Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Československo v mezinárodním komunistickém hnutí / Czechoslovakia in the International Communist Movement
Reclaiming the Critical Potential of History, 25 Years after 1989
This essay is a slightly revised version of the closing lecture given at the international conference ‘Europe between War and Peace, 1914–2004: Turning Points in 20th Century European History’, which was held in Prague from 9 to 11 April 2014. In this essay, the author, a professor of history at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, critically considers a contemporary phenomenon that may reasonably be called the hypertrophy of historical memory. According to the author, it is today typical that an interest in the past is justified by its significance for the present. The author appreciates the contributions of the West European historians who, in the 1970s and 1980s, struggled so that history, which had been usurped by the ruling elites and their policy of official memory, would be returned to democratic debate. Historical controversies had previously divided society here, but many of them have now lost their sting and have been superseded by consensus, serving to provide self-assurance about the moral progress that has been achieved. The author then considers the relationship between the national frameworks of historical memory and supranational European politics. European integration is often presented as a panacea for the disastrous historic conflicts and other problems that have beset Europe, even though this integration is primarily an economic process connected with the building of the welfare state, and it is therefore erroneous to link this process directly to the promotion of peace and human rights. A self-praising, self-satisfied tone has also been present in Western recollections of the events of 1989 twenty-five years later, though the experts on the topic did not expect the great changes at all. The author asks what the reasons were for the social scientists’ unprecedented failure, and, in connection with 1989, he calls upon thinkers to recall the critical role of history. They should thereby seek to make European recollections of the twentieth century part of a politically relevant discourse, which would be more than merely a generally acceptable self-confirming celebration in the spirit of the superiority of the bright present over the dark past.
Czechoslovakia in the Conflict over the International Communist Movement, 1953–62
In this article, the author traces the changes in the Czechoslovak position in the international Communist movement after the Communist Party took power in Czechoslovakia. She concentrates on the Party’s relations with the Soviet and the Chinese Communists, which from the 1950s onwards represented two competing centres of power in world Communism. She argues that in Czechoslovak foreign policy the Communists subordinated the defence of State interests to the international solidarity of the workers, and, in keeping with that ideological guideline, the tasks of Czechoslovak foreign policy were set mainly according to the Soviet agenda and its vaguely defined aims for the international Communist movement. Prague became dependent on Moscow for personnel, information, and material, and lost the ability to act independently in international politics both outside and inside the Soviet bloc. Amongst Prague’s priorities were efforts to achieve the unity of the Soviet system of alliances and, beginning at the latest in 1956, it considered military intervention a suitable instrument in the event of a threat to that system.
A comparative analysis of records for the ten years from 1953 to 1962, from the Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and from the Czechoslovak Communist Party leadership, which are deposited in the National Archive, Prague, demonstrate that Czechoslovak foreign policy was actually formed by way of inter-Party contacts. The Soviet Communists were paramount in the hierarchy; in the eyes of the Czechoslovak Communists, the Soviet position remained unchallenged by any Chinese attempts to provide an alternative to Soviet methods and plans to develop the international Communist movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Indeed, at multilateral talks amongst dozens of Communist Parties in Moscow in November 1957 and in 1960, where Chinese objections were discussed, Czechoslovak Communists arrived after having been instructed by their Soviet comrades, and from this position they rejected all Chinese activities, despite Czechoslovak efforts to establish friendly and close ties with their Beijing comrades after 1948. As a result of this linking of Czechoslovak Party and State matters, Czechoslovak-Chinese collaboration ceased in the early 1960s, and the Soviet Union promised to compensate for any damages that thus accrued to the Czechoslovak economy.
