Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Československo a enviromentální dějiny
The essay is an abridged and slightly modified version of the lecture delivered by the author on October 28, 2009, at the Center for Advanced Studies of the Munich University, which opened a series of public lectures and colloquies of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich. A full text of the lecture was published under the title Das neue Rachel Carson Center in München oder Was heißt und zu welchem Ende betreibt man Umweltweltgeschichte? in 2010 as the second issue of the internet journal RCC Perspectives. Available at: http://www.environmentandsociety.org/sites/default/files/2010_2.pdf. The author reminds of the roots and beginnings of the institutionalization of environmental history in the United States during the 1960s, which are connected with the name of marine biologist Rachel Carson, who at that time published a revolutionary book on devastating environmental effects of pesticides titled Silent Spring (1962). The author uses historical examples to illustrate how environmentalism and environmental awareness have changed since then; in terms of crossing borders between scientific disciplines, between states, and also between nature and civilization as two entities which are no longer perceived as opposite, but rather complementing and interlinked with each other. The awareness of unintended environmental consequences of human actions, as well as the understanding that the very perception of nature by humans determines its future shape, have increased as well. The author believes that environmental history enables seeing things in a new light, and offers an antidote against ignorance in relation to nature and against prophecies predicting destruction.
The article focuses on the unquestionably most important period of construction of hydraulic infrastructures in Czechoslovakia, i.e. the 1950s. The massive construction of multi-purpose hydraulic structures, in particular dams and power plants, but also water mains, which was at that time taking place in the context of socialist industrialization, laid the foundations of the existing national water management system. It was led by a group of water management experts, so-called hydrocrats, which had been forming up since the 1920s. These experts were were advocates of ideas of a modernistic water management mission aiming to rationalize and depoliticize water management and seeing full control of surface runoff as an essential prerequisite of the future prosperity of the state and its population. According to the author, the era of Stalinism brought ideal conditions for the fulfillment of these visions (nationalization of hydraulic structures and water resources, centralization of administration and investment activities, nature transformation ideas); at the same time, however, the traditional hydrocratic project was compromised by imperatives of productivism, which fact ultimately led to the abandonment of holistic ideas formulated in the 1949–1953 National Water Management Plan and a definite concentration on accumulation of water to satisfy needs of the industry and power engineering. Since 1956, there were pressures reacting to increasing environmental pollution levels and calling for a reassessment of the existing water management policy; as a consequence, the ideas of the water management mission were gradually corroding as well.
The study deals with Czechoslovakiaʼs involvement and participation in the International Biological Program (IBP) and attempts to assess its effect on the “ecologization” of environmental sciences in Czechoslovakia. The authoress characterizes the International Biological Program, which was taking place between 1964 and 1974, as one of the largest and most important global research projects dedicated to the living environmental of man on the Earth in the 20th century. Held under the auspices of UNESCO and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), its objective was to monitor natural processes and environmental changes. It was prepared during the period of Khrushchev Thaw, launched at the time of international crises of the Cold War, and it ended during the period of détente, which circumstances affected not only its course, but also defined areas of research where the Western and the Eastern Blocs were furthering their own respective priorities. The principal goal of socialist countries participating in the program under the leadership of the Soviet Union was to use knowledge of biological and other sciences to maximize the exploitation of natural resources at the expense of minimum devastation of the environment, while capitalist countries were predominantly striving for a preventive approach to environmental protection. The authoress claims that the International Biological Program stimulated the interest of scientists in environmental issues and to some extent filled the space which had opened for biological sciences thanks to the process of de-Stalinization and the policy of “limited internationalism” leading to international scientific cooperation across the Iron Curtain. The study describes the institutionalization of the International Biological Program in Czechoslovakia, showing how the programʼs promising progress and international aspirations were disrupted by the so-called normalization after 1968, and its later splitting between the Czechoslovak National IBP Committee and the IBP Department of the University of Agriculture in Brno, each of which had a different relation to political powers-that-be and and a different international legitimacy. According to the authoress, the International Biological Program provided a link to global scientific infrastructures, including newly established monitoring networks, and contributed to the establishment of new research topics and new scientific structures (such as the Ecological Section of the Biological Society of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences), which played an active role in environmental protection and in the formation of the civic society in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s.
