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Past in the Making

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Michal Kopecek

Begetting & Remembering

Creating a Slovak Collective Memory in the Post-Communist World

Owen v. Johnson

Texte intégral

1The archival reading room at Matica slovenská (the Slovak Cultural Organization) closed early 7 November 1973. Researchers were asked to leave so that Matica’s employees could join the march to celebrate the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The employees were in a gay mood as they left, laughing and talking to one another. They were manda-tory volunteers to celebrate an event that was said to have set off a wave of self-determination that extended into Slovakia. Throughout that day and into the next, the Czech and Slovak media reported with great fanfare similar marches across Czechoslovakia.

  • 1 Beata Balogova, “History Marches On at SNP Ceremonies—How Will Officials Respond to Neo-Nazi tende (...)

2Thirty-two years later, only a handful of people in Bratislava came to pay homage to the anniversary of the 1988 candle commemoration, which under the east wind from Soviet Union, had manifested an expression of Slovak desire for freedom. No one was required to march. Journalists reported what happened because it was a planned event and their editors had sent them there. Coverage of the August 2005 commemoration in Bratislava of the Slovak National Uprising, attended by 300 people, was meager, the occasion having been overshadowed by demonstrations by Slovenská pospolitosť, a right-wing group.1

  • 2 Elena Mannova, ed., A Concise History of Slovakia (Bratislava: Historicky ustav, 2000): 7.

3Even though history is not as consciously inserted into the Slovak and Czech public square as it once was, historians, politicians and journalists still keep returning to their histories and the traditions of their nations, trying to redesign the past and give it a new meaning. Politicians consciously try to shape the past to suit their work and their goals for the future. Historians, beneficiaries of the knowledge of what happened between the past and the present, probe both old and new evidence to give the past new meanings. As communicators of the present, journalists find the popular understandings of the past easier to employ than the complicated approaches of the historians. They also depend on politicians, other public figures, and historians to give them signals about how to understand the past. Throughout the 20th century the Czech and Slovak publics learned different histories, each history canceling out the previous one. “The historical consciousness of society had to be interpreted and reshaped according to the topical political themes,” writes Elena Mannová.2

  • 3 Yen Le, “The ‘We-Win-Even-When-We-Lose’ Syndrome: U.S. Press Coverage of the Twenty-Fifth Annivers (...)
  • 4 E.g., John E Haynes, “The Cold War Debate Continues: A Traditionalist View of Historical Writing o (...)

4Historical periods pile up on each other, so that a reinterpretation of one historical period implicitly reinterprets other periods. This problem is not unique to Slovakia. The evaluation of the US war in Vietnam as a failure calls into question Americans’ understanding of World War II as “the good war.” When considering the Vietnam war in retrospect, US media have tended to focus on individual accounts of suffering, tragedy and success to present a “we-win-even-when-we-lose” description of the war.3 Similarly, the end of the Cold War has brought reconsiderations of both its domestic and its international aspects.4

5At the beginning of the 20th century, Slovak students in schools learned that they were beneficiaries of a thousand years of Hungarian glory while in their homes some of them were becoming increasingly aware of an alternative Slovak history. In the interwar Czechoslovak Re-public they learned that Czechs and Slovaks had also had historical and cultural ties that led inevitably to the country’s founding. During World War II, Slovaks were instructed about the apparently finally successful Slovak struggle for independence. After 1948 they learned that it was thanks to the continuing efforts of the Czech and Slovak working classes that Czechoslovakia (later the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic) had become a worker’s paradise.

6Since 1989 a public debate has raged back and forth about the meaning of Slovak history in general as well as about what individual portions of that history might signify. Former dissident and later Christian Democratic leader Ján Čarnogurský told me in a 1990 interview that the problem with Slovak history is that there were too few heroes, and that the color of Slovak history might well be gray. Slovaks agree on very few of their heroes. Only three are generally given broad positive ratings. One is Ľudovít Štúr, journalist and codifier of the modern Slovak language, who was at the head of the revolutionary Slovak movement in 1848. He died young. Another is Milan Štefánik, a general and astronomer, commonly considered one of the three founding fathers of Czechoslovakia. He died a year later in a plane crash in Bratislava. The third is Alexander Dubček, who was conceived in the United States, grew up in the Soviet Union, and became leader of the Communist Party of Slovakia in 1963, where he supported liberalization as well as Slovak national interests. To all intents and purposes his public career ended with the Soviet invasion in 1968, even though he returned as a post-1989 figurehead before dying in a mysterious automobile accident. Only these three Slovaks receive consistently good marks from a broad range of their compatriots.

7It should be clear that what we are dealing with here is as much memory as it is history. Only for the communist period are we dealing with mass personal memory, although that also applies to people now at least 70 years of age who lived through World War II. But even those memories compete with the impact of communist power upon memory and national history. It is difficult to find the border between history and the present.

8The first part of this chapter will discuss the role of journalists during the communist period in leading a reexamination of certain aspects of Slovak history. The second part will consider the role of the postcommunist media as an institution in dealing or not dealing with difficult issues in Slovakia’s modern history, the actions of the Slovak State during World War II regarding the country’s Jews and the self-evaluation of the population’s complicity during 40 years of communist rule.

