Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Státní sociální politika v Československu (1918–1989) / Social Policy in Czechoslovakia, 1918–89
Jakub Rákosník introduces the central topic of the current double issue of Soudobé dějiny, social policy in Czechoslovakia, 1918–89. The introduction is followed by four articles, three based on a research project funded by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic, ‘The Formation and Development of the Welfare State in Czechoslovakia, 1918–92’, and one based on a project of the Grant Agency of Charles University, ‘Changes in Family Policy from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to the People’s Democracy of Czechoslovakia’ (the article by Radka Šustrová).
The Development of the Welfare State in Czechoslovakia, 1918–56
This article is concerned with the long-term trends in the development of social policy between the First World War and the mid-1950s. The author begins by summarizing the main ideas of his own previous articles and books. He emphasizes 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.
Social Policy in Practice in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
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 régime when implementing social policy in relation to different parts of the population, ranging from social exclusion to forms of social protectionism.
This article follows on chronologically from the preceding article published in the current issue of Soudobé dějiny, and seeks to identify and explain the main lines in the development of social policy in Czechoslovakia from 1956 to the end of the Communist régime in late 1989. It combines historical analytical narration and eye-witness recollections – for the author was continuously involved, at international institutes and in Czechoslovakia from the late 1950s onwards, in the theory and practical implementation of social policy (although in the period of re-established hard-line Communism, called ‘normalization’, beginning in 1969, he was unable to be publicly involved). Since he worked in academia, mostly in the second half of the 1960s, and actively participated in efforts to achieve a fundamental reform of the Czechoslovak social model, he can provide valuable insight into the intellectual ferment of the times. In this article he provides a clear overview of the important social-policy measures that were developed and implemented between two tendencies, in which the welfare state became an instrument of the populist politics of the Communist Party and the Government, while faced with the pressures of economic reality. Throughout the period of adopting the Soviet model of the welfare state, efforts began, with the beginning of de-Stalinization, to develop and liberalize it, and these picked up pace in the months of the Prague Spring of 1968. In the next two decades, however, these efforts were again eliminated with normalization and the return to the Soviet model. The author calls the main feature of normalization social policy (particularly in the 1970s) ‘corporatization’ – that is, the transfer of a whole range of social tasks from the State to the state-owned enterprises, which, however, had the effect of fatally hampering the efficiency and the profitability of production. In conclusion, the author points to projects created in the Labour and Social Affairs Research Institute in the second half of the 1980s, which were subsequently useful in many aspects of the transformation of social policy following the collapse of the Communist régime in late 1989.
Social Policy and Its Implementation in Czechoslovak and East German Pension Schemes, 1970–89
This article is concerned with the topic of socialist social policy as a special feature and an extremely important instrument of legitimating power and of guardianship. Drawing on his extensive archive research, the author compares the starting points of the social-policy measures of the Czechoslovak and the East German Communist leaderships from 1970 to 1989. He discusses the fundamental systemic prerequisites and ambitions of social policy, points out the limits of economic policy, and outlines the individual stages in the development of social policy in the two countries in this period. The focal point of the article is a systematic comparison of the development of pension plans, to which the political establishment in each country paid considerable attention. Providing social security to their senior citizens was a serious problem for both régimes right up to late 1989, and the implemented measures were only partly successful in dealing with it. The article identifies the pitfalls of retirement insurance, and considers the standard of living of pensioners in both countries. From his research, he concludes that old-age pensions were the Achilles’ heel of East German socialism. The unanticipated circumstances of senior citizens, the tangible decline in their standard of living, the considerable employment of people of a post-productive age, and the continuous violation of the publicly declared principle of merit are, however, among the problems that the Czechoslovak régime also struggled with throughout the years of reinstating hard-line Communism in the post-1969 policy of ‘normalization’.
In this article, the author aims to provide an overview of the various approaches to research on everyday life in historiography and other social sciences. He then outlines his own attempt to conceptualize everyday life. In his introduction, he argues that historians and their colleagues in related fields who work with everyday life in their research usually do not define it as a theoretical concept or method, and start from a certain intuitive empathy. This leads to semantic confusion. Yet it is generally accepted that the history of everyday life stands in opposition to ‘big’ or political history. In works of popular history, if the discussion comes round to housing, food, or customs, everyday life is usually limited to a description of historical curiosities and anecdotes. The author finds a more systematic interest in everyday life developing amongst historians in the late nineteenth century in connection with its being defined in opposition to traditional, positivist history. A true interest in the lives of ordinary people did not arise till the 1960s and 1970s as part of the emancipation of social and cultural history and it tended to be motivated more by criticism of the establishment than by academic concerns. The history of everyday life then became accepted in the ‘new cultural history’, which characteristically employed an anthropological perspective and became established as a distinctive stream in historical research in the 1990s.
