Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
A contribution to a less known aspect of Czechoslovak-Austrian relations between 1918 and 1938
Václav Horčička – Jan Županič
The authors analyze the course of the Czechoslovak land reform carried out in the interwar period and affecting farmsteads owned by citizens of the Austrian Republic. Based mainly on documents from Czech and Austrian archives, the study proves that the land reform had, for many reasons, a potential to have an adverse impact on relations between Czechoslovakia and Austria. First and foremost, Austrians, in particular noble families, owned vast land holdings in Czechoslovakia, the total area of which was approximately 200,000 hectares, and the Austrian government was not in a position to ignore potential losses. The owners were facing a substantial reduction of their land holdings and hefty financial losses. The compensation which the Czechoslovak state paid for the expropriated land was below the market price and, at the same time, large farmsteads were suffering from high property duties. Attempts of the Austrian owners to force the government in Vienna to decisively defend their interests were ultimately unsuccessful. As a matter of fact, problems associated with the land reform, their unquestionable gravity notwithstanding, were of minor importance for it. The interest of the governments in Vienna and Prague was focusing mainly on huge economic, trade and financial problems of Austria which had to rely on the assistance of the victorious powers. The Austrian diplomacy was therefore evading any land reform-related conflict with Prague and was attempting to influence its course by peaceful means. However, the authors have presented concrete examples showing that the accommodating attitude of Vienna did not result in any tangible benefits for the landowners; compared to landowners in other countries, including Germany, they received less in financial compensations and tax reliefs in the interwar Czechoslovakia.
Keywords: Czechoslovakia; Austria; First Czechoslovak Republic; land reform; nobility
Expectations, possibilities, and reality
In his partly comparative study, the author focuses on a specific chapter in Czechoslovak-Yugoslav relations in the 20th century, namely contacts of the exile governments of both countries after their occupation by the German army in March 1939 (remnants of Czechoslovakia) and April 1941 (Yugoslavia). Supported by document from Prague’s and Belgrade’s archives, he recalls circumstances of the German occupation of Yugoslavia and compares the formation of the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav political representations in exile, the different ways they took to London, the problems they encountered during early years in exile, and their positions in London’s exile community. The study shows how the restoration of mutual relations between the two representations was burdened by historical animosities, although Belgrade and Prague had been allies since 1919, both being members of the Little Entente; President Edvard Beneš (1884 – 1948), in particular, was long reproaching Yugoslav politicians for abandoning Czechoslovakia at the time of the Munich crisis in the autumn of 1938. However, some Yugoslav representatives, on the other hand, disliked the fact that the Czechoslovak government had not supported them in the conflict with Italy in 1926 and during the establishment of the king’s dictatorship three years later. Mutual relations of leading Czechoslovak and Yugoslav politicians in exile were also reflecting their respective opinions on further war developments and on relations of restored Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia to allied powers. Both exile governments were striving for help and support of Great Britain; however, they assumed, for a variety of reasons, different attitudes to cooperation with the Soviet Union. Although the relations were gradually improving, especially since 1943, when the Yugoslav government declared that it did not acknowledge the Munich Agreement, their courses drifted apart while both were still in exile, and only Czechoslovak exile representatives returned home as winners, while their Yugoslav counterparts in London had to “beat a retreat”, yielding to Tito´s Communists, and most of them stayed in exile.
