Soudobé dějiny 3-4 / 2015

Česká paměť komunismu / The Czech Memory of Communism


American Policy, the Korean War, and the Lessons of Munich (Part 2)

Petr Mareš

In Part 1 of this article, published in the last issue of Soudobé dějiny (vol. 22, 2015, nos. 1–2, pp. 9–29), the author discusses how the lessons from the mistakes of appeasement, including the signing of the Munich Agreement in autumn 1938, were projected in US foreign policy during the Second World War and at the beginning of the Cold War. In Part 2, based on published and unpublished American sources, he considers the influence of this factor on the US approach taken in the Korean War in the early 1950s. He seeks to demonstrate that the decision of the Truman Administration to substantially intervene in this conflict was a direct consequence of the negative attitude to the policy of appeasing an aggressor. This attitude was also shared by the American public, regardless of party affiliation and political sympathies. Arguments based on the rejection of appeasement, however, soon began to be used by the Republicans as ammunition in the election campaign against the incumbent Democrats and the choice of strategy also became a matter of dispute in the choice of strategy on the Korean battlefield after China entered the war. Whereas the White House wished to avoid an unlimited conflict with China, the Commander-in-Chief of the United Nation Command in Korea, General Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964), was in favour of an uncompromising approach and in fact ceased to obey President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972). After being relieved of his command by Truman, MacArthur became the chief critic of his policies and a hero of Truman’s Republican opponents. In spring 1951, the Republicans organized a special Senate committee hearing on the circumstances of MacArthur’s suspension. The author looks in detail at this exceptional clash in post-war US domestic politics, which was meant to be triumphantly used against MacArthur, but gradually changed into a debacle in consequence of, among other things, the compelling testimonies of Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1893–1971) and Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall (1880–1959). In his conclusion, the author seeks to demonstrate how other US presidents returned to the ‘lessons of Munich’, and he argues that these lessons became Truman’s lasting political legacy and as such became firmly rooted in American political discourse.

A Peculiar Unity:

Gustáv Husák and the Struggles for Power in the Czechoslovak Communist Party, 1969–75
Michal Macháček

This article presents an analysis of Czechoslovak political history of the first half of the 1970s and the question of who would succeed General Ludvík Svoboda (1895–1979) as Czechoslovak President. The emphasis is on the role of Gustáv Husák (1913–1991), who emerged from the political crisis of 1968–69 as the most powerful actor, and was, at the 14th Congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, confirmed as General Secretary of the Party. Using Soviet archives, the author points to differences between the individual members of the Party leadership, and particularly to the lack of unity amongst the so-called ‘healthy forces’. According to him, it is fair to talk about the disintegration of this bloc, which had been formed during the Prague Spring, into several smaller groups. The secretary of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, Vasil Biľak (1917–2014), was, in consequence of this and Soviet pressure, forced to abandon any ambitions to stand at the head of the Party, and had to be satisfied, instead, with the position of Number Two in the Party. The Soviet leadership derived social stability in Czechoslovakia from the firmness of the Czechoslovak Communist Party leadership, and in particular counted on the collaboration of Husák and Biľak, and it made this clear to both men. Svoboda’s failing health prevented him from properly discharging his duties as President of Czechoslovakia, but he did not even try to hold on to the presidency, even though, in the interest of political stability, he was confirmed in office in March 1973, and remained something of a temporary solution. The article does not seek to challenge or confirm the hypothesis that he was forced to step down in May 1975; although, in any event, Svoboda was in no condition to have taken this step himself. Husák’s efforts to become President kept running up against the question of the accumulation of offices and also the Czech-Slovak national factor, even though, thanks to centrist Czechoslovak policy and support from Moscow, he succeeded in achieving a ‘peculiar unity’ over this question in the CPCz leadership, so that on 29 May 1975 he became the first, and also the last, Czechoslovak President who was a Slovak. In Czech eyes, however, he remained a Slovak who had, after August 1968, considerably participated in the unfortunate re-imposition of hard-line Communism known as ‘normalization’, whereas for the Slovak nation he increasingly became a turncoat, a ‘Prague Slovak’. The article is followed by a number of relevant documents and biographical sketches of the Party members who were decisive in Husák’s election to the presidency.

