From Business to Central Planning: Cooperatives in Czechoslovakia in 1918–1938 and 1948–1960*

Jan Slavíček
Institute of History of the Czech Academy of Sciences
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 3  (2021):423-443 DOI 10.38145/2021.3.423

The paper focuses on cooperatives—seen as business enterprises—in the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938) and the period of 12 years after the communist putsch (1948–1960). It compares the functions of cooperatives, the limits placed on their (semi-)independent business activities, and their chances to decide for themselves in the market economy and the centrally planned economy. Drawing on the methods of business history and economic history, the study seeks to answer the following questions: 1. Were the cooperatives in the First Czechoslovak Republic really fully independent companies running their business on a free market? 2. Were the cooperatives in the Stalinist and early post-Stalinist Czechoslovakia really subordinated subjects in a centrally planned economy? 3. Are there any real connections in the functioning of cooperatives in these two eras? In other words, is it possible that something of the independent cooperatives survived and that the traditional interpretations (according to which the two eras were completely different and even contradictory) can be seen in new and more accurate ways?

Keywords: Business history, centrally planned economy, cooperatives, Czechoslovakia, economic history, free market economy, 1918–1938, 1948–1960

Cooperatives were very important economic subjects both in interwar and postwar Czechoslovakia. Their origins go back to the second half of the nineteenth century. Cooperatives played important cultural and national roles in the modernization of society, but they were not major factors in economic development or growth in the less developed regions of East-Central European countries after the 1860s.1 In contrast, in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia cooperatives were key players in economic development and in the process of economic modernization. In the interwar period, the cooperative network was widespread both in cities and in smaller towns and rural settlements. The membership base reached several million, and cooperatives had enormous assets. Nobody really questioned the fact that cooperatives were an important component of the Czechoslovak economy.

After World War II, the economy of Czechoslovakia was of a mixed type. It was a strongly regulated market economy in which the state authorities interfered and which had a huge share of state-owned enterprises (especially the industrial ones). The cooperatives experienced a big revival in 1945–1948, successfully finding their position in the new era. The communist coup d’état in February 1948, however, created an entirely new situation. With the centrally planned economy on the rise, the roles of the cooperatives as businesses and enterprises were significantly reduced or absolutely eliminated. Nevertheless, even in 1948–1960, the cooperatives played important roles in the Czechoslovak economy and Czechoslovak society.

According to the traditional, “classic” interpretations of the history of cooperatives (which are only rarely found in the secondary literature, as almost no serious scholarly inquiries were done about cooperatives after 1989), the cooperatives were independent enterprises which functioned in a free market without any major state or political interferences during the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938). On the other hand, the period of the centrally planned economy (since 1948) has been seen as an era of absolute state dominance over the economy, in which nothing remained of the autonomy of cooperatives, which are seen as having been absolutely subordinate instruments of state economic policy. 2 I am certainly not going to question the fundamental systemic difference between the two eras. However, in this paper, I am going to ask whether this general view is entirely correct or whether one sees traces of some similarities or even continuities between these two eras. In other words, is it possible that something of the traditional, allegedly independent cooperatives survived in the Stalinist period (1948–1953) or in the early post-Stalinist period (1953–1960) in Czechoslovakia?

The choice of the two periods under comparison is based on a standard periodization of Czech economic and social history.3 In 1918–1938, the First Czechoslovak Republic established a liberal-democratic regime (seen as liberal-democratic from the perspective of the conditions of the interwar period) with a free-market economy. The Second Republic (1938–1939), following the shock of the Munich Agreement, was a very different political and economic system. The starting point of the second period is the communist coup d’état in February 1948. Although the drastic changes in cooperative policy didn’t start immediately (the newly established regime obviously had to deal with other, more important problems), the putsch in February opened the way to these changes. The second period ended in 1960, when a new constitution was adopted. It stated that the process of “establishing and building socialism” had been successfully completed.4 From the economic point of view, this statement was at least partially true, because the vast majority of property was in the hands or under the direct control of the state, and the economy was centrally planned.5

To answer the questions I have posed in this paper, I use traditional approaches of business and economic history. I compare the cooperative laws and principles, their organizational structure, and the forms of state control, regulation, and interference. I also use official statistical sources to analyze the important role of cooperatives in the economy. While these data have been available and published before, they have never been used to analyze the cooperative part of the Czechoslovak economy in this way.6

Cooperatives in the Market Economy of the First Czechoslovak Republic

In the First Czechoslovak Republic, the cooperatives continued to grow, much as they had in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s (depending in part on cooperative types, as the rapid development of credit cooperatives, for instance, started about 10 or 20 years before the growth of others). The rapid prewar growth resulted in a complex network with almost 12,000 cooperatives of various types.7

There is broad consensus according to which the First Czechoslovak Republic met the following two criteria: it was a liberal-democratic political regime (at least in the context of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s)8 and the economy was based on the principles of free market capitalism.9 Thus, the new state was a sort of “playground” not only for cooperatives but also for many other types of businesses. In this playground, the cooperatives built up strong positions, as the data presented below illustrate (Table 1).


Table 1. Cooperatives in Czechoslovakia in 193710




Assets (mil. Crowns)













Production (Workers)




Sales and Purchasing (Traders)








Non-credit total








District credit 10 **









* For Slovak cooperatives deposits instead of assets (which are not available11)

** In 1936

Sources: Statistická ročenka Republiky Československé 1948, XV, 159–60, 199; Statistisches Jahrbuch der ČSR 1938, vol. 5, 186–87; Zprávy Státního úřadu statistického 1937, vol. 18, 221–24, 1104–5, 1166–67; Zprávy Státního úřadu statistického 1940, vol. 21, 32, 261, 507.

As Table 1 shows, the cooperatives were very important for the Czechoslovak economy. There were 15,446 cooperatives which had more than 4.5 million members. However, the number seems to be much higher because of two factors: usually, only one family member was an owner of a share in a cooperative and many people were members of more than one cooperative (e.g. a farmer might be a member of a credit cooperative and an agricultural cooperative, or a worker might be a member of a housing cooperative and a consumer cooperative). Assuming that the average family had approximately five members and that every person was a member of two cooperatives, we can estimate the real number of all “customers” or “users” of cooperatives to approximately 11.5 million people, which was more than 80 percent of Czechoslovakia’s population (14,428,715).12 The assets controlled by cooperatives, which came to more than 35 billion crowns, were about 48.7 percent (!) of Czechoslovakia’s GDP in 1937.13

The legislation passed by the First Republic respected the business and operational independence of cooperatives. It was based on the cooperative law of 1873, which at the time it was passed was outstanding and which remained effective until 1954. The founding of cooperatives was quite simple. The statutes had to be made and the cooperative had to be registered. The cooperative had to report all changes in statutes and all new people on the board of directors, which was elected by the general assembly, where all members could participate (directly or indirectly through delegates), vote, and be elected. The principle of voting was interpreted differently. In some cases, each member had one vote (generally in consumer cooperatives), while in others, the number of votes depended on the individual’s number of shares (generally in other cooperatives). Issues of liability were different for members and for the leadership. Members had liability with all the property (cooperatives with unlimited liability) or with the sum, which was a multiple of the member’s cooperative share. The sum was defined by statutes, and it was at least the same as the share. That meant that a minimum member’s liability was the share plus the same sum. On the other hand, the board of directors always had liability with all their property.14

The cooperative law of 1873 did not regulate the business activities, property, or distribution of profits among members. These matters were subject to the decisions reached independently by each cooperative. In the subsequent decades, only one important regulation was added. The law of 1903 forced the cooperatives to submit to a financial examination every two years. The examination (called “revision”) was done by state inspectors or by the cooperative union (see below).15

From the point of view of the state, cooperatives were seen as useful businesses which helped raise the standard of living of members of the lower social classes. Therefore, the cooperatives were subject to different taxes. While other companies generally paid 8 percent income tax, cooperatives paid only 2 per thousand tax on authorized capital yearly, which was an immensely low or, rather, de facto negligible amount. However, this tax rate applied only to cooperatives that restricted their business activities to members only.16 In other words, the taxes were low if the cooperatives worked as self-help companies which provided services to their members. However, if they acted as open business enterprises and provided services for everybody, they had to pay the same taxes as regular trade companies.

This created a lot of space for clashes between cooperatives and other types of companies. As one would have anticipated, the cooperatives frequently violated this regulation and provided their services to non-members. Their business competitors often made complaints on this matter, and the Czechoslovak authorities then had to deal with these complaints. The cooperatives, however, offered a simple defense in response to these accusations. They contended that the non-members for whom they had provided services were related by familial ties to members of the cooperatives and that the rules thus had not been violated. If this argument did not work, they claimed the problem was merely a mistake which had been made by particular employees (or cooperative officials). The authorities usually accepted this defense and fined the employees, and the cooperatives then compensated the employees for the fines. Obviously, this did not solve the problem. However, it was almost impossible to prove that any particular case was the result of the deliberate action of a cooperative. Generally, the cooperatives had an advantage in such cases. Often, however, the cooperatives and other business companies had good relations and collaborated. For example, in the process of market syndicalization in the 1920s and 1930s, the cooperatives made deals with other businesses to divide the markets.17

The organizational structures of the cooperatives were very complicated and hardly transparent in the First Republic. As early as the 1890s, the cooperatives had founded central cooperative unions to represent and advance their interests. Various unions existed even before 1918, and their numbers increased in the interwar era. Four important factors divided the cooperative movement:

Some cooperatives were organized on a professional basis, e.g., the cooperative of Živnostenská banka’s (the biggest bank in Czechoslovakia) employees. Such cooperatives usually joined apolitical cooperative unions.

In the multinational state of Czechoslovakia, the national cleavage was important in most advocacy (pressure) groups, including labor unions, as well as in the cooperative movement. Czech, Slovak, German, Hungarian, Polish, and Ruthenian cooperatives therefore joined particular unions defined by the nationality (language) of their members.

Some cooperative unions consisted of only particular types of cooperatives. As a result, there were exclusive cooperative unions, e.g., for traders’ cooperatives.

Finally, the cooperative unions were often components of a bigger framework of pressure groups led by political parties. Every important political party organized one or more cooperative union. This was typical for Czech, Slovak, and German cooperatives. In contrast, smaller national groups in Czechoslovakia did not split their strength and organized their cooperatives almost exclusively on the national principle.

There was a total of 85 (!) cooperative unions in Czechoslovakia in 1935 as a result of this diversity.18 The most important were the party-oriented ones. Of the 16,832 cooperatives, 13,399 (approximately 80 percent) were members of only eight of the biggest party-oriented unions (of the Czech and German social-democratic, Czech national-socialist, and Czech and German agrarian parties).19 We can assume that other party-oriented unions had a very significant share of the other cooperatives as members.20

The influence the political parties exerted over cooperatives was therefore quite extensive. However, there is no hint in the archival sources or in the secondary literature so far indicating that the cooperatives were submitted to any significant influence by the political parties in an entrepreneurial way. Their business strategies remained independent.21 However, the political parties often appointed their officials to leadership positions of big cooperatives or cooperative unions (these officials had to be elected by general meetings, which was not a problem because of the connections between the cooperative/union and the party). Among the members of the union leadership bodies (boards of directors or control boards), we often find senators, members of parliament, or even ministers, as well as important individuals with considerable public influence. Moreover, sometimes even the lower posts in cooperatives and unions were given to people who were close to the party’s leadership (their relatives or friends).22 These people were “rewarded” by the party through “good jobs” in cooperatives (much as the party’s VIPs were “rewarded” by being given posts on the board of directors in companies or high official posts in public administration). Indeed, giving (and taking) such “sinecures” was believed to be “normal” practice (or at least usual practice) in the First Republic.

There was, however, one more way for political parties to influence and even directly use the cooperatives. The cooperatives sometimes provided organizational and even financial support for a party’s (or its satellite organizations’) events. Once again, the research on this topic began only a year ago, but some particular findings have already been made. For example, the consumer cooperative Včela (the biggest cooperative in interwar Czechoslovakia, running its business in Prague and Central Bohemia and, after 1929, under the direct influence of the Communist Party) provided the communist “mass” organizations (such as a labor union, a sports union, a youth union, etc.) with more than 700,000 crowns (approximately 0.5 percent of its yearly retail sales) in the single business year of 1931–1932 (i.e., in the middle of a deep economic crisis!).23 When the parties did not influence the cooperatives’ businesses directly, they were nonetheless able to hinder their profitability (and thus influence their business strategies) indirectly.

The free business activities of cooperatives were limited in one more way. The unions (most probably regardless of their political profile, i.e., the apolitical cooperatives included) were aware of the fact that the cooperative network was sometimes too dense and that cooperatives were fighting one another. The unions tried to regulate the cooperatives, forcing them either to merge or to respect one another’s areas. Thus, they created de facto cartels.24 While this was definitely useful for smaller and less effective cooperatives (which were then protected against competition), for the bigger and more effective cooperatives, it was a restriction. The syndicates were quite usual in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s.25 The cooperative market was no exception in this way. On the other hand, this was still more a regulation than it was a means of controlling the cooperatives, which remained fully independent enterprises in other ways.

Cooperatives in the Centrally Planned Economy of the Stalinist and the Post-Stalinist Czechoslovakia (1948–1960)

The communist coup d’état in February 1948 marked the beginning of the 41 years of communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia. Drastic changes in the economy started almost immediately. The mixed economy of the Third Republic (1945–1948) was replaced with a centrally planned one after 1948. The period between 1948 and 1953 saw the introduction of the first five-year plan, during which the Czechoslovak economy was increasingly transforming into a Soviet model (with the closest match coming in 1953–1958, when the new planning system, inspired heavily by Soviets, was introduced, according to which the whole economy was seen as a single “super-company”).26 This meant the drastic restructuring of Czechoslovak economy and society. Heavy industry (especially machinery, including the arms industry) was highly prioritized, and the primary and tertiary sectors were suppressed or not addressed at all. The whole economy was “nationalized” or “socialized.” Owners were expropriated and were given no compensations (indeed, they were often criminalized). Society started to be seen from the point of view of hereditary class struggle.

In this new context, the “playground” for cooperatives in communist Cze­choslovakia in 1948–1960 had the following characteristics: 1. It was a totalitarian regime (although it got a little “softer” after 1953, especially regarding the intensity of terror as a practice used by the police state).27 2. The economy was of a Stalinist centrally-planned type. Despite the slight “liberalization” of the political regime after 1953, Stalinist central planning in the economy survived in its most rigid form until 1958.28 However, after the monetary reform and the subsequent riots and strikes in June 1953,29 the “New Course” in the economy was announced. The most violent practices were brought to a halt and emphasis shift to some extent from heavy industry to light industry (including consumer products). After 1955, with the start of the second five-year plan (1956–1960), the “New Course” was abandoned, and the new wave of heavy industry build-up began.30


Table 2. Cooperatives in Czechoslovakia in 1937 and 194631




























Production (Workers)





Sales and Purchasing (Traders)
















Sources: Zprávy Státního úřadu statistického 1940, XXI, 507; Statistická ročenka Republiky Československé 1948, XV, 159–60; Smrčka, Vývoj družstevnictví, 211.

If we want to analyze the quantitative development of cooperatives in 1948–1960, it is worth pausing for a moment to consider their situation in the Third Republic (1945–1948). While the cooperatives were more or less suppressed and restricted during the period of Nazi occupation (1939–1945), in the Third Republic, they experienced a new revival. Their typology was very similar to the typology of the cooperatives in the prewar era. The most important figures in 1937 and 1946 are in Table 2. While the other cooperative types remained approximately at the same numbers, the number of credit cooperatives dropped substantially. Taking into account the drastic decline in the Czechoslovak population in 1939–1945 (ca 20 percent),32 the situation seems reversed: in the relative numbers, the strength of credit cooperatives was about the same, while the other types of cooperatives (as well as the whole cooperative movement) were significantly better off.

Inspired heavily by developments in the USSR in the 1930s and 1940s and sometimes under the strict influence of Soviet “advisors,”33 the roles of cooperatives had fundamentally changed during the few years after the communist putsch. Their traditional business, cultural, educational, and other roles were suppressed or even eliminated. The typology of cooperatives was reduced drastically. Credit cooperatives were “nationalized,” restricted in development and activities, and finally dissolved as part of the monetary reform of 1953. The broad variety of agricultural cooperatives was destroyed and only one type existed. The new collective farms (“United Agricultural Cooperative,” Jednotné zemědělské družstvo, JZD) focused on collective production and served as a crucial tool in the “collectivization” of businesses run by private farmers. Housing cooperatives survived, but they were submitted to strict state control, and any autonomous business activities were strictly forbidden. Consumer cooperatives seemed to grow, but this was an illusion created by the “socialization” of private traders and businesses. Their activities were fully controlled by the state. Production (workers) cooperatives were growing, due not only to the support of the state but also to the “socialization” of craftsmen. Sales and purchasing cooperatives were mostly dissolved, and those that remained were integrated into consumer or workers’ cooperatives. The same was the fate of the last group of “other” cooperatives.

As a result of these changes, generally, only four types of cooperatives existed in communist Czechoslovakia: collective farms, consumer, housing, and workers’ cooperatives. Based on the quantitative parameters only, the cooperative system seems to have remained relatively stable. The numbers of cooperatives and of their members in 1966 did not differ dramatically from the numbers in 1946 (Table 3).34 Moreover, if we take the dissolution of credit and traders’ cooperatives into account, the other types of cooperatives seemed to have been growing. However, this growth was mostly artificial and therefore illusory. Hundreds of thousands of people (or maybe millions) did not join the cooperatives voluntarily. They were more or less forced to join, either to avoid being persecuted or accused of a crime or to have a better chance of keeping the rest of their property. Some people were violently forced to join cooperatives during the “collectivization” of agriculture (the creation of collective farms) and “socialization” (a de facto expropriation) of small businesses.

However, recent research has revealed that a traditional paradigm according to which the cooperatives were helpless victims which were forced by the regime to participate in “socialization” of private property is not entirely accurate. At least in the case of consumer cooperatives, some of them were very active in this process, sometimes even more active than one would have expected.35 It is plausible that the situation in workers’ and housing cooperatives could have been similar. After all, the cooperatives were traditional competitors of private businesses, and as noted above, relations between the cooperative and private business ventures were often near to hostile. It is possible (and probable) that many members of cooperatives may have felt that the process of “nationalization” and the creation of a socialist society represented a “final” and well-deserved victory (the fact they were wrong and the cooperatives would not be able to function as independent businesses under the new regime is another matter).


Table 3. Cooperatives and their members in Czechoslovakia in 1946 and 1966


































Sources: Jelínek, 20 let JZD, 50; Archiv Muzea družstevnictví, Družstevní asociace ČR, Statistická ročenka Ústřední Rady Družstev, 1970.

The cooperative legislation was based on two laws. The first was the law about collective farms (JZDs) from 1949, which separated the agricultural cooperatives from other types for four decades. The most important goals of the JZDs were to contribute to the fulfillment of the central economic plan and to unite the lands of individual farmers.36 The law about “people’s cooperatives” from 1954 annulled the law from 1873 and created a new basis for cooperative activities. The goals of the cooperatives were now primarily to help build socialism and raise the living standards of the members of the cooperatives and all “working people.” Their activities were put under the strict control of the state, including the obligatory division of profits (not primarily among members).37 These two laws clearly show the communist perception of the functions of the cooperatives: They were not seen as businesses, but as tools in central planning and a new social and economic policy.

The organizational structure of the cooperative movement was extremely simplified during World War II, and only a few cooperative unions remained in operation.38 After the communist coup d’état in February 1948, these unions were dissolved, and all cooperatives were subordinated to the Central Cooperative Union (Ústřední rada družstev, ÚRD).39 In the subsequent years, the consumer cooperatives were forced to abandon cities (and sell products only in smaller towns and rural areas), and their organizational structure after 1956 followed the administrative division of the country (districts or okresy). This is why, by 1966, there were only 105 huge cooperatives. Similarly, the traditional small workers’ cooperatives were forced to fuse into conglomerates (although not district-based). In contrast, the collective farms originally created were often too small and therefore in many cases not sustainable. Bigger collective farms were founded, either by founding new farms or by merging several cooperatives into one, but only after 1955.40 This meant that the organizational structure was artificial, without any trace of a free development. In other words, the structure was crafted by the state/regime in the hopes that the new cooperatives would be able to fulfill their new roles.

It took the new regime some time to consolidate after 1948. Once it had done this, it started to reorganize the economy into a centrally planned one (as mentioned above). The room for independent or autonomous business activities of cooperatives was quickly shrinking. After 1950, there was generally no room left at all. The cooperatives became state-controlled instruments of the centrally planned economy. They could not plan even the simplest activities on their own. Moreover, they became part of a system of political indoctrination. In 1948–1953, almost all decisions were made on the basis of the state ideology. The “old” leaders were removed, and the new ones were installed into the cooperatives. The most important qualification of these new leaders was not expertise. It was membership in or loyalty to the Communist Party.41 The productivity and profits of cooperatives suffered a drastic setback, and the situation only began to improve since the 1960s.

There were several reasons for the destruction of cooperatives as independent enterprises. First, central planning was supposed to work better than the market economy (this proved an illusion, of course). Second, independent businesses were elements of the capitalist world, which the communist regime claimed to have “defeated.” Third, profit and effectiveness (fundamental for traditional business strategies) were no longer important economic factors. Instead, production was crucial. There was, however, at least one more reason that is often overlooked in the secondary literature. The reason was the practical application of the communist ideology. The cooperatives (as well as all other companies) were submitted to central planning not only in their activities. Importantly, the plan also expected them to be only marginally profitable. The regime did not want highly profitable companies, since according to communist ideology, profits would only have created a new “bourgeoisie,” i.e., a new class enemy.

Even in rare cases when the old leadership of a cooperative could have kept its position or the new leadership consisted of experts, this leadership quickly found itself struggling with the bureaucratic system of central planning, which was dominated by ideology. Despite their expertise and arguments, the leaders lost the disputes and had to comply. The best they could have achieved was to delay some of the decisions that were extremely disadvantageous for the cooperative (and this was possible only if the leaders were important members of the Communist Party and therefore had a strong “political background”).42

On the other hand, it is plausible that cooperative leaders were trying to find some new “quasi-business” strategies, for instance cooperating with other companies, to get better (“softer,” i.e. based on lower figures) plans for the cooperative, etc. This “quasi-market behavior” was quite common in industry, and some of the cooperatives may have used these kinds of schemes too. However, the secondary literature has not yet turned up any sources buttressing this assumption. To summarize, the cooperatives in the first decade of the communist regime were no longer independent businesses. On the contrary, they were de facto instruments of the state-controlled, centrally planned economy. Basically, they were no longer cooperatives. They had the legal form of cooperatives and were called so, but they had almost nothing common with traditional cooperatives. To the extent that there were exceptions, these were little more than oversights or individual gaps in the system.


In 1948–1960, the “playground” for cooperatives in Czechoslovakia was extremely different than it had been in 1918–1938. In the First Czechoslovak Republic, cooperatives were independent businesses which freely chose their business strategies. They experienced continual growth and their economic power was enormous. Their organizational structure was independent of the state and was therefore complex and even chaotic (over 80 cooperative unions existed in the 1930s). In contrast, after the communist coup d’état in February 1948, the cooperatives were not only subjugated by the state but became state-controlled instruments in a drastic restructuring of the economy and society. They were submitted to the centrally planned economy, which left no room for independent business activities.

The general description given above is no doubt valid in broad strokes. However, when seen from a closer view, the situation of cooperatives looks a little more diverse. First, the cooperatives in the First Czechoslovak Republic were under the strong influence of political parties, which sometimes forced them to support their activities (which created costs for cooperatives). Second, the cooperative unions tried to restrain the cooperatives’ areas, thus forcing them to establish some sorts of cartels (or better, syndicates). While this offered some protection for the weaker and less profitable cooperatives, the successful ones were limited in their activities (they could nevertheless always leave the union). And third, it is possible that even in the Stalinist era of 1948–1953 there was some very limited room for cooperatives, in which they could develop some sort of “quasi-market” business strategies of an informal character. However, there is no doubt that this room was very small, and trying to function in these “gaps in the system” was very risky. Further research will perhaps reveal the extent and limits of these activities.

One conclusion is undeniable: though there were some restrictions on cooperatives in the First Republic and there was also some (limited) room for autonomous actions by cooperatives after 1948, the economic and political systems in which they functioned in these two periods were qualitatively different. The cooperatives after 1948 were no longer free businesses. They were “socialist enterprises,” or in other words, tools of centrally planned production, trade, and agriculture, which were organized and controlled by the totalitarian state.


Archival Sources

Archiv Muzea družstevnictví [Archive of the Cooperative Museum]

Družstevní asociace ČR [Cooperative Association of the Czech Republic]

Statistická ročenka Ústřední Rady Družstev, 1970 [Statistical yearbook of the Central Cooperative Union, 1970]

Moravský zemský archiv v Brně [Moravian regional archives]

H 288: Ústřední jednota českých hospodářských družstev úvěrních Brno [Central Union of Czech Credit Cooperatives in Brno]

Korespondence svazu z let 1936–1937 [Business correspondence of
the Union], n.d.

Státní oblastní archiv v Praze (SoaPraze) [State Regional Archives in Prague]

Krajský soud obchodní [Regional Business Law Court], podnikový rejstřík [Business Register]

Družstvo hospodářských lihovarů pro prodej lihu v Praze [Cooperative of distilleries for the sale of alcohol in Prague]

Protokol zápisu z valné hromady Družstva hospodářských lihovarů [General meeting minutes of the cooperative of distilleries], 22. 6. 1931.

Družstvo Včela Praha [Cooperative Včela Praha]

Protokoly zápisů valných hromad družstva Včela, [General meetings minutes of the Cooperative Včela], 1918–1938.


Primary sources

Constitution of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. 2d edition. Prague: Orbis, 1961.

Družstva neúvěrní v Republice Československé v roce 1919 [Non-credit cooperatives in the Czechoslovak Republic in 1919]. Československá statistika. Ř. X, Družstva neúvěrní, Sv. 10, seš. 1. Prague: Státní úřad statistický, 1926.

“Gesetz Nr. 70/1873 über Erwerbs- Und Wirthschaftsgenossenschaften.” In Reichsgesetzblatt 1849–1918. https://alex.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/alex?apm=0&aid= rgb&datum=18730004&seite=00000273&size=45

“Gesetz Nr. 133/1903 betreffend Die Revision Der Erwerbs- Und Wirtschafts­genossenschaften Und Anderer Vereine.” In Reichsgesetzblatt 1849–1918. https://alex.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/alex?aid=rgb&datum=19030004&seite= 00000409

Historická statistická ročenka ČSSR [Historical statistical yearbook of Czechoslovakia]. Edited by Vladimír Mička. Prague: SNTL–Bratislava: Alfa, 1985.

Peněžní ústavy v Republice Československé roku 1920 [Financial institutions in the Czechoslovak Republic in 1920]. Československá Statistika. Řada IX, Peněžnictví, seš. 1. Prague: Státní úřad statistický, 1924.

Statistická ročenka Republiky Československé [Statistical yearbook of the Czechoslovak Republic]. Vol. 15. Prague: Státní úřad statistický, 1948.

Statistisches Jahrbuch Der Čechoslovakischen Republik. Vol. 5. Prague: Orbis, 1938.

“Vládní nařízení č. 242/1942 Sb. ze dne 3. července 1942 o svazech výdělkových a hospodářských společenstev” [Statutory instrument no. 242/1942 about cooperative unions]. Nové zákony a nařízení Protektorátu Čechy a Morava [New laws of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia], [vol.] 4. (1942): 1069–77.

“Zákon č. [Law no.] 53/1954 Sb. o lidových družstvech a o družstevních organizacích” [Law no. 53/1954 about peoples’ cooperatives and cooperative institutions]. Sbírka zákonů a nařízení republiky Československé [Czechoslovak Governent Gazette], [no.] 34, 1. 12. (1954): 203–12.

“Zákon č. 69/1949 Sb. o jednotných zemědělských družstvech” [Law no. 69/1949 about collective farms]. Sbírka zákonů a nařízení republiky Československé [Czechoslovak Governent Gazette], [Nr.] 22, 15. 3. (1949): 207–209.

“Zákon č. 76/1927 Sb. o přímých daních” [Law no. 76/1927 about direct taxes]. Sbírka zákonů a nařízení státu československého [Czechoslovak Governent Gazette], [no.] 37, 1. 7. (1927): 513–602.

“Zákon č. 187/1948 Sb. o Ústřední radě družstev” [Law no. 187/1948 about Central Cooperative Union]. Sbírka zákonů a nařízení republiky Československé [Czechoslovak Governent Gazette], [no.] 67, 3. 8. (1948): 1328–31.

Zprávy Státního úřadu statistického Protektorátu Čechy a Morava [Announcements of the Statistical Office of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia]. Vol. 21. Prague: Státní statistický úřad, 1940.

Zprávy Státního úřadu statistického Republiky Československé [Announcements of the Statistical Office of the Czechoslovak Republic]. Vol. 8. Prague: Státní úřad statistický, 1927.

Zprávy Státního úřadu statistického Republiky Československé [Announcements of the Statistical Office of the Czechoslovak Republic]. Vol. 18. Prague: Státní úřad statistický, 1937.


Secondary literature

Cabada, Ladislav, and Šárka Waisová. Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic in World Politics. Plzeň: Vydavatelství a nakladatelství Aleš Čeněk, 2006.

“Existoval v českých zemích totalitarismus?” [Has the totalitarianism ever existed in the Bohemian lands?]. Soudobé Dějiny 16, no. 4 (2009).

Gecko, Tomáš. Nástroj prospěšný či vražedný? Proces monopolizace na trhu stavebních hmot Předlitavska a meziválečného Československa [A beneficial or a murderous instrument? The process of monopolization of the building materials market of the Cisleithania and the inter-war Czechoslovakia]. Prague: Univerzita Karlova, nakladatelství Karolinum, 2021.

Hůlka, Rudolf, ed. Třicet let české zemědělské družstevní práce [Thirty years of the Czech agrarian cooperative work]. Prague: Ústřední jednota hospodářských družstev a přičleněných kampeliček a družstev, 1928.

Janák, Dušan, and Zdeněk Jirásek. Sovětští poradci a ekonomický vývoj v ostravsko-karvinském revíru [Soviet advisors and the economic development in the region of Ostrava-Karviná]. Opava: Slezský ústav Slezského zemského muzea v Opavě, 1996.

Jančík, Drahomír, and Eduard Kubů. “Zwischen Planbefehl und Markt: Der Diskurs der Zweiten Tschechoslowakischen Wirtschaftsreform.” In Sozialistische Wirtschaftsreformen. Tschechoslowakei und DDR im Vergleich, edited by Christoph Boyer, 63–123. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2006.

Jelínek, Adolf. 20 let JZD [20 years of collective farms]. Prague: Výstavnictví MZVž, 1969.

Jirásek, Zdeněk. “K příchodu sovětských hospodářských poradců do Československa” [To the arrival of Soviet economic advisors into Czechoslovakia]. Acta historica et museologica Universitatis Silesianae Opaviensis, series C, 5 (2000): 324–28.

Jirásek, Zdeněk, and Jaroslav Šůla. Velká peněžní loupež v Československu 1953, aneb 50:1 [The big monetary robbery in Czechoslovakia in 1953–50:1]. Prague: Svítání, 1992.

Kaplan, Karel. Sovětští poradci v Československu 1949–1956 [Soviet advisors in Czechoslovakia in 1949–1956]. Prague: Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, 1993.

Kubů, Eduard, and Jaroslav Pátek. Mýtus a realita hospodářské vyspělosti Československa mezi světovými válkami [The myth and the reality of the level of Czechoslovak economic developlment between the world wars]. Prague: Karolinum, 2000.

Lorenz, Torsten, ed. Cooperatives in Ethnic Conflicts: Eastern Europe in the 19th and Early 20th Century. Frankfurter Studien Zur Wirtschafts- Und Sozialgeschichte Ostmitteleuropas 15. Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2006.

Minařík, Martin. V národních barvách: akcionářský pivovar na Smíchově v letech 1869–1945 [In national colors: The stockhodlers’ brewery in Smíchov in 1869–1945]. Pelhřimov: Nová tiskárna Pelhřimov, 2017.

Němcová, Lidmila, ed. The Cooperative Movement in Historical Perspective. Its Role, Forms and Economic, Social and Cultural Impact: Twelfth International Economic History Congress, Sevilla 1998: Session B 13. Studie z Hospodářských Dějin 2. Prague: University of Economics, 1998.

Němcová, Lidmila. Vybrané kapitoly z českého družstevnictví [Chapters about the Czech cooperative movement]. Prague: Družstevní asociace ČR, 2001.

Němcová, Lidmila, and Václav Průcha. K dějinám družstevnictví ve světě a v Československu [To the history of the cooperative movement in the world and in Czechoslovakia]. Prague: Vysoká škola ekonomická, Národohospodářská fakulta, 1999.

Okresní Záložny Hospodářské 1882–1932 [District credit cooperatives in 1882–1932]. Prague: Svaz okresních záložen hospodářských, 1932.

Pánek, Jaroslav, and Oldřich Tůma. A History of the Czech Lands. Prague: Karolinum, 2009.

Průcha, Václav. “Glosses to the Periodization of the Economic History of Czechoslovakia after World War II.” In “Discourses”: Essays for Mikuláš Teich & Alice Teichova, edited by Gertrude Enderle-Burcel, Eduard Kubů, Jiří Šouša, and Dieter Stiefel, 67–72. Pelhřimov: Nová tiskárna Pelhřimov, 2008.

Průcha, Václav. Hospodářské a sociální dějiny Československa 1918–1992 [Economic and social history of Czechoslovakia in 1918–1992]. Vol. 1. Brno: Doplněk, 2004.

Průcha, Václav. Hospodářské a sociální dějiny Československa 1918–1992 [Economic and social history of Czechoslovakia in 1918–1992]. Vol. 2. Brno: Doplněk, 2009.

Škatula, Emanuel, ed. Dvacet let Ústředního svazu československých družstev: 1908–1928 [Twenty years of the Central Union of Czechoslovak Cooperatives: 1908–1928]. Prague: Ústř. svaz čsl. družstev, 1928.

Slavíček, Jan. Spotřební družstvo Včela mezi podnikáním a politikou v letech 1905–1938, aneb Pevnost proletářů v Praze [Včela consumers’ co-operative between business and politics in 1905–1938: The “proletarian fortress” in Prague]. Prague: Národohospodářský ústav Josefa Hlávky, 2019.

Slavíček, Jan. Ze světa podnikání do světa plánované distribuce: proměny spotřebního družstevnictví v letech 1945–1956 na příkladu severních Čech [From the world of business to the world of planned distribution: Czech consumer cooperatives between 1945 and 1956 (northern Bohemia region)]. Prague: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2017.

Smrčka, Ladislav, ed. Vývoj družstevnictví na území ČSFR [Development of cooperative movement in the region of Czechoslovakia]. Prague: Svépomoc, 1992.

Swain, Nigel. “Eastern European Collectivization Campaigns Compared, 1945–1962.” In The Collectivization of Agriculture in Communist Eastern Europe: Comparison and Entanglements, edited by Arnd Bauerkämper, and Constantin Iordachi, 497–534. Budapest: CEU Press, 2014.

Täuber, František, ed. Dílo družstevní svépomoci [The work of cooperative self-help]. Prague: Ústřední svaz československých družstev, 1933.