Keywords: Czechoslovakia; Yugoslavia; WWII; exile
The criminal case of Jaromír Neumann, 1985–1988
Drawing from rich documentary sources, the study provides, for the first time ever, a comprehensive explanation of the criminal case of Jaromír Neumann (1924–2001), a prominent Czech art historian, which stirred the academic community in Czechoslovakia and prompted various guesses and speculations among the public in the second half of the 1980s. At a general level, the study is not just a reflection of one remarkable life story and a professional downfall against the backdrop of the late Czechoslovak “normalization”, but it also touches upon issues of professional and ethical limits of scientific work which the authoress claims remain disturbingly topical even today, changes of the sociopolitical climate notwithstanding. The authoress first introduces Neumann as a leading researcher in the field of the history of Mannerism and Baroque in graphic arts, who soon stepped beyond initial Marxist starting points and in the 1960s and later made a significant contribution to improving the prestige of Czech (or Czechoslovak) art history both at home and abroad, his activities, contacts and research helping cross the symbolic Iron Curtain. Between 1960 and 1970, Neumann was the director of the Institute of Art Theory and History of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences; he was deposed as a result of “normalization” purges and subsequently employed as a researcher by the National Gallery in Prague. Being a charismatic and influential person, he enjoyed considerable popularity and trust, and his professional assessments and opinions were also influencing collecting activities of renowned personalities. At the same time, however, the authoress proves he was a secret collaborator of the State Security. In 1985, he was arrested and accused of illegal trade in antiquities; two years later, he (and others) was sentenced to five years in prison for proved speculation and usury. Based on his preserved criminal file, the study reconstructs circumstances of his criminal prosecution, lawsuit, and time spent in prison, but it also attempts to look into the motives and psychological condition of this complex and controversial personality. Due to the nature of the crimes he had perpetrated, Neumann failed to achieve a court rehabilitation and full “reacceptance” among the professional community even after the change of the political situation. While the criminal act of speculation was a transgression attributable to the very nature of the socialist regime, usury was and still is a serious crime, punishable according to today’s legal acts as well.
Keywords: Czechoslovakia; Czechoslovak normalization; Jaromír Neumann; art history; art trade
The article is based on a presentation delivered at the conference The Prague Spring 50 Years After: Great Crises of Communist Régimes in Central Europe in a Transnational Perspective, which took place in Prague in June 2018. The authoress examines commemorations of the Prague Spring in 1968, monitoring the filling of the public space of the Czech Republic by memorials, statues, memorial plaques and other artefacts reminiscent of events in 1968 and 1969. She deals with their initiation, dedications, symbolical contents, and social reflections. The ninety of so memorial places created between 1989 and 2019 to commemorate events and personalities of the Prague Spring represent a significant segment of the gradually built memory of Communism. It is the second most frequently remembered period in the internal chronology connected with the Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, which in terms of the number of commemorative artefacts is surpassed only by the 1950s. The authoress presents a basic list of topics which the memorial places are reminiscent of (Prague Spring personalities, victims of the military intervention in August 1968 and the suppression of riots in August 1969, self-immolation of Jan Palach and other “live torches”, restoration of memorials of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and planting of “Trees of the Republic”), comparing some of them with similar commemorations in the Slovak Republic. She also pays attention to manifestations of anti-Russian sentiments and the politicization of the past, which accompany commemorative activities related to the Soviet intervention as the central topic of the Prague Spring memory.
Keywords: Czechoslovakia; Prague Spring 1968; Soviet intervention; historical memory; commemoration
The article is based on a presentation delivered at the conference The Prague Spring 50 Years After: Great Crises of Communist Régimes in Central Europe in a Transnational Perspective, which took place in Prague in June 2018. The author maps Slovakia’s policy of memory and social reflections related to events in 1968, in particular the democratization process taking place at that time and the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact armies, as well as Slovak personalities connected with the events. He monitors manifestations of these reflections in Slovak historiography, art, and culture, particularly as related to the creation and installation of memorial plaques and memorials in the public space. In this respect, he focuses mainly on cases prompting a wide controversy, such as the plaque commemorating victims of the occupation in Košice or the bust of Vasil Biľak (1917–2014), a Communist politician, advocate of the Soviet intervention, and leading representative of the so-called normalization regime in his home village. He also mentions events taking place in Slovakia on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of 1968, which have helped increase the general awareness of them, including publications, thematic exhibitions, and remembrances of victims of the occupation. The author concludes that although the year 1968 is one of the most researched topics of the Slovak postwar history in Slovak historiography, it is much less reflected in audiovisual arts.
