Soudobé dějiny 3 / 2014


The War in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Phenomenon of Ethnic Cleansing

Ondřej Žíla

The article is concerned with ethnic cleansing, that is, the violent methods that constituted the central element of the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. The article aims to show the fatal consequences of the military operations that were conducted with the aim of the ethnic homogenization of the individual territories, and were rooted in the differences in the demographic development of the constituent peoples (the Serbs, Croatians, and Muslim Bosniaks) of Bosnia and Herzegovina before the outbreak of the conflict and the impact of this development on the transformation of the ethnic composition of the individual regions. After defining the terms ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’, the author analyses the character and extent of the violent local homogenization that led to the greatest refugee crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War. On the basis of a summary of the individual stages of the ethnic cleansing during the war from 1992 to 1995, the author seeks to demonstrate that the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina at first erupted mainly in places that had, during the last two decades before the breakup of Yugoslavia, manifested the most striking changes in the ethnic representation of the constituent nations (chiefly the Eastern Orthodox Serbs and the Muslims). In the second part, the author focuses on analysing the strategic interests of the elites of the Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks and the forms these interests took during the violent ethnic homogenization of the territory under their military control.

Voices outside the Frames:

Růže, a Regional Publishing House in an Age of Tangible Irrationality
Veronika Košnarová

This article discusses a chapter in the post-war history of regional cultural institutions, in the context of their special standing in the State arts policy of the period. The article uses the examples of Růže, a publishing house of the České Budějovice region, and the Aleš Gallery of South Bohemia (Alšova jihočeská galerie) in Hluboká nad Vltavou, to document the conflicts between regional arts institutions and political power even in the 1960s, the most relaxed decade of the Communist regime. The article focuses mainly on the efforts of the Růže publishing house and the Aleš Gallery to revive the traditions of modernist and avant-garde art, which the regime at that time perceived to be so dangerous that the solution of the scandals they had provoked required the attention of the highest levels of power. The main part of the book describes the scandal and subsequent banning of Hlasy bez rámů (Voices outside the frames, 1964), a volume of essays responding to gallery visitors’ condemnation of modern painting and sculpture. The author, however, first provides an outline of the history of regional publishing houses in Communist Czechoslovakia, particularly Růže. Its activity in the 1960s, in comparison with the usual publishing practices of this period, appears to have been remarkable in several respects, which the author demonstrates with the example of the paperback editions Česká čtyrkorunovka (Czech reading for four crowns), Česká četba (Czech reading), and Statečná srdce (Brave hearts), in which the editors succeeded in combining commercial aims (ensuring the publishing house relatively exceptional autonomy at that time) with an effort to return some taboo authors and values to literature.

From Wheeling and Dealing in the Street to the ‘Uncles from the West’:

The Black Market of Late Socialism in the Czech-German Context
Adam Havlík

This article compares and contrasts the black markets in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and the German Democratic Republic in the 1970s and 1980s. It first briefly discusses the social conditions of the Communist dictatorships, which determined the existence, and successful reproduction, of the black market. It then seeks to identify the common features in illegal trade in the two countries and also those specific to only one country or the other. The author focuses mainly on two sectors of the black market at that time – namely, the illegal trade in foreign consumer goods and the criminal exchange of hard currency. He discusses the figures who were the driving forces in the black market, and the commodities which they preferred to deal in. In Czechoslovakia, unlike East Germany, a special social stratum of underhand moneychangers, called veksláci, had a strong position on the local black market, and profited from the sale of hard (Western) currency, coupons to the exclusive Tuzex shops (that had scarce Western goods), and consumer goods. In East Germany, it was mainly family members, friends, and acquaintances from West Germany who served as the middlemen in obtaining scarce goods. Nevertheless, there, too, organized networks of black-marketeers were formed, in which citizens of the People’s Republic of Poland occupied a privileged position, thanks mainly to the relative ease with which Poles could travel abroad; and they too influenced the nature of the East German black market.


