Soudobé dějiny 3–4 / 2018

176 Kč


A Hundred Years of Czechoslovakia: Masaryk, Tiso, and Dubček in a Czecho-Slovak Mirror

The following articles have their origin in a project initiated and sponsored by the Visegrád Fund in 2011. The purpose of the project was to examine and evaluate how the Visegrád Four member nations reflect their own history and the histories of their neighbours. One of the principal deliverables of the project was a conference titled My Hero, Your Enemy: Listening to Understand, held in the beginning of December 2011 in Prague, which attempted to illustrate and interpret different perceptions of own history and histories of neighbours in Central Europe on an example of a comparison of reflections of the historical role of outstanding historical personalities from a dual perspective of two Central European nations. A number of important historical personalities were selected, from medieval rulers to Václav Havel and Lech Wałęsa. The historical personalities viewed in the dual perspective also included three statesmen who had been co-determining the Czech and Slovak (or Czechoslovak) history of the 20th century: Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Jozef Tiso, and Alexander Dubček. Through three pairs of articles by Czech and Slovak historians, the Soudobé dějiny journal returns to how the Czechs and Slovaks have been perceiving the history of the common state since the establishment of which a hundred years elapsed in 2018.

The origin and destiny of a hero

A probe into the Czech view of the personality of the first Czechoslovak president Ivan Šedivý In his essay, the author draws from a presumption that the strong Masarykian myth that was being formed since 1918 and that became a part of a broader founding Czechoslovak myth represents several basic archetypes characteristic for different periods of the life of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937), as well as different roles he found himself in the course of time: a Hero (mainly until 1918), a Father (mainly since 1914), and a Philosopher (continuously). Referring to period publications and press, the author sketches contours of that part of the Masarykian myth which deals with his youth, growing up, and predestination, attempting at its de-construction.

The hero and the enemy

Masaryk and the Slovak issue Dušan Kováč The author shows how the perception of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937) by the Slovak society was created and has been changing in the course of history and how it was influencing the Slovak milieu. He dates Masarykʼs contacts and disputes with Slovak intellectuals already at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. At the same time, he had a great influence on the young generation of Slovak liberals grouped around the “Hlas” journal. Masaryk was widely respected in Slovakia as the founder and first president of the Czechoslovak Republic. A major change occurred with the demise of the First Republic in the autumn of 1938, and particularly with the birth of the independent Slovak State in March 1939. The power in Slovakia was taken over by Hlinkaʼs Slovak Peopleʼs Party which, according to the author, introduced negative ideological deformations into the assessment of Masarykʼs personality and historical role. Its members depicted Masaryk as an enemy of the Slovaks, who had not abided by the Pittsburgh Agreement, had given orders to shoot at Slovak workers, had been responsible for the death of General Milan Rastislav Štefánik in 1919, etc. After 1948, the propaganda machine of the ruling Communist Party of Czechoslovakia adopted some of these negative stereotypes, its official historical interpretation of the pre-war Czechoslovak Republic as a bourgeois state also including a condemnation of its representatives, including Masaryk, who was labelled an agent of imperialism in the 1950s. The author claims that consequences of the dual ideological deformation still exist in Slovakia, supporting his statement by, for example, the fact that Masarykʼs name and other forms of his presentation (statues, busts, names of streets and institutions, etc.) are almost absent in the public space.

Jozef Tiso: My hero, your enemy?

Jan Rychlík The author first summarizes the career of Jozef Tiso (1887–1947), a politician and a Roman Catholic priest. His entire political life was linked to Hlinkaʼs Slovak Peopleʼs Party; he was always a representative of its moderate faction, and even represented it as a minister of the Czechoslovak government. In 1939, he became its chairman. In the First Czechoslovak Republic, he was a dyed-in-the-wool federalist; since the proclamation of the Slovak State in March 1939 until the end of his life, an advocate of Slovakiaʼs independence. As the president of the Slovak Republic between 1939 and 1945, he was responsible for Slovakiaʼs political regime, alliance with the Nazi Germany until the end of the war, and deportations of Slovak Jews. After the war, he was tried by the National Court of Justice, sentenced to death, and executed in 1947. The author analyzes in detail the accusations brought against Tito during the trial and Tisoʼs defence, as the arguments presented by both parties were later used by Tisoʼs adversaries and sympathizers. Czech politicians and general public after the war were united in their condemnation of Tiso; in their eyes, Tisoʼs biggest crime was his share in the destruction of the common state. On the other hand, the Slovaksʼ view on Tiso depended on their attitude toward the previous political regime in Slovakia. Furthermore, the author monitors how Tisoʼs cult was formed in the separatist segment of the Slovak exile since the end of the war. It was spreading mainly in the United States, Canada, and Argentina, but the efforts aimed at Tisoʼs moral purification were unsuccessful. The article also pays special attention to Tisoʼs reflections in the Czech and Slovak dissent in the 1970s and 1980s. In the end, the author describes disputes over Tiso which broke up after 1989 in Slovakia and which were a part of the “return of history” to the public space. They were related to attempts for Tisoʼs commemoration and historical rehabilitation, and found their way to the media, politics, and historiography. The essay is concluded by a statement that the Czech society is not interested in Tiso as a historical figure, but that Tiso still divides the Slovak one: a minority of the Slovak society sees Tiso as a hero and a martyr, while most Slovaks perceive him as an unsuccessful and discredited politician.

