Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Stalinské obrazy nepřítele / Stalinist Images of the Enemy
The Image of the ‘Jew’ as the ‘Enemy’ in Late Stalinist Propaganda
When Stalinism was at its peak, between 1948 and 1953, there was a marked escalation in anti-Jewish manifestations by the Soviet régime, which has often been called ‘state’, ‘official’, or ‘Stalinist’ antisemitism. This article endeavours to provide an account of this by analysing the image of the ‘Jew’ in the propaganda of the time. The basis for the analysis is the concept of the ‘image of the enemy’ as a basic figure of the totalitarian ideological canon. The article traces the way in which the image was filled with meanings linked with the term ‘Jew’. To this end, the author employs semiotic textual analysis, which enables her gradually to uncover the character of the signs in the propagandistic language. She focuses on two propaganda campaigns that dominated the Soviet public space in this period. One was against so-called ‘cosmopolitanism’, from January to March 1949; the other was the so-called ‘Doctor’s Plot’ from January to March 1953. This method enables her to provide evidence of the anti-Jewish orientation of the campaigns, which have so far been deduced chiefly from quantitative lists of acts of repression against specific individuals of Jewish descent. Analysis of the semantic field of the image of the ‘Jew’ then reveals the mechanisms that, because of the many layers of the sign character of this image, were used to provide reasons for the home and foreign policies of the Soviet régime, as well as to justify its problems at home and abroad. The last part of the article consists in conclusions that the author finds applicable to Czechoslovakia at that time.
The Korean War as the Bull’s-eye of Socialist Realism
This article explores the representation of the Korean War as a fundamental event in the print media and belles-lettres of Stalinist Czechoslovakia from 1950 to 1952. It focuses on the special features of the mechanism of producing the image of the ‘enemy’ and the ‘hostile’ space, as well as analysing the interaction of period journalism and poetry. The author analyses the central phenomena, which created a cornerstone of the contemporaneous image of the Korean War (the figure of the leader and the mythology of the origin of the ‘enemy’), and correlates them with more general mechanisms of creating reality in the first half of the 1950s. He also points out the interlinkage and mutual influences of the pointed propagandistic rhetoric and poetic imagery. The article draws on collections of verse, which contain poems reacting to the war in Korea, and on occasional poems, journalism, and caricatures published mainly in the daily Rudé právo and the weekly Tvorba. In method, the article is in the tradition of research on ideology as a system of representing the real conditions of existence (as in the work of Louis Althusser and Slavoj Žižek) and the tradition of semiotic analysis of culture and society in the Stalinist period (as in the work of Vladimír Macura), identifying the very active, productive relationship between literature and the powers that be, which creates the very essence of socialist realism as a system (as discussed by Katerina Clark and Evgeny Dobrenko).
The Drama of the East German Exodus, 1989
The article seeks to chart out comprehensively mass attempts by citizens of the German Democratic Republic to defect to the West by way of the diplomatic missions of the Federal Republic of Germany in the capital cities of the Socialist countries, chiefly Prague, East Berlin, Budapest, and Warsaw. The author outlines the limited possibilities and the complicated circumstances of citizens who applied to emigrate from East to West Germany, and he discusses the important role of the attorney Wolfgang Vogel, Honecker’s official representative for humanitarian questions, in mediating this migration, and in solving crises that emerged during attempts to leave. As early as 1984, many East German refugees sought asylum in the diplomatic missions of the Federal Republic of Germany with the aim of compelling their authorities to let them leave the country. Five years later, the wave of refugees reached hitherto unimaginable dimensions, and was one of the factors that markedly contributed to the collapse of the Communist régime in the German Democratic Republic and ultimately to the end of the existence of East Germany as a state. The breaking point was the relaxation of border controls and the eventual opening up of the Hungarian-Austrian frontier between July and September 1989, by which the Hungarian reformist government reacted to the ever-growing number of East German refugees in the country. After that, the Honecker leadership limited its citizens’ travelling to Hungary, which, however, led to a massive pressure by thousands of refugees on the embassies of the Federal Republic of Germany in Warsaw and especially in Prague, where, in September, a humanitarian crisis erupted. The author provides a detailed reconstruction of the course of these events, including attempts by the parties involved to find a diplomatic solution. Under pressure from the Czechoslovak leadership, Erich Honecker, at the end of the month, gave in and reconciled himself to the departure of several thousand refugees from Prague via East German territory to the Federal Republic. His subsequent attempt to solve the increasingly urgent problem of closing the borders with Czechoslovakia as well, failed, however, and, by contrast, increased the East German citizens’ distaste for the régime. Honecker’s successor, Egon Krenz, was forced relax travel restrictions again between the two states. When, in early November 1989, he made it possible for citizens of the German Democratic Republic to travel to the West via Czechoslovakia with only their identity cards, the Berlin Wall became a non-functioning relic of the Cold War that was drawing to a close.
