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Between Prague Spring and French May

Between Prague Spring and French May: Opposition and Revolt in Europe, 1960-1980

Martin Klimke
Jacco Pekelder
Joachim Scharloth
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 356
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  • Book Info
    Between Prague Spring and French May
    Book Description:

    Abandoning the usual Cold War-oriented narrative of postwar European protest and opposition movements, this volume offers an innovative, interdisciplinary, and comprehensive perspective on two decades of protest and social upheaval in postwar Europe. It examines the mutual influences and interactions among dissenters in Western Europe, the Warsaw Pact countries, and the nonaligned European countries, and shows how ideological and political developments in the East and West were interconnected through official state or party channels as well as a variety of private and clandestine contacts. Focusing on issues arising from the cross-cultural transfer of ideas, the adjustments to institutional and political frameworks, and the role of the media in staging protest, the volume examines the romanticized attitude of Western activists to violent liberation movements in the Third World and the idolization of imprisoned RAF members as martyrs among left-wing circles across Western Europe.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-107-1
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    Martin Klimke, Jacco Pekelder and Joachim Scharloth

    From 28 July until 6 August 1968, Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, staged the 9th World Youth Festival. In the middle of the Cold War, 20,000 visitors from more than 130 countries poured into the city to celebrate the unity of Communist and socialist youth across the globe. Events, however, would soon make a mockery of the festival’s motto, “For Solidarity, Peace, and Friendship,” and turn Sofia into a showcase of ideological divisions among the Left in East and West.¹

    Signs of discord emerged as early as the opening ceremony in Sofia’s Vasil Levski National Stadium when the West German delegation...

  5. I. Politics between East and West

    • Chapter 1 “Out of Apathy”: Genealogies of the British “New Left” in a Transnational Context, 1956–1962
      (pp. 15-31)
      Holger Nehring

      This chapter traces the intellectual genealogies and meanings of the British “New Left.” The focus is on the first phase of the New Left, from its origins in 1956 to its decline in the early 1960s. Two approaches in particular dominate the history of the origins of the New Left. The first of these assumes that New Left ideas depended on the complete abandonment of old Left positions, involving a wholly new political language and culture.¹ In contrast, other historians have assumed that activists’ transitions from party membership to New Left participation were seamless.²

      Unlike many accounts that link the...

    • Chapter 2 Early Voices of Dissent: Czechoslovak Student Opposition at the Beginning of the 1960s
      (pp. 32-48)
      Zdeněk Nebřenský

      This chapter focuses on student opposition in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. Instead of emphasizing the spectacular protests of 1968, it traces the frictions and conflicts between students and the central authorities back into the early 1960s. By examining the student demands voiced at the founding conference of the Youth Higher Education Committee in Prague on 30 November 1963, this chapter will expose the language and context in which students articulated their dissent.

      Historical narratives of 1960s’ student opposition in Czechoslovakia are often subject to retrospective interpretation through the events of 1968.¹ Student activists, charismatic leaders of the reforming Czechoslovak Communist...

    • Chapter 3 National Ways to Socialism? The Left and the Nation in Denmark and Sweden, 1960–1980
      (pp. 49-63)
      Thomas Ekman Jørgensen

      The relationship between the Left and the nation has always been precarious. The international call for all workers to unite went hand in hand with the Left’s necessity to work within their respective national political context. To see the tension between the Left and the nation in the twentieth century, one has only to think of the fragmentation of the Second International under nationalist pressure at the onslaught of World War I or the communist parties’ dilemma of balancing internationalist ideology with national credibility in the second half of the century.

      There is a large amount of literature dealing with...

    • Chapter 4 The Parti communiste français in May 1968: The Impossible Revolution?
      (pp. 64-83)
      Maud Anne Bracke

      In recent years, and particularly in the context of the fortieth anniversary in 2008, a wealth of material has been published in France on the events of May 1968. It includes autobiographical material, political commentary, and most usefully, the first systematic attempts at historicization on the basis of wide-ranging primary source material. As gaps are being filled in, on an empirical as well as an interpretative level, what emerges is a growing understanding of the French May as the culmination point of a political and social crisis that found its origins in the advent of the Fifth Republic in 1958,...