Tito and Ceauşescu before and after the Prague Spring
The article is concerned with the relations between Nicolae Ceauşescu (1918–1989), the General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party and Chairman of the State Council of the Romanian Socialist Republic and, on the other side, Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), the Chairman of the Union of Communists of Yugoslavia and President of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, as they developed at the political level from 1966 to 1969, when the reform Communist movement in Czechoslovakia was coming to a peak and was soon crushed. This analysis by a Romanian historian draws mainly on records recently made accessible in central Romanian archives, which relate to the five meetings between these two senior politicians in this period. The author outlines Romanian-Yugoslav relations from the 1950s onwards, and discusses their place in the international Communist movement, which was also the main subject of the talks between Tito and Ceauşescu. It was in the interest of the two leaders to maintain the greater room for manoeuvre which they won from the Soviet Union. That was supposed to prevent the buttressing of Soviet dominance in the ‘Socialist camp’, which the Romanians in particular tried to use to compensate for friendly relations with the People’s Republic of China. The author argues that the mutual relations between Tito and Ceauşescu were based on trust and stemmed from the identification of common interests, which enabled them to coordinate foreign-policy positions and surmount particular disagreements.
This strategic partnership was also manifested in the open Yugoslav and Romanian support for the Prague Spring, the most striking declarations of which were the two Prague visits by the two heads of state on the eve of the Soviet-led military intervention in Czechoslovakia, and afterwards in their negative positions on the act of aggression. Tito and particularly Ceauşescu saw the August occupation of Czechoslovakia as a direct threat to their own security, and they consulted each other about possible ways to avoid, or face, eventual Soviet military intervention in their own countries. The author attributes considerable influence to Tito in changing Ceauşescu’s rhetoric from a confrontational public condemnation of the occupation to a pragmatic confirmation of loyalty to the Kremlin. The two heads of state henceforth chose a path of restraint and sought to improve relations with the Soviets, without abandoning their disagreement over the occupation or their resistance to Soviet hegemony. Ceauşescu’s most resolute gesture of resistance was to welcome the US President, Richard Nixon, to Bucharest in August 1969.
The French Communist Party and the Prague Spring
The French Communists’ official reactions to the Soviet-led military intervention by five Warsaw Pact countries in Czechoslovakia in August 1968 are generally considered to mark the first time in history that the French Communist Party decided not to show public support for an international operation by the Soviet Union. As the author demonstrates with an analysis of records from the Archive of the French Communist Party and the central Czechoslovak archives, French Communist support for the Czechoslovak reform movement was not exactly straightforward; nor was subsequent French Communist condemnation of the August military intervention consistent. The French Communist Party leaders’ attitude to Alexander Dubček (1921–1992) and the Prague Spring can, according to the author, be reasonably described as limited support, which did not go beyond the limits of friendship with the Soviet Union. The diplomatic activity of the General Secretary of the French Communist Party, Waldeck Rochet (1905–1983), also stemmed from this attitude: in July 1968, he tried, unsuccessfully, to act as a broker between Prague and Moscow and thus prevent the military intervention. By contrast, amongst French Communist intellectuals, like Roger Garaudy (1913–2012) and Louis Aragon (1897–1982), sympathies for the Prague Spring were much more visible. In contrast to the enthusiasm with which these intellectuals welcomed ‘Socialism with a human face’ in Czechoslovak, however, were the impressions of the French Communist Party rank-and-file who had experienced the Prague Spring in person – they perceived it as a threat to Socialism and were unpleasantly surprised by manifestations of Czech and Slovak idealization of the West.
Although the French Communist Party initially ‘condemned’ the intervention in Czechoslovakia, the next day its leaders moderated their negative response, expressing ‘disagreement’. Ultimately, this position had no real influence on the French Party’s relations with the Soviet Union. Indeed, according to the author, it would be more accurate to talk of a certain buttressing of those relations, since it turned out that they could be further developed regardless of the French Party’s not agreeing with the intervention. The attitude of the French Communist Party leadership after August 1968 was therefore of a dual nature: the Party declared that it stuck to its original position of disagreement with the intervention, but that was not really manifested in their politics in practice: in fact, they maintained friendly relations with both the Soviet Communists and the ‘normalized’ Czechoslovak Communist Party. But not all French Communists agreed with this stance. For many French Communist intellectuals, the official condemnation was insufficient, and they appealed for greater solidarity with occupied Czechoslovakia. Nor amongst the rank-and-file of the French Communist Party was opinion unanimous; probably many members agreed with the intervention in Czechoslovakia.
