Soudobé dějiny 1 / 2020

Studies and essays

Self-governing socialism in the Czechoslovak industry, 1968–1969

Jakub Šlouf

Using results of his research in central, but mainly company archives, the author provides a comprehensive description of the phenomenon of self-governing bodies in Czechoslovak industrial enterprises during the Prague Spring. He concludes that elements of self-governing socialism were implemented in the Czechoslovak industry by a June 1968 resolution of the government. They were not a result of any emancipation movement, but originated from an expert economic discourse as a spin-off product of economic reforms. The self-governments were supposed to fulfil the role of collective entrepreneurial bodies with an autonomy toward the central bureaucratic apparatus. The idea of self-governing bodies was naturally supported by a significant majority of industrial employees, as it enabled a substantial reduction of the bureaucratic apparatus and a suppression of clientelism through public auditions. Since the summer of 1968, elections of members of workers’ councils (rady pracujících) were taking place in different enterprises, which were, at that time, of an unprecedentedly democratic nature. Most of the elected members were male, of medium age, and came from ranks of technical intelligentsia. The new socialist intelligentsia de facto took the lead of the workers’ movement. There was a specific consensus existing between enterprise-level cells of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the workers’ councils, with the latter respecting political views of the party organs and the former, on the other hand, accepting professional competencies of the councils. The best example on which the hybrid practice could be followed was a new phenomenon of public auditions for managerial positions. The author shows how the initially economic project of the enterprise councils was increasingly transforming itself into a movement with political ambitions since the August 1968 occupation. The informal centre of these activities was Škoda Plzeň, which organized a nationwide congress of self-governing bodies in January 1969. After the fall of the reform-oriented leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in April 1969, the workers’ councils were becoming increasingly dependent on the leeway vis-á-vis superiors, which company-level party organizations created for them. The latter were effectively resisting political purges for a few months; in this respect, they were making use, in particulars, of worries of the central apparatus of mass protests before the anniversary of the occupation in August 1969. However, after the forced resignation of company-level reformists in the autumn of 1969, the self-governing bodies lost all political support and dissolved themselves.

A Young Pioneer a cooperative farmer?

Young Pioneers’ agricultural farms in the 1959–1964 period

Jiří Knapík

The study focuses on a phenomenon that has not yet been dealt with, namely so-called Young Pioneers’ agricultural farms (pionýrská zemědělská hospodářství) in Czechoslovakia at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s. Their origin is associated with the situation prevailing at that time, when ambitious visions of the Soviet leadership were strongly resonating in Czechoslovakia, the process of agricultural collectivization was almost over and, at the same time, the agriculture started suffering from lack of labour. Political and educational authorities were trying to motivate the young generation to choose a job in agriculture and the concept of the Young Pioneers’ agricultural farms was presented in this context as a “higher-level” hobby for older children. The phenomenon appeared for the first time in southern Slovakia in the spring of 1959 as an initiative of Young Pioneers; as to the Czech Lands, the first farms were set up in the region of Krnov, North Moravia. With the assistance of Local National Committees and regular agricultural cooperatives, the Young Pioneers were supposed to farm hitherto untilled land tracts (grow fruits and vegetables and breed rabbits and poultry) and to establish their “own” agricultural cooperative with child managers. The experiment was also seen as an opportunity to revive the interest of children in activities of the Young Pioneers’ Organization (Pionýrská organizace); as a matter of fact, it made use of children’s self-government elements, which had been often seen in various pedagogical experiments at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s (especially in the attempt to establish the so-called Schoolchildren Community in Krompach, North Bohemia). The establishment of Young Pioneers’ agricultural farms was supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and the leadership of the Czechoslovak Union of Youth (Československý svaz mládeže), which promoted them as a model activity of the Young Pioneers’ Organization. On the other hand, the attitude of the Ministry of Education to the initiative was rather reserved, as children were spending a lot of their free time at the farms both during the school term and during holidays, and there were even critical comments to the effect that the concept was in fact a promotion of small-scale production. The wave of interest finally ebbed in 1963 and 1964 and existing children’s farms were converted into school gardens. The author pays special attention to the model Young Pioneers’ farm in Město Albrechtice in northern Moravia. Thanks to unique school chronicles and a meticulously run school magazine, it was possible to reconstruct the organization of many dozens of children and results of their work, which were rewarded by a high state decoration in 1965. The farm in Město Albrechtice survived until the 1970s thanks to efforts of the local school managers (Karel and Ludmila Schmidtmayers), who were able to motivate a group of children of various ages for voluntary work for the collective. In a way, their concept was ahead of the time and can be compared to the so-called micro-collective movement which was being developed within the Young Pioneers’ Organization in the 1960s.