Vencovský, František, ed. Dějiny bankovnictví v českých zemích [A history of banking in the Bohemian lands]. Prague: Bankovní institut, 1999.

1* The study was realized as a part of the Czech Science Foundation’s grant [Grantová agentura České republiky] project Nr. 20-15238S “Družstevnictví a politika za první Československé republiky” [Cooperative movement and politics in the First Czechoslovak Republic].
Lorenz, Cooperatives in Ethnic Conflicts, 24.

2 Hůlka, Třicet let; Täuber, Dílo družstevní svépomoci; Němcová and Průcha, K dějinám družstevnictví; Němcová, The Cooperative Movement; Němcová, Vybrané kapitoly; Smrčka, Vývoj družstevnictví. I do not draw on the secondary literature from the communist era (1948–1989) here, because its ideological character makes it useless for my research goals.

3 E.g., Průcha, “Glosses.”

4 Constitution, 25, Declaration: “The social order for which whole generations of our workers and other working people fought, and which they have had before them as an example since the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution, has become a reality in our country, too, under the leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Socialism has triumphed in our country! We have entered a new stage in our history, and we are determined to go forward to new and still higher goals. While completing the socialist construction of our country, we are proceeding towards the construction of an advanced socialist society and gathering strength for the transition to communism.”

5 As the shortcomings of the strict centrally planned economy became more and more obvious in the 1950s, the first Czechoslovak economic reform (named after Kurt Rozsypal, the vice-director of the Central Planning Office) was started in 1958–1959. However, after the failure of the 3rd Five-Year Plan in 1961–1962, the economic system based on strict central planning was reestablished. For details, see e.g., Průcha, Hospodářské a sociální dějiny, vol. 2, 378–82.

6 I do not analyze the efficiency of particular types of cooperatives because this is not among the goals of this paper. Similarly, I do not compare the profitability of cooperative types, because different types had different members, goals, business strategies, etc. Finally, it would not, in my assessment, be useful to compare the profitability of efficiency criteria in the two eras under discussion, because the rules for cooperative work and the space for independent activities of cooperatives (which are the topic of this study) were drastically different.

7 There were 11,812 cooperatives in 1919/1920, of which 6,163 were credit cooperatives. The rest were non-credit cooperatives of the following types: consumer, housing, agricultural, and other. The agricultural cooperatives were furthermore very diverse in typology, providing specific services for the rural population. The most important were: 1. warehouse, wholesale, and purchase, 2. machinery, 3. electrification and powerplant, 4. cattle breeding and pasture, 5. processing and other cooperatives. For details see Peněžní ústavy 1920, 59, 79, 154–59, 167–68, 192; Družstva neúvěrní 1919, 3–219; Zprávy státního úřadu statistického 1927, vol. 8, 459.

8 Pánek and Tůma, A History, 395–434; Cabada and Waisová, Czechoslovakia, 26–43.

9 Průcha, Hospodářské a sociální dějiny, vol. 1; Kubů and Pátek, Mýtus a realita.

10 District credit cooperatives were a unique type that developed only in Bohemian Lands. They evolved from an ancient institution of the so-called Contribution funds. These were created by a law passed in 1788

11(but had voluntarily been created perhaps even as much as 100 years before that) in order for the country to be ready for a war or in case of a natural disaster. The peasants were obliged to store some amount of grain according to the law. If the grain was not used, it could be sold, and the financial gains were saved in the fund to be used as assistance for members (peasants, farmers) or as financial support in the state of emergency. In the nineteenth century, the funds were gradually transformed into district credit cooperatives (finally enshrined in law in 1882). They differed from other types a lot. First, they were subject to public law, and their capital stock belonged to municipalities instead of to members. Membership was bound to the particular estate. The goals of district cooperatives, as stipulated by the law, were to provide inexpensive credit, encourage people to keep savings, and help them obtain tools and sources necessary to run agricultural businesses. Since 1920s, the savings in district credit cooperatives were guaranteed (partially or fully) by district municipalities. Therefore, their business strategy was much more conservative than the business strategies of the other types of cooperatives (which were a lot more conservative than other financial institutions). They were very restricted in providing credit and accepting savings, for example, and they were the safest (but generally also the least profitable) financial institutions for the rural population. Basically, they were not cooperatives from their origins or by law, but they fulfilled many economic functions of credit cooperatives and had a similar manner of doing business. In accordance with the contemporary literature, we classify them as a part of the system of credit cooperatives. They were very strong, and they flourished in Bohemia, especially in districts in which the majority population was Czech (they were called District Saving Banks or “Okresní hospodářské záložny” there), while in Moravia and especially in Silesia they were much weaker and less important. See Okresní Záložny Hospodářské 1882–1932; Vencovský, Dějiny bankovnictví v českých zemích, 171; Peněžní ústavy 1920.
According to my research (which has not yet been published), the deposits and assets of credit cooperatives in interwar Czechoslovakia were almost the same (the difference was not bigger than 15 percent, and it was usually between 5 and 10 percent). The deposits of Slovak credit cooperatives in 1937 were 1,423 million crowns. That means that even if the difference between deposits and assets was 15 percent, the change of the total number would be very small, roughly 0.6 percent.

12 Historická statistická ročenka ČSSR, 62.

13 In 1937, the estimated GDP of Czechoslovakia was 72,2 bil. Crowns. See Kubů and Pátek, Mýtus a realita, 50.

14 “Gesetz Nr. 70/1873.”

15 “Gesetz Nr. 133/1903.”

16 “Zákon č. 76/1927 Sb.,” § 68, 75, 83.

17 SoaPraze, Krajský soud obchodní, podnikový rejstřík, Družstvo hospodářských lihovarů pro prodej lihu v Praze, Protokol zápisu z valné hromady Družstva hospodářských lihovarů, 22. 6. 1931. The deal from 1928 between cooperative and non-cooperative distilleries divided the market in a ratio of approximately 46:54. In 1931, the ratio changed to about 53:47. Moreover, both sides declared that even in the case of state intervention, they promised each other internally to respect this ratio.

18 Zprávy Státního úřadu statistického 1937, vol. 18, 785.

19 Zprávy Státního úřadu statistického 1937, vol. 18, 515, 786–89.

20 The structure of cooperative unions changed very often. They were merging and splitting, and their names were not stable. On the basis of the existing secondary literature, it is not possible to identify all the unions which cooperated with political parties. This subject is the focus of a scientific project currently underway.

21 Even in the case of the communist cooperative Včela the Communist party did not directly interfere in its economy and business strategy. See SoaPraze, Krajský soud obchodní, podnikový rejstřík, Družstvo Včela , Protokoly zápisů valných hromad Družstva Včela.

22 For example, in the archival fund of the cooperative union “Ústřední jednota českých hospodářských družstev úvěrních Brno” [Central Union of the Czech credit and agricultural cooperatives in Brno] one finds various letters by important officials of the People’s Party (to which this union was tied) asking for assistance finding jobs for their relatives or VIPs. Moravský zemský archiv v Brně, H 288 Korespondence svazu z let 1936–1937.

23 Slavíček, Spotřební družstvo Včela, 110.

24 For the rules of cartelization in consumer cooperatives and its possible impacts compare Škatula, Dvacet let, 93; Slavíček, Spotřební družstvo Včela, 93–94.

25 Průcha, Hospodářské a sociální dějiny, vol. 1, 277–85; For syndicalization in partial sectors of the economy see e.g., Minařík, V národních barvách, 294–97, a recent publication by Tomáš Gecko, Nástroj prospěšný, či vražedný?

26 Průcha, Hospodářské a sociální dějiny, vol. 1, 378.

27 There is no agreement in the Czech secondary literature concerning the paradigm of totalitarianism. However, most authors (excluding those who reject this paradigm categorically) agree that at least until the 1960s, the Czechoslovak regime was of a totalitarian type. See e.g., the monothematic issue of Soudobé Dějiny (Czech Journal ofContemporary History): “Existoval v českých zemích totalitarismus?”

28 Průcha, Hospodářské a sociální dějiny, vol. 2, 378.

29 Jirásek and Šůla, Velká peněžní loupež.

30 Průcha, “Glosses,” 70.

31 Without district credit cooperatives, therefore the numbers differ from Table 1.

32 According to the official estimations, the population of Czechoslovakia reached 15,186,944 in 1935 and 12,164,661 in 1946. The reasons for the decline were obviously the losses in the war and the loss of the territory of Ruthenia, though the most significant cause for this drop in population was the forced displacement of German (and some of the Hungarian) population after the war. Statistisches Jahrbuch der ČSR 1938, V, 21; Statistická ročenka Republiky Československé 1948, XV, 19.

33 The influence of (outdated) Soviet models can be demonstrated clearly for consumer cooperatives or collective farms in 1950s. The roles of Soviet advisors were analyzed in the 1990s in the secondary literature. See Slavíček, Ze světa, 69–72; Swain, “Eastern European Collectivization Campaigns Compared, 1945–1962”; Kaplan, Sovětští poradci v Československu 1949–1956; Janák and Jirásek, Sovětští poradci a ekonomický vývoj, “K příchodu.”

34 Statistics of cooperatives were no longer published after the communist putsch in 1948. The first available statistics (regarding the current state of research) are from 1970 and refer to 1966. It is probable that the figures did not change significantly in between 1960 and 1966, and it is therefore reasonable to use the statistics from 1966.

35 Slavíček, Ze světa, 212–25.

36 “Zákon č. 69/1949 Sb.,” § 1–2.

37 “Zákon č. 53/1954 Sb.” § 1, 28–31.

38 A total of five cooperative unions were founded in the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia in 1942 (two of these unions were for agricultural cooperatives, separately for Bohemia and Moravia). All of the traditional unions were dissolved, and all cooperatives had to join these new unions. A new top institution, the Central Cooperative Union (Ústřední rada družstev, ÚRD), emerged in May 1945. Formally apolitical, it was dominated by the Communist Party. Although the ÚRD was not confirmed by law until spring 1948 (i.e., until after the February putsch), it was de facto accepted as a top representative of all cooperatives in Czechoslovakia. See “Vládní Nařízení č. 242/1942 Sb.”; Slavíček, Ze světa, 52–56.

39 “Zákon č. 187/1948 Sb.,” § 12.

40 Smrčka, Vývoj družstevnictví.

41 Slavíček, Ze světa, 295–302; On the general problem of the lack of expertise among the communist “cadres,” see Jančík and Kubů, “Zwischen Planbefehl und Markt,” 97.

42 Slavíček, Ze světa, 270–76.


Ukrainian Fashion Houses as Centers of Soviet Fashion Representation

Olha Korniienko
Ukrainian Fashion History Digital Archive
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 3  (2021):495-528 DOI 10.38145/2021.3.495

The study examines Soviet fashion houses as fashion corporations with an extensive structure and a certain autonomy which served as centers for the development and representation of Soviet fashion. These state institutions were created in the capitals and large cities of the Soviet republics. The Moscow All-Union Fashion House acted as a methodological center for fashion houses of all Soviet republics. The Ukrainian SSR was one of the important centers of fashion development in the Soviet Union, and it included six general orientation and five specialized fashion houses, as well as the Ukrainian Institute of Assortment of Light Industry Products and Clothing Culture. Based on a wide range of archival sources and interviews with fashion house workers, the article reveals the structure and operation of Ukrainian fashion houses in the period between 1940 and 1991 and also examine their cooperative endeavors with garment enterprises and research institutions. The technology of clothing production by designers, the processes of approval to which these technologies were subjected by art councils, and the organization of exhibitions in the USSR and abroad are also considered.

Keywords: Soviet fashion, fashion house, light industry, Soviet Union, Soviet Ukraine, fashion corporation, art council.

As the nineteenth-century Russian playwriter Anton Chekhov wrote in his comedy The Wood Demon, “In a human being everything should be beautiful: the face, the clothes, the soul, the thoughts.” Although Chekhov was not referring to the USSR and its fashion industry, his now famous saying served as a slogan for the so-called “new Soviet person.” The “new Soviet person,” a hard-working, selfless member of Soviet socialist society, was cast as the embodiment of the harmony of individual and societal interests. This person was supposed to express this harmony through his or her every act and accoutrement, including clothing, to which particular attention was devoted in the second half of the twentieth century.

Soviet fashion is a complex phenomenon which combines cultural, social, aesthetic, and ideological aspects. Clothing is arguably also one of the most important symbolic languages of a given society, and the production of clothing is a way to control the appearance and visual vocabulary of the population, as well as a way to interfere in everyday life through a regulated market for fashion products.

Today, Soviet fashion is being made the subject of study by representatives of various disciplines, including art criticism, culturology, philosophy, and sociology. Rather recently, it also began to be actively studied by historians. Among the studies on the history of Soviet Ukrainian fashion, it is worth noting the works of Ukrainian culturologists Zenovia Tkanko and Maria Kostel’na.1 In her book Fashion in Ukraine of the Twentieth Сentury, Tkanko points out the most distinctive features of the styles and trends that influenced the development of Ukrainian fashion.2 Kostel’na focuses in her research on the ethnic direction in the work of Ukrainian fashion houses designers who were active in the middle of the twentieth century or the beginning of the twenty-first century.3 She attempts to reconstruct the stages of development of Ukrainian fashion houses, focusing on the evolution of the ethno-paradigms of the Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Donetsk schools of fashion design.4 She also covers the creative path and the development of ethnic trends of Ukrainian designers such as Marta Tokar, Lidia Avdeeva, Hertz Mepen, and others. While both Tkanko and Kostel’na consider mainly the cultural aspects of the development of fashion trends, including the period of Soviet Ukraine, they also examine the distinctive elements of fashion development in Ukraine and Soviet light industry in general.

The works of the Russian historian Sergey Zhuravlev and the Finnish sociologist Jukka Gronow are significant for the study of the history of Soviet fashion.5 Zhuravlev and Gronow consider the history of fashion industry development in the USSR and analyze changes in the attitudes of the authorities and society towards fashion.6 Their works deal with various aspects of Soviet fashion, including the creation of the design system in Soviet Russia, discussions about fashion in the Soviet public discourse, individual tailoring and designing clothing based on the example of the State Department Store (GUM), and so on. Their detailed examination of the Tallinn House of Fashion Design, which is based on interviews and archival materials, is of particular value to the scholarship on the broader subject.7

Historians Larissa Zakharova and Natalia Lebina are also actively studying the fashion world of Soviet Russia, and Djurdja Bartlett and Judd Stitziel are studying socialist fashion as a phenomenon. Historian Larissa Zakharova has examined the trips taken by Soviet fashion designers to France and attempts to cooperate with the Parisian fashion house Christian Dior, and they have called attention to the significant French influence on fashion trends in the Soviet Union.8

Natalia Lebina’s works are dedicated primarily to the study of Soviet everyday life and the image of Soviet people, including aspects of their appearance, clothing, and behavior.9 In the monograph Man and woman: body, fashion, culture. The USSR – Thaw, in which Lebina scrutinizes the relationship between a man and a woman from various perspectives, she also examines fashion as well.10 Lebina alo considers the activity of the All-Union Fashion House and the Leningrad House of Fashion Design, which is particularly important for this study.

In Fashioning Socialism: Clothing, Politics, and Consumer Culture in East Germany, German researcher Judd Stitziel thoroughly examines the emergence and development of the socialist fashion industry and analyzes discussions about the aesthetics of clothing, drawing on the example of East Germany.11 Stitziel reveals the economic and political conditions under which the fashion industry in Germany operated.

FashionEast: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism by British researcher Djurdja Bartlett is dedicated to the phenomenon of socialist fashion. Bartlett considers the institutionalization of fashion and the formation of the “official socialist costume” as an ideological construct.12 She also touches on the roles of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (СМЕА), within the framework of which the USSR also cooperated with the socialist countries in the formation of socialist fashion, where corporate ethics and culture were also visible. In addition to considering clothing design in the USSR, Bartlett also devotes considerable attention to Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the GDR, and Yugoslavia.

Thus, the research topic on which I focus in this inquiry is relevant and interdisciplinary and has broad potential for further research, though it has not yet gained the recognition it merits among professional historians. My inquiry is the first in the field to consider Ukrainian fashion houses as Soviet corporations responsible for representing fashion in Soviet Ukraine and abroad. Questions about fashion houses, the features of their internal structures, and the hierarchies within which they functioned remain poorly studied.

This paper is based on a wide range of sources, including archival documents, interviews, and periodicals. In particular, I have done considerable work in archives in Ukraine and Russia. The materials include documents from the Ministry of Light Industry, fashion houses, garment and shoe factories, tailor shops (atel’ye mod), department stores, and other institutions that were directly involved in the development and production of fashion goods. Especially valuable are the materials which were produced by the fashion houses, including documents on their organization and functioning, their trips abroad, exhibitions, and cooperative endeavors both within the republic and abroad.

However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the materials on Ukrainian fashion houses disappeared, and they are not found in the state archives. For the time being, only two archival funds have been identified, namely for the Kyiv and Lviv Houses of Fashion Design. But they are incomplete and do not cover the entire period under study. In contrast, the All-Union Fashion House fund is available in a more extensive format at the Russian State Archive of Economics. Since the All-Union Fashion House was a methodological center for all the Soviet republics, its materials also contain aspects pertaining to corporate cooperation with Ukrainian fashion houses. Additional sources include private archives of fashion houses workers, which contain sketches, photos, documents, etc.

Interview materials are an important part of this paper. Since the interviews were done with fashion houses workers, the features and specifics of work in the fashion houses were shared firsthand by the interviewees. This made it possible to consider the subject from different perspectives, including the perspective of a clothing maker (konstruktor odezhdy), a fashion designer (khudozhnik-modelyer), a fabric artist (khudozhnik po tkanyam), a clothing demonstrator (demonstrator odezhdy), a chief art director (glavnyy khudozhestvennyy rukovoditel), the director of a fashion house, and the head of the raw materials rationing department.

These historical records are valuable sources, since very few “witnesses” were still alive and available for questioning. However, it should also be taken into account that the interviews were done several decades after the fashion houses closed, so respondents may tend to forget or miss some facts. Moreover, the current political situation and public opinion affect how the past is remembered and evaluated today. In some cases, there was a feeling that the people who were being interviewed were still afraid of State Security Committee (KGB) surveillance. For example, respondents refused to speak on tape about the illegal activities of fashion houses or some real statistical information. Against this background, an attempt was made to reach as many fashion houses workers and members of their professions as possible in order to collate the data and determine their relevance.

Regarding periodicals, the emphasis was on Ukrainian magazines, in particular the socio-political journal Radianska zhinka (Soviet Woman) and the fashion magazine Krasa i moda (Beauty and Fashion). They were two of the most popular and widely distributed magazines in Soviet Ukraine. In these magazines, reports were published on the latest achievements of the light industry in Ukraine and the functioning of fashion houses, and they also contained writings on the image of a modern fashionable person and certain fashion dogmas. The materials of the socio-political magazine Rabotnitsa (Worker) and the fashion magazine Zhurnal mod (Fashion Magazine) were also used, since they were the most popular such publications in the Soviet Union and contain valuable information on the general Soviet context.

The Soviet Fashion Concept

From the second half of the twentieth century onwards, there were lively discussions in periodicals about the place of fashion in Soviet society, discussions which involved specialists from various fields.13 As a result of these discussions, fashion was recognized as one of the components of the ideological education of the “Soviet person.” The concept of “Soviet” fashion began to be broadcast in every possible way, but primarily through periodicals. Based on periodicals and special literature about fashion by Soviet fashion experts, the characteristic features of “Soviet” fashion were simplicity, modesty, convenience, relevance, sense of proportion, and good taste. Any slight deviation from the norm in clothing met with a negative assessment.

Emphasis was also placed on the availability of goods: “Dressing nicely does not mean wearing expensive things. Clothing should be inexpensive and elegant at the same time. After all, we create samples for workers.”14 The fabric also did not have to be expensive, even when it was used to make samples which were used in international exhibitions: “Use of cheap colorful fabrics is very important for sewing because it makes clothes accessible to the general public.”15

Fashion was supposed to reflect the success of Soviet industry. At the same time, the concept of Soviet taste was being formed in the official discourse. It was believed that “the cultivation of taste is one of the important forms of struggle for the formation of Soviet socialist culture, for the cultural growth of all Soviet people.”16 Taste was considered “inseparable from the general culture of a human,” and it was regarded as playing an important role in the regulation of consumer behavior and was therefore brought in line with Soviet values.17

The question of how to learn good taste was discussed in the pages of newspapers and magazines: “Taste is what we need today. Excess is bad.”18 Periodicals received letters asking for help in understanding what “tastefully dressed” meant.19 Sometimes, Soviet fashion designers or art historians personally answered these questions in the pages of magazines. In particular, the fashion designer of Kyiv Fashion House Natalia Kalashnikova advised readers to improve their knowledge of culture, visit museums and galleries, and read fiction to cultivate their tastes. “While visiting museums,” she advised, “one should pay attention to the color scheme of paintings and their composition, and one should look closely at the plastic expressiveness of sculptures. Clothing also ‘sculpts’ a person’s figure. It is necessary to read more fiction and to be interested in all branches of the arts, especially applied art. This will nurture an artistic sense, and then you can accurately identify everything that is marked by good taste, whether it is a painting, a sculpture, or a dress.”20

Many publications with characteristic headlines were devoted to the cultivation of taste and the art of dressing in the 1960s–1980s. I am thinking of titles such as “Taste and Fashion,” “Needs, Tastes, Fashion,” etc.21 Importance was attached not only to clothing, but also to manners, behavior, correct posture, and the ability to maintain a conversation. In one of the responses printed in the socio-political journal Radianska zhinka (Soviet Woman) to a reader’s letter, the author contended that “Tastefully selected clothes and shoes may look ridiculous if a person does not maintain his posture.”22

Advice on how to look beautiful was also given to men: “Dear men, look for it, try it out. The concept of ‘fashion,’ although feminine, applies equally to you.”23 Referring to the “commandment” to men from the famous French couturier Pierre Cardin, one of the publications emphasized that “a tie which is too bright and expressive and immediately catches the eye is a man’s sin number one.”24 The same was true of bright socks. Tips about fashion trends in men’s clothing often were made by professional Soviet men’s fashion designers.25

Considerable attention was also devoted to children’s clothes, because it was believed that one had to make an effort to begin cultivating good taste when a child was still in the cradle: “Have you noticed how a child reaches for a bright toy, a colorful scarf? Specialists, artists, and educators believe that this is the first manifestation of the aesthetic perception of the world. What about children’s clothes? They play perhaps the most important role in the complex process of crystallization of good taste.”26 The fact that Ukrainian SSR had a separate fashion house, the Dnipropetrovsk House of Fashion Design, which specialized only in children’s clothing, offers clear testimony to the importance given to the concept of fashion in children’s garb.

One of the most important features of Soviet fashion was the appeal to folk traditions: “Although new equipment and new materials suggest and sometimes dictate new forms of clothing, we should not forget about the importance of nationality. The history of the traditional national costume has left us brilliant examples of the organic unity of the texture of the fabric and ornaments, decorations, a rich synthesis of delicate taste and culture of color. If you follow these patterns, study them thoroughly, our suit in modern processing will be safe from inconsistency, deliberateness, disharmony.”27

Soviet fashion designers collaborated with folk artists, studied national art, visited specialized museums and galleries, were inspired by natural materials, and created their collections on the basis of these influences. Folk clothing was based on the use of ancient ornaments, embroidery, lace, and sewing.28 The originality and uniqueness of the clothing was seen in the appeals of folk motifs and the ways in which they were combined with newer fashion trends.

Another trend involved the use of motifs from narratives concerning the heroic past of the country, which included the sewing of women’s coats with materials from military overcoats, hats in the form of helmets, budyonovka created according to the sketches of artist Victor Vasnetsov, etc.29 It should be noted that the folk theme was relevant throughout the entire period under study. In the pages of women’s magazines, in addition to a large number of publications concerning national traditions in clothing, quite often there were samples of folk clothing or national ornaments.30

The periodicals also systematically covered competitions for the best drawings of fabrics, clothing samples, knitwear, and hats using Ukrainian folk motifs. For example, in 1965, 72 enterprises in the textile industry and six republic fashion houses participated in such competitions. This shows a fairly high interest and involvement in similar events.31

Another feature of Soviet fashion was the creation of clothing ensembles. The ensemble signified a combination of things which were in harmony with one another in color, shape, and decoration. The ensemble was complemented with shoes, a hat, a bag, a scarf, and gloves. It was important to arrange the outfit according to the purpose (were they to be worn in the theater, during a visit to an exhibition, for a casual walk, etc.). The correct creation of an ensemble of clothes was also covered in the section of fashion tips for readers. Taisiya Rovna, a fashion consultant in the Kyiv Fashion House, offered the following suggestions in response to her own rhetorical question: “What makes up the ensemble? A coat and a dress, a coat and a suit, a coat and a blouse with a sundress or skirt, a suit and a blouse, a suit and a vest and a blouse, a jacket and a dress, a half-coat and trousers with a blouse, trousers, a blouse and a vest should be in harmony.”32 The development of the ensemble depended not only on the tailoring of the clothes, but also on the proposals made by textile artists, shoemakers, fur masters, and headdress masters.

Soviet Fashion Corporations

In the Soviet Union, a network of state institutions was created which was aimed at development of the fashion industry and its promotion and engaged in clothing production and the formation of the Soviet fashion concept (this network included fashion houses and research and oversight organizations).

Fashion houses were gradually created in all the Soviet republics with a methodological center in Moscow. They were divided into general orientation (houses of fashion design) and specialized (houses which focused on shoes, knitwear, leather goods, workwear, etc.). The first fashion house was opened in Moscow in 1934. With the outbreak of World War II, it was closed, only resuming its activity in 1944. The gradual restoration of clothing and shoe factories throughout the Soviet Union also began in the postwar period. In 1949, the Moscow Fashion House was reorganized into the All-Union Fashion House, and it gradually became a kind of fashion institute with a large number of services and divisions which dealt with the main theoretical, practical, and methodological aspects of fashion.33

In the period between 1944 and 1948, fashion houses were established in Kyiv, Leningrad, Minsk, and Riga. These institutions were merged into a single system, headed by the All-Union Fashion House in Moscow. At the beginning of 1949, twelve republican and regional fashion houses had been organized.34 By the second half of the 1950s, there were 16 of them. In 1977, there were 38 fashion houses in the Soviet Union, 18 of which were in the RSFSR and seven of which were in the Ukrainian SSR.35 There was by one house of fashion design in each of the other Soviet republics.36 Thus, given the total number of fashion houses in Soviet Russia and Ukraine, it can be argued that these two republics were the centers of fashion development and promotion in the USSR. It is also worth considering that these republics had large territories and extensive light industry in general.

In addition to large designing institutions such as fashion houses, there were research organizations that were also entrusted with the responsibilities of providing scientific and methodological guidance and coordinating the work of other fashion designing structures. These organizations included the All-Union Research Institute of the Garment Industry, the Special Art and Design Bureau, and the All-Union Institute for the Assortment of Light Industry Products and Clothing Culture.

The All-Union Research Institute of the Garment Industry was the main scientific institution in the Soviet Union. It dealt with virtually all issues concerning scientific and technological support for light industry. In particular, its functions included the improvement of technologies for design and tailoring, analysis of materials for manufacture, the study of the performance properties of clothing, rationing, making clothing production more efficient.37

The Special Art and Design Bureau (SHKB) was established in 1962. Its main tasks included the development of projects for mechanical engineering products and goods for cultural and household purposes, the generalization and promotion of best practices in the field of artistic design of industrial products, the preparation of proposals for phasing out products which were obsolete and unsatisfactory in terms of artistic design, and staging for the production of new types of goods which met modern expectations.38

It was this organization that developed a method which made it possible to create various samples, such as items of clothing, according to one basic form and a single constructive basis. According to the Bureau management, the constant renewal of collections through the use of new or different fabrics, décors, and the imaginative redesign of samples without the introduction of any fundamentally new cuts would allow the industry to rebuild easily and provide a wide variety of garments in stores.39 Articles in periodicals were often dedicated to the study of the experiences of the Bureau’s clothing department.40

The All-Union Institute for the Assortment of Light Industry Products and Clothing Culture (VIALegprom) was launched in the second half of the 1960s. The Institute studied the range of goods produced by light industry enterprises. It selected the best samples and made recommendations for their introduction, monitored the timely introduction of a new range of fabrics and light industry products into mass production, and promoted the development of fashion in clothes and the artistic design of fabrics, shoes, and other light industry products.41

The Ukrainian Institute of Assortment of Light Industry Products and Clothing Culture (UIALegprom) was founded in 1977. It was entrusted with the task of coordinating the work of and providing methodological guidance for the creative team, which dealt with the creation of a new fashion range. The institute’s responsibilities included studying the demands of buyers for light industry products, organizing advertising, and promoting products through television, radio, and print media, organizing art and technical councils, developing, in cooperation with research institutes and fashion design organizations, proposals for introducing a new range of fabrics and other materials clothing and footwear manufacture.42 It should be noted that the Institute of Assortment of Light Industry Products and Clothing Culture operated only on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR and the RSFSR.

The fashion corporations described above interacted with each other, forming a single mechanism aimed at the development of the Soviet fashion industry. The approach to the design and creation of clothing was meticulous and thought-out to the smallest detail. At the same time, there was a high corporate culture at the all-union, republican, and local levels. Methodological meetings, contests and fashion shows, creative business trips, and employee exchanges were regularly held at the all-union and republican levels. For example, the All-Union Fashion House designer Vyacheslav Zaitsev often visited fashion houses in Soviet Ukraine, where he gave lectures and shared his experience in fashion design.43

To unite the team at the local level, joint creative trips were organized to cultural and historical places, as well as “skits” (kapustniki).44 Designers were given creative days and had opportunities to go on creative business trips both within the country and abroad. There were cases when one specialist had the opportunity to work in three Ukrainian fashion houses (Lviv, Kharkiv, Kyiv).45 The cohesion of the team is also indicated by the fact that when the new building of the Kyiv House of Fashion Design was being built, all employees tried to be involved in the process. At the same time, Svetlana Titova, the director of the fashion house, donated her precious jewelry, throwing it under the foundation of the new building of the fashion house as it was being laid. (Fig. 1.) All of the above served to build a sense of unity among the various colleagues and coworkers, and this made it possible to establish horizontal connections within the fashion house and between fashion houses both within the republic and at the all-union level.

Figure 1. Svetlana Titova (on the right), the director of the Kyiv House of Fashion Design, throws her precious jewelry under the foundation of the new building of the fashion house as it is being laid, 1973. (Private collection of the Kyiv Fashion House designer Lydia Avdeeva, with Lydia Avdeeva’s permission)

Ukrainian Fashion Houses: Structure, Operation, and Cooperation


The Ukrainian SSR was one of the main centers of fashion development in the Soviet Union. There were six fashion houses located in the largest cities in Soviet Ukraine. The first house of fashion design, which was created in 1944, was in Kyiv.46 Ten years later, the Lviv fashion house opened.47 During the period of its existence, the Lviv fashion house was reorganized several times. In 1962, it was transformed into the Design and Engineering Institute of Light Industry. Shoe and knitwear laboratories were opened at the institute, as was an artistic and experimental laboratory for creating sketches for fabrics, embroidery, lace, and various haberdashery and a laboratory for weaving and printing fabrics. In 1968, it was made back into a fashion house.48 In the period beginning in 1958 and stretching to the end of the 1960’s, Odesa, Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Dnipropetrovsk established their own fashion houses.49 Much like during the Khrushchev period, the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s saw the opening of specialized fashion houses in the Ukrainian SSR as well.

Fashion houses with general orientation were entrusted with the task of designing and developing clothes for industrial production and making samples which would be used abroad as examples of the fashion work being done in the Soviet Union. It was also responsible for publishing in fashion magazines, holding fashion shows, and educating Soviet society by implementing the “correct,” ideologically consistent canons of Soviet fashion.

The specialized fashion houses, including the Republican House of Footwear Samples, the Republican House of Leather and Haberdashery Goods, the Republican House of Knitwear Samples “Khreshchatyk,” the Republican House of Workwear Samples, the Republican House of Model Household Items, served as supporting fashion organizations.50 In practical terms, there was a need for them, because the main principle of creating fashion collections was the stylistic combination of all elements, or in other words, the creation of an ensemble (clothing, shoes, hats, leather goods).

Each Ukrainian general fashion house specialized in a unique range of products. For example, the Odesa House of Fashion Design worked on the creation of leisure clothes, Kharkiv fashion house focused on light women’s dresses, Dnipropetrovsk on children and clothing for teenagers, and Donetsk on creating women’s outerwear.51 The Kyiv and Lviv fashion houses developed an entire product range and were the leading modeling centers of Soviet Ukraine.52 It should be noted that such specialization by region was a feature of Ukrainian fashion houses.

According to Nadezhda Nikiforuk, the director of the Lviv House of Fashion Design, the Lviv institution was considered the leader in the field of clothing design in Soviet Ukraine.53 In particular, this was influenced by its relative proximity to Poland, from where it was possible to be the first to get “information from all over the world,” as well as the generations of old Lviv masters who had significant experience in clothing design.54 However, according to official documents, the Lviv fashion house was considered the second in the republic by capacity after the one in the capital.55 It should also be emphasized that all fashion houses were directly subordinate to the Ministry of Light Industry of the Ukrainian SSR. The fact that two fashion houses were under the same leadership at once is a characteristic element of the Ukrainian fashion industry.

Constant competition between the Kyiv and Lviv fashion houses contributed to their transformation into fashion corporations which had a certain degree of autonomy and also exerted an influence on the development of fashion and fashion trends in Soviet Ukraine. This fact is also confirmed by the number of employees and their extensive structure. From the perspective of the total number of workers in fashion houses in 1962, the largest number of workers was in Lviv (370 people) and Kyiv (298 people) and the smallest was in Dnipropetrovsk (100 people).56 This indicates the importance of these fashion houses.

Structure and Operation

The structure of fashion houses was quite extensive and consisted of many departments and workshops.57 Based on the example of the Lviv Fashion House, these included the departments of planning and production, supply and sales, implementation, culture and propaganda, design outerwear, light dresses, rationing of raw materials and the development of technical documentation, and experimental and methodological workshops.58

Separately, a department of so-called “exposition hall” (demonstratsionnyy zal) workers was created, where models were employed to wear garments and show them to the public). In 1968, 16 people were officially employed in this department, including two laboratory assistants and 14 models.59 This fact indicates the relevance of this profession and its perception as a necessary position in fashion houses. In the employment record, the position was listed as a “clothing demonstrator.”60 It should be emphasized that it was quite difficult to get this position, because alongside a given applicant’s appearance (including his or her measurements), his or her education, knowledge of languages, and reputation were also taken into consideration, as was the question of whether he or she belonged to the Communist Party. These various considerations were regarded as important because so-called clothing demonstrators often traveled abroad to show fashion collections, and they were expected to represent the country appropriately.61

Fashion shows were held both inside and outside the buildings of fashion houses. There were two halls in the houses of fashion design, the exhibition hall and the exposition hall. The exhibition hall was open daily, except on weekends, and it was accessible to the general public. Collections of fashionable clothes by seasons were shown in the exposition hall. These kinds of fashion shows were held for the Soviet population once a week.62 Each fashion show was accompanied by comments from an art critic.63 The art critic provided details for each item of clothing, indicating its style, fabric, the age for which it was sewn, where it could be worn, and what other garments and accessories it should be worn with.64 A striking example is a shot from the film The Diamond Hand (Brilliantovaya ruka), directed by Leonid Gaidai, in which the art critic describes each item of clothing at a fashion show for the Soviet public. Such detailed information was needed in order to ensure that a woman who attended a particular show would understand which items would be most suitable for her and what things she might be able to sew at home on her own.65 (Fig. 2–4.)




