Institute of Contemporary History
The Treaty on Friendship, Mutual Assistance and Postwar Cooperation between the Czechoslovak Republic and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics signed on 12 December 1943 in Moscow had a fundamental impact on the orientation of Czechoslovak foreign policy at the end of the war and in the years that followed. At the same time, the lengthy negotiations in 1943, which ultimately resulted in signing the treaty in question, were one of the few moments during the war when Czechoslovakia became the object of an opinion clash between the Great Powers. In this study, which is based primarily on British and US documents (some of which have not been used before), the author analyses in detail the role of the Czechoslovak-Soviet treaty project in the policies of the two Western powers until the signing of the document, before assessing the impact of the treaty in concern on Czechoslovakia’s relations with the United Kingdom and the United States at the end of the war. He points out that neither the British nor the Americans were prepared to conclude a similar treaty with Czechoslovakia since both Western powers wanted the international security system to be based on foundations different from those which had repeatedly failed during the previous three decades. However, the signing of the Czechoslovak-Soviet Treaty dramatically reduced any chance for a federative or confederative arrangement in the region of Central Europe, as well as hopes for a multilateral treaty of alliance ensuring security in this region. For this reason, it was accepted without enthusiasm both in London and in Washington.
The Image of the “Jew” as the “Enemy” in the Propaganda of the Late Stalinist Period
When Stalinism was at its peak, between 1948 and 1953, there was a marked escalation in anti-Jewish manifestations by the Soviet regime, which has often been called “state,” “official,” or “Stalinist” antisemitism. This article endeavours to provide an account of this by analysing the image of the “Jew” in the propaganda of the time. The basis for the analysis is the concept of the “image of the enemy” as a basic figure of the totalitarian ideological canon. The article traces the way in which the image was filled with meanings linked with the term “Jew.” To this end, the author employs the so-called semiotic textual analysis, which enables her to gradually uncover the character of the signs in the propagandistic language. She focuses on two propaganda campaigns that dominated the Soviet public space in this period. One was against so-called “cosmopolitanism,” from January to March 1949; the other was the so-called “Doctor’s Plot” from January to March 1953. The method in concern enables her to provide evidence of the anti-Jewish orientation of the campaigns, which have so far been deduced chiefly from quantitative lists of acts of repression against specific individuals of Jewish descent. Analysis of the semantic field of the image of the “Jew” then reveals the mechanisms that, because of the many layers of the sign character of this image, were used to provide reasons for the home and foreign policies of the Soviet regime, as well as to justify its problems at home and abroad. The last part of the article consists of conclusions that the author finds applicable to the Czechoslovak case at that time.
Social Policy and Its Implementation in the Pension Systems of Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic (1970–1989)
The article deals with the topic of socialist social policy as a special feature and an extremely important instrument of legitimating power and of guardianship. Drawing on his extensive archival research, the author compares the starting points of the social-policy measures of the Czechoslovak and the East German CP leaderships from 1970 to 1989. He discusses the fundamental systemic prerequisites and ambitions of social policy, points out the limits of economic policy, and outlines the individual stages in the development of social policy in the two countries in the period under scrutiny. The focal point of the article is a systematic comparison of the development of pension plans, to which the political establishment in each country paid considerable attention. Providing social security to their senior citizens was a serious problem for both regimes right up to late 1989, and the implemented measures were only partly successful in dealing with it. The article identifies the pitfalls of retirement insurance, and takes into account the standard of living of pensioners in both countries. From his research, he concludes that old-age pensions were the Achilles’ heel of East German Socialism. The unanticipated circumstances of senior citizens, the tangible decline in their standard of living, the considerable employment of people of a post-productive age, and the continuous violation of the publicly declared principle of merit are, however, among the problems the Czechoslovak regime also struggled with throughout the years of reinstating hardline Communism in the post-1969 policy of “normalisation.”
