Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
In this extensive article, divided into two parts, the author traces how the lessons of the Munich Agreement of September 1938 (on the basis of which Czechoslovakia was forced to cede the predominantly ethnic-German Sudetenland to Nazi Germany) were projected into US foreign policy. In Part One of the essay, based on published sources and unpublished documents from American archives, the topic is covered from the late 1930s to the outbreak of the Korean War (which is discussed in Part Two, to be published in the next issue of Soudobé dějiny).
The author looks at immediate American reaction to the North Korean attack on South Korea in June 1950, and then returns to autumn 1938 to test his hypothesis that behind the unusual unity of this reaction was the ingrained negative attitude of the United States to the policy of appeasement. He demonstrates that since the late 1930s the terms ‘Munich’ and ‘appeasement’ have remained forever linked in US policy and US public discourse, and he discusses the transformations of the perception of the two concepts during the Second World War, after the war, and at the beginning of the Cold War. The lessons of Munich, he argues, have drawn on the idealistic as well as the pragmatic sources of US policy, because they stem from the conviction that appeasement is immoral and does not pay. Whereas in Roosevelt’s policy the general lesson was not to allow Hitler’s expansion, Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor in the White House, had to use the lessons, despite his own self-restraint, to try to counter the steps of a wartime ally, Stalin’s Soviet Union. The Communist take-over in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 and the blockade of the western sectors of Berlin beginning in the summer of that year were important events on this path.
The Story of a Town in North Bohemia as a Case Study of the Transformations of Socialist Modernity
The story of how and why the old north Bohemian town of Most was destroyed in the 1970s to enable lignite (brown-coal) mining serves the author as a case study with which to outline the transformations of the State-Socialist version of modernity in the twentieth century. In doing so, he raises a fundamental question: What were the intellectual and social contexts that made it possible to justify this gigantic experiment, a result of which was the destruction of one of the most valuable historic towns in the Bohemian Lands? The author outlines the history of Most as a centre of power and economics from the thirteenth century onwards, the growing economic importance of the coal-mining area in the foothills of the Giant Mountains (Podkrušnohorská pánev), and considerations about expanding mining to the area of the town itself. After the Second World War, these considerations were recast into plans for the demolition of the old town of Most and the building of a new town of the same name. The plans were given the blessing of the key political bodies of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in 1962.
The author looks at the story from three different perspectives. The first is local, emphasizing the special nature of the landscape and society in this region of the Bohemian borderlands (formerly called the Sudetenland). Typical of this perspective are the interrupted traditions and broken bonds between human beings and their environment, and the demise of local ethnic, cultural, and religious identity in consequence of the dramatic population exchange after 1945 (the expulsion of the Germans and the re-settlement of the borderlands); these bonds and traditions were eventually substituted for by identifying with the industrial vision, based on work, productivity, and modernity. Productivist thinking as the second perspective in the essay, by contrast, is of a global nature, occurring wherever civilization was spread. By this logic, the author argues, the Most region was reduced to a storehouse of raw materials necessary for the further development of the country and the lives of its inhabitants who were subordinated to depersonalized economic powers and the apparently unquestioned needs of progress. The author argues that the management of the North Bohemian Lignite Mines (Severočeské hnědouhelné doly) was the driving force behind the removal of Most and that the calculation of a positive financial balance of local mining was the key argument for the legitimation of the project. The third perspective offered here is that of urban planners’ utopias, and it also puts the story into the context of European modernism. Here, the author explains, against the background of changes in avant-garde thinking in Czechoslovakia and the rest of Europe from the 1930s through the 1960s, the vision, and construction, of the new Most as a ‘City of Roses’ to take the place of derelict old Most. According to the author, the whole project had its origins in a rationally organized utopia, a clean and socially just city of the future, and it was presented as such to the public.
Among other things, the author discusses public responses to the plans for the removal of Most in the 1960s, in the context of nascent attention to the natural environment and the undeveloped interest in the preservation of historical monuments. In the second half of the decade, particularly during the Prague Spring, these plans then became the subject of public criticism, and the cultural elite began clearly to distinguish itself from productivist ideology itself. Even though critical voices were silenced with the coming of ‘normalization’ policy in 1969, Most can, according to the author, serve as a good example of the birth of a new paradigm, one founded on the synthesis of the technocratic mentality and the humanist discourse of respecting the cultural heritage. That was fully manifested in the campaign for moving the most valuable architectural monument in Most, the Gothic Church of the Assumption. Thanks to the solution, which was an internationally unique feat of engineering, the church was moved almost one kilometre outside the mining area. This event, intended to express the Socialist State’s concern for the natural environment and cultural heritage, became the icon of the Most story as a whole. The author concludes by claiming that although the post-war history of Most is doubtless an expression of the ideology and directive practice of State Socialism, it is to a far greater degree a convex mirror of industrial European modernism.
