Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Socialistická opozice v posrpnovém exilu / The Socialist Opposition in Exile after August 1968
From Active Politician to Dissident to Editorial Work in Exile
This essay was originally published as ‘Il samizdat tra dialogo e monologo: Le attività editoriali di Zdeněk Mlynář e la scelta degli interlocutori’ in the Italian online journal eSamizdat: Rivista di culture dei paesi slavi (2010–11, pp. 261–80). This double issue is based on papers given at the conference ‘Samizdat between Memory and Utopia: Independent Culture in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century’, which was held at Padua University in late May and early June 2011, and is freely accessible on the periodical website. For its publication in Soudobé dějiny, the author has considerably expanded his essay, particularly after doing research in the Mlynář Papers at the National Archive, Prague.
The author concentrates mainly on the research and publishing activities of the politician and political scientist Zdeněk Mlynář (1930–1997) while he was in exile, which he puts into a detailed chronology of his career as a public figure. He asks. and seeks to answer, the general question whether the milieu of samizdat and independent publishing, which developed in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s, did not leave deep traces also in the structures of the various political activities of those who criticized the state-sanctioned arts and sciences of ‘Normalization’ Czechoslovakia.
The author points out that Mlynář has today been largely ousted from Czech historical memory, even though he was amongst the leading opponents of the Communist régime after its collapse, and tried to regain a place in Czechoslovak politics. The author recalls Mlynář’s becoming a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party early on, his law studies in Moscow in the first half of the 1950s, where he formed a lasting friendship with his fellow-student Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931), as an expert researching the prospects of the socialist political system in the 1960s. He then concentrates on Mlynář’s work during the Prague Spring of 1968, when he became a member of the reformist leadership of the Communist Party at the side of Alexander Dubček (1921–1992). After the August intervention by armies of five Warsaw Pact states, Mlynář gradually became disillusioned with the possibilities of continuing reform, and he resigned from the Party leadership. In the early 1970s, he found employment in the Department of Entomology at the National Museum, Prague, and avoided political life. Nevertheless, he gradually joined in debates with other reformists expelled from the Party about the possibilities of influencing developments in Czechoslovakia with the help of leftwing parties in western Europe. The author discusses Mlynář’s analyses of the situation at the time, the development of his views, and his integration into the nascent dissident movement, which appeared after the founding of Charter 77. A few months later, in June 1977, Mlynář emigrated to Austria in consequence of a smear campaign against the Chartists.
The author focuses on Mlynář’s close work amongst Czech exiles, particularly with the increasingly diverse Listy group, which was established by Jiří Pelikán (1923–1999). The group was centred on the exile periodical of the same name, which was published in Rome and formed the core of the Czechoslovak socialist opposition in exile. In addition, the author considers the efforts of Mlynář and his colleagues to win support in Western left-wing circles, particularly in relation to the Italian Communists and Socialists and later the West German Social Democrats. He also considers Mlynář’s political essays, which met with a considerable response amongst the public of Western Europe, and the clear shift in opinion from the initial model of a political system with Communist Party hegemony to political pluralism. In this context, the author then gives a comprehensive account of two large research and publishing projects coordinated by Mlynář. The first project, from 1979 to 1982, was ‘Experiences of the Prague Spring of 1968’; its participants were almost exclusively Czech sociologists, historians, economists, jurists, and other specialists in exile. The project resulted in almost thirty mimeographed volumes in three language versions (mostly Italian, French, and English), which were distributed by several hundred carefully selected left-wing individuals and institutions in the West, and it culminated in a congress in Paris. According to the author, this little known project represents one of the most profound and essentially never-published reflections on the origins, development, and failure of the Prague Spring. The second project, ‘Crises in Soviet-type Systems’, ran from 1982 to the late 1980s, and presented the perspectives of authors from a wider range of central European countries. It resulted in sixteen works by Czech, Polish, Hungarian, and East German authors, published by the leading Czech exile publishing house, Index, as small paperback editions in English, French, and German. The number of its subscribers grew to about 2,000. The project included giving papers at conferences and other international forums. Both of the projects, according to the author, demonstrate Mlynář and his colleagues’ persistent orientation to exclusive circles of the political left in the West, whom, in their efforts to change things in Czechoslovakia, they preferred to the dissidents still in Czechoslovakia.
