Czech Journal of Contemporary History VIII / 2020

Essays and Articles

The Beginnings of the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav Exile Governments in London during the Second World War

Expectations, Possibilities, and Reality
Milan Sovilj

In his partly comparative study, the author focuses on a specific chapter in Czechoslovak-Yugoslav relations in the 20th century, namely contacts of the exile governments of both countries after their occupation by the German army in March 1939 (remnants of Czechoslovakia) and April 1941 (Yugoslavia). Supported by document from Prague’s and Belgrade’s archives, he recalls circumstances of the German occupation of Yugoslavia and compares the formation of the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav political representations in exile, the different ways they took to London, the problems they encountered during early years in exile, and their positions in London’s exile community. The study shows how the restoration of mutual relations between the two representations was burdened by historical animosities, although Belgrade and Prague had been allies since 1919, both being members of the Little Entente; President Edvard Beneš (1884–1948), in particular, was long reproaching Yugoslav politicians for abandoning Czechoslovakia at the time of the Munich crisis in the autumn of 1938. However, some Yugoslav representatives, on the other hand, disliked the fact that the Czechoslovak government had not supported them in the conflict with Italy in 1926 and during the establishment of the king’s dictatorship three years later. Mutual relations of leading Czechoslovak and Yugoslav politicians in exile were also reflecting their respective opinions on further war developments and on relations of restored Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia to allied powers. Both exile governments were striving for help and support of Great Britain; however, they assumed, for a variety of reasons, different attitudes to cooperation with the Soviet Union. Although the relations were gradually improving, especially since 1943, when the Yugoslav government declared that it did not acknowledge the Munich Agreement, their courses drifted apart while both were still in exile, and only Czechoslovak exile representatives returned home as winners, while their Yugoslav counterparts in London had to “beat a retreat”, yielding to Tito’s Communists, and most of them stayed in exile.

Possibilities of Research into the Catholic Church in the Czech Lands in the Early Stage of the Communist Dictatorship

Martin Pácha

In the author´s opinion, research projects dealing with the Catholic Church in the Czech Lands since the instalment of the Communist regime in 1948 are somewhat closed in that there is very little communication between “ecclesiastic” and “non-ecclesiastic” historians. The article aims to describe causes of the situation and propose a way in which research into the history of the Catholic Church in the period referred to above could be included in broader discussions about the nature of the Communist dictatorship. The author opines that one of the reasons of the introversion is an intensive overreliance on works of the historian Karel Kaplan, which turns the attention of researchers away from topics not directly related to the repression of the Catholic Church and its representatives. In addition, the author questions the stereotypical presentation of the Communist Party and the Catholic Church in post-war Czechoslovakia as two irreconcilable opponents, mentioning their overall consensus and important contact points during the so-called Third Republic (1945–1948), using the example of the Communist historian and politician Zdeněk Nejedlý (1878–1962) and the Catholic author Adolf Kajpr (1902–1959), and also certain intersections of the Communist and the Catholic identities since 1948. The study outlines a possibility to capture the issue using a prism of concepts of legitimacy and hegemony based on the situation prevailing during the existence of the Third Republic, and thus open the research to new questions.

Street Politics

Student Demonstrations in Prague in the 1960s, and the Disintegration of the ČSM University Structures
Michael Polák

In the end of October 1967, a spontaneous demonstrations of students protesting against poor living conditions in Prague´s Strahov Dormitory, was quashed with force. The author asks a question why something seemingly as trivial as a power blackout in a student dormitory resulted, at the end of the day, in the disintegration of structures of the Czechoslovak Union of Youth at universities. In doing so, he follows the grammar of the social conflict through a prism of social movement formation and of the so-called politics of the street. The author describes a shift in the attitude of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia toward students in the 1960s, as the latter started assigning greater importance to intelligentsia than before, embarking upon the so-called policy of trust toward students, its aim being to make them more involved in solutions of university and social problems. The author also notes a step-by-step emancipation of students and the emergence of an idea of self-governing students´ bodies, independent on official structures which were criticized as non-functional. In this respect, the author analyses conflicts with security forces during youth and students´ festivities in Prague (such as May Day gatherings in the Petřín Park and later during Majáles (“Coming of May festivities”) processions, ultimately ending in punishments of students labelled as “rioters”. He states that the confrontations taught students to adopt strategies helping them avoid repressions (such as avoiding any “disorderly conduct”, not criticizing the ruling party and the Soviet Union directly, having their own stewards to maintain order); on the other hand, the security machine learnt to respect the students´ authority and to behave with restraint. The result was a consensus on how to manage the social conflict and keep it non-violent. The tacit agreement of university students, police, and leaders of the Czechoslovak Union of Youth collapsed when policemen intervened with force against an unplanned and peaceful demonstration of students from the Strahov Dormitory, who had long been trying in vain to resolve their accommodation problems. After two months of investigations, none of the protesters or the intervening policemen were punished; however, requirements of students, such as the right to similar protests or inviolability of the academic soil, were not granted as well. Students blamed the leadership of the Czechoslovak Union of Youth for the unsatisfactory outcome, and started to leave its structures en masse. n 1968, they founded their own self-governing organization, independent on both the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak Union of Youth.

