Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Interpretations of the history of Jewry in the Czech Lands and Poland after the Second World War
The article was originally published in English under the title “Beyond the Assimilationist Narrative: Historiography on the Jews of the Bohemian Lands and Poland after the Second World War” in the Polish journal Studia Judaica, Vol. 19, No. 1 (37) (2016), pp. 129–155. The authoress compares the historiographies of the post-war history of Jews in the Czech Lands and Poland, analyzing not only differences between, but above all similarities in paradigms of interpretations of the Jewish experience in these two regions. She first compares the institutional base, contents, and quantity of research of Jewish history in the Communist and post-Communist Czechoslovakia and Poland, drawing a conclusion that while dozens of publications on the post-war experience of Polis Jews were written in Poland in the 1980s and particularly in the 1990s, writing about the modern Jewish history (save for a few works on Theresienstadt) had been unacceptable in Czechoslovakia until the political changes in 1989, and even then the interest of Czech historians in the post-war life of Czech Jews (unlike that in their tragic fate during the war) did not show any substantial increase. At the same time, the authoress claims that it generally holds true (and not only for the Polish and Czech/Czechoslovak historiographies) that while the notion of assimilation has been broadly criticized and questioned with respect to the older period of the Jewish history, it still dominates in works dealing with the time after the 2nd World War. This means, in fact, that the post-war existence and experience of religious-minded Czech and Polish Jews has been either denied, or marginalized, and that the history of Jews, who are often perceived as a monolithic social group, has been misleadingly interpreted as a story of linear assimilation. To a substantial extent, the interpretation is a result of the unacceptable generalization/extrapolation of the situation in the center (Prague, Warsaw) to that in outlying regions. It must be noted that roughly a half of the post-war Jewish population in the Czech Lands were immigrant who had lived in Carpathian Ruthenia or eastern Slovakia before the war and who were forming up new communities based on different traditions; similarly, almost a half of the post-war Jewish population in Poland were living in Lower Silesia where they had been repatriated from the Soviet Union. Compared to the assimilation narrative burdened with nationalism and conforming to the official interpretation of the Communist era, the authoress offers alternatives respecting the complexity and plurality of the human society.
The development of political structures of the Warsaw Treaty organization between 1985 and 1989
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.
In the opening part of his summarizing study, the author provides a biographic sketch of Jaroslav Krejčí (1916–2014), presenting him as an interdisciplinary researcher educated in law, economics, history, religious studies, and sociology, who was imprisoned for political reasons in Czechoslovakia during the 1950s, emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1968, and then became a Professor at the University of Lancaster, since the early 1990s also lecturing in his home country. Using fragmentary components, the author attempts to rebuild and critically present Jaroslav Krejčíʼs comparative approach toward studies of long-term revolutionary transformations, which he had been building all his life, and set it in a broader sociological-historical context, with an access on the civilization dimension of these transformations. Although Krejčí also developed a unique typology of revolutionary processes or a theoretical model of revolution cycle phases, the study focuses on multiple civilization connections of revolutionary transformations. Krejčí notices, first and foremost, the civilization conditionality of the birth of revolutions, finding out that some civilizations do not wish revolutions, while a strong revolutionary tradition is typical for others. He also studies differences in the courses and outcomes of the so-called western and eastern revolutions, looking again for civilization conditionality of these differences. He argues that while the former tend toward plurality regimes, the latter head toward regimes characterized by a high concentration of power. In the end, Krejčí focuses on the topic of civilization transformations resulting from revolutionary processes that bring new, revolutionary combinations of new and old, and in particular domestic and foreign, resources. In the second part of the study, the author critically points at Jaroslav Krejčíʼs unfinished civilizationist turn in his research of these revolutionary transformations. He also provides a description of how the topic of the civilization aspect of revolutionary processes is evolving in todayʼs academic mainstream, particularly in works of historical sociologists such as Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, Johann P. Arnason, and Samuel P. Huntington. The final discussion summarizes principal propositions of Krejčí and also examines their heuristic potential in their application to events of the so-called Arab Spring.
