Archive for the ‘Czechoslovakia’ Category

Rocking the State

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Ramet, Sabrina Petra ed. Rocking the State: Rock Music and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia. Boulder: Westview Press, 1994.

In Rocking the State, Sabrina Ramet compiles a comprehensive account of the socio-political effects of music in the last several decades of communist rule in the Eastern Bloc (with the exception of Albania and Romania which had no political music scene to speak of) and the Soviet Union.  The essays in Rocking the State revolve around the conflicts between proponents of a non-official youth culture and the cultural-commissars of the communist states.  Rocking the State is an appropriate follow up to A Carnival of Revolution as they both center on the destabilizing effects of youth-movements on their respective regimes.  Ramet and her contributors take their analysis of the youth driven musical movements further than the introduction provided by Kenney, addressing the trajectory of music through the eighties into the early nineties from an unofficial catalyst for political and social change into the arena of commodity rock.  Alex Kan and Nick Hayes clearly resent this metamorphosis asking: “Does anybody care if Poles can Rock and Roll with the best of Michael Bolton?” (53) (more…)

The Walls Came Tumbling Down, by Gale Stokes

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

The Walls Came Tumbling Down, by Gale Stokes 

Written in 1993, Gale Stokes’s The Walls Came Tumbling Down is an early effort to explain why the collapse of the Soviet bloc nations, which came as such a shock to most of the world in 1989, was actually a long time coming.


Stokes divides the era of Communist Eastern Europe into two halves: pre-1968 and post-1968. The argument is that from the end of World War II until 1968, whatever opposition there was within the bloc countries was almost entirely aimed at reforming and perfecting the socialist system, and that the idea of ending socialism was not even a consideration. But the events of 1968, culminating in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, convinced the oppositionists that reform was not possible. This was the start of “anti-politics”.


The author’s explanation of how anti-politics developed is very interesting. Since there was no chance of reform, and no way to resist the power of the state (backed by the Soviets), then there was no hope in any normal political opposition. Out of this hopelessness came the idea that the only thing to do was to live life “as if”, to go through life making moral choices and be unafraid of the consequences. And since the Communists claimed to be the sole keepers of truth and justice, living by your own rules, even in the tiniest instance and regardless of what ‘your rules’ might be, was in and of itself an act of opposition. By turning the idea of opposition from a political task to a moral one, the oppositionists did not have to agree on what the “correct” political solution might be. They just had to agree that the existing regime was a false one. This allowed people with widely divergent political leanings to be on the same side and to face down the regime together.


Eastern Europe in Revolution, after the fact

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Eastern Europe in Revolution ed. Ivo Banac.

            Eastern Europe in Revolution, published in 1992, presents a thoughtful recounting on the transitions from communism to miscellaneous political structures, as well as some as yet unfulfilled predictions about the future of the former satellite republics. Banac has collected individual chapters which recount the conditions and results in each country, rather than essays which generalize the situation of the entire region. This approach allowed greater comparison between countries, as each essay focuses on unique conditions of the countries. (more…)

Matt Hobbs – Reid & Crowley’s “Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Susan Reid and David Crowley’s Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe

The study of material culture is a subset of the wider field of cultural history. While a cultural historian will “read” the texts of various events, places, and subjects such as fairs and expositions, r the development of specific themes within a culture’s art, the material culture historian will look at the physical aspects of these same things. To continue the examples used, the material culture historian may be more interested in the commemorative trinkets produced for the exposition than in attendance or specific exhibits, or the actual physical production, exhibition, and/or sale (consumption) of art of a specific genre within a culture. It is important to remember that historians in this field are not antiquarians or appraisers. There interest in the physical ephemera of past times is important only because it tells us about the people of that time, not the physical items themselves. Style and Socialism is a collection of essays from historians of Eastern Europe who specialize in material culture, and what it can say about the societies of the Soviet bloc during the 1950s and 1960s.


