Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Twentieth-century Wars in Modern English-language Comics
This article considers the image of twentieth-century wars, particularly the Second World War, in comics, mainly American, published in the last twenty years. In the first part of the article, the author seeks to show in outline how the genre of comics is perceived by scholars of literature, and is sometimes used by historians. At first sight it may appear that this distinct area of visual literary art has for the most part been dealt with by scholars. Nevertheless, upon closer analysis it turns out that the opposite is true. In the next part of the article, the author briefly discusses comic-book heroes who were ‘born’ during the Second World War, both on the pages of magazines from the 1940s (Captain America) or after the war (Magneto of the X-Men series). The main parts of the article first discuss comics whose artists have tried to depict the conflicts of war in a more or less ‘documentary’ way while depicting everyday life of those times. Besides them, the author distinguishes a group of comics whose conception is between ‘reality’ and fantasy. The most usual and most numerous, however, are comic-book stories in which the overall framework and events, especially of the Second World War and the fight against Nazism, serves only as the historical backdrop for the projection of fantasy subject matter. This category includes the famous Hellboy and various stories about attacks by zombies or vampires in this period. With their work, the outstanding comic-book artists Garth Ennis and Mike Mignola have covered both areas of wartime comics. In the last part of the article, the author discusses other media, especially film and computer games, in which wars are conceived much as they are in comic books. Comics, according to the author, definitely do not give us a real picture of war, but they reveal one of the ways that the conflicts of the twentieth century are perceived by contemporary society.
The General Election of 1925 and the Czechoslovak People’s Party
The article discusses the place of the Czechoslovak People’s Party (Československá strana lidová) in the political system of the first Czechoslovak Republic in the 1920s. The author concentrates mainly on the reception of the results of the party in the early elections in autumn 1925, both in the party’s own ranks and amongst its supporters. He does so against the background of the dynamic developments in the party and the changes in the Roman Catholic camp in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s. As part of this he also considers the surmounting of the frictions between Catholic politicians and the Czechoslovak State, which culminated in the reaching of a modus vivendi with the Vatican in 1926. Using records from the Vatican archives, he pays special attention to the diplomatic relations between the Apostolic Nunciature in Prague and the Vatican, and communication between the Holy See and the Czechoslovak Catholic hierarchy and political circles linked with it. The elections in 1925, according to the author, represent a milestone in the history of the Czechoslovak Church in the first half of the twentieth century. The People’s Party, led by Jan Šrámek (1870–1956), succeeded in bridging the gap between the Church and society, thus preventing a further loss of Catholic voters, and, by means of elections, opening the way for their participation in a centre-right government, a ‘gentlemen’s coalition’ (panská koalice), which in the autumn of 1926 stabilized politics in the country. Part of the stabilization was the buttressing of the position of the party, which, after the Agrarians and Communists, became the third most powerful party in the republic and the glue holding government coalitions together.
The topic of this article is the activity of Einsatzgruppe H (Operations Group H), its structure, and composition, as well as the post-war prosecution of its members. Einsatzgruppe H was one of the special detachments under the command of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (the Head Office of Reich Security), Berlin. Towards the end of August 1944, after the Slovak National Uprising broke out, it was sent together with other German troops to Slovakia. The priority of this newly created unit was the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’, that is, the deportation of the remaining Jews of Slovakia to death camps. In addition to that, however, Einsatzgruppe H affected almost all spheres of the Slovak State and became, according to the author, a decisive force there right up to the end of the war. The commander of the unit was entrusted with complex intelligence gathering about events in Slovakia. Its members participated in military operations to put down the uprising, and they kept an eye on politics, the economy, society, and the arts, and, when necessary, took the steps they considered necessary. When deployed, they often actively took part, with the help of Slovaks and Subcarpathian Germans, in crimes against civilians on Slovak territory, particularly against Jews. With few exceptions, according to the author, these crimes remained completely unpunished after the war and the culprits usually reintegrated into post-war society without much difficulty, indeed without even being confronted with what they had done in Slovakia during the Uprising.