Jozef Tiso – a patriot, or a traitor?

Seventy years of the Slovak discussion Milan Zemko The author follows changes of the historical perception of Jozef Tiso (1887–1947), a politician and a Roman Catholic priest, in the Slovak society and historiography. He notes that Tiso belonged to conservative politicians and moderate supporters of Slovakiaʼs autonomy in the pre-war Czechoslovak Republic. As the president of the Slovak Republic during WW2, he enjoyed sympathies of a large part of the Slovak society, the circumstances notwithstanding. Analyzing the criticism voiced by the Czechoslovak radio broadcasts from the London exile or appearing in the press published in the liberated territory during the Slovak National Uprising, the author concludes that it was focused much more on the regime of Hlinkaʼs Slovak Peopleʼs Party than against Tiso himself. The above also holds partly true to accusations in the Slovak press between the end of the war and the start of Tisoʼs trial by the National Court of Justice. It is true that the courtʼs sentence and Tisoʼs execution were not accompanied by any public protests, but most of the Slovak society did not accept them. The author also describes efforts aimed at Tisoʼs rehabilitation among Slovak exile historiographers, focusing in detail on the apologetic arguments of exile historian Milan Stanislav Ďurica in Tisoʼs political biography that was published in Slovakia in 2006 and has hitherto been the most comprehensive work on Tiso. In the end, the author presents results of public opinion polls which have taken place in Slovakia since 1989 and which were focused on the evaluation of different periods and personalities of the Slovak history. They show that the anti-fascist Slovak National Uprising is viewed positively by a substantially larger part of the Slovak population than the regime of Hlinkaʼs Slovak Peopleʼs Party and that the number of Tisoʼs opponents is significantly higher than that of Tisoʼs sympathizers. It is interesting to note, however, that a positive attitude toward the uprising is not in contradiction with sympathies toward the regime of Hlinkaʼs Slovak Peopleʼs Party for some respondents.

Alexander Dubček, the best-known Slovak politician

Stanislav Sikora The author describes and analyzes the political career of Alexander Dubček (1921–1992) and presents views of todayʼs Slovak society on his personality and historical role in the end of the essay. In the authorʼs opinion, Dubčekʼs personal and mainly political evolution was greatly influenced by the fact that he had grown up in the family of the Slovak Communist visionary Štefan Dubček (1892–1969). Dubček spent fourteen long years (1925–1938) in the Soviet Union, where his father was helping build Communism with the international cooperative Interhelpo. Later, in the 1950s (1955–1958), he studied the Political University of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow. The author claims that both stints that Dubček spent in the Soviet Union convinced him that the Soviet-type socialism needed a fundamental reform, particularly toward humanization and democratization. He was trying to implement these principles even between 1963 and 1967, when he held the position of the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Slovakia. The author focuses his attention to the Prague Spring of which Dubček became the leading symbol, having been first elected to the position of the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in January 1968, and the crushing of the reform process by Warsaw Pact armies. He muses on Dubčekʼs political character and some questionable political steps, and discusses some arguments of Dubčekʼs critics. Having been banished from public life and tailed by the State Security for two decades (1969–1989), Dubček returned to politics as the Speaker of the Federal Assembly, and thus participated in the democratic transformation of Czechoslovakia. According to public opinion polls in Slovakia, whose results are presented by the author, a positive view on Dubček prevails in the society, but the interest in him is dropping, although he still remains the best-known Slovak politician abroad.