Czech(oslovak)-German Cultural Relations and Changing Conceptions of the Cultural Diplomacy of the Federal Republic of Germany
This article analyses and assesses changes in the basic principles and priorities of the cultural diplomacy of the Federal Republic of Germany from the post-war period to the present. It does so by comparing three central documents related to general conceptions, from 1977, 2000, and 2011, and considering them into the broader context of German political and social developments. The article seeks to explain what these changes say about the overall development of German foreign policy and German society, its perceptions of itself, and coming to terms with its complicated past. The interpretation of the individual conceptions is accompanied by a brief outline and an assessment of their consequences for the development of Czech(oslovak)-German cultural relations. The article draws on approaches taken in political science, while considering the topic from the position of an historian. It can reasonably be said to be part of the trend sometimes called ‘modern’ or ‘new’ political history.
In her analysis, the author seeks to demonstrate that the principles which were promoted in West German cultural diplomacy during the 1960s and 1970s (namely, an expanded conception of culture, culture as ‘something for everyone’, and emphasis on equal mutual exchange), were to a considerable extent still part of the conception of 2000. In recent years, however, Germany has somewhat retreated from them or interprets them differently, which is distinctly reflected in the conception of German cultural diplomacy from 2011. Mainly the emphasis on German national interests has increased, whereby the German approach has begun to resemble those of the French and the British. The article thus supports the thesis about the ‘normalization’ of German foreign policy in the twenty-first century. The historical development of international relations and also the growing influence of economic interests on the area of cultural diplomacy are reflected in, among other things, the change in regional priorities from a straightforward orientation to the West, then to attention to central and eastern Europe in transformation, and eventually to an increased interest in economically developing non-European countries.
Jiří Křesťan. Zdeněk Nejedlý: Politik a vědec v osamění (Z.N.: A politician and scholar all alone; Prague and Litomyšl: Paseka, 2012, 569 pp.).
The author assesses Jiří Křesťan’s biography of Zdeněk Nejedlý (1878–1962), which won the prestigious Magnesia litera prize in the non-fiction category in 2013, as the most detailed, largest, factually reliable, and clearly best biography of this figure of Czech history so far. He points out some of the traditional legends, which Křesťan, thanks to his almost exhaustive and honest research, has been able to debunk. Křesťan offers an exceptionally thorough treatment of his subject, particularly Nejedlý’s fortunes in the first Czechoslovak Republic and, in a completely new way, his wartime exile in the Soviet Union. In his endeavour to be fair, however, Křesťan, according to Čornej, occasionally idealizes Nejedlý and goes too far in his Vorverständnis approach to the primary sources. Křesťan is chiefly interested in Nejedlý the citizen and politician, while leaving almost completely aside Nejedlý the historian and musicologist. To these aspects of Nejedlý’s work Čornej devotes the greater part of his article. He outlines the phases of Nejedlý’s career as a scholar and, for the period before the First World War, he emphasizes Nejedlý’s combining empirical-critical methods with psychological ones, as appears, among other places, in his works about Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler. Čornej considers Nejedlý’s growing closer to the Communist movement between the world wars and how this is reflected in his scholarly works after 1945, when Nejedlý began to hold high political office. Nejedlý’s efforts to link together historical and cultural models, based on the Czech National Revival of the nineteenth century, together with Stalinist Marxism did not, however, according to Čornej, does not seem either organic or convincing, and ultimately had only an insignificant impact on Czech historiography.
