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The Phantom of the Good Soldier Švejk in the Czech Army Accession to NATO (2001–2002)

Abstract

The article is based on the author’s ethnographic fieldwork in the Czech Armed Forces (2001–2002) in which she focused on the process of military professionalization—a set of extensive institutional reforms initiated upon the Czech Republic’s accession to NATO. She shows that these reforms were not limited to the military sector and involved efforts on the part of the state officials and the media to change the position of the military in the public sphere and culture. The goal of these changes was to bring the image of seriousness to the discredited Czech military, a process that demanded the obliteration of the cultural idiom of Švejk—a literary hero of the 1920s novel by Jaroslav Hašek and the representation of a peaceful resistance to war and military violence. In the course of the twentieth century, Švejk has become one of the most pervasive cultural references of the popular laughter at oppressive military power and has been a leading cultural idiom for the Czechs during the 30 years of German and Soviet military occupations. The article shows how the current official efforts at changing the image of the Czech military focus on the obliteration of Švejk’s cultural idiom, bringing him so frequently to the public discourse that they produce a phantom-like effect in which Švejk has come to haunt the process directed at his expurgation. The established cultural idiom of skepticism toward the army and military bureaucracy thus challenges the transition from communism to democracy and questions the reliance on military force, the imagery of violent conflicts, and just wars as necessary tools of politics.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Elzbieta Matynia uses the concept of gender-based cultural idiom in her inspiring analysis of the failure of the post-communist transition in Poland to establish gender equality, see Matynia (2009).

  2. 2.

    Information about the restaurant and Svejk’s legacy is available at its official internet site – http://www.ukalicha.cz

  3. 3.

    At this time, the Czech Republic was governed by the Social Democratic party, and the local administration in Lipnice was headed by the Communist Party. The Azalea group was composed most of conservative Civic Democratic Party members and sympathizers.

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Correspondence to Hana Cervinkova.

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Cervinkova, H. The Phantom of the Good Soldier Švejk in the Czech Army Accession to NATO (2001–2002). Int J Polit Cult Soc 22, 359–371 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-009-9063-y

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Keywords

  • Military
  • Švejk
  • Professionalization
  • Postcommunist transformation
  • NATO