Keywords: Slovak Republic; 1968; Soviet intervention; memory policy; historical memory
Petro Shelest and the Czechoslovak year 1968 in the light of documents of the Secret Police of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic
Petro Shelest (1908–1997), the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was one of the strongest advocates of an armed invasion of Czechoslovakia among Soviet leaders in 1968. The Soviet leadership tasked him to maintain contacts with the so-called healthy forces in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia; in the beginning of August, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia Vasil Biľak (1917–2014) secretly handed over to him the notorious “letter of invitation” in public lavatories in Bratislava. The author asks a fundamental question whether it is possible to identify a specific Ukrainian factor which stepped into the Prague Spring process and contributed to its tragic end. He attempts to capture Shelest’s position in the decision-making process and describe information that Shelest was working with. To this end, he has made use of reports of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti – KGB) of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on developments in Czechoslovakia and reactions thereto among Ukrainian citizens produced in the spring and summer of 1968, which were being sent to Shelest and other Ukrainian leaders. These documents have lately been made available in Ukrainian archives and partly published on the website of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. Their analysis brings the author to a conclusion that they were offering a considerably distorted picture of the situation. Instead of relevant information and analyses, they only present various clichés, ideological rhetoric, inaccuracies, or downright nonsenses. Their source were often members of the Czechoslovak State Security who were often motivated by worries about their own careers and existence and were acting on their own. The uncritical acceptance of the documents contributed to a situation in which in the leader of the Ukrainian Communists and other Soviet representatives were creating unrealistic pictures of the events taking place in Czechoslovakia, believing that anti-socialist forces were winning, anti-Soviet propaganda was prevailing, and Western intelligence agencies were strengthening their position in Czesholovakia, and that there was a threat that the events that had taken place in Hungary in 1956 would repeat themselves again. As indicated by his published diary entries and other documents, Petro Shelest was using these allegations both in discussions inside his own party and during negotiations with Czechoslovak politicians. Just like in the case of the leaders of Polish and East German Communists, Władysław Gomułka and Walter Ulbricht, respectively, the principal reason why Shelest was promoting a solution of the Czechoslovak crisis by force was, in the author’s opinion, his fear of “contagion” of his own society by events taking place in Czechoslovakia which the Ukraine shared a border with.
Keywords: Ukraine; Czechoslovakia; Prague Spring 1968; Petro Shelest; Soviet intervention; KGB
Zarecorová, Kimberly Elman. Utváření socialistické modernity: Bydlení v Československu v letech 1945–1960. (Šťastné zítřky, Vol. 16.) Translated from the English original by Alena Všetečková. Prague: Academia, 2015, 419 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2308-7.
In the reviewer’s opinion, even the first edition of the book Manufacturing a Socialist Modernity: Housing in Czechoslovakia, 1945–1960 (Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh University Press 2011) had an initiation effect, as its authoress, the American art and architecture historian Kimberly Elman Zarecor, contributed to redefining the discourse and field of research of Czech historians of Czechoslovakia’s post-war architecture, who generally did not view the socialist housing, and particularly prefab, architecture as a relevant professional topic, in it. The authoress based her work on three pillars; hitherto unknown sources in state archives, which unveil mechanisms of the connection between architecture and politics; using these sources, she shows how problematic is to perceive the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia as a monolithic structure; and she focuses on typical processes of the socialist housing construction rather than on exceptional esthetic projects and realizations. Zarecor successfully described the transformation of the practicing of architecture between 1948 and 1960, voicing doubts that it had been forcefully shaped by the political power against the will of the architects themselves. She showed that, as early as between the wars, Czechoslovak architects had been thinking about collective work, most of them later welcoming an opportunity to work in state studios where they were given all-society tasks, in particular the pressing issue of collective housing. In addition, the authoress included biographies of many members of the pre-war avant-garde, particularly Jiří Kroha (1893–1974).
