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Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe in the Era of Normalisation

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The era of 'normalisation' following the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 is conventionally perceived as a return to hard-line communist policies aimed at totally reversing the reforms of the Prague Spring. There is much evidence to support this standard interpretation: the leading role of the Communist Party was strictly reapplied; radical reformers and oppositionists were purged; the media and intellectual life were brought under tight ideological control; the economy was recentralised; the security services were revamped and their remit broadened to include harassment of the emerging 'dissident' movement; and society as a whole appeared to be cowed into passivity and submission. In short, the two decades of normalisation are often depicted as a 'timeless' unchanging era of politico-cultural stagnation and stultifying repression, resulting in ritualised conformity and public cynicism, apathy and opportunism. In this volume, however, we contend that normalisation was far more dynamic, contested and varied than this stereotypical 'top-down' portrait. Our prime goal is to assess normalisation in a balanced, non-categorical way, which gives back agency to 'ordinary' Czechs and Slovaks and fully recognises the complex and contradictory essence of the period 1969-1989. Czechoslovak society was not entirely prevented from forming living bonds in and with the existing communist system and forging its own heterogeneous realities around these bonds. While normalisation certainly closed down prospects and narrowed horizons for some, it also opened up fresh possibilities, including for transnational exchange of ideas and experiences and reciprocal cultural contacts, for others.

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    ‘Triumphant neo-Stalinism’ is the characterisation of the normalised regime put forward by some post-communist Czech historians. See J. Mervart, ‘Rozdílnost pohledů na československou normalizaci’, in K. Činátl, J. Mervart and J. Najbert (eds), Podoby česko-slovenské normalizace: dějiny v diskuzi (Prague, 2017), pp. 40–78 (here p. 43).

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  49. 49.

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  50. 50.

    We are indebted to Celia Donert for the idea of normalisation as a process and period.

  51. 51.

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  53. 53.

    Górny, The Nation Should Come First, pp. 44–5.

  54. 54.

    Kershaw, Roller-Coaster, pp. 328–9.

  55. 55.

    Ibid., pp. 307–12. See also E. Conze, M. Klimke and J. Varon (eds), Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, and the Cold War of the 1980s (Cambridge, 2017); and Bolton, Worlds of Dissent, pp. 124–5.

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Stibbe, M., McDermott, K. (2022). Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe in the Era of Normalisation. In: McDermott, K., Stibbe, M. (eds) Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe in the Era of Normalisation, 1969–1989. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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