February 1948 and commercial civil air transport between the East and the West

Peter Švík

The article examines the effect of the Communist coup d’état in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 on the development of commercial civil air transport between the East and the West. It revolves around the formulation and implementation of the US policy of so-called aerial containment in the early stage of the Cold War and its consequences for Czechoslovak Airlines (Československé aerolinie – ČSA) as the flag air carrier of Czechoslovakia. The author depicts the international expansion of Czechoslovak Airlines after the WWII, which reached not only to the West and also the north and southeast of Europe, but also to the Near and Middle East. It should be noted that the company had held, insofar as air connections to the West were concerned, the dominant position among states of the nascent East Bloc. When Czechoslovakia refused to join the Marshall Plan, and particularly when Communists usurped power over the country, the Americans blocked negotiations with Prague on the purchase of new aircraft and exerted diplomatic pressure on their allies to prevent Czechoslovak Airlines’ flights to strategic regions. With the Cold War escalating and also in reaction to some Western citizens having been arrested and sentenced in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s, the Western Powers blocked overflights of Czechoslovak airplanes over their occupation zones in Germany and Austria, and thus practically shut down their connections behind the Iron Curtain. Between 1951 and 1955, Czechoslovak Airlines could operate just one connection outside the Eastern Bloc (to Scandinavia) and their role in connections to the West was partly taken over by the Polish national carrier LOT.


In the footprints of the “bloody guidebooks” by Jiří Padevět

Tomáš Dvořák

Jiří Padevět: Krvavé finále: Jaro 1945 v českých zemích. Prague: Academia, 2015, 691 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2464-0;

Jiří Padevět: Krvavé léto 1945: Poválečné násilí v českých zemích. Prague: Academia, 2016, 692 pp., ISBN: 978-80-200-2600-2.

Both publications (The Bloody Finals: The spring of 1945 in the Czech Lands and The Bloody Summer of 1945: Post-war violence in the Czech Lands) are extensive historical textual-and-pictorial guidebooks mapping the geography of violence in the Czech Lands in the end of the Second World War and shortly thereafter, and as such fit well into the broader portfolio of works of this type written by Jiří Padevět. In the reviewer’s opinion, the books are primarily intended as documentary, popularization and educational publications and therefore lack many attributes of a regular historical work, but their reflections in the media and society, which make their author a respected authority in the interpretation of modern Czech history, justify and perhaps even necessitate subjecting the books to a critical review. While fully respecting the author’s intentions and motives, which aim at a remedial self-reflection of the nation’s past and which he has obviously succeeded to achieve, there is one outstanding problem, namely that the books do not contain any definition of the genre selected by the author and its principles; the same applies to the theoretico-methodological basis. In addition, they neither contain an adequate reflection of previous research results nor provide an adequate publishing service and give up any attempt at an interpretation. In the reviewer’s opinion, the guidebooks lack relevant instructions for use and a key allowing the reader to evaluate the accumulated empirical information they contain. The reviewer further focuses on whether and how the two books advance historical knowledge, the questions they open, what they bring from the viewpoint of historical culture, and on their editorial and publishing quality.

“I did not want to romanticize socialism, nor demonize it”

