Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
The author examines Czech journalism of the 1920s to find out what ideas and images Czechs had at that time about Carpathian Ruthenia, the easternmost part of their new country, the Czechoslovak Republic. In his research on this topic, the author employs Orientalism, a concept that originates in postcolonial studies, and, after analysing his sources, he presents Carpathian Ruthenia as it appeared to Czechs at that time, that is, as the Czechoslovak Orient, with the characteristic features of the exotic, the picturesque, the wild, the backward, and with a different sense of time. For Czechs (and to a lesser extent Slovaks too) who came to Carpathian Ruthenia after 1918 as clerks, teachers, and police, in the role of the new administrators, or as tourists, this was initially an almost unknown environment. The need to get one’s bearings in it, to integrate it into the new republic, and to legitimate the new government led the Czechs to conceive of the local Rusyns either as fellow Slavs who had for centuries suffered under Magyar oppression or as simple-minded natives who need civilizing. According to the author, the depiction of the Rusyns as ‘good folk at heart’ was, however, mixed with descriptions of them as indolent and irrational beings, with an inclination to drink and, in their naïveté, susceptible to Communist or Ukrainian nationalist propaganda. By contrast, the other local ethnic groups, the Magyars and the Jews, were depicted by Czechs in a mainly negative way, as Orientals, the opposite of Europeans, whose influence had to be minimalized. A similarly negative assessment applied also to the Communists of Carpathian Ruthenia, Ukrainian immigrants, and the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church. Czechs, according to the author, often described themselves as rational and efficient bearers of Western civilization, but were, they felt, sometimes excessively lenient or idealistic. A quite different picture of Carpathian Ruthenia, the author argues, was offered by the journalism of the Czechoslovak Communists. In the 1920s, the Communists were the strongest political party here and it was mainly their discourse that established the narrative about a Czech bourgeois dictatorship, occupation, and colonial practices. In the concluding sections of the article, the author presents a summary of how, from the 1930s to the present, Carpathian Ruthenia was present in Czech cultural memory and Czechoslovakia was present in the cultural memory and history of Carpathian Ruthenia.
Some reform Communists who went into exile after the Soviet-led military intervention in Czechoslovakia, in August 1968, began to work in the Listy group led by Jiří Pelikán (1923–1999), a former Director of Czechoslovak Television, the publisher of the Rome-based exile bimonthly Listy, and, later, a Member of the European Parliament. In the search for political allies against Husák’s regime of ‘normalization’ (the return to hard-line Communist rule), they tried to establish contact mainly with influential representatives of the West European Left. This article, however, examines an area of their involvement in exile, which has previously not received attention – namely, their efforts to develop contacts with Chinese Communists who in the period after August 1968 were vociferously speaking out at international forums and criticizing Soviet expansionism. The author demonstrates how the exiles tried to take advantage of this in order to strengthen their positions as members of the foreign socialist opposition to the normalization regime. When establishing these contacts, they could build particularly upon those that Pelikán had developed in China while working in the International Union of Students. In the second half of the 1970s his erstwhile Chinese colleagues, led by Hu Yaobang (1915–1989), rose to leading positions in the Party, thus creating considerable opportunities for the exiles to work with them. From China, they received continuous funding for their activities, while the Chinese were interested in the Czechoslovak attempt to reform state socialism in the late 1960s. The author acquaints the reader with visits by Listy ‘envoys’ to China, who acquainted their partners there with current developments in central Europe, including information about dissidents and the opposition movement. A special initiative as part of this collaboration was their attempt to get their own representatives involved in the Czech broadcasts of Radio Peking. Though they briefly succeeded in this, their plan to influence the content of transmissions to Czechoslovakia, and thereby make it an information source for listeners which would provide an alternative to state-controlled Czechoslovak mass media, ultimately came to naught: members of the Listy group worked at Radio Peking only as language advisers for the Czech broadcasts.