Figure 4. Fashion show at the October Palace of Culture in Kyiv, 1962

TsDKFFA od. obliku 2–109980)


Visiting fashion shows were held in factories and plants, at universities, and at other public places. Soviet art critics and fashion designers often held lectures to familiarize the population with the latest trends and promote Soviet style and fashion. Based on archival materials, these visiting fashion shows were popular and in demand among Soviet citizens.66

The department of Culture and Clothing Propaganda was in charge of organizing fashion shows and thematic lectures which influenced the formation of perceptions concerning fashion among Soviet citizens. The department consisted of art critics and fashion consultants who systematically prepared the necessary materials for the print media, radio, and television.67 It also contained the most recent foreign literature on fashion and fashion magazines, which were translated, carefully reviewed, and scrutinized by the fashion consultants.68 The staff also included a photographer who regularly shot fashion shows and work processes and took pictures of items of clothing for periodicals published in the republic, primarily fashion magazines. The Lviv house of fashion design had its own photo laboratory, which was headed by Tanas Nikiforuk.69

Fashion magazines and booklets in which new fashion trends were popularized among the Soviet population were mainly published in the capital by the Kyiv House of Fashion Design. Certain attempts to organize the publication of the Zhurnal mod (Fashion Magazine) were made by the Lviv House of Fashion Design.70 In 1959, the fashion house published two editorials of the fashion magazine, but due to the decision according to which fashion magazines could only be published by the fashion houses which were regarded as important on the level of the entire republic, pub of the magazine ceased.71 This suggests the dominance of the fashion house in the capital. However, the Kyiv Fashion House did not publish a fashion magazine with circulation as wide as, for example, the Tallinn Siluett. Basically, the magazines published by the Kyiv Fashion House were small booklets. The most popular Ukrainian fashion magazine was Krasa i moda (Beauty and Fashion), published by the publishing house Reklama (Advertising), which was also in Soviet Ukraine. Most of the items of clothing featured in the magazine were designed by the fashion houses in the capital and made in the Kyiv clothing factories. This once again underlines the dominance of the fashion houses in Kyiv. Other fashion houses were able to make patterns and illustrations of the new clothing models that were sold to the public. Also, there was a practice of using periodicals to inform the Soviet citizenry about the purchase of clothing patterns in a particular house of fashion design.72

The Role of the Designer and the Creation of Fashion Collections

Fashion designers played an important role in the formation of collections and fashion trends in general. Since the task was to create their own Soviet fashion (without blindly copying Western trends), designers had to create original and distinctive items. Artists developed motifs and patterns drawing on folk art, in particular, and actively designed folk themes. For example, Lviv fashion house artists went to the villages in the Carpathian Mountains, where they collected materials and studied embroidery, fabrics, and jewelry and created a folk costume based on what they had found. They were assisted by employees of the Lviv Museum of Ukrainian Art, the Museum of Ethnography and Arts and Crafts, and art critics from the House of Folk Art. They organized classes on various types of Ukrainian arts and crafts, such as embroidery, weaving, knitting, and needlecraft.73

In addition, Lviv artists drew sketches for fabrics and independently produced fabrics on hand machines, which made these fabrics unique.74 They also engaged in cooperative endeavors with masters of folk art from Kosovo.75 In 1959, the Lviv fashion house established its own weaving workshop, where hand-made looms were used to produce fabrics in the Ukrainian folk style, both decorative and for tailoring.76 The garments and fabric created in this experimental textile laboratory were presented at prestigious international exhibitions (in cities such as Marseille, Tokyo, and Leipzig).77

Fashion designers who had higher special education and proved to be capable artists in the creation of new items of clothing for mass production or as samples of presentation were given a creative day once a week.78 On this day, they did not come to work. Rather, they were able to visit art museums or galleries, work outside or in the library, and spend time outdoors or in the mountains.79 In short, they did everything that might inspire them to create a new collection of clothes. Once in six months, they had to report on their creative work. Those who did not report on time were deprived of the right to use their creative days for the next six months.80 To increase their skills and further the improvement of the designs for sample items of clothing and developed sketches, fashion designers were also provided with studio days.81 Advanced training courses were held in which participants studied the composition of a drawing,82 for instance, and there were creative business trips, after which reports were submitted.83

To maintain fair competition among designers, contests were often held for the best samples of new garments. There was a book of reviews at the exhibitions in which visitors could write their impressions of a certain item, often noting the creator of the garment in question.84 Competitions for the best item of clothing were also held among light industry workers at both the all-union Soviet level and within the republic.

In the process of preparing the collection, fashion designers worked very closely with clothing makers and clothing demonstrators. Fashion collections were developed according to certain regulations. The director of the fashion house and the chief art director were responsible for the final results.85 Collections were divided into industrial and exhibition formats. Industrial collections served as a guide for garment enterprises and were aimed at introducing the items in the collection into mass production within the country. Exhibition collections were also regarded as a forward-looking undertaking (perspektivnaya kollektsiya). Samples of exhibition clothing were included in seasonal collections for display to the public and for international fashion shows and exhibitions.

Particular importance was attached to the exhibition collections, because the garments made by Ukrainian fashion houses represented not only the republic, but the whole country. The best fashion designers were selected for the production of such collections. For example, in the Kyiv House of Fashion Design, two leading fashion designers were always engaged in making sketches for exhibition collections, namely Lydia Avdeeva and Hertz Mepen.86 The sketches made by the designers were approved by the art council. After the sketches were approved, the designer and constructor in the team began to create items of clothing. During this time, clothing demonstrators constantly came to try on the clothes which were being made by the designers involved in the process. Each piece of clothing existed in only one version and was sewn for a specific clothing demonstrator. When the collection was completed, a mini-show of clothes was held with the participation of demonstrators, where the art council approved the final products. The best items were selected for inclusion in the final collection, and things with certain defects were eliminated.87

The Art Council of the Ministry of Light Industry of the USSR was responsible for all areas of light industry. Art councils for various branches of light industry were singled out separately from it. In 1967, there were 17 such art councils in various fields.88 For example, there were art councils on silk fabrics, hats, garments, knitwear and hosiery, footwear, textile haberdashery, etc. Usually, the council consisted of 25 to 40 people. It included a chairman, a deputy chairman, the executive secretary, and members of the art council.89 The members of the art council were representatives of the Ministry of Trade of the USSR, the State Planning Committee, the Planning and Production Department of the Ministry of Light Industry of the Ukrainian SSR, research institutes, the Republican House of Assortment, sewing and specialized fashion houses, and large sewing enterprises.90

In the fashion houses, art councils for garments, divided into big and small, were held. Big councils met approximately once a month and included economists, representatives of trade, the Ukrainian Research Institute of Light Industry, the State Planning Committee, chief art directors, fashion designers, and clothing makers.91 Small councils met as needed and included representatives of a one of the fashion houses, specifically the director, the chief art director, the chief clothing maker, and fashion designers. They discussed and resolved whatever issues needed to be addressed. There were also councils at sewing enterprises.

It should be pointed out that new items of clothing were not released without the approval of the art council. Furthermore, samples of clothing images of which had been published in periodicals had to be pre-reviewed and approved by the art council before being published. (Fig. 5–6.) These facts show the significant influence of art councils on the development of fashion in the country, and they also offer a grasp of the bureaucracy of the processes.

Foreign Fashion Exhibitions

The Lviv and Kyiv Houses of Fashion Design actively participated in foreign exhibitions and fashion shows and successfully represented the Soviet Union on the international level. For example, they were involved in creating a collection of clothing for fashion shows in countries such as Canada, France, the USA, Belgium, and Argentina.92 There were cases when Ukraine and Ukrainian fashion were singled out separately, for instance at the World Exhibition in Montreal (Canada) in 1967.93 The Soviet Union was represented by four fashion houses (Kyiv, All-Union, Leningrad, and Riga) and three socialist republics (Ukrainian, Russian, and Latvian). For the collection of fashion clothing of the Ukrainian SSR, 160 ensembles of women’s and men’s clothing were made. The collection was based on the use of folk clothing motifs from various regions and districts of Ukraine. Over the course of a month and a half, the Kiev Fashion House held 80 fashion shows, and a film was made about Ukraine and Ukrainian fashion.94

One finds evidence of great interest in the Ukrainian collection in the 383 instances of positive feedback in the guestbook from different countries, including the USA, Canada, England, France, Switzerland, and Argentina. There were also many articles in the foreign press, for example, in the newspapers Montreal Star, La Presse, and Ottawa Citizen.95 In particular, attention was focused on the modernness of Ukrainian fashion. According to an article in the Montreal Star entitled “Kiev fashions ‘play’ to a crowded Expo house,” “the colors might have been considered conservative by Western tastes, but most of the designs were up to any Paris or New York standards.”96 In an article entitled “La mode de Kiev: plus americaine que cosaque,” correspondent Michele Boulva pointed out that “the typical Russian or Cossack fashion, which is so popular to meet, has almost disappeared. According to the fashion show in the Russian pavilion, the American and European influence is felt in most of the items presented.”97 Thus, on the international level, Ukrainian fashion was identified by its use of folk traditions combined with modern forms and silhouettes.


When creating collections, fashion houses collaborated with other Ukrainian light industry enterprises. These enterprises included specialized fashion houses (footwear, knitwear) and related light industry enterprises. Such enterprises provided fabrics for creating fashion clothes, as well as additions to clothing ensembles (shoes, accessories).98 In general, Ukrainian designers preferred to work with domestic fabrics and materials, so each fashion house collaborated with certain textile and related enterprises when creating their collections.99 In particular, this was due to the orientation to the domestic market and well-developed Ukrainian light industry.

There was another option for cooperation which involved the development of technical documents and the implementation of fashion houses’ designs into the mass production of clothing.100 The technical documentation consisted of patterns and sewing technology for a certain product.101 Annually, more than 70 percent of the entire industrial collection (technical documentation) was made in fashion houses in the republic.102

It should be emphasized that such documentation was not free of charge, but agreements were concluded and a fixed fee was set for the development of a certain product. Thus, this was one of the ways in which fashion houses earned compensation. It is noteworthy that Ukrainian fashion houses were not limited in their cooperative endeavors to sewing enterprises from their regions.103 For example, as of 1970, the Odesa House of Fashion Design had provided technical documentation for 54 garment enterprises throughout the Ukrainian SSR.104 In contrast, the system of regional consolidation for the provision of technical documentation was relevant for fashion houses in the Russian SSR.105

Furthermore, Ukrainian fashion houses were able to conclude contracts with sewing enterprises both throughout the territory of the Ukrainian SSR and in other republics of the Soviet Union, as well as with socialist countries.106 However, this mainly applied to the Kyiv and Lviv fashion houses. Quite often, fashion designers and clothing makers and engineers from the production department visited sewing enterprises to provide practical assistance in the manufacture of certain items of clothing.107

It should be noted that the vast majority of garment and knitting enterprises in the Ukrainian SSR had their own experimental shops, laboratories, and sections which were also engaged in the development and creation of new items and styles of clothing.108 For instance, the state audit of 1962 showed that the Vorovsky Sewing Association in Odessa had its own experimental workshop where 52 people were employed, including 13 designers and clothing makers. At this time, Kharkiv had experimental sewing laboratories in 14 out of 15 sewing enterprises, where 53 fashion designers and clothing makers were employed.109 The situation was similar in Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kyiv, Lviv, and other Ukrainian cities.

In addition, some factories were able to cooperate directly (legally or illegally) with foreign enterprises. According to archival materials, the Lviv garment factory Mayak tried to cooperate with the United States in 1963 (Maidenform, Phoenix Сlothes firms).110 Based on oral history materials, the Tinyakov Kharkiv garment factory sewed clothes for France, and the Lviv shoe company Progress sold shoes for the GDR in the 1980s.111 As Kharkiv resident Mikhail Stanchev recalls, “[o]nce I went to Lille in France. We were in a sewing shop, where we were encouraged to buy a suit according to French fashion. However, I then heard someone say, ‘Do not rush to buy, it is all made in Kharkiv on Tinyakovka.’”112

Though garment factories generally used the materials produced by the fashion houses, clothing samples could often differ from the originals. This was particularly influenced by the availability of the necessary fabric, accessories, and equipment and the production capacity at a given factory, as well as the amount of time allocated for the manufacture of a certain item of clothing.113 It should be noted that there was a disparity in the development of heavy and light industries in the Soviet Union. Hence, light industry suffered from insufficient capacity and technical backwardness of the technological base. In addition, not all garment factories were able to sew clothing prototypes in the version prescribed in the technical documentation due to a lack of necessary materials.

As a result, a given sample was adapted to the production conditions at the factory and to the available fabrics and accessories. In addition, there was a stronger focus on quantitative indicators than on qualitative ones in the planned Soviet economy. (Fig. 7.) The caricature on this topic from the Ukrainian satirical magazine Perets’ (Pepper) is telling. (Fig. 8.) In this depiction, an item of clothing introduced in a fashion house and the same item of clothing in a garment factory differ greatly.114

It should also be noted that the consumption of raw materials and fabrics at light industry enterprises was subjected to control. In particular, there was a Laboratory for Rationing Raw Materials and Fabrics with authority within the republic located on the territory of the Kyiv House of Fashion Design. It was entrusted with the task of analyzing the consumption of materials in garment factories. Laboratory specialists (an engineer and a fabric distributor) visited textile factories and checked the consumption of fabric for garments produced by enterprises. If the amount of fabric consumed exceeded the norm, the specialists offered their own cutting system, which was more economical. Thus, the overall savings that the factory could achieve were revealed.115 In turn, the factory was obliged to comply with the laboratory’s recommendations.


Fashion in the USSR underwent a gradual transformation from something which was perceived as negative by the Soviet authorities to something which was perceived as positive and having a role in the evolution of a socialist society, though this process was admittedly complex. Soviet fashion was opposed to Western “bourgeois” fashion and had a clear ideological tone. Through the development and creation of “socialist” fashions, the Soviet authorities sought to show the advantages of the USSR over the capitalist countries not only in heavy but also in light industry.

As of the second half of the 1940s, the active development of light industry in the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR in particular was a characteristic feature. Several state institutions were created for the development of the fashion industry and its promotion in Soviet society (fashion houses, research and control organizations). Fashion houses were given a crucial role. They were the main fashion corporations responsible for Soviet fashion’s image both within the country and abroad. Methodological meetings, fashion shows and contests, creative business trips, and employee exchanges were regularly held at the all-union, republic, and local levels.

The Ukrainian SSR developed an extensive system of clothing design, which included the Ukrainian Institute of Light Industry and Clothing Culture and six general orientation and five specialized fashion houses. This fact indicates that the Ukrainian SSR was one of the main centers of clothing design in the Soviet Union. Along with the development of technical documentation and new clothing samples for introduction into mass production, the fashion houses produced exhibition samples that were part of the seasonal collections for public display within the Soviet Union and at international fashion shows and clothing exhibitions.

Art councils played a crucial role in shaping the fashion trends and developing Soviet fashion in general. They included representatives of the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Light Industry, the State Planning Committee, research institutions, fashion houses, and big garment factories. All clothing samples had to be checked given approval by the art council before they were released and before images of them were published in magazines. This indicates the significant influence of the art councils on the development of fashion in the country, as well as the bureaucratization of the process and strict censorship of this direction.

Fashion houses served as clothing design centers and at the same time acted as fashion promoters for the Soviet citizenry. They regularly presented new fashion designs and developed permanent collections of new items of clothing, which were displayed in their exhibition halls. They also organized group trips to factories, plants, and institutes, where they showed their new fashion collections and made reports on how to dress tastefully.

Archival Sources

Derzhavnyi arkhiv Lvivskoi oblasti /Gosudarstvennyy arkhiv Lvovskoy oblasti [State Archive of Lviv Region] (DALO)

Perepiska direkcii firmy “Mayak” s inostrannymi firmami za 1963 god [Correspondence of the Mayak management with foreign firms in 1963], f. R–2002 “Lvivska shvatska firma ‘Maiak’” [Lviv sewing firm Mayak], op. 1, d. 55, l. 1–6, Lviv, Ukraine

Prikazy i direktivnyye ukazaniya Ministerstva legkoy promyshlennosti za 1967 god [Orders and directives of the Ministry of Light Industry for 1967], f. R–2002 “Lvivska shvatska firma ‘Maiak’” [Lviv sewing firm Mayak], op. 1, d. 352, l. 1–141, Lviv, Ukraine

Derzhavnyi arkhiv mista Kyieva / Gosudarstvennyy arkhiv goroda Kiyeva [State Archive of Kyiv] (DAK)

Kniga otzyvov i predlozheniy za 1951 god [Book of reviews and suggestions for 1951], f. R–1219 “Kyivskyi budynok modelei Ministerstva lehkoi promyslovosti Ukrainskoi RSR” [Kyiv House of Fashion Design of the Light Industry Ministry of the Ukrainian SSR], op. 1, d. 25, l. 1–18, Kyiv, Ukraine

Materialy (akty, otchety) po okazaniyu pomoshchi shveynym fabrikam Ukrainy za 1954 god [Materials (acts, reports) to provide assistance to Ukrainian garment factories for 1954], f. R–1219 “Kyivskyi budynok modelei Ministerstva lehkoi promyslovosti Ukrainskoi RSR” [Kyiv House of Fashion Design of the Light Industry Ministry of the Ukrainian SSR], op. 1, d. 62, l. 1–192, Kyiv, Ukraine

Materialy okazaniya pomoshchi shveynym fabrikam i otchety po komandirovkam za 1957 god [Garment factories assistance materials and business trips reports for 1957], f. R–1219 “Kyivskyi budynok modelei Ministerstva lehkoi promyslovosti Ukrainskoi RSR” [Kyiv House of Fashion Design of the Light Industry Ministry of the Ukrainian SSR], op. 1, d. 113, l. 1–27, Kyiv, Ukraine

Otchety o tvorcheskoy komandirovke po obmenu opytom v gorod Moskvu i Leningrad, 1960 god [Reports on a creative trip to exchange experience to Moscow and Leningrad in 1960], f. R–1219 “Kyivskyi budynok modelei Ministerstva lehkoi promyslovosti Ukrainskoi RSR” [Kyiv House of Fashion Design of the Light Industry Ministry of the Ukrainian SSR], op. 1, d. 161, l. 1–12, Kyiv, Ukraine

Otchety o tvorcheskoy komandirovke po obmenu opytom v Vengerskuyu Narodnuyu Respubliku i gorod Rigu, 1959 god [Reports on a creative trip to exchange experience to the Hungarian People’s Republic and Riga in 1959], f. R–1219 “Kyivskyi budynok modelei Ministerstva lehkoi promyslovosti Ukrainskoi RSR” [Kyiv House of Fashion Design of the Light Industry Ministry of the Ukrainian SSR], op. 1, d. 142, l. 1–24, Kyiv, Ukraine

Perepiska s Glavnym Upravleniyem shveynoy promyshlennosti po voprosam proizvodstvennoy deyatelnosti Doma modeley (19 fevralya – 15 dekabrya 1955 goda) [Correspondence with the Main Directorate of the Garment Industry on the production activities of the Kyiv Fashion House (February 19–December 15, 1955)], f. R–1219 “Kyivskyi budynok modelei Ministerstva lehkoi promyslovosti Ukrainskoi RSR” [Kyiv House of Fashion Design of the Light Industry Ministry of the Ukrainian SSR], op. 1, d. 68, l. 1–90, Kyiv, Ukraine

Spravka o rabote Doma modeley za 1955 god [Information about the Kyiv Fashion House activity for 1955], f. R–1219 “Kyivskyi budynok modelei Ministerstva lehkoi promyslovosti Ukrainskoi RSR” [Kyiv House of Fashion Design of the Light Industry Ministry of the Ukrainian SSR], op. 1, d. 69, l. 1–81, Kyiv, Ukraine

Lvivskyi miskyi mediaarkhiv Tsentru miskoi istorii Tsentralno-Skhidnoi Yevropy / Lvovskiy gorodskoy mediaarkhiv Tsentra gorodskoy istorii Tsentralno-Vostochnoy Evropy [Lviv Media Archive of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe] (LMA)

Nikiforuk, Nadezhda, director of Lviv Fashion House, interview by the Lviv Center for Urban History, Lviv, 2015, transcript, LMA, Lviv, Ukraine

Zalesskaya, E. Istoriya Lvovskogo Doma modeley odezhdy [History of the Lviv House of Fashion Design], 1980, Lviv, Ukraine

Rossiyskiy gosudarstvennyy arkhiv ekonomiki [Russian State Archive of Economy] (RGAE)

Doklady, dokladnyye zapiski, spravki i pisma, napravlennyye v TsK KPSS po razvitiyu otrasley legkoy promyshlennosti (6 yanvarya – 11 sentyabrya 1965 goda) [Reports, memoranda, information, and letters sent to the Central Committee of the CPSU on the development of light industry sectors (January 6–September 11, 1965)], f. 198 “Gosudarstvennyy komitet po legkoy promyshlennosti pri Gosplane SSSR” [State Committee for Light Industry under the USSR State Planning Committee], op. 1, d. 85, l. 1–44, Moskva, Russian Federation

Tsentralnyi derzhavnyi arkhiv hromadskykh obiednan Ukrainy / Tsentralnyy gosudarstvennyy arkhiv obshchestvennykh obyedineniy Ukrainy [Central State Archive of Public Organizations of Ukraine] (TsDAGO)

Pisma redaktsiy zhurnalov i izdatelstv o rabote respublikanskikh zhurnalov [Letters from the editors of magazines and publishers about the work of republican magazines], f. 1 “Tsentralnyi komitet Komunistychnoi partii Ukrainy” [Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine], op. 70, d. 2385, l. 1–128, Kyiv, Ukraine

Tsentralnyi derzhavnyi kinofotofonoarkhiv Ukrainy imeni H. S. Pshenychnoho / Tsentralnyy gosudarstvennyy kinofotofonoarkhiv Ukrainy imeni G. S. Pshenichnogo [Pshenichny Central State Film and Photo Archive of Ukraine] (TsDKFFA)

od. obliku 0–207692, Soveshchaniye chlenov khudozhestvenno-tekhnicheskogo soveta Kiyevskoy shveynoy fabriki “Oktyabr” [Meeting of the members of the Art and Technical council of the Kyiv garment factory “Zhovten”], 1983 god, Kyiv, Ukraine

od. obliku 2–75686, Udarnitsy kommunisticheskogo truda Odesskogo shveynogo obyedineniya imeni V. Vorovskogo, vypolnyayushchiye normu na 130–150% v tsekhe [The leaders of the Communist labor of the V. Vorovsky Odessa Sewing Association, who exceeded the norm by 130-150% in the sewing workshop], 1962 god, Odesa, Ukraine

od. obliku 2–91364, Vystavochnyy zal Kiyevskogo doma modeley odezhdy [Exhibition hall of the Kyiv House of Fashion Design], 1964 god, Kyiv, Ukraine

od. obliku 2–98033, Demonstratsiya modeley odezhdy v Kiyevskom dome modeley [Fashion show at the Kyiv House of Fashion Designg, 1965 god, Kyiv, Ukraine

od. obliku 2–109980, Demonstratsiya modeley odezhdy v Oktyabrskom dvortse kultury v Kiyeve [Demonstration of clothing samples at the October Palace of Culture in Kyiv], 1962 god, Kyiv, Ukraine

od. obliku 2–111619, Gruppa khudozhnikov-modelyerov Kiyevskogo doma modeley obsuzhdayet novyye obraztsy odezhdy [A group of fashion designers of the Kyiv House of Fashion Design discusses new clothing samples], 1967 god, Kyiv, Ukraine

Tsentralnyi derzhavnyi arkhiv vyshchykh orhaniv vlady ta upravlinnia Ukrainy / Tsentralnyy gosudarstvennyy arkhiv vysshikh organov vlasti i upravleniya Ukrainy [Central State Archives of Supreme Bodies of Power and Government of Ukraine] (TsDAVO)

Perepiska s Gosplanom USSR i drugimi respublikanskimi organizatsiyami po voprosam legkoy promyshlennosti, 19 iyulya – 15 dekabrya 1962 [Correspondence with the State Planning Committee of the Ukrainian SSR and other republican organizations on the issues of Light industry, July 19 - December 15, 1962], f. R–2 “Rada Ministriv Ukrainskoi RSR. Vykonavcha vlada” [Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR. Executive], op. 10, d. 959, l. 1–171, Kyiv, Ukraine

Spravka o demonstratsii modeley odezhdy v Sovetskom pavilone na Vsemirnoy vystavke v gorode Monreale (Kanada) Kiyevskogo Doma modeley USSR v period s 25 iyulya po 5 sentyabrya 1967 goda [Information about the demonstration of clothes by the Kiev House of Fashion Design in the Soviet pavilion at the World Exhibition in Montreal (Canada) from July 25 to September 5, 1967], f.572 “Ministerstvo lehkoi promyslovosti Ukrainskoi RSR” [Ministry of Light Industry of the Ukrainian SSR], op. 4, d. 332, l. 1–78, Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukrainian Fashion History Digital Archive [Tsyfrovyi arkhiv istorii mody Ukrainy / Czifrovoj arkhiv istorii mody Ukrainy] (UFHDA)

Avdeeva, Lidia, Soviet fashion designer, interview by Olha Korniienko, Kyiv, 2017, 2020, transcript

Mateyko, Katerina, Soviet clothing maker, interview by Olha Korniienko, Lviv, 2018, transcript

Nesmiyan, Vladimir, Soviet chief art director, interview by Olha Korniienko, Kyiv, 2017, transcript

Nikiforuk, Nadezhda, director of Lviv Fashion House, interview by Olha Korniienko, Lviv, 2018, transcript

Stanchev, Mikhail, interview by Olha Korniienko, Kharkiv, 2014, transcript

Tokar, Marta, Soviet fabric artist, interview by Olha Korniienko, Lviv, 2018, transcript

Uvarkina, Galina, head of the Republican Laboratory for the Standardization of Raw Materials and Fabrics, interview by Olha Korniienko, Kyiv, 2017, transcript

Yasinskaya, Elena, Soviet model, interview by Olha Korniienko, Kyiv, 2018, transcript

Viddil trudovoho arkhivu Lutskoi raionnoi rady / Otdel trudovogo arkhiva Lutskogo rayonnogo soveta [Labor Archive Department of the Lutsk District Council] (LAD)

Prikazy po domu modeley za 1968 god [Orders for Lviv House of Fashion Design for 1968], f. 56 “Lvivskyi budynok modelei odiahu ‘Halmoda’” [Lviv House of Fashion Design “Galmoda”], op. 1, d. 1, l. 1–204, Lutsk, Ukraine.


Primary sources

Bitekhtin, B. “Trudnosti shveynogo proizvodstva” [Difficulties of sewing production]. Dekorativnoye iskusstvo SSSR, no. 9 (1966): 12–13.

“Cholovikam” [For men]. Radianska zhinka, no. 12 (1970): 33.

“Dytiachi mody” [Children’s fashion]. Radianska zhinka, no. 12 (1959): 31.

Efremova, L. “Modelyer rabotayet dlya promyshlennosti” [Fashion designer works for industry]. Dekorativnoye iskusstvo SSSR, no. 4 (1965): 16–19.

Fedosieieva H. “Donetskyi budynok modelei u hostiakh u ‘Radianskoi zhinky’” (Donetsk Fashion House visiting the Soviet Woman Magazine]. Radianska zhinka, no. 7 (1965): 32–33.

Ivanova, H. “Pro vykhovannia smaku” [About the education of taste]. Radianska zhinka, no. 10 (1961): 22.

Kalashnikova, N. “Yak odiahatys zi smakom” [How to dress tastefully]. Radianska zhinka, no. 4 (1958): 30.

“Khochesh buty krasyvym?” [Do you want to be beautiful?]. Radianska zhinka, no. 4 (1964): 19.

Khokhlov, H. “Palta” [Coats]. Radianska zhinka, no. 4 (1964): 19.

“Malechi” [For children]. Radianska zhinka, no. 6 (1969): 32.

Malikova, H. “Mody 1965 roku” [Fashion of 1965]. Radianska zhinka, no. 9 (1965): 28–29.

Mertsalova, M. “Chto chereschur, to plokho” [Too much is bad]. Rabotnitsa, no. 11 (1964): 30.

“Moda i vyrobnytstvo” [Fashion and production]. Krasa i moda, Summer 1979, 36.

“Mody” [Fashion]. Radianska zhinka, no. 8 (1957): 31.

Oleksiienko, L. “Navit u liutomu – soniachnist” [Sunshine even in February]. Radianska zhinka, no. 2 (1970): 30–31.

Perets’, no. 6 (1965): 1.

Rovna, T. “Ansambl – tse modno” [The ensemble is fashionable]. Radianska zhinka, no. 1 (1976): 31–33.

Rovna, T. “Medali za krashchyi odiah” [Best clothes medals]. Radianska zhinka, no. 10 (1956): 32–33.

Rovna, T. “Moda sohodni i zavtra” [Fashion today and tomorrow]. Radianska zhinka, no. 7 (1967): 30–31.

Rovna, T. “Mody tsoho roku” [This year’s fashion]. Radianska zhinka, no. 2 (1966): 29–30.

Rovna, T. “Za narodnymy motyvamy” [Folk motifs]. Radianska zhinka, no. 7 (1967): 33.

“RSFSR” [Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic]. Zhurnal mod, no. 3 (1977): 23.

Rudenko, O. “Nevianucha krasa” [Unfading beauty]. Radianska zhinka, no. 3 (1982): 24–25.

“Sovetskoye modelirovaniye i promyshlennost – dlya naroda” [Soviet design and industry are for the people]. Zhurnal mod, no. 3 (1977): 2–3.

Strizhenova, T., and S. Temerin. “Sovetskiy kostyum za 50 let. Chast II” [Soviet costume for 50 years. Part 2]. Zhurnal mod, no. 4 (1967/1968): 1 (attachment).

“Ukraina” [Ukraineg. Zhurnal mod, no. 3 (1977): 25–26.

“Vizerunky dlia rushnykiv, servetok, zhinochoho odiahu” [Drawings for towels, napkins, women’s clothing]. Radianska zhinka, no. 6 (1966): 33.

Volovich, M. “Spetsialnoye khudozhestvenno-konstruktorskoye byuro” [Special art and design bureau]. Dekorativnoye iskusstvo SSSR, no. 11 (1963): 6.

“Zadum i vtilennia” [Concept and embodiment]. Radianska zhinka, no. 6 (1971): 30–31.

Zhukov, N. “Vospitaniye vkusa. Zametki khudozhnika” [Education of taste: Artist notes]. Novyy mir, no. 10 (1954): 159–79.

“Zovnishnii vyhliad” [Appearance]. Radianska zhinka, no. 3 (1966): 24.


Secondary literature

Bartlett, Djurdja. FashionEast: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2010.

Bezvershuk, Zhanna. Potrebnosti, vkusy, moda [Needs, tastes, fashion]. Kiev, 1987.

Golybina, Antonina. Vkus i moda [Taste and fashion]. Moscow: Znaniye, 1974.

Gronow, Jukka, and Sergey Zhuravlev. Fashion Meets Socialism: Fashion Industry in the Soviet Union after the Second World War. Helsinki, 2016.

Gronow, Jukka, and Sergey Zhuravlev. Moda po planu: istoriya mody i modelirovaniya odezhdy v SSSR, 1917–1991 [Fashion according to plan: The history of fashion and clothing designing in the Soviet Union, 1917–1991]. Moscow: IRI RAN, 2013.

Kostel’na, Maria. “Diialnist ukrainskykh budynkiv modelei odiahu v 60–80-kh rr. 20 st.: kontseptsii rozvytku modnykh tendentsii” [Activity of Ukrainian fashion houses in the 1960s–1980s: Concepts of of fashion trends development]. Visnyk Lvivskoi natsionalnoi akademii mystetstv, no. 24 (2013): 37–48.

Kostel’na, Maria. “Tvorchist dyzaineriv ukrainskykh budynkiv modelei seredyny XX – pochatku XXI st.: etnichnyi napriam” [Creativity of designers of Ukrainian fashion houses of the mid-20th–early 21st centuries: Ethnic Direction]. PhD diss., Kyiv National University of Culture and Arts, 2016.

Lebina, Natalia. Muzhchina i zhenshchina: telo, moda, kultura. SSSR – ottepel [Man and woman: Body, fashion, culture. USSR – Thaw]. Moscow: Novoye literaturnoye obozreniye, 2014.

Lebina, Natalia. Povsednevnaya zhizn sovetskogo goroda: normy i anomalii. 1920–1930-e gody [Everyday life of a Soviet city: Norms and anomalies. 1920s–1930s]. Sankt-Peterburg: Zhurnal “Neva” – Izdatelsko-torgovyy dom “Letniy Sad,” 1999.

Parmon, Fedor. Kompozitsiya kostyuma [Costume composition]. Moscow: Legprombytizdat. 1985.

Stitziel, Judd. Fashioning Socialism: Clothing, Politics, and Consumer Culture in East Germany. Oxford: Berg, 2005.

Tkanko, Zenovia. Moda v Ukraini 20 stolittia [Fashion in Ukraine in the 20th century]. Lviv: Vydavnytstvo “ARTOS,” 2015.

Tokar, Marta. Akvarel. Khudozhnii tekstyl [Watercolor: Art textiles]. Lviv, 2010.

Zakharova, Larissa. “Kazhdoi sovetskoi zhenshchine – plat’e ot Diora! Frantsuzskoe vliyanie v sovetskoi mode 1950–1960-kh godov.” [A Dior dress for every Soviet woman! French influence in Soviet fashion in the 1950s–1960s). In Sotsial’naya istoriya. Ezhegodnik 2004, 339–70. Moscow: Rosspen, 2005.

1 Tkanko, Moda v Ukraini; Kostelna, “Tvorchist dyzaineriv.”

2 Tkanko, Moda v Ukraini.

3 Kostel’na, “Tvorchist dyzaineriv.”

4 Ibid.

5 Gronow and Zhuravlev, Moda po planu; Gronow and Zhuravlev, Fashion Meets Socialism.

6 Ibid.

7 Gronow and Zhuravlev, Moda po planu, 320–44.

8 Zakharova, “Kazhdoy sovetskoy zhenshchine,” 339–66.

9 Lebina, Povsednevnaya zhizn; Lebina, Muzhchina i zhenshchina.

10 Lebina, Muzhchina i zhenshchina.

11 Stitziel, Fashioning Socialism.

12 Bartlett, Fashion East.

13 In particular, there was an active discussion in the magazine Dekorativnoye iskusstvo SSSR (entitled “Discussions about Fashion and Style”). The collection of articles “Fashion: pros and cons” about the role of fashion in Soviet society is also important to my inquiry.

14 “Mody,” 31.

15 Rovna, “Medali,” 32–33.

16 Zhukov, “Vospitaniye vkusa,” 159.

17 Ivanova, “Pro vykhovannia,” 22.

18 Mertsalova, “Chto chereschur,” 30.

19 Kalashnikova, “Yak odiahatys,” 30.

20 Ibid.

21 Bezvershuk, Potrebnosti; Golybina, Vkus i moda.

22 “Zovnishnii vyhliad,” 24.

