Czech Themes

“Was the economic transformation really necessary?” The crux of the answer: “The GDP per capita in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s was the same as in postwar Austria. After forty years of communist rule, the Austrian GDP per capita was five times higher.”
“What was the cause of the Velvet Revolution?” In 2009 1% of Czech respondents chose Restoration of capitalism or Interest of the west but 23% thought it was Bad government.
“What is the assessment of the Czech voucher privatization?” To this the reader gets a complex answer including an appraisal of alternative options.
“How should we assess the transformation as a whole?” Židek discusses three topics that he considers critical for broad evaluation of the process—political/democratic stability, development of GDP, and general direction of the transformation process. “The crucial indicator is the development of real wages… Noneconomic statistics improved as well. Average longevity increased, infant mortality decreased, and the environment improved dramatically.”
“It was an extremely difficult process full of unavoidable compromises and traps. But the overall transformation process is a success story.”

The restoration of Prague Castle was a collaboration of three remarkable figures in twentieth-century east central Europe: Masaryk, his daughter Alice, and Plečnik, the architect.
Did Tomáš Masaryk really intend to start a new religion? Czechoslovakia’s first president wished to establish his personal religious philosophy as the civil religion of the country. Alice Masaryková finally finds the prominence she should have al­ways had in our studies of the First Czechoslovak Republic: in taking her seriously as a thinker, Berglund also grants his readers insights into Czechoslovakia’s uneven, unequal path to pros­perity. Jože Plečnik of Slovenia integrated reverence for classical architecture into distinctly modern designs. Their shared vision saw the Castle not simply as a government building or historic landmark but as the sacred center of the new republic, even the new Europe—a place that would embody a different kind of democratic politics, rooted in the spiritual and the moral.

Titles from the backlist, contemporary topics on top, older themes below.

The volume that explores the past twenty-five years of east-central Europe in the perspective of intellectual history discusses three facets of the Czech political arena.
While most parties placed greater emphasis on 1989 as the victory of capitalism and the market, Havel valued in it the triumph for civic society and participatory democracy. His “moral populism,” and the idea of a “second revolution”, associated with the concept of mafia capitalism, are the critical aspects of his disputes with the neoliberal paradigm of the new era.
A small group of admirers of American neo-conservatism believed in a neoliberal solution of transformation. They—the founders of the ODA party—wanted to break with the communist era as quickly as possible. These politicians, for instance, principally opposed referenda.
The twenty-year trajectory of seeking an identity of the Left is presented through seven political portraits.

“The Czech ‘economic miracle’ that Klaus bragged about in the early 1990s had disintegrated by 1997, and Social Democratic governments were left to clean up the mess, while Klaus played the nationalist card and became a eurosceptic. As a result, the Czechs now appear to be happy with neither EU membership nor the Czech-Slovak split.”
Some of the best and brightest Slovak and Czech scholars came together with the explicit goal of comparing Czech and Slovak achievements and failures in the twenty years since independence.
“After several years, the political reform ethos vanished in the Czech Republic. The reason might have been that the Klaus government feared the social impact of further reforms, and suffered from overall political self-confidence or excessive satisfaction with the already achieved results.”
“While gradually closing the gap with Western Europe in material terms, Czech society seems to be spiritually stagnating in feelings of frustration, failure, and skepticism.”
“The Czech Republic has gained a lot since independence, but could have gained much more if its full potential had been used and mistakes avoided. Despite mistakes made, Czech economic development over the last two and a half decades has been largely a success.”
“Ever since the split, relations between the Czechs and Slovaks have never been better. Thus, the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, like Norway’s secession from Sweden in 1905, may be a good model for other nations who live in a common state but wish to go it alone.”

The French law inspired also Czechoslovakia to make the registration of Gypsies by the police and their identification by special papers compulsory. In this regard, Czechoslovakia adopted a Gypsy identity card in 1927, a document mirroring the French model of carnet anthropometrique de nomade.
A monograph about the ways the Roma are identified, classified and counted across Europe.
On the variety of demographic estimates in the Czech Republic: “According to official data (2001 census), the number of Roma is 11,718, sharply below the 1991 census figure of 32,903. Different experts’ estimates vary between 160,000 and 300,000. The Minority Rights Group estimates the number to be 275,000.”
A statement repeated in consecutive editions of a World Bank report without checking or updating: “Reported estimates for the Czech Republic suggested that out of the nearly 40,000 prostitutes in the country, some 25,000 are Roma women.”