German-speaking Jews in Poland and Czechoslovakia Immediately after the Second World War
This article compares the situation of the German-speaking Jews both of Czechoslovakia and of Poland in the early years after the Second World War. The author considers their legal status and problems with citizenship, the obstacles to their being re-included in Czechoslovak and Polish societies, the difficulties they faced in seeking the restitution of their property, and the pressures on them to leave their countries. She demonstrates this with specific cases, and concludes that the German-speaking Jews in both countries did not fall into artificially created black-and-white categories of national enemies on the one hand and patriots (‘nationally reliable’) on the other. This uncertain status was also manifested in their unclear legal status. Particularly in Czechoslovakia, the Jews were required to struggle (ultimately often in vain) to re-acquire their citizenship, which all people of German or Hungarian ethnicity (národnost) had automatically lost after the war. In Poland, German-speaking Jews who were Polish citizens up to 1939 had a right to Polish citizenship, but the situation was more complicated for Jews from the newly acquired territories of Poland and for people from mixed marriages. The author points out that the everyday problems faced by these people were similar in both countries: the impossibility of using German and the problems with communication, social discrimination, insufficient financial support, finding work, and the restitution of their property. Most of the German-speaking Jews therefore tried to leave Poland and Czechoslovakia. The author concludes her article by asking whether after the war the Jews, particularly those whose everyday language was German, did not find themselves in the position of unwanted victims of Nazi arbitrary rule, having survived the Shoah, but remaining, for majority society, aliens in their own countries.
The article is concerned with the formation and development of the supranational organizations in the West which were composed of political exiles from the countries behind the Iron Curtain, mainly during the first phase of the Cold War. The article sets out chiefly to provide a basic factual overview and to outline a possible comparison of the types, activities, and aims of the anti-Communist exile organizations. Regardless of whether they were political parties, national committees, or ideological and professional organizations working in exile, the task and status of these subjects depended entirely, the author argues, on changes in the international situation and the degree of support from Western governments, chiefly the United States of America. That is demonstrated by their being established one after the other in the late 1940s and early 1950s, their comparatively short period of real activity in the first half of the 1950s, and, later, their gradual, though irreversible, decline over the next decades. The author then focuses in detail on the five most important ‘exile internationals’: the International Peasant Union, the Socialist Union of Central and Eastern Europe, the Liberal Democratic Union of Central and Eastern Europe, the Christian Democratic Union of Central Europe, and the International Centre of Free Trade Unions in Exile. Although these groups achieved some importance, and although a number of Czechs worked in their organizations, Czech historians have yet to pay systematic attention to them, let alone to the chapter of Cold War exiles as a whole.
This is a revised and expanded version of the essay ‘Communism in Eastern Europe’, which was published in S. A. Smith, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the History of Communism, Oxford: OUP, 2014, pp. 203–21. Here, the author offers a comprehensive historical view of the phenomenon of ‘East European Communism’ (including Yugoslavia and Albania). The region of eastern Europe is characterized here on the basis of a few shared features and in essence corresponds geographically to the delimitation of the ‘outer Soviet Empire’. The author discusses the concept of Communism and its alternatives as a name for the regime and the society that existed in this region from the early post-war years until 1990. He pleads for a conception of Communism which would take into account its multilayered nature, comprising three main parts: an ideology with a claim to be a ‘scientific’ interpretation of the world, a political, social, and cultural mass movement, and lastly, a system of rule ensured by Soviet domination and often called ‘State Socialism’. Communist systems in eastern Europe, he argues, suffered from ‘fundamental contradictions’, stemming from special national and regional features, which eventually determined its demise, but, paradoxically, also helped to keep the system alive. Here was a conflict between Marxist class ideology and political national identity, the social determination of power, the interaction between economic policy and the consumer behaviour of society, and the tension between the ideological norm and the critical function of art. The overall view of the transformations of these four fundamental contradictions of Communism from the beginning of the Communist movement and the Communist régimes to their collapse, with which the author seeks to cast doubt on the superficial contradiction between internal and external factors of their development, creates the main content of the essay.