On Holiday with Heydrich

Jiří Pokorný

This article is a discussion of ‘Operation Recreation: The Legacy of Reinhard Heydrich’ (Erholungsaktion – Vermächtnis Reinhard Heydrich), in which tens of thousands of workers in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in 1943 and 1944 were given an opportunity to use their vacation for a paid week’s stay in convalescent homes, spas, and similar institutions in attractive places throughout the Protectorate. The operation was named after Acting Reich-Protector Reinhard Heydrich (1904–1942), who ostentatiously emphasized his interest in ensuring good social conditions for the Czech working classes, and, shortly before his death in consequence of an assassination attempt, he initiated the first such convalescent stays. The author puts the topic into the context of the development of the trade-union movement after the establishment of the Protectorate and, before that, of efforts at health care for young people during the first Czechoslovak Republic. And he explains how only the newly established National Trade-union Headquarters (Národní odborová ústředna zaměstnanecká – NOÚZ), as the united trade-union organization in the Protectorate, was able to obtain enough finances to run such a demanding operation. The author then describes the organization of the whole operation, its ceremonial launching, and the course it took. He emphasizes that even though the importance of the operation was mostly as propaganda, it achieved this aim chiefly by showing the holidaymakers enjoying the arts, sports, tourism, and social events, while it kept the ideology in the background; the indoctrination aspect was somewhat intensified in 1944. The author devotes considerable attention to the reactions to Operation Recreation from the ranks of those who participated in it. Although the utterly positive response it met with was doubtless because of its having been managed and supervised by the authorities, one must admit that this could also be a reflection of the genuine impressions of simple people who had for the first time in their lives met with such concentrated care, which had been presented as a reward for their honest work.


Baffled by an Interpretation of the Communist Dictatorship:

Critical Remarks on the ‘Socialism as Sinnwelt’ Project
Karel Hrubý

The author criticizes some of the theoretical starting points, published results, and ideas of the international research project called ‘Socialism as Sinnwelt’, as they were presented in several articles of the special issue of Soudobé dějiny, vol. 19 (2012), no. 2, and in a few other publications. The project was run by the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam and the Institute of Contemporary History, Prague, with the participation of the Czech historians Pavel Kolář, Michal Kopeček, Michal Pullmann, and Matěj Spurný, together with scholars from other countries. The author briefly recapitulates the basic ideas with which the project participants approach the interpretation of the Communist or, to use their term, Socialist dictatorship; he lists criticism of the project, which has appeared both in specialist Czech periodicals and in the Press; and he puts this new view of recent history into the context of the development of Czech historiography since the Changes beginning in November 1989. He states that this attempt at an alternative interpretation of the Communist past is a reaction to the ‘traditional’ interpretations in earlier works by Czech historians, which had put the emphasis mainly on the institutions of power, the machinery of repression, and the use of force by the Communist rulers, or on resistance to them. This project, drawing inspiration particularly from approaches taken by German social scientists conducting research on everyday life, refuses, by contrast, to conceive of the Communist dictatorship as an allegedly omnipotent regime on the one hand with a powerless public on the other, and to understand its character the proponents of this project think it is essential to comprehend the wide range of relationships between the ruling and the ruled in their everyday dimensions, in all their confusion and equivocation; they seek the explanation for the duration and stability of the Communist dictatorship in forms of social consensus, the ways the public participated in the dictatorship, and in the ways its legitimacy was renewed. The historians who use these approaches are, according to author, revisionists, because they seek to provide new interpretations to substitute for, rather than only to add to or expand, earlier ones, for they argue that the earlier interpretations are burdened with the legacy of outmoded theories of totalitarianism.
The author grants that these revisionists are indeed opening a new and necessary chapter in historical research, but they are, according to him, doing so with much of the one-sidedness and distortion of reality with which they reproach earlier historians. The author provides a critique of the revisionist conception of everyday life, which, he argues, captures only its reified, phenomenal form, for example, public social conformity, while failing to capture its subjective side, that is, the attitudes of people. For the attitude to the powers that be, the subjective side is only apparently unimportant, because it points to cultural or mental horizons other than the ones offered by the world of the Socialist dictatorship, and maintains the forcibly suppressed tradition of values, while creating social differentiation, which is masked by the concept of a society participating as a whole. In the relationship between the ruling and the ruled, the revisionists overlook the ever-present, striking asymmetry in favour of those who rule, that is, the ones who take the initiative and are dominant in all fundamental matters; but they pay only limited attention to the means by which this asymmetry is maintained. The revisionist image of the Communist dictatorship is also formed by the fact that these historians focus on its later period, when mass repression as an instrument of political struggle and of disciplining society was replaced by a more selective use of force and the influence of public discussion. Nor do they integrate into this image the founding period of Stalinism and its long-term influence on social consciousness. Though an analysis of everyday life can add to the picture of the dictatorship and make that picture deeper, it cannot explain the origin and true essence of that dictatorship. That origin and true essence, concludes the author, consist in the very political aspects and aims, the methods of subjugating and suppressing and of creating a new mentality in the ruled – all of which, he argues, the revisionists ignore.