In his survey, the author first examines ethnographic approaches and the history of private life, typical of which is a dual model that divides everyday life into ‘objective reality’ and subjective experience. He then moves to a discussion of the German history of everyday life (Alltagsgeschichte), whose chief practitioner (despite all its variety), Alf Lüdtke (b. 1943), is probably, the author argues, the man most responsible for establishing everyday life as an area of historical research and he has defended its position against social historians, who have criticized it for allegedly being unscholarly. In this stream of thought, called ‘social interactionism’, the author includes Michel de Certeau (1925–1986), the French scholar who also formulated his conception of everyday life as an alternative to various forms of social determinism, and put the emphasis on the interpretative dimension of social reality in interaction between the subject and the outside world. The author then critically sets out to come to terms with the concept as used by German cultural historians, especially Martin Sabrow (b. 1954) and Thomas Lindenberger (b. 1955), which was developed into an analysis of a dimension of everyday life in the Nazi and Communist dictatorships in Germany, called the Sinnwelt (in Czech, myšlenkový svět). He also returns to current Czech debates about the possible applications of these approaches to the history of Communist Czechoslovakia. In his view, the conception of everyday reality in the phenomenological sociology of Alfred Schütz (1899–1959), an Austrian who developed the philosopher Edmund Husserl’s (1859–1938) idea of the natural or experienced world (Lebenswelt), is the best thought out and most promising.
In the second part of his article, the author offers his own view of how to conceptualize everyday life for historical research. He endeavours to identify the main features of its structure, which, according to him, comprises corporeality (and the spatiality linked to it), cyclical and linear temporality, and social relations. He then concludes by formulating his own working definition of everyday life: it is, he proposes, the immediately experienced world of a human being, limited by his or her physical being, bound to the flow of time, and woven into the web of social relations, which consists of meanings.
Marta Edith Holečková
Using recently released record groups in the National Archives, Prague, the author considers the history of the University of 17 November (Univerzita 17. listopadu), focusing on the lives of foreign students amongst the local inhabitants of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in the 1960s and early 1970s. The University of 17 November operated in Prague and then in Bratislava from 1961 to 1974 as an educational institution for students from the ‘Third World’, but also as training centre for Czechoslovak experts heading out to developing countries. Its existence was also linked with Czechoslovak attempts to gain a foothold in Africa, motivated ideologically, politically, and economically. It was established with the expectation that graduates from the university would become emissaries of Czechoslovak interests in their home countries. But this expectation, argues the author, was not quite met. Behind the comparatively frequent conflicts between the foreign students and the natives of Czechoslovakia the author sees mainly the prejudice and aversion of the closed local milieu, which were not overcome by either the official ‘internationalist’ propaganda or the inconsistent attempts to deal with incidents that arose. Only after the Prague Spring of 1968, when the University of 17 November was publishing a magazine, Fórum zahraničních studentů (Foreign Students’ Forum), were these problems reflected upon more openly. Nevertheless, according to the author, one cannot ignore the contribution that this institution made towards the flowering of a number of specialized academic fields in Czechoslovakia, including African studies, Latin American studies, ethnography, and translation studies, and to establishing useful long-term contacts in the Third World.
In his book, Nejsou jako my: Česká společnost a menšiny v pohraničí (1945–1960) (They Are Not Like Us: Czech Society and Minorities in the Borderlands, 1945–90; Prague: Antikomplex, 2011), the young historian Matěj Spurný has, according to the author, done excellent work in researching three selected minorities in the Czech borderlands in the first fifteen years since the end of the Second World – the ethnic Germans who were not expelled, the Roma, and the Volhynian Czechs. He focuses mainly on the development of the attitudes of majority society towards these minorities and on their role in the politics of the Czechoslovak state and the Czechoslovak Communist Party. His analysis of the various levels of the subject, his work with the primary sources, and his precise, well-considered use of terms are faultless. But, according to the author, the core of the publication is based on questioning the existing paradigm in the interpretation of post-war Czechoslovak history. This mainly concerns the predominant dichotomous depiction of the régime and society as two separate entities and the periodization of post-war Czechoslovak history with the milestone as February 1948. Spurný supports his ‘revisionist view’ with an analysis of the legitimating strategies of the Communist Party in relation to the minorities, and emphasizes the long-term continuities.
The Object of Social Engineering in the Czech Borderlands?