Alexander Dubček – a Czechoslovak politician

Oldřich Tůma The author describes the evolution of views of the Czech society on Alexander Dubček (1921–1992) between 1968 and now in connection with political events in which Dubček himself participated. He sees the principal difference between the Czechs and the Slovaks in that the former do not perceive Dubček as a Slovak politician, but rather as a Czechoslovak one, in a broader, “common” sense of the word. In Tůmaʼs opinion, their view on Dubček evolved from initial, rather polite interest in the beginning of 1968, when Dubček became the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, to growing sympathies in the spring up to admiration and almost adoration the levels of which were, in the tensest moments of August 1968, just as high as those in Slovakia; then to increasing embarrassment mixed with pity, and finally to a rather critical and reserved attitude. These different views were previously replacing each other, but now, as the time goes by, they exist alongside each other. At the time when Dubček was banned from public life, during the so-called normalization, the attitude of the society toward him was losing its realistic dimension; while he was still popular among people, the popularity was associated with Dubček as a symbol of “socialism with a human face”, lost hopes, and better times. At the same time, critical reflections of Dubčekʼs policy during the Prague Spring appeared among Czech dissidents. Since 1989, the Prague Spring and Dubček became a part of the political fight for the form of the ongoing social and economic transformation, which sometimes brought sharp attacks against him. As a rule, Czech historians are more critical toward Dubček than their Slovak counterparts, although there are staunch supporters of Dubček among them as well. The author concludes that todayʼs Czech society perceives Dubček without any special emotions, with a cool reservation, but also in a differentiated manner. Dubček is perceived as a part of our own history, but perhaps not as a historical figure we would like to be proud of.

Studies and essays

“You have to fight the struggle yourself”

Political role of the Soviet Army and its local allies in the “normalization” of Czechoslovakia (1968–1969) Marie Černá The study deals with political activities of the Soviet Army in Czechoslovakia after the intervention on August 21, 1968, and its sympathizers from the ranks of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. The authoress examines the topic in the early stage of the so-called normalization (until the spring of 1970), focusing on the local level; however, she sets her research into a broader period context and derives general conclusions from its results. Although the official agreement on the temporary stay of Soviet troops in the territory of Czechoslovakia declared that the Soviet Army should not interfere with domestic affairs of the Czechoslovak state, the Soviet leadership kept devising plans how to make use of the presence of Soviet troops for political purposes. Soviet officers participated in the dissemination of Soviet propaganda, established contacts with local anti-reform party officials, spoke at their forums, complained about hostile attitudes of Czechoslovak political bodies, and thus kept pressing for a legitimization of the political arrangements. The authoress shows that local pro-Soviet activists, who had maintained contacts with the Soviet Army from the very beginning and been taking over its political agenda, were playing a crucial role in the success of these efforts. In line with Soviet intentions, they were implementing the normalization process “from below”, initiating purges in various organs, demanding the dismissal of officials protesting against presence of the Soviet Army, participating in the subsequent political vetting. They were actively pushing through a change of the official approach to the Soviet Army and helped break its boycott by the Czechoslovak society, which had initially been almost unanimous. In doing so, they were making use of their personal contacts to organize manifestation “friendship” meetings and visits of Soviet soldiers to Czechoslovak schools and factories. The authoress analyzes the reasons of the attitude of these activists, most of whom came from the ranks of “old” (pre-war) and “distinguished” members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and illustrates the development outlined above by specific examples. By way of conclusion, she notes that, although different forms of the Czechoslovak-Soviet “friendship” since 1968 are often viewed as mere formalistic acts without any deeper meaning at the level of “lived” experience, they were, from the viewpoint of the Soviet policy, well thought-out and centrally planned propagandistic activities which contributed to the promotion of the Soviet interpretation of the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion and discredited its opponents.

