Czech Journal of Contemporary History II / 2014

Essays and articles

Continuity and Discontinuity in the History of the Welfare State in Czechoslovakia (1918–56)

Jakub Rákosník

This article focuses on the long-term trends in the development of social policy between the First World War and the mid-1950s. The author begins by summarising the main ideas of his own previous articles and books. He emphasises the continuity and discontinuity in the general conception of Czechoslovak social policy in this period. He also considers conceptual questions, particularly those that would help to explain how the basic terms are employed in historical analysis. The article moves between the two poles of the construction of causality – structural explanation and voluntaristic explanation. The content of the article can be aptly summed up in a neat metaphor: from Bismarck by way of Beveridge to Stalin. In personified form, this shortcut expresses the long-term development of Czechoslovak social policy: from an emphasis on principles of merit, characteristic of the traditional German and Austrian social insurance schemes, by way of a considerably more egalitarian national insurance from 1948 (strongly influenced by the British system), to the Soviet model of social security, which developed from 1951 to 1956. The article also considers important changes in social legislation in the Czechoslovak Republic in this period, including the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

“It Will Not Work without a Social Policy!”

Research on Social Practice on the Territory of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
Radka Šustrová

Social policy in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, from mid-March 1939 to early May 1945, is a key topic in contemporary research on the history of this brief period. The article is concerned with the possible approaches to research with regard to the latest trends in research on National Socialism. It begins with an outline of the historiography of social policy in the Protectorate, which is marked chiefly by a predominant uniformity of argumentation, a lack of systematic approach to interpretation, and Czech and Czechoslovak historians’ limiting themselves to the ethnically Czech population. Research conducted so far has completely failed to put social policy into the context of social history. The author thus first provides an outline of the social framework, which represents the concept of a Volksgemeinschaft (national/ethnic/racial community), in which ideas about the purpose and function of social policy were formed and implemented. In the next part, she focuses on the definition of the term “social policy” as understood by Nazi theorists after 1933. In the last part of the article, she seeks to define the new social relations in the Czech-German environment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and suggests possibilities of its analysis in the area of the implementation of social policy. She believes that it will be fruitful to study the implementation of the relevant criteria in the Reich and the Protectorate at the level of discussions among experts, and to research social policy in practice. The author sees the most important aspects of the implementation of social policy as residing in the various motivations of the regime when implementing social policy in relation to different parts of the population, ranging from social exclusion to forms of social protectionism.

Unwanted Silesia

Czech “Silesian Identity” in Postwar Czechoslovakia (1945–69)
Jiří Knapík – Zdeněk Jirásek

The Czech “Silesian identity”, obvious throughout the twentieth century, was based on a mixture of strong regional, even local, patriotism, which was determined by historical developments. This patriotism developed on the ethnically mixed territory of Czech Silesia (formerly Austrian Silesia). After the Second World War, this phenomenon was quickly revived, but unlike in the pre-war period, it took a clearly Czech national form. The territorial factor, by contrast, receded into the background. Behind this activity and new interpretation stood intellectual circles and institutions in Opava, some leading figures from Ostrava, and the Silesian Cultural Institute in Prague. In addition to cultural-educational activity, their efforts were concentrated on claiming some border areas of Polish and German Silesia as being historically Czech, and also on ensuring the distinctive administrative status of the territory of Silesia in Czechoslovakia, the seed of which they saw in the Ostrava branch of the Moravian National Committee (Zemský národní výbor) in Brno. During the Communist regime, according to the authors, the top state authorities showed an intentional lack of interest in the problems of Silesia when solving related economic and other questions. A consequence of this was a “silencing of the official sources” about Silesia. In the 1950s, the “Silesian-ness” was condemned as a form of “bourgeois nationalism” and was identified with the period of Czech-Polish national friction in the region. From the administrative point of view, Silesia was dissolved in the Ostrava area, later in the North Moravian Region, and was recalled practically only by artistic expressions of an “Old Silesian-ness”, such as folklore and museum exhibitions. Silesian organizations and societies were, with few exceptions, dissolved or renamed and the newly established Silesian Research Institute in Opava had to orient its historical research chiefly to the labour movement. The works of the poet Petr Bezruč (born Vladimír Vašek, 1867–1958) and his collection of verses, Slezské písně (Silesian Songs), presented a problem because of their questionable depiction of Silesian identity, and the publication of the complete collection led to disputes in cultural policy. The Ostrava-based arts and politics periodical Červený květ (Red Flower), which repeatedly included debates about regionalism, began to be published in the mid-1950s. At the end of the decade, however, the Communist Party launched a campaign against parochialism (lokalpatriotismus), which was reflected also in the condemnation of publications seeking to exonerate the poems and ideas of Ondra Łysohorsky (born Ervín Goj, 1905–1989), who during the war promoted the theory of a “Lach nation.” In the 1960s, the local authorities and figures of Opava again began to emphasize the role of their town as a regional centre. During the Prague Spring of 1968, there were calls for the restoration of Silesian self-government, but that remained more or less limited to the Opava region, and consequently some “Silesian” cultural initiatives from this period were of greater importance.