Prague as a Centre of the Opposition to Salazar, 1948–74
This article is discusses part of the political opposition to the authoritarian regime of António Oliveira de Salazar (1889–1970) in Portugal, which comprised Portuguese Communist emigrants to Czechoslovakia, who had come to the country between the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and the ‘Carnation Revolution’ in Portugal in 1974. On the basis of records from Portuguese and Czech archives, the author traces their activity, status in the host country, and links with the exile centre of the Portuguese Communist Party in Moscow, which was led by Álvaro Cunhal (1913–2005), all against the background of relations between Czechoslovakia and Portugal in the twentieth century. The metaphor ‘Communist Geneva’ in the title of the article refers to Prague as the headquarters of a number of international organizations and also as the centre of left-wing emigration from Mediterranean countries of Europe (Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, Spain) and elsewhere. Although Prague became mainly a safe transit point and a meeting place for Portuguese exiles between France and the Soviet Union, some members of the Portuguese Communist Party came to Czechoslovakia to live for longer periods. They were, however, far fewer in number than members of the other national exile communities in Prague; the author estimates that in the course of the 1950s and 1960s they numbered between only between ten and twenty. He pays special attention to the figure of General Humberto Delgado (1906–1965), who, after his failed candidacy in the rigged presidential elections of 1958, became the representative figure integrating the anti-Salazar opposition. The author closely considers Delgado’s negotiations with Portuguese Communist representatives in Prague in 1964. The milestone for the Portuguese community in Czechoslovakia was, according to the author, the Soviet occupation in August 1968, which local Portuguese Communists, unlike the exile leadership of the Party, condemned, and in consequence most of them gradually also split with the Communist movement. The author discusses events right up to the end of the 1990s, when President Mário Soares’s (b. 1924) friendly visits to his counterpart in Prague, Václav Havel (1936–2011), came to symbolize the new relations between Czechoslovakia and Portugal.
A Unique Edition of Documents from Czech Archives Buries Traditional Legends
Arburg, Adrian von, and Tomáš Staněk (eds). Vysídlení Němců a proměny českého pohraničí 1945–1951: Dokumenty z českých archivů.
Vol. I: Češi a Němci do roku 1945: Úvod k edici. Středokluky: Zdeněk Susa, 2010, 373 pp., ISBN 978-80-86057-67-5;
Vol. II/1: Duben–srpen/září 1945: “Divoký odsun” a počátky osidlování. Středokluky: Zdeněk Susa, 2011, 957 pp. + CD ROM, ISBN 978-80-86057-71-2;
Vol. II/3: Akty hromadného násilí v roce 1945 a jejich vyšetřování. Středokluky: Zdeněk Susa, 2010, 332 pp. + CD ROM, ISBN 978-80-86057-68-2.