A Return to Diversity and the Pitfalls of Historical Surveys

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

By Laszlo Taba

Joseph Rothschild and Nancy Wingfield, Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II (1999)

Joseph Rothschild’s and Nancy Wingfield’s Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II is well written, though it shares some of the typical problems of historical survey literature. For an area of history that is complex and difficult to explain, they do an admirable job of organizing their subject. The problems with the book predominantly have to do with its structure.


Kurlansky’s Revolutionary 1968!

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

23 October 2007

Beth Gryczewski

Kurlansky, Mark. 1968: The Year That Rocked the World. Ballantine Books: New York, 2004.

Kurlansky has written a comprehensive, creative and intriguing book on “the year that rocked the world, 1968.” Far from what I expected, the book seems to cover, literally, all of the events that rocked the world in 1968, from beginning to end. This is a fantastic worldwide perspective of events that seem disparate, or rather separate and distinct. However, Kurlansky demonstrates that they are not separate and distinct, but altogether related, interconnected by this new capability of instant worldwide information via satellite. Kurlansky covers everything from the Civil Rights movement to the Equal Rights movement, the presidential campaign, election, and assassination of King and Kennedy in the U.S. to the student protest movements in Vietnam that turn into student protest movements in France, Poland, Czechoslovakia. He covers the Prague spring that turns into the Soviet invasion of later that year, he discusses the rebels in Latin America, including Castro in Cuba and Che Guevara, as well.


1968: Change remaining the Same

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky

            Mark Kurlansky’s narrative of the year 1968 is compared to the revolutions that swept through 1848, but Kurlansky clearly distinguishes these two years. 1968 saw global revolutionary activity, instead of only European revolutions, with a more spontaneous and disparate collection of reasons. Focusing on events in across the globe, the book compares the events of the “Prague Spring” that swept through Czechoslovakia, and student rights’ movements in Poland. Through his very readable chronicle of these two venues, Kurlansky leaves little doubt as to the true state of the Warsaw Pact countries and their relation with the Soviet Union. (more…)

Matt Hobbs – Sugar’s “Native Fascism in the Successor States, 1918-1945″

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Native Fascism in the Successor States, 1918-1945 (Peter Sugar, ed.)

The collapse of the Habsburg monarchy after the First World War produced a multitude of states in East Central Europe.  Some of these countries were the rebirth of states that had existed in the past (Poland), some were multinational themselves (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia), and others were mere “rump states,” shadows of their former selves (Austria, Hungary.)  All of them faced similar challenges in postwar Europe.  Economies were struggling, or occasionally being united under a common state government for the first time; a large influx of veterans returning to private life, in both defeated and victorious states; and attempts to leave the monarchy of the Habsburgs behind and establish democracies.  In many ways, these successor states shared this situation with the two main Central powers of World War I, Germany and Italy.  Likewise, they all saw the development of significant domestic fascist parties.  Native Fascism in the Successor States sets out to “investigate what features of the fascism of Eastern Europe differed from those observed elsewhere and what common characteristics these local manifestations had that could be tied, at least to some extent, to their common Habsburg inheritance” (147.)


Nationalism, Communism, and Economic Nationalism in EEU

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Jelinek, Yeshayahu. “Nationalism in Slovakia and the Communists, 1918-1929.” Slavic Review 34, no. 1 (1975): 65-85.

Berend, Ivan T. “The Failure of Economic Nationalism.” Revue Economique 51, no. 2 (2000): 315-322. (more…)

Closely Watched Trains – Thumbs Up

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Closely Watched Trains, Directed by Jirí Menzel (1966)

Closely Watched Trains traces the young life of green train dispatcher Milos Hrma in the barely twenty year old Czechoslovakian state during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Looked at through the lens of World War I and its aftermath (the theme of this week’s readings), Closely Watched Trains portrays the Czechoslovakian state as torn between the familiarity and relative security of the Hapsburg Monarchy and the emergent predatory nationalism of countries like the German Reich.