The author emphasizes two obvious strengths of Křesťan’s large biography of Zdeněk Nejedlý – namely, the mere effort it takes to devote oneself to as thorough a treatment as possible of this important and still little discussed figure of modern Czech history, which Nejedlý certainly was, and, second, the endeavour ‘to get to the heart of Nejedlý’ by using many often unknown documents of a personal nature. In his assessment of the biography, however, the author is mainly critical, particularly about the lack of theoretical basis and method. He takes issue with Křesťan’s decision to discuss Nejedlý’s behaviour in various situations and relationships rather than to trace the development of Nejedlý’s views, because, according to Havelka, the author has thereby abandoned any ambitions to identify the deeper connections and contexts of this behaviour, and has clung mostly to a descriptive enumeration of facts and details, and cannot put them into a hierarchy because he has failed to formulate his own standpoint on Nejedlý’s meaning and importance. In his treatment, according to Havelka, Křesťan thus seems to have given in to the vices of the positivistic approach of Nejedlý’s own writings on history. Though Křesťan has made more precise much biographical information about him, or has at least provided more detail, he has, mostly remained prisoner to quoted testimonies, without feeling a need to decipher the contexts of their origin. In his sympathizing look he fails to analyse the consequences of Nejedlý’s influence and decisions, so that his portrait seems uncritical, apologetic. Moreover, the portrait palpably fails to identify Nejedlý’s role in the development of Czech scholarship. Havelka sees the absence of a prosopographical perspective as a fundamental shortcoming, for that would have shown Nejedlý’s works and deeds as part of, or as a representation of, more general collective Czech and, sometimes, European characteristics and attitudes of the times.
Křesťan’s biography of Zdeněk Nejedlý raises some fundamental questions, according to Olšáková, which Czech historians have not yet been able to deal with properly. Particularly striking is the contradiction between Nejedlý’s actually weak influence on public events, as is increasingly suggested by Křesťan’s interpretation, and his image in contemporary Czech society, which, because of the frameworks of collective memory, has outlasted all the historical watersheds, and Nejedlý has come to look like a ‘demon’ of the arts and sciences in Czechoslovakia in the post-war period. First and foremost, he left his mark in this period by his conception of Czech history, which for a long time became part of school curricula, but also with his promoting Bedřich Smetana as the ‘most national’ of Czech composers, or his running the Czech school system after the Communist takeover in February 1948, which was perceived as synonymous with Sovietization. But it was, according to Olšáková, Nejedlý’s ideological conception of Czech national traditions which provoked the resistance of specialists and stimulated critical research and the formulation of different views of the past. For sociologists of memory, Křesťan’s understanding of the ‘second life’ of Nejedlý then raises questions, such as whether in Czech society’s attitude to the man a desire for the continuity of Czechoslovakia before and after the Second World War is not projected, or whether his exclusively collective image was not derived from the First Republic’s reverence for ‘Daddy Masaryk’ or from the ‘cult of the personality’ of the Soviet leader Stalin. Olšáková states that in terms of treatment and conception Křesťan’s biography is far superior to the usual Czech histories, but she ultimately has doubts about Křesťan’s assessment of Nejedlý as a politician and scholar ‘all alone’.
The Ruling Elite, Society, and Mass Violence in the USSR under Stalinism
Conquest, Robert. Velký teror: Nové zhodnocení. Trans. from the English by Milan Dvořák. Prague: Academia, 2013, 812 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2078-9;
Geyer, Michael, and Sheila Fitzpatrick (eds). Za obzor totalitarismu: Srovnání stalinismu a nacismu. Trans. from the English by Jan Mervart and Jakub Rákosník. Prague: Academia, 2012, 868 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2035-2.
