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70 The Testifying Orphan Rethinking Modernity’s Optimism Times of Contestation Dita Saxová, a 1968 Czechoslovak film directed by Antonín Moskalyk, thematizes the destiny of the Holocaust orphan. The film shows how radical socialist subject production and its demand for total commitment and affirmation faces a major challenge: the reactive (or divergent) manifestations triggered by uncontrollable dimensions of the human psyche, the unconscious. Unlike the films analyzed in the previous chapters, Dita Saxová does not tell an optimistic story about political or personal opportunities in the early postwar era. Its orphan protagonist questions any form of enthusiasm about civilization from the perspective of her camp experience, and with a vivid memory of the fact that the Third Reich had also aimed to radically change the world. Her story is one of melancholia: the film presents her inability to blend in with normal life and the reconstruction discourse. Dita Saxová is a visual document of the 1960s, produced in times of contestation . When the film started production, Soviet-style socialism in Eastern Europe had already accumulated twenty years of political experience, not all of it positive. It had already gone through a few phases, during which questions had been raised, mistakes acknowledged, rethinking articulated, and some reshuffling of political elites enforced. The most important year in the transformation of political discourse in Eastern Europe had been 1956. Three years after the death of Stalin, the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union officially denounced the former Soviet leader’s policies. Socialism’s self-critical gesture triggered a variety of reactions in Eastern Europe in the following five years and seemed to signal changes in the discourse on Eastern European socialist development . Some party leaders fell, and even vocal contestations of the Soviet Union’s hegemony in the region were articulated. The most radical attempt to transform socialism took place the same year in Hungary: the Hungarian Revolution of 3 The Testifying Orphan | 71 1956. But the affirmation of a national (Hungarian) road to socialism showed the limits of how much a Soviet-style regime could rethink itself and refurbish its political actions. Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest in the fall of that year, sending a message of caution to the entire Eastern European bloc, which limited the scope of attempts to move away from the Moscow model. Dita Saxová premiered in 1968, in a year whose resonance for the history of Eastern European socialism equals that of 1956.1 This year of European (and global ) unrest finds its most dramatic Eastern European expression in Czechoslovakia . The effort to reform Soviet-style socialism that takes place here bears the name “the Prague Spring,” and is associated with the Action Program of Alexander Dubček, the newly installed communist leader, which called for political and economic decentralization and increased national independence from Moscow. It is also associated with the phrase “socialism with a human face,” which meant the abandonment of the Leninist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, deradicalization of subject production (the deconstruction of the post-human discussed in the previous chapter), and socialism’s absorption of some “humane” or “humanist” values from Western liberal democracy and its emphasis on the freely deciding individual, immune to political manipulation. Even if the Prague Spring, like the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, lasted only a few months, its influence on Eastern European socialism was more than palpable . On the one hand, it triggered another military reaction—this time not only from the Soviet Union, but also from a coalition of Warsaw Pact states of the socialist bloc, including Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland (the exceptions were Romania and Albania). Their armies invaded Czechoslovakia on 20 August 1968, and soon afterwards the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited tolerance of independent roads to socialism was formulated.2 On the other hand, it spurred the articulation of various appeals to “humanizing” socialism and reformism all over Eastern Europe, with Poland in the lead (a topic discussed in the next chapter ). Most importantly, as Tony Judt emphasizes, 1968 marked an important turning point in the history of socialism, even more than the Hungarian tragedy of 1956. The illusion that Communism was reformable, that Stalinism had been a wrong turning, a mistake that could still be corrected, that the core ideals of democratic pluralism might somehow still be compatible with the structures of Marxist collectivism: that illusion was crushed under the tanks on August 21st 1968 and it never recovered. (2005, 447) For Judt, the Prague...


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