An Unwelcome Attempt at Emancipation:

The Federal Assembly and the Czechoslovak Revolution of 1989
Adéla Gjuričová and Tomáš Zahradníček

The aim of this article is to chart out the efforts to strengthen the Federal Assembly as the supreme Czechoslovak legislative body during what became known as the Velvet Revolution beginning in late 1989, and to identify and explain the causes of the failure of these efforts. The authors are advocates of the ‘new institutionalism’, an approach that focuses on the less visible actors and processes, such as implicit customs, values, procedures, and myths, which institutions pass on to each other. In Communist Czechoslovakia, the legislature played a secondary role, and during the watershed year of 1989, the key political debates and negotiations also avoided the legislature; it did not become the stage on which politics were played out, nor even an arena in which to demonstrate who was more powerful. That began to change in late November 1989, after the fall of the old Communist leadership and during the change in political régime. The authors explain the principles of the operation of the Federal Assembly and its political composition, and demonstrate how, in the person of its spokesman, Anton Blažej (1927–2013), the Communist majority began to take action in the Federal Assembly, and came out in favour of the principles of democracy and a fully fledged role for the legislature, and eventually became a possible obstacle to the election of Václav Havel (1936–2011) to the Czechoslovak presidency. Events, however, took a different turn. The Civic Forum became the new centre of power, and achieved the decisive position also in the ‘government of national understanding’, which was formed in the Federal Assembly, but without the participation of the deputies to that legislature. The Federal Assembly again quickly became dependent on the executive, and its role did not begin to grow until the spring of 1990, after the Civic Forum was represented there by co-opting new deputies.

Places of the Memory of Communism in the Czech Republic:

Their Documentation and Interpretation
Oldřich Tůma

The author recapitulates the documentary results of the grant-funded project ‘Stories of Places: A Topography of the Memory of the Nation’, carried out at the Institute of Contemporary History, Prague, and he outlines their interpretation with regard to memory studies as a discipline of historical research in its own right. The project entailed research on commemorative events, their actors and victims, from the period of the Communist régime, from 1948 to 1989, in what is today the Czech Republic. This project was inspired by the large German project ‘Places of Memory of the Communist Dictatorships’ (Erinnerungsorte an die kommunistischen Diktaturen) organized by the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship (Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur). As part of the project, places that have been considered sites of memory are defined as those that have been created with the aim of public commemoration, most often as artistic installations with a historical message (such as commemorative plaques, sculptures, monuments, crosses, and inscriptions), and also places that use historical artefacts as a means of education (such as museums and education paths or heritage trails). The places of memory that have been identified and documented are presented to the public in two ways: by means of a regularly updated database called ‘Places of Memory of the Communist Dictatorship’ (Pamětní místa na komunistický režim; at, so far only in Czech,, and by means of a specially designed map called ‘Shifts in Memory: A Topography of the Contemporary Memory of the Nation and Reflections on It (Posuny paměti: Topografie soudobé paměti národa a její reflexe’, so far only in Czech, This web database comprises more than 600 places of memory, organized from three different perspectives – according to region, theme, and time –, which are discussed in some detail in the article.
The author, with some scepticism, comments on the current boom in concepts and publications about historical memory in the Czech social sciences, and he states that it is not the ambition of this project to include itself in this intensive discourse. None the less, the documentation that has been collected may well be a natural source of contemplating collective memory related to the Communist period of Czech history. From the database it follows that the vast majority of the preserved places of memory have come into being after the Changes beginning in mid-November 1989, and that, in comparison with other periods, what they commemorate is mostly the Communist repression of the 1950s and its victims. In the Czech Republic, however, there are practically no particular regions of the memory of Communism; the means of recalling the Communist past in the individual regions is highly similar from one place to the next, though the actual themes of the places of memory are different. A distinct feature of these places of memory is their spontaneous emergence, usually at a local initiative, and their unusualness in their efforts to achieve the political shaping of the memory of Communism ‘from above’. The author then considers in detail how the Prague Spring of 1968 has been reflected in places of memory.