An interview with Alexei Yurchak

Alexei Yurchak, a Russo-American anthropologist, was interviewed in July 2019 by translator Veronika Houdová and historian Přemysl Houda, who also translated the interview from English into Czech. Substantially abridged, the interview was published under the title „Zelináři měnili systém zevnitř: Alexej Jurčak o pozdním socialismu“ [“Greengrocers were changing the system from inside: Alexei Yurchak on late socialism”] in the “Salon” annex of the Právo daily on October 3, 2019. As Yurchak’s propositions have been resonating quite strongly in the Czech historiography of Communism in recent years, being both accepted and prompting polemics, the editorial board of Soudobé dějiny accepted the authors’ offer to publish the interview in the original, unabridged form (and to provide it with footnotes). Alexei Vladimirovich Yurchak was born in 1960 in Leningrad; in the second half of the 1980s, he was the manager of the Leningrad rock band AVIA. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, he moved to the United States where he obtained a doctorate in cultural and linguistic anthropology at the Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, in 1997. He is now an Associate Professor at the Department of Anthropology of the University of California in Berkeley. The interview mainly revolves around Yurchak’s book Bylo to na věčné časy, dokud to neskončilo: Poslední sovětská generace [Everything was forever, until it was no more: The last Soviet generation], which was published in Czech in 2018 (the original US edition was published in 2006, the amended Russian edition in 2014) and proposed a new concept of the Soviet late socialism. The author explains the intentions he wrote the book with, explains his propositions, reacts to some critical comments, and argues with Václav Havel’s (1936–2011) interpretations on “living in truth” and the nature of the society and political system in the period of late socialism, which Havel had formulated in his essay Moc bezmocných [Power of the powerless] in 1978. Yurchak also speaks about the importance of language in the formation of social reality and on Putin’s Russia today.


The “Big Three’s” War correspondence

Milan Hauner

David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov (eds.): The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt. With assistance of Iskander Magadeyev and Olga Kucherenko. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018, 660 pp., 14 photographs and three maps, ISBN 978-0-30022682-9.

The publication of war correspondence between Soviet leader Iosif V. Stalin on the one hand and British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the other hand is, in the reviewer’s opinion, an example of excellent cooperation of the Russo-English team of editors. Their book not only reproduces (usually in full wording) a total of 682 dispatches which the statesmen exchanged between June 1941 and April 1945, but also analyzes and comments on them. It amply draws from US and, in particular, Russian archives. The reviewer describes key problems which the correspondence was about, characterizes mutual relations within the “Big Three”, and concludes that the publication provides an excellent opportunity to study the characters and political abilities of the three statesmen who were forced by circumstances to join an improbable alliance.

Exiles’ recollections of February 1948

Jakub Rákosník

Pavel Horák and Vilém Prečan (eds.): Únor 1948 očima poražených: Záznam diskusí exilových politiků z let 1949–1950. Prague: Masarykův ústav a Archiv AV ČR, v. v. i. and Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, 2018, 347 pp., ISBN 978-80-7422-623-6 (NLN).

The meticulously prepared edition of documents titled February 1948 as seen by the defeated: Records of discussions of exile politicians 1949–1950 brings records of debates of leading Czechoslovak politicians and journalists who left the country after the Communist coup d’état and who were meeting in London in 1949 and 1950 to achieve a consensus on causes, circumstances and course of events in February 1948 in Czechoslovakia. In the reviewer’s opinion, the preserved protocols are a useful source of information, which provides an interesting complement to the existing picture of the key days resulting in the defeat democratic parties and the ultimate inclusion of the country in the Soviet Bloc. At the same time, the chosen form, i.e. informal discussions, allows the reader to see the well-known historical actors from an unusual psychological perspective. The reviewer notices some remarkable moments, e.g. a low level of interest of the participants in broader political and economic ramifications, obsession with details and the issue of guilt, or absolute absence of critical self-reflection.

Jews from Czechoslovakia in Soviet prison camps

Milada Polišenská

Jan Dvořák and Adam Hradilek: Židé v Gulagu: Sovětské pracovní a zajatecké tábory za druhé světové války ve vzpomínkách židovských uprchlíků z Československa. Prague: Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2017, 293 pp., ISBN 978-80-87912-93-5.

Taking note of the fact that research of the persecution of Jews during the WWII is advanced and well-developed, the reviewer appreciates that the publication titled Jews in the Gulag: Soviet labour and prison camps during WW2 in recollections of Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia deals with a specific group of victims which has hitherto escaped the attention of historians. The book captures the fate of Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia who, after the country’s destruction in 1938–1939, found themselves in the territory of the Soviet Union and ended up in its jails or labour and prison camps. The authors present testimonies of about twenty such victims, plus four accompanying studies in which they explain the historical context from various perspectives. The reviewer appreciates their conceptual approach, rich heuristics, accuracy of the studies, and meticulous editorial work with recorded statements of the contemporary witnesses.