This is a review of the three volumes published so far in a large project called The Expulsion of the Germans and Changes in the Czech Borderlands, 1945–51, the work mainly of the Swiss historian Adrian von Arburg and his Czech colleague Tomáš Staněk. The reviewer discusses their research and the resulting publications in the context of the wider discourse on mass migrations (including the transfers and expulsions) of peoples of Europe after the Second World War. She criticizes the concept of ethnic cleansing as it has been interpreted and explained to the general readership particularly by the American historian Norman M. Naimark (b. 1944, Professor of Eastern European Studies at Stanford). This concept, she argues, ignores the empirical research on the special aspects of the historic situations, particularly the political factors of various forms of migration, and it instead constructs, on the basis of superficial similarities between the migrations, a generalizing picture of the overall misguideness of Europeans in the twentieth century. Through this lens, some authors have then also used the misleading comparison of the repressive practices of the Nazi regime and the post-war Czechoslovak regime, as personified by Adolf Hitler and the Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš. From what she has discovered in her own research, the reviewer argues that these scholarly approaches often merely revive, or keep alive, legends and stereotypes that have been passed on in German interpretations of the expulsion of the Czechoslovak Germans and the events leading up to them. She illustrates this with examples from the propagandistic post-war writings of the head of the Sudeten German Social Democrats, Wenzel Jaksch (1896–1966), and his adherents, which were formulated for the international public. The reviewer also provides an overview of published editions of historical sources on the expulsion of the Czechoslovak Germans, and she emphasizes the newness of Staněk and von Arburg’s approach. Though they consider the same historical events, the works by these two scholars do not, unlike other editions, use emotionally coloured rhetoric, nor do they pursue political ends; rather than judge, they explain, and thanks to that, offer evidence on the arduous experiences of the Czechoslovak Germans which is more persuasive than propagandistic interpretations. In addition to systematically making hitherto forgotten documents from dozens of Czech archives and eyewitness statements accessible for the first time, Staněk and von Arburg critically compare them with other available information. One more essential difference between the publications in this series and other works on the topic is that that they look at migration in post-war Czechoslovakia geographically unlike the hitherto usually historical but outmoded ethnic view. This enables them to explain the expulsion of the Germans and the resettlement of the lands they had occupied as two complementary, interconnected processes, and to offer a comprehensive picture of relations in the Czechoslovak borderlands at that time. The reviewer provides a summary of the new information contained in these volumes, which, she argues, changes the established picture of post-war Czechoslovakia. In conclusion, she points to serious obstacles standing in the way of completing the series.
Two Encyclopaedias of Life in Socialist Czechoslovakia
Knapík, Jiří, Martin Franc, et al. Průvodce kulturním děním a životním stylem v českých zemích 1948–1967, vol. 1: A–O; vol. 2: P–Ž. Prague: Academia, 2011, 645 + 657 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2019-2;
Průša, Jiří. Abeceda reálného socialismu. Prague: Avia Consultans, 2011, 678 pp., ISBN 978-80-260-0686-2.
The reviewer compares two encyclopaedias, published almost simultaneously, of key terms in the history of everyday life in the Bohemian Lands (Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia) in the period of the ‘people’s democracy’ or Socialism. Průša’s one-volume encyclopaedia, taking a popular approach, aims mainly to educate the reader, while being amusing, which is reflected in the unsystematic selection and arrangement of the entries (including the use of slang), brief commentary without citing sources, and the inclusion of numerous jokes from the period. By contrast, Franc and Knapík’s ‘guide’ is a proper encyclopaedia on the history of everyday Czech life in the period from the Communist take-over of 1948 to the Prague Spring of 1968. Based on solid methodology, it contains contributions from the editors (who are also the main authors) and about forty other experts. It contains almost 2,500 entries, arranged in seven thematic sections, based mostly on primary-source research, with a comprehensive list of primary and secondary sources. The two-volume encyclopaedia is introduced by a long article. The reviewer considers this publication to be one of the most important books on post-war Czech history.
Franc, Martin, and Jiří Knapík. Volný čas v českých zemích, 1957–1967. Prague: Academia, 2013, 573 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2229-5.
The reviewer presents this complexly conceived monograph about the ways of spending one’s free time in post-Stalinist Czech society, which follows on from the same authors’ two-volume Průvodce kulturním děním a životním stylem v českých zemích 1948–1967 (A guide to cultural events and lifestyle in the Bohemian Lands, 1948–67; Prague: Academia, 2011), and he discusses some of the general conclusions of the publication. The growth of leisure possibilities in Czech society in the second half of the 1950s is explained by the authors, Knapík and Franc, as the result of the modernization efforts of the Communist leadership and also of the modernizing trend in Europe. According to the reviewer, however, their claim that this more or less general trend of civilization helped to alienate the public from the political leadership of the country is contradicted by the abundant empirical material they themselves present. That material, instead, provides evidence that many social organizations and institutions of the arts and education participated in the ideologization of leisure. With their analyses, the authors, according to the reviewer, also partly cast into doubt their own subsequent argument about the supervisory and educational nature of post-Stalinist Socialism. The authors then come up with ambiguous answers to their central question of the effectiveness of the rulers’ efforts to influence private life in Czechoslovakia. The reviewer also thinks that the authors should have explained the unusual time span of their work and why they have restricted themselves geographically to the Bohemian Lands; he claims that they should have stated how the Bohemian Lands were in this respect different from Slovakia.
