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Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe in the Era of Normalisation

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Abstract

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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Notes

  1. 1.

    A. Tertz (i.e. A. Sinyavsky), The Trial Begins, trans. by M. Hayward (London, 1960), p. 14. First published in the Paris-based, Polish-language journal Kultura, and in the UK by the literary magazine Encounter.

  2. 2.

    D. White, Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War (London, 2019), p. 475.

  3. 3.

    Ibid., p. 478. We are also indebted to White’s book for our synopsis of The Trial Begins.

  4. 4.

    Tertz, The Trial Begins, p. 92.

  5. 5.

    L. Vaculík, ‘The “Two Thousand Words” Manifesto’, 27 June 1968, reproduced in J. Navrátil et al. (eds), The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader (Budapest, 1998), pp. 177–81 (here p. 177).

  6. 6.

    T. S. Brown, Sixties Europe (Cambridge, 2020), p. 4.

  7. 7.

    V. Havel, ‘The Power of the Powerless’ (1978), trans. by P. Wilson and reproduced in V. Havel, Living in Truth: Twenty-Two Essays Published on the Occasion of the Award of the Erasmus Prize to Václav Havel, edited by J. Vladislav (London, 1987) [1986], pp. 36–122 (here p. 110).

  8. 8.

    Ibid., p. 113.

  9. 9.

    P. Bren, The Greengrocer and his TV: The Culture of Communism after the 1968 Prague Spring (Ithaca, NY, 2010).

  10. 10.

    T. Garton Ash, ‘Czechoslovakia under Ice’ (February 1984), reproduced in T. Garton Ash, The Uses of Adversity: Essays on the Fate of Central Europe (London, 1989), pp. 55–63 (here p. 63).

  11. 11.

    J. Bolton, Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, the Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism (Cambridge, MA, 2012), esp. pp. 72–114.

  12. 12.

    H. Bude, B. Munk and K. Wieland, Aufprall: Roman (Munich, 2020), p. 14.

  13. 13.

    W. Brandt, ‘Berlin liegt an der Spree und nicht in Sibirien’, Schleswig-Holsteinische Tagespost, 26 September 1952. Cited in W. Schmidt, Kalter Krieg, Koexistenz und kleine Schritte: Willy Brandt und die Deutschlandpolitik 1948–1963 (Wiesbaden, 2001), p. 141, n. 374.

  14. 14.

    P. Schneider, The Wall Jumper, trans. by L. Hafrey and with an introduction by I. McEwan (London, 2005) [1982], pp. 12–13.

  15. 15.

    J. Rupnik, The Other Europe, revised ed. (London, 1989) [1988], p. xi.

  16. 16.

    Ibid., p. 7. See also M. Kundera, ‘The Tragedy of Central Europe’, The New York Review of Books, 26 April 1984, pp. 33–8 (here p. 36).

  17. 17.

    This is also the argument made by J. Mark, B. C. Iacob, T. Rupprecht and L. Spaskovska, 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe (Cambridge, 2019).

  18. 18.

    S. Kotkin (with J. T. Gross), Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (New York, 2009), p. 7.

  19. 19.

    A. Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956 (London, 2012).

  20. 20.

    N. M. Naimark, The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945–1949 (Cambridge, MA, 1995); J. Connelly, ‘Students, Workers, and Social Change: The Limits of Czech Stalinism’, Slavic Review, vol. 56, no. 2 (1997), pp. 307–35; idem., The Captive University: The Sovietization of East German, Czech, and Polish Higher Education 1945–1956 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2000); P. Kenez, Hungary from the Nazis to the Soviets: The Establishment of the Communist Regime in Hungary, 1944–1948 (Cambridge, 2006).

  21. 21.

    Mark et al., 1989: A Global History, pp. 27 and passim.

  22. 22.

    See also Naimark’s latest book, Stalin and the Fate of Europe: The Postwar Struggle for Sovereignty (Cambridge, MA, 2019), here esp. pp. 267–72.

  23. 23.

    Brown, Sixties Europe, p. 153. See also P. Apor, Fabricating Authenticity in Soviet Hungary: The Afterlife of the First Hungarian Soviet Republic in the Age of State Socialism (London, 2014).

  24. 24.

    M. Górny, The Nation Should Come First: Marxism and Historiography in East Central Europe (Frankfurt/Main and New York, 2013).

  25. 25.

    Ibid., p. 19.

  26. 26.

    See in particular the various contributions to A. E. Gorsuch and D. P. Koenker (eds), The Socialist Sixties: Crossing Borders in the Second World (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN, 2013). On the cross-border transmission of discourses on ‘hooliganism’ and how to manage it in social and policing terms, see also M. Kotalík, Rowdytum im Staatssozialismus: Ein Feindbild aus der Sowjetunion (Berlin, 2019).

  27. 27.

    L. Crump, The Warsaw Pact Reconsidered: International Relations in Eastern Europe, 1955–69 (London and New York, 2015), p. 3.

  28. 28.

    R. Applebaum, Empire of Friends: Soviet Power and Socialist Internationalism in Cold War Czechoslovakia (Ithaca, NY, 2019).