9During communist days it was said ironically that whoever controlled the past controlled the future. Limiting historical debate, it was thought, would guarantee that the media could teach the public historical lessons that would not be challenged by alternative stories about the past. Unsatisfactory events in that past would be forgotten. Public memory had to be approved. Under such conditions, private memory about certain events remained alive, ready to reemerge into public discourse when Communism fell. But this private memory sometimes reflected the public memory of past regimes, sometimes even of earlier incarnations of communist thinking.

  • 5 Stanislav J. Kirschbaum, “Slovakia: Whose History, What History?” Canadian Slavonic Papers 45, Nos (...)

10What are we to make today of the Slovak past ? Does it have a unity ? Is there a distinctly Slovak experience ? (I use Slovak here as an adjective for the geographical territory of Slovakia, not for the Slovak ethnic group). Stanislav Kirschbaum, taking a primordial approach, has never had any doubt about this, but rejoiced in a 2003 article that the rest of western scholarship, he thought, had finally recognized this perspective.5

11From the days of the emergence of the Slovak national movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, its leaders sought to define a specific Slovak history that was above debate. History was assigned a supporting role in the nationalist cause. Intellectual debate and discussion about history was not encouraged. If anything, it was actively discouraged. Dissenters sometimes offered different story lines of the past that differed from the official line. Occasionally the official history that was put forward had not actually happened. History, like economic development, was planned. At its worst, history was falsified and myths were created out of nothing. Only since 1989 have professional historians (who had been few in number until the 1960s anyway) had the freedom to debate and discuss the past.

  • 6 Costica Bradatan, “A Time of Crisis—A Crisis of (the Sense of) Time: The Political Production of T (...)
  • 7 Ibid.

12Costica Bradatan argues that the people who lived in the communist bloc have to face the past, but that they lack “a proper understanding of what the past is.”6 Yet this necessity of facing the past was mandated “to make moral judgments, establish responsibilities and accept/deny guilt…”7

  • 8 It is now possible to examine the communist-era background of the current Slovak elite through the (...)

13Discussing the events of the communist period in Slovakia is particularly fraught with difficulty because many of the leaders of today’s Slovakia participated in that earlier society. As one historian put it, these people and many others who are active in society do not want to address their own complicity in this system. “You know how it was,” they say to each other.8

14And we know to some degree how it was. The young Slovak communist leaders of the late 1940s who led the brutal political cleansings of the late 1940s and early 1950s, were themselves purged after they became leaders in “Socialism with a Human Face.” A couple of incidents will help demonstrate this.

  • 9 Letter from “Akčny vybor pri Svazu slovenskych novinarov” [Action Committee of the Union of Slovak (...)

15A so-called “Action Committee” was formed by the Union of Slovak Journalists on 27 February 1948, just two days after the communist seizure of power. It expelled 40 journalists from its ranks. One of those ousted was Karol Hušek, a Czech who had come to Slovakia before World War I and put himself at the service of Slovak journalism for more than 30 years. He had headed the Bratislava branch of the Union before World War II and was vice-chair of the organization after World War II. No matter. “The SUJ forbids you to do any kind of journalistic work, even as part-time employment,” a letter from the action committee, chaired by Mieroslav Hysko, read. Hušek was ordered to return his membership card “in person or by mail” within two weeks. Without that card he could not work as a journalist.9

16In May 1963, Hysko was the primary speaker at a conference of Slovak journalists that marked a frontal attack on the communist party authorities. The primary theme of the attack focused on the issue of national discrimination against Slovaks. Hysko even used the term “bourgeois Czechoslovakism,” thus attacking the party leadership on two fronts : for not really being communists ; and for being against equal rights for Slovaks. But an important supporting theme was the journalists’ desire to recover Slovak history. Several speakers called for the rehabilitation of the Slovak understanding of the Slovak National Uprising of 1944, many of whose leaders had been condemned as nationalist and anti-communist.

17What is important is that it was journalists, primarily those based in Bratislava since party control was too strong outside the capital, who started down that road. It was not the politicians or historians who led the reexamination, although the latter quickly joined the journalists’ cause. In contrast to the Czech case, journalists as a group took on a more important leading role in this movement than did writers. (This can be explained partly by the fact that so many Slovak writers had been co-opted by the regime, and partly by the fact that those writers who more openly supported the regime, worked alongside journalists as what they called “publicists,” something akin to the notion of public intellectuals serving the state.)

18The printed press emerged as the center of this movement, with recent history as an important focus, most particularly the Slovak National Uprising of 1944 and the purges in the early days of Communism. Young historians crossed over into the media at times as publicists, including individuals such as L’ubomír Lipták, one of the two most important Slovak historians of the 20th century, and Samo Falťan. Gustáv Husák, who had been purged and imprisoned as the leader of the Communist Party of Slovakia in the early 1950s, also weighed in with his own interpretation of the Uprising, which he had helped to lead.

19The history of the Slovak State was not discussed during the reform communist period. To speak or write positively in any way about the Slovak State was taboo and not immediately relevant to journalists’ or politicians’ concerns. Historians began to look more closely at earlier periods of Slovak history, but journalists found them uninteresting.