Petr Jehlička – Joe Smith
In terms of its mindset and mental setup, the post-November Czech environmentalism is in many respects compatible with the ecological modernization which has been the determining environmental discourse in the West since the 1980s. The authors claim, and attempt to infer so in their article, that the compatibility is not just a result of imports of these ideas into the Czech environment since 1989, but rather that the groundwork for the acceptance of the ecological modernization paradigm was laid by a specific form of environmentalism which developed in Czechoslovakia during the socialist era. Its core was a combination of two seemingly incongruous elements; the inter-war romantic tradition of individual education toward environmentally conscientious behavior through knowledge of and time spent in nature, rooted in the environment of North American “woodcraft” movements and in the Czech tramping movement, and the natural scientific and technocratic, rational attitude to the living environment haboured by the professional community, strongly influenced by the Soviet school of landscape ecology. The latter elementʼs strength was its firm scientific anchoring; its weakness the impossibility to apply knowledge at the practical level of public policy and decision-making, as any social criticism of the then ruling regime was unacceptable. The solution was an increased emphasis on conscientious behavior of an individual reacting to ecological challenges, promoted by initiatives such as The Yew – The Union for the Protection of nature and landscape (TIS – Svaz pro ochranu přírody a krajiny), Czech Union for Nature Conservation (Český svaz ochránců přírody), or Brontosaurus Movement (hnutí Brontosaurus). The key to understanding the parallel coexistence of the romantic and the scientific components in the Czech environmentalism is their connection at the level of personal experience of many of its protagonists (including persecution of some ecological initiatives during the socialist era). Thanks to a combination of resistance against etatistic solutions of environmental problems and efforts aimed at changing the societyʼs attitude to nature through individual experience-based eduction, the Czech environmentalism reached the same intellectual point at the same time as the Western European ecological modernization, although each used a very different route to get there. However, the authors claim that the Czech environmentalism that had formed in the manner outlined above was not adequately equipped or prepared to participate in solving broader structural aspects of the environmental crisis (which did not end with the demise of the previous regime) after the return of the country to capitalism.
Based on texts excerpted from Czechoslovak periodicals and dailies of that time, the study shows changes of the image of nuclear power and nuclear energy in Czechoslovakia between the 1950s and the 1980s, as well as the position of environmental issues in it. In the 1950s, the image prevailing in periodicals and dailies was that of harnessed and transformed nature, with the anticipated arrival of nuclear power plants presented as a natural replacement of coal-fired plants necessitated by limited coal reserves. At that time, there were no doubts about the “cleanliness” and safety of nuclear power plants. In the decades that followed, the strategy of authors, often experts in the field and promoters of science, changed, as the “nuclear optimism” was ebbing. They started, albeit cautiously, admitting a possibility of nuclear accidents and potential negative impacts on the environment and human health; however, referring to accurate data, they were also downplaying the risk, claiming it was highly unlikely. The authoress contextualizes the Czechoslovak nuclear energy discourse, showing that there were no significant differences from the general “nuclear optimism” prevailing in the Soviet Union, United States or France; however, since the mid-1960s, and particularly since the following decade, the shape and form of the discourse in the Soviet Bloc diverged from that in the West considerably. In Czechoslovakia, the discourse was monopolized and no texts questioning the Czechoslovak orientation on nuclear energy could be officially published. The inertia of the positive image of nuclear power in Czechoslovak journalism was made possible not only by the socialist dictatorship, but also by a continuity of authors. In this respect, there was never a question whether to use nuclear power or not; the question was how to develop it in a way guaranteeing a sufficient level of environmental protection and safety of nuclear power plants.
The topic of the study are the intra-party purges which took place in the regional organizations of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in Ostrava and České Budějovice in 1951. The author presents both as an integral part of Stalinist campaigns and political trials that were taking place in countries of the Communist bloc at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s. He shows how the argumentation rhetoric was escalating, starting with criticism of “dictator-like behavior” of party officials and ending with their indictment as “conspirators” and “traitors” within the party. The author describes the purges and changes of persons holding top party positions in both regions, examining whether the purges were a result of pressures from the centre or of local conflicts, and whether a generation factor was reflected in them. He has found out that their dynamism was determined both by activities of the State Security and Commisssion of Party Control, which were trying to identify enemies in the ranks of the Communist party, and by activities of regional functionaries who did not hesitate to participate in the purges, promoting their own power interests behind the façade of ideological criticism. However, the proportion of these two factors was different in each region; unlike in České Budějovice, the first stage of the purges in Ostrava was under direct control of members of central bodies of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. The study also concludes that the two intra-party purges showed signs of a generation conflict. The previous regional party committees consisted mainly of pre-war party members many of whom had been involved in anti-Nazi resistance. However, the older crew lost the battle for power, and during 1951 was replaced in the leadership of the regional party organizations in northern Moravia and southern Bohemia by the youngest generation of apparatchiks who had joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia only after 1945.