Keywords: Czechoslovakia; socialist modernity; architecture; housing; Communist regime
Skřivánková, Lucie, Rostislav Švácha, Eva Novotná, and Karolina Jirkalová (eds). Paneláci 1: Padesát sídlišť v českých zemích. Kritický katalog k cyklu výstav Příběh paneláku. Prague: Uměleckoprůmyslové museum, 2016, 463 pp., ISBN 978-80-7101-161-3;
Skřivánková, Lucie, Rostislav Švácha, Martina Koukalová, and Eva Novotná (eds). Paneláci 2: Historie sídlišť v českých zemích 1945–1989. Kritický katalog k výstavě Bydliště – panelové sídliště: Plány, realizace, bydlení 1945–1989. Prague: Uměleckoprůmyslové museum, 2017, 350 pp., ISBN 978-80-7101-169-9.
Both collective publications (Prefab houses 1: Fifty prefab housing schemes in the Czech Lands. A critical catalogue of the “Prefab house story” series of exhibitions and Prefab houses 2: History of housing schemes in the Czech Lands 1945–1989. A critical catalogue of the “Residence – prefab housing scheme: Planning, realization, housing 1945–1989” exhibition) are products of a broadly conceived interdisciplinary research project the deliverables of which included, inter alia, exhibitions in Prague and all regional capitals of the Czech Republic and which were awarded the prestigious Magnesia Litera prize in 2018 as an extraordinary feat in the field of professional and educational literature. In the reviewer’s opinion, they bring the first-ever systematic attempt to periodize the prefab-based building projects in the Czech part of the former Czechoslovakia between the mid-1940s and the end of the 1980s, at the same time providing a multifaceted characterization based on a representative sample of fifty prefab housing schemes in Bohemia and Moravia. Each of them was subjected to a thorough artistic-historical analysis outlining the development of the housing scheme’s concept, providing brief information about its authors, describes its urbanistic concept, prefab technology used, and artefacts and decorations. Added to the above is a set of interdepartmental studies analyzing different aspects of the historical development of prefab housing schemes. The compact collective of authoresses and authors has succeeded in presenting the prefab housing schemes, no matter how similar they may seem, as a varied and dynamically developing phenomenon, which fact is underlined by excellent work with archival photographs and the generally outstanding graphic layout of the publications. The only critical comment the reviewer has is that the authors were so absorbed by the architectural aspect of the matter that they tended to overlook substantial changes of the socialist urbanism in Czechoslovakia.
Keywords: Czechoslovakia; prefab houses; prefab housing schemes; architecture; housing; Communist regime
Klimeš, Ivan and Jan Wiendl (eds). Kultura a totalita, Vol. 4: Každodennost. Prague: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2016, 442 pp., ISBN 978-80-7308-701-2.
The reviewed publication is the last volume of the remarkable collective publication project comprehensively titled Culture and Totalitarianism, in which its editors, film historian Ivan Klimeš and literary historian Jan Wiendl, attempt to present the notion of “totalitarianism” through an analysis of its manifestations in art and culture in the Czech public space in the 19th and 20th century, since the national renaissance until the fall of the Communist regime. They approach the notion of totalitarianism in an innovative and unconventional manner, reflecting it not primarily in a political framework, but against a broader backdrop, using an interdisciplinary interconnection of philosophy and selected art disciplines. While the previous volumes were examining manifestations of the broadly defined totalitarianism in connection with the topics of nation, war, and revolution, the final one, titled Everydayness, focuses on manifestations of totalitarianism in artistic depictions of everydayness. The reviewer presents in detail the initial, more general studies, as well as different case analyses and insights into the history of literature, film, and theatre, concluding that the publication is an inspiration for interested parties from many fields and it has succeeded in meeting its objective.
Keywords: culture; totalitarianism; Czech Lands; Czechoslovakia; Communist regime; history of literature; history of film; history of theatre
Three volumes of comprehensive history
Prokůpek, Tomáš, Pavel Kořínek, Martin Foret, and Michal Jareš. Dějiny československého komiksu 20. století, Vols. 1–3. Prague: Filip Tomáš – Akropolis, 2014, 996 + 87 pp., ISBN 978-80-7470-061-3.