20In June 1969, members of the Communist Party of the College of Arts and Sciences (Filozofická fakulta) at Comenius University gathered to discuss the post-invasion situation. It was clear to most people at the meeting what way things were going. A crackdown was coming. The only question was when it would come and how hard it would be. Mieroslav Hysko was now on the faculty of the journalism department, which he had joined after the events of 1963. He raised his hand, asking to speak. He walked to the platform and pulled out of his jacket pocket a manuscript. The audience fell silent as it listened to a condemnation of the way things were going. We lived through lies before, Hysko said, and many of us were once accomplices in those lies. He would not be a part of that again.

21He took out his party membership card and threw it on the table at the front of the room. He was leaving the party, he said.

22After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and four other states, supervision of the Slovak news media became the responsibility of the Slovak Office of Press and Information, subsumed in 1980 under the Federal Office of Press and Information (FÚTI). Journalists were provided with guidelines about when and how to write about chapters of Slovak history, usually on the occasion of anniversaries. The original distortions of the history of the Slovak National Uprising and the purges were eliminated to some degree.

  • 10 Marina Zavacka, “Buržoazni nacionalisti? Slovenski komunisti.” [Bourgeois Nationalists? Slovak Com (...)

23The revolt of the journalists and the challenge it provided to contemporary history deserves special attention because it shows not only how a historical event or historical period became important in politics, but also how the reexamination of that period changed its original meaning. Marína Zavacká is right to remind us that the “bourgeois nationalists” celebrated by the journalists were nonetheless communists.10 But in the process the “bourgeois nationalists” became a national symbol, and the treatment of what happened to them could be used as a justification to raise other historical questions.

24The fall of communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989 opened the door to a less-politicized study of history, but politicized history did not disappear. In fact, it inserted itself vigorously into the public square where professional historians tread carefully.

  • 11 Thomas E. Fischer, “Der slowakische Sonderweg: Zur Geschichtskultur in einer Transformationsgesell (...)

25The study of the history of the World War II Slovak State, established at the behest of Nazi Germany, provides ample opportunity to examine how post-communist Slovakia, or at least its historians and journalists, are reexamining the past. Thomas E. Fischer has argued that coming to terms with what happened in the Slovak State is crucial for the development of a democratic society.11

26The face of Slovak journalism is quite different today than it was before Communism fell, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the former communist bloc. Almost the entire enterprise is staffed by people who came of age after the Velvet Revolution. Several years ago, one researcher commented that it used to be that anyone who had been in journalism less than five years was considered a beginner, whereas today anyone with five years of experience is considered a veteran. Political influence in the press has dropped dramatically since the fall of Vladimír Mečiar from power in 1998. In 2005, the organization Reporters sans frontières listed Slovakia as having the eighth freest journalism in the world, just behind a seven-way tie for first. That ranking would have improved even further a short time later, when the politician Pavol Rusko lost control of the Markíza television channel, which for the previous decade had been the most-watched channel in the country and in whose news reports Rusko was known to have intervened. It might be argued, however, that the free-dom that is generally evident in the Slovak news media today reflects a certain neutering of the role of the press. In recent years the Slovak news media have primarily reflected the public debate, rather than being involved in it in their own right. (Many American journalists would argue that that is the proper role of the news media, although that clashes with the commitment to “watchdogism” by modern American journalism.)

  • 12 Kirschbaum, “Slovakia: Whose History…,” p. 464. Also see Stan Kirschbaum, “The First Slovak Republ (...)
  • 13 In contrast, East Germany, another country under communist rule, could not avoid the Holocaust sin (...)
  • 14 Gil Eyal, “Identity & Trauma.” History & Memory 16, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2004): 5–36.
  • 15 Ivan Kamenec, “Sedemdesiattisic Židov: Holokaust na Slovensku, jeho reflexie v literature a spoloč (...)
  • 16 Michael Shafir, “Deflective Negationism of the Holocaust in Postcommunist East-Central Europe (Par (...)

27Stan Kirschbaum points out that “in post-1989 Slovak politics, the Slovak State was the object of vigorous public discussion, quite polemical at times….”12 During most of the communist period, the Slovak State had, in contrast, been off limits, sometimes practically a terra incognita. 13 This immediate post-communist debate often took place in the press, but it was generated by politicians and publicist historians, not by journalists, who usually only reported on it. Historians who supported the nationalist Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar saw themselves as “guardians of collective memory and identity,” not as people whose professional values are above the nation.14 What emerged first was not a careful historical, sociological, or ethnological study, but prosecutorial charges and counter-charges, a not surprising development when it is remembered that people who had experienced these life-and-death matters were being allowed for the first time in 40 years to discuss them.15 Supporters and defenders of the Slovak State, including several people who had played leading roles in that state, as well as amateur historians, were able for the first time to present their arguments to the Slovak public. They blamed individuals for the “mistakes” that were made, and said that the system of the time itself should not be criticized. The deportation of Jews was blamed on Prime Minister Vojtech Tuka, or other radicals.16 The arguments combined a latent anti-Semitism with a strong nationalist accent and a commitment to a Roman Catholic Slovakia.

