republic’s Cold War policy (1946-1958), and outlines the boundaries of Western cooperation,
  • It follows the Cold War history in the Soviet Bloc inasmuch as the institution was affected,
  • Finally, it discusses the exiled student body of the Collège de l’Europe libre, who were at the heart of the operation, but whose fate was overridden by US national security interests.

Veronika Durin-Hornyik PhD

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