- Between Prague Spring and French May: Opposition and Revolt in Europe, 1960–1980 ed. by Martin Klimke, Jacco Pekelder, and Joachim Scharloth
Much of the research paying homage to the rebelliousness of 1968 still narrows its focus on national political history and perspectives. Existing scholarship has frequently contributed to the reinterpretation of historical events into foundational narratives, proclaiming the more or less pronounced “refoundation” of liberal societies during the years of the long 1960s in the West and another round of orthodoxy in the East.
In contrast to this approach, Martin Klimke, Jacco Pekelder, and Joachim Scharloth have compiled a thought-provoking collection of chapters that identify the connections between current historical research on postwar European protest movements and the “transnational turn” in the social sciences. Moreover, by broadening the prevailing chronological and geographical scope of research, the miscellany contributes to the reevaluation of traditional dichotomies of success and failure regarding the legacies of the period from 1956 to the mid-1970s. The different academic backgrounds of the contributors, coming from the fields of history, linguistics, cultural studies, and media studies, are also conducive to the project’s objective to overcome the all-too-narrow focus on political history. Accordingly, the book is divided into four sections, including the media-staging of protest, discourses of liberation and violence, and contributions on the recontextualization of protest culture beyond national borders. Preceding these sections are chapters on politics between the poles of East and West with interesting analyses of the broader inter- and transnational context, in which protest occurred in Britain, France, and Yugoslavia.
The essays compiled in this deftly edited volume point to a more transnational quality of European protest movements after World War II than is commonly assumed in existing literature. By making use of their multinational background, the contributors depict much of the European protest as mutually influenced. Dissenters in Western Europe, the Warsaw Pact countries, and the nonaligned European countries such as Yugoslavia ideologically and politically interacted on different levels, resulting, for example, in Yugoslav students explicitly protesting against Stalinism and capitalism. In fact, developments in Yugoslavia exemplify the complexity of influences on protest movement. Boris Kanzleiter’s essay emphasizes these influences, arguing that the cognitive orientation of the Yugoslav protest was that students “could identify with the student revolts in both East and West on the ground of their own experiences” (p. 90). However, despite the initially affirmative nature of the protest movement, Kanzleiter stresses Josip Broz Tito’s double strategy of inclusion and repression to fight off “reactionary elements” against the background of the possibility of a Soviet intervention in Yugoslavia in 1968.
I was particularly impressed by the essays in the section on politics between East and West of which Kanzleiter’s essay is a subsection. With the examples of Britain’s [End Page 266] New Left, the early voices of dissent of student opposition in Czechoslovakia in the early 1960s, and the relationship of the political left to “its” nation in Sweden and Denmark, the volume contains novel perspectives on the impact of Cold War policies on the aforementioned issues. The section is rounded off by an analysis of how the May–June events in France were interpreted by the French Communist Party, its response to the students’ and workers’ protests, and the consequent political instability.
The three chapters on discourses of liberation and violence also shed new light on the transnational dimensions of violent forms of protest. In particular, Pekelder’s chapter on European solidarity with the infamous West German terror group Rote Armee Fraktion stresses this dimension.
Among the many excellent chapters, Rolf Werenskjold’s “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” analyzing the media’s impact on the Norwegian protest culture, challenges the idea that televised images of global demonstrations wer the decisive means for initiating protest elsewhere. He explains that even though the global demonstrations accounted for a considerable amount (roughly 10 percent) of airtime in the major television evening news, the different actors and social movements that took...