23 “Cholovikam,” 33.

24 “Khochesh buty krasyvym?” 19.

25 Khokhlov, “Palta,” 19.

26 “Malechi,” 32.

27 Rovna, “Mody tsoho roku,” 30.

28 Rudenko, “Nevianucha krasa,” 24–25.

29 Rovna, “Moda sohodni,” 30–31.

30 Rovna, “Za narodnymy motyvamy,” 33, “Vizerunky,” 33.

31 Malikova, “Mody,” 28–29.

32 Rovna, “Ansambl,” 31–33.

33 Strizhenova and Temerin, “Sovetskiy kostyum,” 1.

34 Gronow and Zhuravlev, Fashion Meets Socialism, 79; Gronow and Zhuravlev, Moda po planu, 94.

35 The article indicates that Soviet Ukraine had seven fashion houses with a general orientation, but in fact there were six of them. Most likely, this imprecision is due to the fact that the specialized Republican House of Knitwear Models “Khreshchatyk” had a strong position and was often considered to have a general orientation.

36 “Ukraina,” 25; “RSFSR,” 23; “Sovetskoye modelirovaniye,” 3.

37 Gronow and Zhuravlev, Moda po planu, 134.

38 Volovich, “Spetsialnoye khudozhestvenno-konstruktorskoye byuro,” 6.

39 Parmon, Kompozitsiya kostyuma, 128–29.

40 Efremova, “Modelyer rabotayet,” 16–19.

41 RGAE Doklady, dokladnyye zapiski, spravki i pisma, napravlennyye v TsK KPSS po razvitiyu otrasley legkoy promyshlennosti (6 yanvarya – 11 sentyabrya 1965 goda), f. 198, op. 1, d. 85, l. 16.

42 “Moda i vyrobnytstvo,” 36.

43 UFHDA Uvarkina, interview, Kyiv, 2017; Avdeeva, interview, Kyiv, 2020.

44 A skit (kapustnik) is a comic performance based on humor and satire. In this case, there was a theme about the life of the collective of a fashion house, and some unusual cases were dramatized in a comic manner. The participants were employees at the fashion house.

45 Mikhail Bilas worked as the chief artistic director at different periods in the Lviv, Kyiv, and Kharkiv fashion houses. There is an art museum in his honor in Truskavets (Ukraine).

46 Kostel’na, “Diialnist ukrainskykh budynkiv modelei odiahu,” 40.

47 LMA Zalesskaya, E. Istoriya Lvovskogo Doma modeley odezhdy, 1980, p. 3.

48 Ibid., p. 10.

49 TsDAVO Perepiska s Gosplanom USSR i drugimi respublikanskimi organizatsiyami po voprosam legkoy promyshlennosti, 19 iyulya – 15 dekabrya 1962, f. R–2, op. 10, d. 959, l. 54.

50 “Moda i vyrobnytstvo;” UFHDA Uvarkina, interview, Kyiv, 2017.

All these fashion houses, except for the Republican House of Household Models, were directly subordinate to the Ministry of Light Industry of the Ukrainian SSR.

51 LMA Nikiforuk, interview, Lviv, 2015; UFHDA Nikiforuk, interview, Lviv, 2018; Uvarkina, interview, Kyiv, 2017.

52 LMA Nikiforuk, interview, Lviv, 2015; “Moda i vyrobnytstvo;” “Zadum i vtilennia;” “Ukraina.”

53 LMA Nikiforuk, interview, Lviv, 2015.

54 LMA Nikiforuk, interview, Lviv, 2015; UFHDA Nikiforuk, interview, Lviv, 2018.

55 TsDAVO Perepiska s Gosplanom USSR i drugimi respublikanskimi organizatsiyami po voprosam legkoy promyshlennosti, 19 iyulya – 15 dekabrya 1962, f. R–2, op. 10, d. 959, l. 59–60.

56 Ibid., l. 46.

57 LAD Prikazy po domu modeley za 1968 god, Labor Archive Department of the Lutsk District Council, f. 56, op. 1, d. 1, l. 16–31.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid., l. 30.

60 UFHDA Yasinskaya, interview, Kyiv, 2018.

61 UFHDA Uvarkina, interview, Kyiv, 2017.

62 UFHDA Avdeeva, interview, Kyiv, 2018.

63 LMA Zalesskaya, E. Istoriya Lvovskogo Doma modeley odezhdy, 1980, p. 13.

64 UFHDA Uvarkina, interview, Kyiv, 2017.

65 Ibid.

66 TsDAVO Perepiska s Gosplanom USSR i drugimi respublikanskimi organizatsiyami po voprosam legkoy promyshlennosti, 19 iyulya – 15 dekabrya 1962, f. R–2, op. 10, d. 959, l. 58.

67 DAK Perepiska s Glavnym Upravleniyem shveynoy promyshlennosti po voprosam proizvodstvennoy deyatelnosti Doma modeley (19 fevralya – 15 dekabrya 1955 goda), f. R–1219, op. 1, d. 68, l. 8.

68 DAK Spravka o rabote Doma modeley za 1955 god, f. R–1219, op. 1, d. 69, l. 42.

69 LMA Zalesskaya, E. Istoriya Lvovskogo Doma modeley odezhdy, 1980, p. 11.

70 TsDAGO Pisma redaktsiy zhurnalov i izdatelstv o rabote respublikanskikh zhurnalov, f. 1, op. 70, d. 2385, l. 16.

71 LMA Zalesskaya, E. Istoriya Lvovskogo Doma modeley odezhdy, 1980, p. 9.

72 “Dytiachi mody,” 31.

73 LMA Zalesskaya, E. Istoriya Lvovskogo Doma modeley odezhdy, 1980, p. 7.

74 Ibid.

75 UFHDA Tokar, interview, Lviv, 2018.

76 LMA Zalesskaya, E. Istoriya Lvovskogo Doma modeley odezhdy, 1980, p. 8; Tokar, Akvarel, 10.

77 Tokar, Akvarel, 11.

78 LAD Prikazy po domu modeley za 1968 god, f. 56, op. 1, d. 1, l. 36­–37.

79 UFHDA Uvarkina, interview, Kyiv, 2017.

80 LAD Prikazy po domu modeley za 1968 god, f. 56, op. 1, d. 1, l. 37.

81 Ibid.

82 Ibid., l. 71–72.

83 DAK Otchety o tvorcheskoy komandirovke po obmenu opytom v Vengerskuyu Narodnuyu Respubliku i gorod Rigu, 1959 god, f. R-1219, op. 1, d. 142, l. 1–24; DAK Otchety o tvorcheskoy komandirovke po obmenu opytom v gorod Moskvu i Leningrad, 1960 god, f. R–1219, op. 1, d. 161, l. 1–12.

84 DAK Kniga otzyvov i predlozheniy za 1951 god, f. R–1219, op. 1, d. 25, l. 1–18.

85 UFHDA Yasinskaya, interview, Kyiv, 2018.

86 UFHDA Avdeeva, interview, Kyiv, 2020.

87 UFHDA Yasinskaya, interview, Kyiv, 2018.

88 DALO Prikazy i direktivnyye ukazaniya Ministerstva legkoy promyshlennosti za 1967 god, f. R–2002, op. 1, d. 352, l. 10–12.

89 Ibid., l. 12–32.

90 Ibid.

91 Ibid., l. 17a–18.

92 UFHDA Avdeeva, interview, Kyiv, 2020; LMA Zalesskaya, E. Istoriya Lvovskogo Doma modeley odezhdy, 1980, p. 14.

93 TsDAVO Spravka o demonstratsii modeley odezhdy v Sovetskom pavilone na Vsemirnoy vystavke v gorode Monreale (Kanada) Kiyevskogo Doma modeley USSR v period s 25 iyulya po 5 sentyabrya 1967 goda, f.572, op. 4, d. 332, l. 1–78.

94 Ibid., l. 1–3.

95 Ibid., l. 9.

96 Ibid., l. 11.

97 Ibid., l. 14.

98 Ibid., l. 4–7.

99 UFHDA Avdeeva, interview, Kyiv, 2020.

100 DAK Materialy (akty, otchety) po okazaniyu pomoshchi shveynym fabrikam Ukrainy za 1954 god, f. R–1219, op. 1, d. 62, l. 1–192; DAK Materialy okazaniya pomoshchi shveynym fabrikam i otchety po komandirovkam za 1957 god, f. R–1219, op. 1, d. 113, l. 1–27.

101 LMA Nikiforuk, interview, Lviv, 2015.

102 “Moda i vyrobnytstvo,” 36.

103 UFHDA Mateyko, interview, Lviv, 2018; Nikiforuk, interview, Lviv, 2018.

104 Oleksiienko, “Navit u liutomu,” 31.

105 Gronow and Zhuravlev, Moda po planu, 482.

106 TsDAVO Perepiska s Gosplanom USSR i drugimi respublikanskimi organizatsiyami po voprosam legkoy promyshlennosti, 19 iyulya – 15 dekabrya 1962, f. R–2, op. 10, d. 959, l. 50.

107 Fedosieieva, “Donetskyi budynok modelei,” 32; UFHDA Mateyko, interview, Lviv, 2018; Nesmiyan, interview, Kyiv, 2018.

108 TsDAVO Perepiska s Gosplanom USSR i drugimi respublikanskimi organizatsiyami po voprosam legkoy promyshlennosti, 19 iyulya – 15 dekabrya 1962, f. R–2, op. 10, d. 959, l. 46.

109 Ibid., l. 47.

110 DALO Perepiska direkcii firmy ‘Mayak’ s inostrannymi firmami za 1963 god, f. R–2002, op. 1, d. 55, l. 4–5.

111 UFHDA Stanchev, interview, Kharkiv, 2014; Tokar, interview, Lviv, 2018.

112 UFHDA Stanchev, interview, Kharkiv, 2014.

113 Bitekhtin, “Trudnosti shveynogo.”

114 Perets’, 1.

115 UFHDA Uvarkina, interview, Kyiv, 2017.


Figure 2. Exhibition hall of the Kyiv House of Fashion Design, 1964

(TsDKFFA od. obliku 2–91364)


Figure 3. Fashion show at the Kyiv House of Fashion Design, 1965

(TsDKFFA od. obliku 2–98033)


Figure 5. Meeting of the members of the Art and Technical council
of the Kyiv garment factory Zhovten’, 1983

(TsDKFFA od. obliku 0–207692)


Figure 6. Fashion designers discuss a new collection
at the Kyiv House of Fashion Design, 1967

(TsDKFFA od. obliku 2–111619)



Figure 7. Focus on the number of items of clothing produced.
The leaders of the Communist labor of the Vorovsky Odessa Sewing Association,
who exceeded the norm in terms of the number of items of clothing, 1962

(TsDKFFA od. obliku 2–75686)



Figure 8. A caricature from the satirical magazine Perets’ (cover) showing the contrast between an item of clothing as presented by a fashion house and the same item of clothing in use after production in a garment factory, 1965



The Czechoslovak Capital of West Germany: The Story of Peute Reederei

Jan Štemberk
Charles University
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Ivan Jakubec
Charles University / University of Economics, Prague
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 3  (2021):495-528 DOI 10.38145/2021.3.495

There are numerous interesting topics pertaining to the economy of socialist Czechoslovakia that have not received sufficient attention in the secondary literature. One of these topics is the question of the capital penetration of socialist enterprises into Western (capitalist) Europe. In this essay, we examine the circumstances of the establishment and subsequent activities of the Peute Reederei company, which had both Czechoslovak and West German capital participation, based on a company archive which, however, has survived only in fragments. The company was established under West German law and had its headquarters in West Germany. Data on Peute Reederei were drawn from available unpublished and published archival materials, period and professional literature, and journalism, but we would above all like to express our gratitude to the private family archive of Mr. Rudolf Hurt (Hurt Archive), which provided the authors with archival materials concerning the Hamburg branch of the Czechoslovak Elbe-Oder Shipping Company.

Keywords: state enterprise, Peute Reederei, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hamburg


There are numerous interesting topics pertaining to the economy of socialist Czechoslovakia that have not received sufficient attention in the secondary literature. One of these topics is the question of the capital penetration of socialist enterprises into Western (capitalist) Europe. This topic reminds us that during the Cold War, capital flowed across the Iron Curtain in both directions. The steamship company Peute Reederei offers a very revealing example which shows the limits of capital expansion from the eastern side of the Iron Curtain into capitalist foreign countries, as well it’s the motives which lay behind the expansion of capital from the east and the expectations associated with it.

In this essay, we examine the circumstances of the establishment and subsequent activities of the Peute Reederei company, which had both Czechoslovak and West German capital participation, based on a company archive which, however, has survived only in fragments. The company was established under West German law and had its headquarters in West Germany.

Data on Peute Reederei were drawn from available unpublished and published archival materials, period and professional literature, and journalism, but we would above all like to express our gratitude to the private family archive of Mr. Rudolf Hurt (Hurt Archive), which provided us, the authors, with archival materials concerning the Hamburg branch of the Czechoslovak Elbe-Oder Shipping Company (hereinafter referred to as ČSPLO) and especially concerning the activities of Peute Reederei.1 The surviving reports of the meetings of the Board of Directors of Peute Reederei and documents of an accounting nature give us an opportunity to look into the activities of the company and discern the limitations within which the company operated. The limiting factor is the fragmented nature of the materials.

We would like to highlight the distinctive if not unique nature, in the Cold War context, of this joint venture between a state enterprise and a legal entity /natural person from a capitalist foreign country. The endeavor itself can be understood as a part of a search for ways to overcome the limits of a centrally planned economy (lack of foreign capital, export difficulties, growing economic problems, inability to compete, etc.).

This created a form of cooperation between two entities from different economic worlds. We refer to this a form of cooperation as a joint venture. It involved a state-owned enterprise functioning within a centrally planned economy which nonetheless operated on the capitalist market through shareholding in a legal entity established under foreign law (the law of the capitalist state), and thus this enterprise had to survive in a market environment. The penetration of Western companies into socialist Czechoslovakia was more common (e.g. an agreement with Intercontinental to build a modern hotel in Prague).2 Peute Reederei is, in contrast, an example of the socialist state’s capital penetration into Western Europe, and it thus represents a distinctive, albeit minor, chapter in the history of the state’s participation in trade, in this case through a state-owned river shipping company.

The literature on the issue of joint-stock enterprises between East and West is not extensive, and, in tends to focus on legislation.3 Several works are available on the economic relations between Czechoslovakia and Germany,4 but the topic of river navigation has so far been neglected. The materials on Peute Reederei are very fragmented, and they have not yet been organized or examined in detail by historians, and references to the company in the secondary literature are similarly scattered.5

State Transport Business

The economies of the states of the socialist bloc were based on the premise of the state as the owner of the means of production. This situation was achieved through the process of nationalization, which took place in Czechoslovakia in the second half of the 1940s. The area of transport was affected by nationalization in 1948.

Before this, the state was already an entrepreneur in the field of rail and partly also road transport through the company Czechoslovak State Railways, directly owned and managed by the Ministry of Transport.6

The state held a stake in the field of water and air transport through its share in what were virtually monopoly joint-stock companies. Before 1948, shipping companies had the legal form of joint-stock companies with significant state shareholding. With the creation by the communist state of a new centrally planned economy, however, this form of enterprise was not acceptable going forward.

The state could not be a mere shareholder, because a state enterprise (in contemporary Czechoslovak legal terminology, a national enterprise) has its own specific features. It is primarily established not for profit, like a standard corporation, but to address a public need and perform a public service.7

The nationalization of Czechoslovak shipping companies took place pursuant to Act No. 311/1948 Coll., on National Transport Enterprises. The law created a legal basis for the nationalization of transport (shipping) companies. According to this act, the following companies were nationalized and national companies were established: the Czechoslovak Elbe Shipping, a national company based in Prague; Czechoslovak Navigation of the Oder, a national enterprise based in Ostrava; and Czechoslovak Navigation of the Danube, a national enterprise based in Bratislava. Later, the Elbe and Oder maritime transport companies were merged into the Czechoslovak Elbe-Oder shipping company (ČSPLO). From the perspective of our inquiry, it is important to mention that in the then Federal Republic of Germany (GDR) there was no change in the entry in the Commercial Register, and the company continued to be logged under the interwar name Československá plavba labská, a. s. (Čechoslowakische Elbe-Schiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft). Changing the name of the company would invalidate pre-war contracts and concessions. Whether this was an omission or a deliberate step remains unanswered. The most likely explanation is that a new-old company with a different name would have to register as a completely new enterprise and prove that it was a successor company. The legal form of a national company, which was unknown in West Germany, could also be a problem. This proved to be an important detail with regards to the further operation of the national company ČSPLO in West Germany.8

State (national) enterprises, directly managed by individual line ministries, became a pillar of the Czechoslovak economy. However, there was still space for other legal forms of business in contact with foreign countries. Act No. 243/1949 Coll., on Joint-Stock Companies, enabled the establishment of new joint-stock companies (especially in foreign trade).

The establishment of a joint-stock company required a state permit and approval of the articles of association, which were the responsibility of the minister competent according to the scope of business. It was also legally possible to involve national companies or joint-stock companies in doing business abroad, i.e. to become partners of a foreign legal entity.

The development of international trade relations in the first half of the 1960s required the issuance of Act No. 101/1963 Coll. on Legal Relations in International Trade (International Trade Code). The easing of international tensions in the 1970s was also reflected in economic relations with foreign countries. The adoption of Act No. 42/1980 Coll. on Economic Relations with Foreign Countries attests to this. Pursuant to this Act, a permit for foreign trade activities was granted by the Federal Ministry of Trade.

The realities of the business of socialist enterprises behind the Iron Curtain were not without complications. In the early 1950s, the issue of legal personality was even addressed in some Western states when courts denied state-owned enterprises “a legal personality different from the Czechoslovak state”9 and thus considered all the activities of these companies to be direct activities of the home countries. Although this issue was resolved by allowing the state-owned enterprises to function as separate legal entities, the resentment arising from their activities, although not a mass issue, was obvious. This was also reflected in possible litigation when the courts in Western countries did not act completely impartially. This led to great interest in the Soviet bloc states in resolving disputes that had an international element instead of seeking arbitration.10 In the West, there were serious concerns that the economic framework could be used for political and other (especially intelligence) purposes. Therefore, more space was given only in connection with the relaxation policy, which was promoted in the 1970s. The space for business in West Germany also became more accessible after the establishment of diplomatic relations and the signing of the so-called Treaty of Prague (a treaty on mutual relations between the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany) in 1973.11

Based on the Treaty of Versailles (Articles 339, 363 and 364), Czechoslovakia had leased a port area in Hamburg for 99 years from 1929 which provided space for its own maritime navigation. During the Cold War, the closed zone, to which the German authorities did not have access, was even more important. Czechoslovakia also benefited from the Elbe navigation acts, which gave the Elbe the status of an international river and allowed free navigation. ČSPLO thus had a specific position and often transported sensitive goods.12

The Establishment of the Company

For ČSPLO, navigation on the Elbe was open, but problems arose if the ships were bound for one of the western European inland ports, to which they did not have regular access. The use of the company’s own ships reduced the transport costs that still had to be paid in foreign exchange, which was very advantageous for Czechoslovak exports. The solution to this complicated problem was achieved to some extent due to the happy interplay of circumstances and was not planned or conceptually prepared in advance. The solution can to some extent be described as original, as it involved the establishment of a West German trading company based in Hamburg.

Although it was not a conceptually planned undertaking, it proved possible to establish a commercial enterprise with the capital participation of the Czechoslovak state company, though only after lengthy negotiations, which began in the mid-1970s. The success of the venture was certainly due in part to the personal commitment of Rudolf Hurt, who was the director of the Hamburg branch of the ČSPLO at the time.

The establishment of Peute Reederei is connected with the unfulfilled obligations of the West German company Peer Offen, which ordered five 11,600 type motor cargo ships from the Czechoslovak foreign trade company Martimex Martin. After the deal fell through, it was decided at the end of January 1978 that the Hamburg branch of the ČSPLO would take over the five ships from Martimex as compensation for the outstanding loan.13 The protocol on the experiences of Peute Reederei over the course of two months, dated August 20, 1978, states the following:

The opportunity to set up such a company was more or less a coincidence arising from one failed business transaction (between Martimex and the West German ship owner - [Peer] Offen). Offen bought five motor cargo ships from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic on credit, and it was unable to pay off the loan within the relevant deadlines. There was a threat of bankruptcy and thus the loss of not only valuable foreign currency (such as the value of the ships) but also vessels. Therefore, with the understanding and support of superior authorities (PŘ, FMD, SBČS, etc., and the Czechoslovak embassy in the GDR), the ships were practically returned to our export company and then officially became the property of the joint company Peute - Reederei G.m.b.h. (debt transfer).14

On the part of the ČSPLO management, the Hamburg branch was commissioned to establish a shipping company with the abovementioned ships and the company would use these vessels for transport in Western Europe. After lengthy negotiations with the local authorities, who approached the establishment of a company in which Czechoslovak state capital would participate with deep reservations, the project was brought to life. According to the Chronicle of the ČSPLO branch in Hamburg: “In May 1978, this company began its activities. The acquired ships had to be repaired, crewed, and put into effective operation.”15

The negotiations were finalized, and on March 13, 1978, a Czechoslovak–West German limited liability company was established under the company Albis Reederei, GmbH Hamburg. However, the choice of trade name was not suitable, as it turned out that another company already had the same name, in whose favor the Chamber of Commerce in Hamburg intervened. Therefore, it was necessary to change the name, and on April 25, 1978, a new company was entered in the Commercial Register: Peute Reederei, GmbH Hamburg.16

According to paragraph five of the company’s partnership agreement, the share capital was only DM 20,000, of which ČSPLO held DM 18,000 and Hermann Paul Willers DM 2,000 (i.e., a ratio of 9:1). Several more complications arose in the discussions concerning the registration of Albis (Peute) in the Commercial Register. The original idea was that the ČSPLO branch in Hamburg was to become a partner.17 However, the branch did not have a legal personality—only the Prague headquarters had it—so it could not become a partner. It turned out that the management of ČSPLO was not very familiar with the relevant German law. In its defense, it could be pointed out, however, that Czechoslovak law did not recognize this Limited Liability Company at all from the late 1940s, and the question of the legal personality of companies was based directly on the law. However, this was not the case in West Germany. The only solution to the situation was the change of the partnership agreement made on April 14, 1978, when ČSPLO became a partner directly.18 In the Commercial Register, however, it is Československá plavba labská, a. s. that is listed as a partner, and not the ČSPLO national enterprise. It was here that the undeniable advantage of the company remaining registered in the German Commercial Register in the form of a joint-stock company became apparent. At first glance, it was not immediately obvious that such a close connection with the Czechoslovak socialist state could be developed.19 The partnership agreement was made in nine copies.20

The ships were secured by a purchase agreement concluded between the Czechoslovak foreign trade company Martimex and Albis (Peute) Reederei GmbH, Hamburg on March 15, 1978. The total purchase price was DM 2,500,000. The contract states that the Offen 13 purchase price was DM 440,000, the Offen 14 price was DM 510,000, the price of the Offen 15 and 16 was also DM 510,000, and the price of the Offen 17 was 530,000 DM. Rudolf Pavlovič signed the contract on behalf of Martimex and Rudolf Hurt signed it on behalf of Albis (Peute) Reederei.21 The surviving sources do not make clear how the purchase price was paid. The share capital was insufficient, and no document has survived offering any indication of a loan from a West German bank. Furthermore, there is no reason to assume that a loan was made to cover costs of the company’s establishment or its registered capital. It is thus likely that the purchase price was repaid gradually.

Rudolf Hurt, director of the Hamburg branch of ČSPLO, František Klimeš, head of the maritime transshipment yard No. 23, and partner Hermann Paul Willers, owner of the Haase und Volkertsen Stauerei Hamburg company, made significant contributions to the founding of Peute Reederei.22 Rudolf Hurt became the executive director (Geschäftsführer) of Peute Reederei.

Under the management contract of July 5, 1978, the managing director was entitled to DM 1,400 per month and 30 days’ leave per year. The duties of the managing director were set out only in brief. At the same time, the contract recognized that the executive was fully employed by ČSPLO. The contract was effective from July 1, 1978 and was valid for three years.23

The manager of a Czechoslovak state enterprise was thus entrusted with representing the interests of the state in a foreign legal entity in which the state had capital participation. It is hardly shocking that Rudolf Hurt was in the sights of the State Security and was on the list of their collaborators.24 Thus, he was a person who had been vetted by the regime and had been deemed loyal and enjoyed its trust. It is obvious that the Czechoslovak state wanted to ensure the supervision of Peute Reederei in this way. The actual business management was in the hands of agents. Two of these agents were Ing. František Větrovec, who was appointed to serve as Chief Accountant of ČSPLO Hamburg, and Hermann Delfs, who worked in the branch’s sales and transport department.25 As the authorized representative of the Peute Reederei company, Větrovec was entitled to a remuneration of DM 700 per month.26 The sources make no mention of the remuneration provided to the second representative. Willers and Delfs were citizens of the Federal Republic, the others had Czechoslovak citizenship. The willingness of West Germans to cooperate was probably motivated by the prospect of financial gain and not political convictions. Somewhat surprising is the fact that the management of the company took place in Czech, as evidenced by the surviving records. The motive for this is not known, as it is clear that everyone spoke German. The records may have been kept in Czech because of pressure from the State Security agency.

The close connection between Peute Reederei and ČSPLO became manifest in further cooperation. On June 1, 1978, an agreement on technical assistance and cooperation was signed between Peute Reederei and the ČSPLO Děčín branch. Its subject was help provided by specialists in ship engines from Škoda Plzeň, namely five chief engineers and five assistant engineers.

Peute Reederei paid DM 3,000 per month for each engineer and DM 2,700 per month for each boatman. Every six months, there was a change of engineers and boatmen.27 The new version of the technical assistance and cooperation agreement of January 1, 1979 increased the number of experienced engineers to ten. Another contract concluded on June 25, 1978 concerned the administrative and technical cooperation and assistance between the ČSPLO Hamburg branch and Peute Reederei. Coming into effect on July 1, 1978, the Hamburg branch of ČSPLO undertook to provide the use of a telephone, telex, and office for a fee of DM 380 per month.28 Contracts for ČSPLO brought a welcome resource of foreign currency, of which there was a shortfall in the Czechoslovak economy.

Of course, Peute Reederei GmbH did not avoid cooperation with West German companies, and, somewhat surprisingly, it also did not avoid further acquisition of assets in West Germany. The arrangement between Peute Reederei GmbH and the Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor GmbH Duisburg (River Shipping Office) of March 28, 1978 was interesting, and it was followed by a more comprehensive agreement on July 4, 1978 concerning the mutual acquisition of shares between the two companies. Peute-Reederei acquired a business share of DM 500 in Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor, previously owned by Plath & Co.29 Furthermore, the agreement laid down the rules for the equal treatment of Peute Reederei’ ships by the Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor. The capital entry of Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor into Peute Reederei took place with a transfer by ČSPLO as a shareholder of a share of DM 1,000 (5 percent) to the Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor, coming into effect on July 4, 1978.30 In both cases, it was a relatively small share, and the transfer did not give Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor much power to influence the management of the other company. At the same time, Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor provided know-how advantageous for activities in Germany, kept accounts in accordance with West German regulations (for DM 2,000 per month31), and took over the representation within its own organization in Germany.32 The Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor was described by the ČSPLO Chronicle as a medium-sized company engaged in river navigation and brokerage (charter) activities.

Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor also had contacts in other Western European countries. The interests of the Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor in the Netherlands were secured by IMOG Rotterdam Schlepvaart BV.33 Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor was founded in 1953 in Hamburg. In the following years, it built branches in Berlin, Duisburg, Basel, Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Lübeck.

In 1960, its headquarters was transferred to Duisburg, which was a prerequisite for membership in the Rhein-Reeder-Verband. It is clear that Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor’s access to the Rhine was the main reason for Peute Reederei’s interest in the company, which sought to penetrate the Rhine. In the material summarizing the two-month operation of Peute Reederei from August 20, 1978, it was factually stated that by founding a joint company, Czechoslovakia, after more than twenty years, managed to get access to Western European waterways, albeit under the flag of West Germany.34 The Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor company was authorized for the “exploitation of ships” (the technical term for the use of a fleet) by Peute Reederei. The ships had West German captains, provided by the Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor, and the two members of the ship’s crew were the shipmaster and the engineer, rotating every six months. Persons were appointed to the position of shipmaster in order to prepare for the tests for piloting ships on the Rhine and other West German waterways. As stated in the Chronicle of the ČSPLO branch in Hamburg: “1978 was a trial year for Peute Reederei. Based on the results achieved, it can be said that this new company met expectations.”35

The ČSPLO Chronicle aptly summarized the importance of the Peute Reederei for the Czechoslovak economy:

An important prerequisite for the promotion of Czechoslovak interests was the establishment of a joint river navigation company ČSPLO / NSR based in the GDR, which we know today as Peute Reederei. The main goal of the joint shipping company ČSPLO / NSR was to create further favorable conditions for the transport of goods of the Czechoslovak foreign trade by water transport to Western Europe, where ČSPLO vessels cannot and will probably not be able to ship even after the conclusion of the “Navigation Agreement” between the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and Germany. [author’s note: the anticipated agreement between Germany and Czech.36

Due to the economic situation in Germany at the end of the 1970s, in particular with respect to inflation, wage increases, and higher taxation, the Hamburg branch intensively sought business activity. As noted in the ČSPLO Chronicle, “based on this fact, the main source of income remains the maritime transshipment yard No. 23 and today also the Peute Reederei.”37

On the one hand, Peute Reederei was to bring important foreign exchange gains to the Czechoslovak economy from its business activities and help save foreign exchange costs on the transport of Czechoslovak goods on Western European rivers, which Czechoslovak ships could not reach. Cooperation with the states of the socialist bloc was also planned to facilitate, through Peute Reederei, the transport of goods from other socialist countries to Western Europe. Thus, relevance of Peute Reederei went beyond the Czechoslovak economy.

The following aims played an important role in the establishment and other activities of the company:

1. The possibility of ensuring the shipping of Czechoslovak goods on all routes to Western Europe;

2. If necessary, this share could be reduced through Peute Reederei when allocating goods in mutual transports of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic – Germany;

3. The possibility of further developing socialist integration with the use of rivers in the German Democratic Republic and the Polish People’s Republic as avenues of trade;

4. If necessary, Peute Reederei was to be able, in cooperation with a partner shipping company, to aid the Czechoslovak company Čechofracht38 in influencing prices or securing other favorable conditions vis-à-vis foreign shipping companies;

5. The possibility of direct transport of heavy and bulky goods from Czechoslovakia to Western Europe;

6. The possibility of carrying out acquisition activities and the possibility of participating in transit traffic;

7. Enabling the gradual training of ship crews capable of independent operation on Western European rivers.39

Operational and Organizational Development

According to the minutes from the first meeting of the Peute Reederei GmbH Administrative Board (the term is used in the report, although it is not common for a limited liability company) on December 8, 1978, i.e. after nine months of activity, Karel Adamovský was elected Deputy General Manager director of ČSPLO n.p. Děčín.40 As expected, the most comprehensive point of the meeting concerned the possibility of using Peute Reederei and Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor to shop Czechoslovak goods. The Administrative Board decided to focus primarily on the transport of Czechoslovak goods from Hamburg and Braunschweig further west to some ports, such as Bremen, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and other places in Germany. “It was stated that the vessels of Peute Reederei GmbH are put to good use, and the turnover is good.” At the same time, some “flaws” appeared. According to the protocol of the first meeting of the Board of Directors of Peute Reederei GmbH in Hamburg on December 8, 1978, “Crew supervision needs to be strengthened so that crew members do not work excess hours […]”41

According to the minutes from the second meeting of the Administrative Board on June 11, 1979, Peute Reederei reported the transport of a total of 112,545 tons of goods. The cooperation with the Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor was basically assessed as good:

Some of the difficulties encountered by both parties were caused by inexperience and are a common occurrence in completely new and unknown situations, which could not have been taken into account when establishing a company of this nature. It is mainly a problem with issuing visas for the Czechoslovak crew and work permits in the GDR, as well as crew rotation, handling accidents with an insurance company, problems with Berufgenossenschaften [author’s note: statutory accident insurance], the tax office, etc.42

The difficulties also involved the transfer of bookkeeping to Peute Reederei, which was to take place no later than January 1, 1980, and the involvement of Peute and Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor in the transport of Czechoslovak goods via Braunschweig.

Minutes from the third Administrative Board meeting of November 29, 1979 note that the operating and economic results were affected by adverse weather conditions (frosts, restrictions on navigation in January to March) and the decommissioning of the Peute 5. Heinz Alfred Drogand (the director of Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor) made an interesting point when he noted that Peute Reederei was seen at the time as part of the West German Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor, which, given the political consequences, was undoubtedly beneficial for the company.

The Schifferbörse Duisburg Annual Report 1978/79 carried a warning in the Transport Policy section in connection with the amendment of the Mannheim Navigation Act. According to this warning, “care must be taken to ensure that foreign companies do not abuse business freedoms in Western Europe in the future.”43

This could, of course, have had negative consequences for Peute Reederei and the whole concept of its activities. At the meeting, it was explicitly stated that “according to these documents, we can expect an effort to limit and ban the activities of those joint and foreign companies that will not fully comply with the standards stipulated by law. If such a situation arises, it will be necessary to change the ratio of existing shares in P. R. [Peute Reederei ] so as to comply with the law (51 percent–46 percent).”44 These were shares in companies related to the revision of the Mannheim Navigation Acts.

The Additional Protocol No. 3 of October 17, 1979 amended Article 2, paragraph 3 of the Revised Rhine Navigation Acts (Mannheim Navigation Acts). Ships navigating on the Rhine had to have a document indicating that the ship belonged to the Rhine navigation system and was entered in the public register of a member state. The reason for refusing to issue a document to a ship may have been that the persons with majority participation in the operating results, directly or indirectly, or holding a majority of the shares or voting rights were not citizens of a contracting state or were not domiciled or did not have permanent or long term residence in a contracting state. For this reason, the shares in Peute Reederei had to be changed so as to maintain its access to the Rhine waterway. The changes had to be made quickly. They were implemented within a few months.

As noted above, a third member joined the two founding members of the March 1978 company three months later. The share capital was not greatly affected by the adjustments made and remained at a very low DM 20,000. The reduction in ČSPLO’s share was due to external influences so that the purpose for which Peute Reederei was created could still be fulfilled.

Clearly, the changes were also comprehensible to the West German partners. ČSPLO’s business share was the largest even after the changes (49 percent), but ČSPLO was no longer and could not be the majority shareholder. The Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor’s shareholding remained in the minority at 5 percent, but Hermann Paul Willers’ stake rose to 46 percent. This gave the West German capital the majority (51 percent). The Czechoslovak–West German company became a West German–Czechoslovak company.45

The importance of Peute Reederei is also indirectly indicated by the “expansion” of ČSPLO in the following decades, as in the 1980s, ČSPLO was preparing to start cargo shipping on the Rhine. It concluded agent agreements on the representation of vessels and commercial shipping interests in Bremen (Karl Gross company), Duisburg (Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor), and Rotterdam (IMOG).46 The staffing of Peute Reederei was minimal. Initially, the company had 18 employees, including one executive, two agents, five Czechoslovak engineers, five Czechoslovak boatmen, and five West German captains. The active radius of transport provided in Western Europe was defined by Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland.47 Czechoslovak employees did not receive any special remuneration for the management of Peute Reederei.