  29. 29.

    T. Kemp-Welch, ‘“To Hell with Sovereignty!”: Poland and the Prague Spring’, in K. McDermott and M. Stibbe (eds), Eastern Europe in 1968: Responses to the Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact Invasion (London, 2018), pp. 125–45 (here p. 128).

  30. 30.

    Brown, Sixties Europe, p. 110.

  31. 31.

    See also R. Applebaum, ‘A Test of Friendship: Soviet-Czechoslovak Tourism and the Prague Spring’, in Gorsuch and Koenker (eds), The Socialist Sixties, pp. 213–32 (here esp. pp. 226–7).

  32. 32.

    D. Janák and Z. Jirásek, ‘Tschechisch-polnische Wirtschaftsbeziehungen im Grenzgebiet in den Jahren 1945 bis 1989’, in H. Schultz (ed.), Grenzen im Ostblock und ihre Überwindung (Berlin, 2001), pp. 185–98 (here p. 196); M. Stibbe, ‘Ideological Offensive: The East German Leadership, the Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of August 1968’, in McDermott and Stibbe (eds), Eastern Europe in 1968, pp. 97–123 (here pp. 106–8).

  33. 33.

    K. McDermott and V. Sommer, ‘The “Anti-Prague Spring”: Neo-Stalinist and Ultra-Leftist Extremism in Czechoslovakia, 1968–1970’, in McDermott and Stibbe (eds), Eastern Europe in 1968, pp. 45–69.

  34. 34.

    Applebaum, Empire of Friends, p. 198.

  35. 35.

    Garton Ash, ‘Czechoslovakia under Ice’, p. 57.

  36. 36.

    I. Kershaw, Roller-Coaster: Europe, 1950–2017 (London, 2018), p. 328.

  37. 37.

    H. Lee, Tom Stoppard: A Life (London, 2020), p. 326.

  38. 38.

    T. Lindenberger, ‘Die Diktatur der Grenzen: Zur Einleitung’, in T. Lindenberger (ed.), Herrschaft und Eigen-Sinn in der Diktatur: Studien zur Gesellschaftsgeschichte der DDR (Cologne, 1999), pp. 13–44 (here esp. pp. 21–6). See also K. McDermott, Communist Czechoslovakia, 1945–1989: A Political and Social History (Basingstoke, 2015), pp. 93–4.

  39. 39.

    A. de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2 Vols. (1835–1840), abridged single-volume edition with an introduction by P. Renshaw (Ware, Herts., 1998), pp. 323–4.

  40. 40.

    The classic English-language works on the Prague Spring are G. Golan, Reform Rule in Czechoslovakia: The Dubček Era, 1968–1969 (Cambridge, 1973); H. G. Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s Interrupted Revolution (Princeton, NJ, 1976); K. Dawisha, The Kremlin and the Prague Spring (Berkeley, CA, 1984); and K. Williams, The Prague Spring and its Aftermath: Czechoslovak Politics, 1968–1970 (Cambridge, 1997). More recent studies include M. M. Stolarik (ed.), The Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968: Forty Years Later (Mundelein, IL, 2010); G. Bischof et al. (eds), The Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 (Lanham, MD, 2010); and J. Pazderka (ed.), The Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968: The Russian Perspective (Lanham, MD, 2019).

  41. 41.

    On ‘trust’, see Williams, The Prague Spring, pp. 35–8 and 110–11.

  42. 42.

    Both the ‘Letter’ and the ‘Moscow Protocol’ are reproduced in Navrátil et al. (eds), The Prague Spring 1968, pp. 324–5 and 477–80.

  43. 43.

    J. Maňák, Čistky v Komunistické straně Československa 1969–1970 (Prague, 1997), p. 118; and Williams, The Prague Spring, p. 234.

  44. 44.

    ‘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).

  45. 45.

    P. Bugge, ‘Normalization and the Limits of the Law: The Case of the Czech Jazz Section’, East European Politics and Societies, vol. 22, no. 2 (2008), pp. 282–318.

  46. 46.

    M. Šimečka, The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia, 1969–1976 (London, 1984), pp. 72–9; and L. Vaculík, A Cup of Coffee with My Interrogator (London, 1987).

  47. 47.

    Cited in J. Pánek and O. Tůma et al., A History of the Czech Lands (Prague, 2009), p. 573.

  48. 48.

    V. V. Kusin, From Dubček to Charter 77: A Study of ‘Normalisation’ in Czechoslovakia, 1968–1978 (Edinburgh, 1978), p. 244.

  49. 49.

    J. Marušiak, ‘The Normalisation Regime and its Impact on Slovak Domestic Policy after 1970’, Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 60, no. 10 (2008), pp. 1805–25 (here pp. 1815 and 1822).

  50. 50.

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

  51. 51.

    ‘Vielleicht waren wir zu liberal’, interview with the Saxon Health Minister Petra Köpping in Die Zeit, no. 54, 23 December 2020, p. 5.

  52. 52.

    Cited in Y. Mieczkowski, Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s (Lexington, KY, 2005), p. 299.

  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. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-98271-3_1

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