The Origins of Postcommunist Elites: From Prague Spring to the Breakup of Czechoslovakia

The Origins of Postcommunist Elites: From Prague Spring to the Breakup of Czechoslovakia

The Origins of Postcommunist Elites: From Prague Spring to the Breakup of Czechoslovakia

The Origins of Postcommunist Elites: From Prague Spring to the Breakup of Czechoslovakia

Synopsis

How is it that Czechoslovakia's separation into two countries in 1993 was accomplished so peacefully -- especially when compared with the experiences of its neighbors Russia and Yugoslavia? This book provides a sociological answer to this question -- and an empirical explanation for the breakup of Czechoslovakia -- by tracing the political processes begun in the Prague Spring of 1968. Gil Eyal's main argument is that Czechoslovakia's breakup was caused by a struggle between two fractions of what sociologists call the "new class," which consisted primarily of intellectuals and technocrats. Focusing on the process of polarization that created these two distinct political elites, Eyal shows how, in response to the events of the ill-fated Prague Spring, Czech and Slovak members of the "new class" embarked on divergent paths and developed radically different, even opposed, identities, worldviews, and interests. Unlike most accounts of postcommunist nationalist conflict, this book suggests that what bound together each of these fractions -- and what differentiated each from the other -- were not national identities and nationalist sentiments per se, but their distinctive visions of the social role of intellectuals.

Excerpt

On January 1, 1993, the Czechoslovak federation ceased to exist. For three-quarters of a century, Czechoslovakia was one of a handful of functioning binational states, but it disintegrated in a matter of only four years after the fall of communism. At the time, the breakup of Czechoslovakia was overshadowed by the more bloody events in the Balkans and by the spectacular demise of the Soviet Union. Unlike these other cases, Czechoslovakia's breakup was rapid, peaceful, and negotiated, and because the prevailing wisdom among political scientists was that binational states are generally unstable, it did not command much attention. Compared with the volumes written about the dissolution of the USSR and the former Yugoslavia, the crop of scholarship on the Czechoslovak split was, and still remains, meager. This book seeks to rectify this situation, with the firm belief that there is also a more general lesson to be learned from the case of Czechoslovakia, particularly with respect to the role played by the "new class"—the class composed of intellectuals, professionals, technocrats, bureaucrats, and managers—in the transition from communism to capitalism. I will argue that the main process leading to the split of Czechoslovakia was a struggle within the "new class," between Czech and Slovak fractions who represented alternative visions of postcommunist society, and of the role of intellectuals within . . .

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