Terror, Failure, Resistance:

Conflicting Memories of Armed Resistance to Communism
Markéta Devátá

This article is concerned with the memory and commemoration of acts of armed force which were committed as part of the civilian resistance to the Communist régime in its ‘founding period’ after February 1948. It focuses on how memory is constituted around this minority form of anti-Communist resistance, particularly by means of memorial sites in the process of their formation in the period before the Changes that began in mid-November 1989 and also afterwards. In the first part of the article, the author looks at armed conflicts at the edge of the Iron Curtain, that is, on the western borders of Communist Czechoslovakia. She seeks to demonstrate that the way of looking at border crossings by people fleeing to the West is still considerably influenced by the memory and commemorative activities of veterans of the former border guards, amongst whom dominates the image of these refugees as internal enemies of the State. The second part of the article is devoted to instances of so-called ‘political murder’, that is, acts of violence against Communist politicians, which are connected particularly with villages. Most of these stories are gradually being forgotten; society does not want to recall them. An exception, however, is the memory of the sad events in the village of Babice, in the Bohemian-Moravian uplands, in 1951, which has repeatedly been used by politicians. In the third part of the article, the author considers the social discourse about the ethical dimension of armed anti-Communist resistance, which is almost exclusively focused on the atypical case of the group led by the Mašín brothers, and the process of forming the memory of the three resistances (the first, against Austria-Hungary during the Great War; the second, against the German occupying forces during the Second World War; and the third, against the Communist régime during the Cold War). She describes the commemorative activities of the Confederation of Political Prisoners as part of the strategy to bolster the social standing of the third, anti-Communist resistance, and she points to certain analogies between the unchallenged memories of political prisoners and the memories of the former border guards in contemporary historiography.

Occupation, Fraternal Assistance, Devastation:

The Soviet Army, 1968–91, in the Memory of Czech Society
Marie Černá

In this article, the author raises the question of what now, more than twenty years later, the ‘stay’ (pobyt, as it was officially called), of the Soviet Army in Czechoslovakia means to the inhabitants of the country. How, she asks, is it recalled in the public space and the mass media, and what images are most frequently evoked in this connection? Whereas the Soviet-led intervention by troops of the Warsaw Pact countries in August 1968 holds a lasting place in Czech memory and historiography, the subsequent stay of Soviet troops in the country has far fuzzier contours. Though in this connection the term ‘occupation’ (okupace) is regularly used today, there is no simple agreement about its political meaning. In the article, the author seeks to indentify the changes in the communicated meanings of the occupation, when the original nation-wide consensus of its rejection was squeezed out by the reality of officially imposed friendship and the ‘twinning’ (družba) of Czechoslovak and Soviet towns. Under its façade, by contrast, people developed variously accented and motivated attitudes, such as keeping their distance or being accommodating, the plurality of which has largely survived in the collective memory unchallenged to this day. The author, however, points mainly to the fundamental shift in the perception of the stay of the Soviet Army, which took place after the Changes beginning in mid-November 1989, when, the degradation of the buildings occupied by the Soviets and the land that they stand on, and the gradual rectification of this, have become the main topics, rather than related aspects of political power.

The Monument to Freedom and Unity, Berlin:

Concerning the Debate about the Need for ‘Positive’ Monuments in Germany
Tomáš Vilímek

This article relates the still unfinished story of the Monument to Freedom and Unity in Berlin. which is intended to commemorate the great changes of autumn 1989, and it looks at the related German debate about the culture of remembrance in their country. That debate is at present connected mainly with the crimes of Nazism, and people are now heard arguing that in addition to memory and ‘negative’ monuments Germany also sorely needs to develop ‘positive’ collective remembrance. One of the specific attempts to make this idea a reality is the Initiative for a Monument to German Unity (Initiative Denkmal Deutsche Einheit), which emerged in the Bundestag in 1998. From it comes the Berlin project discussed here, which, even seventeen years later (unlike the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), has yet to be built. The author discusses the changes in the conception of the monument and the competition for its design; although the second competition resulted in a winning design, that was not unanimously accepted, and disputes about the monument continue to this day.


