Publications: Czechoslovakia: Guinea Pig of the Cold War?

Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 in Articles, Books | 1 comment

Publications: Czechoslovakia: Guinea Pig of the Cold War?

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

My focus in some recent articles was on the year 1948 from a Czech perspective. I was an active participant in  events at that time and have found it hard to explain our inept leadership and apathetic public, both of which allowed the communists to take over the country so quickly and easily.

What about the U.S.’s perspectives? The short answer is that the U.S. was also asleep, and its representatives were often absent from Czechoslovakia, attending ski races or vacationing in Italy. Policymakers were ignorant of history and culture, did not understand communism, and were poorly informed about the impact of Nazi occupation on the people’s psyche. This is the view of one of the most respected historians at BostonCollege, Dr. Igor Lukes, who recently published a well-researched book titled On the Edge of the Cold War. Read it, because it examines major problems in U.S. international relations and considers their implications for current attitudes of Czechs and Slovaks regarding the United States.  (more…)

Publications: Waiting for Godot

Posted by on Jul 19, 2012 in Articles, Books | Comments Off on Publications: Waiting for Godot

Publications: Waiting for Godot

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

(Part One of Dr. Mestenhauser’s article appeared in the June/July Slovo.)

Proclaimed on Apr. 5, 1945, the Kosice Program—although written by the communists–defined the postwar state of a democratic Czechoslovakia. Two ministers were to be non-partisan: Ludvik Svoboda, Minister of National Defense, and Jan Masaryk, Minister of Foreign Affairs. As future events proved, these ministers were anything but non-partisan. Jan Masaryk refused to resign during the crisis; if he had resigned, then it would have meant that a majority of the cabinet had done so, and constitutionally Beneš would have been required to reject the resignations, keep the existing government in place, and declare immediate elections.

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Publications: February 25, 1948 The day of shame

Posted by on Jul 16, 2012 in Articles, Books | Comments Off on Publications: February 25, 1948 The day of shame

Publications: February 25, 1948 The day of shame

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

Contemporary political, economic and social scene in the Czech and Slovak Republics have been largely defined by the dissidents and their generation of the Dubcek’s Prague Spring 1968 era. This seemed to hide the fact that there was an important antecedent, the communist coup d’état on February 25, 1948. I was an active participant in those events and wanted to include this topic in one of my articles. The unexpected occasion came up now. We were moving from our house where we lived for 55 years into a nice cooperative housing which necessitated the painful act of sorting out all the stuff that we have accumulated over the half century. To my great surprise I discovered hidden behind my book shelves my diary from 1948 that apparently my family salvaged before the communist police could confiscate my property. The diary started in Prague and ended with the date of March 19th 1948 – the day I was escaping from Czechoslovakia. Suddenly I was confronted with the traumatic memories of what I chose to call the “day of shame”. It surprised me that even after sixty some years I was overcome with the same feelings of despair, resignation, disappointment and impotence that we experienced then, in disbelief that the country of Masaryk and the hair of the Western tradition that gave birth to the only democracy in Central Europe could surrender itself to one of the worst dictatorships, for the second time in a decade, without a single shot or resistance. It took me some time to recover some distance and perspective with which I write this article.

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Publications: How did the communist coup happen?

Posted by on Jul 16, 2012 in Articles, Books | Comments Off on Publications: How did the communist coup happen?

Publications: How did the communist coup happen?

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

The communists did not just gain power overnight. Understanding the context of how this event happened is very important, because it is now so long since it occurred that people might simply forget or ignore this occurrence as no longer relevant, or because the events of the Prague Spring of 1968 have overshadowed the country’s own history. Yet there are lessons to learn for the present time.

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Publications: The Cost of Ignorance

Posted by on Feb 5, 2012 in Articles, Books | Comments Off on Publications: The Cost of Ignorance

Publications: The Cost of Ignorance

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

That is the question that we do not often ask. Instead we focus on the cost of education that is climbing and affects virtually everybody’s checkbook. Yet ignorance does cost a lot, more than most people recognize, and the Czechs could tell you a gruesome story about it. However, they probably won’t because, according to Martin Jan Stransky, this subject falls into the category of selective attention, convenient lapsed of memory, or conspiracy of silence. Stransky is the publisher of Pritomnost, originally founded by his grandfather in the 1920’s, and now one of the most respected journal.

