Psychology's Peripeteia Behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia (Slovakia)

By Kovác, Damián | Psychology Science, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Psychology's Peripeteia Behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia (Slovakia)


Kovác, Damián, Psychology Science


Summary

The author, gradually active in various posts in psychology from the very beginning of the communist putsch in the CSR in 1948, presents a brief description of the contradictory development of this discipline until 1989 - marking the beginning of a democratic rebirth. More or less, the decisive events corresponded (overlapped) with the decades: the 50s saw the liquidation of "bourgeois psychology" and its restructuring into a "Marxist type"; the 60s - Dubcek's years of socialism with a human face, witnessed an accelerated development of psychology and its applications; the 70s - the years of occupation (entry of the armies of the Warsaw Pact) - inhibition and an ideological dirigism, years of restriction for psychology; the 80s - years of the advent of Gorbachev's perestroyka, meant a moderate relaxation for a pluralistic development of psychology.

The general retarding effect on the development of psychology behind the Iron Curtain in the CSSR was due to its isolation from the Western world of psychology; the Iron Curtain built frontiers dividing us not only politically, but also ideologically and professionally - mainly in these domains: unfavourable attitudes and climate of psychology, assigning psychology among politically dominated social sciences, disrupting, reorganizing self-standing psychological workplaces, restricting access to methodological procedures, particularly to psychodiagnostics, considerably narrowing access to professional literature, not to speak of inadequate opportunities to attend international scientific events in the West, politically motivated restrictions in professional career, abolishing teaching of psychology at secondary schools and dereased instruction at the institutions of higher learning.

Despite all this, the situation of professional psychological life behind the Iron Curtain in the CSSR and specifically in Slovakia gave rise to several positive features. Since we refused to accept Soviet - and could not accept western - concepts, we created our own, e. g. the Bratislava school of experimental psychology. The professional and the human isolation was partly bridged by the Meetings of Psychologists of the Danube Countries, initiated by my Institute, which subsequently permitted the transmision of Studia psychologica into an international journal.

A new project was created: "A complex (interdisciplinary) research of man". A certain impact of the Iron Curtain on our psychologists is worth noting. This did not focus as much on their personal career, as rather on a tenacious promotion of their discipline. Psychology in Slovakia of that period may be compared to an underground creeping plant: if someone destroys its sprout at one place, it sends out another and yet another shoots at further sites. That is how various strategies of survival for psychology and psychologists were created.

Key words: history of psychology, sciences of man, meetings of the Danubian countries, studia psychologica

Peripetien der Psychologie hinter dem "Eisernen Vorhang" in der Tschechoslowakei (Slowakei)

Der Gegenstand meines Berichtes besitzt ohne Zweifel einen geschichtlichen Charakter (Gott sei Dank). Die behandelte Zeitspanne liegt endgültig hinter uns. Jedoch ihre Nachwirkungen überdauern, objektiv und subjektiv. Wir fühlen sie als empfindliche, teilweise sogar als brennende Narben. Es sei mir daher erlaubt, darüber nicht nur aus Dokumenten, sondern auch aus der erlebten Geschichte, als "oral history and my own experience" zu berichten. Dieser Weg ist durch zwei Umstände begründet. Zum einen durch die Tatsache, dass es über viele wichtige Ereignisse aus dieser Zeit kein Archivmaterial gibt, weil z. B. manche Anweisungen oder gar "Befehle", d. h. Entscheidungen übergeordneter Instanzen, nur telefonisch gegeben wurden. Zum anderen erlebte und überlebte ich die dramatischen Wendungen innerhalb der Entwicklung der Psychologie "hinter dem eisernen Vorhang" in der CSR von Anfang bis Ende mit Ach und Krach auf verschiedenen Posten: zuerst als wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft (1949-1950), längere Zeit als Direktor eines Forschungsinstitutes (1960-1992), acht Jahre als Präsident der Tschechoslowakischen Gesellschaft für Psychologie (1978-1985), etc. …

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