From an Active Politician to a Dissident to Editorial Work in Exile
The presented essay was originally published as “Il samizdat tra dialogo e monologo: Le attivita editoriali di Zdeněk Mlynař e la scelta degli interlocutori” in the Italian online journal eSamizdat: Rivista di culture dei paesi slavi (2010–11, pp. 261–80). This double issue is based on papers given at the conference “Samizdat between Memory and Utopia: Independent Culture in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century,” which was held at Padua University in late May and early June 2011, and is freely accessible on the periodical website. For its publication in Soudobé dějiny, the author has considerably expanded his essay, particularly after doing research in the Mlynář Papers deposited in the National Archive, Prague. The author concentrates mainly on the research and publishing activities of the politician and political scientist Zdeněk Mlynář (1930–1997) while he was in exile, which he puts into a detailed chronology of his career as a public figure. He asks and seeks to answer the general question whether the milieu of samizdat and independent publishing, which developed in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s, did or did not leave deep traces also in the structures of the various political activities of those who criticised the state-sanctioned arts and sciences of “normalisation” Czechoslovakia. The author points out that Mlynář has today been largely ousted from Czech historical memory, even though he was amongst the leading opponents of the regime after its collapse, and tried to regain a place in Czechoslovak politics. The author recalls Mlynář’s becoming a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, his law studies in Moscow in the first half of the 1950s, where he formed a lasting friendship with his fellow-student Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931), and last but not least Mlynář as an expert researching the prospects of the socialist political system in the 1960s. He then concentrates on Mlynář’s work during the Prague Spring of 1968, when he became a member of the reformist leadership of the Communist Party on the side of Alexander Dubček (1921–1992). After the August intervention by the armies of five Warsaw Pact states, Mlynář gradually became disillusioned with the possibilities of continuing reform, and he resigned from the Party leadership. In the early 1970s, he found employment in the Department of Entomology of the National Museum, Prague, and avoided political life completely. Nevertheless, he gradually started to take part in debates with other reformists expelled from the Party about the possibilities of influencing developments in Czechoslovakia with the help of left-wing parties in Western Europe. The author discusses Mlynář’s analyses of the situation at the time, the development of his views, and his integration into the nascent dissident movement, which appeared after the founding of Charter 77. A few months later, in June 1977 to be precise, Mlynář emigrated to Austria as a consequence of a smear campaign against the Chartists. The author focuses on Mlynář’s close work amongst Czech exiles, particularly with the increasingly diverse Listy group, which was established by Jiří Pelikán (1923–1999). The group in question was centred on the exile periodical of the same title, which was published in Rome and formed the core of Czechoslovak socialist opposition in exile. In addition, the author focuses on the efforts of Mlynař and his colleagues to win support among Western left-wing circles, particularly in relation to the Italian Communists and Socialists and later the West German Social Democrats. He also takes into account Mlynář’s political essays, which met with a considerable response amongst the public of Western Europe, and the clear shift in opinion from the initial model of a political system with Communist Party hegemony to political pluralism. In this context, the author then gives a comprehensive account of two large research and publishing projects coordinated by Mlynář. The fi rst project, from 1979 to 1982, was entitled “Experiences of the Prague Spring of 1968”; its participants were almost exclusively Czech sociologists, historians, economists, jurists, and other specialists in exile. The project resulted in almost 30 mimeographed volumes in three language versions (mostly Italian, French, and English), which were distributed by several hundred carefully selected left-wing individuals and institutions in the West, and it culminated in a congress held in Paris. According to the author, this little known project represents one of the most profound and essentially never-published reflections on the origins, development, and failure of the Prague Spring. The second project, entitled “Crises in Soviet-type Systems,” ran from 1982 to the late 1980s, and presented the perspectives of authors from a wider range of central European countries. It resulted in 16 works by Czech, Polish, Hungarian, and East German authors, published by the leading Czech exile publishing house, Index, as small paperback editions in English, French, and indeed German. The number of its subscribers grew to about 2,000. Part of the project was presenting papers at conferences and other international forums. Both of the projects in question, according to the author, demonstrate Mlynář and his colleagues’ persistent orientation to exclusive circles of the political Left in the West, whom, in their efforts to change things in Czechoslovakia, they preferred to the dissidents still in Czechoslovakia.