"Italians are chaotic, charismatic, and spontaneous. Czechs are ordered, rule-following, adaptable." The case study of a Czech bank in Italian ownership in the book on how East-European mindset adapted to capitalism recalled such clichés, challenging the rejection of "national character" in social sciences. Researchers found "they do exist and they are very pronounced. It is encouraging that these differences are not seen as physically inherent, but rather as culturally determined. What is more, these differences were never pronounced as a form of cultural pathology-a new form of cross-national racism but rather as differences that can be mutually respected."

"Mr T insisted on exercising his prior claim as a private farmer over state land. The co-operative was obliged to give Mr T contiguous land in exchange. This was further complicated by the fact that many owners in the co-operative refused to let their land be farmed by the T family which was becoming increasingly unpopular. They had also opened a shop in the village, but most villagers boycotted it." Researchers explored dozens of affairs like this in the nine Czech villages that they scrutinized in the 1990s to detect how the dramatic transition from communism to capitalism affected rural communities. The main strength of the book lies is its comparative character: the Czech findings are matched against experiences in Bulgarian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian and Slovak villages.

"Yes, culture means a great deal" - commented Gorbachev in 1987, when Ryzhkov quoted Štrougal saying that if perestroika begins in Czechoslovakia, results will appear sooner than in any other country. Another quote, from Margaret Thatcher to Gorbachev in April 1989: "More complicated developments are under way in Czechoslovakia. In our analysis, everything is unclear there. And there is some evil irony in this, because Czechoslovakia was one of the most affluent and democratic states in Europe." Extracts from documents paving the road to 1989.

Under Communism Czechs felt less optimistic than Slovaks, in cases at a rate of one to two: e.g. late in 1968 28% in the Czech side of CSSR expected their living standard fall in the future against 14% of SSR citizens. Possession of color TV distinguished party members from non-members more than any other consumption item (in 1984 the difference was 18%). Such data from previously unpublished surveys are from the fresh interpretation of the contexts, meanings, and consequences of the revolutions of 1989.

The comprehensive analysis of literary resistance to east-European communism pays tribute to Czech underground writers and their helpers in the west: Jan Kavan, Antonin Liehm, Vilem Prečan, Jiři Pelikan, Josef and Zdena Škvorecky, Adolf Muller, Jiři Gruša and others.
Also foreigners: “Shortly after Charter 77 was published, Robert Silvers called Stoppard and asked him if he was interested in going to Prague to look into the movement. Stoppard replied that he had been waiting for the call for fifteen years, and within a few days traveled to Prague”.
“In the same way that Roth employs his alter-ego Zuckermann to dive into the literary life of Czechoslovakia, John Updike also relies on an alter-ego, the Jewish-American writer, Henry Bech, to reflect on his travels to Czechoslovakia in his novels”.

After a decade of highly influential artistic practice, the Czech conceptual artist Petr Štembera decided with resignation to stop his artistic activity. His last performance in 1980, in Brno, demonstrated the artist’s frustration with the political situation in Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of the suppression of Charter 77. Throughout the 1970s, Štembera worked closely with Karel Miler and Jan Mlčoch, sometimes referred to as the “Prague Trio.” They came to the decision to abandon art practice at the same time.
The story is unfolded in the monograph that unites ecology with conceptual art analysis in the frame of area studies. The book uncovers the neglected history of artistic engagement with the natural environment in the Eastern Bloc.
Štembera's performances addressed the problem of belonging in relation to the natural environment, often realized with the participation of animals, including a hamster, fish, ants, and hen, whose equal and nonhierarchical treatment by the artist was in sharp contrast to the communist authorities’ instrumental approach to animals. He went a step further by sleeping in tree branches or in dug-out holes in the ground, while such expressions of unity with the natural environment culminated in grafting a shrub into his own arm.

After 1945 links between Czech arts and the west were sporadic. “The Art of Republican Spain” took—among others—works of Picasso to Prague and Brno in 1946. La difesa di Praga by Mucchi, an Italian communist painter, was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1952 when Czechoslovakia was absent. The Biennale was strongly influenced by political pressures till the end: the USSR, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia boycotted it in 1978.
Artistic interactions both within the Soviet bloc and with the west between 1945 and 1989 are presented and analyzes in a collective book with 35 contributors.
Many of the cross-border relations were illegal, such as the Argumenty exhibition in 1962 in Warsaw, where the curator smuggled Czech pieces far from the eyes of the customs control; or the merger of Czechoslovak and Hungarian artists at Lake Balaton in 1972 as an ex-post protest against the 1968 invasion.