The reviewer presents a three-tome publication titled History of the Czechoslovak comics of the 20th century and written by four authors as the most comprehensive work on the history of comics in the Czech Lands and Slovakia, or in Czechoslovakia, in the twentieth century. In addition to the text, an opulent graphic accompaniment containing more than five hundred illustrations plays an equal role; an important part of the work is a rich technical apparatus concentrated in the third volume. In the reviewer’s opinion, a clear arrangement of the contents, unified methodology, and chronological structure of chapters contribute to a generally positive impression of the book. The chapters bring, in particular, an overview and description of Czechoslovak pictorial serials as well as domestic translations of foreign comics, but there is also a description of a more general historical context and a capture of the period (frequently rather critical) reflection of this pop culture phenomenon. However, much less space has been devoted to an analysis of transformation of comics in Czechoslovakia and their context. Still, the reviewer believes the work is, save for a few minor details, beyond reproach, its uniqueness and contribution are illustrated by many awards and nominations it has earned.
Keywords: Czechoslovakia; comics; history of literature; history of art; Communist regime
Prokůpek, Tomáš, Pavel Kořínek, Martin Foret, and Michal Jareš. Dějiny československého komiksu 20. století, Vols. 1–3. Prague: Filip Tomáš – Akropolis, 2014, 996 + 87 pp., ISBN 978-80-7470-061-3.
The reviewer sees the three-tome publication titled History of the Czechoslovak comics of the 20th century as a work which is impressive at first sight and based on extraordinarily voluminous and meticulous heuristics bringing amazing results in the form of a mass of reliable and often hitherto unknown information, and with an excellent graphic design. However, the superb positivistic performance of the authors implies, in the reviewer’s opinion, a problem with the reader’s ability to absorb the deluge of data often presented as tiresome lists of authors, names and characteristics of the pictorials without a framework that would keep them together. As a result, the general impression is fragmentary rather than compact and concise. In addition, the authors perceive comics as a specific literary-graphic genre and almost ignore interactions between this pop culture phenomenon and the society. The reviewer concludes that the authors have created a basic inventory of Czech and Slovak comics, but have not progressed toward a structured historical analysis.
Keywords: Czechoslovakia; comics; history of literature; history of art; Communist regime
Nebřenský, Zdeněk. Marx, Engels, Beatles: Myšlenkový svět polských a československých vysokoškoláků 1956–1968. (České moderní dějiny, Vol. 1.) Prague: Academia and Masarykův ústav a Archiv Akademie věd ČR, 2017, 422 pp. + illustrations, ISBN 978-80-200-2668-2 and 978-80-87782-66-8.
The publication titled Marx, Engels, Beatles: Mental world of Polish and Czechoslovak university students 1956–1968 deals with three areas which were closely related to everyday life of male and female students in the system of state socialism – students’ marriages, planned employment and students’ clubs – from a perspective of a comparison of Bohemia and Moravia, Slovakia and Poland during the post-Stalinist period. The author perceives the latter as a specific time; following the disclosure of the so-called personality cult in 1956, a new socialist ideology was formulated, which was supposed to become an alternative to both Stalinism and capitalism. The connecting link of the three topic is an increasing accent on the differentiation of interests of various social groups which the author interprets as one of the principal aspects of the post-Stalinist ideology. The reviewer admits the author has a deep insight into the matter, appreciating particularly his presentation of a number of local and nationwide discussions which somewhat contradict the general opinion on the state socialism’s rigidity. On the other hand, he reprimands the author that his interpretation is not supported by enough arguments, lacks a clear interpretation line and also an appropriate generalization. It also does not indicate clearly enough what constitutes the core of the post-Stalinist ideology and whether it is, as a matter of fact, even possible to refer to post-Stalinism as a specific historical period.