Financial Aspects of Operations

According to the Peute Reederei balance sheet prepared by the Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor as of December 31, 1978 and submitted on February 28, 1979, sales revenue amounted to 1,055.6 thousand DM and total costs to 894.2 thousand DM. Thus, revenues in total were 161.4 thousand DM. For the first year of operation, this was a good result, and it created a feeling of optimism for the upcoming years. As state in the 1978 Activity Review, dated March 1, 1979:

Following final discussion with the tax advisor and the company headquarters of ČSPLO Děčín regarding how to deal with the profit, it was decided to make an adjusting entry against depreciation, absorbing the profit and thereby avoiding income tax of up to 56 percent.48

The report stated that the existence of Peute Reederei “surprised the German authorities, and the company thus became a serious (albeit small) political component (states the business association of river shipping companies on the Rhine—and our Czechoslovak embassy in the GDR).”49

The existence of Peute Reederei confirmed that business also had a political context. West German political circles were surprised and taken aback with respect to Peute Reederei. The capital infiltration of a socialist, state-owned enterprise had not been anticipated and did not confirm the prevailing view of concerning the lack of sophistication of these enterprises. In this case, the German side found the precedent for the penetration of socialist enterprises into Western Europe rather worrying. However, as it turned out, these worries were unfounded.

The 1979 Preliminary Profit and Loss Statement stated that “these financial results are to be considered preliminary and will be finalized in April 1980 after the final balance sheet has been completed and approved by the tax advisor. It is in the company’s interests to report a loss to the German authorities and to avoid taxation and profit-taking.”50 As state in the preliminary trade balance of Peute Reederei for the year 1979:

After adding the depreciation for 1979 and the loss of DM 2,913.0 from 1978, a “loss” (technical tax matter) arises which has nothing to do with the trade balance, and depreciation is in this case assessed as a reserve fund for the acquisition of compensation for depreciated FA [i.e. fixed assets, i.e. fixed capital] (silent reserve).51

Although the financial result again seems rather promising, several plans were not met. First, the enterprise could not train its own captains to replace the West Germans, who had to be paid higher wages. Had the German captains been replaced by Czechoslovak ones, a monthly savings of about 2,500 to 3,000 DM per captain was expected. Another failure was the fact that Peute Reederei failed to get involved in the transportation of Czechoslovak goods.52 However, all this was to be achieved in the coming years.

According to the 1980 annual report, sales increased by 6.4 percent, but at the same time, diesel expenditures increased significantly, by 123.8 percent, insurance by 142.1 percent, repairs by 227.0 percent, and other costs by 121.0 percent.

In terms of sales, FSK [Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor] did not achieve what was expected. Unfortunately, it must be said that high-tariff goods are very rarely obtained. It was also not possible to continue to carry out in cooperation with ČSPLO Děčín. [the official headquarters of ČSPLO in northern Bohemia] the rotation of Czechoslovak crews as needed, and it was also not possible to involve PR [Peute Reederei] in the transport of Czechoslovak goods.53

The positive evaluation of business activities and the high expectations which had been fed by this evaluation had to be somewhat reevaluated in 1981. The sixth meeting of the Administrative Board, which was held on April 24, 1981, stated that the preliminary results of the 1980 balance sheet were “very unfavorable.” Expenditures on bunkers (fuels) had risen to 123.8 percent since 1979, and expenditures on repairs to 227 percent, while slight savings were achieved on wages. H. A. Drogand, the representative of the Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor, stated some surprising facts: “It was not possible to involve [Peute Reederei] in shipments of Czechoslovak goods, however, the ships also had more downtime due to technical defects. It might be appropriate to involve crews in the fastest and most economical use of vessels.”54 Regarding Peute Reederei, it was recommended that organization be improved, technical supervision be concentrated, ships be crewed with Czechoslovak crews, and cargo shipments be sent to one center. “It is necessary to return to the [Peute Reederei] proposal from May 18, 1979 and promote foreign currency involvement of the crew in the savings in fuels, oil, materials, and rapid turnover of vessels.”55

This reassessment of the potential of the venture called attention to one of the common problems typical of the Czechoslovak economy. Thanks to social security and a guaranteed wage, employees were not motivated to increase their work efforts and thus cut costs. The ship’s crew (engineer and boatman) consisted of ČSPLO employees who were “rented” for the agreed monthly payment by Peute Reederei. Foreign currency involvement, i.e. the payment of bonuses in foreign currency, was expected to increase motivation and improve the work ethic among the Czechoslovak employees. Another unfavorable factor was the increase of insurance. The unfavorable financial situation also affected the operation itself. The Administrative Board proposed to postpone the repairs to the Peute 3 and 4 until 1982 and 1983. The record stated that it was necessary to increase the profitability of Peute Reederei: “otherwise, its existence would be jeopardized.”56 For this reason, the following measures were taken:

a) Involve [Peute Reederei] via [Fluss-Schiffahrts-Office] to the maximum limit in the transport of high-tariff57 goods.

b) Gradually involve PR in the transport of Czechoslovak goods in the GDR.

c) Improve the organization of PR supervision and management.

d) Involve the crews in the savings on fuels, oils, materials, and improved utilization of vessels (see 1979 PR HQ proposal).

e) Ensure its own reserve captain for 1981.

f) Limit repairs and material consumption to the operational minimum necessary throughout the entire year of 1981.

g) Focus on wage savings (overtime).58


It is worth pausing at this juncture to consider the shipping results of the first three years of Peute Reederei’s existence. The increase in transported goods can be assessed positively. While from June to the end of 1978, transport volume amounted to 112,454 tons in 1979 it was already 191,122. However, the average monthly value showed a decrease of 16,065 tons (1978), more precisely 15,927 tons (1979).59

The summary table of Peute Reederei’s results below shows that the operating profit, i.e. the difference between sales and costs, totaled DM 383,698.47 for the period 1978–1980, or on average (considering only part of 1978), DM 127,899.49 per year. However, the company did not report this result. Depreciation was deducted from the result, more precisely formal accounting losses, as mentioned above. At the same time, this relativizes a certain dissatisfaction with the Peute Reederei results. The table below shows that the company reported a certain profit, despite the competition in Germany and the 1979 oil crisis.


Table 1. Peute Reederei GmbH’s actual financial results in the period 1978–1980 in DM





In total

Revenues in total





Costs in total






+ 161,396.33a

+ 83,775.69b


+ 383,698.47


a The document states 161,396.33 and 151,400 respectively depreciation (silent reserve) for the year 1978, which was 154,297.90 turns into a balance sheet loss of 2,913.0.

b A depreciation (silent reserve) for the year 1979 of DM 187,482.33 would change the accounting loss into a balance sheet loss of 103,706.64.

c A depreciation (silent reserve) for 1980 of 182,275.20 and a balance loss from 1979 of 103,706.64 would turn into a balance sheet loss of 147,455.39.

Source: A Hurt, Peute – Reederei G.m.b.H. Summary of the Activities 1978 (June–December 78), Hamburg March 1, 1979; Accompanying report to the Peute Reederei official balance sheet, submitted to the Hamburg tax office, dated July 31, 1980; The report accompanying the Peute Reederei official balance sheet, which was submitted to the Hamburg tax office, cover letter dated April 14, 1981; Summary of the Activities of Peute Reederei GmbH for 1978–1980, including comments on the balance sheet for 1980.

The following table summarizes the results submitted to the Hamburg tax office. As the data show, sales increased as well as (accounting) costs.


Table 2. Officially presented balance sheet results of the activities of Peute Reederei GmbH in the period 1978–1980 in DM









Special revenues




Revenues in total









– 2,913.0

– 103,706.64

– 327,532.86


a including depreciation (182,275.20) losses from 1979 (103,706.64)

Source: A Hurt, Summary of the activities of Peute Reederei GmbH for the years 1978–1980, including a commentary on the balance sheet for 1980.


It could be assumed from the accounting documents that the financial benefit for the ČSPLO partner was negligible due to the non-recognition of the profit that could be paid to the partner. It might have seemed that the goals of Peute Reederei were not being met. However, the opposite is true. The benefit was that Peute Reederei could buy goods using foreign currency, formally for its needs, but unofficially for the needs of ČSPLO. It also drew services from ČSPLO, for which it also paid in foreign currency. These steps, of course, reduced profits, which, however, would be highly taxed if reported. Therefore, this procedure, which required at least the understanding of the other partners, proved more advantageous for ČSPLO. The total difference of the transfer from Peute Reederei to the ČSPLO account from the years 1978–1980 in the amount of 884.1 thousand DM was used for a crane (Schuppen 23, DM 300,000) in 1979 and for a crane (Schuppen 23, DM 270,000) in 1980, and an additional DM 9,800 was used for other investments. The remaining 304,300 DM improved the financial result of the Hamburg branch of ČSPLO.60 The evaluation of Peute Reederei GmbH for the years 1978–1980 stated: “The overview shows that [… Peute Reederei] is not a loss-generating company for the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, but is impacted, especially in 1980, by a sharp rise in costs.”61 The basic economic premise of Peute Reederei’s operation was set out in the following words: “The company must officially report a financial result which cannot be taxed, but without giving the impression that it could go bankrupt.”62

According to Drogand, “the high consumption of diesel in the type of ships used by [Peute Reederei]” played a major role the rising costs.

Obsolete Škoda 600 PS engines on the Rhine at high water levels have very high fuel consumption without corresponding performance. Today, ships on the Rhine use modern fuel-efficient engines. There are also many accidents (see P5). Although PR’s situation is not developing well and profitability has been declining since 1978 and 1979, this unfortunately also corresponds with the situation in West German companies engaged in river transport. Mr. Drogand reminded us that, on the other hand, by establishing PR, ČSPLO has achieved something that other companies from Eastern Europe have not yet succeeded in doing, and that this company’s temporary lack of success should be tolerated. We should wait and see how the situation will develop after the first half of 1982. He also reminded us that by signing the intergovernmental agreement between the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and the GDR on inland waterway transport, the importance of this German Czechoslovak company will continue to increase.63


It thus becomes very clear that the German partners were well aware of the political consequences of Peute Reederei’s activities. Adamovský, Chairman of the Administrative Board, “expressed dissatisfaction with the developments so far and asked [Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor] for a detailed explanation of the overall development.”64

Drogand responded by repeating the reasons already mentioned, and he asked for “closer contact with the management of ČSPLO in Děčín, especially as regards mutual information. There should also be better contact with Čechofracht, so that PR and [Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor] could be more involved in the transport of Czechoslovak goods. Attempts made in 1981 (goods via Hamburg instead of via Braunschweig) showed that it would work.”65 It should be added that the end of the 1970s was marked by a second oil shock, which caused oil prices to soar.

For 1982, the involvement of Peute Reederei and Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor in Czechoslovak transport was envisaged, as was closer cooperation between ČSPLO, Peute Reederei, Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor, and Streit Braunschweig and, in the event of an agreement, the establishment of a Joint Committee composed of experts from both countries.

During the checking of tasks from the last meeting, it was stated that although it had not been possible to involve Peute Reederei in the transport of high-cost goods, much as it had not been possible to involve Peute Reederei in the transport of Czechoslovak goods, the concentration of a substantial part of Peute Reederei’s management was put into the hands of Mr. Dynybyl (technical, operational, and personal), and Peute Reederei was able to provide its own reserve captain (H. Ehrlich obtained a license for the Rhine).

Due to the declining profitability of Peute Reederei, the Administrative Board set the following tasks for the next period: “a) Involve [Peute Reederei] crews on the turnover of busy vessels, material savings, fuel, and maintenance; b) Secure a license for the Rhine for at least three other Czechoslovak Captains in 1982; c) Carry out efficient and economical repairs of PR vessels (in foreign or own workshops); d) Carry out an analysis of the actual costs of individual PR vessels; e) Involve PR to a much greater extent in the transport of Czechoslovak goods (Braunschweig, Hamburg), possibly to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic; f) Improve and intensify contacts between the companies involved.”66

The reasons for insufficient fulfilment of the expected results, especially with regards to foreign currency, primarily concerned issues at the administrative level (as the enterprise was a company according to West German law), discrepancies regarding labor law (as the company had a combination of Czechoslovak and West German employees), wages, competition on the West German transport market in the field of waterways, insufficient involvement in the Czechoslovak transport system (Čechofracht), inflation, and the economic crisis which came in the wake of the second oil shock.


Among the benefits of Peute Reederei for the Czechoslovak centrally planned economy, perhaps the most important was the possibility of mediated use of West German and West European waterways, access to the West German shipping market, new experience in areas of administration, and new pilot’s (captain’s) licenses and working contacts. Furthermore, the company was able to achieve savings on foreign currency funds, including foreign currency savings through Tuzex, (a network of shops in which foreign, especially Western, goods which were not available in the normal network of shops could be bought with foreign currency or Tuzex vouchers, called bons), savings on the purchase of spare parts, etc. It is impossible not to see the extent of the benefits which the company provided for the Czechoslovak economy on a number of levels. The legislative obstacle was the continually postponed signing of the expected Czechoslovak–West German agreement on inland navigation.

At the operational and technical level, the limiting factor was shown to be the outdated fleet which had an insufficient capacity and which operated with equipment which did not meet the company’s needs. This was accompanied by financial problems. Given the weak financial results, it was not possible for the company to make the necessary repairs and modernize its fleet, let alone purchase new, more powerful and economical ships.

Although the use of Czechoslovak employees brought wage savings, at the same time, given their comparatively low remuneration, the employees were not motivated to increase their work efforts, which, in a highly competitive environment, also had a negative effect. It is also necessary to mention the economic context (economic crises, competition, operational efficiency, etc.). Some surprising shortcomings were also noted in the ČSPLO Chronicle.

The origin of the company was an attempt to address the problems which arose from the fact that it was impossible for the Czechoslovak state to use other rivers in Germany and in other countries of Western Europe under the non-contractual status it enjoyed on the Elbe. The company acquired its own clientele. It made it possible to gain experience on West German waterways for Czechoslovak pilots in order to obtain pilot’s (captain’s) licenses.

The company definitely “saved on” foreign currency funds on the one hand by using Czechoslovak parts, employing Czechoslovak boatmen, and cooperating with the Hamburg branch of ČSPLO. At the same time, the company’s employees expanded their knowledge of business in an advanced market economy. Peute Reederei also strengthened the position of ČSPLO in Hamburg. This was undoubtedly one of the positives for the Czechoslovak planned economy. However, R. Hurt’s personal initiative and entrepreneurial spirit was of no use to the system, and it alone could not be enough to ensure the effective functioning of the company. The limits, especially at the financial and operational level, were fundamental and, in the setting at the time, insurmountable.

One of the negatives was that the company failed to obtain a higher share of the shipments of high-tariff goods, as well as Czechoslovak shipments provided by Čechofracht. Also, there were comparatively few Czechoslovak captains with a river captain’s license. Czechoslovakia clearly did not want to draw too much attention to Peute Reederei and brag about the company. Again, there were two reasons for this. There were concerns regarding the possible reaction of the West German authorities, and it was important for the socialist state not to emphasize cooperation with foreign capitalists.

At the same time, the shipping company with joint capital participation at the time of its establishment prefigured a somewhat “more accommodating” approach of the state socialist economic policy, because in 1985, the Czechoslovak government, with resolution no. 187, “Principles for the establishment and operation of joint ventures of Czechoslovak entities and entities from non-socialist countries,” enabled this cooperation, and legislation in this area was definitively concluded by Act No. 173/1988 Coll., on Companies with Foreign Ownership.

While the conclusion of cooperation agreements between Czechoslovakia and Germany was not unique in the 1970s (at the end of the 1970s, there were about 20 such agreements, especially in the field of engineering), the establishment of joint ventures was highly unusual. Although Czechoslovakia had foreign ownership rights in Germany, Germany had no such rights in Czechoslovakia. In Frankfurt am Main, the Semex company functioned with the participation of Motokovo, and in Hamburg, Intersug operated with the participation of Koospol, Jablonex, and Metalimex. After 1985, the number of joint ventures increased significantly, for example between Tesla Brno and Senetec PLC and Škoda Plzeň and Deutsche Babcock.67

The case of Peute Reederei can even be described as a form of capital expansion of socialist Czechoslovakia into the West German shipping market and the pursuit of business in the capitalist market with socialist means (technical and technological backwardness, inelasticity, insufficient flexibility). This example can also be used to document the clashes in the mentalities of the representatives of the centrally planned economy and the market economy. Further study of this issue is directly dependent on the accessibility of archival material of public and private provenance.

Peute Reederei survived the structural changes in the Czechoslovak (Czech) economy after 1989. However, its importance began to wane, and soon, the reasons for its continued existence gradually faded. Peute Reederei no longer thrived, but rather merely subsisted. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor took over the majority stake in Peute Reederei. In 2009, insolvency proceedings were initiated. The time allotted to its existence ended only recently, however. Peute Reederei was not officially deleted from the Commercial Register until January 4, 2013, due to a lack of assets.68

Archival Sources

Archiv bezpečnostních složek [Security Services Archive]

Jmenné evidence [Name records], accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.abscr.cz/jmenne-evidence/

Archiv Národního technického muzea [Archive of the National Technical Museum]

Fund No. 1539.

Osobní archiv Rudolfa Hurta [Personal Archive of Rudolf Hurt] (A Hurt)

Národní archiv Praha [The National Archive of Prague]

Fund Rozhodčí soud Československé obchodní komory [Fund Czechoslovak Chamber of Commerce]


Primary sources

Handelsregister HRB 21391 from 10. 11. 2009. Last modified November 26, 2014, http://peplecheck.de/handelsregister/HH-21391-95344.

Handelsregister HRB 21391 from 4. 1. 2013. Last modified November 26, 2014, http://peplecheck.de/handelsregister/HH-21391-190255.


Secondary literature

Břach, Radko. Smlouva o vzájemných vztazích mezi ČSSR a SRN z roku 1973 [Agreement on mutual relations between the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and Germany from 1973]. Prague: ÚSD 1994.

Campbell, Dennis, ed. East-West Joint Venture Contracts. New York: United Nations, 1989.

East-West Joint Ventures: Economic, Business, Financial and Legal Aspects. New York: United Nations, 1988.

Ehrhardt, Samuel. “Joint East-West Ventures“ in Osteuropa – Gemeinschaftsunternehmen im Rahmen der industriellen Ost-West-Kooperation (Westliche Investitionen in Rumänien, Jugoslawien und Ungarn). Bern: Herbert Lang, 1977.

Fabianková, Klára, and Zdenka Johnson. “Hospodářská (ne)kooperace mezi zeměmi EHS a RVHP na příkladu Spolkové republiky Německo a Československa” [Economic (non) cooperation between the EEC and CMEA countries on the example of the Federal Republic of Germany and Czechoslovakia]. In Vliv politických systémů na vývoj středoevropských ekonomik po roce 1945 [The influence of political systems on the development of Central European economies after 1945], edited by Pavel Szobi et al., 177–201. Prague: Setoutbooks, 2014.

Fabianková, Klára, and Zdenka Johnson. “Wirtschaftsbeziehungen zwischen der EWG und dem RGW am Beispiel der ČSSR und BRD in den Jahren 1965–1985.” In Multinationale Reiche im 19.–20. Jahrhundert, edited by Pavel Szobi et al., 78–110. Prague: Setoutbooks, 2012.

Jakubec, Ivan. Československo-německé dopravněpolitické vztahy v období studené války se zvláštním zřetelem na železnici a labskou plavbu (1945/1949–1989) [Czechoslovak–German transport policy relations during the Cold War with special attention to railways and the Elbe shipping (1945/1949–1989)]. Prague: Karolinum, 2006.

Jakubec, Ivan. “Die ersten Jahre der tschechoslowakisch- (west)deutschen Gesellschaft Peute Reederei GmbH Hamburg (1978–1980).” West Bohemian Historical Review 6, no. 1 (2016): 111–36.

Johnson, Zdenka, and Klára Fabianková. “Czechoslovakia and West Germany: A convenient trade partnership? A Czechoslovak point of view.” Journal of European Economic History 39, no. 3 (2010): 557–87.

Kansikas, Suvi. Socialist Countries Face the European Community: Soviet-Bloc Controversies over East-West Trade. Frankfurt: Lang, 2014.

Kubů, Eduard, and Ivan Jakubec. “Hamburk a jeho úloha v československém zahraničním obchodu meziválečného období (přístavní pásmo, doprava po Labi a hamburský reexport)” [Czechoslovak–German transport policy relations during the Cold War with special attention Hamburg and its role in Czechoslovak foreign trade of the interwar period (port zone, transport on the Elbe and Hamburg re-export)]. Hospodářské dějiny – Economic History, no. 20 (1992): 127–66.

Mastanduno, Michael. Economic Containment: Cocom and the Politics of East-West Trade. Ithaka: Cornell University Press, 2019.

Mleziva, Emil. “Vysokotarifující zboží” [High tariff goods]. Naše řeč 41, no. 5–6 (1958): 173–74.

Reichel, Rudolf. “Hotel Inter Continental Praha po ročním provozu” [Hotel Inter Continental Prague after one year of operation]. Československé pohostinství a cestovní ruch 22, no. 4 (1976): 87.

Szobi, Pavel. “Licenční smlouvy západoněmeckých podniků na příkladě Tukového průmyslu Praha v sedmdesátých a osmdesátých letech 20. Století” [Licensing agreements of West German companies on the example of the Prague Fat Industry in the 1970s and 1980s]. In Obchodování v srdci Evropy: o dějinách a pramenech československo-německých hospodářských vztahů (1918–1992) [Trade in the heart of Europe: On the history and sources of Czechoslovak-German economic relations, 1918–1992], edited by Pavel Dufek, 89–96. Prague: Národní archiv, 2019.

Štemberk, Jan. Podnikání v automobilové dopravě v českých zemích v první polovině 20. století [Business in automobile transport in the Czech Lands in the first half of the twentieth century]. Prague: Karolinum, 2010.

Štemberk, Jan. “Rozhodčí soud Československé obchodní komory v prvním čtvrtstoletí své činnosti” [Arbitration court of the Czechoslovak Chamber of Commerce in the first quarter of its activity]. In Pocta prof. Karolině Adamové k 70. Narozeninám [Tribute to Professor Karolina Adamová for her 70th birthday], edited by Peter Brezina, and Antonín Lojek, 305–26. Plzeň: Západočeská univerzita, 2019.

Švarc, Bohumil. Sedmdesát pět let Československé plavby labské [Seventy-five years of the Czechoslovak Elbe Shipping Company]. Děčín: Československá plavba labská a. s., 1997.

Vilímek, Tomáš. “‘Kdo řídí – kontroluje!’ Podnikový management a úskalí ‘socialistické kontroly’ v československých podnicích v osmdesátých letech 20. století” [“Who controls – controls!” Business management and the pitfalls of “socialist control” in Czechoslovak companies in the 1980s]. Soudobé dějiny 24, no. 3 (2017): 361–88.

1 The authors would like to thank the family of Mr. Rudolf Hurt, namely Mrs. Ing. Daniela Nebeská and Mr. Ing. Jan Nebeský.

2 Reichel, “Hotel Inter Continental Praha,” 87.

3 Campbell, East-West Joint Venture Contracts; Kansikas, Socialist Countries Face the European Community; Mastanduno, Economic Containment.

4 Johnson and Fabianková, “Czechoslovakia and West Germany”; Fabianková and Johnson, “Hospodářská (ne)kooperace”; Fabianková and Johnson, “Wirtschaftsbeziehungen”; Szobi, “Licenční smlouvy”.

5 Švarc, Sedmdesát pět let, 132–34; Jakubec, Československo-německé dopravněpolitické vztahy, 137–38; Jakubec, “Die ersten Jahre.”

6 Štemberk, Podnikání v automobilové dopravě, 46–50.

7 Vilímek, “Kdo řídí – kontroluje!”

8 Jakubec, Československo-německé dopravněpolitické vztahy, 107–28.

9 Národní archiv Praha, fund Rozhodčí soud Československé obchodní komory, box No. 1, Záznam o schůzi Rozhodčího soudu, dne 5. 6. 1951, 3.

10 More explicit: Štemberk, “Rozhodčí soud,” 304–5.

11 More detail: Břach, Smlouva o vzájemných vztazích mezi ČSSR a SRN.

12 Kubů and Jakubec, “Hamburk a jeho úloha,” 146.

13 A Hurt, Kronika, pp. 247, 276.

14 A Hurt, Smíšená společnost ČSSR – NSR Peute – Reederei G.m.b.H. Hamburg – zkušenosti po dvouměsíčním provozu, 20. 8. 1978, p. 1.

15 A Hurt, Kronika, p. 252.

16 Švarc, Sedmdesát pět let, 137–38.

17 A Hurt, Dr. Jürgen Theissen Dr. Jochen Bach Notare, T 46-Dr.Th./Ma., addressed to R. Hurt, 6. 4. 1978 and Amtsgericht Hamburg, Th 685/1978 bö, 66 AR 791/78 -A-.

18 A Hurt, Dr. Jürgen Theissen Dr. Jochen Bach Notare, beglaubigte Abschrift, T 1000/1978 scho, Ausfertigung, April 14, 1978.

19 A Hurt, Dr. Jürgen Theissen Dr. Jochen Bach Notare, Abschrift, T 1130/1978 bö, April 25, 1978.

20 A Hurt, Urkundenrolle Nr. T 685/1978 bö.

21 A Hurt, Zwischen der Firma Martimex Aussenhandels AG., Martin/ČSSR im folgenden Verkäufer genannt und der Firma Albis Reederei GmbH in Gründung, Hamburg im folgenden Käufer genannt wird heute folgender Kaufvertrag abgeschlossen, 15. 3. 1978.

22 A Hurt, Kronika, p. 277.

23 A Hurt, Anstellungsvertrag zwischen der Firma Peute Reederei, GmbH, Hamburg vertreten durch ihren Beirat (im folgenden Firma genannt) und Herrn Rudolf Hurt, Peuterestrasse 25, 2000 Hamburg 28.

24 Archiv bezpečnostních složek, Jmenné evidence, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.abscr.cz/jmenne-evidence/.

25 A Hurt, Dr. Jürgen Theissen Dr. Jochen Bach Notare an Amtsgericht Hamburg, Ausfertigung, March 13, 1978, Kronika, p. 277.

26 A Hurt, Anstellungsvertrag zwischen der Firma Peute Reederei, GmbH, Hamburg vertreten durch ihren Geschäftsführer (im folgenden Firma genannt) und Herrn Dipl. Ing František Větrovec, Peutestrasse 25, 2000 Hamburg 28 wird heute folgendes vereinbart, July 5, 1978.

27 A Hurt, Vertrag über technische Hilfe und Zusammenarbeit, die zwischen den Firmen Peute Reederei GmbH, Hamburg a ČSPLO Děčín (ČSSR) anlässlich der am 23. 3. 1978 in Děčín (ČSSR) geführten Verhandlungen zwischen beiden Seiten vereinbart wurde, June 1, 1978.

28 A Hurt, Vertrag über administrative und technische Zusammenarbeit zwischen den Firmen Tschechoslowakische Elbe-Schiffahrts, A. G., Hamburg und der Peute Reederei, GmbH, Hamburg.

29 A Hurt, Dr. Jürgen Theissen Dr. Jochen Bach Notare, Abschrift, T 844/1978 sch, March 31, 1978.

30 A Hurt, Dr. Jürgen Theissen Dr. Jochen Bach Notare, beglaubigte Abschrift, T 2228/1978 scho, August 14, 1978.

31 Gradually, Fluss-Schiffahrts-Kontor’s accounting fee for Peute Reederei was reduced from DM 24,000 per year to DM 15,000.

32 A Hurt, Vereinbarung, July 4, 1978.

33 A Hurt, Kronika, p. 278; further to cp.: https://www.binnenschifferforum.de/showthread.php?43936-IMOG-Rotterdam [cit. September 12, 2020].

34 A Hurt, Smíšená společnost ČSSR – NSR Peute – Reederei G.m.b.H. Hamburg – zkušenosti po dvouměsíčním provozu, 20. srpna 1978, p. 1.

35 A Hurt, Kronika, p. 253.

36 Ibid., pp. 275–76. The anticipated agreement between Germany and Czechoslovakia was not concluded until 1988.

37 Ibid., p. 275.

38 The Čechofracht company was established on January 1, 1952, and the scope of its activities was the organization of international sea transport. Hamburg with the Czechoslovak maritime zone became the home port. In 1958, the scope of business was expanded to include international delivery.

39 A Hurt, Kronika, p. 276.

40 A Hurt, Záznam z I. zasedání správní rady firmy Peute Reederei GmbH v Hamburgu December 8, 1978.

41 Ibid.

42 A Hurt, Záznam z II. zasedání správní rady firmy Peute-Reederei GmbH v Hamburgu June 11, 1979.

43 A Hurt, Záznam z III. zasedání správní rady firmy Peute-Reederei GmbH v Hamburgu November 29, 1978, p. 2.

44 Ibid.

45 Authors’ calculations based on: A Hurt, Ausfertigung. Verhandelt in dieser Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg am 13. März 1978; Vereinbarung, 4. 7. 1978; Ausfertigung. Verhandelt in dieser Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg am 16. Juni 1980.

46 Archiv Národního technického muzea, fund No. 1539, K. Raba, Úvahy o výhledu rozvoje československé námořní plavby, p. 1, 128.

47 A Hurt, Záznam ze III. zasedání správní rady firmy Peute-Reederei GmbH v Hamburgu dne 29. 11. 1978, p. 2.

48 A Hurt, Peute – Reederei G.m.b.H. Zhodnocení činnosti za rok 1978 (červen – prosinec 78), Hamburg March 1, 1979, p. 2.

49 Ibid., p. 5.

50 A Hurt, Zpráva o předběžných výsledcích Peute Reederei za rok 1979, p. 3.

51 A Hurt, Předběžná obchodní bilance Peute – Reederei za rok 1979, p. 2.

52 A Hurt, Report on the official balance sheet of the Peute Reederei, submitted to the Hamburg tax office, date by hand July 31, 1980, p. 3.

53 A Hurt, Report on the official balance sheet of the Peute Reederei, submitted to the Hamburg tax office, cover letter dated April 14, 1981, p. 3.

54 A Hurt, Záznam ze VI. zasedání správní rady firmy Peute Reederei GmbH v Hamburgu dne 24. 4. 1981, p. 2.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 A technical term referring to goods that have a high tariff rate. See Mleziva, Vysokotarifující zboží, 173–74.

58 A Hurt, Záznam ze VI. zasedání správní rady firmy Peute Reederei GmbH v Hamburgu April 24, 1981, p. 3.

59 A Hurt, Záznam II. zasedání správní rady firmy Peute-Reederei GmbH v Hamburgu June 11, 1979; Zpráva o předběžných výsledcích Peute Reederei za rok 1979, sine.

60 A Hurt, Zhodnocení činnosti Peute Reederei GmbH za léta 1978–1980 včetně komentáře k bilanci za rok 1980.

61 Ibid., p. 3.

62 Ibid., p. 6.

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid., p. 3.

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid., p. 5.

67 Fabianková and Johnson, “Hospodářská (ne)kooperace,” 196–97; Fabianková and Johnson, “Wirtschaftsbeziehungen,” 91–92.

68 Insolvency proceedings were first initiated against the company according to the decision Amtsgericht Hamburg no. 67cIN367/09 from 3. 11. 2009 (Handelsregister HRB 21391 from 10. 11. 2009 [online]. http://peplecheck.de/handelsregister/HH-21391-95344 [November 26, 2014]). Subsequently, the deletion was made (HRB 21391 from January 4, 2013 [online]. http://peplecheck.de/handelsregister/HH-21391-190255 [November 26, 2014]).


TEKA: A Transnational Network of Esperanto-Speaking Physicians

Marcel Koschek
University of St Andrews
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 243-266 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.243

The Tutmonda Esperanta Kuracista Asocio (Worldwide Esperanto Medical Association, TEKA) was founded in 1908 at the Fourth International Esperanto Congress in Dresden and was the international medical association of the Esperanto movement. The aim was to “facilitate practical relations between Esperanto-speaking doctors of all countries.” The interest within the Esperanto movement was immense: after one year, TEKA had more than 400 members all over the world with a focus on Europe; one year later, there were more than 600 members with official representatives in about 100 cities. In Europe, a medical press in Esperanto had already been established. The approach of these journals was both simple and brilliant: the doctors presented the latest medical findings from their home countries in a peer review system and critically examined the articles in their vernacular. This made each issue a compendium of the most important and pioneering findings of national research. The numerous experts also had many other connections with, for example, the Red Cross and similar organizations. Thus, after a short period of time, TEKA brought together the expertise of countless physicians. This paper examines TEKA as a transnational network of experts before World War I. The history of the association and the role of Medicine within the Esperanto movement are briefly discussed. The focus is then on the various association journals and the circulation of knowledge. Finally, the essay offers a look at TEKA’s cooperative endeavors with the Red Cross. It works from a transnational perspective and takes a close view of the actors and their personal backgrounds at appropriate points. Furthermore, lists of members and journal subscribers are provided in map form to make the global spread of the movement within medicine visible.

Keywords: Esperanto, transnationalism, internationalism, network of physicians


The end of the long nineteenth century was a dynamic time during which groundbreaking changes were taking place in all areas of life. The decades before World War I were characterized by networking and internationalization as well as inventions and technical progress.1 Even in medicine, the peak of internationalism did not pass without leaving its mark. In 1863, the Red Cross was founded, and in 1881, medical assembly began with the first International Medical Congress in London. At the time, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist in Warsaw, also had thoughts on medicine, internationalization, and networking. In 1887, he published a brochure entitled International Language.2 This booklet, which he published under the pseudonym Dr. Esperanto (literally meaning, “the one who hopes”), joined the list of numerous inventive and stirring writings of this period. With his idea of devising a simplified language, Zamenhof presented a solution to the problem of communication; his pseudonym quickly became the name for the language itself. Esperanto harmonized with the prevailing zeitgeist among educated elites, who soon began to gather internationally and develop platforms for exchange. The language quickly gained a foothold in medicine, as outbreaks of cholera and typhus and new fields such as bacteriology led to a strong need for exchange in the medical community.3

The majority of Esperantists in the early period before World War I came from urban middle classes, which “had the money and leisure to look beyond their own communities.”4 The exact proportion of physicians among the club members is very difficult to determine. For example, the address book of Polish Esperantists from 1909 provides lists of members but only incomplete professional information. Large university cities such as Lviv (15.6 percent), Warsaw (11.4 percent) and Krakow (6.3 percent) had the highest proportions of physicians among their members. In contrast, rural Esperanto societies only rarely had doctors among their members.5 Nevertheless, the Esperanto doctors hoped that international cooperation with foreign colleagues would foster valuable exchange and progress. One of the arguments for learning Esperanto was the simplicity of the language and the claim that the vocabulary was “three-quarters known to anyone halfway educated.”6 The 1933 Encyclopaedia of Esperanto lists early mentions of the language in medical journals. These mentions include a series of articles in the Russian journal Vrach in 1899 and, from 1900, primarily mentions in French journals. There were also discussions concerning Esperanto at two medical meetings in Russia in 1898 in Borisoglebsk and Voronezh.7

As the language spread internationally and was propagated by and among physicians, there were both positive and negative reactions. The example of The British Medical Journal can even be used to show a shift. In 1904, the language was described as a “body without a soul,”8 and in 1906, it was characterized as useless, since “when learnt nothing has been acquired but a mixed ‘pigeon’ jargon.”9 In later years, the journal devoted more lines to the Esperanto movement. The report on the International Medical Congress in Budapest in 1909 contains a separate paragraph on the attempt to introduce the language. Although the author of the report writes with praise on the number of participants at the meeting of Esperantists, he notes that the group did not arouse any further interest among other participants. Furthermore, he also states that the need for a new language was not felt at the congress.10 The journal also gave space to the following International Medical Congress in London in 1913. The dates of the meetings were announced before the congress, and a report on the meeting was published afterwards.11 In contrast to Budapest, the London Esperanto Club held a reception which was not only attended by Esperantists but also attracted other congress participants.12 Other large, internationally prominent medical journals such as The Lancet also printed submissions on the subject of Esperanto from 1905 onwards and abstained from making any critical remarks concerning the language that might have resembled the remarks found in The British Medical Journal.13

The Esperanto movement took a big step towards international cooperation in 1905 when it held its first World Congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer. After principles of the language and the movement were discussed in Boulogne, expert meetings were held at the congresses from 1906 onwards. At the second World Congress, Henri Dor, who later served as TEKA president, chaired the joint session of physicians and pharmacists. The discussion centered on an anatomical dictionary compiled by a group of French Esperantists.14 In 1907, during the congress in Cambridge, the doctors were already meeting separately. There, the assembled doctors decided to join the Internacia Scienca Asocio (International Science Association), an Esperanto science society founded the previous year, as a specialist section. A proposal was made to contact an existing multilingual medical journal and request that it publish an Esperanto supplement.15 The following congress in Dresden in 1908 led to the founding of TEKA.