McDermott, Kevin, and Jeremy Agnew. Kominterna: Dějiny mezinárodního komunismu za Leninovy a Stalinovy éry. Tran. from the English by Jiří Nedvěd and Vítězslav Sommer. Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, 2011, 327 pp., ISBN 978-80-7422-046-3.
The reviewer asks what contribution the Czech translation of McDermott and Agnew’s The Comintern: A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin makes in the context of contemporary international discussions of Soviet history. Although she appreciates the straightforward structure of the book, its concision, and its clarity for university students, she argues that its scholarship is stuck in the mid-1990s when the work was first published, because the Czech translation does not take into account the results of the fifteen years of research on the topic since then, and is satisfied to present a mere overview of the opinions that were dominant at the end of the last century. According to the reviewer, the only parts of the book that might provoke today’s historians to deeper thought are the introduction, the British authors’ reproaches, unexplained, of alleged Czech anti-Communism, and the conclusion, recently written by the Czech historian Vít Sommer, about the Czechoslovak Communists’ relationship with the Comintern.
Three Books on Similar Topics
Danforth, Loring M., and Riki van Boeschoten. Children of the Greek Civil War: Refugees and the Politics of Memory. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2012, 329 pp., ISBN 978-0-226-13598-4;
Králová, Kateřina, Konstantinos Tsivos, et al. Vyschly nám slzy… Řečtí uprchlíci v Československu. Prague: Dokořán, 2012, 331 pp., ISBN 978-80-7363-416-2;
Tsivos, Konstantinos. Řecká emigrace v Československu (1948–1968): Od jednoho rozštěpení ke druhému. Prague: Fakulta sociálních věd Univerzity Karlovy and Dokořán, 2011, 277 pp., ISBN 978-80-7363-404-9.
The author of this review compares and contrasts three publications on the exodus of refugees from northern Greece to the countries of the Soviet bloc in consequence of the Greek Civil War, from 1946 to 1949. Whereas the Danforth and van Boeschoten publication concentrates on the children evacuated from areas threatened by war at that time, and seeks to chart out these events to their full extent, the two Czech works limit themselves to a consideration of the wave of Greek children and adult refugees to Czechoslovak and their later life in the host country. The first two publications make extensive use of the recollections of eyewitnesses, though the publication by Danforth and van Boeschoten is more advanced in the application of the latest methods of oral history and is theoretically more useful. Nevertheless, the essay collection by Kateřina Králová, Konstantinos Tsivos, and others, whose title translates as ‘We have no tears left to cry: Greek refugees in Czechoslovakia’, achieves its aim of providing a vivid, if incomplete, picture of research on the topic. Both in its aims and in its methods the work authored by Tsivos alone is markedly different from the other two books under review. It is a historical study based on fact with a distinctive undercurrent of social history, and ignoring oral-history sources.
Dvořák, Tomáš. Vnitřní odsun 1947–1953: Závěrečná fáze “očisty pohraničí” v politických a společenských souvislostech poválečného Československa. Brno: Matice moravská, 2013 (2nd, revised edn), 472 pp., ISBN 978-80-87709-07-8.