The Soviet base in the middle of Bohemia

Milovice at the time of the Soviet military presence in the territory of Czechoslovakia (1968–1991) Prokop Tomek The study attempts to capture, in a comprehensive manner, various aspects associated with the presence of the Soviet military garrison in the Central Bohemian municipality of Milovice between 1968 and 1991. In doing so, it relies, to a considerable extent, on local, archival, and other sources. The author first briefly introduces the history of Milovice. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the town and its surroundings were substantially influenced by a unique military training facility in the quarter of Mladá, which was first used by the Austro-Hungarian and then successively by the Czechoslovak, German, again Czechoslovak, and finally Soviet armies. Milovice therefore constitute a unique environment which is presently undergoing a transformation from an area burdened with decrepit military buildings and environmental contamination into a dynamically developing small town. A particularly interesting chapter in its history started after August 21, 1968, when the Soviet intervention army took over the local military training area and established not only a numerous garrison, but also the Headquarters of the Central Group of Forces there. Milovice thus became not just an exclusive and strictly guarded zone, but also a political symbol of the Soviet military presence in Czechoslovakia. The author focuses mainly on the evolution of relations between local inhabitants and members of the Soviet garrison (which included not only soldiers, but also families of officers and civilian workers), as well as on changes of the local environment and everyday life and consequences of the Soviet presence during the period mentioned above. He follows protests of locals against the Soviet invasion, their resentful reactions to the establishment of the Soviet garrison, and then the progress of the so-called normalization in the region of Milovice and in the district of Nymburk, characterized by changes of attitudes of local political bodies, party vetting, establishment of contacts with the Soviet Army, and manifestation visits of state and party officials. He describes in detail the problematic security situation in Milovice, with a lot of minor criminal offences and stricter police checks, serious environmental damage, in particular water and soil contamination by oil hydrocarbons, problems of local people with the supply of drinking water, food, and hard goods (but also popular shopping sprees of locals in better-than-average stocked Soviet shops), traffic difficulties, devastation of residential and public buildings and areas often caused by disrespect of regulations and rules of coexistence on the part of Soviet citizens. However, he also describes informal contacts of locals with the Soviet garrison, frequently for the purpose of illegal barter trade in goods in short supply, taking place in parallel to official manifestations of the Czechoslovak-Soviet “friendship”. Complaints of local people about a variety of problems were a permanent phenomenon accompanying the Soviet presence; however, the powers-that-be dealt with them only formally, or not at all, and all efforts to seek remedy were useless.


Three voices on a single book

Tesař, Jan: Česká cikánská rapsodie (Czech Gipsy Rhapsody). Vol. 1: Vzpomínky Josefa Serinka (Recollections of Josef Serinek); Tesař, Jan: Místo epilogu: Rozhovor s Josefem Ondrou; Dokumenty (Instead of an epilogue: An interview with Josef Ondra; Documents); Vol. 2: Tesař, Jan: Komentáře ke vzpomínkám Josefa Serinka (Comments on the recollections of Josef Serinek); Vol. 3: Mapy, tabulky, diagramy: Partyzáni na Vysočině (Maps, tables, charts: Guerilla fighters in Vysočina); Tesař, Jan: Serinkovské inspirace (Serinkian inspirations). Prague: Triáda, 2016, 502 + 635 + 208 pp., ISBN 978-80-87256-86-2. The extensive three-volume book is an unconventionally approached work which has taken long years to complete. The first contains an edition of recollections of Romany guerilla fighter Josef Serinek (1900–1974), as recorded by historian Jan Tesař in a series of interviews conducted in 1963 and 1964. The second volume consists of Tesařʼs comments on Serinekʼs narration, in which he, as a historian, clarifies a number of details associated with the topic, corrects Serinekʼs information by comparing it to archival and other sources, and sets Serinekʼs recollections into the context of the resistance movement in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the history of the region of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, where Serinekʼs squad of guerillas was operating. The third part is a historical essay in which Tesař polemically weighs connections between the specific form of the guerilla/insurgent movement in Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia during WW2 and longer traditions of the Czech and Slovak political thinking and political culture, his objective being to consider options of resistance against modern dictatorships. The historian Jan Tesař (born in 1933) was collecting authentic testimonies about the resistance against the German even as a student, in the 1950s. During the 1960s, he became a leading expert on the history of the Protectorate and the German occupation policy; from 1969 to 1970 and from 1971 to 1975, he was imprisoned for political reasons. In 1977, he was one of the first signatories of Charter 77; he emigrated in 1980 and subsequently lived in the Federal Republic of Germany and France.

The place of the “Czech Gipsy Rhapsody” in the political and historical thinking of Jan Tesař

Vítězslav Sommer According to the author, Tesařʼs publication comments on a number of important topics of todayʼs historiography. First and foremost, it is not only an important contribution of the Romany people in the Czech Lands and Czechoslovakia; using a specific life story, it examines the place of marginalized social groups in both professional and popular interpretations of the past. At the same time, Tesař attempts to critically evaluate the potential of working with contemporary witnesses and, in general, the use of recollections for the purpose of learning about the past, thus joining current discussions about the memory and the methodology of oral history. From the viewpoint of Tesařʼs own work, the present publication is the culmination of his long-time (and after 1968 for quite some time interrupted) studies of the history of the Protectorate and anti-fascist resistance. The author emphasizes that Tesař always wrote his works with a view to, and a dialogue with, current political and social events. His historical texts thus often commented on sensitive topical issues, just like his political writings from the position of an opposition activist after 1968 was based on historiographic analyses. In his analysis of the Serinkian inspirations essay (3rd volume), the author points at continuities and constants of Tesařʼs political and historical thinking.