Hits and Misses in Cloudy Constellations:

Five Biographies of Václav Havel
Miloš Havelka

This review article is concerned with the most important recent books about the life and works of Václav Havel (1936–2011) as a key figure of Czechoslovak and Czech history in the last fifty or so years. The books under review are Eda Kriseová, Václav Havel: Jediný autorizovaný životopis (Prague: Práh, 2014; published in English as Vaclav Havel: The Authorized Biography, trans. Caleb Crain), Martin C. Putna, Václav Havel: Duchovní portrét v rámu české kultury 20. století (V. H.: A spiritual portrait in the context of twentieth-century Czech culture. Prague: Knihovna Václava Havla, 2011), Daniel Kaiser, Disident: Václav Havel 1936–1989 (Prague and Litomyšl: Paseka, 2009) and Prezident: Václav Havel (Prague and Litomyšl: Paseka, 2014), Jiří Suk, Politika jako absurdní drama: Václav Havel v letech 1975–1989 (Politics as theatre of the absurd: V. H. from 1975 to 1989. Prague and Litomyšl: Paseka, 2013), and Michael Žantovský, Havel (Prague: Argo, 2014). Havelka seeks to identify not only the strength and weaknesses of these biographies, but also the discontinuities and continuities of Havel’s thinking, the successes and failures of his politics, and the many dimensions of his personality, which the authors have to various degrees succeeded in conveying. First of all, he summarizes the publications and puts them into the context of criticism of Havel’s thinking and politics since the 1960s, and especially from the 1990s onward, which has been articulated from different, often contradictory, intellectual and political positions. He then moves on to the books under review.
Eda Kriseová, a writer, dissident, and later a colleague of Havel’s at Prague Castle, calls her biography (essentially a re-edition of the 1991 publication) a ‘dissident romance’. She portrays Havel as a positive hero of times past and as a model for the present. Whereas in the early 1990s, according to Havelka, her biography largely fulfilled its purpose, which was quickly to familiarize the reader with Havel and his ideas, considering the needs of the times, it now seems too personal and superficial.
In his biography of Havel, the literary historian Martin C. Putna, who for some time was also the director of the Václav Havel Library in Prague, thoroughly and sometimes inventively explores the spiritual roots, inspirations, and connections of Havel’s thinking and attitudes. This enables Putna to make some interesting links between family tradition and national culture, and between purely individual horizons and efforts and influence on a large part of society. He builds grand interpretations in his interpretations, and presents them in a readable way, but his portrait, according to the reviewer, remains too one-sided and fails to show Havel’s personality in something at least approaching its entirety, from which it be would then be possible to convincingly explain a number of aspects of his decision-making and conduct.
The two volumes of the biography by the journalist Daniel Kaiser are, in comparison with the other works, the largest, in terms of what they cover, but, according to the reviewer, they are the least straightforward. Kaiser primarily concentrates on politics, which seems rather one dimensional, and his efforts to achieve objective completeness and be above the fray, together with his endeavour not to omit anything important or interesting, collide with his own implicit political convictions. In the process, he tends simply to describe events and arrange them, disrupting the narrative with the repetition of some worn-out journalistic platitudes. Nevertheless, he makes good use of some hitherto neglected or unknown material.
The book by the historian Jiří Suk is not a biography in the true sense of the word. Rather, it is a penetrating work of history and political science, which does not over simplify, but instead presents a telling and compelling picture of a politician in the maelstrom of history. Among the strong points of Suk’s interpretations is the fact that he structures meanings, often with the help of his own meta-historical concepts. He puts his findings into new contexts, and usefully takes into account previously neglected material about the dissidents, which he has found in the files of the State Security Services (Státní bezpečnosti – StB).
In his biography, published in Czech, English (Havel: A Life. London: Atlantic Books, 2014), and other languages, the former translator, politician, diplomat, and now director of the Václav Havel Library, Michael Žantovský depicts, according to the reviewer, Havel’s personality in much more contoured and balanced way than the previously discussed authors have done. Drawing on his previous experience as a psychologist, together with an intimate personal knowledge of Havel, Žantovský has achieved what his predecessors, who were by and large more interested in politics, did not even really attempt to do – namely, to relate concrete social and political situations to Havel’s fundamental convictions about life and art and his intellectual disposition, in order to offer a biographical explanation of Havel’s political programme.

Three Readings of One Book

Lukeš, Igor. Československo nad propastí: Selhání amerických diplomatů a tajných služeb v Praze 1945–1948. Trans. from the English by Jan Jirák and Ladislav Köppl. Prague: Prostor, 2014, 383 pp., ISBN 978-80-7260-292-6.