A reply to Pavel Kolář
The article is a continuation of the debate between the author and Pavel Kolář on the pages of the Soudobé dějiny journal. It evolves from Miloš Havelkaʼs review of the publication Co byla normalizace? Studie o pozdním socialismu (What was the normalization? A study on late socialism) (Prague, Lidové noviny Publishing House – Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů 2016), which was published under the title “Ideologická kritika ideologické kritiky normalizace” (Ideological criticism of the ideological criticism of the normalization) in Soudobé dějiny, Vol. 25, No. 1–2 (2018), pp. 229–243. Kolář reacted to the review by a reply titled “Normalizace ve své epoše: V odpověď na polemiku Miloše Havelky” (Normalization in its Epoch: In Reply to Miloš Havelkaʼs Polemics) published in Soudobé dějiny, Vol. 25, No. 3–4 (2018), pp. 523–536. Havelka is now developing some of the arguments he used in his review of the abovementioned book, also with respect to Kolářʼs reply. He insists that the positions and interpretations of both authors often suffer from ideologicity, abstractness, proclamativity, and one-sidedness, and he relates his reservations to their perception of the society and everydayness during the Czechoslovak normalization (1969–1989). He also returns to the discussion about the concept of legitimacy and legitimate use of violence of Max Weber in connection with research of the period in question. The requirement for a “responsibilization” of the society, which Pavel Kolář identifies himself with and which makes the society liable for maintaining the normalization regime does not, in Havelkaʼs opinion, distinguish between the state and the society and between different groups of people, their attitudes, and realistic possibilities to influence the situation, and should be fleshed out with analytical interpretations of specific manifestations of this responsibility. Havelka admits that the authorsʼ intention was to find a new understanding of the normalization period through new, or “corrected” concepts. However, he argues that the “normalized” social and political reality was more complex and more questionable than as presented by the authors, and that the authors do not apply the proclaimed new concepts and viewpoint on reality adequately enough.
Suk, Jiří: Veřejné záchodky ze zlata: Konflikt mezi komunistickým utopismem a ekonomickou racionalitou v předsrpnovém Československu. Prague: Prostor, 2016, 325 pp., ISBN 978-80-7260-341-1.
In the reviewerʼs opinion, the book titled Gold Public Conveniences: A Conflict between Communist Utopianism and Economic Rationality in Czechoslovakia before the Soviet Occupation is an important contribution to studies of the evolution of economic thinking in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and of the reform process culminating in the Prague Spring in 1968, hitherto unparalleled in Czech historiography. However, the author does not focus only on the economic theory prevailing at that time, but also examines it, mainly from philosophical and sociological perspectives, in a broader historical context, including paradigmatic Marxist works and Soviet disputes concerning the economic policy after the Bolshevik revolution. He is interested in the form and viability of the new economic model, or the Czechoslovak concept of the “socialism with a human face”, including its internal conflicts and limits of thinking and acts of various players. The greatest deal of attention is paid to Ota Šik (1919 – 2004), then Director of the Institute of Economics of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences and the principal author of the “third way” economic concept; the author also describes the restorative reaction of the political regime against the concept after the defeat of the Prague Spring. The reviewer presents the content of each chapter of the book and formulates some partial reservations.
Roth, Joseph: Cesta do Ruska: Fejetony, reportáže, poznámky v deníku 1919–1930. Translated from the German original by Pavel Váňa. (Library of the 20th Century, Vol. 1.) Brno: Centre for Studies of Democracy and Culture, 2017, 264 pp., ISBN 978-80-7325-422-3.
The publication Travel in Russia: Columns, Reports, Diary Entries 1919 – 1930 is a translation of the German original Reise nach Rußland: Feuilletons, Reportagen, Tagebuchnotizen 1919–1930 (Köln/R., Kiepenheuer & Witsch 1995) and contains a selection of newspaper articles of Austrian writer Joseph Roth (1894–1939) dedicated to events in Central and Eastern Europe shortly after the Great War, and in particular his news reports from the Soviet Union, published in the Frankfurter Zeitung daily from September 1926 to January 1927 and supplemented by diary entries reflecting his stay in the Soviet Union. Roth was sent there as a reporter of the abovementioned German paper and although he made no secret of his sympathies to the left, he tried to describe the Soviet reality impartially. Rothʼs newspaper texts, whose language and style are as cultivated as those of his literary works, are, in the reviewerʼs opinion, one of the most colourful literary testimonies about the early period of the Soviet Union.