In this article the author discusses the main ideas in Matěj Spurný’s Nejsou jako my: Česká společnost a menšiny v pohraničí (1945–1960) (They Are Not Like Us: Czech Society and Minorities in the Borderlands, 1945–60; Prague: Antikomplex, 2011). He considers the book an important contribution to the social history of post-war Czechoslovakia, since Spurný attempts not only to identify the changing attitude of majority Czech society and its political élites 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 remigrants. 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 post-war Czech history and its interpretation.
Two Reflections on a Work by Matěj Spurný
According to the author of this article, Matěj Spurný’s Nejsou jako my: Česká společnost a menšiny v pohraničí (1945–1960) (They Are Not Like Us: Czech Society and Minorities in the Borderlands, 1945–60; Prague: Antikomplex, 2011) enriches Czech historiography with its analysis of state policy on minorities in the Czech borderlands after the Second World War. But the work says less about these minorities and the periphery than it does about majority society and the centre. Spurný provides a superb analysis of the language of propaganda and nationalist ideology, introduces key new topics into Czech writing about history, and contributes importantly to the discussion about the nature of the Czechoslovak Communist régime. By contrast, she concentrates on the theoretical framework of Spurný’s book, and takes issue with his definition of ‘minority’, in which, according to her, he unthinkingly combines a social-constructivist approach with an objectivist conception based on his belief in the existence of real criteria of ethnicity. The minorities that are the topic of Spurný’s book were not, she argues, actually excluded on the basis of objective national (or ethnic) features, but on the basis of perspectives by which majority society and its representatives gauged them.
The author then discusses the status of national minorities under Communist régimes, particularly minority policy in the Soviet Union. That, according to her, in its extremely contradictory nature, is hard to comprehend, but she considers its most striking feature to be the artificial construct of ethnic minorities. This fact makes problematic, among other things, any credit that the Communist régime is allegedly due for having emancipated minorities, as Spurný writes they had done in connection with the Roma of Czechoslovakia.
Czech Historical Writing and Research on the Final Phase of the Second World War
Hrbek, Jaroslav, Vít Smetana, Stanislav Kokoška, Vladimír Pilát, and Petr Hofman. Draze zaplacená svoboda: Osvobození Československa 1944–1945, vols 1 and 2. Prague: Paseka, 2009, 351 and 358 pp;
Kokoška, Stanislav et al. Nultá hodina? Československo na jaře 1945 ve strategických souvislostech. (Edice Prostopravdy, vol. 2.) Prague: Euroslavica and the Nadační fond angažovaných nestraníků, 2011, 256 pp.
According to the reviewer, the two publications under review – Smetana, Kokoška, Pilát, and Hofman’s Draze zaplacená svoboda: Osvobození Československa 1944–1945 (Freedom at a High Cost: The Liberation of Czechoslovakia, 1944–45) and Kokoška et al.’s Nultá hodina? Československo na jaře 1945 ve strategických souvislostech (Starting from Scratch? Czechoslovakia in Spring 1945 in the Strategic Contexts) – to a considerable extent combine the personal outlooks of their authors, a chronological delimitation, and an orientation to military, political, and sometimes 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.
Losing One’s Home and (Not) Finding a New One
Kossert, Andreas. Chladná vlast: Historie odsunu Němců po roce 1945. Trans. from the German by Jiří Strážnický and Jan Matuš. Brno: Host, 2011, 480 pp.
In her review of the Czech translation of Andreas Kossert’s Kalte Heimat: Die Geschichte der deutschen Vertriebenen nach 1945 (Munich, 2008), the reviewer welcomes the Czech edition, which presents a comparatively new and comprehensive view of the fate of the ethnic Germans who were expelled from central and eastern Europe after the Second World War and settled in both parts of divided Germany. In the Czech Republic, the perception of their fate is too often distorted, presented without sufficient information. According to the reviewer, however, the author has not avoided oversimplification, imprecision, and tendentiousness, manifesting on the one hand a lack of knowledge of Czech and Polish primary sources and secondary literature and, on the other, his personal involvement in the topic. Although he dispels the generally declared myth about the expellees’ successful integration into the Federal Republic of Germany, he paints an oversimplified picture of the ‘good expellees’ on the one hand and the ‘wicked Germans’ on the other.
A Political Biography of Prokop Drtina
Koutek, Ondřej. Prokop Drtina: Osud československého demokrata. Prague: Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů and Vyšehrad, 2011, 435 pp.