The Ukrainian Factor of the Prague Spring?

Petro Shelest and the Czechoslovak Year 1968 in the Light of Documents of the Ukrainian Security Service
Luboš Veselý

Petro Shelest (1908–1997), the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was one of the strongest advocates of an armed invasion of Czechoslovakia among Soviet leaders in 1968. The Soviet leadership tasked him to maintain contacts with the so-called healthy forces in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia; in the beginning of August, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia Vasil Biľak (1917–2014) secretly handed over to him the notorious “letter of invitation” in public lavatories in Bratislava. The author asks a fundamental question whether it is possible to identify a specific Ukrainian factor which stepped into the Prague Spring process and contributed to its tragic end. He attempts to capture Shelest’s oposition in the decision-making process and describe information that Shelest was working with. To this end, he has made use of reports of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti – KGB) of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on developments in Czechoslovakia and reactions thereto among Ukrainian citizens produced in the spring and summer of 1968, which were being sent to Shelest and other Ukrainian leaders. These documents have lately been made available in Ukrainian archives and partly published on the website of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. Their analysis brings the author to a conclusion that they were offering a considerably distorted picture of the situation. Instead of relevant information and analyses, they only present various clichés, ideological rhetoric, inaccuracies, or downright nonsenses. Their source were often members of the Czechoslovak State Security who were often motivated by worries about their own careers and existence and were acting on their own. The uncritical acceptance of the documents contributed to a situation in which in the leader of the Ukrainian Communists and other Soviet representatives were creating unrealistic pictures of the events taking place in Czechoslovakia, believing that anti-socialist forces were winning, anti-Soviet propaganda was prevailing, and Western intelligence agencies were strengthening their position in Czechoslovakia, and that there was a threat that the events that had taken place in Hungary in 1956 would repeat themselves again. As indicated by his published diary entries and other documents, Petro Shelest was using these allegations both in discussions inside his own party and during negotiations with Czechoslovak politicians. Just like in the case of the leaders of Polish and East German Communists, Władysław Gomułka and Walter Ulbricht, respectively, the principal reason why Shelest was promoting a solution of the Czechoslovak crisis by force was, in the author’s opinion, his fear of “contagion” of his own society by events taking place in Czechoslovakia which the Ukraine shared a border with.

“It Is Necessary to Draw a Lesson”

The Development of Political Structures of the Warsaw Treaty Organization between 1985 and 1989
Matěj Bílý

The study analyzes the functioning of political structures of the Warsaw Treaty organization between the advent of Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the state socialist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe in the end of the 1989, which has hitherto been examined only superficially. Using results of research in Czech, German, and Polish archives and drawing from studies of published documents, it describes in detail the substantial changes in the day-to-day operation of political structures of the organization, which took place at that time. It attempts to clarify and evaluate the essence of these shifts, to assess them in the context of previous developments, and to outline their significance for the fate of the Warsaw Treaty after 1989. It shows that Gorbachev initiated fairly significant changes in the organization, but he rarely promoted their implementation in an assertive enough manner. However, the greater openness toward and incentives presented to the allies, which characterized the approach of the Soviet Secretary General, were only partly successful. On the one hand, the political structures of the Warsaw Treaty started working in a routine manner for the first time in the history of the organization since 1985, becoming a venue where information was shared and foreign policy viewpoints and initiatives of member states were presented, the deepening crisis of the Eastern Bloc notwithstanding. On the other hand, however, day-to-day problems in the operation of the political structures of the Warsaw Treaty persisted, reflecting the impasse the Eastern Bloc as a whole and the system of relations between its member states, built in the previous four decades, found itself in. Before 1989, the Warsaw Treaty organization was unable to strengthen itself sufficiently enough, and the collapse of the then existing political regimes in Central and Eastern Europe doomed it to an early demise.