In his interpretation of the dynamics of the relationship between class and nation the author concludes that these principles were able to coexist in Communism for a long time, although it was a highly problematic coexistence and one that ultimately led to the defeat of ‘internationalism’ and of class consciousness. Concerning the relationship between power and society, the author advocates the most recent approaches of social history which, unlike the theory of totalitarianism, cast doubt on the sharp contrast between the two categories and see the Socialist dictatorship as a product of social interaction between rulers and ruled. The special socialist consumer culture was, the author argues, gradually formed in the mutual tension between production and consumption. It is hard to say whether this culture tended to support the Communist government or, rather, contributed to its gradual decay. At the level of the clash between ideology and culture, the author formulates an argument about a transition from ‘programmatic’ to ‘processual’ utopia, when the art of the post-Stalinist years abandoned the great ideals of building a perfect society and substituted for them an ideologically discreet depiction of everyday life with faith in a better world. In the conclusion of the essay, the author expresses his conviction about the need to historicize East European Communism, a prerequisite of which is that this phenomenon cease to be interpreted as a deviation or deformation of European modernism, and about the need for comparative research on State Socialism, capitalism, and post-colonialism as socio-political systems of this modernism.
Houda, Přemysl. Intelektuální protest, nebo masová zábava? Folk jako společenský fenomén v době tzv. normalizace (Intellectual protest or mass entertainment? Folk music as a social phenomenon in the ‘Normalization’ period), vol. 12 in the Šťastné zítřky (Happy tomorrows) series, Prague: Academia, 2014, 239 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2353-7.
Content and Context Which Detract from a Book and Its Subject Matter
Zdeněk R. Nešpor
In the first part of this review article, the author critically considers mainstream Czech contemporary history writing as a whole. Apart from the missed opportunities to tackle potentially ‘big’ topics that might also be of interest to readers outside the Czech Republic – which unfortunately only a few individuals have devoted themselves to – he argues that historians’ being suspicious of, or ignoring, any kind of theoretical concept and profounder methodological consideration is a chronic malady of the field here. This weakness, according to him, is manifested both in a stubbornly one-sided orientation to primary sources (in the worst case merely ‘copying out archive records’), and, on the other hand, adopting current Western theoretical and methodological approaches and applying them mechanically to Czech historical material. The author then freely relates his theses to Přemysl Houda’s Intelektuální protest, nebo masová zábava? Folk jako společenský fenomén v době tzv. normalizace (Intellectual protest or mass entertainment? Folk music as a social phenomenon in the ‘Normalization’ period), published in 2014. The reviewer, however, does not aim to use this book as a prime example of these shortcomings – instead, it represents for him simply one publication of a whole range of comparable ones. Houda, argues the reviewer, has tackled the important and so far little-researched topic of Czech folk music in the 1970s and 1980s, but he too suffers from overly narrow specialization and from mistrust of theory, and he also partly neglects the relevant literature. The reviewer considers each chapter in the book, and points out the problems, for example, the author’s neglecting the continuity on the folk-music scene between the 1960s and the period of ‘Normalization’ (after the crushing of the Prague Spring reform movement), the lack of a definition of ‘folk music’, the excessively narrow selection of singer-songwriters he considers, the overly brief analysis of their lyrics, and insufficient attention to the essence of such a diverse genre and the transformations it went through. Better than in the book’s more general chapters, the author has, according to the reviewer, succeeded in the case studies devoted to particular folk-music phenomena. Though Houda’s book is on the whole an important stone in the mosaic of our knowledge, the reviewer concludes, it is far from a gem.
Although Přemysl Houda, according to the reviewer, has dealt with a vast number of sources, he fails here to capture the phenomenon of Czech folk music in the Normalization period in its full complexity. According to the reviewer, the book fails in particular to consider the illicit (that is, not sanctioned by the State) spread of recorded music. The individual chapters strike the reviewer as somehow being individual essays, and they are overburdened with footnotes. Nevertheless, the reviewer finds the work praiseworthy, because Houda has found a lot of information in the sources, which he links together and puts into the broader context. To some extent, moreover, he explains how the folk scene operated in this period. Houda’s book thus serves as a highly useful source of information and superb material for further use.
