In Quest of History
On Czech Statehood and Identity
paperback, 290 pp., 1. edition
translation: Hoskins, Stuart John
published: october 2019
recommended price: 400 czk
On the centennial of the Czechs gaining their independence, award-winning Czech journalist Karel Hvížďala and Cardiff-based philosopher of law Jiří Přibán used the occasion to examine key moments in Czech history from the ninth century to the twenty-first. Covering such a broad scope allows the authors to look into the past and question how Czechs have viewed their history at different points – and what that means for the present and future. Employing the form of a dialogue, Hvížďala and Přibán raise and explore issues for the broader public that are normally reserved for university seminars, or avoided completely.
“It’s an interesting book because simply by considering the ideas the authors of In Quest of History put forth, the reader loses his certainty of what is true and what is the common consensus – he becomes an individual.”
Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Testaments Betrayed, and The Festival of Insignificance
“This contemplation by two Czech intellectuals of Czech history, ‘the national narrative,’ collective memory, and contemporary politics should be mandatory reading for understanding the deeper context of our current crisis.”
Jacques Rupnik, professor of political science at Sciences Po
“Two men who are as European as they are Czech raise a question – Where are we headed? In answering, they deliver a solid classic. What an inspiring dialogue!”
Petr Pithart, Czech politician and signatory of Charter 77
Hvížďala and Přibáň represent two generations. Hvížďala was born during World War II and the Nazi occupation, and he describes himself as “[coming] of age in the Stalinist 1950s” (24). Přibáň graduated from Charles University in 1989, the year of the Velvet Revolution. Yet, the two men have much in common—both have lived and worked abroad. Přibáň, who became a professor of law at Charles University in 2002, now teaches at the law school of Cardiff University in Wales. Petr Pithart calls the authors “two men who are as European as they are Czech.” Hvížďala and Přibáň are concerned that history has too often been written and co-opted as a tool of the state. A healthy civil society must eschew national histories’ “grand ideologies and established doctrines” and instead seek to understand why these generalizations have been embraced and employed (19). Not only do Hvížďala and Přibáň want to critique Marxist teleology and fascist propaganda, but they also want to reexaminethe nineteenth-century Czech national revivalists, Tomáš Masaryk’s moral realism, and Josef Pekář’s scientific challenges to the Masarykian school.
The book is a part of the Václav Havel series of Karolinum Press, which seeks to continue the intellectual agenda of the late president. The authors’ main goal was to introduce academic debates about Czech history to a broader Czech public. The book supposes a deep level of knowledge about the intricacies of Czech history. The discussions between Hvížďala and Přibáň move from the tenth-century establishment of the Slavic Přemyslid dynasty, through Bohemia’s relationship with the Holy Roman Empire and Habsburg monarchy, to statehood in the twentieth century.
Cynthia Paces(Austrian History Yearbook, 54/2023)