One of the key characters of Josef Škvoreckýʼs short story Pragueʼs Little Mata Hara (1955) is an American musician named Robert Bulwer. “Music-hungry fans of Prague” skillfully use his political refugeeʼs status to smuggle a jazz revue onto stages of Prague at the time the music style is still viewed as something suspicious. The fictitious character of Bulwer was based on a realistic archetype, American double-bass jazz player Herbert Ward (1921–1994), who together with his wife, dancer and choreographer Jacqueline Ward (1919–2014) and two sons asked for a political asylum in socialist Czechoslovakia in 1954 and then lived in Prague until 1964. Using declassified files of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but also information from Czech and other archival sources and period press, the author depicts the life story of the Wards, in particular their presence in Europe, circumstances under which the asylum was granted, and their life in Czechoslovakia. He sets the story into the context of persecution of so-called un-American activities (McCarthyism) in the United States after the outbreak of the Cold War; in addition to other left-wing artists, the campaign also affected many jazz musicians, and Petr Vidomus sees motives for the 1950 departure of the Wards from the USA to Denmark in it. He pays a lot of attention to the issue of the Wardsʼ membership in the Communist Party of the United States and related left-wing organizations and reasons of the FBIʼs interest in their activities. Insofar as their life in Prague is concerned, the author is interested primarily in their artistic activities, in particular Herbert Wardʼs revues describing the history of jazz to Pragueʼs audience, and later, in the 1960s, their disillusionment with the life in Czechoslovakia, which made them return to the United States. The article is, inter alia, a contribution to a recently started discussion about the English-speaking left-wing community in Czechoslovakia after the beginning of the Cold War, and also illustrates the work of the FBI during the era of McCarthyism in the United States.
Roubal, Petr. Československé spartakiády. Edice Šťastné zítřky, Vol. 22. Prague: Academia, 2016, 405 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2537-1.
In his four-part book Czechoslovak spartakiads, the author deals with the genealogy of Czechoslovak spartakiads in the German Turner and Czech Sokol (Falcon) movements, different visual symbolisms of the spartakiads in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1980s, the organization of spartakiads, and the relation of the society to them. The extensive review presents the content and leading principles of the book, as well as its sources and theoretical foundations, and formulates some polemic arguments. The key of the authorʼinterpretation of the phenomemon of the mass gymnastics events of different age, social and professional, gender-differentiated groups of population in arenas in the Czech Lands and Czechoslovakia since the second half of the 19th century until the 1990s is a multifaceted analysis of the political symbolism of the body and its movements as a representation of ideals of the unity of the nation and the socialist society. In the reviewerʼs opinion, the bookʼs meticulously documented factography, erudite use of different theoretical concepts, convincing argumentation and clear style have resulted in a compact, comprehensive, inspiring and attractive monograph. The reviewer only regrets that the author did not reflect a broad context of similar mass rituals in other countries of the Soviet Bloc and elsewhere to show the globally unique character of the Czechoslovak spartakiads. The reviewer also argues against the authorʼs conviction that the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia was not totalitarian, presenting arguments for an opposite opinion in a different view of the role and effect of political rituals such as the spartakiads in relation to the society.
Petráň, Josef. Filozofové dělají revoluci: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy během komunistického experimentu (1948–1968–1989). Prague: Charles University in Prague and Karolinum 2015, 1134 pp., ISBN 978-80-246-2994-0.
The reviewer recaps historical publications since 1990 dedicated to the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University in Prague at the time of the Communist regime (1948–1989), assessing Petráňʼs impressive book Philosophers making a revolution: Faculty of Arts of the Charles University in Prague during the Communist experiment (1948-1968-1989) as the climax of the authorʼs research efforts so far. In his opinion, the author is asking himself essential general questions concerning the reasons of easy acceptance and long-term existence of the Communist regime, resignation of the society, and isolated nature of the dissent during the so-called normalization; however, he argues the authorʼs answers could have been more convincing if the book had not been partly burdened by the “totalitarian historical narrative” presenting the ruling regime and the society as opposite entities. He appreciates that Professor Josef Petráň (1930–2017), as an early modern era historian lecturing at the Faculty of Arts in Prague since the 1960s, connects the portrayal of its history with his own ego-histoire story while not avoiding questionable moments and not attempting to defend himself. The main principle of the book, namely Petráňʼs partial rehabilitation of the quality of professional production of the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University in Prague at the time of the Communist regime, is, in the reviewerʼs opinion, substantiated, and the reviewer sees the bookʼs greatest contribution in its exceptionally rich factography.
Zubov, Andrey (ed). Dějiny Ruska 20. století: 1894–2007. Ve dvou dílech. Translated from the Russian original by Libor Dvořák, Zuzana Soukupová, Josef Vološin and Martin Vrba. Prague: Argo, 2014 and 2015, xiii + 949 and xiv + 769 pp., ISBN 978-80-257-0921-4 and 978-80-257-0964-1.