Galina P. Murashko
This article was written using records from central Russian archives. It was first published in Russian in a collection of essays by the author (Galina Pavlovna Murashko, ‘Vlastnaia vertikal i evolutsiia umonastroienii v Chekhoslovakii v 50-ye gody XX v.: Po dokumentam rossiiskikh arkhivov’, in idem, Izbrannoie. Ed. T. V. Volokitina, A. N. Kanarskaya, and M. I. Lenshina. Moscow: Institut Slavyanovedeniia Rossiiskoi akademii nauk, 2011, pp. 230–64). She has used diplomatic dispatches, in which officials of the Soviet Embassy in Prague and the consulate general in Bratislava reported to Moscow on the situation in Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak Communist Party. These sources allow the author – from this perspective – to note the changes in position in the senior Party posts and to trace the changes in mood in various strata of Czech and Slovak society, especially amongst artists, scholars, scientists, students, and civil servants, and their reaction to the decisions of the government and the Party leadership. No less important is that the analysed documents also reveal the lens through which Soviet diplomats and others working in the country perceived the Czechoslovak situation, and they thus provide insight into the formation of Kremlin policy regarding Prague in the 1950s. From this standpoint, the author considers phenomena such as the activity of Soviet advisers in Czechoslovakia, popular unrest after the announcement of the currency reform in 1953, factory strikes, the general population’s reactions to the economic and social measures adopted as part of the ‘new course’ in 1954, the formation of opposition attitudes after the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in 1956, responses to the subsequent social unrest in Poland and Hungary, changes in the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party after the death of Antonín Zápotocký (1884–1957), and the critical reaction of the public to the reorganization of the running of the economy and to the mass ‘vetting for political and class reliability’ in the civil service after Antonín Novotný became President of Czechoslovakia in 1957. The author concludes that Moscow had enough information about developments in Czechoslovakia, and strikingly influenced decision-making at the top of Czechoslovak politics in the 1950s.
The Doubtful Conclusions of Matěj Spurný’s Undoubtedly Good Analyses
In this article, the author takes issue with some of the arguments in Matěj Spurný’s Nejsou jako my: Česká společnost a menšiny v pohraničí (1945–1960) (They’re not like us: Czech society and minorities in the borderlands) (Prague: Antikomplex, 2011). The core of the book, he argues, consists in well-documented analyses of the relations between Czechs, Germans, and other groups of the population in the Bohemian borderlands after the Second World War, that is, between the central authorities and society there. He considers less convincing, however, the generalizing conclusions that are conceptually based on the international project ‘Socialism as a Thought World’ (Sozialismus als Sinnwelt), of which Spurný was a participant. Nevertheless, according to Hrubý, these conclusions do not follow from the analyses in Spurný’s book. According to Hrubý, Spurný’s treatment of continuity is problematic when he claims that the mentality of society after the Communist takeover, in late February 1948, was a continuation of the thinking, attitudes, and behaviours of society, whereby the principle of the ‘purge’, the use of force, and the techniques of segregation were legitimized in the three years between the end of the war and the takeover. By contrast, Hrubý points to important factors of discontinuity before and after February 1948 in a number of respects, including the different dominant ideologies and ideological enemies, the different political systems, the different means of using force, the different social bases of political and social practices of persecution, the different thinking of pre-February society in the borderlands and of post-February majority society. With these arguments, he casts doubt on Spurný’s basic premise that the processes that borderland society went through after the war are the key to understanding the processes that affected society in the interior after February 1948. Hrubý’s fundamental reservation is, then, that the approach represented by Spurný diminishes the extent to which the Communist Party, its leaders, and its institutions of repression were responsible for the establishment of the dictatorship and subsequent acts of oppression, and, instead, shifts this responsibility to society and its mentality. In this way, according to Hrubý, historians such as Spurný are guilty of the same one-sidedness as that which they accuse the proponents of the totalitarian model of when interpreting the Communist past.