This article is concerned with changes in the tourist industry and travel abroad by Czechoslovaks and, after late 1989, Czechs as a particular expression of the political, economic, and socio-cultural transformation of that period, including the ‘return to Europe’. The structure of the article is based roughly on the basic groups of questions, which concern tourism abroad. The author first describes in broad outline the political and legislative processes of the gradual lifting of visa restrictions by the Czechoslovak authorities and the states of western Europe as well as the gradual liberalization and partial ‘denationalization’ of Czechoslovak currency policy and paperwork related to tourism. He then, in the second part, looks at the continuities and discontinuities of the forms of the tourist industry, particularly the transformation of the existing travel agencies (under the former Čedok monopoly) and the massive emergence of new travel agencies, as well as their rise and fall (for instance, Fischer Reisen, the travel agency of Václav Fischer). In combination with the history of travel-industry policy, the result seeks to be a contribution to the economic history of the country after the Changes of late 1989. In the third part of the article, the author traces the countries to which Czechoslovak and, later, Czech citizens travelled and in what number, and what their typical reasons were, from the beginning of the 1990s onwards. His analysis of the accessible quantitative data is followed by his interpretations of oral-history research intended, among other things, to discover the forms that travel abroad took after November 1989, how the participants perceived this travel, and what importance they attached to it.
This article considers an intellectual dispute that took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s amongst Czech Catholics in exile. The dispute was over the leadership of the exile journal Studie, which was published by the Christian Academy in Rome (Křesťanská akademie v Římě) and edited by the priest Karel Skalický (b. 1934). Because of its liberal openness towards non-Catholic authors, including former Communists, the journal met with the resistance of conservative Catholic exiles led by the priest Jaroslav V. Polc (1929–2004), and thus had to confront repeated attempts to have him step down. Considering the open character of Studie, a number of distinguished non-Catholic exiles came out in defence of Skalický (in particular, Erazim Kohák and Václav Bělohradský), together with dissidents in Czechoslovakia (especially Josef Zvěřina). The dispute, which ended in the victory of Skalický’s liberal approach, is described here in the context of debates within the whole Roman Catholic Church at that time over the interpretation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
Christian Hartmann, Thomas Vordermeyer, Othmar Plöckinger, and Roman Töppel (eds.). Hitler, Mein Kampf: Eine kritische Edition. Munich and Berlin: Institut für Zeitgeschichte, 2016, vols 1–2, 947 + 1019 pp., ISBN 978-3-9814052-3-1. With Edith Raim, Pascal Trees, Angelika Reizle, and Martina Seewald-Mooser. Includes illustrations, maps, a list of all known translations of Mein Kampf before 1945, a list of abbreviations, a detailed bibliography in three parts (before 1932, 1933–45, after 1945), and four indexes (a biographical index and indexes of persons, places, and subjects). In the form of an essay, the author comments here on the 2016 critical edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1925–26), edited by a team of historians from the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, with additional assistance from others. He contemplates the nature and importance of this book and discusses its author and his meaning in the history of twentieth-century central Europe. He then discusses some of the ideas of Mein Kampf, and clarifies the historical context of the work, returning to the circumstances that led to its being written and published. He also discusses some of Hitler’s fellow travellers in the Nazi movement, who were of importance for this key work. The author brings up episodes in Hitler’s life, and pays particular attention to his still unclear transformation from an apolitical soldier into a zealous antisemite and political agitator of exceptional rhetorical skill, who was able to bewitch the German people and become their Führer. The author also discusses the difficulties that the editors of this critical edition had to struggle with, and he praises their work as utterly solid and astonishingly thorough, particularly the commentaries in the huge critical apparatus. The author concludes by discussing reactions both to the first edition of Mein Kampf and to this critical edition, and he discusses various attempts to publish a Czech edition. Three Readings of One Book Petr Placák. Gottwaldovo Československo jako fašistický stát. Prague and Litomyšl: Paseka and Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2015, 189 pp., ISBN 978-80-7432-604-2 and 978-80-87912-32-4.