The Creation and Development of TEKA

The institutionalization and organized unification of Esperanto physicians were achieved with the founding of TEKA. In TEKA’s self-portrayal, the Polish doctor Wilhelm Róbin16 is often listed as the initiator and founding father.17 The reason for this was his article published in Voĉo de Kuracistoj18 (Voice of Physicians, henceforth VdK) calling for the foundation of an Esperanto Medical Society before the World Congress in Dresden.19 However, Róbin was not present at the congress and Leon Zamenhof took over the presentation of the project there.20 The fact that the idea came from Róbin is not mentioned in the minutes of the Dresden congress. Furthermore, it must also be pointed out that Róbin was not the first Esperantist with the idea of founding an Esperanto Medical Society. This idea had already been advocated by Bronisław Skałkowski, Szczepan Mikołajski, and Izrael Fels in an appeal in the Polish Medical journal Głos Lekarzy (Voice of Physicians, henceforth GL) in November 1907.21 Whether Róbin was aware of this appeal is not known. This is also contradicted by the fact that his name is not found among the subscribers to GL in 1907. Although the first appeal in GL did not lead to the founding of TEKA, the goals were consistent. The authors identified the first and most important task as the foundation of an association of Esperanto physicians in all countries. This association should represent the interests of their members at international medical congresses and advocate the introduction of Esperanto as a congress language. The creation of an international organ for the worldwide members was also planned. At the end of the appeal, it was noted that it should be sent to all the doctors listed in the Tutmonda Jarlibro Esperantista 1907 (Worldwide Esperantist Yearbook). Furthermore, everyone should forward this appeal and publish it in their native languages in national journals.22 We do not actually know the extent to which this suggestion was actually implemented or the idea was circulated in other national medical journals.

Due to the rapid increase in the circulation of VdK in the summer of 1908, an increasing number of physicians formed an alliance in favor of Esperanto. Mikołajski presumably remembered his proposal from the previous year and again suggested the creation of an official association in July.23 In the following issue, which appeared only a few weeks before the upcoming congress in Dresden, Mikolajski’s idea was elaborated by Róbin and presented to the subscribers.24 As the official representative of the Universal Esperanto Association in Warsaw, he approached the headquarters and suggested the creation of the federation. At the second meeting of the Medical group at the Dresden Congress, an association was founded with the name Tutmonda Esperanta Kuracista Asocio on August 21, 1908. From the report in the official congress records25 and a more detailed version of this report in VdK,26 the founding of TEKA appears to have been a mere formality. Only the discussion about the future of VdK as an organ of the association was extensive, and the association to be founded was mentioned in the course of the discussion as a guarantee for the journal.

TEKA, as formulated in point 1 of its regulations, strived to promote “practical relations between Esperanto physicians of all countries.”27 The reports of the president, Prof. Henri Dor from Lyon, and the secretary, Dr. Wilhelm Róbin from Warsaw, in the first official yearbook of 1909 explained further goals and working methods. Dor reported the hope that all larger cities and health resorts would have at least one TEKA contact person who would supply the local physicians with information.28 Róbin added contacts in university towns to the list.29 He also mentioned the goal of propagating the language at the International Medical Congress in Budapest in 1909. For this purpose, an independent congress commission was formed, which had to demonstrate at the meetings in Budapest that it was possible “to hold a scientific speech and free discussions in Esperanto.”30 As a final goal, Róbin added medical excursions to various health resorts, which were to take place before the Esperanto World Congress in Barcelona or the International Medical Congress in Budapest in 1909.31 The positions already mentioned were supplemented with the addition of two vice presidents and a treasurer. These individuals formed the Central Committee. Ludwik Zamenhof also belonged to the Committee as Honorary President, as did his brother Leon Zamenhof as Honorary Consul.32 Furthermore, TEKA had seven honorary members at the beginning.33 At the national level, TEKA had consuls for 19 countries, including representatives for non-sovereign states such as Algeria and Poland. As further contacts, official representatives in 38 cities are listed in the yearbook.34

The Central Committee and the other members developed their own organizational structure of consuls and representatives. In 1910, the year in which membership was at its largest, TEKA had consuls in 29 countries, including non-sovereign territories, such as Bohemia, Galicia, and the Polish part of Russia.35 Representatives were found in 115 different cities.36 The representatives and consuls had the task of collecting membership fees from the physicians in their regions and sending them to the treasurer. The representatives in health resorts were later highlighted separately, with the indication that doctors could send their patients there. In 1911, 18 representatives from health resorts were listed, most of which were located in German-speaking countries.37

Due to the financial hardships TEKA incurred in order to publish its own journal, membership classes were introduced in 1912. The TEKA membership fee in 1912 was 2 Spesmilo;38 an Esperanto currency where 1 Spesmilo was the equivalent of half a dollar, 2.50 Swiss francs, or one ruble. First, the category of so-called protectors was created, who paid 10 Spesmilo a year.39 By the end of 1912, 28 members of the TEKA had earned the title of protector through their fees.40 In 1913, 21 members received the rank.41 Despite the additional financial support from the protectors, the expenses in 1913 could only be covered with reserves from the previous year. The difference was around 600 Spesmilo, which was equivalent to 300 more membership fees. As the Executive Committee was aware that a doubling of membership was not feasible, further membership classes were introduced. In the form of a “grant fund,” two further categories were introduced in addition to the protectors. The highest level became the patron, with an annual contribution of 30 Spesmilo, and the second highest level was the subventionist, with a contribution of 20 Spesmilo. In return, three issues of Kuracisto (Physician) were sent to the protectors, six to the subventionists, and 10 to the patrons for propaganda purposes. Furthermore, the groups of subventionists and patrons were given the right to elect their own TEKA vice president, who defended the interests of the journal in the Central Committee and cooperated with the editor-in-chief of Kuracisto.42 The last issue of Kuracisto before the war lists five patrons, two subventionists, and 22 protectors as of June 1914, which amounts to a further 410 Spesmilo in income and could have ensured Kuracisto’s continued existence.43

From the outset, the geographical distribution of TEKA members had its main concentration in East Central Europe.44 One of the reasons for this was the fact that the first official TEKA journal, VdK, was based in Lviv and had reached both Polish and Russian Esperantists even before TEKA was founded. As an early Esperanto stronghold with many academic Esperantists, France was the second hotspot. From these centers, a strong propagation of the language took place after the foundation, which is reflected above all in the far reaches of Russia and North America. The subsequent period led to the opening up of new cities and their medical communities and also in increase in the number of TEKA members on the ground. Depending on the activity of the local group and the commitment of the members, the dissemination of TEKA varied. From Warsaw, the method of Wilhelm Róbin is known, who contacted all the Esperanto doctors he knew with the simple sentence: “If you want to subscribe to the newspaper, please sign your name on the list and pay one ruble.”45 Almost all his colleagues signed, and this method was presented as an effective example at the TEKA meeting in Dresden.46

The membership development of TEKA can be traced through the official publications of the association. After the foundation in Dresden in August 1908, the first yearbook with an extensive list of members was published in spring 1909. Another yearbook was published for the year 1910, showing an increase of about 200 new members. A new yearbook with the membership list for 1911 was announced but never published.47 Therefore, for the following years, the list of paid members in the treasurer’s reports is used to trace membership development. What is particularly striking about the overview is the rise towards 1910 and the drastic fall in the following year, which was caused by the discontinuation of VdK as the official journal. The 1909 yearbook presented the membership figures shortly after the foundation of TEKA. In 1909, information about the existence of the association spread worldwide. A decisive factor was the official organ of the association, VdK, which had been in existence since the spring of 1908 and had almost 800 subscribers in 1909. At the end of 1910, however, cooperation between TEKA and VdK came to an end. At the beginning of 1911, the association had a new organ, but it was suspended after two issues. It was not until August 1911 that a new members’ magazine was published. The Oficiala Bulteno de TEKA (Official Bulletin of TEKA) contains a critical report on membership development by Wilhelm Róbin, who was secretary at the time:

The activities of the TEKA Committee were paralyzed48 in 1911 in the full sense of the word. We did not propagate the Association because we could not do so due to the known major obstacles that occurred on the part of Dr. Th[alwitzer] (regarding the Oficiala Bulteno). We did not dare recruit new members and promise them regular delivery of the official organ... We experienced a terrible period. From all sides, complaints, protests, and just demands! […]

The number of TEKA members is constantly growing, but unfortunately, this year we have lost many members who have been offended by the inaccuracy of our Internacia Medicino organ and by the stubborn silence of its publisher, who did not even respond to letters and prepaid telegrams.49

The publication of Internacia Medicino (International Medicine) under Adolf Thalwitzer as editor led to various problems. The first edition was published without proofreading and without TEKA’s consent, resulting in several errors in quotations and mention of authors. Before the second issue, Thalwitzer had already received money in the amount of 186 membership fees for further publication, but he then no longer replied to letters from the committee, so cooperation between Thalwitzer and the TEKA was discontinued.50 Compensation for this long period of declining membership could only be made through the constant publication of the journal Kuracisto from 1912 onwards. For the year 1914, Kuracisto contains evidence of 215 membership subscriptions received; however, the journal ceased to exist in June 1914, so the complete membership figures for the year are not known.

The further general development of TEKA remained unchanged. In 1910, a separate TEKA Congress was held at the UEA Congress in Augsburg.51 The official Esperanto World Congress took place in Washington. It was attended by only a few Europeans because of the long distance. In the period just before the outbreak of the war, TEKA congresses were held during the World Congresses, with frequent visits to local institutions and clinics. Two lines of development were of particular importance: first, the TEKA medical newsletter as a link among the members, and second, cooperation with the International Red Cross.

Esperanto Medical Journals

The Esperanto-speaking medical community urged for correspondence journals early on in order to present their national findings to an international audience through the multitude of different nations. The first medical articles were published in Internacia Scienca Revuo (International Science Review), a generic scientific journal in Esperanto which was published in Paris from 1904. The Parisian Esperantists noticed the lack of a medical journal and began to publish Internacia Revuo Medicina (International Medical Review, IRM) in 1906.52 This journal presented original articles in German, English, or French in one column and the respective translation in Esperanto in another column. Four issues of this journal were published that year before it ceased to exist. The editors’ reports mentioned complaints about high subscription prices. Furthermore, it seemed that the desired number of subscribers and the general scope of the journal had not been achieved, as most of the articles were from French medical publications and thus French subscribers had little reason to subscribe.53 The IRM is mentioned in the dissertation by Pierre Corret about the adoption of an international auxiliary language in medicine. According to Corret, it failed due to the lack of an interested audience.54

Voĉo de Kuracistoj,55 on the other hand, was more successful and long-lived. This journal emerged from an existing Polish medical journal, Głos Lekarzy, which had already been successfully published in Lviv for several years. The editor, Dr Szczepan Mikołajski,56 initially planned only the introduction of an Esperanto section in his journal, but he was then encouraged by the high number of favorable responses to publish an independent journal. Two issues appeared in 1908 as free supplements, and from May 1908, the journal existed until its last issue in November 1911. Mikołajski also made use of the contributions from VdK for his newspaper GL and published Polish translations. He thus enriched his journal with many international contributions. The first issue of VdK from April 1908 was primarily aimed at Polish-speaking doctors, who had already been subscribers to GL. In an appeal to his fellow physicians, Mikołajski therefore formulated the aim of the journal to give Polish medicine and its achievements a proper forum, as it had hitherto been internationally underrepresented.57 Although the journal remained in publication for only about four years, it was one of the longest-lived Esperanto journals before World War I. Between 1908 and 1910, VdK was the official organ of TEKA. However, as there were financial discrepancies in the forwarding of membership fees to VdK editorial office throughout this period and TEKA refused to accept Mikołajski’s new conditions, he resigned from publishing it as the official organ.

Mikołajski distinguished himself as an experienced publicist who had been publishing his Głos Lekarzy in parallel since 1903. The journals provided clear structures and, by listing the coauthors and subscribers, they allowed for a variety of investigations. The year 1909 is suitable as a focus of inquiry since it was the year in which the first complete volume was published and VdK was the organ of TEKA for the entire year. The three areas that will be examined in more detail are: 1. the subscribers to the journal, 2. the authors, and 3. the reviewed journals.




The distribution of subscribers can be visualized with the use of a map.58 In 1909, the magazine listed its subscribers. A total of 1,005 entries can be found, but there are repeated entries and orders for multiple journals to the addresses of Esperanto clubs. Adjusted for these factors, the number of subscribers was 770. The subscribers were be found in 367 different locations. The main focus was clearly in Europe and a broad strip in the north of the USA. When looking at the individual cities, Warsaw leads with a figure of 64 subscribers.


Table 2. Amount of VdK subscribers in 1909 per city (more than 10) compared to TEKA members in 1909 and 1910


Number of subscribers

Number of TEKA members 19091

Number of TEKA members 19102





Rio de Janeiro




















St Petersburg









1 T.E.K.A.-Jarlibro 1909.

2 T.E.K.A.-Jarlibro 1910.

VdK already benefitted from its function as an official TEKA organ in 1909. The 1909 TEKA Yearbook lists 428 members, which means that about 300 non-TEKA members belonged to the circle of subscribers. The comparison of subscribers and TEKA members shows that, in the cases of Rio de Janeiro, Dublin, and Budapest, many subscribers joined TEKA in 1909. However, it is not yet possible to explain how the high number of 46 subscribers in Rio de Janeiro was achieved. The high number of subscribers in Lviv probably correlates with the place of publication as well as the connection to Głos Lekarzy as the predecessor journal. In Europe, there were many places where only one or a smaller group of subscribers was located. Larger accumulations were found in capitals such as Paris, Stockholm, Budapest, and Bucharest. Furthermore, no coherent clusters can be identified. The subscribers in the German Empire were relatively widely distributed. High subscriber numbers in Warsaw, Lviv, and Lodz provided a high absolute number of subscribers in Polish-speaking lands.

A cluster already noticeable in other visualizations, such as the World Congress participants, TEKA members, or publication sites of other Esperanto journals, can be identified north and along the 50th latitude. This connectivity belt 59 stretched from Dublin via London, Belgium, northern France, and central Germany through Bohemia and the Polish-speaking lands into the Russian countryside and ended around Moscow, at a similar latitude to Dublin.




The following table shows the most active collaborators of VdK sorted by the number of their contributions in 1909. The high number of contributions is mainly due to scientific reviews of national novelties. The internist Izrael Fels, who, like Mikołajski, was based in Lviv and was already actively involved in Głos Lekarzy, ranks first. Fels frequently reviewed articles from Polish and German medical journals, but he also wrote reviews of English, Italian, French, and Russian publications in all disciplines; 97 of his articles were reviews and a correspondence. The large gap between Fels and L. Jenny is striking. With half as many contributions, the military physician Jenny submitted the second most articles. Jenny’s contributions are exclusively reviews. He covered solely French medical journals but he dealt with all areas. In third place is the Russian physician V. Sobolev from Poltava, who contributed 36 reviews and one correspondence. Sobolev mainly covered Russian medical journals, and he also wrote on all fields. The places of residence of the authors listed here also correspond to the general distribution of the other contributors. Although there were also submissions from Australia, the Philippines, Japan, and the USA, the focus was clearly on East Central Europe and France.


Table 3. Contributors with more than 10 articles in 1909



Contributions in 1909

Izrael Fels

Lviv, Habsburg Empire


L. Jenny

Châlons-sur-Marne, France


V. Sobolev

Poltava, Russian Empire


René Badert

Tours, France


Edmund Sós

Vienna, Habsburg Empire


Wilhelm Róbin

Warsaw, Russian Empire


S. Kanner

Galaţi, Romania



However, no first publications of medical findings took place in VdK. In addition to a review section, the journal mainly collected international submissions to surveys initiated by the editor Mikołajski. The surveys were about more general medical matters, such as medical secrecy or the right to Sunday rest. On the one hand, these surveys were passed on to national medical journals,60 but Mikołajski also used the submissions to enrich his Polish journal Głos Lekarzy with international submissions.


Reviewed journals


The last unit of investigation to be considered is that of the reviewed journals. From Mikołajski’s goals for VdK, it is clear that he wanted to give the internationally underrepresented Polish science a larger potential audience through his journal. It would therefore had been reasonable to assume that, alongside Polish medical journals, journals from other smaller countries would also be represented. However, the following overview shows that mainly Russian and German journals were used as sources for the reviews.




Table 4. Overview of reviewed journals with more than 10 articles



Number of articles reviewed

Vrachebnaya Gazeta (Saint Petersburg)



Deutsche medizinische Wochenzeitschrift (Berlin)



Khirurgiya (Moscow)



Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift (Vienna)



Medicinische Klinik (Berlin)



Przegląd lekarski (Krakow)



Russkiy vrach (Saint Petersburg)




Both the overview of the reviewed journals and the following overview of the source languages show that Mikołajski’s goal was only partially achieved. German, French, and also Russian journal articles reflected the leading nations in medicine at the time, and they also corresponded to the backgrounds of the subscribers and contributors to the journal. However, the fact that Polish articles, of which there were 31, are ahead of English articles, of which there were 17, shows an increase in publication, which can, admittedly, be explained by the small number of English-speaking contributors.

These three examples show the reach and influence of a small and young periodical from the province of Galicia. After one year, VdK was able to build a functioning and coordinated editorial team. The two most important units, subscribers and contributors, were mainly based in East Central Europe, and their involvement with VdK ensured the transfer of medical knowledge and the supply of national findings to a worldwide subscriber base. The analysis of VdK exemplifies a platform for international medical cooperation. Although no medical discoveries were first published in VdK, the strength of the journal lay in the reviews of national findings. The coverage of German, French, and Russian articles made medical news from the countries which were leaders in medical research available to an international audience. The circulation of knowledge was successfully pursued in the medical journals of the Esperanto movement. However, it was mainly smaller nations that benefited from the reproduction of medical research in Esperanto. Since medicine, at least in Central Europe, was often dominated by English, French, and German before World War I, the journals served those who did not speak these languages themselves.

After VdK ceased to be the official organ of TEKA at the end of 1910, it was not until 1912 that a new medical journal in Esperanto was published. Internacia Medicino published two issues in 1911, followed by the Oficiala Bulteno de TEKA from 1911 to 1912, which served more as a newsletter of the association than as a medical journal. The journal Kuracisto, which was published in Warsaw from 1912 onwards, was the last prewar journal until the outbreak of war in 1914 and, like VdK, it was in the hands of Polish Esperanto doctors. After World War I, Internacia Medicina Revuo was published from 1923 onwards, and its successor, Medicina Internacia Revuo, is today the official organ of the Universala Medicina Esperanto Asocio, TEKA’s official successor organization.

Esperanto and the Red Cross

While the Polish Esperanto doctors were primarily involved in the work of the journal, cooperation with the Red Cross was largely in the hands of French Esperantists.61 The French Lieutenant Georges Bayol published a booklet in French on Esperanto and the Red Cross in 1906. In this book, Bayol described the necessity of an international language for the Red Cross. The book also contains basic information on the language and its structure, as well as vocabulary lists and possible conversations in French and Esperanto.62 Records of a gathering of Red Cross members at the international Esperanto congress in Geneva also exist for the same year.63 Bayol spoke at the opening session of the Geneva congress on the introduction of the language within Red Cross societies, pointing out the great benefits of language in the societies.64 At the third working session, he addressed the issue again and proposed that Esperanto should be spoken by Red Cross members who were providing or receiving care. Furthermore, he appealed to the English Esperantists to put the Esperanto question on the agenda at the next International Red Cross Conference in London in 1907.65 The congress supported Bayol’s proposal and published the following resolutions supporting the introduction of Esperanto within the Red Cross:

Considering that because of the variety of languages spoken by the wounded, sick, and nurses in war, the use of Esperanto would facilitate the care of the sick, The Congress expresses the wish that the subject of “The language Esperanto applied for Red Cross Services” be included in the program of the next International Conference of the Red Cross to be held in London in 1907 that one or more Esperantists discuss this subject at the London Conference; that very active propaganda be made for Esperanto in all societies helping those wounded in war.66


A discussion of this request at the London Red Cross Conference in 1907 did not take place, as the request was submitted too late.67 Nevertheless, the efforts of individual Red Cross societies to bring Esperanto into their associations did not stop. In 1908, the Société Française Espéranto-Croix-Rouge (French Esperanto-Red Cross Society, SFECR) was founded concurrently with TEKA.68 Starting with the 1908 World Congress in Dresden, maneuvers were carried out in cooperation with the local Red Cross as part of the congress program to demonstrate that basic medical care was possible in Esperanto. Among the participants were local volunteers, who had had to familiarize themselves with the language in the previous months, as well as congress participants and delegates of the Red Cross. The first of these maneuvers took place in Dresden and was continued in Barcelona and Antwerp in subsequent years. Representing the Red Cross at the Dresden Congress was Adolphe Moynier, son of Red Cross cofounder Gustave Moynier, who acknowledged the serious progress of the language and its uses in various fields. Furthermore, he was positively surprised that, in preparing a Red Cross maneuver, the organizers managed to teach the nurses enough Esperanto in ten lessons to enable them to follow instructions and answer questions.69

The procedure of such an Esperanto Red Cross maneuver is described in detail for the year 1909. During the Barcelona Congress, the participants in this maneuver consisted of members of the Spanish Red Cross and the international congress participants. After being transported to the casualty station, the wounded were questioned and examined by doctors and nurses. The diagnoses and personal data were noted on special cards in Esperanto. The next step involved transport to the field hospital, where the wounded were classified according to their diagnosis cards. The last step was the removal of the wounded. As a result, the exercise was perceived as positive by the whole group. According to the report, there were no difficulties in communication among the different nationalities. Due to the events of the Tragic Week70 in Barcelona in the forefront of the Congress, the language training of the Red Cross participants could only take place to a limited extent, but this was not noticed negatively during the exercise. At the Red Cross specialist meeting held during the Congress, the aspiration to introduce Esperanto to the organization was further discussed. The participants were convinced that the success of the exercise should be communicated. The report also indicated that some Red Cross groups had already offered Esperanto courses to their members. In addition, the Russian Red Cross had advised local committees to introduce courses on Esperanto. The US Secretary of War was also reported to have brought Esperanto to the attention of the National Red Cross.71

At the 9th International Conference of the Red Cross in Washington in 1912, the Esperanto issue was successfully presented. Madame Lardin de Musset from the SFECR presented the advantages of using the language in the Red Cross and reported on successful applications in maneuvers during Esperanto congresses. The speech was supported by an Esperantist from Cuba, who reported on the success of Esperanto in his home country. As the proposal to introduce Esperanto in the Red Cross again had not been registered on the agenda, the conference leader announced that it would be forwarded to the Central Committee of the Red Cross.72 An official endorsement of the language was not offered by the Red Cross until a few years after the war. At the 10th International Conference of the Red Cross in 1921, a resolution was adopted that the national societies should encourage their members to learn Esperanto.73 The cooperation of the Esperanto movement with the Red Cross was welcomed by TEKA and mentioned in many places in its publications. However, it is noticeable that most of the supporters came directly from the French Red Cross and had mainly humanitarian backgrounds. As inventions of the same period, the Red Cross and Esperanto are among many other “idealistic internationalisms” the members of which have often been active in several movements, and their networks overlap in many places.74


TEKA was a typical internationally oriented association of its era. In a globalizing world, Esperanto-minded physicians from Europe were looking for an organization for international exchange. By founding an association, TEKA was able to extend its scope to various continents, especially with the help of medical journals in Esperanto, and it benefited from international meetings through the annual Esperanto World Congresses. TEKA also found its way into international medicine outside the Esperanto world and was presented in medical journals or at medical congresses as a solution to the language problem. Due to horrifying experiences of the war, the introduction of Esperanto into the Red Cross was an important concern. A few years before the outbreak of World War I, several initiatives to establish Esperanto officially as a language within the Red Cross failed. It was not until the tragic events of the war that the delegates voted in favor of the dissemination of Esperanto in the Red Cross in 1921. Though TEKA gave stimuli to the medical world in a few instances, it failed in its attempts to introduce Esperanto as a congress language at the International Medical Congresses in Budapest and London and as a language in the Red Cross. The strength was in providing medical information in Esperanto. This was reflected in the success of the journals and the resulting high number of subscribers during VdK period. The attempt to continue the old heyday with and to compensate for the loss of many members was interrupted by the war.


Printed sources

Anonymous. “Alvokoj de la Komitato” [Appeal of the committee]. Oficiala Bulteno de T.E.K.A. 1, no. 1 (1911): 17.

Anonymous. “An International Language of Medicine.” The British Medical Journal 1, no. 2249 (1904): 320–21.

Anonymous. “Cirkulero al T.E.K.A.-anoj” [Circular letter to TEKA members]. Oficiala Bulteno de T.E.K.A. 1, no. 1 (1911): 1–3.

Anonymous. “Do Kolegów Esperantystów” [To fellow Esperantist]. Głos Lekarzy 6, no. 8 (1908): 6.

Anonymous. “Esperanto.” The British Medical Journal 2, no. 2746 (1913): 427.

Anonymous. “Seventeenth International Medical Congress.” The British Medical Journal 2, no. 2744 (1913): 262–64.

Anonymous. “T.E.K.A.-Anaro” [TEKA Membership]. Internacia Medicino 1, no.1 (1911): 29.

Anonymous. “The International Medical Congress.” The British Medical Journal 1, no. 2349 (1906): 33–35.

Anonymous. “The Sixteenth International Congress of Medicine.” The British Medical Journal 2, no. 2543 (1909): 887–90.

Alexander, Robert. “Kasa Raporto, Por Aprilo 1914-a” [Cash report for April 1914]. Kuracisto 3, no. 6 (1914): 92–93.

Bayol, Georges. Espéranto et Croix-Rouge. Paris: Hachette, 1906.

Brzostowski, Aleksander Bolesław. Adresaro de Polaj Esperantistoj por 1909 [Addressbook of Polish Esperantists for 1909]. Warsaw: Jan Günther, 1909.

Dor, Henri. “Al Sinjoro D-ro Thalwitzer” [To Dr Thalwitzer]. In T.E.K.A.-Jarlibro 1909, edited by Tutmonda Esperanta Kuracista Asocio, 9–11. Kötzschenbroda–Dresden: H. F. Adolf Thalwitzer, 1909.

Dua Universala Kongreso de Esperanto [Second Universal Congress of Esperanto]. Edited by Esperantista Centra Oficejo. Paris: Esperantista Centra Oficejo, 1907.

Jameson Johnston, George, Konstantin Ŝidlovskij, and Karl Weiss. “La centra komitato de T.E.K.A. adresas al ĉiuj asocianoj sekvantan gravan sciigon” [The Central Committee of TEKA addresses to all associates following important notification]. Kuracisto 2, no. 10 (1913): 203–4.

Johnston, George. “Kasa Raporto por Aŭgusto, Septembro kaj Oktobro 1913” [Cash report for August, September, and October 1913]. Kuracisto 2, no. 10 (1913): 204.

Johnston, George. “Kasa Raporto por Septembro kaj Oktobro 1912” [Cash report for September and October 1912]. Kuracisto 1, no. 3 (1912): 47–48.

Krukovski, Samuel. “IV. Kongreso Esperantista en Dresdeno” [IV. Esperantist Congress in Dresden]. Vocho de Kuracistoj 1, no. 8 (1908): 82–86.

Mikołajski, Szczepan. “Organizo de la kuracistoj-esperantistoj” [Organisation of Esperantist physicians]. Vocho de Kuracistoj 1, no. 5 (1908): 45–47.

Moynier, Adolphe. “Raporto de la Internacia Komitato de la Ruĝa Kruco pri la 4-a Kongreso de Esperanto” [Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross at the 4th Esperanto Congress]. In T.E.K.A.-Jarlibro 1909, edited by Tutmonda Esperanta Kuracista Asocio, 43–48. Kötzschenbroda–Dresden: H. F. Adolf Thalwitzer, 1909.

Neuvième Conférence Internationale de la Croix-Rouge. Edited by The American Red Cross. Washington: Judd & Detweiler Inc., 1912.

Róbin, Wilhelm. “Kelkaj vortoj pri T.E.K.A” [Few words about TEKA]. Oficiala Bulteno de T.E.K.A. 1, no. 3 (1911): 53–58.

Róbin, Wilhelm. “Kion ni faris?” [What did we do?]. In T.E.K.A.-Jarlibro 1909, edited by Tutmonda Esperanta Kuracista Asocio, 12–16. Kötzschenbroda–Dresden: H. F. Adolf Thalwitzer, 1909.

Róbin, Wilhelm. “Organizo de kuracistoj-esperantistoj” [Organisation of Esperantist physicians]. Vocho de Kuracistoj 1, no. 6 (1908): 63–64.

Róbin, Wilhelm. “Raporto de la Sekretario” [Report of the Secretary]. Oficiala Bulteno de T.E.K.A. 1, no. 2 (1911): 26.

Rosenberg, Artur H. “Der Internationalismus in der Medizin und Esperanto.” Medizinische Reform 18, no. 19 (1910): 202–4.

Sebert, Hippolyte. “L’esperanto et les Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge.” Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge 3, no. 32 (1921): 803–14.

Ŝirjaev, Ivan. “Medicino” [Medicine]. In Enciklopedio de Esperanto [Encyclopedia of Esperanto], edited by Lajos Kökény, and Vilmos Bleier, 364–65. Budapest: Literatura Mondo, 1933.

Skałkowski, Bronisław, Izrael Fels, and Szczepan Mikołajski. “Odezwa do Lekarzy Esperantystów we wszystkich krajach” [Appeal to Esperantist physicians in all countries]. Głos Lekarzy 21, no. 5 (1907): 4–5.

Statuts et réglement intérieur. Paris: Société Française Espéranto-Croix-Rouge, 1908.

T.E.K.A.–Jarlibro 1909. Edited by Tutmonda Esperanta Kuracista Asocio. Kötzschenbroda–Dresden: H. F. Adolf Thalwitzer, 1909.

T.E.K.A.–Jarlibro 1910. Edited by Tutmonda Esperanta Kuracista Asocio. Kötzschenbroda–Dresden: H. F. Adolf Thalwitzer, 1910.

Thalwitzer, Friedrich. “Esperanto kaj la Ruĝa Kruco” [Esperanto and the Red Cross]. In T.E.K.A.-Jarlibro 1910, edited by Tutmonda Esperanta Kuracista Asocio, 46–51. Kötzschenbroda–Dresden: H. F. Adolf Thalwitzer, 1910.

Tria Universala Kongreso de Esperanto [Third Universal Congress of Esperanto]. Edited by Esperantista Centra Oficejo. Paris: Esperantista Centra Oficejo, 1908.

Vallienne, Henri, and Charles Verax. “Nia programo” [Our program]. Internacia Revuo Medicina 1, no. 1 (1906): 1.

Whitaker, E. T. “An Esperanto Society for Men.” The Lancet 2, no. 4287 (1905): 1292.

Zamenhof, Leon. “Kuracistoj” [Physicians]. In Kvara Universala Kongreso de Esperanto, edited by Esperantista Centra Oficejo, 145–48. Paris: Esperantista Centra Oficejo, 1909.

Zamenhof, Ludwik Lejzer [Dr Esperanto, pseud.]. Dr. Esperanto’s International Language. Translated by Richard Henry Geoghegan. Warsaw, Samenhof, 1889. Originally published as Международный язык (Warsaw: Kelter, 1887).


Secondary literature

Corret, Pierre. “Utilité et possibilité de l’adoption d’une langue internationale auxiliaire en medicine.” PhD diss., University of Paris, 1908.

Garvía, Roberto. Esperanto and Its Rivals: The Struggle for an International Language. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2015.

Geyer, Martin H., and Johannes Paulmann, eds., The Mechanics of Internationalism: Culture, Society, and Politics from the 1840s to the First World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Guerrero, Javier. “Voĉoj de kuracistoj” [Voices of physicians]. Esperantaj Bitoj (blog) November 19, 2020, https://bibliotekoj.org/esperantajbitoj/vocoj-de-kuracistoj.html.

Golec, Józef. Słownik biograficzny esperantystów polskich [Biographical dictionary of Polish Esperantists]. Cieszyn: Józef Golec, 2010.

Gordin, Michael D. Scientific Babel: How Science was done before and after Global English. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Hernández, José María Rodríguez. “The Esperantist Movement’s humanitarian activities in the two World Wars and its relationship with the International Red Cross.” International Review of the Red Cross 36, no. 312 (1996): 315–22.

Hoberman, John. “Toward a Theory of Olympic Internationalism.” Journal of Sport History 22, no. 1 (1995): 1–37.

Huber, Valeska. “Pandemics and the politics of difference: rewriting the history of internationalism through nineteenth-century cholera.” Journal of Global History 15, no. 3 (2020): 394–407. doi: 10.1017/S1740022820000236.

Lavarenne, Christian. “Espéranto: L’idée interne dans ses origines et quelques-unes de ses expressions et manifestations (aide ou obstacle à la diffusion de la langue?).” PhD diss., University of Paris 13, 2012.

Saunier, Pierre-Yves. Transnational History. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013.

Tonkin, Humphrey. “Invented cities, invented languages: Esperanto and urban textuality, 1888–1914.” Language Problems & Language Planning 40, no. 1 (2016): 85–99. doi: 10.1075/lplp.40.1.06ton.

Pilch, Andrzej. “Mikołajski.” In Polski Słownik Biograficzny [Polish biographical dictionary], vol. 21, edited by Sobiesław Mieroszewski, and Władysław Morsztyn, 156–57. Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1976.

Wincewicz, Andrzej, et al. “Language and medicine in the Zamenhof family.” Acta Medico-Historica Adriatica 8, no. 2 (2010): 287–92.