Three Views of One Book: Contexts, Comparisons, Contrasts

Jiří Suk. Politika jako absurdní drama: Václav Havel v letech 1975–1989, Prague and Litomyšl: Paseka, 2013, 447 pp.

Suk’s Normalization ‘Comedy’

Kieran Williams

This review was originally published in English in the German periodical Bohemia, vol. 53 (2013), no. 2, pp. 493–95. (To access it free of charge, go to As the author notes, Suk does not aim to provide a comprehensive biography, but instead concentrates on Havel the dissident, political writer, and co-founder of independent opposition groups and projects. Suk achieves this with an original approach to the primary sources, first and foremost Havel’s voluminous correspondence and the secret-police files kept on him. Suk writes as a member of the generation that grew up in the period of Normalization policy and came of age in 1989. His attitude to Havel is positive, respectful, but not idolizing; he does not shut his eyes to controversial aspects of Havel’s life. The reviewer then comments on Suk’s choice of the term ‘comedy’ (as understood by the literary critic and theorist Northrop Frye) as the genre of his book. This genre, the reviewer argues, would have been better served had Suk brought Gustáv Husák and Alexander Dubček more fully onto the stage as Havel’s adversaries.

Havel’s Anti-politics Presented in Another Way:

Concerning Suk’s Book about Havel
Milan Znoj

In this essay, the author first considers some of the sources of inspiration and interpretative frameworks of Suk’s book, which have led the author, Znoj, to consider the theme of the absurdity of the Socialist world as a component of Havel’s work as a dramatist and a dissident. In a nutshell, the author argues that the anti-politics of the Normalization period of the 1970s and 1980s took the place of the theatre of the absurd of the 1960s. He then describes anti-politics as the construction of a moral world that maintained a distance from the existing political order, and he points out its main features and analyses the meaning of that distance by considering Havel’s well-known essay, ‘The Power of the Powerless’ (1978). Suk’s book, according to the author, is the story of how the dissident’s word became political power. Suk, he argues, has thus demonstrated that he is the best historian of Havel’s dissidence and the end of the Communist regime led by Husák. This book is a solid historical work based on a thorough examination of the sources, but its author has gone beyond mere positivism; he has developed a suitable theoretical framework for historical interpretation. The result casts a penetrating light on recent Czech history. Suk’s emphasis on historical continuity gives the interpretation a unifying perspective while, according to the author, papering over some of the seams and smoothing out some of the conflicts of the period. First, Suk has omitted Havel’s distancing himself from Western democracies when he was a dissident, even his distancing himself from liberal democracy per se. Second, he has underestimated Havel’s reluctance to politicize the dissident movement when the matter was being hotly debated in 1989. And, third, Suk appears not to have fully appreciated Havel’s sudden change in his conception of ‘anti-politics’, which meant Havel’s becoming a political leader and using the methods of realpolitik in the struggle for power.