The land of the Soviets in the eyes and described by the pen of Czechoslovak intellectuals

Dagmar Petišková

Jana Davidová Glogarová and Jaroslav David: Obrazy z cest do země sovětů: České cestopisy do sovětského Ruska a Sovětského svazu 1917–1968. Brno and Ostrava: Host and Ostravská univerzita, Filozofická fakulta, 2017, 255 pp., ISBN 978-80-7577-225-1 and 978-80-7464-934-9;

Kateřina Šimová, Daniela Kolenovská, and Milan Drápala (eds.): Cesty do utopie: Sovětské Rusko ve svědectvích meziválečných československých intelektuálů. Prague: Prostor, 2017, 871 pp., ISBN 978-80-7260-331-2.

The reviewer introduces and compares two books dedicated to literary texts based on travel experiences of writers, artists, journalists, politicians and other Czech, or Czechoslovak, citizens to the Soviet Union. In her opinion, they as a whole bring a very rich testimony, diverse as to its genres, topics, and opinions, on how the visitors, most of them intellectuals, were perceiving the situation in the newborn Soviet state and how they informed the domestic public about it. The two authors of Images from travels to the land of the Soviets: Czech travelogues from Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union 1917–1968 present excerpts from dozens of such texts, analyze and interpret them from various perspectives, and monitor their transformations over a long period of time, since the formation of the Soviet state until the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (which meant a profound disillusionment of the Soviet Union for Czechoslovak people). In doing so, they devote special attention to the language of the analyzed texts, which typically use Russian expressions, toponyms or abbreviations. The anthology Travels to Utopia: Soviet Russia in testimonies of inter-war Czechoslovak intellectuals is an extensive edition of texts written and published during the existence of the First Czechoslovak Republic and provided with two historical studies clarifying the international and Czechoslovak context of travels of Western intellectuals to the Soviet Union at that time, and a final chapter outlining the symbolical structure of Utopian image of the Soviet reality, plus many explanatory editorial comments and other additions. The relatively complex, but well-thought-out structure of the book combined with the inter-textual approach of the editors’ trio allow the reader to perceive and confront remarkable contrasts and mutually contradictory effects of testimonies about the inter-war Soviet Russia.

The Gestapo in Moravia

Vojtěch Češík

Vladimír Černý: Brněnské gestapo 1939–1945 a poválečné soudní procesy s jeho příslušníky. Brno: Archiv města Brna and Moravské zemské muzeum, 2018, 424 pp., ISBN 978-80-86736-58-7 and 978-80-7028-507-7.

The reviewed work titled The Gestapo in Brno 1939–1945 and post-war trials with its members is the first comprehensive monograph mapping in detail the operations of the centre of the Nazi repressive machine in Moravia and also one of just a few publications dealing with the Gestapo’s presence and activities in the territory of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in general. At the same time, it describes, in the form of case studies, the complex process of the post-war settling of accounts with perpetrators of Nazi crimes before the Extraordinary People’s Court (Mimořádný lidový soud) in Brno. The reviewer describes the contents of each chapter and concludes that, in spite of some minor deficiencies, the book is a solid and logically structured monograph which relies, first and foremost, on the author’s long term research of an extensive source base.

Informatory of the Czech underground culture in the “normalization” period

Martin Machovec

František Stárek Čuňas and Martin Valenta: Podzemní symfonie Plastic People. Prague: Argo and Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 376 pp., ISBN 978-80-257-2522-1 and 978-80-88292-04-3.

The publication titled The underground symphony of Plastic People captures the story of the Czech underground band Plastic People of the Universe since its formation in 1968 via the political trial with its members led by the programme theoretician of the underground culture Ivan Martin Jirous (1944–2011), which prompted the Charter 77 initiative, until its disintegration in the late 1980s. The authors attempt to approach the story as a part of the Czech cultural history and, in the reviewer’s opinion, they have succeeded in collecting various data snippets scattered in different documents and set them into a period context. As a rule, they approach the data critically and provide a good information service to the reader. At the same time, however, the reviewer notes the book’s unbalanced language, formulation and terminological problems and material errors that reduce the publication’s quality.

Soudobé dějiny 1 / 2020

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