The reviewer presents this publication, whose title translates as ‘Internal transfer, 1947–53: The final phase in the “purging of the borderlands” in the political and social contexts of post-war Czechoslovakia’, as a detailed analysis of select cases of forced migration in Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. The author of the work, Tomáš Dvořák, has, according to the reviewer, thoroughly reconstructed the preparation and execution of the resettlement and the ‘dispersal’ of tens of thousands of unexpelled German Czechoslovaks to the Bohemian and Moravian interior, as well as the transfer of thousands of other Germans to the area of the uranium mines in the Jáchymov region, thus creating a distinctive new island of German speakers. It is reasonable to see these migrations as a continuation of the ‘great transfer’ of most of the Germans of Czechoslovakia. The most attention is paid in the book to the fate of several hundred Moravian Croatians from three rural districts in south Moravia near the Austrian frontier, the complete deportation of a whole ethnic minority. The reviewer regrets that the other unexecuted or only planned transfers of other groups of the population of Czechoslovakia (Slovak Hungarians, inhabitants of zones in the borderlands, Poles of Silesia) are only generally considered here. The reviewer does, however, appreciate that the author not only discusses the individual processes of mass resettlement, but also provides a vivid picture of the workings of Czechoslovak society and the Czechoslovak authorities and secret police in the post-war period.
The Cornerstones of the New Socialist Society
Strakoš Martin. Nová Ostrava a její satelity: Kapitoly z dějin architektury 30.–50. let 20. století. Ostrava: Národní památkový ústav, územní odborné pracoviště v Ostravě, 2010, 199 pp., ISBN 978-80-85034-60-8;
Strakoš Martin. Kulturní domy na Ostravsku v kontextu architektury a umění 20. století: Základní kameny společnosti. Ostrava: Národní památkový ústav, územní odborné pracoviště v Ostravě, 2012, 159 pp., ISBN 978-80-85034-68-4.
The reviewer of these two publications starts from the premise that the birth of Socialist culture in Czechoslovakia after February 1948 also anticipated a new approach to the concepts of urban planning and the social function of architecture, which began to be understood as an active way to change the ‘natural environment’ into a ‘living environment’, and this function thus became policy. The first publication considered here, whose title translates as ‘The New Ostrava and its satellites: Chapters in the history of architecture from the 1930s to the 1950s’, is, according to the reviewer, so far the only large comprehensive history of what is called Nová Ostrava (New Ostrava) and its satellite housing estates, which were built in this region, the most industrial of Czechoslovakia, from the late 1940s onwards. Its author, Martin Strakoš, traces the Soviet influence and the question of the sovietization of Czech architecture, but also tries to see, beneath the veil of the inclination to Soviet models, a return to specifically Czechoslovak changes or the beginning of new developments. In the second work under review, whose title translates as ‘Community arts centres in the Ostrava region in the context of twentieth-century architecture and art: The cornerstones of society’, the author, again Strakoš, focuses on community arts centres (kulturní domy, literally ‘houses of culture’) as multipurpose facilities intended for the all-round education of the public, which became a typical phenomenon of the period, the assessment of which can help to throw light not only on the main features of the development of architecture and urban planning during the Communist regime, but also on changes in understanding society and the ‘people’. Despite their occasional historical imprecision and mistakes, Strakoš’s two publications make, according to the reviewer, definite contributions to our understanding of the atmosphere amongst architects and urban planners at the time, and they also provide historians with insight into a largely neglected aspect of the era of ‘building Socialism’.
Kucík, Štefan. Podiel amerických Slovákov na autonomistickom hnutí na Slovensku (1918–1938). Martin: Matica slovenská, 2011, 150 pp., ISBN 978-80-8128-015-3.
This publication, whose title translates as ‘The American Slovaks’ contribution to the movement for an autonomous Slovakia, 1918–38’, provides, according to the reviewer, an interesting view of a trend in inter-war Czechoslovakia seen from the hitherto ignored angle of the Slovaks living in the USA and Canada. This is not only a general survey of the movement for Slovak autonomy; it is also an in-depth examination of the political, religious, and cultural milieux of Slovaks living in North America, which had an important influence on the Slovak political movement in the first Czechoslovak Republic. The author documents the relations between politicians in Slovakia and the Slovak communities in North America, and also discusses the changes in their views on the constitutional arrangement of Czechoslovakia and the Slovaks’ status within it, which led, despite initial conflicts, to a clear autonomist stance.