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Presented By: Center for European Studies

Conversations on Europe. A New Kind of Progressive: How Poles, Venezuelans, and Germans Reimagined Latin America

Piotr Kosicki, associate professor of history, University of Maryland

Piotr Kosicki Piotr Kosicki
Piotr Kosicki
In the 1950s and 1960s, Caracas—like many Latin American capitals—played host to global Cold Warriors of various ideological stripes. What makes the Venezuelan story unique is the degree of synergy achieved as U.S. agents of “political warfare” found common ground with European representatives of a political family known as Christian Democracy. In the homegrown Latin American vocabulary of “progressivism,” East European exiles and West European powerbrokers alike saw a chance to marginalize Marxism by remaking Latin America into a breeding ground for distinctively Catholic visions of justice in politics, economics, and society. Polish political refugees served crucially as liaisons between the CIA-backed Free Europe Committee; West Germany’s governing political party, the CDU; and emerging Latin American networks of Catholic lawyers, academics, and anti-junta dissenters.

In this lecture, mid-century Caracas emerges as a place where Latin Americans and Europeans from both sides of the Iron Curtain pioneered a new kind of transnational politics: at once Catholic, progressive, and anti-communist. Our guide will be the Polish émigré Janusz Śleszyński, who served as gatekeeper for much of the networking that built Venezuelan Christian Democracy into a continental powerhouse.

Piotr H. Kosicki is a global and transnational historian of modern Europe. His early work focused on Catholic intellectual partnerships linking France and Poland; this research yielded Catholics on the Barricades: Poland, France, and “Revolution,” 1891-1956 (Yale, 2018), in addition to peer-reviewed articles in Contemporary European History, Modern Intellectual History, Slavic Review, and Vingtième Siecle: Revue d’histoire. After curating a project about the Second Vatican Council’s impact on Eastern Europe (Vatican II behind the Iron Curtain, 2016) and another concerning historical memory of the Katyń Massacres, Kosicki’s research has turned to the global history of the political family known as Christian Democracy, about which Kosicki has co-edited 3 books (Christian Democracy across the Iron Curtain, 2017; Christian Democracy and the Fall of Communism, 2019; and Political Exile in the Global Twentieth Century, 2021). Piotr H. Kosicki contributes frequently to journals of public opinion, including Commonweal, the Nation, the TLS, and The Washington Post.

If there is anything we can do to make this event accessible to you, please contact us at Please be aware that advance notice is necessary as some accommodations may require more time for the university to arrange.

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