Soudobé dějiny 2–3 / 2019

176 Kč


Studies and essays

“Democratization Campaign”

Students´ purges at Slovak universities at the turn of 1948 and 1949

Marta Glossová

In her study, the authoress examines one of the ways the newly established Communist regime in Czechoslovakia was using since February 1948 in an attempt to build new loyal elites and to prevent the formation of non-conformist ones. The topic is the screening of study results and political reliability of Slovak university students, which took place at the turn of 1948 and 1949 under the euphemistic name “democratization campaign” or simply “democratization”. The authoress sets the campaign into a broader political framework and into the context of the ideological discourse of those days. In doing so, she compares it to a parallel, so-called “study screening” in the Czech Lands, and also sets it in the context of multiple waves of the “purging” of Slovak universities between 1948 and 1960, showing its connection with a subsequent purge launched in 1950 as part of a campaign against the so-called Slovak bourgeois nationalism. Using results of her research in Slovak archives, she describes and summarizes the organization, course, and outcome of the “democratization campaign”. The screening used both criteria related to study results (employed primarily to justify the screening) and political criteria (reflecting the true objective of the screening process); a combination of these two groups of criteria ultimately produced several categories of students. Every student was either cleared and allowed to study on, or expelled – either temporarily, for two to three semesters during which he or she was expected to work in production, or permanently. It should be noted that there existed substantial differences in numbers of expelled students among various universities and faculties, and the authoress is trying to find an explanation. Compared to the outcome of the “study screening” in the Czech Lands, that of the “democratization campaign” in Slovakia was generally more lenient, often falling short of radical expectations of its organizers. The authoress claims that Slovakia´s outcome reflects three factors: lack of and need for skilled experts in various fields compared to the Czech Lands, the weak position of the Communist Party among students and teachers at some Slovak universities, and the existence of an Appeal Commission at the Slovak Ministry of Education, Sciences and Arts which reversed or changed many expulsion rulings. The Appeal Commission´s chairman Ernest Otto and the Commissioner of Education, Communist writer Ladislav Novomeský (1904–1976), thus found themselves in a conflict with leaders of the University Committee of the Communist Party of Slovakia, their more liberal approach to the “democratization campaign” contributing to their political and criminal persecution in the 1950s.

Keywords: Slovak students; Slovak universities; Communist regime; political purges

Politics of the street

Students´ demonstrations in Prague during the 1960s and the disintegration of structures of the Czechoslovak Union of Youth at universities

Michael Polák

In the end of October 1967, a spontaneous demonstrations of students protesting against poor living conditions in Prague´s Strahov Dormitory, was quashed with force. The author asks a question why something seemingly as trivial as a power blackout in a student dormitory resulted, at the end of the day, in the disintegration of structures of the Czechoslovak Union of Youth at universities. In doing so, he follows the grammar of the social conflict through a prism of social movement formation and of the so-called politics of the street.
The author describes a shift in the attitude of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia toward students in the 1960s, as the latter started assigning greater importance to intelligentsia than before, embarking upon the so-called policy of trust toward students, its aim being to make them more involved in solutions of university and social problems. The author also notes a step-by-step emancipation of students and the emergence of an idea of self-governing students´ bodies, independent on official structures which were criticized as non-functional. In this respect, the author analyses conflicts with security forces during youth and students´ festivities in Prague (such as May Day gatherings in the Petřín Park and later during Majáles (“Coming of May festivities”) processions, ultimately ending in punishments of students labelled as “rioters”. He states that the confrontations taught students to adopt strategies helping them avoid repressions (such as avoiding any “disorderly conduct”, not criticizing the ruling party and the Soviet Union directly, having their own stewards to maintain order); on the other hand, the security machine learnt to respect the students´ authority and to behave with restraint. The result was a consensus on how to manage the social conflict and keep it non-violent.
The tacit agreement of university students, police, and leaders of the Czechoslovak Union of Youth collapsed when policemen intervened with force against an unplanned and peaceful demonstration of students from the Strahov Dormitory, who had long been trying in vain to resolve their accommodation problems. After two months of investigations, none of the protesters or the intervening policemen were punished; however, requirements of students, such as the right to similar protests or inviolability of the academic soil, were not granted as well. Students blamed the leadership of the Czechoslovak Union of Youth for the unsatisfactory outcome, and started to leave its structures en masse. In 1968, they founded their own self-governing organization, independent on both the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak Union of Youth.