Lessons from the Crisis Development

The Picture of the Prague Spring in “Normalisation Prose”
Alena Fialová (Šporková)

The article considers the picture of the year 1968 and what is popularly known as the “Prague Spring” as it appears in establishment prose fiction from the “Normalisation” period (that is, the return to hard-line Communism with the defeat of the reform wing of the Party and the years of the Soviet occupation, 1970-89). Normalisation fiction – in accord with the government publication Poučení z krizového vývoje ve straně a společnosti po XIII. sjezdu KSČ [Lessons from the Crisis Development in the Party and Society after the 13th Congress of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia] – tried to legitimise the policy of Normalisation as a new stage in the development of Socialism. The author analyses the plans and model solutions, which helped to form an ideologised interpretation of social development in Czechoslovakia from January to the Soviet-led intervention of Warsaw Pact troops in late August 1968. The article also considers how the authors of this fiction (a total of sixteen novels, the best known of which is Alexej Pludek’s anti-Semitic Vabank [Gamble] portray the broader historical context, how they explain the motivation and aims of the leaders of the reform movement and describe the participation of various social strata in the political events. Some of these works are instructive models of the future life of the main characters and their orientation in the new circumstances in the phase called “real, existing Socialism” in the 1970s and ‘80s. Apart from that, the article considers how established literary critics accepted attempts in belles-lettres to depict the recent “crisis years,” from which the new regime hoped to distance itself as clearly as possible.

Political Games with the “Unfinished Revolution”

Settling Accounts with Communism in the Times of the Civic Forum and after Its Disintegration (1989–92)
Jiří Suk

