Czech Journal of Contemporary History VI / 2018

Essays and Articles

Czechs Give Asylum to US Family

A “Different” Jazz Ambassador Herbert Ward through the Lenses of FBI Reports
Petr Vidomus

Czechoslovakia of the mid-1950s was a culturally isolated country where the Western gains were regarded suspiciously, to say the least. The regime’s attitude toward jazz was softening very slowly, and many jazz activities bordered on illegality. In this situation, Herbert Ward came to Prague (1954), one of a few American Communists, who asked for political asylum in Czechoslovakia and became involved in the local music scene. Although an almost unknown jazz bassist to the general public (though he played with Sidney Bechet, Willie “Lion” Smith, Bud Freeman, etc.), in the late 1950s, however, he contributed significantly to the rehabilitation of jazz in communist Czechoslovakia. Ward became an invaluable asset for Czech jazz fans, and one of their tools in negotiating the position of their favourite genre with respect to the doctrine of Socialist Realism. Herbert Ward was not a part of the well-known cultural diplomacy projects arranged by the US Department of State (described by Von Eschen, 2004). His political activities were monitored by the FBI and, as a political refugee, he naturally took part in Czechoslovakia’s communist propaganda. As a “jazz curiosity,” however, he became part of the 1960s popular culture and the living myth of Czech jazz fans and musicians. Reconstructed from previously unknown archival records (FBI, State Security Archives), my paper portrays Ward’s political activities and his ambiguous identity of a jazz musician and a young American communist.

“It Was the Poles” or How Emanuel Ringelblum Was Instrumentalized by Expellees in West Germany

On the History of the Book Ghetto Warschau: Tagebucher aus dem Chaos
Stephan Stach

The article investigates how the Holocaust distorted and exploited in Cold War debates on the example of genesis and reception of the book Ghetto Warschau. Tagebucher aus dem Chaos [Warsaw Ghetto: Diaries from Chaos]. The book is a translation of the essay Stosunki polsko-żydowskie w czasie drugiej wojny światowej [Polish-Jewish relations during the Second World War], written by the Jewish historian and creator of the underground archive of the Warsaw Ghetto Emanuel Ringelblum while hiding from the German Occupiers in Warsaw in 1944. Ringelblum addressed his essay to the Polish reader discussing the relation of Christian Poles and Polish Jews under German occupation based on his own experience and the material he had collected. It was originally published in several portions in the Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute, an early Holocaust Research Center based in Warsaw. The German translation was based on this publication and published in summer 1967 in a Stuttgart-based publishing house. However, the new title, introduced by its German editors, suggested it was Ringelblum’s diary. Above that the blurb and many footnotes highlighted the role of Poles as perpetrators in the Holocaust, while minimizing that of Germans. As the article shows, the book was prepared by the Gottinger Arbeitskreis ostdeutscher Wissenschaftler [Gottingen Working Group of Eastern German Scholars], a Think Tank with close ties to the German expellee community, campaigning for a revision of the Polish western border. Gottinger Arbeitskries used the book and earlier on excerpts of Ringelblum’s text for a smear-campaign in the West-German expellee press. Through the biased presentation and distorted context of the work these former Ostforschers sought to portrait Poles as eternal anti-Semites and the factual perpetrators of the mass murder of Polish and European Jews following their anti-Polish agenda. Polish nationalist within the ruling Polish United Workers Party in turn exploited the book and the campaign based on it, which coincided with the anti-Semitic campaign in Poland. Though the Institute was not involved in the publication of the German book, the Polish national communists accused it of supporting German revisionism and “Zionists” abroad in their slander of Poland.

With Chinese Communists against the Czechoslovak “Normalization” Regime

Exile Listy Group and Its Search for Political Allies against Soviet Power Domination in Central Europe
Petr Orság