So how much does ignorance cost? One million crowns? Hundred million? How about ten billion crowns and climbing; three billion is damage for breach of business deal, and seven more for accumulated interest, increasing by one million each day.

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Publications: Václav Havel neither playwright nor dissident

Posted by on Jan 18, 2012 in Articles, Books | Comments Off on Publications: Václav Havel neither playwright nor dissident

Publications: Václav Havel neither playwright nor dissident

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

I wanted to write something different about Vaclav Havel and his passing than the meager media disappointedly covered. Media have a tendency to explain people by shortcuts, finding a label everybody recognizes and then placing a person into the box with that label. For Vaclav Havel who disliked these labels of being a playwright turned dissident these categories are insufficient and inaccurate. The problem is not only one of scale but also of historical significance and meanings. Theater has had a special significance in the Czech and Slovak history because it is associated with national awakening that may have saved the Czech language from extinction. Anybody who is associated with this tradition is not writing just for entertainment of people, but for a cause of solidifying national consciensness.  He prestige of the theater touched nearly everybody and people started creating an entire network of voluntary theater clubs and traveling puppet groups that still exist today and that neither the Nazis nor the communists could control. Being a dissident is relatively common with many examples from individual countries like Burma, China, India, Ukraine and many others. In comparison with these dissidents, Havel was a global dissident who challenged the entire Soviet empire that ruled almost half of the world on issues on which this empire was based, namely to turn everybody into one type of a socialist personality, to gain compliance through fear and to punish those who do not fit this model.

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Publications: So you think you know about Lidice?

Posted by on Aug 31, 2011 in Articles, Books | 3 comments

Publications: So you think you know about Lidice?

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

Most of us know that the entire village was leveled, that men and boys over 15 years were executed, that women and children were send to concentration camps, and that children were separated from parents. The brutality of this “event” far exceeds the common knowledge, however.

I was sixteen when Lidice and Lezaky “happened” and lived through the massive retaliation by the Nazis that followed the assassination of the Reichsprotektor Heydrich. The memory of these years came back when a Czech student of mine sent me two recently published books about Lidice, both in English. One is a carefully researched commemorative volume providing detailed information about the “old” Lidice, the events of June 10, 1942, and the town’s subsequent rebuilding. The second book is the memoirs of one of the very few survivors, written by Jarmila Sklenickova, the student’s relative. She has put to good use her photographic memory in accounting the gruesome events of that June and its aftermath, providing a graphic but unemotional picture of the bestiality of the Nazis that has not been generally known until recently. The peaceful village was encircled by more than 500 Nazi police, Gestapo and SS troops, who woke up residents with instructions to collect their most precious possessions and gather: men and boys over 15 to the Horak orchard, and women and children to the schoolhouse.

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Publications: A Civil Society: Idea of the Century or a Bust?

Posted by on Aug 4, 2011 in Articles, Books | 4 comments

Publications: A Civil Society: Idea of the Century or a Bust?

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

I was introduced to the concept of the Civil Society during my sabbatical leave in the Philippines in the late sixties where I studied leadership and organizations in the context of social and cultural change. In travels throughout the country, I observed the creation of non-profit organizations and the volunteer spirit that drove their accomplishments, in a society traditionally dominated by a few wealthy families. My interest continued in my work in the post-Soviet Czech Republic, Hungary, Belarus (under extenuating circumstances), and Kyrgyzstan. Sokol is one of the examples I used to demonstrate a society that depends almost entirely on volunteers who have made the organization a bastion of what I want to describe as the Civil Society.

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Publications: Are we a Civil Society?

Posted by on Jun 27, 2011 in Articles, Books | Comments Off on Publications: Are we a Civil Society?

Publications: Are we a Civil Society?