This article discusses the birth and early dynamics of Czech post-Communist anti-Communism. It is based on the recognition that during the political takeover in November and December 1989 the policy of radical discontinuity remained a marginal, practically invisible and inaudible phenomenon in the mostly restful period of civil unrest. In the generally shared atmosphere of “national understanding,” which led to the historic compromise between the old, Socialist regime and the new, democratic regime, there was no room for a policy of radically settling scores with the Communist Party and the past. It was all the more surprising, therefore, when demands along these lines (the relinquishing of Party property, the outlawing of the Party, the punishment of criminal and treasonous politicians) appeared as if out of nowhere as early as the beginning of 1990, and then intensified. Memory was awakened and its numerous previously buried levels now emerged in public life. The incursion of the dark, unrecognised, and unprocessed past into the artificial reality of historic compromise caused frustration with ethics in the ranks of the nascent political elite. It was but a small step from the political prisoners’ awakened memories of crimes committed by the recently defeated regime to the now current problems with the “nomenclature brotherhoods” and “Communist mafias” in the provinces and in businesses throughout the country. Calls for a thorough settling of scores were heard with increasing frequency from Civic Forum, the victorious political movement, and they eventually became the catalyst of the pronounced division within the Civic Forum. But these calls never turned into a decisive political strategy and they managed to hold a dominant place only in the programmes of the less important parties and organizations like the Club of Politically-Engaged Non-Party Members (Klub angažovaných nestraníků – KAN) and the Confederation of Political Prisoners (Konfederace politických vězňů). After the break-up of the Civic Forum in late 1990 and early 1991, radical anti-Communism ran out of steam, and the right-of-centre political parties that emerged from the erstwhile Civic Forum – primarily the Civic Democratic Party, the Civic Democratic Alliance, and the Christian Democratic Party – adapted the originally radical demands to a realistic policy of compromise based on the fact that the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, with the support of more than ten per cent of the electorate, remained a part of the democratic political system. The largely ignored sense of frustration with morals, stemming from the fundamental contradiction between the ideal (that is, comprehensive) possibilities of a policy of settling scores and the real (that is, limited) possibilities, was put off for later years, and remains a public problem to this day.

Prague Chronicle

Chronicler of Communist Czechoslovakia

Karel Kaplan and the Study of Contemporary History
Vítězslav Sommer

The author attempts to pinpoint the place of the historian Karel Kaplan (b. 1928) in the context of Czech historiography of the last half century, to show the changes in the basic tendencies characterising his work, and to consider his role in the formation of the field of contemporary history in the Czech Republic. Kaplan is perhaps the most prolific and most translated Czech historian living today. His career is emblematic of the path taken by Czech research on contemporary history and its writing. As a historian he began to publish in the 1950s when he worked in the apparat of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. At that time he devoted himself to regional topics with a tendency to be a Party propagandist, offering interpretations that conformed to the times. His earlier works, however, share the same respect for the sources as his later works do. In the 1960s, Kaplan found himself at the forefront of reform in Czechoslovak historiography. He exposed and criticised the preparation of the show trials of the previous decade (partly because he was on “rehabilitation commissions” set up by the Communist regime), and he saw his work on history as a way to redress failed policy. Kaplan defected to West Germany in 1976, and in numerous publications he then acquainted readers in the West with the operation of the Communist regime and political repression in Czechoslovakia. He used as his sources many unique archival records, which he had managed to get out of the country, and he completely abandoned his political ambitions, tending instead to be utterly empirical in his work. Back in Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic since 1990, he has developed his empirical, fact-based, approach, seeking objectivity, in a number of other, often very large, works systematically charting out the history of Czechoslovakia from 1945 to the early 1970s. The focus of Kaplan’s research has, however, shifted in recent years from analysis of the regime to analysis of society. In the conclusion of his article, the author discusses the weaknesses and strengths of Kaplan’s works and methods. Considering the changes that the historical sciences have gone through in recent times, he considers problematic Kaplan’s clinging to the objectivity of historical knowledge, his positivistic interpretation of archive records without a real interpretational framework, and his dry, matter-of-fact style of writing. On the other hand, his contribution to our knowledge of the history of Communist Czechoslovakia is pioneering and absolutely fundamental. No historian in the field can get by without the results of Kaplan’s research.

“The Past is the Battleground of Our Contemporaries”

A Conference Organised on the Occasion of Vilém Prečan’s 80th Birthday
Jiří Hoppe

Organized chiefly by the Institute of Contemporary History, Prague, a conference, “The Past is the Battlefield of the Our Contemporaries,” was held in the Czernin Palace, Prague, on 24 and 25 January 2013, to mark the eightieth birthday of the historian Vilém Prečan, the first director of the Institute and the current Chairman of the Board of the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre. The conference was accompanied by an evening of music and a buffet dinner at the Museum of Music, organised by the National Museum, Prague. The author reports here on all the papers given in the five conference blocks, and concludes with a long quotation of Vilém Prečan’s views on some of the papers and topics presented at the conference.