Frommer, Benjamin. Národní očista: Retribuce v poválečném Československu. Trans. from the English by Jakub Rákosník. Prague: Academia, 2010, 502 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-1838-0.
Now in Czech translation, this monograph by the American historian Benjamin Frommer, according to the reviewer, remains, even after almost ten years since it was first published (National Cleansing: Retribution against Nazi Collaborators in Postwar Czechoslovakia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005) the only work that charts out retribution in Czechoslovakia at the State-wide level and provides a complex picture of its preparation, course, and, partly, its results. A definite strength of Frommer’s work, according to the reviewer, is its thorough understanding of retribution as a dynamically changing political battleground, the detailed analysis of political pressures on those involved in retribution, and the thorough analysis of the retribution measures and most important cases. By paying so much attention to the political level of retribution, other levels of analysis, for example, social, cultural, and legal, get shifted to the background. The book in essence thus offers an exhaustive answer to the question of how war criminals and collaborators were prosecuted in post-war Czechoslovakia, but in many cases does not seek to explain why.
Šustrová, Radka. Pod ochranou protektorátu: Kinderlandverschickung v Čechách a na Moravě. Politika, každodennost a paměť 1940–1945. Prague: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2012, 315 pp., ISBN 978-80-7308-424-0.
The book under review is concerned with the Kinderlandverschickung, a mass operation of the Nazi authorities, which consisted in sending children to the countryside, in order, according to the official explanation, to protect them from enemy air raids, and in the children’s long-term stay and upbringing in closed camp communities. According to the reviewer, the choice of topic and the way it is handled make this publication somewhat of a breakthrough in Czech historiography. Its focus is on a hitherto neglected German part of Protectorate society, and, in its approach, the work links political and social history together with research on everyday life and collective historical memory. It presents an abundantly documented, lively picture of the roots and course of the operation, putting it into the context of the Nazi system of bringing up children, and it seeks to trace how this was experienced by those involved. Lastly, the book considers the formation and institutionalization of some of the participants’ memories long after the war.
Vašš, Martin. Slovenská otázka v 1. ČSR (1918–1938). Martin: Vydavateľstvo Matice slovenskej, 2011, 284 pp., ISBN 978-80-8115-053-1.
The book under review, by a Slovak historian, is, according to the reviewer, the first to provide a systematic and detailed analysis of the Slovak Question in the thinking of leading figures in politics and the arts in interwar Slovakia. It also offers fascinating insight into the creation of Czecho-Slovak relations. An essentially positivist method of handling historical subject material is combined here with a complex approach to the topic and an understanding of the opportunities, ambitions, and illusions of the historical actors. The result is a gripping story that helps one to gain better understanding of the arguments of the Slovak autonomists, political parties, and élites of the first Czechoslovak Republic, which we are still accustomed to seeing more or less only through Czech eyes.
Maskalík, Alex. Elita armády: Československá vojenská generalita 1918–1992. Banská Bystrica: Vydavateľstvo HWSK, Vojenský historický ústav Bratislava, and Pro Militaria Historica, 2012, 1030 pp., ISBN 978-80-970941-0-2.
According to the reviewer, this work, by a Slovak military historian, deserves high praise as a unique encyclopaedia, which provides biographical profiles of all the Czechoslovaks generals between 1918 and 1992 (more than a thousand). A key part of the publication is a biographical dictionary, which includes an introductory essay and numerous supplementary documents providing a great deal of information in the form of statistical surveys, diagrams, and graphs (for example, about the number of generals imprisoned or put to death, or who died in Nazi and Communist prisons and camps).
A Meticulously Researched Publication about Cultural Exchange through the Iron Curtain
Lizcová, Zuzana. Kulturní vztahy mezi ČSSR a SRN v 60. letech 20. století. Prague: Dokořán and Fakulta sociálních věd Univerzity Karlovy, 2012, 194 pp, ISBN 978-80-7363-201-4 a 978-80-87404-13-3.