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

This is a complex question. It can be answered in terms of our own associations, such as Sokol, or the Czech and Slovak Cultural Center because part of the concept of the civil society does imply existence of many voluntary associations. And indeed we all cherish and practice the idea of voluntarism. At the same time it can be answered on several other levels of analysis. For example, is the US a civil society, or, as the globalization has caused many to argue, should we be striving to establish a global civil society. The “Arab Spring” is often used as example of this “trend” if indeed it is a trend. To Czechs and Slovak that analogy with the Prague Spring is music to our ears because it relates the “trend” to the former Czechoslovakia, the record of the dissidents in helping to evict the oppressive communist regime and the subsequent explosion of creation of voluntary associations. Vaclav Havel’s name is, of course, associated with the concept of the civil society, but to be more accurate, the term can be traced all the way back to the Greek heritage of our Western Society.

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Publications: What do you know (want to know) (need to know)

Posted by on Apr 30, 2011 in Articles, Books | Comments Off on Publications: What do you know (want to know) (need to know)

Publications: What do you know (want to know) (need to know)

By Dr. Josef A. Mestenhauser

These are three questions in one – and answers depend on three different concepts that I will try to relate to each other. One is what we actually know – in our case about the Czech and Slovak republkics that we have learned from school or experience that is “stored” in our brain. For most people that knowledge about the Czech and Slovak Republics and their people is very skimpy. The second concept is one of motivation to learn new things. The answer depends on the priorities people establish in their minds regarding the immediate or future use of such knowledge, the priority they attach to other kinds of learning and the perceived relevance to our daily lives. Again for most people knowledge about two small countries far away does not appear to be very important and as long as the Czech and Slovak republics are not in daily news, almost irrelevant. Other people might know a little and believe therefore that they know what is there to know. This leaves the third concept, namely what we should know – and the answer to this question exposes a gap between what most people know and what they should know.

This discussion raises three questions: 1) how much and what kind of knowledge is enough, 2) why should we want to learn it, and 3) if we should, how do we bridge that gap? For people who have special interest in the Czech and Slovak Republics either because of their own ethnicity or other connections, these questions ring a different tone, which is what I am doing to my readers in this article.

The first and the third questions are simple to answer. The Czech and Slovak Cultural Center spends a great deal of time to organize regular lectures on selected aspects of these two republics and their roles in the world (which includes us). The topics are timely, do not require any prior knowledge or preparation, and are limited to the most important issues and events. Speakers are well prepared and now, thanks to the modern technologies, we can bring any speaker to the Twin Cities on the SKYPE system; this proved effective and we will be doing much more of that. This technology is also extremely cost effective because most voluntary associations do not have sufficient funding to bring prominent speakers here from abroad.

For the next two years we have prepared a tentative list of topics that will be refined and augmented when people contact us with their additional recommendations. We in fact solicit the readers’ suggestions urgently.

Some of the topics are controversial or thought provoking as the three “curses”: Munich, Yalta, and the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans. Others are designed to explain what happened to the people and their organizations, including SOKOL and the churches, during the two most horrendous occupations, Nazi and communist. One program may be devoted to the legacy of Lidice while another will feature the “crimes of communism” – findings of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarianism. This Institute prepared an excellent exhibit of the methods used by the secret police – which we hope to bring to the Twin Cities. Additional sessions will focus on the positive aspects of how people are building and improving their democratic institutions and through them a civil society, rebuilding religious institutions, and catching up with the rest of the world in the European Union, NATO, the Atlantic community, and the world society at large. We do have many connections in both republics and plan to bring some prominent personalities on the SKYPE to discuss such topics as the revival of SOKOL and its role in the development of these two republics, or the survival of the religious organizations. For people interested in tourism, the SKYPE system enables us to present our audiences with the beauty of these countries by way of a virtual “tour” of the Czech and Slovak Republics, going way beyond the capital cities.

The answer to the second question, why we should want and feel we need more knowledge, must remain with individual people to answer. This article does challenge each person who might read it, to respond to it at least mentally. I hope the answer will be consistent with the demands of the information society in which we now live, that requires more knowledge and skills to connect different pieces of it. This way we will not be surprised when events happen around the world that we did not expect because we were ignorant of the conditions that create these events. These events are happening constantly and affect us and our own society.

With suggestions for additional topics contact