Keywords: Czech students; social movements; street politics; Czechoslovak Union of Youth

The “Velvet” Experience

Student revolutionaries of November 1989, Václav Havel and (non-political) politics

Jana Wohlmuth Markupová

The authoress presents partial results of an oral history time-lapse research project involving a hundred narrators from among former university students who participated in the students´ strike in November 1989, one of the principal triggers of the so-called Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. In doing so, she mainly draws from her chapter in the forthcoming book being prepared by a team of authors led by Miroslav Vaněk and titled Sto studentských evolucí: Vysokoškolští studenti roku 1989. Životopisná vyprávění v časosběrné perspektivě [A hundred students´ evolutions: University students of 1989. Biographical narrations in a time-lapse perspective] (Prague, Academia 2019), which is a follow-on of a similar project, Sto studentských revolucí [A hundred students´ revolutions], implemented twenty years ago. The authoress first briefly introduces the project, recaps its findings so far, and focuses on how the narrators construe the effect of their revolutionary experience on their lives. In her opinion, interviews with the narrators suggest that the former student revolutionaries assigned key and positive importance of the Velvet Revolution for their personal and social evolution. However, they differ in how they reflect their revolutionary experience in their own civic attitudes, particularly in terms of their personal involvement in the public sphere. The authoress distinguishes three ideal type strategies in their attitudes to their own past, which she labels “revolution as a commitment”, “revolution as a duty fulfilled”, and “revolution as a prepared coincidence”. While the first two groups (also the most numerous ones) are characterized by the narrators´ continuing interest in public affairs, and they differ only in whether should be personally involved in public affairs (the first group) or leave the task to younger generations (the second group), the third group questions the very premise that activities of citizens can trigger desirable changes in the society.
In addition, the authoress focuses on forms and transformations of public activities of the narrators since 1989, examining their potential inspirations. In her opinion, the key factor determining the narrators´ opinions and attitudes in this regard is their personal experience of the Velvet Revolution which is, as a rule, personified and symbolized by the person of the dissident and first post-Communist president Václav Havel (1936–2011). Using Havel´s texts of the early 1990s and his thoughts about the civic society and non-political politics, she analyses interviews with the former student revolutionaries, attempting to find why even the narrators belonging to the first (most committed) group generally gravitate toward the role of citizen activists and, save for a few exceptions, systematically avoid traditional party politics.

Keywords: Czech students; Velvet Revolution; Václav Havel; civil society; Oral History

Degeneration of the homosexual phantasm in the Czechoslovak “normalization” cinema

From Václav Krška´s “Labakan” (1956) to Stanislav Strnad´s “Bronze Boys” (1980)

Karol Szymański

In his study whose Polish title, namely “Degeneracja fantazmatu homoseksualnego w znormalizowanej kinematografii czechosłowackiej: Od Krawca i księcia Václava Krški (1956) do Chłopaków z brązu Stanislava Strnada”, published in Studia z Dziejów Rosji i Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej, Vol. 52, No. 2 (2017), pp. 79–146, the author analyses the depiction of male homosexuality and nudity in Czechoslovak films during the Communist regime. The topic is examined in a broader context of socio-political developments and Czechoslovak film production after WW2. In doing so, the author makes an assumption that an analysis of such seemingly marginal or surficial phenomena can open a way to more substantial characteristic features of the period. The study, inspired, in particular, by concepts of thinkers, such as Michel Foucault, Marc Ferro or Siegfried Kracauer, and some cinema historians, focuses on two movies of film directors known to be homosexuals – Václav Krška´s Labakan (1956) and Stanislav Strnad´s Bronze Boys (1980), its aim being to compare how homosexual phantasm were sublimed in an art form and transferred to the screen in two historical moments; at the time of the start of the de-Stalinisation process and of breaking up of cultural schemes of Socialist realism in the early second half of the 1950s, and in the middle of the so-called normalization period during the rule of Gustáv Husák (1913–1991). Using the above as the basis, he attempts to follow the symptomatic qualitative transformation in the ways and functions of the film depiction of homosexual motifs, which he describes as a degeneration, as it reflected the motifs´ expropriation, “redirection”, and use by the totalitarian regime.
The author present the creative world of Václav Krška (1900–1969) with a variety of more or less hidden homosexual signals, hints, and undertones, and the specific place which the Czechoslovak-Bulgarian adaptation of the oriental fairytale Labakan occupies in it. He argues in favour of a concept that Krška, through his refined aesthetic stylisation, created a refuge of intimate freedom and “savoir vivre” for himself and his spectators, a refuge where one could be relieved from pressures of the oppressive regime, and also made a gesture of resistance against and disagreement with the hetero-normative world. On the other hand, the movie The Bronze Boys by Stanislav Strnad (1930–2012) from a military-athletic environment is, in the author´s eyes, ranks among mainstream film creations popularising the topic of Czechoslovak Spartakiads and thus serving “soft” propaganda and indoctrination purposes. In connection with the above, the author focuses on impressive mass performances of soldiers in the Strahov arena during the Spartakiads and, through an analysis of their specific aesthetics and symbolism, shows how, alongside the instrumentalisation of genders and eroticism, codes of homosexual behaviour and desires were inhibited and used for official ideological purposes. He thus draws a conclusion that while homosexual phantasms in Krška´s work could still stimulate a unique creative expression and represent inner resistance or subversive attitudes, they were manipulated and expropriated by the ruling power and incorporated into the system´s “normalisation” procedures twenty years later.