History in the Service of the Story:

Thoughts on Igor Lukeš’s On the Edge of the Cold War
Petr Mareš

The book under review is a Czech translation of Igor Lukeš’s On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), whose Czech title translates as ‘Czechoslovakia on the edge of the abyss: The failure of US diplomats and secret services in Prague, 1945–48’. The first of the three reviews, published here as part of the section ‘Three Readings of One Book’, is conceived on the broader plan of an analysis of US-Czechoslovak relations in the years immediately after the Second World War. The book, according to the reviewer, is the result of extensive research in all of the important American and Czech archives. Moreover, it is to the author’s great credit that he conducted numerous interviews with people involved in the described events and has made use of the unpublished manuscripts they provided him with. He offers a highly attractive, indeed gripping, account, thanks to which the reader gets a very good idea of what it was that led to the Communist takeover in late February 1948.
But this picture is neither complete nor balanced. In this work about the failure of US diplomats and the US secret services in Prague, its greatest strength, according to the reviewer, is, somewhat paradoxically, the revealing passages about the activities of the Czechoslovak intelligence services against the US Embassy and its representatives in Czechoslovakia. What is problematic, however, is the interpretations based on insufficient sources, factual imprecision, and careless interpretation or even intentional shifts, which the reviewer exposes by analysing the withdrawal of the US Army from Czechoslovakia, the role of Czechoslovakia in post-war US policy, and the character of the US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, Laurence A. Steinhardt (1892–1950). Lukeš, according to the reviewer, too readily accepts the idea that Czechoslovakia was of great importance as an American ‘testing ground’ to determine the possibilities of maintaining friendly relations with the Soviet Union, while he fails to take into account essential shifts in developments. Above all, however, he presents a contrived portrait of Steinhardt as an originally capable and responsible diplomat who, in consequence of professional failures in his Prague mission, ceased to take an interest in Prague events, paying more attention to his private affairs than his ambassadorial duties.

Almost a Historical Novel

Vít Smetana

Igor Lukeš’s highly readable but academically uneven On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague (2012), published in Czech as Československo nad propastí: Selhání amerických diplomatů a tajných služeb v Praze 1945–1948 (Prague: Prostor, 2014), according to the reviewer, offers a number of compelling conclusions, but also contains long passages depicting sensational stories of marginal importance, as well as a number of mistakes in its description of events that often took place elsewhere or in circumstances completely different from those the author relates. The reviewer seeks to demonstrate that these errors stem from Lukeš’s often insufficiently critical approach to the sources, his neglecting other important documents, and his ignoring a large part of the scholarly literature that has already been published about this topic. Though the reviewer agrees with the author that the post-war work of the US ambassador to Czechoslovakia, Laurence A. Steinhardt, had its weak aspects, the reviewer sees Lukeš’s criticism as unfounded. On the other hand, he appreciates that Lukeš is the first historian to try to deal more systematically with American intelligence activities in Czechoslovakia immediately after the war and that he brings his depiction to life using personal stories about secret agents and diplomats. The author’s skill at presenting the material in a gripping way, but also his tendency to indulge in unsubstantiated story-telling, lead the reviewer to ask whether Lukeš should not perhaps direct his efforts to writing historical novels.

A Failure or the Declining US Interest in Czechoslovakia?

Jan Koura

Igor Lukeš’s On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague (2012), published in Czech as Československo nad propastí: Selhání amerických diplomatů a tajných služeb v Praze 1945–1948 (Prague: Prostor, 2014), offers, according to the reviewer, a number of fresh observations and new pieces of information, and it merits praise mainly for charting out the activity of the US secret services in post-war Czechoslovakia, which the author has achieved using largely hitherto unused sources. Nevertheless, Lukeš’s claim that for the Americans post-war Czechoslovakia was a laboratory of future European developments, playing a key role for them in that sense, is highly debatable. Though that may have been true in 1945, their interest in Czechoslovakia rapidly waned with the worsening international situation, and two years later their attention was primarily turned to other European countries. The author also considers American public diplomacy and propaganda in post-war Czechoslovakia, which the US Administration, despite the urgings of Ambassador Laurence A. Steinhardt, greatly underestimated, something Lukeš has completely ignored in this work. It is therefore unfair of Lukeš to assign all of the blame for the American approach to Steinhardt.


A Different View of the Economic Rebirth of the Countries of the Eastern Bloc

Antonie Doležalová

Myant, Martin, and Jan Drahokoupil. Tranzitivní ekonomiky: Politická ekonomie Ruska, východní Evropy a střední Asie. Trans. by Petra Luňáčková, Eva Starobová, Michal Vinter, Růžena Vintrová, Jana Votápková, and Milan Žák. Prague: Academia, 2013, 577 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2268-4.