Prague Chronicle

Prague Conference on the Memory of Communism

Oldřich Tůma

This report assesses the conference “How We Remember: The Memory of Communism. Its Forms, Manifestations, Meanings” that took place in Prague on 17 and 18 September 2019. Its major aim was to have a broad transnational debate on forms, manifestations and meanings of the memory of communist regimes in various settings and environments.

Trajectories of Romani Migrations and Mobilities in Europe and Beyond (1945 – present)

Eszter Varsa

The conference “Trajectories of Romani Migrations and Mobilities in Europe and Beyond (1945–present)” was held in Villa Lanna in Prague on 16–18 September 2019. It examined multiple dimensions of Romani mobilities since 1945 and analyzed connections between forms of past mobilities and migrations and the most recent movements of various Romani groupings. It was intended as a response to a lack of reflection in the emerging field of Romani migration and mobilities studies on historical continuities and social trajectories. The conference pointed to the need for more comparative, intersectional and historically rooted research.

The Equivocal Legacy of 1989 and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy in Central Europe

Report on the “Democratic Revolution 1989: Thirty Years After” Conference
Kristina Andělová

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in November 2019, the international conference “The Democratic Revolution 1989: Thirty Years After” took place in the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. Its co-organizers included the Institute for Contemporary History of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. The conference presented the most recent research into the history of late communism, 1989 and the 1990s. Thirty years after the end of communism historians offered critical perspectives on the period of the so-called democratic transformation. They questioned the prevalent reading of 1989 and discussed topics of continuity with the communist regime or the global impact of 1989 and its legacy for today’s democratic activism. Moreover, many of the discussants mentioned an ongoing crisis of liberal democracy and the existence of deep social inequalities in recent Czech (and Central European) society.

Book Reviews

Political Echoes of Buchenwald

Jakub Šlouf

MOULIS, Miloslav: Z mých vzpomínek [From my memories]. Prepared and edited for publication by Lenka Kločková, Maria Chaloupková and Roman Štér. Praha, Národní archiv 2016, 279 pages, ISBN 978-80-7469-052-5.

The book From my Memories of the Czech historian, journalist, and publicist Miloslav Moulis (1921–2010) are a sequel of his previous book of memoirs, Vlaky do neznáma (Trains Heading for the Unknown) (Třebíč, Akcent 2011), which depicts the era of the first Czechoslovak Republic and the Nazi occupation during which the author, a member of the resistance movement, was imprisoned. The loose sequel starts with his return from the Buchenwald concentration camp and describes his life in post-war Czechoslovakia. As a Communist activist, he fi rst held various administrative jobs and started studying history in the 1960s. In the reviewer s opinion, Moulis’s memoirs may be beneficial for three aspects of historical studies: the evolution of political attitudes of low- and middle-level Communist officials in the 1950s and 1960s, the creation of post-war networks of personal relations within the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, in which alliances established during the Nazi internment were playing an important role, and the mutual union of reformist politicians and historiographers in the 1960s.

Reflections from Elsewhere

Latinos on the Czechoslovakia of the 1940s and 1950s
Hana Bortlová-Vondráková

ZOUREK, Michal (ed.): Československo očima latinskoamerických intelektuálů 1947–1959 [Czechoslovakia through the eyes of Latin American intellectuals 1947–1959]. Praha, Runa 2018, 303 pp, ISBN 978-80-87792-25-4.

The anthology Czechoslovakia in the eyes of Latin American intellectuals 1947–1959, assembled by a Latin American studies specialist Michal Zourek, brings testimonies of fourteen Latin American intellectuals, which describe the time they spent in Czechoslovakia between the onset of the Cold War and the outbreak of the Cuban revolution. Almost all authors of these texts, most of which can be characterized as reportages, including world-renowned writers such as Gabriel Garcíá Márquez, Pablo Neruda or Jorge Amado, shared a left-wing world outlook and claimed allegiance to Marxism. Actually, it was in the end of the 1940s and in the early 1950s that the socialist countries behind the Iron Curtain were most appealing for Latin American left-wing intellectuals, which, according to the author, was true especially for the Soviet Union, with Czechoslovakia as a generally developed country culturally close to the West ranking second. In the reviewer´s opinion, the texts selected from a variety of Latin American sources permit to view post-war Czechoslovakia “through the eyes of others” and provide many unique observations, although they are often uncritical and reflect the authors´ limited knowledge of Czechoslovakia´s reality. Provided with the author´s erudite introduction and conclusion, the anthology is an important source for learning more about relations between post-war Czechoslovakia and Latin American countries.