Some reform Communists who went into exile after the Soviet-led military intervention in Czechoslovakia, in August 1968, began to work in the Listy group led by Jiří Pelikán (1923–1999), a former Director of Czechoslovak Television, the publisher of the Rome-based exile bimonthly Listy, and, later, a Member of the European Parliament. In the search for political allies against Husák’s regime of ‘normalization’ (the return to hard-line Communist rule), they tried to establish contact mainly with influential representatives of the West European Left. This article, however, examines an area of their involvement in exile, which has previously not received attention – namely, their efforts to develop contacts with Chinese Communists who in the period after August 1968 were vociferously speaking out at international forums and criticizing Soviet expansionism. The author demonstrates how the exiles tried to take advantage of this in order to strengthen their positions as members of the foreign socialist opposition to the normalization regime. When establishing these contacts, they could build particularly upon those that Pelikán had developed in China while working in the International Union of Students. In the second half of the 1970s his erstwhile Chinese colleagues, led by Hu Yaobang (1915–1989), rose to leading positions in the Party, thus creating considerable opportunities for the exiles to work with them. From China, they received continuous funding for their activities, while the Chinese were interested in the Czechoslovak attempt to reform state socialism in the late 1960s. The author acquaints the reader with visits by Listy ‘envoys’ to China, who acquainted their partners there with current developments in central Europe, including information about dissidents and the opposition movement. A special initiative as part of this collaboration was their attempt to get their own representatives involved in the Czech broadcasts of Radio Peking. Though they briefly succeeded in this, their plan to influence the content of transmissions to Czechoslovakia, and thereby make it an information source for listeners which would provide an alternative to state-controlled Czechoslovak mass media, ultimately came to naught: members of the Listy group worked at Radio Peking only as language advisers for the Czech broadcasts.

The Crisis of Modern Urbanism under the Socialist Rule

Case Study of the Prague Urban Planning between the 1960s and 1980s
Petr Roubal

Using the planning in Prague between the 1960s and 1980s as an example, the article deals with the transformation of the concept of a socialist city among urbanists and architects. The author describes how the generation of the inter-war modernist avant-garde inspired by works of Karel Teige (1900–1951) started reasserting itself again after Khrushchevʼs speech on architecture in 1954. Its influential member, Jiří Voženílek (1909–1986), became the Chief Architect of Prague. It was under his leadership that the General Plan of the Capital City of Prague was drafted at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s. The author analyzes the plan as an example of the socialist modernism and urbanistic optimism of its creators who believed that, subject to a correct application of principles of inter-war avant-garde architecture, an urbanistic transformation might become the base of a social transformation of socialism. The plan envisaged sacrificing not only all residential quarters of Greater Prague built at the turn of the century, but also the very principle of a traditional city with a network of living streets which socialist urbanists saw as an incarnation of all evils that the development of towns and cities had thitherto been governed by: mixing of functions, too high density of population, lack of light and air. New housing projects comprising high-rise prefab residential buildings set in greenery were to become the opposite of traditional streets. The article explains how criticism of the housing schemes, the chief representative of which was urbanist Jiří Hrůza (1925–2012), had been growing stronger since as early as the mid-1960s. Influenced by works of US journalist and urbanistic activist Jane Jacobs (1916–2006), he presented a comprehensive critique of socialist modernism and questioned they very principle of urban planning as a tool of social transformation. The intellectual skepticism was soon thereafter reflected in urban planning practices in Prague; they abandoned the modernistic principle of zoning and acknowledged the value (first urbanistic, later architectural) of traditional quarters. In the end of the article, the author analyzes how the urbanistic turning point was confronted with building industry practices and political preferences demanding rapid construction of flats and apartments.

“He Who Leads – Controls!”

Corporate Management and Rigours of “Socialist Control” in Czechoslovak Enterprises in the 1980s
Tomáš Vilímek

The study deals with issues of corporate management and pitfalls of the “socialist supervision” in Czechoslovak enterprises in the period of late socialism. Using documents of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the State Security, period texts and specialized publications, it shows how party organs and state authorities were unsuccessfully trying to make supervisory mechanisms and audits a functional tool of the implementation of the ruling party´s economic policy. The author analyzes the supervisory and audit mechanisms that were used, and outlines basic reasons of the almost fatal failure of supervisory activities of the system which was, in a way, obsessed with supervision and control. He explains the systemic conditionality of the supervisory system which socialist managers often and in many respects bent to suit the needs of the enterprises they were in charge of; such situation naturally did not match the needs of the society as a whole. Using many specific cases as an example, the study graphically shows that members of the Czechoslovak corporate management community in the 1980s were fully aware of systemic, political and social limitations of the supervisory system which they managed to modify, fairly successfully, to suit intra-corporate conditions. The result was a situation in which the party leadership was reacting to increasingly obvious symptoms of the “agony of the centrally planned economy” by adopting various directives and guidelines to make the supervisory process more effective and to consistently promote the “whoever manages – supervises” principle. However, the anticipated effect did not materialize and, at the end of the day, the non-functional supervisory mechanisms made a substantial contribution to the collapse of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