  • 17 Chad Bryant, “Whose Nation? Czech Dissidents & History Writing from a Post-1989 Perspective,” Hist (...)
  • 18 Ivan Kamenec, “Niekoľko poznamok k vyvoju slovenskej historiografie po roku 1989, alebo o peripeti (...)

28Defenders of the Slovak State’s treatment of the Jews tried to strengthen their arguments by demeaning the qualifications of professional historians who had exercised their craft during the communist period. The Slovak State’s apologists rarely addressed the specific questions raised by such historians, arguing instead that the latter had written history during communist rule and were thus tainted. In reality, some of Slovakia’s best communist-era historians had operated in a gray zone, on some occasions writing ideological material on the orders of party authorities while on other occasions trying to stretch the boundaries of what was permitted.17 Under the Mečiar regime the primacy of the publicist historian drained away some of the resources from professional historians.18

  • 19 Zora Butorova et al., Current Problems of Slovakia After the Split of the CSFR—October 1993 (Brati (...)

29The debate seems to have changed few minds because it was, in essence, a political debate, not a historical one. A poll by Zora Bútorová in 1993 included several questions about the wartime Slovak State. One of them asked whether the new post-communist Slovakia should consider itself a successor of the Slovak State. Just over 20 percent said “yes” or “more yes than no,” while 58 percent said “no” or “more no than yes.” The evaluation of Jozef Tiso was more complicated. In it 25 percent said that he should be viewed positively or more positively than negatively, while 42.5 percent said he should be viewed negatively or more negatively than positively, and 18 percent said both.19 The more moderate view of Tiso probably reflects two things : first, that he was a Roman Catholic priest ; and second, that he was executed in 1947, which some people believe was the result of Czech pressure.

  • 20 Michael Carpenter discusses the nationalist populism that by 1997 was backed by ultranationalists (...)
  • 21 Práca, (19 April 1997).
  • 22 “Slovak Premier Raps Book Denying Hounding of Jews,” (Reuters, 27 June 1997, 11:07 a.m. EDT). A de (...)
  • 23 Elena Mannova, “Clio na slovensky sposob: Problemy a nove pristupy historiografie na Slovensku po (...)

30The populist and nationalist historians achieved their greatest success with the publication, with the assistance of the European Union PHARE fund, of 80,000 copies of Dejiny Slovenska a Slovákov in 1996, designated for use as a history handbook in Slovak schools, part of the triumph of nationalist populism.20 Professional Slovak historians issued a stronglyworded protest.21 After an international uproar, the then prime minister Vladimír Mečiar acknowledged that “some parts of the book are inadequate or historically incorrect,” and promised to remove it from schools, although he left copies in teachers’ libraries.22 After Mečiar’s defeat a year later, the divisions among historians narrowed.23

  • 24 For one of the more interesting debates with representatives from several sides, see M. Janek and (...)
  • 25 Zora Butorova et al., Current Problems of Slovakia After the Split of the CSFR— October 1993 (Brat (...)

31In contrast, attitudes to the Slovak National Uprising were much more positive, despite the vigorous efforts of émigré historians.24 More than 80 percent agreed with the statement that the Uprising “was an expression of resistance of the Slovaks to Fascism and we should therefore be proud of it,” 11.4 percent disagreed.25

  • 26 A newsweekly referred to it as “The Film That Shook Slovakia.” Andrej Ban, “Film, ktory zatriasol (...)

32In spring 2004, Slovak Television, after a delay by its director, showed a moving documentary, “Love Your Neighbor,” (Miluj blížneho svojho), about a pogrom, on 24 September 1945, against Jews in Topol’čany.26 The program traced the history of Slovak–Jewish relations in the spa town and reviewed the extensive wartime deportations, then focused on the pogrom itself. The producers found some locals who still speak chillingly against Jews, even when there are no longer any in the town. Following the program, eight intellectuals, including historian Ivan Kamenec, discussed it. Only Ján Čarnogurský took issue with the program, saying that it unfairly blamed the Roman Catholic Church. In spite of the efforts of partisans of the Slovak State to blame individuals or Nazis for the deportation and murder of Slovak Jews during World War II, it is clear that this pogrom was carried out by Slovaks. In effect, it challenged the Slovak State’s defenders. In the fall of 2005, nearly a year and a half after the program was aired, the Mayor of Topoľčany, on behalf of the city council, apologized for the pogrom.

  • 27 See the special section, “L´udacky režim.” [People's Party Regime] Format 3, No. 10 (8 March 2004) (...)
  • 28 Milada Čechova, “V hlavnej ulohe Jozef Tiso.” [Jozef Tiso in the Leading Role] Sme, (11 April 2005 (...)

33The documentary, by its nature a form of journalism that takes a position, cast the Holocaust in Slovakia in black-and-white terms, and got past some careful media presentations that tried to contextualize the Slovak State and its leaders.27 In April 2005, a one-man play about Tiso opened in Bratislava, based mostly on Tiso’s writings and speeches, in one of which Tiso remarks that he will not allow Slovaks to die to save the Jews. Press coverage was modest because Actor Marian Labuda refused to give interviews. Neo-fascists threatened to blow up the theatre.28

  • 29 For example, see Rudolf Chmel, “Aj v tej Černovej striel’ali Slovaci.” [Even in Černova, the Slova (...)
  • 30 Quoted in Beata Balogova, “Let’s End the Silence About the Wartime Slovak State.” Slovak Spectator (...)