In February 1969, Henry Owen, senior State Department official wrote Secretary of State William Rogers a memorandum asking “what do we do about bridge-building in the wake of Czechoslovakia: Stop, slow down, change direction, or proceed as is?” The 1968 Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring was a recurring theme in the analysis of the protracted era of peaceful coexistence is examined.
“While the Johnson administration sought to liberalize trade with the East, the combination of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the invasion of Czechoslovakia shocked and further soured Americans’ opinions toward the Soviet Union, making it impossible for the President to liberalize trade with the Soviet Union without a political quid pro quo.”
Taken together, pieces of evidence lead to an argument that goes against the grain of the established Cold War narrative, by taking the Old Continent as the heart of the analysis, making it not a passive instrument in the hands of the two superpowers, but rather a fully-fledged actor in East-West relations.

"Having depended so long upon their leader, Dr. Beneš, and been deserted by him at the crucial moment, these Czechoslovak exile politicians are almost at a total loss as to where to go from here. There is no leader of inspiration among them, at least for the moment… I think most of these MPs will drift on to America before they become out of date (and therefore valueless) and have become much of a nuisance here."
Indeed, as the contemptuous comments by Foreign Office officials predicted in 1948, exiled resistance got organized in the USA. Honor is due to the Council of Free Czechoslovakia, which showed all symptoms of exiled political formations between 1949-1989, yet could not have done much better. This is the conclusion in the volume that reviews how the US government sponsored political movements against communism during the Cold War, based extensively on the archival records of Radio Free Europe.

“There will be no collectivization in Czechoslovakia, we shall go on our own way” - announced Klement Gottwald in February, 1948. Then, in October, Gottwald visited Stalin in Crimea, which changed his mind. The process began and soon led to economic disruption and chaos in agriculture, so that rationing of bread had to be re-introduced in 1951.
Ironically, while farmers strongly resisted the communist regime in the early years, heavy subsidies to agricultural production turned them loyal to the regime during its final dissolution. There was little enthusiasm to start private farming immediately after 1989.
Based on a wealth of archival materials, a critical overview is taken of the main stages and features of the collectivization of agriculture in the former Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe.

“Only in Czechoslovakia was there a strong workers’ movement, though there was above all—and this was decisive for Stalin—in Edvard Beneš a “bourgeois” president recognized by the entire population. He was prepared to be used by the USSR as a willing political instrument, in exchange for Stalin’s readiness to condone and support the expulsion of national minorities from Czechoslovakia, above all the Sudeten Germans and the Hungarians living in Slovakia. In order to achieve these aims, Beneš pledged absolute allegiance and assured Stalin of extensive restructuring measures. In contrast to all other countries, Stalin was thus able to build on a powerful political foundation in Czechoslovakia and could thus forgo the usual occupation regime.”
“Valeriyan Zorin’s appearance in Prague sealed the fate of democracy in Czechoslovakia in February 1948.”

Czechoslovakia had not been at war with the Soviet Union and yet in 1945 the Red Army took tens of thousands for slave labor.
The book is the fruit of decade-long archival research and many oral history interviews with survivors on a subject that had had been taboo for many decades.
Most of the abducted people were civilians from the Slovak regions (including ethnic Germans and Hungarians), but around 250 white émigrés were also deported from the Czech lands. Almost two-thirds of these latter perished or disappeared in unknown or little-known circumstances.
Diplomatic efforts lasted well after Stalin’s death till the completion of repatriation. This included the resettlement of about 17 000 Volhynian Czechs.

One of the earliest science-fiction novels in European literature was published in Prague in 1929. Besides being a pioneer in its genre, Jan Weiss’s book – available in English for the first time – is highly regarded for its general merits as psychological literature.
The novel tells the story of a dream in fever of a soldier wounded in World War I. He finds himself in the stairway of a gigantic and kafkaesque tower-like building, which is a metaphor for modern society. He learns that his task is to rescue Princess Tamara from Muller, the lord of the edifice. After a number of surrealistic encounters in the building, during which he is hailed as a liberator by many and is hunted by the cruel security guards, the main character finds Tamara and faces the cruel lord of Mullerdom.
The novel makes fine use of a range of experimental styles and techniques. At times, linear storytelling gives way to a collage of incongruous elements: excerpts from fictitious books, encyclopedia articles, radio broadcast transcripts are used as a shortcut to describe places or events; other narrative ingredients include fanciful advertisements, ludicrous administrative documents or political slogans which highlight the idiosyncrasies of this decadent world.