Havel in His Element of the Absurd, Antinomies, and Nonsense

Miloš Havelka

The author focuses on the archetypal plan of ‘comedy’ which Jiří Suk has borrowed from the literary theorist Northrop Frye as the interpretational framework for his book about Václav Havel. Moreover, the author questions the extent to which it can properly be used to understand Havel’s dramatizations of absurdity and the absurd nature of politics. In the author’s judgement, these would have been better classified under the genre of the grotesque, which consists in the tension between irreconcilable opposites and paradoxes. It is their existence and operation in Havel’s life and work in the period covered by the book, which Suk has so vividly demonstrated. From this book, one can reasonably conclude that Havel did not believe in a historical happy ending; indeed, history for him comprised open-ended and unplanned events. This way of intellectually relating to the world remained, according to the author, true of Havel also in his role as President after the Changes beginning in November 1989. It helped him to maintain his distance from reality at that time, and also to maintain ironic distance from himself; it is thematized, for example, in the antinomies of morals and politics or civil society and the multi-party system. Among the strong points of Suk’s work is how he has structured the wide range of primary sources according to their meaning and for his own purposes, by using his own meta-historical terms and also adopting metaphors such as the ‘restoration of order’ or the ‘grey zone’. Suk persuasively shows Havel as the central figure of Charter 77 and the Changes. His interpretations are well informed, and constitute the deepest probe into the topic so far.


The History and Break-up of Yugoslavia as Topics of Historical Disputes

Ondřej Vojtěchovský

Bjelajac, Mile, and Gordana Krivokapić-Jović. Prilozi iz naučne kritike: Srpska istoriografija i svet. Uticaj jugoslovenske krize na stranu i domaću istoriografiju. Belgrade: Institut za noviju istoriju Srbije, 2011, 411 pp., ISBN 978-86-7005-093-8.

In his review of this work, whose title translates as ‘Serbian Historiography and the World: The Influence that the Yugoslav Crisis Has Had on Historiography at Home and Abroad. Contributions to Specialist Criticism’, the reviewer offers more general considerations of the state of Serbian and post-Yugoslav historiography in the international context of research on the contemporary history of the South Slav countries. The two authors of the book, Mile Bjelajac and Gordana Krivokapić-Jović, represent, according to the reviewer, a trend in Serbian historiography, which has been able to free itself from the limitations of national history, positivist assimilation of mere facts, and national stereotypes; they are, in short, among the best historians in their country. The range of topics discussed in this volume cover the key problems of modern Serbian and Yugoslav history, such as the origin, existence, and causes of the demise of the shared state of the South Slavs. The reviewer uses these topic areas to show the trends in the development of the national historiographies of the former Yugoslavia, from the state ideology of Yugoslav unity and brotherhood to the ‘new orthodoxy’ of anti-Communism and anti-Yugoslavism, to the break-up of the shared state and the new instrumentalization of politics during the Yugoslav Wars, to the current pluralization of approaches and the opening up of new horizons.

Essentialism and Democracy:

Concerning a Line of ‘Austrian’ Thought
Vlastimil Hála

Feichtinger, Johannes. Wissenschaft als reflexives Projekt: Von Bolzano über Freud zu Kelsen. Österreichische Wissenschaftsgeschichte 1848–1938. Bielefeld: Transkript, 2010, 636 pp., ISBN 978-3-8376-1523-4.