34Public debate on pre-communist Slovak history continues in intellectual publications.29 The evidence about the Holocaust, however, has become undeniable in public life, as evidenced when President Ivan Gašparovič apologized in 2006 to Israel : “I come from a country that did not avoid the brown plague—as we call Fascism—and, unfortunately, did not avoid deportations of Jews either … The Holocaust is the darkest stain in human history.”30

  • 31 Silvio Waisbord, “Media & the Reinvention of the Nation,” in The SAGE Handbook of Media Studies, J (...)
  • 32 Owen V. Johnson, “Failing Democracy: Journalists, the Mass Media, and the Dissolution of Czechoslo (...)
  • 33 Ivan Kamenec, Hľadamie a blúdenie v dejinách [Seeking and Groping in History] (Bratislava: Kalligr (...)

35In the modern world, the relationship of mass media, especially journalism, to nation is complex. Some scholars argue that nationalism in the press can help provide a defense against globalization.31 In the Slovak case, one could argue that a national agenda had moved to the fore after 1968, strengthened in 1989, and moved to a position of crucial importance in 1992 because of the uncertainties related to the division of Czechoslovakia and the loss of its state identity, as well as the disappearance of the required socialist identity of communist days.32 Thus initially, journalism provided a sympathetic ear to a nationalist agenda, represented especially by the efforts of nationalist politicians to praise the wartime Slovak State. As the future of the new Slovak Republic seemed more assured, however, journalists became less sympathetic, especially when professional historians aggressively presented a more nuanced view of the Slovak State.33

  • 34 Matt Reynolds, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” New York Times, (24 October 2005): 1; Charles (...)
  • 35 Andrew Roberts, “The Politics & Anti-Politics of Nostalgia,” East European Politics and Societies (...)
  • 36 “Major Zeman po Povstaleckej historii nepride,” [Major Zeman Doesn't Come After the Uprising Histo (...)

36Coming to terms with the communist experience has been more difficult. The re-runs of the communist-era spy-thriller “Major Zeman” that began on Czech television a couple of years ago received international attention.34 Critics wondered how programs that glorify the communist system could be shown again. It reflected nostalgia for the popular culture of late Communism, which had been nearly empty of ideology.35 Public television in Slovakia showed its own communist-era series, a historical portrayal of the Slovak National Uprising of 1944. The series is based on the writings of Viliam Plevza, an adviser to the late communist leader Gustáv Husák, and reflects Husak’s view of the Uprising.36 It is no different than a US film that glorifies the pre-Civil War South, but when public understanding of the past in Slovakia is distorted, it only confuses the issue, particularly when entertainment programs are watched by more people than are news broadcasts, and most importantly, when television generally carries more impact than any other medium.

  • 37 Nadya Nedelsky, “Divergent Responses to a Common Past: Transitional Justice in the Czech Republic (...)
  • 38 Muriel Blave, Une destalinisation manqué: Tchécoslovaquie 1956 [A Missing Destalinization: Czechos (...)

37Much remains to be learned about the communist period. This is much more characteristic of Slovakia than the Czech Republic because the post1968 regime had greater legitimacy in Slovakia than in the Czech Republic, ironically in part because of the success of the journalists’ protests discussed above.37 The republics’ differing views on the legitimacy of the post-1968 regime also reflects the fact that many Czechs who had initially supported the communist regime after 1948, felt especially betrayed by the Soviet invasion.38

  • 39 Pavel Seifter and František Svatek. “L’historiographie et le pouvoir: l’exemple tchecoslovaque (19 (...)
  • 40 Ivan Kamenec, “Phenomenon of Fear in Modern Slovak History?” Studia histórica Slovaca 19 (1995): 1 (...)
  • 41 Dušan Kovač, “Zamyslenie sa nad Slovenskou historiografiou devaťdesiatych rokov.” [Thoughts on Slo (...)

38Even historians who toiled in the fields of Clio during the communist era are difficult to characterize. While a few collaborated closely with the regime, others quietly published important work in out-of-the-way journals, while some—mostly in the Czech Lands—engaged in dissident history.39 Like other people in Czechoslovakia, they were “tangibly influenced by fear in their activities and achievements.”40 After 1989 some historians acknowledged their complicity, but rarely studied it.41

39What has not been examined so much is the daily life of compromise and avoidance. This determined forgetting has remained the dominant public stance on the history of the communist period. It is hard enough to write about ordinary lives, particularly when confronted with the knowledge of how people dealt with fear and ambition or the desire to make the best of the situation in which they found themselves. Such topics are not suitable material for journalistic treatment.

  • 42 A useful commentary is Peter Haslinger, “Narodne alebo nadnarodne dejiny? Historiografie o Slovens (...)

40Historians in Slovakia writing about the communist period not only first have to gather factual information, but they are also faced with the challenge of learning new historical approaches developed in the profession abroad, and they must also engage in some comparative history.42

  • 43 Jan Pešek is the most prominent contemporary historian in this area.