The series of CEU Press Classics was started in the 1990s with outstanding pieces of fiction form the literatures in east and central Europe; books that are no longer—or in many cases have never been—available on the English language markets.
Both latest releases in the series have indirect Czech connection. Vjenceslav Novak, the author of A Tale of Two Worlds, a masterpiece of Croatian realism from 1901, had Czech family roots. No wonder that Prague is the scene of a considerable part of the novel: it is there that the main person of the novel, a young musician, learns his profession and gets acquainted with the wider world, which will conflict with the other world in the title, the insularity that surrounds him upon returning to the provincial town in Croatia.
Three Chestnut Horses takes place in a Slovak mountain village. It is a love story that combines naturalism with sentimentalism, involving the triangle of Peter, Magdalena and her seducer, Jano Zapotočný. The short novel was first published in 1940 and has remained popular with generations of readers. The film made in 1966 for Czechoslovak television has kept its appeal until our days.

“Various versions of Mitteleuropa existed in discourse from around 1800 onwards, but the definition of a German core and a non-German periphery, which was constructed as a de facto colonial empire, were particularly prominent in the German imperialist imagination”.
The nation-building processes within the German and the Habsburg Empire are examined in parallel with related trajectories in other empires in Europe.
As a consequence of the Germanization, Czech was pushed off to local, rural, and agricultural spheres of life, where it suffered official neglect and was only revived by the national movement, as a result of which Germans lost their majorities not only in municipal governments, but in 1883–84 also in the Bohemian diet and important chambers of commerce.
“Privileging the noble nationalities of Poles and Croats fuelled dissatisfaction among nationalities who were not dominated by nobles, but by peasants, workers, or urban middle classes—first of all the Czechs, who represented a possible republican challenge toward dynastic reign”.

"The higher marriage rate among Jews in late eighteenth-century Bohemia was a fact. In a society where most children were born inside wedlock it led also to higher fertility among Jews. Jewish women breastfed longer, and this was a very important factor for improving the chances of a child's survival during the first six months of life." The population growth of Jews was therefore higher than in the total population." But then, faster modernization of the Jewish population led to a decline in births earlier than in other segments of the society. "In 1930, the share of married people was smaller in almost every age group in the Jewish population than in the total population. The proportion of never-married Jewish women exceeded that of gentiles in every age group. The share of divorcees was also larger in the Jewish than in the total population in Bohemia."

“If the Czech Empire spreads its wings, it will not be to the detriment of anyone. It will contribute tenfold to everyone; instead of vanity it will bring glory” (Jaroslav Durych in 1923). “And we, our nation, can be a very influential member of a Slav partnership. We were always amongst the foremost intellectual leaders of Slavdom, and there is no question that in our country Slavness penetrated deepest into the spirit of the nation” (Karel Kramář in 1926). “People talk of the Reich as a great family of European nations, united by the idea of European cultural tradition and once again setting itself a great common purpose, worthy of the former glory of a dynamic continent” (Emanuel Vajtauer in 1943).
These three personalities represent Czech anti-modernism among the forty-six texts in the concluding volume of the Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe 1770–1945.
“Individuality above all, bursting with life and creating life. Today, when aesthetics finds refuge only in secondary-school textbooks, when battles over the utility of art are ludicrously anachronistic, when everything old collapses into rubble and a new world begins, we ask of the artist: be yourself!” – declared the Czech Modern manifesto in 1895, published in the fourth volume in the same series. Earlier volumes contain writings from Thám (1783), Dobrovský (1791), Puchmajer (1802), Jungmann (1806), Kollár (1821), Havlíček (1846), Palacký (1865), Malý (1880), Šmeral (1909), Masaryk (1918), Hašek (1921), Pekař (1928), Rádl (1928), and Beneš (1941).

The Latin-English bilingual Central European Medieval Texts Series contains the biographies of Czech saints: Wenceslas, the first Slavic saint, and Adalbert, patron saint of several countries. The 10th c. Latin is rendered into everyday English. The teenager Adalbert exclaims: "O wretched me! I had sex!" then, pointing his finger to the instigator of the crime: "He made me do it!" And we see Wenceslas "jumping over the fence of the vineyard at night and filling the baskets hanging on both sides of his back with clusters of grapes." Read the contexts of the two scenes at bottom in two languages.

