Czechoslovakia: The Last Three Years

By Neustupny, Evsen | Antiquity, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Czechoslovakia: The Last Three Years

Neustupny, Evsen, Antiquity

I feel somewhat uneasy in writing about Czechoslovakia, which no longer exists. However, the problems encountered by its two archaeological successors are more or less similar, although some divergence may be expected in the future.

The disintegration of Czechoslovakia into two parts is hardly comprehensible to foreigners, and in the beginning the attitude of the Czechs (who inhabit the western part of the former Czechoslovakia) was the same. They felt that the longing for independence was exclusively a Slovak affair; most Czechs were of the opinion that the idea of separation was a crazy one. The situation changed somewhat when the general election of 1992 brought left-wing parties to power in Slovakia whilst the Czechs voted for the right.

Czechs and Slovaks certainly have much more in common than, for example, Germans from southern and eastern Germany. Their similarity is not limited to language: Czech and Slovak are in fact a single language with two variants. To relate the problem more specifically to the interests of ANTIQUITY readers, the archaeology of the two nations is the same from both the theoretical and the methodological points of view (although Slovakia has been only slightly affected by developments within the Anglo-Saxon archaeological communities and their allies in the theoretical field over recent decades). In my view, Slovak archaeology has been one of the most successful constituents of Slovak national culture, since in this field Slovaks have been equal partners with other nations of central Europe.

Separation has now become a reality. It has created the Czech Republic, with some 10 million inhabitants, and the Slovak Republic, with some 5 million: neither is a very large state. The most serious problem that this has generated is the danger of parochialism, which can only be overcome if both countries join the intellectual, economic and political networks of Europe. Unfortunately, we are still far from large-scale integration, mainly for economic reasons.

According to the prevailing view among both the general public and archaeologists in 'the west', Czechoslovakia belongs to eastern Europe. I am unhappy about this, because the Slav language is our only link with the east. The development of the prehistoric cultures of Bohemia and Moravia was essentially the same as that of Germany and southern Scandinavia: most of the territory of Czechoslovakia was inhabited first by the Celts and then, in the first five centuries AD, by Germanic tribes. The immediate ancestors of the Czechs and Slovaks, who probably arrived from the eastern part of central Europe in the 6th century AD, chose the Latin variant of Christianity in the 10th century AD, after several centuries of hesitation. They completed their integration with their western neighbours by fully joining the Gothic civilization in the 13th century. With the exception of the unfortunate episode following World War II they had almost nothing to do with the east. If anyone in the Czech Republic uses the phrase 'eastern Europe' in relation to his or her country, it is almost certain to be in compliance with 'western' geographical concepts. Most Czechs, including archaeologists, favour the term 'central Europe'.

At the same time, I have to admit that the past 45 years have left behind much that does not belong to the western tradition. In analysing some points that are relevant to an understanding of recent developments in Czech archaeology, I must begin by returning to the past.

The past


It is a matter of common belief in 'the west' that we were subjected to strong Marxist philosophical indoctrination during the years of communist rule. This view was only partially correct, and then only for the first two decades, from 1948 to about 1968. Even at that time, 'Marxism' was interpreted through Stalin's eyes, becoming the ideology of the Soviet state rather than a philosophy. Nevertheless, all university students, even those at technical universities and medical schools, were obliged to pass examinations in this kind of 'Marxism', and as a result many became influenced by it. …

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