Who Gets To Be a Hero, and Who Doesn’t?

Over the summer, there’s been many things going on in the Czech Republic and elsewhere that have some bearing on my research. One of the issues I’ve been following is Michal Uhl‘s attempts to name František Kriegel an honorary citizen of Prague 2, where he (Uhl, not Kriegel) is a council member. Following the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Kriegel was amongst those high-ranking politicians who were taken to Moscow to sign a protocol agreeing to the invasion. He refused.

46 years afterwards, attempts to honor Kriegel for his refusal to sign were met with criticism – Kriegel, after all, had never stopped being an ardent communist. The debate that ensued offers examples of many things that I seek to argue for in my dissertation – in particular, that legislation dealing with the past does not become so hotly contested because it *does* something and changes people’s situations (for some limited values of ‘do’, ‘changes’, and ‘situations’, of course). Kriegel passed away long ago. The reason those laws – ranging from Uhl’s proposal to lustration laws to the institute for the study of totalitarian regimes – is because of the interpretations of the past those laws forward. The laws themselves become symbols of a certain take on forty years of communism, and it’s these symbols that enrage people and fuel the flames of the ongoing debate over the communist.

I’ve been meaning to write about this thing in greater detail for some time but have been too busy over the last year (teaching, getting married, traveling) to really invest much time. And now I don’t need to anymore. Jan Adamec, who runs a Czech Cold War website, wrote a great analysis in the Visegrad Revue. A great read for those interested in how Czechs understand the communist past.

In the meantime, if I ever do get my act together, maybe I’ll write about some other things going on in the Czech Republic – like the ‘Service Law’, which has been kicking around since 2002, was recently re-tabled in the context of Andrej Babiš’s problems regarding his StB past. This law is supposed to regulate appointments to the Czech civil service, and would probably replace the lustration law which is about to enter its 24th year. Or about how the Slovakian judge determined that there was no evidence that Babiš (the Czech vice-PM) did in fact collaborate with the secret service. Or about how TOP09 politician (probably one of the most hated politicians in CZ) Miroslav Kalousek has to apologize to a communist MP that he called a snitch. Or I could write about Czech views of the conflict in Ukraine, and how this too is seen through a lens of the 1968 invasion in particular and understandings of communism in general, but is also shaped by the hard politics of security in the face of a resurgent Russia.

Clearly, I have plenty of work, as (like Faulkner has it) the past is not dead, it’s not even past!


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