In his book Gottwaldovo Československo jako fašistický stát (Gottwald’s Czechoslovakia as a fascist state), the historian, novelist, and journalist Petr Placák (b. 1964) puts forth the controversial view that from the end of the Second World War, in May 1945, to the Communist take-over, in February 1948, Czechoslovakia was ruled by a fascist regime, which was a kind of continuation of the Nazi regime during the German occupation of Bohemian and Moravia from mid-March 1939 to early May 1945, anticipating the Communist totalitarian regime beginning with the takeover in late February 1948. Placák thus conceives of fascism as a broader category than it is generally considered to be, and he defines the regime by its activist political style. The author locates Placák’s theoretical approach to researching undemocratic regimes close to later, ‘post-classic’ adherents to the theory of totalitarianism. More than the first part of the book, it is the second part that the reviewer appreciates. This part, which analyses the political situation in Czechoslovakia before the February takeover, presents, according to the author of the article, a legitimate and in many respects convincing picture, logically explaining the causes for the collapse of Czechoslovak democracy; indeed, the parallels Placák draws between Czechoslovakia after May 1945 and Italy in 1922 are credible. By contrast, the first part of the book, consisting of a long excursus into the theory and history of the totalitarian, fascist, and authoritarian movements of the twentieth century, is, in his view, weaker: Placák’s scepticism about the ability of the social sciences to provide satisfactory explanations for these movements is not well founded, and his explanations for the genesis of fascism lack context.
Simply by its title, Peter Placák’s Gottwaldovo Československo jako fašistický stát (Gottwald’s Czechoslovakia as a fascist state) creates, according to the author of this article, the false impression that it is about Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1953, when the Czechoslovak Communist Party was the sole holder of power in the country and its chairman, Klement Gottwald, was President of the Republic. Though some of the author’s conclusions about this period of totalitarian rule in Czechoslovakia might be apposite, to argue that the Czechoslovak regime from 1945 to 1948 was of a fascist nature, when the country was in fact governed by a coalition of parties in the National Front, and the President of the Republic was Edvard Beneš, a critical Press was in existence, and democratic procedures were largely respected, is, according to the author, simply erroneous. The author takes issue with some of Placák’s propositions, and concludes that in the light of the facts the book does not pass muster.
The author is highly critical of the book under discussion. He finds Placák’s very broad conception of Fascism problematic; it is, he writes, vague, with an ulterior motive, and unscholarly. Placák’s attempt in this book to describe political developments in post-war Czechoslovakia from May 1945 to late February 1948 fundamentally suffers, according to him, from an absence of research using primary sources and scholarly secondary literature on the topic. The style of argument tends, moreover, to be based on capriciousness rather than on respect for the facts. The author illustrates these shortcomings in detail with sample passages in which Placák defends his argument about the antisemitic nature of Czechoslovak Communist Party policy in that period. He concludes that Gottwaldovo Československo jako fašistický stát (Gottwald’s Czechoslovakia as a fascist state) does not meet the basic standards of scholarly work, and is ultimately irrelevant to academic discussion.
Ivo Goldstein and Slavko Goldstein. Tito. Zagreb: Profil, 2015, 911 pp., ISBN 978-953-313-417-8. The reviewer looks in detail at this work by two Croatian authors, father and son, which, published 35 years after his death, is the first biography of Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980) to fully meet all scholarly standards. The biography, according to the reviewer, impresses the reader not only by its considerable length, but also by its comprehensiveness, balance, factual precision, convincing judgements, and, last but not least, readability. The reviewer praises the authors’ great knowledge of the topic and their exemplary handling of the sources. Although they did not work in archives, they have paid careful attention to all the important episodes of Tito’s political career, sensitively portraying his private life, and identifying the subtle boundaries between, on the one hand, the life and deeds of the man who held power in Yugoslavia for so many years and, on the other, the post-war history of Yugoslavia, while keeping within the bounds of the biography genre. The authors merit respect, according to the reviewer, for their mostly nonconformist opinions, which are frequently aimed against nationalistically burdened interpretations of the majority in Croatia today, though on some questions they too succumb to them. Although the authors are considerably critical of many of Tito’s actions and decisions (for example, his repression of opponents after the establishment of socialist Yugoslavia and particularly the conflict with Stalin), they present the man and his historical role in an essentially positive light. They attribute to him features of great statesmanship, for example, his extraordinary political intuition, mettle, and ability to unite an ethnically diverse society and make it into a functioning state. The high points of Tito’s career, according to the authors, were the partisan war against the German-Italian occupation and the independent political course for Yugoslavia in the face of pressure from Stalin and the Eastern bloc.