The book under review, a cultural-political history of science and scholarship, covers almost a century of a line that constitutes one of the fundamental features of ‘Austrian’ ideas and culture (meaning those originating in the territory of the Habsburg Monarchy). This line – and also the approach that the author himself identifies with – is anti-essentialism in the sense of scepticism towards mental constructs that are presented as having captured the essence of certain phenomena. A key argument that the author then seeks to demonstrate is the affinity between this philosophical-scientific attitude and democratic thought and practice. He demonstrates this affinity in important figures, such as the jurist, legal philosopher, and political philosopher Hans Kelsen, the neurologist and father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, the philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Ernst Mach, and the art historian Alois Riegl. The reviewer objects to what he sees as an overly clear-cut interpretation of this idea (the author fails to mention, for example, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, for he does not fit into this scheme), but he praises the book as an admirable attempt to thematize and interpret a vast amount of diverse material, and it may therefore be an inspiration for the way it integrates Czech ideas into the broader transnational context.

With a Pink Triangle in Buchenwald

Jakub Diviš

Brázda, Rudolf, and Jean-Luc Schwab. Cesta růžového trojúhelníku: Nacistická likvidace homosexuálů ve vzpomínkách posledního pamětníka. Trans. from the French by Zuzana Dlabalová. Prague: Paseka, 2012, 200 pp., ISBN 978-80-7432-199-3.

The work under review, originally published in French as Itinéraire d’un Triangle rose (Paris: Florent Massot, 2010), is based on interviews that the author conducted with Rudolf Brázda, the last known witness of the men who were imprisoned in German concentration camps for their homosexuality. The reviewer outlines Brázda’s life story, and points to various aspects of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals and to the standing and lives of homosexuals while concentration-camp prisoners. Apart from feeling that the author should have put the biographical story into its broader historical context, the reviewer considers this a valuable publication.

The Mystery of ‘Stone’ Partly Revealed

Prokop Tomek

Jandečková, Václava. Kámen: Svědectví hlavního aktéra akce ‘falešné hranice’ u Všerub na Domažlicku. Domažlice: Nakladatelství Českého lesa, 2013, 327 pp., ISBN 978-80-87316-35-1.

Operation ‘Stone’ (‘Kámen’) was a method of provocation used by the Czechoslovak secret police (Státní bezpečnost – StB) from 1948 to 1951. It consisted in the secret police building fake border crossings and fake offices of American military counterintelligence near the real Czechoslovak frontiers with Austria and West Germany. People trying to escape to the West were taken to these places by a network of agents provocateurs, as well as by real organizers of crossings who were unaware of the trap. The would-be escapees were interrogated, arrested, and sentenced. How this operation worked has long been roughly known to historians, but the details, such as individual cases, places, and the number of those affected, are still unknown. According to the reviewer, the author of this work, which is so far the largest on the topic, has provided answers to a number of questions. She has approached the topic with a profound knowledge of the place, the actual terrain, local people who still remember actors and events, personal connections, and local colour of the period in the area of Všeruby near Domažlice, in the Pilsen region of west Bohemia. She also has a personal stake in the telling of the history because one of the locals who were genuinely helping people to cross the border was her grandfather. She also discovered an exceptional primary source – namely, a manuscript of the memoirs of one of the people involved, who eventually succeeded in escaping to Canada. Thanks to this manuscript, she has been able to reconstruct in detail the events at the fake Czechoslovak-Bavarian border after the Communist takeover in February 1948.

In Search of an Alternative Prague Spring Discourse

Stanislav Holubec

Stropnický, Matěj. Myslet socialismus bez tanků: Svoboda slova ve střed/tu zájmů československého roku 1968. Prague: Scriptorium, 2013, 160 pp., ISBN 978-80-87271-79-7.

This book presents an analysis of various attitudes to freedom of speech during the Prague Spring of 1968. From these attitudes the author has assembled a typology of five different groups of actors: Stalinists, reform Communists, pragmatists or realists, non-Communists and left-wing democrats in the Czechoslovak Communist Party. What the reviewer considers the most interesting aspect of the whole book, however, is Stropnický’s criticism of current interpretations of the Prague Spring, the primary aim of which, according to the reviewer, is to support the now dominant liberal framework for interpreting the world. The reviewer, however, has serious doubts about the way the author works with his sources, that is, selectively, failing to differentiate between primary and secondary, mixing together sources that originated at different times, and thus abandoning the notion of a historical line in his interpretation.