Prague Chronicle

Unreached 90th Birthday of Milan Otáhal

Oldřich Tůma

Milan Otáhal (1928–2017) was a leading historian studying the contemporary history of Czechoslovakia. In the 1960s, he was the head of the Department of Modern History of the Historical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences; in the early 1970s, he lost his job at the institute and was expelled from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He was one of the first signatories of Charter 77 and was active in the historical samizdat as an independent historian. Since the 1990s, his scientific activity was connected with the newly established Institute for Contemporary History. His main focus was the history of the anti-regime opposition and of the society between 1969 and 1989, and the role of students and intelligentsia in the change of the political situation in the end of the 1980s. He wrote a number of factographically rich and interpretationally distinctive publications on these topics. The author of the obituary mentions principal contributions of Milan Otáhal to the knowledge and understanding of Czechoslovakiaʼs most recent history, emphasizing that he was a historian who was not only intellectually reflecting the period he was living in, but who was also intensively experiencing and co-creating it.

Central European Historian Bedřich Loewenstein (1929–2017)

Tomáš Hermann

The author summarizes the life and in particular scientific career of historian Bedřich Loewenstein, describes areas of his professional interest and his intellectual orientation, reminds of his most important works published in Czech and German, and assesses his contribution. Loewenstein was born in 1929 in Prague, in a Czech-German-Jewish family, lived through the German occupation in difficult conditions, and started studying history and philosophy at what was then the Faculty of Arts and History of the Charles University, but was expelled two years later for political reasons. He was allowed to complete his studies later, and in 1957 started working at the Institute of History of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, where he remained until his dismissal in 1970. He started intensive contacts with West German historians and other intellectuals during the 1960s, and organized an important international symposium, “Europe and Fascism”, in Prague in 1969. Since the early 1970s, he was not allowed to publish and was employed as an interpreter/translator of the trade mission (since 1973 embassy) of the Federal Republic of Germany. Although watched by the State Security, he managed to make use of his position to establish an important connection between domestic dissenters and their supporters abroad, which was used to exchange publications and other documents. In 1979, he accepted an offer of professorship of recent history at the Free University in West Berlin, where he remained until 1994 and where he could develop and expand his research interests and devote himself to intensive publication activities. For a long time, Bedřich Loewenstein was focusing on the German history of the 19th and 20th centuries; since the 1960s, he was also studying ideological, psychological, and social prerequisites of Nazism and later also more general issues of crises of the 20th century, modernism and modernity, civic society, European nationalism, and civilization. In this respect, he was able to integrate approaches and knowledge of other social sciences – sociology, social psychology, anthropology, philosophy, political science, and economy – in a prolific manner. He was a long-time and intensive intermediary of views and ideas between the Czech (or Czechoslovak) and German historiographies. His works, written in a concise, scientific-essayist style, earned him respect among colleagues both at home and abroad. His principal works include Pladoyer für die Zivilisation (Hamburg, Hoffmann und Campe 1973), Entwurf der Moderne: Vom Geist der burgerlichen Gesellschaft und Zivilisation (Essen, Reimar Hobbing 1987; in Czech in 1995), Problemfelder der Moderne: Elemente der politischen Kultur (Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1990), My a ti druzí: Dějiny, psychologie, antropologie [We and the others: History, psychology, anthropology] (Brno, Doplněk 1997; in German in 2003). A synthesis of Loewensteinʼs thinking about a broad spectrum of issues is presented in his book Der Fortschrittsglaube: Geschichte einer europaischen Idee (Gottingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2008; in Czech: Víra v pokrok: Dějiny jedné evropské ideje [Faith in progress: The history of a European idea]. Praha, OIKOYMENH 2009).

Book Reviews

A Country on the Boundary

Pavol Jakubec

SMETANA, Vít: Ani vojna, ani mír: Velmoci, Československo a střední Evropa v sedmi dramatech na prahu druhé světové a studené války [Neither war, nor peace: The Great Powers, Czechoslovakia and Central Europe in seven dramatic stories on the eve of the Second World War and the Cold War]. Prague, Lidové noviny Publishing House 2016, 664 pages, 33 photographs, bibliography, index of names, ISBN 978-80-7422-358-7.

Using selected topics, the monograph describes the relationship of the powers to Czechoslovakia during the dramatic decade between 1938 and 1948. The reviewer comments on how these topics are dealt with in each chapter, appreciating the author’s erudition, ample use of sources, as well as a broad contextualization and convincing power of interpretation. He concludes that Smetana’s work deviates from traditional Czech and Slovak approaches to the themes in that it assigns priority to attitudes and motives of foreign political players and takes into account the international context in all its complexity the analysis of which leads the author to conclusions open for further discussion rather than to categorical judgments. The author’s approach does not make the personality of President Edvard Beneš (1884–1948) stand out as much as is usually the case; instead, the author views President Beneš rather critically. According to the reviewer, Smetana’s monograph, which he characterizes as a colourful canvas of historical plots stretched in a solid frame, should become a classical work for historians studying the period of the Second World War and beginnings of the Cold War.