Earlier CEU Press books abound in relevance to Czechs and the Czech lands:

  • Anonymus used a variant of ‘boem’ twelve times in his Gesta Hungarorum.
  • Efforts to bring back Utraquists, a heretic Czech denomination, to the mainstream in the 16th c.
  • Czech speaking Jesuits unwisely tried to communicate with locals in re-conquered Belgrade, greatly underestimating the difference between Czech and Serbian.
  • Jan Neruda’s nice little volume of Prague Tales is unbeatable, leading CEU Press all time sales list.
  • Also in the Central European Classics series is a lyrical, deeply moving story of love and the pain of emancipation by Ivan Olbracht.
  • Plans about “eugenics” and “racial hygiene” in the early 20th c. in the Czech Lands are analyzed in the book on the eugenics movement in east-central Europe;
  • Czech Catholics and protestants searching their way in 20th c. political turmoils.
  • The role of Czech uranium in international politics between 1900-1960.
  • How did the Czechoslovak road to Stalinism differ from the other stories in Eastern Europe?
  • Besides analyzing the effects of cold war broadcasting, the reaction of the communist power is also presented with original documents. E.g. “Politburo resolution on plan to counter ‘reactionary’ exiles” in 1956.
  • An unparalleled resource of primary documentation on the events of 1968.
  • A dictionary of Czech popular culture is one of the greatest successes of CEU Press, a real bestseller.   
  • A recurrent issue in the book on geopolitical cores and peripheries is the gap between east and west in Europe, historically and actually – no wonder Czechs and Czechoslovakia are cited extensively.
  • The issue of (primary and secondary) privatisation in the 1990s in a number of countries is analyzed comparatively, the Czech Republic being one. 
  • Dilemmas of Czech historiography after 1989: a difficult quest for new paradigms: the search for “National Memory” after the Communist era; and how the recent past is reflected in contemporary Czech cinema.
  • Reassessment of the significance and consequences of the events associated with the year 1968 - highlighting, of course, the Prague Spring.
  • An essay on how Czech journalists looking for a new professional self-image after the collapse of the old media system, and finally, implementation and impact of European television quotas in the Czech Republic.
  • The comparative analysis of the educational segregation of the Roma examines the issue also in the Czech Republic.
  • Together with twenty-eight more post-communist transition countries, the political and economic performance of the Czech Republic is also included as part of a search of varieties of transition models.

Extracts from Saints of the Christianization Age of Central Europe:

One day, as Adalbert was coming from school, one of those walking with him knocked to the ground a girl who was passing by and, just for fun, pushed him down on top of her. All the students came running up and stood by waiting, amidst uproars of laughter, to see what he would do next. Well, he was fully convinced-o, admirable ignorance!- that, as he had been on top of the fully-clothed virgin, he had in fact had intercourse with her. Therefore, getting off the detested virgin and up to his feet, that admirably naive boy abandoned himself to most bitter lamentations and, his eyes drenched by an endless rain of tears, he said: "O wretched me! I had sex!"; then, pointing his finger to the instigator of the crime: "He made me do it!" It was by doing such and other similar things that the God-filled young boy even at that time attracted to himself the eyes of many.
Quadam die, dum iret de scolis, unus, qui erat socius itineris, pr?tereuntem puellam humo prostrauit et causa ludi eum desuper proiecit. Concurrunt scolares et quidnam foret acturus, cum ingenti cachinno exspectant. Ille uero quia uestitam uirginem tetigit, o bona stultitia! iam se nupsisse uerissime credidit. Inde erigens se de inuisa uirgine, dedit se bene simplex puer in amarissimas lamentationes atque continuo imbre oculos humectans: "Heu me! nupseram," inquit et criminis ma-chinatorem digito monstrans: "Hic me," ait "nubere fecit!" Haec et his similia deo plenus infantulus iam tunc agendo, multorum oculos in se defixit.

When the grape harvest came in due time, jumping over the fence of the vineyard at night and filling the baskets hanging on both sides of his back with clusters of grapes, Wenceslas returned to his dearest cell in the remote part of the palace with this praiseworthy booty. Then he fastened the gates of the chamber with bolts on all sides and, squashing the grapes of his little vintage with a pounder in an adequate jar, and squeezing out the delicate liquid of must, he strained this pure subtlety through a linen cloth by the most careful pressure of his chaste hands; and pouring it into a wine jug with the help of his servant alone, and depositing it in a secret place, he distributed it at an appropriate occasion among the clerics of his province at the wondrous divine communion, together with the wafers that he baked himself in provision of the celebration of the Mass.
Inter annuos processus adveniente vindemia … sequaci vinearum septa noctu transiliens, fiscellulas utriusque dorso dependentes gravidis implens racemis, cellulam palatio remotiorem sibique adeo caram furto laudabili revisit. Interim hospitioli foribus repagulorum cauta undique clausura munitis in vas huic congruum vindemiolae uvas pistillo conterens expressoque musti tenero liquore per linei sacculi mundam subtilitatem studiosissima castarum impressione manuum excolavit. Sicque diot? conscio solum clientulo infusum secretiusque repositum, considerata oportunitate inter clericos conprovinciales cum oblatis, quas missali celebritati providendo ipse coquebat, sub mira divinorum communionea distribuit.