The two-tome publication under review History of Russia in the 20th century: 1894 – 2007. In two tomes is a collective work of about forty authors, mainly Russian ones, under the leadership of historian Andrey Zubov, and its original edition (Istoria Rossii: XX vek, Vol. 1: 1894–1939; Vol. 2: 1939–2007. Moscow, AST-Astrel 2009) prompted a heated exchange of opinions in Russia. The reviewer describes principal aspects of the bookʼs criticism, noting that Zubov lost his job at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 2014 after criticizing the Russian annexation of Crimea. The conflict with the Russian political establishment has given him a reputation of a proscribed historian and the Czech edition of his work a lot of publicity. The reviewer concludes that the extensive synthesis of the Russian history since the end of the 19th till the beginning of the 21st centuries is a philosophical-historical treatise with roots in ideas of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and other conservative Russian thinkers rather than a professional historical work. The authorʼs concept stems from his conviction of a necessary spiritual and moral renaissance of the Russian society and state through Christian faith (Orthodox) and traditional values related thereto. The authors perceive the Russian history of the 20th century as a disaster, the key fatal factor being, in their opinion, the disintegration of religious, national and social unity. Their attitude to the Communist ideology and practice is utterly negative, and they also criticize Great Russian nationalism and expansionism. However, the reviewer claims their efforts to separate the “Russian” from the “Bolshevist” or “Soviet”, manifested by denying the societyʼs share in tragic events of the Russian history, are not too convincing. The book is undoubtedly important as a mirror of current Russian disputes concerning the direction the country should follow
Alexievichova, Svetlana. Doba z druhé ruky: Konec rudého člověka. Translated from the Russian original by Pavla Bošková. 2nd edition. Příbram: Pistorius & Olšanská, 2017, 492 pp., ISBN 978-80-87855-89-8.
Svetlana (Svyatlana) Alexievich (born in 1948), a writer with Byelorussian-Ukrainian roots who writes in Russian and sees her work mainly as a part of Russian literature, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2015. The book Secondhand Time. The Last of the Soviets is the last part of the loose pentalogy “Voices of Utopia” (Golosy Utopii) on the late Soviet and post-Soviet (mainly Russian and Ukrainian) society, which was whose Czech translation was first published in 2015 (original Russian edition: Vremya sekond chend. Moscow, Vremya 2013). The reviewer describes her writing style bordering on both fiction and non-fiction, and Alexievichʼs acceptance in Russia and in the West. The Secondhand Time is based on a number of interviews that Alexievich had with people with a diverse social status (mostly “ordinary people”) in Russia between 1991 and 2012, which the authoress amalgamated into an impressive work. The reviewer provides an insight into life stories of the interviewees and their close relatives and friends, in which they return deep into the Soviet past, concluding that the book is a penetrating probe into forms of post-Soviet mentality.
Balík, Stanislav, Lukáš Fasora, Jiří Hanuš, and Marek Vlha: Český antiklerikalismus: Zdroje, témata a podoba českého antiklerikalismu v letech 1848–1938. Edice Historické myšlení, Vol. 69. Prague: Argo, 2015, 500 pp., ISBN 978-80-257-1373-0.
The authors view anti-clericalism as an important part of European modernization processes aimed at the church and its instituions. They monitor its character and transformations since the mid-1800s until the end of the first third of the 20th century in the Hapsburg Empire and the first Czechoslovak Republic, taking into account differences and specific features in various social and ideological environments, in towns and in the country, and also in Czech compatriot communities in the United States. According to the reviewer, their monograph Czech Anti-Clericalism: Sources, Topics and Forms of Czech Anti-Clericalism from 1848 to 1938 permits perceiving the Czech anti-Catholic anti-clericalism in the European context as a multi-layered phenomenon which had a significant impact on the society and politics of that period. Because of its comprehensive grasp of the topic, inspiring questions it asks, its broad selection of sources and publications it draws from, as well the compact explanations it provides, the book is definitely recommended to all who are interested in the history of the Czech thinking and politics in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Milan Otáhal (1928–2017) was a leading historian studying the contemporary history of Czechoslovakia. In the 1960s, he was the head of the Department of Modern History of the Historical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences; in the early 1970s, he lost his job at the institute and was expelled from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He was one of the first signatories of Charter 77 and was active in the historical samizdat as an independent historian. Since the 1990s, his scientific activity was connected with the newly established Institute for Contemporary History. His main focus was the history of the anti-regime opposition and of the society between 1969 and 1989, and the role of students and intelligentsia in the change of the political situation in the end of the 1980s. He wrote a number of factographically rich and interpretationally distinctive publications on these topics. The author of the obituary mentions principal contributions of Milan Otáhal to the knowledge and understanding of Czechoslovakiaʼs most recent history, emphasizing that he was a historian who was not only intellectually reflecting the period he was living in, but who was also intensively experiencing and co-creating it.