1 The following volume can serve as an introduction and overview of the internationalization of many areas of the time: Geyer and Paulmann, The Mechanics of Internationalism. The idea of an international

2 language also emerged at the time, in particular Volapük from 1880 and the Esperanto descendant Ido from 1907. On science and language around 1900, see: Gordin, Scientific Babel. On the competing artificial languages: Garvía, Esperanto and Its Rivals.

Zamenhof, International Language.

3 Medical internationalism developed particularly in connection with the pandemics of the nineteenth century. This movement of sorts initially urged the fight against the new diseases at international sanitary congresses and led to the institutionalization of the Medical Society. Huber, “Pandemics,” 394–407.

4 Tonkin, “Invented cities,” 92.

5 Brzostowski, Adresaro.

6 Rosenberg, “Internationalismus,” 203. All translations are made by the author.

7 Ŝirjaev, “Medicino,” 364–65.

8 “An International Language,” 321.

9 “The International Medical Congress,” 34.

10 “The Sixteenth International Congress of Medicine,” 888.

11 “Seventeenth International Medical Congress,” 263.

12 “Esperanto,” 427.

13 Whitaker, “An Esperanto Society for Men,” 1292.

14 Dua Universala Kongreso de Esperanto, 111–12.

15 Tria Universala Kongreso de Esperanto, 125–26.

16 Wilhelm Róbin was a committed Esperantist since the establishment of the first Esperanto circle in Warsaw in 1893. There, he was engaged as secretary of the Polish Esperanto Association and official delegate of the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) for Warsaw. At the international level, he participated in the World Congresses in Cambridge (1907) and Krakow (1912), as well as the International Medical Congress in Budapest 1909 and the UEA Congress in Augsburg in 1910. In addition to his TEKA involvement as secretary, he wrote other articles for VdK and later became editor of the periodical Kuracisto. Like many other Warsaw TEKA members, Róbin worked in the Jewish Hospital in Czyste as a gastrologist. During the interwar period, he was the first president of the Polish physicians association and vice president of Polish gastrologist association. Golec, Słownik, 185–87.

17 Dor, “Al Sinjoro,” 10.

18 For technical reasons of the printing house, the first volume was published without a circumflex under the name “Vocho de Kuracistoj.”

19 Róbin, “Organizo de kuracistoj-esperantistoj,” 63–64.

20 Zamenhof, “Kuracistoj,” 145–48.

21 Skałkowski, Fels, Mikołajski, “Odezwa do Lekarzy Esperantystów,” 4–5.

22 Ibid.

23 Mikołajski, “Organizo de la kuracistoj-esperantistoj,” 45–47.

24 Róbin, “Organizo de kuracistoj-esperantistoj,” 63–64.

25 Zamenhof, “Kuracistoj,” 145–48.

26 Krukovski, “IV. Kongreso Esperantista,” 82–86.

27 Zamenhof, “Kuracistoj,” 146.

28 Dor, “Al Sinjoro,” 10.

29 Róbin, “Kion ni faris?” 15.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid., 16.

32 In addition to Ludwik and Leon Zamenhof, their brothers Aleksander and Henryk were also active as doctors and members of TEKA. The brothers’ involvement in TEKA differed in manner and scope: Ludwik attended meetings during the Esperanto Congresses as honorary president, but he did not hold executive positions. Leon was honorary consul of TEKA and wrote for VdK. Aleksander contributed to the journal Kuracisto in 1913. No particular involvement can be ascertained on the part of Henryk, nor can it be proven whether he was still a member of TEKA after 1910. T.E.K.A.-Jarlibro 1909, 41. See also: Wincewicz et al., “Language and medicine,” 287–92.

33 T.E.K.A.-Jarlibro 1909, 19.

34 Ibid., 19–23.

35 T.E.K.A.-Jarlibro 1910, 13–15.

36 Ibid., 15–21.

37 “Alvokoj de la Komitato,” 17.

38 The Spesmilo was an Esperanto currency where 1 Spesmilo was the equivalent of 0.5 US Dollar, 2.50 Swiss Francs, or 1 Russian Rouble. Within the Esperanto movement, international payments often took place via the Ĉekbanko Esperantista (Esperantist Cheque Bank), which undertook banking transactions with the Spesmilo in London from 1907 to 1917.

39 Róbin, “Kelkaj vortoj,” 58.

40 Johnston, “Kasa Raporto,” 48.

41 Ibid., 204.

42 Jameson Johnston, Ŝidlovskij and Weiss, “La centra komitato de T.E.K.A.,” 203–4.

43 Alexander, “Kasa Raporto,” 93.

44 The map shown here is based on TEKA yearbooks from 1909 and 1910. The membership lists were converted into a database on the basis of which this map was made using Geographic Information Systems. I conducted my research at the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History at the University of St Andrews. Many scholars argue for the analysis of spaces and the use of transnational history as a point of view, and they support the use of maps and other visualizations. My broader project links these strands and applies them to technical methods in practice. By creating different maps, this work combines the concept of space with the perspective of transnational history. This is a novel blend of approaches and goes beyond previous methodical work and closes an existing gap in historical research. Based on membership lists, it is possible to link individuals with their places of residence and thereby represent the distribution within a town, a region, or globally. Despite the recent rise of interest in transnational spaces and networks, visualizations on this basis have never been done in this way for a historical movement. In a heuristic manner, the sparse information concerning names, addresses, and professions can result in extensive networks. Pierre-Yves Saunier also confirms this benefit, pointing out the importance of maps as historical tools. He argues that maps would help further understandings of the topographical dimension of flows in the world and that they unravel the intra-national process of centralization. Furthermore, maps can frame the analytical and narrative process and serve as an effective means of understanding and narration. See: Saunier, Transnational History, 126–27.

45 Krukovski, “IV. Kongreso Esperantista,” 84.

46 Ibid.

47 “T.E.K.A.-Anaro,” 29.

48 Italicized in the original.

49 Róbin, “Raporto, 26.

50 “Cirkulero al T.E.K.A.-anoj,” 1–3.

51 Ibid.

52 Vallienne, Verax, “Nia programo,” 1.

53 Corret, “Utilité et possibilité,” 71.

54 Ibid.

55 All issues of VdK have now been digitalized. The first volume is available in the online collection of the Austrian National Library. The other volumes can be found on the site of the Catalan Esperanto library Ramon Molera Pedrals.

56 Szczepan Mikołajski was a Polish physician from Krakow who was also active as a politician and journalist. Since 1902, he was working in Lviv, where he founded the journal Głos Lekarzy, which he published for twelve years. Furthermore, he worked as a journalist for different local and medical journals. It is not known when he became an Esperantist, but from 1907, he showed sympathy with the movement in his journal. From 1908 to 1911, he was a committee member of the Lviv Esperanto society and also their vice president. He served as a treasurer of TEKA in 1910 and was actively involved in the organizing committee of the Esperanto World Congress in Krakow in 1912. Pilch, “Mikołajski,” 156–57; Golec, Słownik, 145–46.

57 “Do Kolegów Esperantystów,” 6.

58 This map shows the subscribers to VdK in 1909. Over the course of the year, the journal published extracts from the list of subscribers in each issue. I incorporated these entries into a database on the basis of which this map was created.

59 This term was invented by Dr. Bernhard Struck at a joint presentation on Up and Down the Scales. Visualising the Esperanto Movement around 1900 at the Digital Humanities seminar at the University of Manchester on February 27, 2020.

60 In 1911, a Survey on the Participation of Doctors in Duels was published, which found its way into French, German, Bohemian, Polish, Russian, and Spanish medical journals. Javier Guerrero, “Voĉoj de kuracistoj,” Esperantaj Bitoj (blog) November 19, 2020, https://bibliotekoj.org/esperantajbitoj/vocoj-de-kuracistoj.html.

61 For overviews of Esperanto’s role in the Red Cross, see: Sebert, “L’esperanto”; Hernández, “The Esperantist Movement’s humanitarian activities”; Lavarenne, “Espéranto,” 684–839.

62 Bayol, Espéranto et Croix-Rouge. Alongside the original French edition, the brochure has been translated into seven other languages.

63 Dua Universala Kongreso de Esperanto, 115.

64 Ibid., 16.

65 Ibid., 22–23.

66 Ibid., 29.

67 Sebert, “L’esperanto,” 805. The draft proposal to the London Conference can be found ibid., 808–12.

68 Statuts et réglement intérieur.

69 Moynier, “Raporto de la Internacia Komitato,” 43–48.

70 The Tragic Week was a series of violent confrontations between the Spanish army and different groups, such as anarchists, socialists, and republicans from July 26 to August 2 in Barcelona.

71 Thalwitzer, “Esperanto kaj la Ruĝa Kruco,” 46–51.

72 Neuvième Conference internationale, 168–70.

73 Hernández, “The Esperantist Movement’s Humanitarian Activities,” 316.

74 John Hoberman describes these idealistic internationalisms in an article and refers especially to the personal overlap and participation in various international movements such as the Olympic Movement, Scouting, and Esperanto. Hoberman, “Toward a Theory.”


Map 1. TEKA members around the world in 1909 (black dots) and new members in 1910 (white dots).


Table 1. Development of TEKA membership 1909–1913


Map 2. Global distribution of VdK subscribers in 1909


Table 5. Original languages of articles reviewed



Reproduction between Health and Sickness: Doctors’ Attitudes to Reproductive Issues in Interwar Czechoslovakia*

Veronika Lacinová Najmanová
University of Pardubice
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 301-327 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.301

The study examines how doctors in interwar Czechoslovakia intervened in reproductive issues and related areas of life in an attempt to combat the declining birthrate, a trend that was considered a threat to society. Inspired by Foucault’s concept of medicalization and biopower, through the analysis of medical literature and articles from the press in the interwar period, I will demonstrate how Czechoslovak doctors, not only but especially under the influence of eugenics, foregrounded the categories of health and sickness in order to assert definitions of “correct” forms of reproduction while attempting to stigmatize and discourage forms of reproduction that they considered detrimental to the health of society or the nation. The aim of the study is not only to expand the body of knowledge about the activities and attitudes of Czechoslovak doctors in the interwar period but also to call attention to the still current topic of the political background of reproductive policy.

Keywords: reproduction, medicalization, doctors, eugenics, birth control, interwar Czechoslovakia

“Reproduction cannot be left to mere urges; here too, rational considerations should play a decisive role. Reproduction is no longer merely a private matter. On the contrary—it is a matter of vital interest to society and the state.”1

These words were written in 1931 by the Czech doctor and biologist Vladislav Růžička2 in his book Eugenická profylaxa (Eugenic prophylaxis).3 Although reproduction may seem an intensely intimate matter, in the first half of the twentieth century (and indeed even today) it was not a purely private concern; human reproduction was subject to oversight and monitoring by various experts who, to a substantial extent, defined how people could and should reproduce without (allegedly) endangering the interests of society. Chief among these experts were doctors, who attempted to influence reproductive behavior, shape reproductive policy, and determine who should or should not have children and under what circumstances. In most cases, these doctors had the purest motives. They were striving to promote a healthy society and nation, and they considered themselves in possession of an authority emanating from science, which appeared to offer unlimited possibilities.

In this article, I will show that in the background of the attitude of Czechoslovak doctors to reproductive issues, especially abortion and contraception, we can find more a reflection of the political, social, and national problems of the interwar period and the efforts to face them, than a reflection of the state of scientific knowledge at the time. My theoretical and methodological approach draws on Foucault’s concept of power, especially the relationship between power and knowledge, and on the critical approach of feminist and gender studies, which were among the first to question the objectivity of the sciences, including medical science. Both approaches have made it possible in the past for historiography and branches of the social sciences to redefine or completely reject the earlier idea of the development of medical knowledge as a process moving from backwardness or ignorance to general wellbeing and progress. I consider the approach to history based on the deconstruction of power relations and including the perspective of not only privileged but also marginal social groups highly inspiring even today. In this article, therefore, I offer a critical analysis of the medical discourse on the issue of reproduction in an effort to reveal often less clear political (as well as religious, nationality, etc.) motives, which, as shown below, played a crucial role in doctors’ approaches to questions associated with reproduction. The sources on which my analysis is based capture both the professional medical (and eugenic) discourse and the efforts that were made to acquaint the general public with some of these ideas and their implications. The first group consists of articles published in professional medical journals, professional medical books, and textbooks and the second of materials which were essentially intended to serve as informational guides on sexual health, e.g., manuals for individuals or spouses, in which doctors shed light on various topics related to sexual life and reproduction.

The Role of the Doctor in the Medicalized World

The roots of doctors’ influence over reproductive issues and reproductive policy can be traced back to the Enlightenment, which saw the origin of processes that boosted the scientific prestige of medicine and enhanced the importance of the medical profession. It was also during the Enlightenment era that states began to strengthen their influence over medicine. Faced with a range of social changes, absolutist states realized the importance of their populations, and they began to implement new forms of control. States were keen to ensure that their populations were healthy and physically fit, and they also strove to maintain high population levels. Social control (including control of health-related issues) was substantially strengthened, and human reproduction ceased to be perceived as a merely a private matter. Instead, it became the concern of the state or society as a whole. States sought to ensure that their populations were large enough to provide a substantial labor force, produce an adequate supply of military recruits, and ensure sufficient economic demand. This led to the emergence of a doctrine known as populationism, which viewed the population and demographic behavior as central concerns of the state. The aim was not merely to maximize the size of the population, but also to ensure its “quality.” This approach made doctors increasingly important; in many countries (including the Czech-speaking provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy), the populationist doctrine was incorporated into the concept of state health policy.4

People and their bodies were newly subjected to systematic examination and supervision by the medical profession, which to a large extent became a tool for the implementation of state policy. The state was now responsible for the health of its population, and doctors were called on not merely to treat the individual bodies of their patients, but also to contribute to the wellbeing of society, which was viewed as a living organism. This set of changes, which accompanied the transition from a traditional society to a modern society, has been analyzed in detail by Michel Foucault5 from the perspectives of the concepts of medicalization and biopower.6 Thanks to the gradual medicalization of the community, a process in which medicine began to intervene in areas that had previously been felt to lie outside its domain,7 there was a significant change in the status of doctors, whose social prestige and influence increased significantly, but there was also a redefinition of the concept of health and disease. The health of society, analogous to the health of the individual, has become an ideal, and the notion of disease gradually evolved into a metaphor for everything that was deemed unnatural and therefore had to be fought against.8 Thanks to “the connection of the modern biopolitical disciplinary apparatus with the idea of defending society against ‘risk factors’,” a notion was created of a struggle against enemies that disrupt the health of society.9 These metaphors of sickness became increasingly aggressive, and the enemies they were used to construct also changed.10 What remained consistent, on the other hand, was the idea of medical science as a protector against them. Medicine integrated several socially undesirable phenomena, through their connections to the concepts of health and disease, into the sphere of its competence, which enabled it to exert its influence on them under the pretext of treatment. Doctors themselves often helped to construct these dangers and the associated enemies, fueling the fears thus evoked.11 These consequences of the medicalization of society can be deconstructed in relation to the declining birthrate and the associated fear of depopulation, a process resulting from the reproductive change that had affected many European countries, including Czechoslovakia.

A new dimension to the process of medicine’s entry into more and more social spheres came with the emergence of nation states and the related idea of so-called national health. Metaphors of health and disease blended with the concept of nation and national identity. Health concerns and eugenically motivated concerns about the “quality” of future generations penetrated the ethical and moral foundations of the whole project of nation building.12 The emerging states also sought to protect their national identities through public health and medical science, which was seen as having a dual role. First, it helped define the nation and national identity on a biological basis, and second, it oversaw a large area of public health. According to Promitzer, Trubeta, and Turda “one of the most important corollaries to this development was the physician’s extensive social and national involvement: a physician was now more than just a medical doctor caring for patients. He (and increasingly she) gradually became an instrument of state politics while medicine became a medium for addressing moral and ethical questions pertaining to the health of the nation and society.”13

Eugenics, Depopulation, and Degeneration

The growing influence of doctors not only on reproduction but on many other areas of human life was based not only on their role as protectors of national health, but also on the authority that science enjoyed in society. According to Robert Proctor,14 science represented a haven of certainty and stability in the turbulent, uncertain times around the turn of the twentieth century, when society and politics were gripped by chaos, and doubt was increasingly being cast on old certainties. The development of statistics and the increasing importance of classification as a method, which had become widespread in the sciences under the influence of Charles Darwin’s publications, made it possible “better” to measure, evaluate, and subsequently hierarchize people and social phenomena.15 The principles of statistics, genetics, and natural selection were also used to construct a (pseudo)science which came to play an important role in reproductive issues and reproductive politics: eugenics. Eugenics was a form of thinking which set out to combat unfavorable demographic trends and improve both the quantity and quality of the population by applying knowledge from genetics. It was developed during the final third of the nineteenth century by the English scientist Francis Galton; in simple terms, its aim was to breed people based on the principles of heredity and natural selection.16

Eugenic ideas spread throughout the world in the first half of the twentieth century, and although eugenics had its own specifics in different countries, we can indeed speak of a movement of ideas that affected a large part of the world in some form.17 Alongside England, the USA and Germany are considered to be the most important centers of eugenic thinking, but eugenic ideas held significant sway in Scandinavia and South America. Eugenics has also been echoed in Central and Eastern European countries, although, as Paul Weindling points out, eugenic ideas were largely influenced by national contexts, leading to great differences in the social and medical measures taken by eugenics. In the Czech-speaking provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy, eugenics began to take root at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the doctor and university professor Ladislav Haškovec18 started to organize various activities aiming to raise awareness of eugenics among both experts and non-experts. He canvassed doctors in an attempt to gain support for his proposal to introduce legislation requiring compulsory medical examinations prior to marriage.19 Česká eugenická společnost (Czech Eugenic Society) was founded in 1915. It cannot be said that all doctors in the interwar period were followers of eugenic ideas, nor is it true that all members of the Czech eugenic society were doctors,20 but eugenic discourse was widespread in the medical profession in the interwar period, and doctors formed a substantial part of the Czech eugenic movement.21 The close connection between medicine and eugenics applies not only to the Czech space. In the context of eugenics and racial science in Central and Southeastern Europe, there were mainly doctors who, according to Marius Turda and Weidling, helped to establish these ideological trends as modern scientific disciplines.22

Eugenicists also tried to establish themselves as a national movement in this area. Unlike the USA or Germany, where eugenics was strongly intertwined with racial theories and the central element of its discourse was the concept of race or ethnicity, in Czechoslovakia and Central and Southeastern Europe, the concept of the nation strengthened and was strengthened by the eugenics discourse.23 Eugenics became an integral part of the process of building a modern nation state.24 In Czechoslovakia, the protection of and support for the nation’s alleged biological quality was a central concern for the eugenic movement throughout the 1920s, and notions of national wellbeing underlay all eugenically motivated debates on reproduction and demographic issues in general.25 The motif of an impending threat to a small nation which is in danger of being absorbed by larger (and more fertile) nations is common in the context of eugenic discourse, as shown by this statement: “For small nations, it is particularly essential to ensure that the population remains at a certain level. A sharp drop in the population of any nation represents a threat to the very foundations of its existence, and all the more so if the nation is a small one.”26 This motif appears repeatedly the in medical literature and is one of the proofs of the influence of eugenic ideas on medical discourse. This idea appeared repeatedly in the medical literature of the period.

The statement cited above offers an example of the nationalist subtext of eugenic thinking in Czechoslovakia and a reference to one of the biggest problems with which eugenicists dealt, and not only in Czechoslovakia: the decline in birth rates and the related fear of depopulation. In the nineteenth century, most European countries (except for France, where this process began as early as the late eighteenth century) began to show signs of changing demographic behavior and a gradual decline in birth rates. The decline continued in the first half of the twentieth century, and fears of depopulation were exacerbated by the losses suffered during World War I. The low birthrate led to fears that there would be a shortage of men fit to serve in the military, and these fears were further stoked by the aforementioned nationalist or racialist concerns that the nation would die out or the quality of the race would suffer. As a consequence, concerns over the declining birthrate, the reduction of the population’s biological quality, and the waning desire to have children were leitmotifs running through most of the medical literature on this subject in the interwar years.

These anxieties concerning depopulation were not unfounded. Czechoslovakia had experienced one of the sharpest drops in the birthrate of any European country. Before World War I, the Czechs had the second lowest birthrate in the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy (after the Germans). In the interwar period, Czechoslovakia’s birthrate was somewhat boosted by the incorporation of Slovakia and the eastern province of Subcarpathian Ruthenia (now in Ukraine), where it was traditionally higher, yet the rate was still just 14.9 newborns per 1,000 people, an even lower proportion than in France, which was considered to be a cautionary example of depopulation because it was the first country where the birthrate had begun to decline.27 Despite this situation, Czechoslovakia’s interwar governments, although they repeatedly discussed the problem, did not adopt a comprehensive population policy and did not take comprehensive steps to encourage a higher birthrate; they merely introduced small-scale measures offering support to families in general, such as various financial benefits or the expansion of health insurance coverage.28 The worrying demographic trend during the interwar years thus offered fertile ground for various proposals seeking to increase the birthrate, criticisms of deliberate birth control, and the stigmatization of those who were thought to be contributing to the declining birthrate.29

Although the declining birthrate was a reality, doctors often played a key role in constructing it as an undesirable or even catastrophic phenomenon. According to Cornelie Usborn,30 who has studied reproductive policy in the Weimar Republic, doctors began to raise the alarm around the turn of the twentieth century, when the first major drop in the birthrate was recorded. They constructed a narrative of national crisis, ranking the declining birthrate among “illnesses” such as tuberculosis, alcoholism, and venereal diseases, i.e., illnesses which had to be treated before their impact on the organism of the nation became fatal. This was all taking place at a time when the declining birthrate was still being balanced out by the decline in mortality and thus was not yet causing the overall population to stagnate or fall.31 Miloslav Szabó, in his study of abortions in the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia, reached similar conclusions on the role of doctors in presenting the declining birthrate as a threat to society. In his opinion, the process of building the Czechoslovak state after the World War I was strongly affected by fears of a declining population, and texts by Slovak doctors, especially those intended for the general public, depicted an almost apocalyptic vision of the collapse of society, partly as a consequence of abortions.32

In addition to the fear of population decline, eugenic discourse was also based on the fear of an alleged decline in the quality of the population, which was reflected in the concept of degeneration and the problem of differential fertility.33 It is worth emphasizing, in this context, that convictions concerning the superiority of some people (or “peoples”) over others thus lay at the heart of eugenics from the outset. Eugenics followed an interpretation Darwin’s idea of natural selection according to which only the strongest survive in the struggle for life. The result was that at the very core of eugenics was the idea of biologically (genetically) determined inequalities among humans. The classification of people into groups which allegedly represented a healthy gene pool and groups which were allegedly genetically pathological and thus inferior was also reflected in attitudes towards reproduction, where the goal of so-called positive eugenics was to motivate “quality” individuals to give birth to more children, while the goal of negative eugenics was to reduce or prevent reproduction of allegedly inferior individuals. Differential fertility, it was believed, would lead to a reduction in the quality of the population, which could lead to degeneration and the extinction of the population.

Alongside anxieties concerning depopulation, the notion of degeneration became another element of the eugenic discourse, and it appears in the medical literature, in not as saliently. The most common definition of this fundamental concept in eugenicist discourse drew on the principles of Darwinism. According to these ideas, degeneration meant a descent to the lowest level of social development (in other words, the opposite of evolution), and in more general terms, it referred to the threat of physiological, psychological, and social decline. With regard to reproductive issues, degeneration was felt to be closely associated with a declining birthrate, and individuals or entire societies suffering from degeneration were felt to be characterized by a decreased ability to conceive, bear, and adequately provide for children. This process was seen as being manifested in the inability of men and (mainly) women to carry out their reproductive “duties” or, even worse, in their unwillingness to do so. Degeneration was presented as a form of societal decline, as something undesirable which had to be prevented, and also as a deviation of social progress from its correct path, a path that was frequently viewed as the only natural path. In this context, eugenicists created the notion that healthy people who for whatever reason refused to perform their reproductive role were in fact contributing to the decline of society and had to be corrected. It is worth emphasizing that this category of internal enemies consisted mainly of women,34 especially women who deviated from the traditional image of femininity, in other words emancipated women who were students or professionals, as well as women who deliberately restricted their fertility.35 This gender-conditioned denigration of a certain group of women who were viewed as disruptive to the social order due to their refusal to perform their reproductive role also appeared in the medical literature and was undoubtedly related not only to eugenics but, more generally, to the rigid approach of the medical profession to the social role of women.

Healthy Breeding to Save the Nation

Let us now turn to the Czechoslovak doctors’ attitudes to selected reproductive issues in the interwar period and how these attitudes were influenced by fears of the declining birthrate and other threats outlined above. The medicalization of reproduction and concerns about the future of the nation made it possible in the interwar period to create and maintain the idea that doctors were the most competent people to decide who should and should not have children. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the establishment of obstetrics as a new medical discipline offers one important example of doctors’ involvement and intervention in reproductive issues, and in the first half of the twentieth century, the medicalization of reproduction was reflected in issues of fertility control, in particular in the question of the permissibility of abortions and contraception.

In Czechoslovakia as in other European countries, the first half of the twentieth century was a time when legislation on abortion was a major subject of debate. There were various attempts to decriminalize abortion or to expand the range of circumstances under which an abortion could be carried out legally. The main reason why abortion became a focal issue for politicians and activists was the high number of illegally performed abortions and the complications that arose because of this practice, particularly the supposed negative effects on women’s health and the risk of damage to the fetus if the abortion was unsuccessful. It was later estimated that between 70,000 and 100,000 illegal abortions were performed annually in Czechoslovakia in the interwar period,36 only a very small percentage of which were discovered, mainly those that led to complications, forcing women to seek medical help or, in the worst cases, causing their deaths. The high number of clandestine abortions was due to the fact that they were illegal. It was a criminal offence both to undergo an abortion and to perform one. In 1918, the newly formed Czechoslovak state adopted the Austrian Criminal Code of 1852, Section 144 of which defined abortion as a crime and stipulated a prison sentence of between five and ten years. The only exception when an abortion could be performed legally was the existence of medical grounds in cases in which the mother’s life would be at risk if an abortion were not performed. However, the number of prison sentences imposed was far lower than the number of abortions actually carried out, and this helped motivate efforts towards decriminalization.37

In interwar Czechoslovakia, six amendments to the Criminal Code were proposed which would have decriminalized abortion, mainly by social democratic members of parliament (both of Czech and German nationality). The greatest support was enjoyed by a 1931 proposal submitted by the social democratic Minister of Justice Alfréd Meissner, which defined abortions as mere misdemeanors (i.e., not criminal offences) and specified circumstances under which they would be entirely legal. These circumstances included not only medical considerations but also social and eugenic concerns.38 The proposed amendment sparked widespread debate not only among experts (demographers, economists, and lawyers), but also among the members of the general public. Doctors played a key role in this debate, though the greatest point of contention between the proponents and opponents of decriminalization was not the definition of medical circumstances, but the social circumstances under which abortion was to be deemed legal. Most doctors did not dispute that in some cases it was necessary to perform an abortion on medical grounds. Devoutly Catholic doctors were an exception to this, as they considered any abortion whatsoever to represent the murder of an unborn child. If failure to perform an abortion endangered the mother’s life, they argued, her death in such a case would be worthy of admiration. The Slovak doctor Emanuel Filo,39 in his inaugural address after he was appointed to serve as the Rector of Comenius University in Bratislava, addressed the need to protect motherhood, quoting from Pope Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical Casti connubii (Of Chaste Wedlock), in which the Pope “expressed sympathy with those heroic mothers whose performance of their maternal duties threatened their health and lives.”40 Filo also rejected the notion that in cases in which the mother was seriously ill (e.g. with eclampsia) it was necessary to terminate her pregnancy. The difference in opinion between Slovak and Czech doctors, which was based primarily on a different degree of Christian conservatism,41 illustrates the fact that abortion was not viewed solely as a medical issue, even though doctors attempted to present it as such. Doctors were invited to participate in debates on abortion because they were seen as being able to contribute scientific expertise, conclusions, and recommendations to political representatives, but they were still frequently motivated by religious, nationalist, or entirely personal considerations. The economic aspects of abortion should also not be overlooked. In debates on the issue, the advocates of decriminalization sometimes criticized doctors for opposing the expansion of the range of circumstances that would allow abortions to be performed legally, accusing doctors of being motivated solely by a desire for personal enrichment, as clandestine abortions represented a source of income for them. Illegal abortions were not only performed by midwives, medical students, and unqualified quacks, but also by doctors, mainly for wealthy clients who could afford to pay substantial sums for their professional services and their discretion.

In general, in the interwar period, Czechoslovak doctors took a rather conservative approach to the issue of abortion.42 A large majority of them opposed any expansion of the range of circumstances under which abortions could be performed legally, insisting that the only permissible circumstances should be those involving a threat to the mother’s life or health. Medical associations were asked to issue statements of opinion on the various proposals for decriminalization, and they always opposed the proposals.43 The arguments against decriminalization mainly emphasized the health risks of abortions, even when the procedure was performed by a qualified professional in a proper health care facility. Doctors argued that their mission was to cure people, not to destroy life in its early phase, especially when doing so represented a substantial risk to the woman’s life or health. The socioeconomic reasons that were emphasized by the supporters of decriminalization, i.e., the argument that a woman should not be forced to bear a child for which she would be unable to provide care, thus bringing poverty and other difficulties upon her family, were rejected by doctors, who stated that it was not their role to assess their patients’ social situation. However, behind this stance one discerns the doctors’ fear that the acceptance of social or eugenic circumstances as valid reasons for performing abortions would lead to a dramatic increase in the number of abortions, accompanied by a further decline in the birthrate. The fear of depopulation was presented both explicitly and implicitly in debates on the legalization of abortions, and appeals to doctors not to force women to rely on the services of unqualified quacks were ignored. None of the proposals for decriminalization was approved, and it can be assumed that this was partly due to the stance taken by doctors (who were viewed as experts on reproduction and national health) combined with the emphasis on the health risks to the mother even in cases of abortions that were performed by professionals.

Contraception for the (Non)Wealthy Only

While Czech doctors’ stance on abortion remained relatively consistent throughout most of the first half of the twentieth century, their stance on contraception shifted substantially. In the first decades of the century, contraception remained something of a taboo subject, and it did not receive much attention from the medical profession. However, in the 1930s it moved increasingly to the forefront of the debate. This was probably partly due to the increasing sophistication of contraceptive methods, and it also reflected the widely discussed issue of abortions, as contraception was presented as a more desirable alternative to abortion. In the early years of the twentieth century, doctors generally opposed the use of contraception, taking the stance that the only acceptable form of birth control was sexual abstinence.44 Medical handbooks aimed at the members of the general public often contained passages on the irrevocable damage to health caused by the artificial restriction of fertility, and their authors also emphasized the risks that contraception posed to the morality of society. Bohuslav Horák,45 the author of the book Pohlavní zdravověda pro muže i ženy v manželství (Sexual health for men and women in marriage), which was issued in five editions within a period of thirteen years, made the following contentions:

The consequences of unnatural sexual intercourse, when care is taken to avoid impregnation, are very numerous, and often very sad too. Sicknesses of the body and nerves result, especially disorders of the sexual organs. Mental emptiness, an unwillingness to engage in normal sexual intercourse, which does not bring a pleasant sensation, leading to nervous disorders, especially hysteria in women.46

However, the situation changed in the 1930s, and doctors increasingly rejected sexual abstinence as a way of avoiding conception. It is telling that Bohuslav Horák used the word “unnatural” to describe sexual intercourse in which contraception is used, yet just a few years later, one of his colleagues, the renowned Czech gynecologist Antonín Ostrčil,47 used the same word to describe sexual abstinence. In a gynecology textbook for doctors and medical students, Ostrčil noted: “Sexual abstinence is often recommended for purposes of contraception […] That advice has absolutely no practical value, and is offered by people who either have not the slightest idea about human life or who are sexually abnormal […] so I consider it unnecessary even to consider this completely unnatural advice.”48 This shift, which reflects a shift in sexual morality, the gradual secularization of society, and the development of sexology again demonstrates that doctors’ opinions on what behavior was natural or unnatural (pathological and undesirable) were based not only on objective scientific knowledge but also on different motivations, which were cloaked in the terminology of health and sickness in order to lend them greater legitimacy and urgency.

This shift in doctors’ stance towards the notion of sexual abstinence as the only acceptable way to prevent unwanted pregnancy heralded the Czech gynecological community’s acceptance of contraception as a subject for discussion, and it is also reflected in the marked rise in the frequency with which contraception was mentioned in Czech medical literature. Nevertheless, it is not tenable to state that doctors became defenders or proponents of birth control during the 1930s. In fact, their stance was highly ambivalent, and they also took a selective approach both to the means of contraception and to the people who should use those means. Condoms were the first contraceptive device to be accepted by doctors; they were considered an important weapon in the struggle against venereal diseases. Alongside cervical caps, condoms were viewed by Czechoslovak gynecologists as the most effective ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies. At the lowest end of the scale in doctors’ preferences was the withdrawal method (coitus interruptus). This was undoubtedly the most widespread method of birth control (if we disregard abortion), mainly because it required no equipment and cost nothing. Despite this, or perhaps for this very reason, doctors considered it not only highly ineffective, but above all damaging to health. Without exception, all medical publications about contraception rejected coitus interruptus as an entirely inappropriate and harmful method of birth control. Of course, the question is whether doctors’ aversion to this method was based on genuine knowledge about its supposed negative effects on health or whether it was in fact motivated by an attempt to discredit the most widespread contraceptive method. If doctors were battling against depopulation while at the same time seeking to retain their influence over the domain of contraception, then they may have viewed coitus interruptus as a method that caused great demographic damage while also, by its very nature, lying beyond their influence.