Considering their recent Czech translations, the reviewer first discusses the original historical context of the making of two publications, and considers their strengths and weaknesses – Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick (eds), Beyond Totalitarianism Stalinism and Nazism Compared (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2008) and Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment (London: Pimlico, 1992). She fully acknowledges the fundamental contribution that Conquest’s work on mass repression in the Soviet Union in the second half of the 1930s made to the historiography of Communism in the 1960s, and that with this book Conquest came to be ranked amongst the classic Western Sovietologists. A comparison with the works on violence in the Stalinist régime compiled in the volume Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009, however, suggests that current views on the topic are considerably more nuanced and freer of totalitarian models than Conquest’s. With regard to the Czechoslovak context today, the reviewer points out the pitfalls that the belated publication of works like Conquest’s Great Terror can entail by offering assessments and discussions that have long been superseded in Western historiography.
A Poet in His Historical Context
Galmiche, Xavier. Vladimír Holan, bibliotékář Boha: Praha 1905–1980. Trans. from the French by Lucie Koryntová. Prague: Akropolis, 2012, 232 pp., ISBN 978-80-87481-94-3.
The book under review, originally published as Vladimír Holan, le bibliothécaire de Dieu: Prague 1905–1980 (Paris, Institut d’études slaves, 2009), is a biography of one of the most notable Czech poets of the twentieth century, Vladimír Holan (1905–1980). The author, Xavier Galmiche, is a French scholar of Czech language and literature, a translator, and a professor at the Sorbonne. The publication, the reviewer argues, is an inspiring success. According to him, the author has set out not only to provide a comprehensive analysis of Holan’s works and an in-depth interpretation of some of his writing, as well as a reconstruction of the continuity of his career as a poet in the historical context. These two levels are supported by an analysis of the changing genres of Holan’s work. His social role, according to the reviewer, oscillated between being a ‘poet of revolt’ and a ‘poet on the road to salvation’. According to the reviewer, Galmiche’s assessment of Holan as a great Baroque poet of modern times, who for a while shared the Communist convictions of his generation but was eventually drawn by his spiritual disposition to Roman Catholicism, is bold but inspiring and well-argued.
Šmíd, Marek. Nepřítel: První republika. Radikalizace skupiny českých katolických intelektuálů v letech 1918–1938. Chomutov: L. Marek, 2012, 267 pp., ISBN 978-80-87127-36-0.
In this book, according to the reviewer, the author has conducted a deep probe into the thought world of a group of intellectuals in the first Czechoslovak Republic who were Roman Catholics to such an extent that they forgot that they were also Christians. The author, however, has put too many different figures into one group, and then, from an analysis of their views, has sometimes made simplistic or problematic generalizations, for example, about the Roman Catholic intellectuals’ attitude towards the régime of the First Republic in particular and democracy in general. The reviewer appreciates the emphasis on the political dimension of Roman Catholic thought in this period, but considers the scope of the treatment of some parts of the topic, such as antisemitism, to be insufficient.
A Comprehensive New Elaboration
Letz, Róbert. Slovenské dejiny, vol. 5, 1938–1945. Bratislava: Literárne informačné centrum, 2012, 367 pp., ISBN 978-80-8119-055-1.
The reviewer offers a considerably wide-ranging discussion of the latest volume of a high-quality history of Slovakia. The volume is devoted to the first Slovak State, which existed almost solely in the years of the Second World War. He discusses in particular the chapters on the history leading up to Slovak independence after the demise of the first Czechoslovak Republic in autumn 1938, the political system, and life in the new state, its foreign policy, acts of repression, and the anti-Fascist resistance in Slovakia. He also notes the assessments made here of the Slovak President Jozef Tiso (1887–1947) and the Czechoslovak President in exile, Edvard Beneš (1884–1948), which cast the Slovak politician, who was sentenced to death after the war, in a better light than his Czechoslovak counterpart. None the less, the reviewer considers Letz’s book to be one of the most comprehensive and balanced monographs, indeed, simply one of the best, on Slovak history during the Second World War.
Between Indestructible Unity and a War in the Press
Zimmermann, Volker. Eine sozialistische Freundschaft im Wandel: Die Beziehungen zwischen der SBZ/DDR und der Tschechoslowakei (1945–1969). Essen: Klartext, 2010, 639 pp., ISBN 978-3-8375-0296-1.