The Recollections of a Brno Gallery Director

Jiří Pernes

Hlušička, Jiří. Ještě že mám vzpomínky: Na domov, na Moravskou galerii, na přátele. Brno: Nadace Universitas and Akademické nakladatelství Cerm, 2012, 190 pp. + illustrations, ISBN 978-80-7204-780-2.

According to the reviewer, these memoirs of the long-serving director of the Moravian Gallery, in Brno, Jiří Hlušička (b. 1929), provide readers interested in the history of Brno with lively testimony about the arts scene in this city, the capital of Moravia, in the second half of the twentieth century. Hlušička was head of this institution for almost three decades, from 1961, when he succeed in creating it (by making the picture gallery of the Moravian Museum in Brno independent and then joining it to the Museum of Decorative Arts), until 1989, when he retired. And it is mainly on people, places, and events associated with this work that his memoirs are focused, including character sketches of important artists he had met. The reviewer regrets only that the political events and the changes in the atmosphere of society from the 1950s to the 1980s remain on the periphery of this account.

Of periodicals and archives

Contemporary History in Polish History Periodicals in 2013

Jaroslav Vaculík

In this survey of contemporary-history articles in Polish periodicals in 2013 the author focus mostly on the quarterly of the History Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Dzieje Najnowsze, the main contemporary-history journal in Poland. He also focuses on the monthly Pamięć.pl, which is published as Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, and, more briefly, he discusses the periodicals Przegląd Zachodni, Kwartalnik Historyczny, Wiadomości Historyczne, Przegląd Historyczny, Śląski Kwartalnik Historyczny Sobótka, and Mówią Wieki.


Ninety Years of a Prolific Life:

Lenka Kalinová (1924–2014)
Václav Průcha

The author sums up the life and career of Lenka Kalinová (1924–2014), who was for a long time a leading authority on the social history of Czechoslovakia, particularly of the years after the Second World War. In the 1960s she established and led a team of scholars to analyse the social structure of Czechoslovakia as it had developed from 1918 onward. In 1970 she lost her job, but in the following years worked with specialized institutions in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and eventually also published intensively in both countries. New opportunities opened up for her in the early 1990s, when she began to work closely with the Institute of Contemporary History, part of the Czech Academy of Sciences. In consequence of her years of work in the field of theory, she published two syntheses in which she made good use of a great deal of facts in order to identify and explain basic trends in Czech society and politics from 1945 to 1993.

The Twentieth Century in the Life and Works of the Late Robert Sak

Dalibor Vácha

The author recalls the key moments in the life and career of a leading Czech cultural historian, Robert Sak (1933–2014), the author of Rieger (1993, 2003) and Anabáze (1996). In the 1960s, as Editor-in-Chief of the Růže publishing house, České Budějovice, he was largely responsible for transforming this regional enterprise into a publishing house that was unique in its day. Růže published intellectually challenging literature, including books by Catholic writers who had hitherto been silenced, together with paperback editions of adventure stories. This ensured the publishing house popularity and financial autonomy. After the Růže editors were dismissed in the early 1970s, Sak was forced for the next twenty years to make his living as a worker in a foundry, but wrote works of history on the side, which could only come out after the Changes in late 1989. In the 1990s, he established the History Institute at the University of South Bohemia, Budějovice, which became an important centre for research on cultural history. In addition to a still unsurpassed history of the ‘anabasis’ of the Czechoslovak legionaries in Russia, historical biography became his main genre, and he depicted the lives of important Czechs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Soudobé dějiny 3 / 2014

Hide the content

Obsah 1Obsah 2

Hide the content

Thematic webs