Keywords: Czechoslovak cinema; homosexuality; Communist regime; Czechoslovak normalization; Czechoslovak Spartakiads


Possibilities of research of the Catholic Church in the Czech Lands in the early stage of the Communist dictatorship

Martin Pácha

In the author´s opinion, research projects dealing with the Catholic Church in the Czech Lands since the instalment of the Communist regime in 1948 are somewhat closed in that there is very little communication between “ecclesiastic” and “non-ecclesiastic” historians. The article aims to describe causes of the situation and propose a way in which research into the history of the Catholic Church in the period referred to above could be included in broader discussions about the nature of the Communist dictatorship. The author opines that one of the reasons of the introversion is an intensive overreliance on works of the historian Karel Kaplan, which turns the attention of researchers away from topics not directly related to the repression of the Catholic Church and its representatives. In addition, the author questions the stereotypical presentation of the Communist Party and the Catholic Church in post-war Czechoslovakia as two irreconcilable opponents, mentioning their overall consensus and important contact points during the so-called Third Republic (1945–1948), using the example of the Communist historian and politician Zdeněk Nejedlý (1878–1962) and the Catholic author Adolf Kajpr (1902–1959), and also certain intersections of the Communist and the Catholic identities since 1948. The study outlines a possibility to capture the issue using a prism of concepts of legitimacy and hegemony based on the situation prevailing during the existence of the Third Republic, and thus open the research to new questions.

Keywords: Catholic Church; Communist dictatorship; Czech historiography


If it had not ended, it would have been forever and never in any other way

Jíří Suk

Yurchak, Alexei: Bylo to na věčné časy, dokud to neskončilo: Poslední sovětská generace. Translated from the English original by Přemysl Houda and Veronika Bránišová. (Edition Politeia.) Prague: Univerzita Karlova and Karolinum, 2018, 388 pp., ISBN 978-80-246-3662-7.

In the reviewer´s opinion, the book Everything was forever, until it was no more: The last Soviet generation by Alexei Yurchak (original edition: Princeton (NJ), Princeton University Press 2005) strives to provide a plastic and accurate picture of the period reality and mentality as they appeared to Soviet citizens in the last decades before the fall of the Communist regime. The author wrote it in the United States, obviously reacting to simplified, binary interpretations of the late Soviet Communism in the West. The author presents his arguments in an extremely inventive manner, precisely employing his methodological principles when analysing specific social phenomena. In doing so, he builds his analyses around a central principle of validity of the authoritative (Marxist-Leninist) discourse in the Soviet Union, which, however, permitted various interpretations for the purpose of fulfilling individual interests and goals and whose decomposition at the time of Gorbachev´s perestroika led to the collapse of the whole system. However, the reviewer argues that the above principle has a much lower interpretation weight and that the author generalises selective social experience of Komsomol functionaries when attempting to prove that, rather than opposing the system, Soviet people were creating their own living space outside it. The reviewer contemplates the nature and limits of political resistance in a Communist system and, in the end, takes note of problematic attempts of some Czech historians to apply Yurchak´s propositions to interpret the situation in Czechoslovakia.

Keywords: Soviet society; Communist regime; authoritative discourse; Late Socialism

The prison experience of the 1950s as a specific historic phenomenon?

Marta Edith Holečková

Pinerová, Klára: Do konce života: Političtí vězni padesátých let – trauma, adaptace, identita. (Edition Po válce.) Prague: Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů and Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, 2017, 403 pp., ISBN 978-80-87912-87-4 and 978-80-7422-590-1.