Keywords: Czech Lands; Slovakia; Poland; Czechoslovakia; students; everydayness; state socialism; post-Stalinism
Hlaváčková, Konstantina. Móda za železnou oponou: Společnost, oděvy a lidé v Československu 1948–1989. Prague: Grada, 2016, 288 pp., ISBN 978-80-247-5833-6.
In the reviewer’s opinion, the book on transformations of dressing and fashion trends in Czechoslovakia in the second half of the twentieth century titled The fashion behind the Iron Curtain: The society, attires and people in Czechoslovakia 1948–1989 aims at readers who are interested in everyday life during the Communist era, but do not have any professional education in fashion. The authoress presents various aspects of formation of fashion attire in Czechoslovakia since early post-war years till the late 1980s, describes activities of textile and garment factories, and also efforts of people to dress decently and fashionably, the circumstances notwithstanding. She outlines, against the backdrop of changing political and social tendencies, how dressings and fashion were reflecting the society’s way of life and ideals, and at the same time draws attention to the fact that even the appearance of one’s attire may become a part of the political struggle and a tool shaping the individual’s attitude toward the society. The book also describes life stories of some fashion designers and captures the reader’s attention by an excellent graphic design and many illustrations.
Keywords: Czechoslovakia; fashion; everydayness; Communist regime
Černý, Karel. Velká blízkovýchodní nestabilita: Arabské jaro, porevoluční chaos a nerovnoměrná modernizace 1950–2015. Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, 2017, 577 pp., ISBN 978-80-7422-595-6; English edition: Instability in the Middle East: Structural changes and uneven modernisation 1950–2015. Prague: Charles University – Karolinum Press, 2017, 476 pp., ISBN 978-80-246-3427-2.
An abridged English version of this review has been published in the online version of the British Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 46, No. 3 (2019). The book by Karel Černý, published simultaneously in English and Czech (with the title The great Middle Eastern instability: The Arab Spring, post-revolution chaos, and uneven modernization 1950–2015), offers, in the reviewer’s opinion, a unique and original analysis of a broad spectrum of issues which the Middle East region has had to face roughly since the end of WW2. The author analyses modernization processes in local politics, economies, education, and media, as well as demographical changes and urbanization, finding the roots of the regional instability in a disharmony of the above spheres. He sets his studies of these regions into several macrohistoric-sociological comparative frameworks illustrating both specific and general aspect of the modernization process in the Middle East. In doing so, he evaluates the roles of Islam and post-colonialism as two indispensable factors of the situation in the Middle East in responsive and unconventional manner. Černý backs his analysis and conclusions by a broad selection of secondary published sources and a firm theoretical anchoring, but also by original and detailed empirical research and his own productive theoretical model. Thanks to the above, the author is able to present to us an accurate and convincing picture of the processes and events leading to the tumultuous Arabian Spring and subsequent events.
Keywords: Middle East; modernization; social instability; Arabian Spring; Islam; post-colonialism
Hinsey, Ellen and Tomas Venclova. Magnetic North: Conversations with Tomas Venclova. Rochester (New York), University of Rochester Press, 2017, xvi + 405 pp., ISBN 9781580465861.
The reviewer characterizes the publication as a book of confessions and recollections, in which Ellen Hinsey, an independent American researcher, questions Tomas Venclova, a writer, poet, translator, leading Lithuanian intellectual and Professor Emeritus of Slavic languages and literature at the Yale University. In his answers, Venclova summarizes and takes stock of his eighty-year life story, which was primarily associated with political events and the artistic, mainly dissident, community of the former Soviet state. However, the book of interviews also finds room for a more distant Lithuanian history with the country’s complex and equivocal political and ethnic situation, linguistic excursions into the nation’s past, or deliberations over phenomenon of exile. In the last part of the book, Venclova gets the reader acquainted with the life of the Lithuanian, Russian, and Ukrainian diaspore in the United States, and does not evade even controversial issues of the current Lithuanian politics.
Keywords: Lithuania; Soviet Union; Tomas Venclova; Soviet culture; history of literature; exile