The two authors (a Scottish historian and Czech sociologist) of this publication, which was originally published in English as Transition Economies: Political Economy in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, present a picture of economic transformation as fundamental institutional change on the wide canvas of the whole post-Communist bloc, basing their research on a wide variety of sources. In this comparative analysis, covering the countries of central and eastern Europe and also the former Soviet Union in the period from the later years of the Communist system to the financial crisis of 2008, they offer explanations for how and why the individual post-Communist countries have developed in various ways, how far they have come in this development, and in what respects the state they have reached differs from their previous economic states and from the economies of the developed capitalist countries. The authors’ fundamental contribution to the discussion is a proposed typology of models of capitalism in the post-Communist countries.
The reviewer raises questions about the selection of the countries included in the analyses, the possibilities of their comparison from the viewpoint of various economic indices, and the absence of an analysis of the state of economic theory in the countries under consideration here, which helped to create the possibilities of the transformation strategies and to set their limits.

Science and Scholarship in the Service of the Common People

Jan Randák and Marek Fapšo

Olšáková, Doubravka. Věda jde k lidu! Československá společnost pro šíření politických a vědeckých znalostí a popularizace věd v Československu ve 20. století. (Šťastné zítřky, vol. 10.) Prague: Academia, 2014, 678 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2318-6.

The two reviewers praise this volume, whose title translates as ‘Science and Scholarship Goes to the People! The Czechoslovak Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scholarly Knowledge and the Popularization of the Sciences in Czechoslovakia in the Twentieth Century’, as a work on a hitherto neglected topic of Communist adult education in which a fundamental role was played by the Czechoslovak Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scholarly Knowledge, which was founded in 1952, and was, from the mid-1960s, operating under the name of the Socialist Academy. In addition to the reviewers’ acknowledgement of the wealth of facts presented here and the compelling interpretations of particular topics, they also find conceptual and methodological shortcomings in the work, which, in their opinion, have made it impossible to get more out of the topic. The author has thus failed, they argue, to give a more well-rounded account of the relations between centralized decision-making and the practical application of adult education at the regional level, and does not provide an answer to the important questions of how Communist adult education was special, and in what respect it was merely following more universal modern efforts to educate the masses.

Trade-union Holidays as a Corrective to the View of Czechoslovak Communism

Peter Heumos

Čornejová, Alžběta. Dovolená s poukazem: Odborové rekreace v Československu 1948–1968. (Šťastné zítřky, vol. 13.) Prague: Academia, 2014, 250 pp. + 16 pp. illustrations, ISBN 978-80-200-2363-6.

The reviewer places this book, whose title translates as ‘Holidays with a voucher: Trade-union holidays in Czechoslovakia, 1948–68’, into the context of research on social history, which has in recent years considerably changed Czech research on the Communist period, after two decades of being fundamentally under the influence of the concept of totalitarianism. The book, according to the reviewer, is outstanding in that it presents a detailed, reliable, clear, and convincing discussion of an important aspect of everyday life in Czechoslovakia from the Communist takeover in late February 1948 to the Prague Spring of 1968. The author clearly demonstrates how trade-union holidays changed over the long-term, and soon ceased to be understood as merely a privilege for deserving workers, becoming instead a matter entirely of the masses. She thereby elucidates how, under pressure from below, ideological proclamations related to productivism and the mania for the big ultimately came to nothing.

The Role of Violence in the Last Phase of the Communist Dictatorship

Karel Hrubý

Sabrow, Martin (ed.). 1989 und die Rolle der Gewalt. Göttingen: Wallstein, 2012, 428 pp., ISBN 978-3-83-53-1059-9.

This volume of essays came out of a lecture series organized by the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam, in 2009, which sought to explain the demise of the Communist régimes of central and Eastern Europe in late 1989. The reviewer, in a thematic cross-section, presents the contents and main ideas of the individual articles, more than half of which are about various aspects of the collapse of the Communist dictatorship in the German Democratic Republic. The articles confirm that although violence was an integral element of the system right to the end, because of its internal weaknesses and the reform policies of the Soviet Union it could no longer forestall definitive collapse, and the Party élites, with the exception of those in Romania, did not even try to use force to its full extent. The range of topics in the volume, however, does not include the role of society, whose democratic elements were an essential factor of the unexpectedly rapid collapse of the dictatorships.