    • Chapter 5 1968 in Yugoslavia: Student Revolt between East and West
      (pp. 84-100)
      Boris Kanzleiter

      The outbreak of the student revolt at Belgrade University in June 1968 did not come unexpectedly. However, the energy and dynamic of the protests surprised even its most engaged protagonists. During the night of 2–3 June, a brawl between youth and security forces on the fringes of a concert in the suburb of Novi Beograd escalated into an organized protest movement. In the early hours of 3 June, police used firearms to try and prevent a demonstration of thousands of students from making its way into the inner city.¹ Yet by early afternoon, the university buildings in the center...

  6. II. Protest Without Borders:: Recontextualization of Protest Cultures

    • Chapter 6 “Johnson War Criminal!”: Vietnam War Protests in the Netherlands
      (pp. 103-115)
      Rimko van der Maar

      The year 1968 has never been exceptionally important in Dutch historiography. This is because, in the Netherlands of 1968, there were no riots between students and the police. Furthermore, the flash points of 1960s-conflict in the Netherlands were in 1966 and 1969. June 1966 was also referred to as the “Dutch May 1968.”² On 13 June, disorder broke out on the streets of Amsterdam between youths and the police following the death of a bricklayer during a protest among construction workers;³ and in May 1969, students staged sit-ins demanding democratization in the main buildings of their universities.

      However, if 1968...

    • Chapter 7 Shifting Boundaries: Transnational Identification and Disassociation in Protest Language
      (pp. 116-131)
      Andreas Rothenhöfer

      There is no such thing as an impartial account of history or an ultimate meta-level of objective description. For the most part, historiography, as a hermeneutic discipline, depends on the art of interpreting source texts. Every interpretation is more than just a summary of facts. It is a delicate texture achieved by selecting, prioritizing, summarizing, and evaluating sources, reconstituting one’s tacit knowledge, text understanding, and reception of previous research. Especially contemporary history, with its recent and mostly familiar source language, may lend itself easily to a merging of separate cultural horizons, a merging of contemporary source language and concepts with...

    • Chapter 8 A Tale of Two Communes: The Private and the Political in Divided Berlin, 1967–1973
      (pp. 132-140)
      Timothy Brown

      The changing relationship between the private and the political is a central motif of the 1960s. Where the Marxist mass parties of the pre-1945 period had been content to keep the private and political spheres separate, the radicals of the New Left aspired to bring them together. The attempt to eliminate the boundaries separating the myriad concerns of daily life from the reach of the political was part of a broader project of creating a new and more total form of politics transcending older boundaries of action and categories of analysis.¹ This fundamental reconceptualization of the nature of politics, a...

    • Chapter 9 “Stadtindianer” and “Indiani Metropolitani”: Recontextualizing an Italian Protest Movement in West Germany
      (pp. 141-154)
      Sebastian Haumann

      In 1977 and 1978 a protest movement that took up the motif of the archetypical Native American as a symbol caused a stir in West Germany. Young people dressed as Indians organized festivals resembling Indians’ meetings and developed some degree of militancy against the “non-Indian” majority. The existence of the “Stadtindianer”—as the “urban Indians” called themselves—was an indication of a paradigm shift within West Germany’s protest culture. In the late 1970s the focus of Left-wing protest turned away from revolution as an aim toward autonomy as an end.¹ The goal that the “Indians” pursued was no longer to...

  7. III. The Media-Staging of Protest

    • Chapter 10 Mediatization of the Provos: From a Local Movement to a European Phenomenon
      (pp. 157-176)
      Niek Pas

      In the autumn of 1966, young people all over the world tried to contact a Dutch protest movement called Provo, short for “provocateur,” that had dominated the international headlines that summer and that was still the subject of fierce debate in press and media. Three letters that were sent to Amsterdam give us an idea of the attention the group received.

      In the first letter, written in June 1966, a dozen English activists in London, called the Notting Hill Libertarians and led by Brian McGrath, had decided to alter their name to the Notting Hill Provos, and concerning their actions...