41Most Slovak historiography about the communist period has focused on the periods of crisis or dramatic change, where it is easier to ascribe guilt and innocence to individuals. The crackdown on various institutions, particularly the church, following the commencement of communist rule, is a gripping story.43 Most of its perpetrators have either died, or had already retired to private life in the 1950s, and in some respects have been forgotten. The people most responsible for cooperation with the Soviet masters following the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 are few in number, and also often advanced in years. The heroes of the reforms of the 1960s received their appreciations very soon after 1989, although their association with communist rule complicated judgments about their merits. Some of them became dissidents out of necessity, so they were not strictly speaking anti-communist heroes. The public wanted to distance itself from its own involvement with Communism.

42A wedge pushing journalists and the public into coming to terms with behavior during the communist period is the Institute for the Memory of the Nation, established in 2003. On its website are records both of the World War II Center of State Security, and of the secret police of the communist period.44 Its journal, the quarterly Pamät národa, provides a venue for historians who wish to delve into the topic of individual collaboration with the Nazi and communist regimes. The institute provides journalists with a legitimate public institution that can discuss issues of the communist period, thus overcoming the problems caused by the reluctance of public figures to introduce these topics.

  • 45 “Arcibiskup Sokol bol asi agent.” Sme, (10 February 2005).
  • 46 Monika Žemlova, “V Bratislave su kňazi agenti stale vysoko,” Sme, (7 July 2005).
  • 47 Daniel C. Hallin, “The Media, the War in Vietnam, & Political Support: A Critique of the Thesis of (...)

43In early 2005, Ján Langoš, then the institute’s head, reported that Archbishop Ján Sokol, vice-chair of the Conference of Slovak Bishops, had been registered in secret police records as an agent.45 By July, the newspaper Sme reported that more than a quarter of the deans in Sokol’s archdiocese had also been agents.46 After a few church denials, the issue disappeared from view until an interview aired on 27 December 2006 by the all-news channel TA3, in which Sokol praised the wartime Slovak State and its president, Jozef Tiso. This statement, combined with the earlier reports of Sokol’s cooperation with the secret police, again brought to the forefront the issue of individual behavior during the communist period. Journalists contrasted statements by Sokol and other church officials with comments by historians and politicians of differing outlooks. Daniel C. Hallin has argued persuasively that that the media in the United States did not persuade the people of the US to turn against the Vietnam War.47 The emergence of alternative official points of view in Slovakia is providing journalists there with the opportunity to begin to report the complicated history of the communist period.

  • 48 Nicholas Wood, “Young Bulgarians Know Their Nation’s History, Sort Of,” New York Times, (15 Novemb (...)

44In spring 2004, I was a guest speaker in a journalism history class at Comenius University. The discussion moved beyond history to politics and the place of media coverage of politics. The students had learned the theoretical lesson that the press should not be in bed with politicians, but should play the watchdog role. These students have no memory of living under Communism ; they were four years old at the time of the Velvet Revolution. I asked them whether they would have been party members or dissidents if they had been living in those days. Dissidents, they all answered. Children often don’t know what went on in their parents’ lives before they were born or for the early years of their lives.48 But these Slovak parents, having been complicit in the communist system, are not likely to talk about those days either. If parents aren’t interested, and the children aren’t interested, the news media will not pursue these topics. Coming to terms with the past will happen only when people outside the media raise the issues in such a way that the media are compelled to address them. This occurred with the occasional publication of the names of secret agents.

45How Slovaks think about history and the past, and the meaning and use that it has for them, derives largely from the mediated versions of history disseminated through the media. Generally, analyses and discussions of complex, controversial and difficult issues do not lend themselves to media treatment. The clear connection of the historical evaluation of the Slovak State with contemporary politics finally helped journalism and journalists to address historical issues of complicity. Few professional historians joined the defenders of the Slovak State.

46Much of the period of communist rule in Slovakia, however, remains an enigma. Today’s historians grew up in that period. So did the majority of adult Slovaks. They have different memories and believe different truths. Most of Slovakia’s journalists are young enough to not have adult memories of the communist period. On their own they are unlikely to follow up stories about that period. But the gradual democratization of Slovakia is leading to the development of a variety of official institutions and political outlooks, laying the groundwork for a debate about the past, a debate that will reach much further through society in Slovakia because the news media will be able to report alternative and conflicting viewpoints.

Notes

1 Beata Balogova, “History Marches On at SNP Ceremonies—How Will Officials Respond to Neo-Nazi tendencies?” Slovak Spectator, (11 September 2005). In a not fully successful effort to present a similar demonstration the following year, 150 police officers and security officials were sent to protect 800 participants. Daniel Vražda, “Fašisti provokovali na oslavach.” Sme, (30 August 2006).

2 Elena Mannova, ed., A Concise History of Slovakia (Bratislava: Historicky ustav, 2000): 7.

3 Yen Le, “The ‘We-Win-Even-When-We-Lose’ Syndrome: U.S. Press Coverage of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the ‘Fall of Saigon,’” American Quarterly 58, No. 2 (June 2006): 329–52.

4 E.g., John E Haynes, “The Cold War Debate Continues: A Traditionalist View of Historical Writing on Domestic Communism & Anti-Communism,” Journal of Cold War Studies 2, No. 1 (Winter 2000): 76–115.