The reviewer presents Přemysl Houda’s book as a whole, and concludes that, in view of its thematic breadth but short length, some relevant topics and arguments could not be developed satisfactorily. Houda explores folk music mainly from the standpoint of its relation to society and the powers that be. He therefore follows on from the traditional line of interpretation about certain areas of popular music in Communist Czechoslovakia having been ‘little islands of freedom’, remnants of independent thinking, and well-springs of opposition attitudes. The development of popular music, however, represents for him a prelude to social change, and folk music serves him as a means to gauge the nature, limits, and internal contradictions of the ‘Normalization’ system. The reviewer takes issue with Houda’s accent on the folk-music audience having been a special community characterized by a critical attitude towards the current régime, and he emphasizes that folk-music audiences lacked the attributes of a sub-culture, did not otherwise express their critical attitude, and did not, as a group, become the target of systematic persecution. On the other hand, he praises Houda’s observation that folk musicians legitimized their critical mission in lyrics by using themes and forms acceptable to the authorities. Houda, according to the reviewer, has usefully demonstrated, using the example of folk music, the conflict and the parallelism of the dictatorship and free activities, and has thus revealed the internal contradictions and flexible boundaries of the Normalization system as well as its insurmountable limits. Though Houda raises important questions, much in his book remains unanswered, and ultimately it brings to mind a song that has not been played to the end.
Bren, Paulina. Zelinář a jeho televize: Kultura komunismu po pražském jaru 1968. Trans. from the English by Petruška Šustrová. Šťastné zítřky, vol. 11, Prague: Academia, 2013, 458 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2322-3.
According to the reviewer, this publication, a Czech translation of The Greengrocer and His TV: The Culture of Communism after the 1968 Prague Spring (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010) by the American historian Paulina Bren is exactly the kind of contribution to Czech history from abroad that Czechs have to welcome with open arms. It contains extremely interesting observations, an original grasp of a whole previously untouched topic, sketched-out comparisons and analogies not only with Soviet life and events in other countries of the Eastern Bloc, but also with developments in western Europe and the United States of America. It is written in a rather essayistic style, which is still quite unusual for Czech readers, and is free of the burden of great amounts of descriptive information. The emphasis is on individual ideas and the book is entirely free from any clumsy positivistic endeavour to present a synthesis of all the facts, large and small, related to the considerably wide topic. That then makes allows the author to create a coherent and rather gripping picture, which, however, does not fully make its impact until it enters into dialogue with the active reader. This is a book that does not close a debate, but, on the contrary, initiates it. And it is precisely such books that are still lacking in Czech historiography, particularly in the field of contemporary history. None the less, on some particular points the picture sketched out by the author only partly corresponds to reality and sometimes even completely misses it. That shortcoming stems from a lack of knowledge of the deeper cultural background of certain adopted clichés and misinterpretations, but also from a number of factual errors, which could have been corrected by the translator or the editor.
Jareš, Jakub, Matěj Spurný, Katka Volná, et al. Náměstí Krasnoarmějců 2: Učitelé a studenti Filozofické fakulty UK v období normalizace. Prague: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy and Togga, 2012, 400 pp., ISBN 978-80-7308-426-4 and 978-80-7476-001-3;
Jareš, Jakub, Matěj Spurný, Katka Volná, et al. (eds). S minulostí zúčtujeme: Sebereflexe Filozofické fakulty UK v dokumentech sedmdesátých a devadesátých let 20. století. Prague: Academia, 2014, 732 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2345-2.
The book under review, Náměstí Krasnoarmějců 2 (Red Army Square, no. 2 [the address of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University]) is the culmination of a project on the history of ‘normalization’ at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University, Prague. The project was undertaken by undergraduate and graduate students of the university in the late 2010s. According to the reviewer, the conclusions presented by the authors go beyond the boundaries of the researched field of the history of institutions of higher learning after the Soviet-led military intervention of August 1968, and are used for case studies which open up a new perspective for research on the social history of State Socialism in Czechoslovakia. This is a micro-history of the ‘restoration of order’ after the defeat of the Prague Spring, which has been developed into more general thoughts on the nature of rule in the Czechoslovakia of the 1970s and 1980s. The presented analysis of normalization ideology, the course of the purges, and the forms of the gradually introduced mechanisms of control and supervision at the faculty is thus a fundamental contribution to our knowledge of the power relations in society at that time.
The second volume under review, entitled S minulostí zúčtujeme: Sebereflexe Filozofické fakulty UK v dokumentech sedmdesátých a devadesátých let 20. století (We will settle accounts with the past: Self-reflection at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in documents from the 1970s and 1990s), is an edition of two, long, key documents related to the history of normalization at the faculty – ‘An Analysis of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University’ from 1970–71, whose aim was to summarize the ‘consolidation’ of the faculty, and the ‘Rehabilitation Report’, which sums up the activity of the faculty rehabilitation committee, which operated from 1989 to 1992.
Ward, James Mace. Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013, 362 pp., ISBN 978-0-8014-4988-8.