Jan Tesař and the research of the guerilla movement in the Protectorate

A few reflections on the “Czech Gipsy Rhapsody” Vladimír Černý The author focuses on the place of Tesařʼs trilogy in the history of the guerilla resistance in the Czech Lands during WW2. In the opening part of his review, he provides a well-arranged summary of related research projects since the 1950s and concludes by stating that the Czech Gipsy Rhapsody, Tesařʼs opus magnum, is an unquestionable contribution and a source of inspiration in this context. In Černýʼs opinion, it is unique mainly in that it presents, for the first time ever in a dedicated work, an active Romany participant in the anti-Nazi resistance. The edition of authentic recollections recorded in a number of interviews dating back to the first half of the 1960s narrates a riveting story of Josef Serinek (1900–1964), who was interned in the so-called gipsy camp in Lety u Písku during the Protectorate; he escaped and then organized and led a squad of guerillas operating in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. The author appreciates Tesařʼs meticulous historical comments, analyses, and details which he attached to the edition of recollections in the second volume of the publication, while critically commenting some aspects concerning, for example, the terminology used by Tesař, Nazi networks of informants in Moravia, or the German security machine and court instances in the Protectorate. The final volume of the publication is, in the authorʼs view, rather unconvincing. The author claims that Tesařʼs assessment of guerilla combat on a global scale since the beginning of the 19th century is based on a very narrow and obsolete selection of published sources and also contains a number of questionable or misleading statements.

A thrown gauntlet

Josef Serinek and Jan Tesař as a challenge for todayʼs research of the history of the Romany nation in the 20th century Helena Sadílková The authoress comments on the three-volume publication Czech Gipsy Rhapsody from the perspective of the current state of knowledge of the Romany history in the territory of Czechoslovakia. She states it is an inspiring work, both thematically and factually and in terms of methodology and interpretation. She emphasizes the uniqueness of the narration of Josef Serinek (1900–1964), recorded by historian Jan Tesař in 1963 and 1964, as one of the oldest sources of Romany provenience on the history of the Romany nation in the Czech Lands in the first half of the 20th century, including their wartime genocide. She dwells for some time on several topics closely related to specific moments of Serinekʼs narration, namely the involvement of Romanies in fights for the liberation of Czechoslovakia, evidence concerning the so-called gipsy camp in Lety u Písku, consequences of the First Republicʼs law on “itinerant gipsies”, and Romani self-organization attempts in inter-war Europe. The strongest aspects of Tesařʼs work are, in her opinion, Tesařʼs interpretation of the holocaust of Romanies in the Protectorate, which caused significant damage to the whole Czechoslovak society, and the way in which Tesař sets Serinek, a Romany survivor and also a freedom fighter, into the narration about the genocide which the Czech population made a substantial contribution to. The authoress shows how fragile and unobvious is the Tesařʼs picture of Serinek as a “Romany hero of the Czechoslovak fight for freedom” in the collective memory of the Czech society, including its Romany segment.

Normalization in its epoch

A reaction to Miloš Havelkaʼs polemic Pavel Kolář The polemic concerns Havelkaʼs review of the book by Pavel Kolář and Michal Pullman Co byla normalizace? Studie o pozdním socialismu (What was the normalization?: A study on the late socialism). Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny and Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2016), which was published under the title “Ideological criticism of the ideological criticism of the normalization” in the previous issue of Soudobé dějiny (Vol. 25, No. 1–2, 2018, pp. 229–243). The author argues with the reviewerʼs reproof suggesting that the approach of the authors of the book referred to above was based on a selectively chosen list of published sources, claiming that their approach is anchored in principal trends of international research on the social and cultural history of socialist dictatorships. While some texts in their book may be of a rather programmatic nature and/or may not be always fully supported by arguments, as claimed by Havelka, Kolář explains that their intention was to provide stimuli for further research rather than to write a historical synthesis (required by Havelka). At the same time, Kolář states that their overall conceptual approach substantially differs from that of Havelka, based on the theory of totalitarianism which has already been, in Kolářʼs opinion, surpassed by many empirical studies. It must be noted that the concept of Kolář and Pullmann is anything else but an apology, downplaying, or even disguised sympathies with the socialist dictatorship, as the review seems to suggest. If their approach is “ideological and engaged”, then only in that they are after a self-reflection of the society which was co-responsible for the previous situation and cannot lie to itself that the “Bolsheviks” should be blamed for everything. In their work, they also attempt to historicize the normalization regime which cannot be measured and assessed by the final collapse, but only on the basis of the period context, intentions, and illusions. In this respect, they do not view the ideology at the time of the normalization as simply emptied, but instead attempt to capture its functional semantics. Furthermore, the author polemicizes with Havelka about the concept of legitimacy in Max Weberʼs works and on the position of violence in this concept and its usability in analyses of stabilization mechanisms of the normalization regime. Kolář devotes the final part of his response to a defence of his article on the Prague Spring of 1968 against Havelkaʼs criticism.