In her work titled Until the end of life: Political prisoners of the 1950s – trauma, adaptation, identity, the authoress attempted to capture the prison experience of Czechoslovak male and female political prisoners of the 1950s as a complex socio-psychological phenomenon, from their arrest through their detention and interrogation, sentencing and subsequent internment until their release and long-term consequences the ex-prisoners had to put up with. According to the reviewer´s opinion, however, she has fulfilled her goal only partly. The reviewer admits that the authoress has long been interested in transformations of prison systems in many countries, that she is able to undertake thorough heuristics, and that she invested a lot of personal effort into interviews with contemporary witnesses, trying to mediate their tragic experience to others. In order to capture the social dynamism in groups of prisoners, she describes in detail their relations and day-to-day culture, forms of adaptation to the prison environment, mechanisms of power, order and resistance, space and time behind bars, and also the gender aspect. The reviewer, however, brings into attention limitations of approaches taken over from individual and social psychology, which the authoress seems to prefer, questions the relevance of some comparative examples taken over from foreign research projects, the authoress´s intuitive use of historical terms, as well as some of her interpretations.

Keywords: political prisoners; Czechoslovakia; Communist regime

Observations from elsewhere

Latinos about Czechoslovakia of the 1940s and 1950s

Hana V. Bortlová

Zourek, Michal (ed.): Československo očima latinskoamerických intelektuálů 1947–1959. Translated from the Spanish originals by Jarmila Jehličková and Jan Machej. Prague: Runa, 2018, 303 pp., ISBN 978-80-87792-25-4.

The anthology Czechoslovakia in the eyes of Latin American intellectuals 1947–1959, assembled by a Latin American studies specialist Michal Zourek, brings testimonies of fourteen Latin American intellectuals, which describe the time they spent in Czechoslovakia between the onset of the Cold War and the outbreak of the Cuban revolution. Almost all authors of these texts, most of which can be characterized as reportages, including world-renowned writers such as Gabriel Garcíá Márquez, Pablo Neruda or Jorge Amado, shared a left-wing world outlook and claimed allegiance to Marxism. Actually, it was in the end of the 1940s and in the early 1950s that the socialist countries behind the Iron Curtain were most appealing for Latin American left-wing intellectuals, which, according to the author, was true especially for the Soviet Union, with Czechoslovakia as a generally developed country culturally close to the West ranking second. In the reviewer´s opinion, the texts selected from a variety of Latin American sources permit to view post-war Czechoslovakia “through the eyes of others” and provide many unique observations, although they are often uncritical and reflect the authors´ limited knowledge of Czechoslovakia´s reality. Provided with the author´s erudite introduction and conclusion, the anthology is an important source for learning more about relations between post-war Czechoslovakia and Latin American countries.

Keywords: Latin American intellectuals; Czechoslovakia; Communist regime; travel books

Operation Danube revisited

Martin Čížek

Povolný, Daniel: Operace Dunaj: Krvavá odpověď Varšavské smlouvy na pražské jaro 1968. Prague: Academia, 2018, 456 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2836-5.

In the reviewer´s opinion, the author in his book titled Operation Danube: The bloody response of the Warsaw Pact to the Prague Spring in 1968 has succeeded in converting results of his archival research into a thorough and reliable description of the planning, preparations and implementation of the August 1968 military invasion of Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries, codenamed Operation Danube. However, the reviewer claims the author has not fully covered the reasons why Soviet political and military leaders decided to intervene, finding them only in Czechoslovakia´s domestic political developments threatening the stability of Eastern Bloc regimes and ignoring international and geopolitical circumstances. The reviewer advocates a proposition claiming that the principal objective of the invasion was to deploy Soviet units armed with nuclear weapons in Czechoslovakia´s territory. In addition, he brings into attention some terminological and editorial problems of the publication.

Keywords: Prague Spring; Operation Danube; Warsaw Pact

The Velehrad Pilgrimage in the period context

Michal Sklenář

Doležalová, Markéta (ed.): Velehrad vás volá! Prague: Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2017, 408 pp., ISBN 978-80-87912-83-6.