The book under review discusses cultural and cultural-political developments in Czechoslovakia and the Federal Republic of Germany from the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the 1970s, with the main focus on the 1960s. In the spirit of the new political history and the new cultural history, its author explores the role of high-level politics and social groups outside the State structure, mainly the creators and consumers of the cultural products that became an object of exchange between Czechoslovakia and the Federal Republic. The book also considers how these processes and events were commented on in the contemporaneous press, and seeks to provide an overall picture of the expressions of culture in the political, social, and economic climates in both countries. It focuses mainly on film and the fine arts, and emphasizes the extraordinary importance of mutual cultural exchanges between the two countries at a time when no diplomatic relations existed between them.
Bren, Paulina, and Mary Neuburger (eds). Communism Unwrapped: Consumption in Cold War Eastern Europe. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, xvi + 413 pp., ISBN 978-0-19-982767-1.
The book under review is an edited volume of essays by historians, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, and geographers, discussing diverse aspects of everyday life in the countries of the Soviet bloc, which were related to the phenomenon of consumption, mostly from the 1960s through the 1980s. They consider, for example, the life of the economic élites, the standards and qualities of the various items produced in the Socialist countries, gastronomy, the black market, and barter, as well as the official critiques of consumer society. According to the reviewer, behind the volume is an effort to show life in the socialist régimes as a mosaic of varicoloured shards, in order to contribute to changing its currently general, uniformly bland, grey image.
Záhořík, Jan. Ohniska napětí v postkoloniální Africe. Prague: Karolinum, 2012, 276 pp., ISBN 978-80-246-1961-3.
According to the reviewer, this publication is a clear indication of the efforts of current Czech scholars of Africa to carry on a successful tradition that was partly interrupted in the 1990s. In the book, the author provides basic insight into the terms and methods for researching the topic, and offers an overview of the history of the African continent from decolonization to the present, before analysing the causes and connections of the conflicts in post-colonial Africa. He combines more general interpretations with case studies in which he focuses chiefly on the Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, the ‘Great Lakes region’ (Rwanda and Burundi), the Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire), and West Africa. The publication is based primarily on non-Czech literature and the author’s own fieldwork.
Na cestě k Evropské sociální unii: Rozhovor Marka Hrubce s Vladimírem Špidlou. Prague: Sociologické nakladatelství (SLON), 2012, 148 pp., ISBN 978-80-7419-116-9.
In this book-length interview, Marek Hrubec, the Director of the Centre for Global Studies, Prague, asks Vladimír Špidla, a Czech Social Democrat who was Czech Premier and also a European Union Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities, a number of questions about the European Union today and its prospects, for example, the future of European integration, the possibilities of the European model of the welfare state, the relations between the European Union, other regions, and non-EU states, the solution of some global problems and conditions in Czech politics. The interviewer and the interviewee start mostly from similar left-wing points of view (for example, a critique of neoliberalism), but differ, for example, in their views of Russia and their assessment of Václav Havel. They see the future of the European Union in the social project of transforming global capitalism as it exists today.
Doubravka Olšáková and Jan Kotůlek
In this contribution, Doubravka Olšáková (of the Centre for the History of the Sciences and the Humanities, at the Institute of Contemporary History, Prague) and Jan Kotůlek (VŠB–Technical University of Ostrava) report on an international workshop called ‘Horizons of Multi- and Interdisciplinarity: Possibilities of the Creation of a Research Network of Science and Technology’. The workshop took place in Prague on 4 and 5 November 2013. Together with Helena Durnová of Masaryk University, Brno, the two authors were the organizers of the workshop for Czech and Norwegian scholars, which was funded by the Norway Grants, with the aim of creating a joint research agenda for Czech and Norwegian historians of science and technology for 2014–17.