The “Velvet Revolution” in a kaleidoscope of fates of “ordinary people”

Lucie Rajlová Vaněk, Miroslav and Pavel Mücke: Velvet revolutions: An oral history of Czech society. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, ix + 251 pp., ISBN 978-0-19-934272-3. If a publishing house as renowned as Oxford University Press publishes a book representing it, it is in the reviewerʼs opinion an exceptional success of the Czech historiography. As a matter of fact, this is what Miroslav Vaněk and Pavel Mücke have achieved with their Velvet revolutions: An oral history of Czech society. It is a pioneering work which, using oral history, systematically conveys and interprets perceptions, thinking, opinions, and attitudes of “ordinary people” during the period of more than two decades from the Prague Spring to the fall of the Communist regime and democratic transformation; moreover, being focused on an international audience, it enables such perceptions, thinking, opinions, and attitudes to be understood across the mental barrier of the former Iron Curtain. The publication is based on an analysis and interpretation of more than three hundred methodologically conducted interviews most of which date back to between 2006 and 2013 and whose purpose was to record stories and experience of “ordinary people” during the period in question in a structured manner, i.e. with a focus on several central topics, including politics, family, school and education, employment and unemployment, perception of the West, travelling, and leisure.

A picture of the transformation of a politician into a statesman

Robert Kvaček Broklová, Eva: Antonín Švehla: Tvůrce politického systému. Prague: Academia, 2017, 527 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2711-5. According to the reviewers, the book Antonín Švehla: The creator of the political system surpasses all biographical works on Švehla written so far; however, it is also a proof of difficulties one encounters when attempting to put together Švehlaʼs historical picture. Antonín Švehla (1873–1933), a long-time chairman of the Agrarian Party and the Prime Minister of the Czechoslovak government in the 1920s, was living politics, but he was a born practitioner. He did not feel any need to theoretically reflect politics or his actions, and he did not leave any personal archive, which makes the work of historians quite difficult. Broklová wrote a political biography, based on broad knowledge of sources, set into an extensive frame, and focused on Švehlaʼs role in the formation and functioning of the political system of the first Czechoslovak Republic; however, the work also inspires the reader to think about the political diversity in those days, the Castleʼs place in the political system, the work and management of governments, the formation of coalitions, and the opposition. It is a pity that the authoress did not dare use a more psychological approach which historical biographies generally require.

How Hitler became a Nazi

Milan Hauner Weber, Thomas: Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi. New York: Basic Books, 2017, 423 pp., 2 maps, 32 photographs, ISBN 9780465032686; Plöckinger, Othmar: Unter Soldaten und Agitatoren: Hitlers prägende Jahre im deutschen Militär 1918–1920. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2013, 377 pp., 26 illustrations, ISBN 978-3-506-77570-2. In the reviewerʼs opinion, the question how Adolf Hitler had become a Nazi, i.e. a full-fledged follower and ideologist of the nationalistic and racial doctrine, which declared Jews and Bolsheviks enemies of the German nation, remained open for a long time. Hitlerʼs own version to the effect that the transformation had occurred as early as during his apprenticeship years in Vienna, is utterly implausible. It must have happened after the Great War, in the chaos shortly after the defeat of the Bavarian Council Republic in May 1919. The reviewer describes the events taking place at that time, Hitlerʼs situation and circumstances of his conversion to Nazism, and compares both publications dealing with that period. He admires Weberʼs style, vivid in comparison with Plöckingerʼs heavy-handed language; on the other hand, Plöckinger precisely documents all his arguments, while Weber does not hesitate to use dubious and obscure sources to confirm his conclusions.