The article is deals with ethnic cleansing, that is, the violent methods that constituted the central element of the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. The article aims to show the fatal consequences of the military operations that were conducted with the aim of the ethnic homogenisation of the individual territories, and were rooted in the differences in the demographic development of the constituent peoples (the Serbs, Croatians, and Muslim Bosniaks) of Bosnia and Herzegovina before the outbreak of the conflict and the impact of this development on the transformation of the ethnic composition of the individual regions. After defining the terms “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide,” the author analyses the character and extent of the violent local homogenisation that led to the greatest refugee crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War. On the basis of a summary of the individual stages of the ethnic cleansing during the war from 1992 to 1995, the author seeks to demonstrate that the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina at first erupted mainly in places that had, during the last two decades before the breakup of Yugoslavia, manifested the most striking changes in the ethnic representation of the constituent nations (chiefly the Eastern Orthodox Serbs and the Muslims). In the second part of the text, the author focuses on analysing the strategic interests of the elites of the Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks and the forms these interests took during the violent ethnic homogenisation of the territory under their military control.
The author sums up the life and career of Lenka Kalinová (1924–2014), who was for a long time the leading authority on the social history of Czechoslovakia, particularly of the years after the Second World War. In the 1960s, she established and led a team of scholars to analyse the social structure of Czechoslovakia as it had developed from 1918 onward. In 1970, she lost her job, but in the following years worked with specialised institutions in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and eventually also published intensively in both countries. New opportunities opened up for her in the early 1990s, when she began to work closely with the Institute of Contemporary History, part of the Czech Academy of Sciences. In consequence of her years of work in the field of theory of social and economic history, she published two syntheses in which she made good use of a great deal of facts in order to identify and explain basic trends in Czech society and politics from 1945 to 1993.
The report describes a two-day conference organised on the 25th commemoration of the collapse of the communist regimes in East Central Europe entitled “1989: Thinking Revolution,” held in Prague in September 2014. It characterises five main panels focusing respectively on the character of the revolution (democratic, liberal, or neoliberal?), the phenomenon of post-dissidence and the memory of Communism, the transformation of the disciplines of Sovietology, the evolution of the theories of Soviet-type societies and, finally, the second life of the 1968 Prague Spring in 1989. The main aim of the conference was to historicise the theoretical concepts employed in the hitherto reflections of 1989 in the region.
Jiří Křesťan’s Zdeněk Nejedlý: Politik a vědec v osamění [Zdeněk Nejedlý: A Politician and Scholar All Alone]. Praha – Litomyšl, Paseka, 2012, 569 pp.
The author assesses Jiří Křesťan’s biography of Zdeněk Nejedlý (1878–1962), which won the prestigious Magnesia Litera prize in the category of non-fiction in 2013, as the most detailed, largest, factually reliable, and clearly the best biography of this figure of Czech history written so far. He points out some of the traditional legends, which Křesťan, thanks to his almost exhaustive and honest research, has been able to debunk. Křesťan offers an exceptionally thorough treatment of the subject, particularly Nejedlý’s fortunes in the first Czechoslovak Republic and, in a completely new way, his wartime exile in the Soviet Union. In his endeavour to be fair, however, Křesťan, according to Čornej, occasionally idealises Nejedlý and goes too far in his Vorverständnis approach to the primary sources. Křesťan is chiefly interested in Nejedlý the citizen and politician, while leaving almost completely aside Nejedlý the historian and musicologist. To these aspects of Nejedlý’s work Čornej devotes a greater part of his article. He outlines the phases of Nejedly’s career as a scholar and, for the period before the First World War, he emphasises Nejedly’s combining empirical-critical methods with psychological ones, as appears, among other places, in his works about Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler. Čornej considers Nejedlý’s growing closer to the Communist Movement between the world wars and how this is reflected in his scholarly works after 1945, when Nejedlý began to hold high political office. Nejedlyý’s efforts to link together historical and cultural models, based on the Czech National Revival of the 19th century, together with Stalinist Marxism did not, however, according to Čornej, seem either organic or convincing, and ultimately had only an insignificant impact on Czech historiography.
Vojtěchovský, Ondřej: Z Prahy proti Titovi! Jugoslávská prosovětská emigrace v Československu [From Prague against Tito! Yugoslav Pro-Soviet Emigration in Czechoslovakia]. Praha. Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2012, 695 pp.