The Exile Periodical Listy
This article was originally published as ‘Listy: Tra emigrazione, contestazione interna e opinione pubblica internazionale’ in the Italian online magazine eSamizdat: Rivista di culture dei paesi slavi (2010–11, pp. 281–301). This double issue is a volume of papers from the conference ‘Samizdat between Memory and Utopia: Independent Culture in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century’, held at Padua University in late May and early June 2011. It is freely accessible on the website.
In this article, the author considers the exile periodical Listy, a bimonthly of the Czechoslovak socialist opposition in Rome from 1971 to 1989. He focuses on the political projects conceived by a group of exiles who left Czechoslovakia after the Soviet occupation in August 1968 and came together to work on this journal, and he looks closely at their relations with the opposition at home in Czechoslovakia. He provides a sketch of Jiří Pelikán (1923–1999), the former head of Czechoslovak Television and a proponent of the reforms of the Prague Spring, who became the founder and guiding spirit of Listy throughout its existence. As a member of the Italian Socialist Party, Pelikán was elected to the European Parliament in 1979. The author describes the circumstances in which the journal was established, outlines its main ideas, describes organizational matters, and also touches upon the financing of the journal and its relation to the democrats who found themselves in exile after the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia in February 1948. The people who started up the periodical intended it mainly as a means to inform the public around the world about events, people, and ideas in Czechoslovakia, to develop contacts with streams of like-minded people and leading left-wing figures in the West, and to foster ideas coming out of Reform Communism and democratic socialism in the spirit of the Prague Spring. In that sense, Listy, according to the author, preserved a remarkable plurality of opinion. The author also traces the impact that the establishment of Charter 77, the appearance of Solidarity in Poland, and, later, Gorbachev’s perestroika had on the Listy circle. Listy assumed the task of publishing Charter ‘Documents’ and presenting debates that were taking place amongst dissidents. The Listy group also sought similarities between Polish events and the events of the Prague Spring and it linked Soviet reforms with the hope for the rebirth of socialism. In keeping with that, it saw the prospects for change in Czechoslovakia in gradual peaceful reform, while tending to fear mass protest. Though the flood of events in the second half of 1989 buried their ideas about the renewal of socialism, Pelikán refused to stop publishing the periodical and moved its editorial offices to Prague in order that it function there, in the new conditions, as a tribune of critical opinion and place to defend the achievements of the Czechoslovak socialist opposition in the struggle against the Communist régime.
Historie as a ‘Model’ of the Historian’s Work and an Instrument for the Ideologization of Scholarship
In this article, the author considers the periodical Sovětská věda: Historie (Soviet Science: History), published in Czechoslovakia from 1950 to 1955 (though, from 1954 to the end, under the title Sovětská historie), as an instrument of the sovietization and ideological indoctrination of Czechoslovak historiography in the Stalinist years. The title was part of the periodical series Sovětská věda, which was intended to present the results of Soviet scientific knowledge in various fields and thereby to provide a model to Czechoslovak experts. Covering the social science, natural science, and applied science, the periodical was published as a bimonthly for five years. (The only issue from 1950 was considered part of the first volume, 1951.) The periodical was linked with the Czechoslovak-Soviet Institute, which had been founded in 1950 by the Minister of Education, Zdeněk Nejedlý (1878–1962). (From the time of the establishment of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1953 to 1989, the Czechoslovak-Soviet Institute, despite being reorganized several times, remained part of the Academy of Sciences.) As the mouthpiece of the Institute, Sovětská věda: Historie became an essential tribune for the formation of Marxist-Leninist historiography in Czechoslovakia, by the striking modification of the field, brought about by the then characteristic ‘cult of personality’, ubiquitously emphasizing Stalin’s importance for scientific thought. The importance of the periodical initially increased by the fact that until 1953 no other important history journal was published in Czechoslovakia, and this was projected, for example, into debates about the new conception of Czechoslovak history and about the reorganization of work in the historical sciences. Beginning as a periodical that published Czech (and sometimes Slovak) translations of articles from Soviet periodicals, including Voprosy istorii (Questions of history) and Bolševik, the journal Sovětská věda: Historie never managed to free itself from that mission – despite efforts to increase the proportion of contributions by Czechoslovak authors. After Československý časopis historický (Czechoslovak journal of history) was established as the new main Czechoslovak periodical and with the fading away of Stalinism, there was little reason to continue publishing Sovětská věda: Historie, and it was discontinued after its fifth year. Nevertheless, according to the author, it succeeded in carrying out its task of introducing the Soviet model into the writing of history in Czechoslovakia.