Of the Tower, the Kingdom, and a Writer Who Disappeared

Jiří Křesťan

Papoušek, Vladimír. Věž a království: Olga Barényiová – studie o díle. Prague: Filip Tomáš – Akropolis, 2014, 176 pp., ISBN 978-80-7470-076-7.

The title of the volume under review translates as ‘The Tower and the Kingdom: The Works of Olga Barényiová’. Its author, Vladimír Papoušek, is a historian of literature whose main research interest here is the analysis and interpretation of the novels, short stories, plays, and essays of the writer Olga Barényi(ová) (1905–1978). The author looks at the contemporaneous responses to her work and sensitively searches for the connections between her style and modernist literature and other trends in art, while acknowledging that the quality of her works varies considerably. The reviewer sets straight past claims that little information exists about her life, and points out that Prague archives contain a good deal of information that still awaits patient research and verification. Barényiová’s identity and fate are veiled in confusion, legend, and mystification, which she herself helped to foster. Among other things, the author rebuts the long-standing claim that she was of noble German-Hungarian origin, and reveals that she was in fact born in a bourgeois Czech family in Kroměříž, Moravia. She published under various names, and as the wife of a Wehrmacht officer later parted ways with the Czech nation, and, shortly after the war, fled to what became West Germany.

A Guide to Protectorate Fashion

Petr Tolar

Burianová, Miroslava. Móda v ulicích protektorátu: Život – oděv – lidé. Prague: Národní muzeum and Grada, 2013, 286 pp., ISBN 978-80-7036-397-3 and 978-80-247-5020-0.

The book under review, whose title translates as ‘Fashion in the Streets of the Protectorate: Life, Clothes, and People’, helps, according to the reviewer, to provide a picture of one of the lesser known areas of everyday life in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which lasted from mid-March 1939 to early May 1945. In a comprehensive way, the author acquaints the reader with styles of dressing in this period amongst the various social strata and for various occasions, as well as the fashion trends and their models, but she also looks at practical concerns about getting clothes and recycling them in circumstances of material shortage and rationing. One of the weaknesses of the publication, according to the reviewer, is that it pays too little attention to gentlemen’s fashion, covered in practically only one of its eight chapters.

Cinematic Scenes of a Collectivized Countryside

Vladimír Březina

Slinták, Petr, and Hana Rottová. Venkov v českém filmu 1945–1969: Filmová tvář kolektivizace. Prague: Academia and Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2013, 483 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2302-2 and 978-80-87211-92-2.

In the past twenty-five years or so, the process of collectivization in Czechoslovakia has been discussed by historians from many angles and in great detail. The authors of the volume under review, however, approach the topic differently, considering changes in rural Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s as they were portrayed by film-makers. The authors consider the remarkable developments in the portrayal of the topic, from primarily ideological propaganda filmed in the early years after the Communist takeover to the many-layered artistic works of the later 1960s, in which film-makers also incorporated criticism of the recent past and tried to consider ethical questions of their times. The reviewer particularly appreciates the chapters concerned with groups of themes in cinematography and analyses of important films of those days, such as religion, the arts, traditional ways of life, family, and the land as the ‘soul of the countryside’.

The Yugoslav Jews between the Millstones of the ‘Final Solution’

Jan Pelikán

Almuli, Jaša. Ostali su živi. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2013, 561 pp., ISBN 978-86-17-18265-0.

The author of the work under review comes from a Belgrade family of Sephardic Jews. During the Second World War he was interned in Italian camps. After liberation, he worked as a Yugoslav journalist. Towards the end of his career he returned to his roots, and began systematically to collect Yugoslav Jews’ testimony about their lives, particularly during the Second World War. The book under review is the most recent of five publications in which he has compiled these testimonies. The recollections recorded here are, according to the reviewer, of fundamental importance for the documentation of the lives of members of the Jewish Communities in the Balkans during the Second World War, but they also contain much important information about interethnic and interconfessional links, as well as about everyday life in this part of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.