5 Stanislav J. Kirschbaum, “Slovakia: Whose History, What History?” Canadian Slavonic Papers 45, Nos. 3–4 (September–December 2003): 459–67.

6 Costica Bradatan, “A Time of Crisis—A Crisis of (the Sense of) Time: The Political Production of Time in Communism & Its Relevance for the Postcommunist Debates,” East European Politics & Societies 19, No. 2 (Spring 2005): 260.

7 Ibid.

8 It is now possible to examine the communist-era background of the current Slovak elite through the website Leaders.sk. See “Baring the Slovak Elite & Its ‘Fascinating Past.’” Slovak Spectator, (17 October 2005).

9 Letter from “Akčny vybor pri Svazu slovenskych novinarov” [Action Committee of the Union of Slovak Journalists] 164/48 of 12 April 1948, 150 BV 52, Archív literatúry a umení, Slovenska narodna knižnica, Martin. Elsewhere in Hušek’s papers (150 BX 25) is the draft of a letter of March 2 from Hušek to Hysko. Ironically, Hysko himself would be ousted from the Union following the 1968 Soviet invasion.

10 Marina Zavacka, “Buržoazni nacionalisti? Slovenski komunisti.” [Bourgeois Nationalists? Slovak Communists] Česko-Slovenská historická ročenka (1998): 75–78.

11 Thomas E. Fischer, “Der slowakische Sonderweg: Zur Geschichtskultur in einer Transformationsgesellschaft.” [The Slovak Way: On Historical Culture in a Transforming Society] Ethnos—Nation 6 (1998): 145–57.

12 Kirschbaum, “Slovakia: Whose History…,” p. 464. Also see Stan Kirschbaum, “The First Slovak Republic (1939–1945): Some Thoughts on Its Meaning in Slovak History.” Österreichische Osthefte 41, Nos. 3–4 (1999): 405–25.

13 In contrast, East Germany, another country under communist rule, could not avoid the Holocaust since the topic was discussed in West Germany. For an interesting take on the role of media in this process, see Rene Wolf, “‘Mass Deception without Deceivers’? The Holocaust on East & West German Radio in the 1960s.” Journal of Contemporary History 41, No. 4 (October 2006): 741–55.

14 Gil Eyal, “Identity & Trauma.” History & Memory 16, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2004): 5–36.

15 Ivan Kamenec, “Sedemdesiattisic Židov: Holokaust na Slovensku, jeho reflexie v literature a spoločnosti.” [Seventy Thousand Jews: The Holocaust in Slovakia (and) its Reflection in Literature & Society] OS: Forum občianskej spoločnosti 9, Nos. 1–2 (2005): 14–22.

16 Michael Shafir, “Deflective Negationism of the Holocaust in Postcommunist East-Central Europe (Part 3): “Deflections to ‘The Fringe,’” RFE/RL East European Perspectives 4, No. 20 (2 October 2002); Gabriel Hoffmann, Zamlčaná pravdu o Slovensku [Silenced Truths About Slovakia] (Partizanske: Garmond, 1996).

17 Chad Bryant, “Whose Nation? Czech Dissidents & History Writing from a Post-1989 Perspective,” History & Memory 12, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2000): 39–40, describes Czech historians who worked in the gray zone.

18 Ivan Kamenec, “Niekoľko poznamok k vyvoju slovenskej historiografie po roku 1989, alebo o peripetiach jednej novej tradicie,” [Some Notes on the Development of Slovak Historiography After 1989, Or About the Peripatetic of a New Tradition] Česko-Slovenská historická ročenka 1998, p. 225.

19 Zora Butorova et al., Current Problems of Slovakia After the Split of the CSFR—October 1993 (Bratislava: Focus, 1993).

20 Michael Carpenter discusses the nationalist populism that by 1997 was backed by ultranationalists in the Slovak National Party, populists, and former communists, in “Slovakia & the Triumph of Nationalist Populism,” Communist & Post-Communist Studies 30, No. 2 (June 1997): 205–20. Kevin Deegan-Krause argues convincingly that this nationalism was not a Slovak characteristic, but rather a characteristic of the particular coalition. See his Elected Affinities: Democracy & Party Competition in Slovakia & the Czech Republic (Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press, 2006).

21 Práca, (19 April 1997).

22 “Slovak Premier Raps Book Denying Hounding of Jews,” (Reuters, 27 June 1997, 11:07 a.m. EDT). A detailed English-language website followed the developments regarding this book: http://www.angelfire.com/hi/xcampaign/engversion.html.

23 Elena Mannova, “Clio na slovensky sposob: Problemy a nove pristupy historiografie na Slovensku po roku 1989,” [Clio Slovak Style: Problems and New Approaches of Historiography in Slovakia After 1989] Historický časopis 52, No. 2 (2004): 245.

24 For one of the more interesting debates with representatives from several sides, see M. Janek and M. Straka, eds., “Ake si bolo, povstanie?” [What Was It Like, the Uprising] Slovensko 17, No. 4 (July–August 1994): 6–10, 26–27. For a more critical discussion of the use and misuse of the Uprising, see Martina Krenova and Michal Ač, eds., “Zneužite dejiny.” Kultúrny život 24, No. 20 (30 August 1990): 6–8.