The publication in question describes the live of almost 200 Yugoslav political exiles, who, after the dispute between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in 1948, settled permanently in Czechoslovakia, where they could manifest their loyalty to Stalin and opposition to Josip Broz Tito. The reviewer appreciates the depth with which the author discusses the microcosm the exiles lived in, which in some respect resembled a ghetto, and he presents a vivid picture of the ideology and the atmosphere, fraught with passion, of the founding phase of the communist regimes. Delving into the “Yugoslav Question,” he casts light on some relations and mechanisms in the operation of the dictatorship in Czechoslovakia, and it is this second dimension, at least according to the reviewer, which elevates the work clearly above the usual standards. One of the marked weak points, according the reviewer, is the absence of a theoretical basis of interpretation.
A Precise Book on Cultural Exchange across the Iron Curtain
Lizcová, Zuzana: Kulturní vztahy mezi ČSSR a SRN v 60. letech 20. století [Cultural Relations between the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and West Germany in the 1960s]. Praha, Dokořán – Fakulta sociálních věd Univerzity Karlovy, 2012, 194 pp.
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 new political history and new cultural history, the author explores the role of highlevel politics and social groups outside the state structures, mainly the creators and consumers of cultural products that became an object of exchange between Czechoslovakia and the Federal Republic. The book also casts light on how these processes and events were commented on in contemporary press, and seeks to provide an overall picture of the expressions of culture in the political, social, and economic climates in both countries. Main emphasis is put on fi lm and the fi ne arts, and particularly on the extraordinary importance of mutual cultural exchanges between the two countries at a time when no diplomatic relations existed between them.
Zimmermann, Volker: Eine sozialistische Freundschaft im Wandel: Die Beziehungen zwischen der SBZ/DDR und der Tschechoslowakei (1945–1969). Essen, Klartext, 2010, 639 pp.
This publication by a German historian focuses on the relations between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet-occupied zone in Germany and later the German Democratic Republic in the f rst 25 years after the end of the Second World War. The reviewer is impressed by the breadth of the material covered here, which goes beyond diplomatic and institutional relations in general, and includes relations in the arts and sciences, amongst the youth, and trade unions, as well as travel. It thereby penetrates the mental world, motivations, interests, and strategies of various actors. The book’s main outcome, according to the reviewer, is the conclusion that there had been considerable space for creating mutual relations and articulating distinctive interests within the existing ideological and political bounds. In like manner, one must appreciate the finding that the German Democratic Republic was diplomatically far more on the offensive than Czechoslovakia in the 1960s.
Suk, Jiří: Politika jako absurdní drama: Václav Havel v letech 1975–1989 [Politics as an Absurd Drama: Václav Havel in the Years 1975–1989]. Praha – Litomyšl, Paseka, 2013, 447 pp.
In the presented essay, the author first takes into consideration some of the sources of inspiration and interpretative frameworks of Suk’s book, which have led the author, Znoj, to consider the theme of the absurdity of the socialist world as a component of Havel’s work as a dramatist and a dissident. In a nutshell, the author argues that the anti-politics of the “normalisation” period of the 1970s and 1980s took the place of the theatre of the absurd of the 1960s. He then describes anti-politics as the construction of a moral world that maintained a distance from the existing political order, and he points out its main features and analyses the meaning of that distance by considering Havel’s well-known essay, “The Power of the Powerless” (1978). Suk’s book, according to the author, is the story of how the dissident’s word became political power. Suk, he argues, has thus demonstrated that he is the best historian of Havel’s dissidence and the end of the regime led by Husák. The book in question is a solid historical work based on a thorough examination of the sources, but its author has gone beyond mere positivism; he has developed a suitable theoretical framework for historical interpretation. The result casts a penetrating light on recent Czech history. Suk’s emphasis on historical continuity gives the interpretation a unifying perspective while, according to the author, papering over some of the seams and smoothing out some of the conflicts of the period. First, Suk has omitted Havel’s distancing himself from Western democracies when he was a dissident, even his distancing himself from liberal democracy per se. Second, he has underestimated Havel’s reluctance to politicise the dissident movement when the matter was being hotly debated in 1989. And, third, Suk appears not to have fully appreciated Havel’s sudden change in his conception of “anti-politics,” which meant Havel’s becoming a political leader and using the methods of realpolitik in the struggle for power.