Jan Hálek (ed.). Americká stopa české Maffie: Vzájemná korespondence prvního československého vyslance v USA Bedřicha Štěpánka s kancléřem prezidenta republiky Přemyslem Šámalem (1921–1938). (Ego: Paměti, deníky, korespondence, vol. 7.) Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny and Masarykův ústav a Archiv AV ČR, 2015, 624 pp, ISBN 978-80-7422-341-9. Bedřich Štěpánek (1884–1943) was an important figure in the Czech anti-Habsburg resistance at home during the First World War and he was the first Czechoslovak envoy to the United States after the founding of Czechoslovakia in October 1918. Following disagreements with embassy officials, as well as intrigues, he had to quit his post, in 1923, and leave the ministry of foreign affairs. He then lived, self-employed, in the United States, where he died in unexplained circumstances. According to the reviewer, this volume of never-before published correspondence between Bedřich Štěpánek and Přemysl Šámal (1867–1941), the chief of staff of the Czechoslovak president, not only partly reveals aspects of Štěpánek’s life, but also provides a unique look behind the scenes of the Czechoslovak diplomatic service in its early years, as well as interwar political developments in the United States and the dramatic international situation at that time.
Martin Nekola. Petr Zenkl: Politik a člověk. Prague: Mladá fronta, 2014, 448 + 16 pp. illus., ISBN 978-80-204-3377-0. According to the reviewer, the author of this the first biography of Petr Zenkl (1884–1975) has fully succeeded in meeting his aim of giving the reader a good picture of Zenkl’s political and personal life, while critically assessing them, and presenting the intellectual framework that shaped Zenkl’s actions. Readable, clear, and well informed, the book describes the course of Zenkl’s life from his rise in Prague local politics between the two world wars, and when he reached his political peak as mayor from April 1937 to February 1939 and from August 1945 to May 1946 (his two terms as Mayor separated by his years as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps), his post-war power struggle with the Communists when he was chairman of the Czechoslovak National Social Party and deputy premier in the National Front government, followed by his defeat in the political crisis of February 1948 and then his escape to America, where he worked for twenty years in senior posts in Czechoslovak exile organizations, for instance, as chairman of the exile Council of Free Czechoslovakia. The book, according to the reviewer, provides much valuable information on a number of other historical topics, including Prague local politics, the social security system of the first Czechoslovak Republic, and, in particular, the history of Czechoslovak exiles after February 1948.
Jakub Rákosník and Radka Šustrová. Rodina v zájmu státu: Populační růst a instituce manželství v českých zemích 1918–1989. (Knižnice Dějin a současnosti, vol. 60.) Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, 2016, 283 pp., ISBN 978-80-7422-378-5. According to the reviewer, the two authors of the book under review (whose title translates as The Family in the Interest of the State: Population Growth and the Institute of Marriage in Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia, 1918–89) convincingly demonstrate the massive growth in state intervention in the private sphere in Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia in the seventy years from the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic to the collapse of the Communist regime in late 1989. She does, however, have some doubts about their periodization, which ignores great political dividing lines in favour of continuities, and she is also disappointed in the authors’ intentionally refusing to pass judgement on the topics they discuss. The reviewer would have liked to have read an assessment of interwar Czechoslovakia, which had sought to be a democratic and socially just state, and she would have welcomed discussion of the Nazis’ intentions to eradicate the Czechs during the German occupation from mid-March 1939 to early May 1945. The reviewer remarks on some aspects of family policy in socialist Czechoslovakia, and concludes that the book under review is useful for the general public as a call for discussion about the social values and traditions and the purpose and operation of the State.
Sune Bechmann Pedersen. Reel Socialism: Making Sense of History in Czech and German Cinema since 1989. Lund: Lund University Press, 2015, 328 pp. In this work of comparative history, which was originally written as his dissertation at Lund University, the Danish historian Sune Bechmann Pedersen focuses on the creation of the meaning of the Communist past in Czech and German films since the Changes beginning in late 1989. His stated aim is to explain the relationship between the Communist past, post-Communist cinematography, and ‘history culture’ (Geschichtskultur) in Germany and the Czech Republic. Rather than its analysis of the individual films, what the reviewer finds most interesting about the book is the author’s having placed the films in the context of contemporary debates. Despite the absence of television series in his analysis and his lack of knowledge about some important Czech publications on the topic, the author has, according to the reviewer, produced an interesting and useful comparative work that offers a fresh look from outside with a broad scope.