25 Zora Butorova et al., Current Problems of Slovakia After the Split of the CSFR— October 1993 (Bratislava: Focus, 1993), Supplement, 33–36.

26 A newsweekly referred to it as “The Film That Shook Slovakia.” Andrej Ban, “Film, ktory zatriasol Slovenskom,” Format 3, No. 22 (31 May 2004): 51.

27 See the special section, “L´udacky režim.” [People's Party Regime] Format 3, No. 10 (8 March 2004): 48–55.

28 Milada Čechova, “V hlavnej ulohe Jozef Tiso.” [Jozef Tiso in the Leading Role] Sme, (11 April 2005).

29 For example, see Rudolf Chmel, “Aj v tej Černovej striel’ali Slovaci.” [Even in Černova, the Slovaks Did the Shooting] Sme, (3 September 2005).

30 Quoted in Beata Balogova, “Let’s End the Silence About the Wartime Slovak State.” Slovak Spectator, (6 March 2006).

31 Silvio Waisbord, “Media & the Reinvention of the Nation,” in The SAGE Handbook of Media Studies, John D.H. Downing, ed., (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004), pp. 375–92.

32 Owen V. Johnson, “Failing Democracy: Journalists, the Mass Media, and the Dissolution of Czechoslovakia,” in Irreconcilable Differences?: Explaining Czechoslovakia’s Dissolution, Michael Kraus and Allison K. Stanger, eds., (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), pp. 163–82; Eric M. Eisenberg, “Building a Mystery: Toward a New Theory of Communication & Identity.” Journal of Communication 51, No. 3 (September 2001): 534–52.

33 Ivan Kamenec, Hľadamie a blúdenie v dejinách [Seeking and Groping in History] (Bratislava: Kalligram, 2000), pp. 227–29.

34 Matt Reynolds, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” New York Times, (24 October 2005): 1; Charles W. Holmes, “Reruns of Communist-era Show Inflame Czechs: On the Anniversary of the ‘Velvet Revolution,’ a Dissident-busting ’70s TV Cop Has Viewers Tuning In and On a Tirade.” Atlanta Journal and Constitution, (17 November 1999); Peter Finn, “Prague’s Mannix for the Masses: ‘Major Zeman,’ Rehabilitated?” Washington Post, (30 November 1998): C1.

35 Andrew Roberts, “The Politics & Anti-Politics of Nostalgia,” East European Politics and Societies 16, No. 3 (Fall 2002): 764–809; Mirka Kernova, “Socialisticky nerealizmus: Prečo ľudia pozeraju normalizačne serialy,” [Seeking and Groping in History] Sme, (11 August 2005); Victor Gomez, “Nostalgia for the Communist Past,” Transitions Online, (17 November 2004).

36 “Major Zeman po Povstaleckej historii nepride,” [Major Zeman Doesn't Come After the Uprising History] Sme, (20 July 2005).

37 Nadya Nedelsky, “Divergent Responses to a Common Past: Transitional Justice in the Czech Republic & Slovakia.” Theory & Society 33, No. 1 (February 2004): 65–115.

38 Muriel Blave, Une destalinisation manqué: Tchécoslovaquie 1956 [A Missing Destalinization: Czechoslovakia 1956] (Paris: Editions Complexe, 2005).

39 Pavel Seifter and František Svatek. “L’historiographie et le pouvoir: l’exemple tchecoslovaque (1969–1990),” [Historiography and Power: The Czechoslovak Example (1969–1990)] Relations internationals 67 (Autumn 1997): 273–94; and Stanley B. Winters, “Science & Politics: The Rise & Fall of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.” Bohemia 35, No. 2 (1994): 268–99.

40 Ivan Kamenec, “Phenomenon of Fear in Modern Slovak History?” Studia histórica Slovaca 19 (1995): 128.

41 Dušan Kovač, “Zamyslenie sa nad Slovenskou historiografiou devaťdesiatych rokov.” [Thoughts on Slovak Historiography of the 1990s] Česko-Slovenská historická ročenka (2003): 225–31.

42 A useful commentary is Peter Haslinger, “Narodne alebo nadnarodne dejiny? Historiografie o Slovenska v evropskom kontexte,” Historický časopis 52, No. 2 (2004): 269–80.

43 Jan Pešek is the most prominent contemporary historian in this area.

44 http://www.upn.gov.sk

45 “Arcibiskup Sokol bol asi agent.” Sme, (10 February 2005).

46 Monika Žemlova, “V Bratislave su kňazi agenti stale vysoko,” Sme, (7 July 2005).

47 Daniel C. Hallin, “The Media, the War in Vietnam, & Political Support: A Critique of the Thesis of an Oppositional Media,” Journal of Politics 46, No. 1 (February 1984): 2–24.

48 Nicholas Wood, “Young Bulgarians Know Their Nation’s History, Sort Of,” New York Times, (15 November 2004): A4.

Auteur

Owen V. Johnson is Associate Professor of Journalism and Adjunct Professor of History at Indiana University. He is writing a book on media and nation in 20th-century Slovakia. He previously wrote Slovakia 1918– 1938: Education & the Making of a Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

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