PoznanPoznan UniversityPoznan Interdisciplinary SeminarsArchive

Amir Weiner - Professor of History at Stanford University, on Monday, February 18th, 2019 at 10:30 at the building of the (old) Collegium Historicum, ul. św. Marcin 78, 61-809 Poznań, room 209, will give a seminar: "The KGB: An Autobiography". Discussants: dr Władysław Bułhak (Biuro Badań Historycznych, IPN Warszawa) and dr Daniel Wicenty (Biuro Badań Historycznych, IPN Gdańsk).

The KGB: An Autobiography


Perpetrators, especially Internal Security servicemen, rarely speak out or reflect on their careers, outside of the courtroom. Most often, they keep silent. Based on dozens of first-ever in-depth interviews and with former generals, mid-ranking officers, interrogators and rank-and-file agents, hitherto untapped archival sources and rare memoirs, this talkaims at better understanding of KGB servicemen’s motivations and how they dealt with professional, political and ethical dilemmas. Many of these individuals continued serving in the now independent sovereign states, thus offering and even richer perspective on the ethics of surveillance. The paper examines how do the individuals involved, many of whom understood that they engaged in unethical activities, even by the norms of the Soviet state, justify their actions, be it blackmail, coercion and intimidation? Did they feel a sense of accountability? Why did they join an organization that had already gained notoriety? What did they know and what did they want to know about their constituencies? How did they obtain information and recruit informants? How did they cope with the constant exposure to sensitive information that was officially banned, such as foreign media and illegal publications by dissidents? How did they adjust to the decline in the party-state authority and the rise of dissent and the information revolution in the 1980s? How did they evaluate their own performance especially in light of the eventual collapse? Finally, and most relevant to present-day events, when did the obsessive gathering of information turn against them? Ultimately, these questions lead to a comparison with other national security services, a comparison that has preoccupied KGB officers as they strive for legitimacy following the communist collapse.

Participants are asked to read the article:

Amir Weiner, Aigi Rahi-Tamm, Getting to know you. Soviet Surveillance System, 1939-57. “Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History”, vol. 13, no. 1, Winter 2012: 5-45.


On Tuesday, February 19th at 17.3o, at „Przystanek Historia”, Centrum Edukacyjne IPN im. Janusza Kurtyki, ul. Marszałkowska 21/25, 00-628 Warszawa, Amir Weiner will give a lecture: "The KGB: Ruthless Sword, Imperfect Shield".

The KGB: Ruthless Sword, Imperfect Shield


Based on hitherto untapped KGB archives and first-ever interviews with KGB officers, this talk explores the history of the Soviet state security apparatus from its inception to present day and seeks to explore key questions: Who was the KGB? Who were its agents, informants and officers? How did they obtain information, and what did they know or want to know about their population? How did KGB officers, many of whom understood that they engaged in unethical activities even by the norms of the Soviet state, justify their actions, such as blackmail, coercion or intimidation? How did the KGB cope with the challenges of the post-Stalin era, particularly the end to mass terror, the spillover of unrest from the restless satellites and the loss of a monopoly over information? How did the KGB adjust to the decline in the party-state authority and the rise of dissent, restless youth and secessionist national movements and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union? Finally, and most importantly, when and how did the KGB’s obsessive gathering of information overwhelm and undermine the organization itself, and ultimately, the Soviet state?


Aparat bezpieczeństwa
w perspektywie antropologii władzy i antropologii organizacji

Amir Weiner will also give a key-note for a conferece „Aparat bezpieczeństwa w perspektywie antropologii władzy i antropologii organizacji” (Kowary, February 21-22, 2019) oragnized by Wroclaw Branch of Institute of National Rememberance. [video of simultaneus translation of the final panel: "Perspektywy historii: między estetyką, nauką i polityką"].


Amir Weiner

Amir Weiner is a professor of history at Stanford University. He is the author of Making Sense of War (2001); Landscaping the Human Garden (2003);and numerous articles and edited volumes on the impact of World War II on the Soviet polity, the social history of WWII and Soviet frontier politics. His forthcoming book, The KGB: Ruthless Sword, Imperfect Shield, will be published by Yale University Press in 2019. He is currently working on a collective autobiography of KGB officers titled Coffee with the KGB: Conversations with Soviet Security Officers.

Benjamin Hein, "Getting to know you. Stanford scholar examines domestic surveillance in the USSR." Stanford Report, October 2, 2012.

Amir Weiner, Widmo imperiów: powracający z Gułagu a wschodnioeuropejskie rebelie i sowiecka polityka pogranicza. Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość, vol. 13, nr 2, 2014: 341-385.


Organization: Ewa Domanska, email: ewa.domanska@amu.edu.pl and
Krzysztof Brzechczyn email: brzech@amu.edu.pl

Guest seminar in Poznan is organized by Oddziałowe Biuro Badań Historycznych IPN w ramach Oddziałowego Projektu Badawczego: Metodologiczne i teoretyczne problemy badania najnowszej historii Polski.

©ed | 2019

Amir Weiner