    • Chapter 11 The Revolution Will Be Televised: The Global 1968 Protests in Norwegian Television News
      (pp. 177-198)
      Rolf Werenskjold

      The key role television played has become part of the conventional interpretation of the 1968 revolts and of how the protest phenomena spread transnationally and globally. The protests of 1968 spread worldwide within weeks, therefore, the conclusion that television news reports ignited or at least contributed to a latent unrest in many countries seems likely. But how central were the uprisings on the television news agenda in 1968? Was there any connection between the news coverage and the transmission of televised images of global demonstrations and street fights around the world? Did the television news initiate new demonstrations or protests?...

    • Chapter 12 Performing Disapproval toward the Soviets: Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Speech on 21 August 1968 in the Romanian Media
      (pp. 199-210)
      Corina L. Petrescu

      Within hours of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia on 21 August 1968, Nicolae Ceauşescu, Secretary General of the Romanian Communist Party, openly condemned the action; Europe and the United States held their breath. The Eastern bloc fearfully awaited the Soviet Union’s reaction, while in Western Europe and the U.S. alike, Ceauşescu’s audacity was interpreted and cheered as the birth of a maverick.¹ In Romania, the gesture won popular support and enthused many who believed that the country would strengthen its line of liberalization and rapprochement with the West. People, who until then had kept their distance from the party, now...

  8. IV. Discourses of Liberation and Violence

    • Chapter 13 Guerrillas and Grassroots: Danish Solidarity with the Third World in the 1960s and 1970s
      (pp. 213-232)
      Karen Steller Bjerregaard

      In the late summer of 1968, six young people met in central Copenhagen to organize the establishment of a Danish-Cuban Association. They were artists, students, and writers, some politically involved in the left wing, and others just returned from Cuba, where they had been traveling together. The explicit purpose of the association was to “work for the spread of knowledge of, and Danish solidarity with, the Cuban Revolution.”¹

      Invitations for a statutory general meeting were sent out, and in October 1968, seventy people arrived at Rømersgade no. 22 in Copenhagen, a historical location being the oldest meeting house of the...

    • Chapter 14 Sympathizing Subcultures? The Milieus of West German Terrorism
      (pp. 233-250)
      Sebastian Gehrig

      It is evident that the first terror groups in West Berlin in 1969 were deeply rooted in a radical left-wing milieu, which had been evolving in the city since the decline of the student movement.¹ The specific structure of this left-wing subculture and the beliefs of its ideological factions had a crucial impact on the ideology and organizational structure of the two major West German terror groups founded in West Berlin in 1970 and 1972. Whereas theRote Armee Fraktion(Red Army Faction/RAF) modified ideas in the leading circle of the West Berlin section of theSozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund(Socialist...

    • Chapter 15 The RAF Solidarity Movement from a European Perspective
      (pp. 251-266)
      Jacco Pekelder

      It is generally accepted that the “Rote Armee Fraktion” (Red Army Faction, RAF) had a significant impact on West German society in the 1970s. However, the shock waves caused by the actions of the RAF and the political and social response it provoked did not stop at Germany’s borders. From the very beginning, the Baader-Meinhof group attracted international media and public attention and appealed to the hearts and minds of particular audiences that were themselves challenging the established order in their parts of the globe. Despite a multitude of studies about the RAF and related topics produced by scholars, the...

  9. V. Epilogue

    • Chapter 16 The European 1960–70s and the World: The Case of Régis Debray
      (pp. 269-282)
      Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey

      The case surrounding Régis Debray is intricate. Despite publishing a 1,514 page autobiography in three volumes, which can be counted among the best autobiographic descriptions written by representatives of the ’68 generation, many questions are left open and many situations remain unclear.¹ Régis Debray granted me time for a couple of interviews to search for answers to unresolved questions. But since then I have often regretted that his question at our first encounter in a taxi in Paris: “Do you want to say, that you are able to explain my life to me?” was spontaneously countered by me with the...

  10. Chronology of Events of Protest in Europe 1968
    (pp. 283-307)
    Rolf Werenskjold
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 308-330)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 331-334)
  13. Index
    (pp. 335-347)