This publication by a German historian considers the relations between Czechoslovakia and, first, the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany and, then, the German Democratic Republic in the first 25 years since the end of the Second World War. The reviewer is impressed by the breadth of the material covered here, which goes beyond diplomatic and institutional relations in general, and includes relations in the arts and sciences, amongst the youth, and trade unions, as well as travel. It thereby penetrates the thought world, motivations, interests, and strategies of various actors. Its main contributions, according to the reviewer, are both the conclusion that within the existing ideological and political bounds there was considerable space for creating mutual relations and articulating distinctive interests, and the finding that in the 1960s the German Democratic Republic was diplomatically far more on the offensive than Czechoslovakia.
Vojtěchovský, Ondřej. Z Prahy proti Titovi! Jugoslávská prosovětská emigrace v Československu. Prague: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2012, 695 pp., ISBN 978-80-7308-428-8.
This publication considers the lives of almost 200 Yugoslav political exiles, who, after the rift between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in 1948, settled permanently in Czechoslovakia, where they could manifest their loyalty to Stalin and opposition to Josip Broz Tito. The reviewer appreciates that depth with which the author discusses the microcosm these exiles lived in, which in some respects resembled a ghetto, and he presents a vivid picture of the ideology and the atmosphere, fraught with passion, of the founding phase of the Communist régimes. Considering the ‘Yugoslav Question’, he casts light on some relations and mechanisms in the operation of the Communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia, and it is this second dimension, according to the reviewer, which elevates the work clearly above the usual standards. One of the marked weak points, according the reviewer, is the absence of a theoretical basis of the interpretation.
The Life of Cardinal Josef Beran
Vodičková, Stanislava. Uzavírám vás do svého srdce: Životopis Josefa kardinála Berana. Brno and Prague: Centrum pro studium demokracie a kultury and Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2009, 399 pp., ISBN 978-80-7325-189-5 and 978-80-87211-16-8.
The most pronounced contribution of this biography of Cardinal Josef Beran (1888–1969), according to the reviewer, consists in the facts the author has discovered and in his making biographical information more precise on the basis of previously inaccessible archive records. The main part of the publication is a discussion of Beran’s conflict with the Communist régime from the beginning of its establishment in 1948 and his long imprisonment, which ended in 1965, followed by his going into exile in Rome. But, according to the reviewer, the uneven writing style mars the work, as does the largely unsuccessful linking of the biographical perspective together with the wider context. Moreover, the publication contains inaccuracies in the area of Roman Catholic theology and Church life and institutions.
Bauerkämper, Arnd, and Hartmut Kaelble (eds), Gesellschaft in der europäischen Integration seit den 1950er Jahren: Migration – Konsum – Sozialpolitik – Repräsentationen, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2012, 187 pp., ISBN 978-3-515-10045-8.
This volume comes out of a conference organized by the Italian Cultural Institute, Berlin, and the Freie Universität, Berlin. It is, according to the reviewer, an example of diverse and inspired ways of thinking about the past, the present, and the prospects of the European Union and integration in it. In four topic groups, the contributions discuss the social consequences of political integration, the relationship between European and non-European migration, the effect of political integration on consumer society, social policy, and the welfare state, and, lastly, European politics and its representation in the arts and sciences. Thanks to the wide range of topics, the great number of questions raised, and the varied approaches to interpretation, the publication can, the reviewer argues, serve as a very good introduction to European Studies.
A Brno Workshop on Environmental History
On 28 March 2014, a workshop entitled ‘Green History? Why Is There So Little History in Environmental History’ was held at the Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno. Its participants discussed why environmental history, which in the West for a quarter of a century has been considered one of the most promising new branches of history, still enjoys such little interest from Czech historians, and how to change this state of affairs. A lecture series about the possibilities of using environmentalist approaches in contemporary history, which will continue in the 2014/15 academic year, should help to rectify that.
A Brief Report on the Holdings of a Budapest Archive
This report provides basic information about the Open Society Archives at Central European University, Budapest, which were established in 1995. It offers an overview of the holdings of the library, the video library, and the archives, and points out particularly interesting collections, including the exceptionally rich collection of periodicals in forty languages from the countries of the former Soviet bloc and the complete documentation of the national desks of Radio Free Europe, which are bound to be useful for researchers from all over and not just from the post-Communist countries.