Making History: Czech Voices of Dissent and the Revolution of 1989

Article excerpt

Michael Long. Making History: Czech Voices of Dissent and the Revolution of 1989. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. xiv, 189 pp. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $86.85, cloth. $37.76, paper.

Considering how much has been written about Czech dissidents, one wonders whether we really need another book about them. Long's contribution - a compendium of oral history interviews - covers little territory that has not been explored before, but it does present the evidence in a readable and personal fashion.

Long's book consists primarily of eleven interviews he conducted in 1998 with Praguers who were prominent in the cultural underground and/or dissident circles around Charter 77. In the interviews, Long invites his informants to reflect on how they became active in opposition, their involvement in the revolution of 1989, and the subsequent development of Czech society. While most of Long's informants have been perennial targets of English-speaking researchers desirous of interviews, a few of them (Jirousová, Kocáb, Kummerman, and UhI) have been less frequently consulted; their interviews are consequently among the most interesting. Long has done a good job of seeking gender balance (five women to six men), and though Long never poses a gender-specific question, a clear difference in narratives along gender lines emerges. (One is in fact reminded of Shana Penn's findings from underground Solidarity, where men tended to claim the spotlight while women did the work.) The interviews, which Long conducted in English and Czech, are presented as minimally edited transcripts, so they can be read as primary sources. Unfortunately there are a few shortcomings in the English translations of the Czech-language interviews - reflecting the fact that the translator was evidently not a native English-speaker - but nowhere are these crucial.

While those familiar with Czech dissidence or the revolution of 1989 will find nothing revelatory in this book, the testimonies remain interesting. In some cases they help us appreciate better the experiential side of recent history, as when Eda Kriseová describes her work in Havel's retinue of "advisors" during his first term as Czechoslovak president, or when Michael Kocáb recalls his negotiations with remarkably passive Soviet military officers from the beginning of the revolution to the final withdrawal of Soviet troops. Read together, the interviews also make it clear what a ghetto the Prague dissident world was. We see on one hand how strong social ties within the group often helped shield its members from the worst forms of persecution, but we also see how isolated this group was from the rest of the Czechoslovak population. …