FellowDirk Mathias Dalberg
Project NameThe Political and Democratic Theories of the Czech and Slovak Dissent in the 1970s and 1980s
Host organisationInstitute of Political Sciences
Duration of the project14.01.2016 - 31.12.2018

The intended study aims to contribute to research on the history of Czech and Slovak political ideas in general and of democratic theories of Czech and Slovak dissent in particular. After the abolition of the Prague spring in August 1968, until the velvet revolution in November 1989, as it was in all states of the former East-bloc, as well in Czechoslovakia it was impossible to express independent political thought in public. But dissidents like Milan Šimečka, Miroslav Kusý, Petr Uhl and others did not hesitate to formulate political theories in spite of all negative reaction from the communist state. The theories of the dissidents, which so far did not attracted much interest in German, English neither in Czech and Slovak literature, are the answer to the challenges of the time they lived in. They Theories contain the three classical operations of political theories: First, statements about political facts. Second, statements about causalities, combined with predictions about what will be. Third, conclusions about desirable developments. The study aims to answer the following questions: first: what was the political and social situation in Czechoslovakia when these political theories were formulated. Second: who were the dissidents. Third: description, analysis and comparison of the three classical operations of the political theories. Especially the positive program is to be analysed from a democratic theoretical point of view. It will also be integrated into the wider ideological context of the 19th and the 20th century. The positive ideas predominantly describe a third way between the Czechoslovak political system and the western liberal democracies at that time. The study’s theoretical approaches are historical-critical, hermeneutical and comparative. Its sources will be published texts. Private notes and journal entries will also be used, insofar as they contribute to a deeper understanding of published thoughts.

Project Summary with Interim Results

The project deals with the still-widely-unknown political theories of Czech and Slovak dissidents Petr Pithart, Petr Uhl, Egon Bondy, Milan Šimečka and Miroslav Kusý. In their works, the authors described, interpreted and criticized the existing political system in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s and designed what is called a “normative democratic theory”.

The project‘s main objective is to describe, reconstruct and re-interpret the political thinking and political theories of the above authors, and to offer a critical review of these theories. The project focuses first on their critique of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s. It describes the main attributes of the so-called Normalization regime in the understanding of the above authors and their objections to them. Second, the project deals with the political outline of their (positive) program. It reconstructs and discusses the type of democratic society they strove for. Third, the project also answers the question of who influenced the (political) thinking of these authors.

Last year I wrote an introduction to the historical situation in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s. So far, I have covered political developments in Czechoslovakia between 1970 and the early 1980s. This work is still in progress. During 2016, I was mostly working on the authors’ critique of the Czechoslovak political system from the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s. I finished Petr Uhl’s, Egon Bondy’s, Miroslav Kusý’s and Milan Šimečka’s critique, which constitutes a structural analysis of the situation of the time and a multi-dimensional examination of the workings of the Czechoslovak political system and society. I have encountered problems regarding Petr Pithart for in his writings one cannot find any particular discussion of the given state of affairs.

In 2016, I published an article on Egon Bondy’s critique of the situation in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the German journal “Forum für osteuropäische Ideen- und Zeitgeschichte”. In the political science journal Studia Politica Slovaca I published a study on Petr Uhl. The article deals with his critique of communist Czechoslovakia and the democratic Western world and with his normative democratic theory formulated in the late 1970s. In addition to this, I edited a book on “Migration and asylum”, which includes two articles authored by me. Furthermore, I presented a paper on Miroslav Kusý’s critique of Czechoslovak society in the 1970s and 1980s at a colloquium on Kusý in December, co-organized by the Institute of Political Science SAS. This paper will be published in 2017. In September 2016, I attended a conference where I presented a paper on the vision of Europe as perceived by former Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jiří Dienstbier. Furthermore, I attended three other conferences and workshops. The expected outcome of my research project will be classical history of political ideas and theories.

Potential contribution of this project lies in the application of the current results to similar studies on East-German, Polish, Hungarian or Latin American dissent. I also plan to apply for ERC with a project on the vision of Europe in the Slovak, Czech and Polish political thinking in the 19th and 20th centuries.