The author compares two publications on the history of historiography in Communist Czechoslovakia until the end of the 1960s: Vítězslav Sommer’s Angažované dějepisectví: Stranická historiografie mezi stalinismem a reformním komunismem (1950–1970) (Engagé history writing: Party historiography between Stalinism and Reform Communism, 1950–70) (Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny and the Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2011) and Adam Hudek’s Najpolitickejšia veda: Slovenská historiografia v rokoch 1948–1968 (The most political science: Slovak historiography, 1948–68) (Bratislava: Historický ústav Slovenskej akadémie vied, 2010). Hudek, a Slovak historian, traces the twists and turns of national history as part of the building and operation of Slovak Marxist-Leninist historiography, his interpretation develops in a genealogical perspective and his approach can reasonably be called an intellectual history of historiography in the context of Slovak nationalism and Czechoslovak Communism. By contrast, Sommer, a Czech historian, explores the emergence and operation of Czech ‘Party’ historiography in the same period and has chosen a structural perspective. His approach can reasonably be described as a social history of Communist historiography. Though he has high regard for both works, the reviewer sees Hudek’s work as problematically judgemental and highly normative, and he argues that a weakness of Sommer’s work is its failure to place the emerging historical narrative of Czechoslovak Communism into the wider context of contemporaneous Czech historiography and the national story. He then asks whether both publications should not have considered the still neglected problem of the origin, nature, and role of Czech and Slovak ‘national Communism’, which had an important influence on the patterns of historical thinking and their identity-forming importance for Czechoslovak society at the time.
The author discusses Vítězslav Sommer’s Angažované dějepisectví: Stranická historiografie mezi stalinismem a reformním komunismem (1950–1970) (Engagé history writing: Party historiography between Stalinism and Reform Communism, 1950–70) (Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny and Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2011). He mainly appreciates the fact that Sommer’s monograph takes so-called ‘Party historiography’ seriously rather than as a mere instrument of politics or propaganda. Thanks to that, it can legitimately be read at least on two levels: as the study of an important segment of Czech post-war historiography extending also into the history of other fields of the humanities in the Stalinist and post-Stalinist periods and also as the story of Communist intellectuals’ gradually involvement in the formation of the socialist dictatorship, its limited criticism, and the attempt at its reform. In his overall very positive assessment, the reviewer also expresses doubts whether the gradual emancipation of Czech historiography from Stalinist dogma can really be ascribed to the change in scientific paradigms, as Sommer interprets it in connection with Thomas Kuhn’s conception, or whether it resulted from a change in the political attitudes of historians. The reviewer claims that Communist historians at the start of de-Stalinization were on the whole much more conformist than, for example, philosophers or writers, and he puts forth the hypothesis that this reflects their stronger affiliation with the structures of the Party apparat.
Some Thoughts about a Book and Its Topic
The author gives an overview of Vítězslav Sommer’s monograph Angažované dějepisectví: Stranická historiografie mezi stalinismem a reformním komunismem (1950–1970) (Engagé history writing: Party historiography between Stalinism and Reform Communism, 1950–70) (Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny and Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2011) and he emphasizes not only its considerable contribution to our knowledge and its other qualities, but also its sound basis in theory and method, its carefully thought-out structure, apposite periodization, precise definition of terms, polished style, and the author’s superb knowledge of the sources and secondary literature on the topic. Sommer, according to the author, deserves praise for his handling of the question of the different generations which was reflected in numerous disputes at the time, and for his purely matter-of-fact discussion of the Stalinist beginnings of the careers of historians who would later become important. In his book, Sommer has, according to the author, laid the real foundations for research on Czech Party historiography, which can now be built upon in various ways.
An Essential Analysis of German ‘Remembering and Forgetting’
Hahn, Eva, and Hans Henning Hahn. Die Vertreibung im deutschen Erinnern: Legenden, Mythos, Geschichte. Paderborn, Munich, Vienna, Zurich: Schöningh, 2010, 839 pp.
