Revolution with a Human Face

Revolution with a Human Face: Politics, Culture, and Community in Czechoslovakia, 1989–1992

James Krapfl
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Revolution with a Human Face
    Book Description:

    In this social and cultural history of Czechoslovakia's "gentle revolution," James Krapfl shifts the focus away from elites to ordinary citizens who endeavored-from the outbreak of revolution in 1989 to the demise of the Czechoslovak federation in 1992-to establish a new, democratic political culture. Unique in its balanced coverage of developments in both Czech and Slovak lands, including the Hungarian minority of southern Slovakia, this book looks beyond Prague and Bratislava to collective action in small towns, provincial factories, and collective farms.

    Through his broad and deep analysis of workers' declarations, student bulletins, newspapers, film footage, and the proceedings of local administrative bodies, Krapfl contends that Czechoslovaks rejected Communism not because it was socialist, but because it was arbitrarily bureaucratic and inhumane. The restoration of a basic "humanness"-in politics and in daily relations among citizens-was the central goal of the revolution. In the strikes and demonstrations that began in the last weeks of 1989, Krapfl argues, citizens forged new symbols and a new symbolic system to reflect the humane, democratic, and nonviolent community they sought to create. Tracing the course of the revolution from early, idealistic euphoria through turns to radicalism and ultimately subversive reaction, Revolution with a Human Face finds in Czechoslovakia's experiences lessons of both inspiration and caution for people in other countries striving to democratize their governments.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6942-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures, Maps, and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    It is a strange thing that most studies of the Czechoslovak revolution of 1989 ignore or marginalize its most important actor: Czechoslovak citizens. If, after all, the revolution of 1989 was a democratic revolution, then it follows that the demos—the people—should be at the center of our attention. Instead, most of the historical, political, and even sociological analyses that have been published in the successor states and abroad focus on elites. While some of these studies are superlative, the unsettling implication of the collective reticence surrounding popular engagement in 1989 is that this engagement was not very important....

  7. Chapter 1 The Rhetoric of Revolution
    (pp. 11-34)

    If only because some label is required to discuss what happened in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the question incessantly arises, Was it, properly speaking, a revolution? Charles Tilly, a prominent theorist of revolutions, argues that it was, because the case satisfies his definition of revolution as a “revolutionary situation” (contested sovereignty) followed by a “revolutionary outcome” (transfer of power).² Jaroslav Krejčí, a rival theorist, insists it was not, because the case fails to meet his definitional requirement that change be accomplished by means of illegitimate violence.³ One reason that the question has never been settled, of course, is that there is...

  8. Chapter 2 The Big Bang of the Signifiers
    (pp. 35-73)

    We have seen how the general lines of Czech and Slovak discourse shifted from nearly unanimous discussion of “revolution” in 1989 to later invocation of terms considered more neutral, such as “upheaval” and “events.” Scholarly inquiry into the “events” has followed a similar progression. Whereas between 1990 and 1992, the word revolution figured most commonly in monographs devoted to 1989 and its aftermath, in subsequent years terms such as collapse and fall have become more standard. The change in emphasis is not merely rhetorical, reflecting an attempt to provide sober, scientific correctives to the enthusiastic, triumphalist narratives of the early...

  9. Chapter 3 The Ideals of November
    (pp. 74-110)

    The collective effervescence discussed in the previous chapter made it possible to believe that a new society was at hand in Czechoslovakia, and citizens of all political persuasions hailed its advent. The revolution, according to a group of Bratislava factory workers, inaugurated a “new epoch,” with “new thoughts” and “new feelings.”² Shipyard workers in the Slovak capital expected “such a development in our country that will bring about a new, socially just society.”³ Students in November and December were said to be “working like bees at the construction of a new society,” and by mid-December even Communists acknowledged that a...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. Chapter 4 The Boundaries of Community
    (pp. 111-152)

    Readers of the previous chapter may have wondered where national identity and self-determination fell among revolutionary ideals. The “velvet revolution” of 1989, after all, led directly or indirectly to the “velvet divorce” of 1992. Can we not find among “the ideals of November” at least a foreshadowing of what was to come?

    The question must be placed in a broader context. To reiterate, the revolution of 1989 was first and foremost the genesis of transcendent solidarity. The emergence of a new sense of community was chronologically primary in the experiences of revolutionary protagonists, and initially terms such as nation and...

  12. Chapter 5 Power in the Streets
    (pp. 153-184)

    In the afternoon of 27 November, shortly after the General Strike, the district committee of the Communist Party in the north Bohemian town of Louny held a crisis meeting. Its members easily reached consensus that they had lost the initiative. “We’re at least five days behind everything against which we’re competing,” lamented one of the comrades.² Another said, “In all seriousness, we lost the first week,” concluding that the Party’s tactic of forbidding workers from striking had only made matters worse.³ “I think we can all agree,” sighed one secretary, “that the situation is very serious even here in our...

  13. Chapter 6 The Will of the People
    (pp. 185-216)

    We have glimpsed already how spokespersons for Civic Forum and Public against Violence understood these associations’ role in revolutionary society. OF-VPN in Komárno declared that it was “a means of citizens’ self-defense and a check on state power.” VPN in Nové Zámky identified itself with “the will of the people.” Petr Pithart emphasized that Civic Forum represented the square, the seat of popular authority. From the beginning, the civic associations identified themselves as the voice of the public, expressing its demands and able to take action to ensure their fulfillment.² During the week prior to the General Strike, Václav Havel...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-228)

    The theme of this book has been the cultural history of the Gentle Revolution, focusing on the experiences of ordinary citizens rather than political elites. The book has argued that the revolution was, most essentially, the genesis of a new sense of community. The experience of coming together in response to the sacrificial dynamics of 17 November was profoundly moving, establishing the perceived new community itself as a transcendent referent—the center of a new symbolic system. This experience generated a new relationship to meaningfulness itself, a new framework for determining meaning that was reflected in a shift from ironic...

  15. Chronology
    (pp. 229-232)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-250)
  17. Index
    (pp. 251-260)