The book under review is the published dissertation of the American historian James Mace Ward. According to the reviewer, the book represents a great shift in the comprehensive understanding of the career and personality of Jozef Tiso (1887–1947), the Slovak priest- politician who was President of the independent Slovak State from 1939 to 1945. The work means a great shift both because of its wide scope and because of its use of hitherto unknown sources. What is particularly new is the setting of Tiso’s portrait into the intellectual history of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century and analysing the intellectual streams forming Tiso’s ideology.
The greater part of Ward’s interpretation consists in Tiso’s position on the ‘solution of the Jewish question’ in Slovakia during the war, which the author considers in the context of Tiso’s growing antisemitism, and at the same time his policy of the ‘lesser evil’ with regard to his more radical rivals. In his conclusion, the reviewer questions the correctness and foundations of certain conceptual characteristics in relation to Tiso (modernization, revolution, and dualism as the basic features of his Weltanschauung).
Morávková, Naděžda. František Graus a československá poválečná historiografie. Edice Paměť, vol. 61. Prague: Academia, 2013, 348 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2243-1.
The volume under review (whose title translates as František Graus and post-war Czechoslovak historiography) is the first biography of František Graus (1921–1989). A Czech medievalist, Graus was born to German-Jewish parents in Brno, Moravia. During the war he was deported to various concentration camps. After the war he set out on his career as a Marxist historian of the Middle Ages, and soon held a privileged position in the hierarchy of the Czechoslovak historical sciences. In 1969, after the defeat of the Prague Spring, he left the country, eventually settling down as Professor of Medieval History at the University of Basle, where he also published his most important works and thus soon joined the ranks of the leading European medievalists. Apart from the wealth of facts offered here, the reviewer appreciates the author’s efforts to reconstruct the development of Graus’s thinking and his having made the difficult transition from dogmatic Marxism to the open pluralism of the late 1960s, which largely appears to be a prime example of the development of State-sanctioned Czechoslovak historiography at that time. The reviewer, however, sees an imbalance in the book, because Graus’s work in exile is summarized in only a single chapter. Another shortcoming, she feels, is the author’s apparent unwillingness to make judgements about her topic.
Dugački, Vlatka. Svoj svome: Češka i slovačka manjina u međuratnoj Jugoslaviji (1918–1941). Zagreb: Srednja Europa, 2013, 475 pp., ISBN 978-953-7963-04-0.
The title of the publication under review, by a Croatian historian, may be translated as ‘Each to His Own: Czech and Slovak Minorities in Interwar Yugoslavia, 1918–41’. The reviewer considers the volume to be of high quality and a substantial contribution to the current state of knowledge on the topic. The reviewer considers it right that the author has decided to focus separately on Czech and Slovak minorities in Croatia and to take into account important aspects in which the two nations are different from each other. The author has thoroughly researched the political activities of the two minorities, their schools, their relations with the Yugoslav and the Czechoslovak States and also with the neighbouring nations, that is, the Croatians, Serbians, and Hungarians. On the other hand, the reviewer notes, more attention could have fruitfully been paid to the religious life of the two minorities.
Long, Stephen. The CIA and the Soviet Bloc: Political Warfare, the Origins of the CIA and Countering Communism in Europe. London: I. B. Tauris, 2013, 362 pp., ISBN 978-1-78076-393-4.
The book under review, by a British historian, demonstrates, according to the reviewer, that the formation of the American secret services as an area of historical research has shifted from qualified speculation or investigative reports of semi-official historiography to standard political historiography. Based on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, the work is reliable concerning the facts, and contributes to our knowledge both of the topic and of the bureaucratic dimension of American foreign and security policy in this period.
Volokitina, T. V., G. P. Murashko, and A. A. Ulybina (eds). Moskva i vostochnaya Evropa: Neprostye 60.-e: Ekonomika, politika, kultura. Sbornik statei. Moscow: Institut slavianovedeniya Rossiyskoy akademii nauk, 2013, 486 pp, ISBN 978-5-7576-0295-0.
The volume under review comprises 24 papers from the conference ‘Moscow and Eastern Europe: The Uneasy Sixties. Economics, Politics, and Culture’, organized in Moscow in April 2012 by the Centre for the Study of Social Processes in Eastern Europe after the Second World War, part of the Institute of Slavic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. The contributions are by historians, economists, political scientists, and scholars of literature from other institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and also from Hungary and Serbia. When archive records were made publicly accessible here, the reviewer notes, a number of new interpretations of events in the period from the Polish and the Hungarian social revolts of 1956 to the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 were made possible. The essays in the volume consider political and cultural events in the Soviet Union and other countries of the ‘socialist camp’ and also Western political responses to them.