Swing Music and Its Fans during the Protectorate

Vít Hloušek

KOURA, Petr: Swingaři a potápky v protektorátní noci: Česka swingová mládež a její hořkej svět (Šťastné zítřky, vol. 23.) [Swing fans and “zoot suiters” in the Protectorate night: Czech swing kids and their bitter world (Happy tomorrows, Vol. 23)]. Praha, Academia 2016, 922 pages, ISBN 978-80-200-2634-7.

The reviewer presents the monograph as the outcome of long-term, comprehensive, and almost exhaustive research of sources, impressive in both its content and its scope. The author concentrates on the Czech youth subculture associated with jazz (swing) music at the time of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (1939–1945), their lifestyle, habits, fashion, speech, and attitude to the occupation regime, as well as the attitude of Nazi and Protectorate authorities to them and the music they professed. He sets the topic into a broad historical, social, political, and cultural context, for example when describing in an erudite and gripping manner the evolution and propagation of jazz dances, formation and existence of similar youth subcultures in Western Europe and United States, or the survival of jazz and its fans in the Nazi Third Reich. The author covers in depth the criticism aimed at jazz and its fans in the Protectorate and repressions against them, analyzes the relationship between jazz music and freedom in an inspiring manner, and his interpretations and explanations abound with facts. The reviewer would personally welcome only a better arrangement of some parts and more attention paid to jazz music as such.

Czechoslovak Leviathan

Karol Szymański

ROUBAL, Petr: Československé spartakiády (Šťastné zítřky, Vol. 22) [Czechoslovak Spartakiads (Happy Tomorrows, Vol. 22)]. Praha, Academia 2016, 405 pages, ISBN 978-80-200-2537-1.

In his four-part book, the author deals with the genealogy of Czechoslovak spartakiads in the German Turner and Czech Sokol (Falcon) movements, different visual symbolisms of the spartakiads in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1980s, the organization of spartakiads, and the relation of the society to them. The extensive review presents the content and leading principles of the book, as well as its sources and theoretical foundations, and formulates some polemic arguments. The key of the author’s interpretation of the phenomemon of the mass gymnastics events of different age, social and professional, gender-differentiated groups of population in arenas in the Czech Lands and Czechoslovakia since the second half of the 19th century until the 1990s is a multifaceted analysis of the political symbolism of the body and its movements as a representation of ideals of the unity of the nation and the socialist society. In the reviewer’s opinion, the book’s meticulously documented factography, erudite use of different theoretical concepts, convincing argumentation and clear style have resulted in a compact, comprehensive, inspiring and attractive monograph. The reviewer only regrets that the author did not reflect a broad context of similar mass rituals in other countries of the Soviet Bloc and elsewhere to show the globally unique character of the Czechoslovak spartakiads. The reviewer also argues against the author s conviction that the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia was not totalitarian, presenting arguments for an opposite opinion in a different view of the role and effect of political rituals such as the spartakiads in relation to the society.

A Family Colonized by the State?

On a Book about Family Policy in the Czech Lands in the Previous Century
Květa Jechová

RÁKOSNÍK, Jakub – ŠUSTROVÁ, Radka: Rodina v zájmu státu: Populační růst a instituce manželství v českých zemích 1918–1989 [Family in the interest of the state: Population growth and marriage in the Czech Lands 1918–1989]. Praha, Lidové noviny Publishing House 2016, 283 pages, ISBN 978-80-7422-378-5.

According to the reviewer, the two authors of the book under review convincingly demonstrate the massive growth in state intervention in the private sphere in Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia in the seventy years from the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic to the collapse of the Communist regime in late 1989. She does, however, have some doubts about their periodization, which ignores great political dividing lines in favour of continuities, and she is also disappointed in the authors’ intentionally refusing to pass judgement on the topics they discuss. The reviewer would have liked to have read an assessment of interwar Czechoslovakia, which had sought to be a democratic and socially just state, and she would have welcomed discussion of the Nazis’ intentions to eradicate the Czechs during the German occupation from mid-March 1939 to early May 1945. The reviewer remarks on some aspects of family policy in socialist Czechoslovakia, and concludes that the book under review is useful for the general public as a call for discussion about the social values and traditions and the purpose and operation of the State.

Czech Journal of Contemporary History VI / 2018

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