This is a review essay of a Czech translation of a recent work by Eva Hahn and Hans Henning Hahn, whose title means ‘The expulsion in German memory: Legends, myths, history’. The reviewer presents the authors, both renowned historians and intellectuals, who have, with journalism and other public involvement, participated in current debates about the expulsion of the Germans from central and eastern Europe after the Second World War. He then presents the main points of their book in the context of historical research and the wider political and social reflections on this subject in Germany and the Czech Republic. He considers the leitmotif of the Hahns’ book to be the well-argued thesis that in the Federal Republic the state-supported official policy of the memory of the expulsion of the Germans does not correspond to the knowledge of specialists. With appreciation, he acquaints the reader with the unusually wide scope of the book, which includes the historical facts of the migration of the German population from central and eastern Europe in their complexity (in other words, not only the post-war expulsions, but also earlier escapes and also Nazi-organized transfers) and also, indeed mainly, the genesis of the collective memory of these events in West German politics, history writing, and the mass media, especially amongst the expellees. With an analysis of the expulsion discourse, drawn from a wide range of writings, the authors have found in the German collective memory the repetition and survival of stereotypical views that originate in German Romantic populist (völkisch) or even Nazi rhetoric.
Despite his overall high opinion of the publication, the reviewer finds some weaknesses it. The passages about coming to terms with the past, he argues, fail to consider the expulsion of the Germans in the context of international law. Regarding the passages in which the Hahns criticize the revisionist claims of West German politicians, a question remains about the extent to which this rhetoric was influenced by particular forums and occasions at which it was heard. The Hahns’ criticism of the terminology used in Germany to discuss the expulsion is then turned against the two authors by the reviewer. In his conclusion, he focuses on the reception of the book in Germany. Though he finds that the responses to the book have been predominantly positive, on the whole he sees the reception of the book there as not particularly striking. According to him, the book has the potential to inspire further debate, but could also serve as a compendium. It will be useful to Czech readers because it analyses many phenomena present in Czech thinking about contemporary history, and not only in connection with the expulsion of the Germans.
A Cultural Historian in the Archives
Krapfl, James. Revolúcia s ľudskou tvárou: Politika, kultúra a spoločenstvo v Československu po 17. novembri 1989. Bratislava: Kalligram, 2009, 302 pp.
In the work under review, which has now been published in a revised and expanded English edition, Revolution with a Human Face: Politics, Culture, and Community in Czechoslovakia, 1989–1992 (Ithaca, NY, 2013), the American historian James Krapfl has successfully avoided the danger of letting his work be defined by contemporary disputes about whether to interpret the events as a so-called Velvet Revolution. Instead, he has combined thorough research in many archives with the approaches of the ‘new cultural history’. In this book, he searches for the now veiled content of the ideals of November 1989, which appeared in the political slogans and public statements of the time; he analyses the ‘revolutionary’ rules of dialogue, and considers the topic of non-violence, in which he sees the special features of the democratic revolutions of Eastern Europe. Far more than in the efforts of other historians, Krapfl presents a balanced and nuanced picture of contemporaneous thinking and the relations between the élites and the public. This work is, according to the reviewer, an essential alternative to most of the existing works about the Changes of late 1989.
The Memoirs of Miloš Hájek and Michal Reiman
Hájek, Miloš. Paměti české levice. Prague: Ústav pro soudobé dějiny, 2011, 358 pp;
Reiman, Michal. Rusko jako téma a realita doma a v exilu: Vzpomínky na léta 1968–1990. Prague: Ústav pro soudobé dějiny, 2008, 343 pp.
According to the reviewer, these memoirs by two Czech historians can be read in several ways: as contributions to the history of Czech Reform Communism or to Communist historiography, as a certain kind of story of central-European left-wing intellectuals in the twentieth century, as, in the book by Michal Reiman (b. 1930), whose title translates as ‘Russia as a Theme and Reality at Home and in Exile: Recollections of the Years 1968–1990’, the memory of Czech political emigration, and lastly, in the book by Miloš Hájek (b. 1921), whose title translates as ‘Memoirs of the Left-wing’, as the story of dissidents and dissent during the Normalization years. In the lives and works of these two engagé intellectuals, the reviewer finds features common to both, but he also sees differences. Both of their memoirs, he asserts, are valuable and interesting sources, and should not be ignored by any student of contemporary Czechoslovak history.
The Secret Lives of Jiří Mucha and Otto Katz
Miles, Jonathan. Devět životů Otto Katze: Příběh komunistického superšpiona z Čech. Trans. Petruška Šustrová. Prague and Litomyšl: Paseka, 2012, 336 pp;
Laurence, Charles. Společenský agent Jiří Mucha: Láska a žal za železnou oponou – intriky, sex, špioni. Trans. Kateřina Lipenská. Prague: Prostor 2012, 250 pp.