The voluminous almanac titled Velehrad is calling! contains presentations delivered during the June 2015 international conference held in Velehrad, South Moravia, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the mass religious pilgrimage in 1985 which commemorated the 1100th anniversary of the dead of St. Methodius. The event manifested a clear wish of the faithful to freely practice religion in Communist Czechoslovakia and provided a significant impetus for their activation and for the renaissance of the Catholic Church. The reviewer describes the structure of the publication, presents some selected segments in a greater detail, and adds his own thoughts concerning the importance of the Velehrad Pilgrimage. He especially appreciates the fact that the almanac captures the Velehrad events in a broader period context, with an emphasis on religious life and relations between state authorities and churches both in Czechoslovakia and in other Eastern Bloc countries, including the connection between religious activities and the concept of human rights as accentuated in the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975.

Keywords: Velehrad Pilgrimage; Czechoslovakia; churches; Communist regime; Eastern Bloc

Pragmatic partnership of the Holy See and Fascist Rome

Marek Šmíd

Kertzer, David I.: Papež a Mussolini: Tajemství papeže Pia XI. a vzestup fašismu v Evropě. Translated from the English original by Radka Knotková. Brno: Jota, 2017, 534 pp. including annexes with illustrations, ISBN 978-80-7565-102-0.

In his book titled The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius IX and the Rise of Fascism in Europe (original edition: New York and Oxford, Random House Publishing Group and Oxford University Press 2015), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the category of biographies and autobiographies in 2015, the American historian examines, in particular, diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Italian Fascist regime at the time of the pontificate of Pius IX (1922–1939). In the reviewer´s opinion, he follows their changes, from initial sympathies to disputes and a calculated compromise to cool mutual tolerance out of necessity after the outbreak of the war, against a wide backdrop of political and religious events in the inter-war world, making use of his rich historical erudition, readable style, and attention to attractive details to produce a plastic picture of the topic. At the same time, his work can be read as parallel biographies of Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) and Pius XI (1857–1939), whom the author blames (in the reviewer´s opinion in a rather exaggerated manner) for co-responsibility for the rise of Fascism.

Keywords: Holy See; Fascism; Pope Pius XI.; Benito Mussolini

Ku-Klux-Klan and its fourth reincarnation

Karel Černý

Surmiak-Domańska, Katarzyna: Ku-klux-klan: Tady bydlí láska. Translated from the Polish original by Jarmila Horáková. Žilina: Absynt, 2017, 294 pp., ISBN 978-80-89876-49-5.

In the reviewer´s opinion, the educative book Ku-Klux-Klan: This is where love lives by the Polish reporter (initially published under the title Ku Klux Klan: Tu mieszka miłość. Czarne, Wołowiec 2015), is a catching story about the immortality of a legend centered around the idea of chosenness and certain superiority of the white Christian American nation. The authoress provides a fitting and plastic description of Ku-Klux-Klan´s history since its birth after the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery, detailing the movement´s changes and constants, rises and falls, and permitting an interesting insight into today´s American society and politics through the movement´s optics. The reviewer appreciates that the authoress gives the floor not only to critics, but also to current members and leaders of KKK. Even a rather weaker setting of the book in the context of wider research of extremist movements cannot, in the reviewer´s opinion, diminish its value, particularly for a broader community of readers.

Keywords: Ku-Klux-Klan; Racism; United States

Russia between Fascism and disintegration?

Jan Šír

Fyodorov, Yuri: Rossija meždu fašizmom i raspadom. Kyiv: Centr issledovanij armii, konversii i razoruženija and Biznespoligraf 2017, 144 pp., ISBN 978-966-139-078-1.

In his book titled Russia between Fascism and disintegration, Yuri Fyodorov, a Russian expert on the foreign policy of the Russian Federation, international security, and Russo-American relations, outlines two future development scenarios for Russia: the establishment of a militaristic, Orthodox Catholic/Fascist dictatorship, or a rise of centrifugal tendencies ultimately resulting in a disintegration of the state. The author is convinced that Putin´s regime finds itself in a deep crisis, and points at signs of its step-by-step Fascistization in recent years against the backdrop of Fascist tendencies in Russia´s history, analysing potential sources of secessionism and disintegration in the multi-ethnic Russian Empire. The reviewer concludes that the author´s predictions of the future development of Russia are beyond scientific verification by available methodologies, but claims that Fyodorov´s book deserves attention both for its unquestionable uniqueness and intellectual courage and for the precision with which the author builds his arguments. Using the optics of theories of Fascism, the author managed to deliver a succinct and compact analysis of principal problems and trends in political developments in today´s Russia.

Keywords: Russia; Putinism; Fascism

Soudobé dějiny 2–3 / 2019

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