Ten dramatic stories of Operation “Kámen”

Prokop Tomek Jandečková, Václava: Falešné hranice: Akce „Kámen“. Oběti a strůjci nejutajovanějších zločinů StB 1948–1951. Prague: Argo, 2018, 558 pp., ISBN 978-80-257-2408-8. The authoress devotes most of her publications to the topic of provocations taking place at false frontiers, known as Operation “Kámen”, which were staged by the State Security close to the real border with the US Occupation Zone in Bavaria, or with the Federal Republic of Germany, in the early period of the Communist regime. The reviewer explains that their purpose was to glean information about alleged illegal activities and relevant contacts from people attempting to escape to the West during interrogations conducted in offices at the false frontier by English-speaking State Security officers dressed in American uniforms. The detainees were subsequently sentenced to long prison terms and most of them did not find out that they had become victims of a cynical provocation until the end of their lives. The reviewer introduces different chapters of the book in which the authoress narrates relatively unconnected stories of people who fell into this devilish trap. He concludes that the authoress has expanded the existing level of knowledge, having reconstructed in detail less known cases, but in particular having discovered and described hitherto unknown cases. The most remarkable piece of information is that the State Security was successfully implementing this method until 1951, i.e. later than todayʼs historiography has assumed until now. The book The False Frontier: “Kámen” operation. Victims and architects of the most secret crimes of the State Security is written in a gripping style, its typical feature being a comprehensive approach combining results of archival research, interviews with contemporary witnesses, and own field research in places where the events occurred.

The second book on the assassination in the Rataje Forest

Markéta Devátá Tichý, Martin: Smrt bez spravedlnosti: Mrtví Ratajského lesa. Prague: Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2017, 439 pp., ISBN 978-80-87912-90-4. The book Death without Justice: The Dead of the Rataje Forest deals with the assassination of Anna Kvašová, a village activist of the Communist Party, in the Rataje Forest in the region of Kutná Hora, in the eastern part of Bohemia, in January 1952, which prompted extensive security and court repressions. The perpetrators were, however, identified and sentenced to death only five years later. The reviewer appreciates the authorʼs thorough knowledge of the case, well-built text, and vivid language. The author meticulously reconstruct the assassination story, as well as the search for and delayed identification of the perpetrators, unveils the investigation structure based on assumed existence of “class enemies” in villages, provides a differentiated insight into reactions of local functionaries to the pressure from above, and also examines the propagandistic exploitation of the case, while keeping a distance from “easy” ideologizing interpretations. However, the reviewer claims there are still unanswered questions in the case, in particular those concerning the motives and true intentions of the perpetrators.

The Communist church policy at the periphery and in the centre

Michal Sklenář Kafka, Jan: V hodině velké zkoušky: Církevní politika státu v severovýchodních Čechách v letech 1948–1960. Červený Kostelec: Pavel Mervart, 2017, 399 pp., ISBN 978-80-7465-260-8. In the reviewerʼs opinion, Kafkaʼs monograph In the Hour of a Major Ordeal: The Church Policy of the State in North-Eastern Bohemia between 1948 and 1960 represents a valuable contribution to research of the Czech church history in the 20th century. It provides not only well-arranged information, but also methodological stimuli for research of the local situation in relation to the middle and central levels in the context of the policy of the Communist Party and the state authorities in the 1950s. It deserves credit for its comprehensive coverage which includes, inter alia, non-Catholic churches and communities of monastic orders (while male orders were banned, female ones were permitted to go on, albeit on a limited scale), a well-done analysis of the functioning of church secretaries, or the history of the Hradec Králové diocese as a complex church administration organism during the period under research. The author does not avoid the topic of the cooperation of priests with the State Security, and proposes to add a new category to the commonly used classification of their attitudes to the Communist regime. The exploitation of sources, among which state archives clearly prevail, while church sources are more or less absent, is rather one-sided.

Forced into service of the Third Reich

Zdenko Maršálek Stroh, Frédéric and Peter M. Quadflieg (eds.): L’incorporation de force dans les territoires annexés par le IIIe Reich 1939–1945 / Die Zwangsrekrutierung in den vom Dritten Reich annektierten Gebieten. Strasbourg: Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2016, 228 pp., ISBN 978-2-86820-536-0. The bilingual French-German collection is a product of international cooperation of historians studying the topic of forced service in German armed forces in territories occupied (or annexed) by the Third Reich during WW2. After a brief introduction of the topic, the reviewer points at the fact that the service of members of oneʼs own nation in the German occupation army was, regardless of its context and circumstances, in contradiction with heroic myths about the nationwide resistance against the occupying forces, which emerged in various liberated countries after the war. This was also the reason why such memories recollections were being forced from the collective memory of national communities; the interest of historians in the topic was marginal, and for a long time limited only to their own national communities. The reviewed publication demonstrates possibilities offered by international cooperation or a transnational perspective. The authors succeeded in comparing the situation in various occupied territories (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovenia), and in showing that, however the forced service in German armed forces was common for different territories, its circumstances and manifestations were far from identical; they have thus managed to elevate the perception of the topic to a transnational level.