Majewski, Piotr M.: Sudetští Němci 1848–1948: Dějiny jednoho nacionalismu. Translated from Polish by Markéta Páralová; translation of German sources by Pavel Mašarák. Brno: Conditio humana in cooperation with the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk, 2014, 537 pp., ISBN 978-80-905323-2-8.
The reviewer presents Piotr Maciej Majewski, a Polish historian and museologist, as one of the leading foreign experts on the Czechoslovak history of the first half of the 20th century and also a defender of independent historical studies against political pressures in todayʼs Poland. The publication titled The Sudeten Germans 1848–1948: The history of a nationalist movement, which is a translation of the Polish edition “Niemcy sudeccy” 1848–1948: Historia pewnego nacjonalizmu (Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego 2007), presents a good, fact-rich, and gripping synthesis of the history of Sudeten, or Bohemian, Germans since the revolutionary year 1848 until their expulsion from Czechoslovakia and the establishment of the Communist regime a hundred years later. Majewskiʼs views are, to a considerable degree, consistent with the perspective and value accents of a majority of the approach of the community of Czech historians to topics related to the Sudeten Germans.
Łukasiewicz, Sławomir: Third Europe: Polish Federalist Thought in the United States 1940–1971. Saint Helena (Cal.): Helena History Press, 2016, 478 pp., ISBN 978-1-943596058.
According to the reviewer, the publication, initially published in Polish under the title Trzecia Europa: Polska myśl federalistyczna w Stanach Zjednoczonych, 1940–1971 (Warszawa – Lublin, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej 2010), is one of the first works providing a thorough analysis of how the Polish exile community in the West reacted to unfavourable international developments during WW2 and after the division of Europe by the Iron Curtain and how its members imagined Europeʼs new ideal arrangement. However, the author does not only deal with theoretical concepts of selected personalities, but also provides an insight into the complex situation of the Polish exile community, clearly explains causes of conflicts and disputes between its various groups and fractions, and, in particular, presents a broad range of its activities. The book is a fascinating chronicle of the life and thoughts of people engaged in an exhaustive struggle for their distant motherland which they, due to circumstances, had been forced to abandon and which many of them did not see again, and for their own nation which the Communist propaganda had made believe they were traitors and enemies.
Bílý, Matěj: Varšavská smlouva 1969–1985: Vrchol a cesta k zániku. Prague: Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, 2016, 432 pp., ISBN 978-80-87912-69-0.
The author focuses on an analysis of the internal development of the Warsaw Treaty, its role in operative mechanisms of the Soviet Unionʼs European sphere of interest, and its influence on international events since the late 1960s until the mid-1980s. In the reviewerʼs opinion, he presents a fairly comprehensive picture and brings much useful information in this respect. However, he ignores, save for the barest essentials, military structures of the Warsaw Treaty; moreover, this fact is not obvious from the title of the book Warsaw Pact 1969–1985: The culmination and the road to downfall. The reviewer appreciates extensive heuristics in both Czech and foreign archives, but he also notes some partial errors in terminology.
Daniel, Ondřej: Násilím proti „novému biedermeieru“: Subkultury a většinová společnost pozdního státního socialismu a postsocialismu. Příbram: Pistorius & Olšanská, 2016, 178 pp., ISBN 978-80-87855-90-4.
The book titled Violence against the “New Biedermeier”: Subcultures and Majority Society of Late State Socialism and Post-Socialism deals with relations between the majority society and minority cultures in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic in the 1980s and the 1990s, respectively. The key notion is the New Biedermeier, a term which the author uses to describe the adaptation of the majority society to comfortable life and consumerism regardless of the ruling regime and ideology; he also uses it as a metaphor characterizing the last years of the state socialism and the early period of post-socialism. He sees subculture and activist violence as its antithesis. The reviewer describes the content of case studies dedicated to fans of black metal, racist skinheads, football hooligans, anti-fascist movement, other activist groups, and subculture leisure activities. She notes that it is unbalanced, stating that the author has not advanced from a mere description to an analysis of the functioning of the subcultures and their relations with the majority society.
Moulis, Miloslav: Z mých vzpomínek. Prepared for publication by Lenka Kločková, Mária Chaloupková and Roman Štér. Prague: National Archives, 2016, 279 pp., 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 first held various administrative jobs and started studying history in the 1960s. In the reviewerʼs opinion, Moulisʼs 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.