The important politician and member of the Czechoslovak National Social Party, Prokop Drtina (1900–1980), the son of a politician and philosopher, Professor František Drtina (1867–1925), had hitherto been one of the eminent figures of Czechoslovak politics who was still without a biography. Making his publishing début, the historian Ondřej Koutek has, according to the reviewer, achieved a successful, positivist, standard political biography in which he portrays Drtina’s life, chiefly as a public figure, while paying most of his attention to Drtina’s work as Minister of Justice in the post-war government of the National Front. The argumentation of Koutek’s book is well balanced, based on a representative selection of primary sources and secondary literature.
Wagnerová, Alena. Sidonie Nádherná a konec střední Evropy. Trans. from the German by Vratislav Slezák. Prague: Argo, 2010, 214 pp.
Sidonie Nádherná (1885–1950), a baroness and patroness of the arts and a love interest of the great writers Karl Kraus and Rainer Maria Rilke, has been closely linked to the manor house in Vrchotovy Janovice (Janowitz), central Bohemia. Though she has attracted the interest of scholars of literature and historians, she has until recently remained in the shadow of her two famous admirers. In the work under review (the Czech translation of Das Leben der Sidonie Nádherný. Eine Biographie, Hamburg, 2003), the writer Alena Wagnerová provides, according to the reviewer, a new view, combining the genre of cultural-historical biography with moderate feminism, truly making her protagonist the centre of interest. Her book is also a probe into a society, and by means of the life story of Sidonie Nádherná she depicts the trends, hopes, and context of the period.
Czechoslovakia and Italy between the Wars
Houska, Ondřej. Praha proti Římu: Československo-italské vztahy v letech 1922–1929. (Fontes, vol. 3.) Prague: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2011, 214 pp.
Ondřej Houska, the author of the work under review (whose title translates as Prague against Rome: Czechoslovak-Italian Relations, 1922–29), has, according to the reviewer, created a readable work, based on the careful analysis of a great deal of information, about Czechoslovak-Italian political and diplomatic relations in the 1920s, from the coming to power of Mussolini and his Fascists to the breakdown of treaty-based cooperation between the two countries. In this way, he has largely succeeded in filling a gap in our knowledge of the international relations of the first Czechoslovak Republic. The reviewer praises, among other things, Houska’s use of a broad range of Italian archive records and his critical assessment of the actions of the Czechoslovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edvard Beneš (1884–1948). He argues, however, that the author has neglected economic relations between Prague and Rome.
Zmátlo, Peter. Katolíci a evanjelici na Slovensku (1929–1932): Ľudáci a národniari na ceste k spolupráci. Ružomberok: Verbum, 2011, 368 pp.
The author discusses the political rapprochement between Slovak Roman Catholics and Lutherans in the late 1920s and early 1930s, which took place mainly with regard to the pragmatic advocacy of national demands and culminated in the adoption of the ‘Zvolen Manifesto’ in the autumn of 1932, which demanded autonomy for Slovakia in legislative matters in Czechoslovakia. According to the reviewer, the author does a good job of conveying these complicated, dramatic events, is well oriented in the primary sources and secondary literature, and is critical in his assessments of Slovak politics, but his work fails to provide the broader central European context.
Rünitz, Lone. Diskret ophold: Jødiske flygtningebørn under besættelsen. En invandrerhistorie. (Studies in History and Social Sciences, vol. 399.) Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag, 2010, 298 pp + 35 photographs.
In this publication, whose Danish title translates as ‘A Discreet Sojourn: Jewish Refugee Children during the Occupation. A Story of Immigrants’, Lone Rünitz, a German historian, considers the fate of Jewish children who fled the Nazi régimes in Germany, Austria, and the former Czechoslovakia, and found asylum in Denmark. According to the reviewer, the author has made good use of her many years in Denmark and her long-term interest in the history of the Shoah and involuntary migration. Her work with the primary sources is exemplary, and the exposition is clear and gripping, also discussing Theresienstadt (Terezín), where some of the children were deported from Denmark.
O’Hara, S. Paul. Gary: The Most American of All American Cities. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2011, 196 pp.
The book under review tells the story of Gary, Indiana, a town that was founded near Chicago, in the early twentieth century, as the exemplary ultra-modern industrial centre of US Steel. According to the reviewer, the author’s method is influenced by a number of works on urban culture, and presents the process of American industrialization with its rapid rise, fame, and fall, social conflicts, and environmental problems, using this one striking example, Gary. The author has also sought to identify the changing perceptions of the town in public opinion, amongst its own inhabitants, and in the constructions of post-war narratives of industrialization.
A Conference to Mark the Eightieth Birthday of Vilém Prečan
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 Palais, 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, organized 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.