Book Reviews

Purely Subjective Biography and the Limits of “Objective” Sources

Doubravka Olšáková

Miles, Jonathan. Devět životů Otto Katze: Příběh komunistického superšpiona z Čech [original edition: The Nine Lives of Otto Katz: The Remarkable True Story a Communist Super-Spy. London: Bantam, 1998]. Trans. Petruška Šustrová. Praha and Litomyšl: Paseka, 2012, 336 pp.; Laurence, Charles. Společenský agent Jiří Mucha: Láska a žal za železnou oponou – intriky, sex, špioni [original edition: The Social Agent: A True Intrigue of Sex, Spies, and Heartbreak behind the Iron Curtain. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2010]. Trans. Kateřina Lipenská. Praha: Prostor, 2012, 250 pp.

The reviewer compares the biographies of two cosmopolitan Czech intellectuals who worked as agents of the Communist secret police. The publication by Charles Laurence is about the writer Jiří Mucha (1915–1991), the son of the renowned painter Alfons Mucha. Jiří Mucha spent a considerable part of his life in France, but also lived in Czechoslovakia, where he spent four years in prison in the 1950s. The other book under review, by Jonathan Miles, is about the journalist Otto Katz (1895–1952). Under the name Andre Simone, Katz worked to promote the Communist movement in interwar Europe and then in the United States and Mexico during the war, before returning to Czechoslovakia after the war to be a functionary of the Communist press. Katz was eventually sentenced in the Slánský show trial and was then executed. Whereas Miles, on the basis of wide-ranging archive records, seeks to give an objective account of Katz’s life, Laurence tells Mucha’s story from a subjective standpoint, with personal bias, as part of his own complicated family history. According to the reviewer, Laurence makes his points more compellingly than Miles, thanks in part to his effective literary style; Miles, by contrast, remains in the grip of the sources and their apparent objectivity, thus failing to pay enough attention to the historical context.

Unreliable Elements, or the Object of Social Engineering in the Czech Borderlands?

David Kovařík

Spurný, Matěj. Nejsou jako my: Česká společnost a menšiny v pohraničí (1945–1960) [They Are Not Like Us: Czech Society and Minorities in the Borderlands (1945–1960). Praha: Antikomplex, 2011, 373 pp.

In this review, the author discusses the main ideas in Matěj Spurný’s book that he considers an important contribution to the social history of postwar Czechoslovakia, since Spurný attempts not only to identify the changing attitude of majority Czech society and its political elites towards minority groups (Germans, Roma, and Volhynian Czechs), but also to identify the Sinnwelt and social practice which emerged in the borderlands after the Second World War against the background of the local processes of expulsion and resettlement. The author focuses on Spurný’s argument that events in the borderlands became, in a certain sense, a laboratory for state-wide developments. But he expresses doubts about the justifiability of linking analyses of the Volhynian Czechs with other groups of re-emigrants. According to the author of the article, Spurný’s Nejsou jako my adds much to our knowledge about the Czech borderlands and their inhabitants, and is likely to encourage debate about more general questions related to postwar Czech history and its interpretation.

About an End or a Beginning?

Czech Historiography and Research into the Final Phase of the Second World War
Radka Šustrová

Hrbek, Jaroslav, Vít Smetana, Stanislav Kokoška, Vladimír Pilát, and Petr Hofman. Draze zaplacená svoboda: Osvobození Československa 1944–1945 [Freedom Dearly Bought: The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1944-1945], Vol. 1–2. Praha: Paseka, 2009, 351 and 358 pp.; Kokoška, Stanislav et al. Nultá hodina? Československo na jaře 1945 ve strategických souvislostech [Zero Hour? Czechoslovakia in the Spring of 1945 in Strategic Contexts]. (Edice Prostopravdy, vol. 2.) Praha: Euroslavica – Nadačni fond angažovaných nestraníků, 2011, 256 pp.