The reviewer compares the biographies of two cosmopolitan Czech intellectuals who worked as agents of the Communist secret police. One of the publications, The Social Agent: A True Intrigue of Sex, Spies, and Heartbreak Behind the Iron Curtain (2010), by Charles Laurence, is about the writer Jiří Mucha (1915–1991), the son of the renowned painter Alphonse Mucha. Jiří Mucha spent a considerable part of his life in France, but also lived in Czechoslovakia, where he also spent four years in prison in the 1950s. The other book under review, The Nine Lives of Otto Katz (2011), by Jonathan Miles, is about the journalist Otto Katz (1895–1952). Under the name André Simone, Katz worked to promote the Communist movement in interwar Europe and then in the United States and Mexico during the war, before returning to Czechoslovakia after the war to be a functionary of the Communist press. Katz was eventually sentenced in the Slánkský show trials and was then put to death. Whereas Miles, on the basis of wide-ranging archive records, seeks to give an objective account of Katz’s life, Laurence tells Mucha’s story from a subjective standpoint, with personal bias, as part of his own complicated family history. According to the reviewer, Laurence makes his points more compellingly than Miles, thanks in part to his effective literary style; Miles, by contrast, remains in the grip of the sources and their apparent objectivity, thus failing to pay enough attention to the historical context.
Jakubčin, Pavol. Pastieri v osídlach moci: Komunistický režim a katolícki kňazi na Slovensku v rokoch 1948–1968. Bratislava: Ústav pamäti národa, 2012, 215 pp.
In the work under review, the author focuses on the relations between the Czechoslovak Communist régime and the Roman Catholic Church from the rather unusual angle of their mutual collaboration. He traces the efforts of the Communist Party to win over priests for its own ends and to control the Church by means of conformists amongst them; he discusses the history of ‘collaborationist’ Church associations, analyses the institution of Church secretaries, and charts out the secret-police attempts to get collaborators from amongst the clergy during the first twenty years of Communist rule. The reviewer’s sole reservation about the work is that the author does not deal with the Church’s prerequisites of collaborating with the Communists, for it was, after all, hardly a one-sided process involving force alone.
Wanner, Jan. Ve stínu studené války: Střední východ v letech Eisenhowerovy doktríny 1955–1960. Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, 2011, 568 pp.
In this volume, whose title translates as ‘In the shadow of the Cold War: The Middle East in the years of the Eisenhower Doctrine, 1955–60’, the author demonstrates how American and Soviet interests in the period were projected into the Near East, where the two superpowers endeavoured to buttress their own positions, often without taking into consideration the specifically local conditions and the long and tangled historical developments in the region. According to the reviewer, the author has succeeded in following on from his previous publications about Cold War history and in offering specialists and the general public alike erudite and comparatively lively reading.
Adamsky, Dima. The Culture of Military Innovations: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the US, and Israel. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010, 247 pp.
The book under review starts from the hypothesis that military innovations (in the sense of strategic thinking) are fundamentally determined by cultural factors of the milieu in which they emerge. To support this hypothesis, the author uses the examples of the American, Soviet, and Israeli systems of strategic thinking in the second half of the twentieth century. He describes these three selected systems and compares them, ascribing technological superiority to the American system, conceptual superiority to the Soviet, and primarily the ability to improvise to the Israeli. According to the reviewer, the author defines his terms precisely, provides interesting information, and argues convincingly when emphasizing the cultural contingency of military factors.
This is an overview of the most interesting contributions on contemporary history published in the following nine Polish history periodicals in 2012: Dzieje Najnowsze, Wiadomości Historyczne, Pamięć.pl: Biuletyn IPN, Zeszyty Historyczne WiN, Przegląd Zachodni, Przegląd Historyczny, Kwartalnik Historyczny, Studia Historyczne, and Śląski Kwartalnik Historyczny Sobótka.
In this report, Jan Randák informs the reader about the sixth year of the Summer School of Contemporary History, intended primarily for teachers of the higher forms of elementary school and for secondary-school teachers. It was held in Prague, from 24 to 26 June 2013, by the Administration and Operations Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences together with the Institute of Czech History at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University.