Unique Czech research of North African migration

Karel Černý Hyánková, Tereza: Z Alžírska do budoucnosti: Kabylská migrace do České republiky. Pardubice: Univerzita Pardubice, 2015, 257 pp. In her book From Algeria to Future: Kabyle migration to the Czech Republic, the Czech anthropologist offers an insight into the phenomenon of migration from the region of Kabylia. According to the reviewer, the book is rich in information and succinct, but also remarkably readable. It is based on field research in Algeria, France, and the Czech Republic, high proficiency in languages, and an excellent knowledge of academic literature. Although it is a case study dealing with a specific ethnic group, it represents a relevant contribution to todayʼs general debate on the migration from the Middle East. The reviewer clarifies, in agreement with the interpretation of the authoress, the historical context, i.e. social, cultural, and political roots of the Kabylian migration to France, at that time a colonial metropolis, its development, characteristic features, and problems it was bringing. He also passes on the authoressʼs findings concerning the Kabylian migration to the Czech Republic, the beginnings of which can be traced to the 1990s.


Yugoslavia and the Czechoslovak dissent in the first decade of the normalization

A thematic edition of documents from Belgrade archives Jan Pelikán and Ondřej Vojtěchovský In the beginning, the authors set the edition into a historical context. They recall the sympathies toward and illusions about Yugoslavia, which persisted in all segments of the Czechoslovak society throughout the existence of state socialism in Czechoslovakia (1948–1989), and state their reasons. These sympathies peaked at the time of the Prague Spring and after the Soviet invasion in August 1968, which Yugoslaviaʼs leaders condemned. However, Titoʼs leadership perceived the Czechoslovak reform process ambiguously, trying to avoid any steps which the Soviet Union might interpret as interference in its sphere of interest. During the so-called normalization in the 1970s and 1980s, they were maintaining essentially friendly relations with Czechoslovak Communist rulers. These facts, however, seemed to escape deposed representatives of the so-called reform process, as indicated, for example, by the initiative to establish an exile government in Belgrade after the Soviet invasion, a later attempt of the former secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia Zdeněk Mlynář (1930–1997) to obtain political asylum in Yugoslavia, or personal letter of the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia Alexander Dubček (1921–1992) addressed to Josip Broz Tito. The edition contains eleven documents dating back to 1970 and 1977, the originals of which are deposited in Belgrade archives.


Karel Kaplan – 90 years

In his contribution, Oldřich Tůma describes the life story of historian Karel Kaplan, who celebrated his 90th birthday in 2018. His career is a typical example of fates of a whole generation of Czech historians – it also holds true in the sense that he was not only a historian, but in many respects also a participant in and co-creator of the latest Czechoslovak history. He was born on August 28, 1928, in Horní Jelení in the region of Pardubice in eastern Bohemia. Since 1948, he worked for sixteen years in different positions in the apparatus of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He became a full-fledged historian in 1964, when he started working at the Institute of History of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. In the 1960s, he was a member of several commissions of historians investigating acts of illegal persecution taking place in 1950s, which substantially changed his views. In 1970, he was dismissed from the Communist party, worked as a stoker, and spent a few months in detention. In 1976, he went to exile in the Federal Republic of Germany and he began to intensively publish there. In his numerous monographs and studies many of which were translated into major languages of the world, he described and mercilessly analyzed the operation of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Upon his return home, he was one of the leading personalities of the newly established Institute for Contemporary History in Prague. Since the 1990s, he has published further dozens of essential works without which the Czechoslovakiaʼs historiography of the 1945–1969 period would be unimaginable.

Bibliography of Karel Kaplan

The personal bibliography of historian Karel Kaplan, which was prepared by Eva Štěpánová, contains records of almost all his works, plus a substantial part of related reviews, polemics, and reactions. A selective list of publications and texts dedicated to Kaplanʼs personality and work is attached at the end of the bibliography.

Soudobé dějiny 3–4 / 2018

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