According to the reviewer, the two publications under review – Hrbek, Smetana et al.’s Draze zaplacená svoboda and Kokoška et al.’s Nultá hodina? – to a considerable extent combine the personal outlooks of their authors, a chronological delimitation, and an orientation to military, political and diplomatic history, but pay less attention to the circumstances in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia towards the end of the Second World War. The reviewer acquaints the reader with the individual chapters or articles in the publications, together with the authors’ principal arguments, and considers the context of historical research on the end of the Second World War and the transition to post-war conditions.

The “Golden Era” or Only a “Sweet Intermezzo” of Czech Sociology?

Miloslav Petrusek

Nešpor, Zdeněk R. Republika sociologů: Zlatá éra české sociologie v meziválečném období a krátce po druhé světové válce [The Republic of Sociologists: The Golden Era of Czech Sociology in the Interwar Period and Shortly after the Second World War]. Praha: Scriptorium, 2011, 304 pp.

The work under review is the first history of Czech and Slovak sociology from its beginnings to 1948. Its author, according to the reviewer, has superbly combined sociological understanding with an historical overview, archive research, and extraordinary industry. The reviewer considers the essential strong points of the publication to be its readability and objectivity, as well as its wealth of facts reliability. The reviewer also discusses the point of writing a history of Czech sociology as a social science that made only a minimal contribution internationally.

Scientific Revolutions and Political Attitudes

Jan Mervart

Sommer, Vítězslav. Angažované dějepisectví [Engaged Historiography: Party Historiography between Stalinism and Reform Communism]. Praha: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny – Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2011, 508 pp.

The reviewer mainly appreciates the f act that Sommer’s monograph takes so-called “Party historiography” seriously rather than as a mere instrument of politics or propaganda. Thanks to that, it can legitimately be read at least on two levels: as the study of an important segment of Czech postwar historiography extending also into the history of other fields of the humanities in the Stalinist and post-Stalinist periods and also as the story of Communist intellectuals’ gradual involvement in the formation of the socialist dictatorship, its limited criticism, and the attempt at its reform. In his overall positive assessment, the reviewer also expresses doubts whether the gradual emancipation of Czech historiography from Stalinist dogma can really be ascribed to the change in scientific paradigms, as Sommer interprets it in connection with Thomas Kuhn’s conception, or whether it resulted from a change in the political attitudes of historians. The reviewer claims that Communist historians at the start of de-Stalinization were on the whole much more conformist than, for example, philosophers or writers, and he puts forth the hypothesis that this reflects their stronger affiliation with the structures of the Party apparat.

Gentle History

A Cultural Historian in the Archives
Adéla Gjuričová

Krapfl, James. Revolúcia s ľudskou tvárou: Politika, kultúra a spoločenstvo v Československu po 17. novembri 1989. Bratislava: Kalligram, 2009, 302 pp.

In the work under review, which has now been published in a revised and expanded English edition, Revolution with a Human Face: Politics, Culture, and Community in Czechoslovakia, 1989–1992 (Ithaca, NY, 2013), the American historian James Krapfl has successfully avoided the danger of letting his work be defined by contemporary disputes about whether to interpret the events as a so-called Velvet Revolution. Instead, he has combined thorough research in many archives with the approaches of the “new cultural history”. In this book, he searches for the now veiled content of the ideals of November 1989, which appeared in the political slogans and public statements of the time; he analyses the “revolutionary” rules of dialogue, and considers the topic of non-violence, in which he sees the special features of the democratic revolutions of Eastern Europe. Far more than in the efforts of other historians, Krapfl presents a balanced and nuanced picture of contemporaneous thinking and the relations between the elites and the public. This work is, according to the reviewer, an essential alternative to most of the existing works about the changes of late 1989.

Czech Journal of Contemporary History II / 2014

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