How They Voted for the Popes in the Last Century

Marek Šmíd

Šefčík, Marcel, Konkláve: Pápežské voľby v 20. a 21. storočí. Trnava: Dobrá kniha, 2013, + 134 pp., ISBN 978-80-7141-765-1.

The volume under review, whose title translates as ‘Conclaves: Papal Elections in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries’, by a specialist on Church history, considers a topic that has hitherto not been systematically discussed in Czech and Slovak historiography – namely, the changes undergone by the papal conclave in the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century. According to the reviewer, the author, in his attempt to offer as much information as possible, does not provide a guideline with which the reader, left to fumble blindly, might distinguish between the important and the less important, and he also fails to take into account important foreign publications.


Professor Mečislav Borák at Seventy

Dušan Janák

The author looks back at the career of the historian Mečislav Borák (b. 1945) on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, and discusses a large selection of his publications. He emphasizes Borák’s well-rooted regional interests in Těšínsko (Cieszyn Silesia, Těšín Silesia, or Teschen Silesia) and Czech Silesia, which, however, Borák has successfully moved beyond to precisely include the Czechoslovak and international context, as well as linking together micro- and macrohistory. He has always been interested in ordinary people, whose life stories he has put into the larger framework of ‘big’ history in an interesting and original way. He has repeatedly returned to topics that have interested him, each time coming up with new facts and views, allowing him to review and expand previous conclusions, and to add considerably to our knowledge of these histories. Before the Changes of late 1989, Borák focused on topics of the German occupation and the resistance to it. Later, he expanded his areas of interest to include research on acts of political oppression against the people of Czechoslovakia and, more broadly, central and eastern Europe, from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s. He was a pioneer in research on the courts of retribution. A distinctive area of his research was his work on the history of the Shoah and various forms of persecution of the Jews. Another of his later key topics was the Katyn massacre and its victims from the Bohemian Lands. From here Borák proceeded to search for, record, and make sense of cases of the political persecution of Czechs and Slovaks in the Soviet Union. His most recent field of research is the Polish minority and inter-ethnic relations in the context of Czechoslovak-Polish and Czech-Polish contemporary history. His academic career has long been connected with the University of Ostrava, the University of Silesia in Opava, the Silesian Museum, also in Opava, and the Institute of Contemporary History, in Prague. Professor Borák has published two dozen specialist books and more than 150 articles. He has participated in at least three dozen research projects, worked extensively as an editor, expert, and consultant, and also written works of journalism and popular history. Of the more than a dozen documentary films he has worked on as a screen-writer and narrator, the film Zločin jménem Katyň (A Crime Called Katyn), was particularly well received, and won a number of prizes at international film festivals.

Czechoslovak Volunteers in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War

Martin Počátko

On 23 May 2015, in the Waldstein Palais, Prague, the seat of the Czech Senate, a conference called ‘Czechoslovak Volunteers in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War’ was held under the aegis of the President of the Senate Milan Štěch. It was organized by the Czech Association of Freedom Fighters in collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary History, Prague, and the Historical Institute, Prague. Though the name of the event could lead one to believe that it was mainly about the fate of the Czechoslovak volunteers in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 and the role they played there, the individual contributions actually went beyond the borders of the Iberian peninsula and provided insight into this conflict from both the Czechoslovak and the international perspective. In the first block of the conference, the papers given discussed the important events in the conflict, considered questions that historians in this connection most often raise today, and looked at the approach taken to the warring sides by the Western powers, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia. The second block was about Czechoslovak participants in the conflict and their often tragic fates during the Second World War and afterwards, particularly after the establishment of the Communist régime, when they became targets of State oppression.

Environmental History in the Czech Republic and Slovakia:

A Recapitulation
Markéta Šantrůčková

A ‘Workshop on the Environmental History of the Czech Republic and Slovakia’ was held in the south Moravian village of Kobylí from 5 to 7 June 2015. It was attended by more than 200 scholars from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany, to discuss the contemporary state of environmental history in education and academia in these three countries, related general questions of method, and possible future development in this area of research in central Europe, particularly in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In their papers and during the discussions that followed, scholars from various fields revealed a variety of approaches and topics in environmental history, and also the fact that in the Czech Republic and Slovakia the field has clearly already put down roots.

Soudobé dějiny 3-4 / 2015

Hide the content

Obsah 1Obsah 2Obsah 3

Hide the content

Thematic webs