Prison Experience of the 1950s as a Specific Historical Phenomenon?

Marta Edith Holečková

PINEROVÁ, Klára: Do konce života: Političtí vězni padesátých let – trauma, adaptace, identita [Until the end of life: Political prisoners of the 1950s – Trauma, adaptation, identity]. (Edice Po válce.) [After the War Series.] Praha, Ústav pro stadium totalitních režimů – Lidové noviny 2017, 403 pages, ISBN 978-80-87912-87-4 and 978-80-7422-590-1.

In her work titled Until the end of life: Political prisoners of the 1950s – trauma, adaptation, identity, the authoress attempted to capture the prison experience of Czechoslovak male and female political prisoners of the 1950s as a complex socio-psychological phenomenon, from their arrest through their detention and interrogation, sentencing and subsequent internment until their release and long-term consequences the ex-prisoners had to put up with. According to the reviewer´s opinion, however, she has fulfi lled her goal only partly. The reviewer admits that the authoress has long been interested in transformations of prison systems in many countries, that she is able to undertake thorough heuristics, and that she invested a lot of personal effort into interviews with contemporary witnesses, trying to mediate their tragic experience to others. In order to capture the social dynamism in groups of prisoners, she describes in detail their relations and day-to-day culture, forms of adaptation to the prison environment, mechanisms of power, order and resistance, space and time behind bars, and also the gender aspect. The reviewer, however, brings into attention limitations of approaches taken over from individual and social psychology, which the authoress seems to prefer, questions the relevance of some comparative examples taken over from foreign research projects, the authoress´s intuitive use of historical terms, as well as some of her interpretations.

The Colourfulness of Prefab Grey

Petr Roubal

SKŘIVÁNKOVÁ, Lucie – ŠVÁCHA, Rostislav – NOVOTNÁ, Eva – JIRKALOVÁ, Karolina (ed.): Paneláci 1: Padesát sídlišť v českých zemích. Kritický katalog k cyklu výstav Příběh paneláku [The Paneláks 1: Fifty housing estates in the Czech Lands. Critical catalogue of a series of exhibitions “A story of a panelák”]. Praha, Uměleckoprůmyslové muzeum 2016, 4–63 pages, ISBN 978-80-7101-161-3; SKŘIVÁNKOVÁ, Lucie – ŠVÁCHA, Rostislav – KOUKALOVÁ, Martina – NOVOTNÁ, Eva (ed.): Paneláci 2: Historie sídlišť v českých zemích 1945–1989. Kritický katalog k výstavě Bydliště – panelové sídliště: Plány, realizace, bydlení 1945–1989 [The Paneláks 2: The history of housing estates in the Czech Lands 1945–1989. Critical catalogue of the exhibition “Residence – housing estate: Plans, realization, housing 1945–1989]. Praha, Uměleckoprůmyslové muzeum 2017, 350 pages, ISBN 978-80-7101-169-9.

Both collective publications (Prefab houses 1: Fifty prefab housing schemes in the Czech Lands. A critical catalogue of the “Prefab house story” series of exhibitions and Prefab houses 2: History of housing schemes in the Czech Lands 1945–1989. A critical catalogue of the “Residence – prefab housing scheme: Planning, realization, housing 1945–1989” exhibition) are products of a broadly conceived interdisciplinary research project the deliverables of which included, inter alia, exhibitions in Prague and all regional capitals of the Czech Republic and which were awarded the prestigious Magnesia Litera prize in 2018 as an extraordinary feat in the field of professional and educational literature. In the reviewer’s opinion, they bring the first-ever systematic attempt to periodize the prefab-based building projects in the Czech part of the former Czechoslovakia between the mid-1940s and the end of the 1980s, at the same time providing a multifaceted characterization based on a representative sample of fifty prefab housing schemes in Bohemia and Moravia. Each of them was subjected to a thorough artistic-historical analysis outlining the development of the housing scheme’s concept, providing brief information about its authors, describes its urbanistic concept, prefab technology used, and artefacts and decorations. Added to the above is a set of interdepartmental studies analyzing different aspects of the historical development of prefab housing schemes. The compact collective of authoresses and authors has succeeded in presenting the prefab housing schemes, no matter how similar they may seem, as a varied and dynamically developing phenomenon, which fact is underlined by excellent work with archival photographs and the generally outstanding graphic layout of the publications. The only critical comment the reviewer has is that the authors were so absorbed by the architectural aspect of the matter that they tended to overlook substantial changes of the socialist urbanism in Czechoslovakia.


Czech Journal of Contemporary History VIII / 2020

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