I will now explore how medical discourse in the interwar period approached the issue of who should use contraception and under what circumstances. Doctors were relatively united in their support for the use of contraception in cases in which pregnancy would cause substantial health risks for the woman or could result in damage to the fetus or the birth of a child with a hereditary disease or disorder. In such cases, most doctors agreed, as in the case of abortions: the life of the mother took priority over the potential life of a child. The use of contraception was also viewed as appropriate on eugenic grounds if a child was likely to be born with a mental or physical handicap, generally for hereditary reasons. From a eugenic point of view, however, contraception was an ambivalent matter. Its uncontrolled spread could mean a sharp decline in birth rates and thus have a dysgenic effect. However, its appropriate use, especially by individuals seen as unfit for reproduction, could, on the contrary, lead to a reduction in the number of inferior children. Thus, the question of who should use contraception and under what circumstances was crucial. The abovementioned Vladislav Růžička, in his book Péče o zdatnost potomstva (Caring for the fitness of our progeny), notes that “those who artificially prevent pregnancy are acting incorrectly and harming society as a whole. The artificial restriction of fertility damages the nation more severely than hereditary diseases.”49 However, in a different publication, he recommends the use of contraceptive devices for preventing pregnancy even mentioning specific types of contraception.50 Here too, it is evident that support for or rejection of contraception was not primarily rooted in medical considerations, but in the purpose and manner of its use. It was acceptable and desirable to use contraception to limit the reproductive potential of individuals who, in the eyes of members of the medical profession, were medically unfit or inferior (see below).51 By contrast, (many) doctors opposed the use of contraception by people who were considered the most suitable breeders. In such cases, contraception was viewed as an evil which would lead to what was seen as the decline of the human race or the extinction of the nation.52

Doctors also exercised their influence over reproductive issues by defining the types of women who should not use it. However, this process of definition was not rooted exclusively in medical considerations, as might be expected; rather it took a class-based or eugenic approach, and again it, was shaped by the desire to combat the low birthrate and fear of differential fertility. Contraception was viewed as a logical way for women from the lowest echelons of society to prevent the birth of children who would merely place a further economic burden on the family (and who might also have led to hereditary problems in future generations), but contraception was viewed as entirely unsuitable for middle-class women. Doctors not only refused to accept the use of contraception by middle-class women, they also repeatedly denigrated, in their publications, middle-class women who expressed an interest in contraception. For poor women, they argued, a reduction in the number of offspring was understandable and forgivable, but for women from more prosperous backgrounds it was merely a form of selfishness that could not be tolerated. Women were accused of desiring luxury at the expense of fulfilling their parental duties. They were condemned for their alleged vanity, which caused them to fear the impact of pregnancy on their looks; they were criticized for wanting an easy life, which in the worst case scenario would lead to childlessness, a state which was presented (especially in nationalist contexts) as a form of “heresy.” František Lašek,53 for instance, wrote the following:

In our country too, the declining birthrate is becoming a pressing national problem. In our society too, there is a desire for a comfortable life. Out of selfishness, spouses avoid having children, and they view those with several children as unwise and careless, robbing their children of their inheritance, lacking in restraint. We should consider that no political crisis or economic slump—both always merely temporary situations—can threaten our nation as much as inactivity by parents, and especially mothers. Let us learn from the history of now-extinct nations, including those Slavic peoples who are close to us!54


The final part of Lašek’s admonition clearly illustrates that this condemnation of women who used contraception despite not suffering from any health issues should again be viewed in the context of a concern for the quality and quantity of the population. Lašek’s statements, which were not unusual at the time, represent a response to the fact that contraception was substantially more common among the middle and upper classes, as well as a reflection of the already mentioned fear of degeneration, which might ensue if the lower classes (whom eugenicists considered inferior) were to have markedly higher birthrates than the middle and upper classes (considered superior). It is also certain that the fear of the declining birthrate was influenced by anxiety over the fact that contraception enabled sexual intercourse to be separated from the act of procreation (conception). In the interwar period, this separation was still considered the beginning of a process of moral decay that would ultimately engulf the nation. In 1932, František Pachner55 wrote a textbook for trainee midwives in which he warned them only to give contraceptives to a woman who is “sick or exhausted by childbearing, or who already has so many children that she could not support another, etc. They [i.e., the midwives] should not give advice which promotes an impure life or wantonness.”56

It is thus evident that doctors based their decisions on distinct categories which they themselves fashioned. They differentiated between women for whom contraceptives could be prescribed and recommended and women for whom it was not only unacceptable to prescribe contraceptives, but whose efforts to prevent pregnancy were viewed as contemptible and immoral. This second category comprised healthy women living under prosperous circumstances, as well as women who had not yet had (what was seen as) enough children. In publications about sexuality and marriage dating from the 1950s and 1960s, we can often observe the argument that young spouses are not yet in a position to afford to have a first child, or that they are not yet sufficiently mature to do so, and as a consequence, they may want to use contraceptives. However, during the interwar period, doctors took no account whatsoever of the possibility that a healthy, married, and childless woman may want to avoid pregnancy; such a situation is simply not mentioned in the interwar literature on sexual health. The view taken by the authors of these publications was that if a childless woman does indeed seek to avoid becoming pregnant, this indicates that she is immoral, and her behavior should be viewed as unhealthy or pathological. Women who deliberately remained childless were held up as an example of one of the worst disasters that could befall a nation and as a demonstration of the extremes to which unlimited access to contraceptives could potentially lead.

Birth Control under the Control of Doctors

During the first half of the twentieth century, a movement promoting contraception emerged, partly reflecting the attempt to offer members of the general public as much access as possible to contraceptives and also arising from the notion that contraception was an effective means of preventing abortions or poverty. If we view the so-called birth control movement57 in a global context, we see that many doctors (some male, though female doctors58 were perhaps even more involved) played an active role and were leading figures in this movement, yet some doctors were also prominent critics of it. In Czechoslovakia as in other countries, doctors (and medical concerns in general) played a key role in the contraceptive movement, not as leading figures in it, but because the (female) activists who led the Czech contraceptive movement defined their efforts with reference to the health benefits of contraception and cited medical authorities in order to emphasize that what they promoted was in no way controversial, unnatural, or amoral.

Unlike several other European countries, Czechoslovakia did not have a mass contraceptive movement in the first half of the 1920s, but the idea of raising public awareness of contraception did have some proponents. The first positive responses to neo-Malthusianism can be traced to the years before World War I, but interest in educating the general public about contraception did not become widespread until the 1930s, when it arose as a reaction to the very high numbers of illegal abortions and the government’s inability to tackle this problem. In 1932, a society named Zdravotní ochrana ženy (Protecting Women’s Health) was established in Brno. It aimed to reduce the number of illegal abortions being performed, and it helped set up Czechoslovakia’s first contraception advice center. Two years later, in 1934, the Svaz pro kontrolu porodů (Birth Control Association) was established in Prague, proclaiming that its activities would involve representatives of political parties, women’s organizations, and churches. According to its statute, Protecting Women’s Health was to be run by medical professionals with the intention of disseminating information about contraception, teaching women how to use contraceptives, and providing funds to help them purchase contraceptives. The association also set up an advice center for this purpose.59

The influence of doctors on reproductive issues is evident from the way in which both these organizations presented their purpose and activities. Although they were both run by women and offered help primarily to women, the emancipatory aspects of their activities were strongly downplayed, and the medical benefits were foregrounded instead. Both organizations emphasized the positive impacts of contraception on health and presented medical expertise as an integral and essential part of their activities. The society Protecting Women’s Health explicitly declared its goal of striving to make contraception part of public health care, incorporating it into medical research and carrying out scientific studies on it. Several documents connected with the establishment of the society have survived (including correspondence between the society’s secretary Karla Popprová Molínková and several representatives of other women’s associations), as have several versions of the documentation submitted by the society in its application to be listed on the official register of public associations. These documents enable us to trace the shift that occurred between the original ideas of the founders and the final version which eventually gained official approval. The medical aspects of the society’s activities play a key role here. Karla Popprová Molínková originally wanted to establish a society to fight for the decriminalization of abortion, but she failed to win sufficient support for this idea, and so she decided instead to set up a society modeled on similar organizations abroad (mainly in Germany) the primary aim of which would be to inform women about the contraceptive options available to them. Popprová Molínková’s main aim was thus to enable women to decide freely in matters of motherhood and sexuality, but probably for strategic reasons (and influenced by criticism from other female activists), the society gradually shifted its declared focus more towards the domain of public health education, the battle against abortions and medically harmful forms of contraception, and improvements in the quality and accessibility of obstetric care. The shift in focus towards medical aspects of birth control is very clear from the society’s statute. One of the first versions of this document stated that the society would seek to achieve its goal by “disseminating knowledge concerning feminine hygiene and sexual life, with a particular emphasis on the importance of self-discipline and moral responsibility.”60 However, the final draft of the statute (the one eventually accepted by the authorities) replaced this wording with the following: “disseminating knowledge about sexual life by means of medically informed lectures, leaflets, brochures and printed materials.”61 Unfortunately, we lack sources that would cast light on the motives underlying this shift, but it can be assumed that the original wording, which emphasized that the society’s activities would not be detrimental to morality (reflecting the founders’ fears that the society would face stiff opposition in clerical circles), was eventually omitted for strategic reasons, to be replaced by an emphasis on public educational activities (whose quality and importance were guaranteed, as they were supervised by medical experts) and health benefits.

The influence of doctors is likewise clearly visible in the case of the second organization, the Birth Control Association. Here, it is evident that doctors attempted to retain a degree of control over the association’s promotion of contraception. The Birth Control Association managed to recruit the renowned gynecologist Antonín Ostrčil as a collaborator. Ostrčil was, in the 1920s and 1930s, the head physician at the Second Gynecological Clinic in Prague’s Podolí district. An advice center was established at the clinic in 1935, an event reported in the press as follows:

The aim of the center is to give basic advice to women on sexual matters from a gynecological perspective: i.e., in cases of irregular awakening of sexual desire, difficulty caused by a lack of sexual harmony in marital relations, infertility, in cases when it is appropriate to prevent pregnancy, or in cases of various illnesses affecting women, whose treatment could prevent large numbers of abortions with a negative impact on health. The advice center will be run by the head physician of the clinic and his assistants. The association will be governed by the principles laid down by Dr. Ostrčil.62

As is evident from this extract, the activities of the Birth Control Association and specifically the advice center set up by it were clearly framed in terms of protecting health. In this case, the “sickness” that needed to be “treated” consisted of abortions and their detrimental effects on health. The last sentence is particularly significant, as it explicitly positions the association as being subordinate to medical authority, represented by Antonín Ostrčil. It is interesting that, although I have only found very scanty information on the Birth Control Association’s activities, there is not even the slightest attempt to present contraception as a tool enabling women to take control over their own reproductive potential or as a way of experiencing female sexuality without the anxiety of unwanted pregnancy.63 Although these motifs were typical of the contraceptive movement that developed especially in Western Europe and the USA in the second half of the twentieth century, embryonic traces of them can be observed in the contraceptive movements of other countries in the prewar era.64 The absence of these motifs in interwar Czechoslovakia is particularly striking when we take into account that the Birth Control Association was chaired by Betty Karpíšková, a Czech social democratic senator who ranked among the most vocal supporters of the decriminalization of abortion in the interwar period and, above all, one of the few public figures who very explicitly emphasized women’s right to decide in matters of motherhood and to be in control of their own bodies.65 It appears that Karpíšková downplayed these aspects in order to increase the association’s chances of success, deciding instead to emphasize only the medical benefits of birth control. This enabled the association to win more widespread support from doctors (support that was essential in order to create the advice center) and also from members of the general public.


In the interwar period, Czechoslovak doctors attempted to play the role of protectors of society by battling against one of the major perceived threats to the nation, the declining birthrate. They considered it important to retain their influence over reproductive matters, and to do so, while also gaining public support, they framed their discussions of depopulation, abortion, and contraception in terms of the concepts of health and sickness. The debate on abortion in Czechoslovakia, which laid the foundations for the debate on contraception and the emergence of the contraceptive movement, focused mainly on socioeconomic issues, yet it was doctors who played the most influential role in this debate. Arguing from a position of professional authority, they rejected all attempts to expand the range of circumstances under which abortions could be legally permitted, mainly by stating that abortion always represented a risk to health. In discussions on methods of contraception, doctors constructed a category of women who under certain circumstances were justified in practicing birth control and they denigrated a different category of women, who they alleged should not use contraception under any circumstances in order to avoid population decline. The medical perspective was also incorporated into the social movement that promoted contraception. The original effort of emancipating women and giving them the opportunity to make decisions about their own bodies gave way (in the interest of greater conformity and support) to an effort to control women’s reproductive potential and steer it in a direction that was considered exclusively correct by (primarily male) doctors.

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1* This study was funded by the Czech Science Foundation: Project GA ČR 20-17978Y “The Making of the Doctor and the Patient: The Doctor–Patient Relationship in the History of Bohemian Lands, 1769–1992.”
“Nelze rozmnožování ponechati pouhému pudu, nýbrž že má rozhodovati i zde rozumová úvaha. Neníť rozmnožování již pouhou záležitostí soukromou. Je naopak záležitostí, na které má životní zájem společnost a stát.” Růžička, Eugenická profylaxa, 3.

2 Vladislav Růžička (1870–1934) was the first professor of general biology and experimental morphology at the medical faculty of the Charles University of Prague. He was also the founder and director of the Biological Institute, as well as the vice-chairman of the Czech Eugenic Society.

3 The name Vladmimír (Růžička) is given incorrectly on the cover of the book.

4 While e.g., in England and France in the eighteenth century this development was reflected in the introduction of statistics and the monitoring of mortality and birth rates without efforts of significant state intervention, in the German lands efforts were made to reorganize medical practice to improve public health. See more in Tinková, Tělo, věda, stat, 31–35, 526,

5 Foucault, Discipline and Punish; The Birth of Biopolitics; Histoire de la sexualité I.

6 The term medicalization refers to the process in which, since the eighteenth century, human existence, action, behavior, and the body have been integrated into an increasingly dense medical network, thus giving this medical network not only formidable power over the bodies of individuals, but also the opportunity to control society as a whole. Foucault uses the term biopower to denote one of the technologies of power which became dominant in the eighteenth century (alongside sovereign power and discipline) and was rooted in the notion of the body. Biopower works on the principle of managing the population and individuals through subtle mechanisms of regulation and manipulation, distributed through the administrative apparatus of the modern state. An important property of biopower is its normalizing nature, as its aim is to protect and strengthen the social system against “abnormal” or potentially dangerous individuals.

7 Jordanova, “The Social Construction.”

8 Šlesingerová, Imaginace národních genů, 72.

9 Ibid., 76.

10 If we apply this concept to reproductive issues, then the “enemy” in the interwar period could equally be a man infected with tuberculosis (who could pass the disease on to his offspring) or a university-educated woman who postponed motherhood or even refused to play the role of mother.

11 We can witness this effect in the case of prostitution, which was the subject of much public debate during the first half of the twentieth century. For example, the Czech gynecologist Otokar Rožánek described it as a modern-day plague, a sore that had to be excised. In his book entitled Pud pohlavní a prostituce (The sexual urge and prostitution), he offered a range of ways to treat this “illness.”

12 Shmidt, Pančocha, “Building the Czechoslovak Nation,” 2,

13 Promitzer, Trubeta, and Turda, “Introduction,” 15.

14 Proctor, Racial Hygiene, 18.

15 See more Gould, The Mismeasure of Man.

16 Gillham, Life of Sir Francis Galton.

17 This is evidenced by the number of works which were written on the topic of eugenics in a national and international context. E.g., Adams, The Wellborn Science; Stepan, The Hour of Eugenics; Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization, Turda, The History of East-Central European Eugenics; Broberg and Roll-Hansen, Eugenics and the Welfare State.

18 Ladislav Haškovec (1866–1944) was a doctor, professor of neuropathology, and a leading figure in Czechoslovak neurology. He instigated the establishment of a clinic for nervous disorders at the medical faculty of Charles University. He was also the chairman of the Czech Eugenic Society and the main driving force behind its creation.

19 Haškovec, Snahy eugenické, 1.

20 The focus of this article is on two medical and eugenic discourses and their representatives. While the term doctor is essentially unambiguous, referring to the medical profession, the term eugenicist requires a brief explanation. I consider a eugenicist to be a person who was either a direct member of the eugenic society of a given country (in Czechoslovakia, the Czech Eugenic Society) or who supported eugenic ideology or its elements in his work or public appearances. Doctors and eugenicists were not two separate groups in practice, although I refer to them as two “groups.” In the same way, however, it is not possible to identify both groups, although I point out a significant interaction here. A particular person could always belong to the representatives of one of the aforementioned discourses or to both at the same time.

21 Teachers also comprised a significant part of the Czech eugenic movement, see. Schmidt, Race Science.

22 Turda and Weindling, Blood and Homeland, 9.

23 Of course, this does not mean that the issue of race was irrelevant to Czech eugenics. Victoria Schmidt focuses on the functioning of racial science in Czechoslovakia. She also deals with the eugenic subtexts of the state’s approach to the Roma minority in the first and second half of the twentieth century. See Schmidt, Race science in Czechoslovakia; Schmidt, The Politics of Disability.

24 Turda and Weindling, Blood and Homeland, 7–8.

25 Šimůnek, Eugenics, 151.

26 “Pro malé národy je zvláště nutno, aby zachovaly svoji populaci na určité výši. Rychlé klesání populace kteréhokoliv národa značí jeho ohrožení v samých základech jeho bytí, tím více národa malého.” Moudrý, Populační otázky, 6.

27 Gruber, Populační otázka, 56.

28 Rákosník and Šustrová, Rodina v zájmu státu.

29 Šubrtová, Dějiny populačního myšlení, 175.

30 Usborn, Politics of the Body, 1.

31 A similar account of the situation in Germany is given by Grossmann, Reforming sex, 4.

32 Szabo, Potraty, 33.

33 The term refers to the different fertility value of different social groups. Within the eugenic discourse, these groups were mainly so-called quality individuals on the one hand and inferior individuals on the other. However, the question of which of these two groups one belonged to was determined not only by the genetic equipment of the individual, i.e., his health and disposition to diseases, but also by his social status, education, ethnicity, etc.

34 For more on the relationship between gender and eugenics, see Richardson, Love and Eugenics; Kline, Building a Better Race.

35 For more on the gender analysis of Czech eugenic discourse, see Najmanová, Genderové aspekty.

36 Rákosník and Šustrová, Rodina v zájmu státu, 170.

37 Karpíšková, Novelisace zákona.

38 Ibid.

39 Emanuel Filo (1901–1973) was a Slovak internist and university teacher. Between 1942 and 1944, he was the rector of Comenius University in Bratislava.

40 “Projevil soucit s oněmi matkami-hrdinkami, jimž při plnění jejich mateřských povinností hrozí nebezpečenství zdraví a života.” “Referáty,” 416–17.

41 In his work, the abovementioned historian Miloslav Szabó puts the question of the approach of Slovak society, and therefore of some Slovak doctors to abortion in the context of the so-called cultural wars (Kulturkampf) between the socialist left-wing and the conservative right-wing. According to Szabó, the nationalistically motivated effort of the conservative and strongly Catholic part of Slovak society to define itself against the more liberal part, symbolized first by the Hungarians and, after the establishment of Czechoslovakia, also by the Czechs, led to a gradual inclination towards clerical fascism which contributed to the rise of the First Slovak Republic (1939–1945). According to Szabó, the important topics around these cultural wars in Slovakia were the legalization of civil marriage and, after World War I, the discussion about the decriminalization of abortion. Szabó, Potraty, 17–21.

42 This was not a unique position in Europe. The only state that decriminalized abortions in the first half of the twentieth century was Russia in 1920. Even there, however, the legislation was subsequently amended, and, in the end, the abortion ban was reintroduced.

43 In the journal Praktický lékař (Practical Doctor), Hynek Pelcl summarized his colleagues’ stance as follows: “With regard to the opinions of doctors, most of them are opposed to any relaxation of the legal stipulations preventing the performance of abortions.” (“Pokud běží o mínění lékařů, můžeme zjistiti u většiny z nich stanovisko odmítavé k jakémukoliv uvolňování zákonitých ustanovení bránících umělému přerušení těhotenství.”) Pelcl, “Stanovisko lékařské,” 288.

44 “Sexual congress is only natural if it enables breeding. Congress not undertaken for this purpose is as unnatural as masturbation, and soon produces similar symptoms […] The simplest way of restricting the number of children would be to keep a tight rein on sexual urges, so that sexual intercourse would only be sought out if conception is intended. Few people can do this! Yet it is still necessary strongly to recommend all kinds of restraint, for reasons of health and morality.” (“Pohlavní obcování jest jen tehdy přirozené, umožňuje-li plození. Vyhýbavé obcování jest tedy nepřirozené jako onanie a má také podobné příznaky v zápětí […] Nejjednodušším prostředkem, omeziti počet dětí, bylo by, držeti pohlavní pud tak na uzdě, aby pohlavní styk byl jen tehdy vyhledáván, je-li oplodnění zamýšleno. Málokdo to dokáže! A přeci třeba všemožnou zdrženlivost ze zdravotních a mravních ohledů co nejsnažněji doporučiti.”) Schonenberger and Siegert, Život pohlavní, 85, 94.

45 I have found no biographical data on Horák.

46 “Následky nepřirozené soulože, kdy dbá se o zamezení obtěžkání, jsou velice četné a mnohdy také nejvýš smutné. Povstávají choroby těla i nervů, zvláště pak neduhy ústrojů pohlavních. Prázdnota duševní, nechuť k normální souloži, která nepůsobí blahého pocitu, což vede k nervovým chorobám, zvláště k hysterii u ženy.” Horák, Pohlavní zdravověda, 125.

47 Antonín Ostrčil (1874–1941) was a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and founder of the Obstetrics and Gynecology clinic at Medical Faculty of Masaryk University in Brno. In 1920s and 1930s, he worked as the head of Second Obstetrics and Gynecology clinic in Prague.

48 “Často se doporučuje za účelem kontracepce sexuální abstinence […] To jest rada, která nemá vůbec žádnou praktickou cenu a která je podávána lidmi, jež buď o životě lidském nemají nejmenšího ponětí, nebo jsou sexuálně abnormálně založeni […] takže považuji za zbytečné o této úplně nepřirozené radě vůbec uvažovati.” Ostrčil, Klinická gynekologie, 474.

49 “Nesprávně jednají a celek poškozují i ti, kdož uměle zabraňují otěhotnění. Umělé omezování plodnosti poškozuje národ hlouběji než nemoci dědičné […]” Růžička, Péče o zdatnost potomstva, 23.

50 “Modern eugenicists agree that the most appropriate means of rationalizing breeding is preventive sexual congress […] yet not in the form of the Biblical coitus interruptus, but rather by using suitable condoms and cervical caps, and furthermore not on the basis of arbitrary decisions, but according to rules governed by the principles of eugenics.” (“Moderní eugenikové shodují se v tom, že k rationalisaci plození nejvhodnějším prostředkem je preventivní obcování … ovšem nikoli ve formě biblického coitus interruptus, nýbrž za použití vhodných kondomů a pesarů, dále nikoli podle libovolného uznání, nýbrž podle pravidel řízených zásadami eugeniky.”) Růžička, Eugenická profylaxa, 3.

51 Indeed, in such cases, some eugenicists had no objection to the use of sterilization (despite such a procedure representing a major intervention into the individual’s body). For example, Vladislav Růžička considered sterilization in some cases to be a better option for preventing conception than subsequent abortion. However, in general, sterilization within the eugenic movement in Czechoslovakia did not have substantial support, and doctors recommended it only in serious medical cases, not for preventive eugenic motives.

52 Lašek, Zušlechtění lidstva, 9.

53 František Lašek (1872–1947) was a doctor, surgeon, and head of the hospital in Litomyšl.

54 “I u nás stává se úbytek porodů palčivou otázkou národní. I v naší společnosti dostavuje se touha po pohodlí. Manželé ze sobectví chrání se dětí, na člověka s několika dětmi hledí se jako na nemoudrého a neopatrného, děti o jmění olupujícího, nezdrženlivého. Než jest uvážiti, že žádná politická tíseň ani hospodářský úpadek – oboje vždy jen věci dočasné – nemohly by nás národně tak ohroziti jako stávka rodičů a zvláště matek. Budiž nám tu učitelkou historie zašlých již národů, i blízkých nám kmenů slovanských!” Lašek, Zušlechtění lidstva, 31.

55 František Pachner (1882–1964) was a doctor specializing in gynecology and obstetrics. Before World War I, he worked in the Silesian city of Ostrava, where he obtained the position of head of the gynecological department. He was engaged in the training of midwives.

56 “Churava nebo vyčerpána porody, nebo má už tolik dětí, že by nemohla další uživiti, apod. Nesmí se propůjčiti k tomu, aby svými radami podporovala nečistý život a prostopášnost.” Pachner and Běbr, Učebnice pro porodní asistentky, 467–68.

57 The term birth control was invented by Margaret Sanger, who is considered a pioneer in fertility control in the United States and around the world. See Engelman, A History of the Birth Control Movement.

58 On the crucial role of women doctors in the dissemination of information about contraception, see for example Rusterholz, English Women Doctors, 153–72.

59 Moravský zemský archiv (Moravian Provincial Archive), reference no. 44268; “Hlídka žen,” 7.

60 “Šíření znalostí týkající se hygieny ženy a vědomostí o sexuálním životě, se zvláštním zdůrazňováním významu sebekázně a mravní zodpovědnosti.” Moravský zemský archiv (Moravian Provincial Archive), reference no. 44268.

61 “Šíření vědomostí o sexuálním životě pomocí lékařsky uznaných přednášek, letáčků, brožurek a tisku.” Ibid.

62 “Poslání poradny je udíleti orientační pokyny ženám ve věcech sexuálních s hlediska ženského lékaře: tedy v nepravidelných stavech probouzejíc se sexuality, v rozpacích, které nastávají v manželství při nesouzvuku pohlavního života, při neplodnosti, při žádoucím zamezení vzniku těhotenství, při různých chorobách, které by se jim pohoršily, čímž by bylo možno předejíti velikému počtu umělých a zdraví ženy škodlivých potratů. Poradnu povede přednosta kliniky se svými asistenty. Spolek pak se bude říditi zásadami, které určí prof. Dr. Ostrčil.” MUDr. M. N., “Omezení porodnosti,” 15.

63 This corresponds to the conclusions of Melissa Feinberg, who came to a similar conclusion in relation to the discussion on the decriminalization of abortion in interwar Czechoslovakia. According to Feinberg, the feminist element in the debates concerning the decriminalization of abortion was completely marginal, and even the proponents of decriminalization used social or health arguments to promote their views, not feminist ones. Feinberg, Elusive Equality.

64 Attina Grossmann, for example, points out that the campaign to promote abortion and contraception in Germany was led mainly by feminists and socialists, and their arguments were followed by fighters for the legalization of abortion after 1968. She also mentions that these campaigns in the 1930s included, in addition to themes of class struggle, sexual reform, or eugenics, the slogan “Your body belongs to you” (Dein Körper Gehört Dir), referring to a woman’s right to maintain control over her own body and life. Grossmann, Reforming Sex, 92.

65 Karpíšková, Novelisace zákona.


Doctors into Agents: The Technologies of Medical Knowledge and Social Control in State Socialist Hungary*

Viola Lászlófi
Eötvös Loránd University / École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 328-356 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.328

In this paper, I analyze different situations in which the doctor-patient relationship, the knowledge/information produced within this framework, and the practices of medical questioning came to the fore in the work of the state security services, one of the typical institutions of social observation and surveillance of the Hungarian socialist state. I examine work and recruitment dossiers opened from 1956 to the 1980s which document either physicians’ uses in state security observation of information which they gained about their patients during their professional (medical) activities in or in which the physician-patient relationship appears as a context of the physician’s recruitment. I discuss how physicians constructed the patient when the gaze of the state security forces was also arguably part of their medical gaze. I contend that medical knowledge and, more generally, information revealed in the professional (medical) context and used in the framework of network surveillance, taken out of their strict medical context, constituted a gray zone of power. On the one hand, this information was a useful tool with which the regime could exert some measure of effective social and political control beyond the borders of healthcare, while on the other hand, it could help physicians develop a certain degree of social resistance.

Keywords: state socialism, history of medicine, state security, doctor–patient relationship, gray zone of power

From end of the 1940s, the developing state socialist system aimed to modernize several facets of social and political life in Hungary. Building on the social and ideological objectives of the new system and conforming to international tendencies, the state engaged in a comprehensive pursuit of modernization which encompassed the provision of welfare benefits, such as universal healthcare, the development, extension and structural reorganization of which began in the early years of the state socialist regime.1 As early as the 1940s, the directive of providing more citizens with health insurance and creating a state-funded universal basic healthcare system yielded the restructuring of healthcare in many countries. This process intensified significantly after World War II.2 By 1961, with the extension of universal health insurance, almost all citizens were eligible for healthcare in Hungary, and after 1975, it became accessible essentially for free to the whole population.3

The de-privatization of the existing healthcare institutions and the establishment of new hospitals, the extension of the network of general practitioners, and the development of outpatient care enabled access to healthcare for both urban and rural populations. Healthcare providers, who previously operated private medical practices, were now employed by the state.4 By introducing these measures, the reigning party’s aims were to advance the medicalization of society and to create an institutional framework which would symbolize the provision of a high level of public care for the workers, the group favored by the state socialist system but marginalized by previous regimes.5 Consequently, medical knowledge and the doctor–patient relationship as a form of social interaction came to play a decisive role in molding socialist welfare. This process and its implications have been addressed in sociological inquiries, but historians have not yet given them adequate study or interpretation.6 However, the cases have not been examined in which doctors, who by then had come to fulfil a fundamental role in welfare provision and thus had a higher number of social contacts than they earlier had had, became the agents of state power not only on account of their medical knowledge but also as the employees of the state security forces, which was one of the key institutions of political repression, responsible for monitoring and controlling individuals in society. In this study, I focus on these rare but all the more significant instances when the state security’s gaze exerted an influence on (and arguably was part of) the medical gaze. The cases under study constitute only a small proportion of the state security files reflecting on the performance of physicians, which means that the position physicians enjoyed in society (as figures in whom trust and confidence was placed), which was clearly considered beneficial for the intelligence network, was little exploited.

As a well-definable group of people possessing specialized knowledge and the related power, physicians have already been discussed in Michel Foucault’s works. Foucault perceived power as a set of techniques, maneuvers, and functions which are distributed based on the strategical positions occupied by individuals or groups within a society. Power, furthermore, is operational, and it thus applies in social contexts and systems of relations in which both bottom-up and top-down processes are observable, and both the dominant and the dominated groups participate in developing power relationships.7 In a medical context, this power could find expression in various phenomena, from medical consultation to health education, and due to the constant presence and operation of power, individuals learn and practice required behaviors, and these processes and rituals of adaptation play a fundamental role in maintaining social order. In short, people become medicalized.8 There are, however, two aspects which weaken the force of this argument in the context of socialist Hungary. Foucault’s observations apply primarily to a capitalist context. Furthermore, he presumes that, although medical and state power are closely related, they cannot be reduced each to each other. The relationship between them should be the subject of further analyses in different social and political contexts.

Taking these arguments as my point of departure, in this study I seek to outline the different aspects and functions of medical activity (institutional, social, responsibility for the production of knowledge) which made doctors and their knowledge of interest outside of healthcare contexts or, the other way round, which impeded the use of this knowledge in new contexts. I also seek to address how the methods used primarily in medical contexts by healthcare experts were used and interpreted during their work within the network of the state security forces. Based on the available evidence, I argue that the methods and practices of the production of knowledge used during medical fieldwork within an institutional context (the development of trust in the doctor–patient relationship, the making of diagnoses) and the social control obtained through such practices produced a certain gray zone of power9 when they were adopted in the framework of state security observation. On the one hand, doctors, due to their social-institutional power, could exert significant social control, but on the other hand, this very power could enable them to put up a certain amount of resistance.

In examining this phenomenon, I explore recruitment and work dossiers, altogether 10, which center on information obtained in a medical context by doctors who had already worked as agents or who were only being pursued by state security.10 All of them were written after the 1956 Revolution in the Kádár era, but their distribution within this period varies between diverse dates. The exact dates are always indicated in the footnotes. As for the content of the dossiers, however, there are no significant differences. Through the lens of the dossiers, we catch a glimpse into a rather heterogenous medical practice, as the doctors in question had a diverse array of expertise (psychiatry, neurology, family medicine, inner medicine), came from a geographically heterogeneous background, and worked in different institutional settings (hospital, local practice, psychiatric institution). Due to the lack of documentation, in several cases it is not known why or how they were recruited by the secret police. The recruited physicians were classified into several categories, such as agents, informants, and secret emissaries.11 As these nuances of classification are unimportant in interpreting the information the doctors obtained and thus in answering my research questions, for the sake of simplicity, I refer to them as informants and/or agents. Their exact functions are summarized in Table 1 (see below).

Social Control and the Production of Knowledge

To be able to grasp how the doctors’ opportunities to become useful informants, their work for the secret police, and the usefulness of their reports were evaluated and how this related to the distinguishing characteristics of their profession, in short, whether a gray zone was indeed supervened, first, it is worth giving a brief summary of earlier research on the “success” of state security observation and the agents whose role was indispensable to this success.

As has been pointed out by a number of studies focusing on the practices of the production and interpretation of state security reports, which are fundamental to any understanding of how the system itself worked, an analysis or discussion of the observational techniques used by the secret police forces, such as the Romanian Securitate, the East German Stasi, or the Hungarian State Protection Authority, may do little to further our knowledge of the actual social realities of the time.12 Secret polices forces were created to strengthen socialist systems and to prevent disruption within society. Thus, one of the tasks entrusted to these police forces was the creation in their reports of a discourse which buttressed both the terminology and the reasoning of the state ideology. The creation of this discourse allowed the regimes to label allegedly disruptive events using terms that reinforced the state narrative (for instance, espionage or sabotage) and to identify perpetrators as culprits from this narrative (for instance, the saboteur, the bourgeois, and the kulak). In course of time, the state security forces were given new missions, and their protective functions, which purportedly were intended to advance the building of socialism through the pursuit of complete control over society and the protection of the social order, were replaced with an all-encompassing ubiquity and the wish to know and monitor every minor secret of each and every citizen.13 According to János Rainer M., in the Hungarian case, this change had been implemented by the 1960s.14 This alteration of functions, however, left the linguistic construction of reports untouched: reports still had to be written in a language interpretable (and acceptable) to both the state security force and the party.

The informants’ ability to fulfil their mission (to observe and to meet the expectations placed on them with regards to their reports) was strongly influenced by their relationships with case officers. Katherine Verdery drew on the analogies between the system of state security and educational institutions, and Sándor Horváth has compared the connection between informants and their case officers to the teacher–pupil relationship.15 Horváth argues that the individuals’ first reports within the state security system and the case officers’ criticism of their form and content could be perceived as part of a process of socialization and learning during which the informants appropriated the fundamental methods of their new “work,” such as the logic and formal requirements of report writing, as well as the perception of their own social environment based on either opposition to or conformity with the system.16 This knowledge, at the same time, could prove flexible, and it could be used by the informants to pursue their own personal goals through the secret police. Moreover, the teacher-pupil concept reflects the (limited) flexibility of this relationship. The success of gathering information and the efficiency of the relationship were determined not only by the officer’s intentions to educate and socialize the informant/pupil, but also by how successfully the two actors asserted their own will in their collaboration.

The teacher–pupil relationship as a metaphor, however, is not only relevant from the perspective of learning and socialization. It is also a great signifier of another, psychologically more sensitive interpretive process, a core element of the paternalistic, almost controlling relationship between informants and their case officers. The primary focus of this is not the report written by the informant, but his behavior, personal dilemmas, and social status. As the textbooks on operative psychology (written particularly for case officers) reveal,17 the individual’s personality and his eligibility to work within the network of state security were considered as early as recruitment plans were written, and recruits were continuously assessed from the perspective of their psychology during their operation within the network, for example, in instances when the sincerity of their reports was evaluated.18 Qualities such as intelligence, good memory, learning ability, politeness, and attentiveness were highly desired, but it was also considered valuable if the individual was ideologically trustworthy and had a wide social network on which he could rely during his work within the network.19 Though timidity or nervousness, which were seen as weaknesses since they might lead to the unmasking of secret activities, were not considered so dire as to disqualify a potential recruit, case officers were trained thoroughly to be able to motivate their informants (who had different personal values and came from diverse social backgrounds) to work efficiently. Since the informants had no insights into the operation and aims of the state security forces beyond the immediate world of their specific tasks, the case officers, taking on the role of “psychologists” and “sociologists,” had to use different tactics to secure the success of the operation. They were responsible for noticing and addressing the mental problems that could arise from stressful situations, and they had to have an extensive knowledge of the informant’s social network and its usability. This knowledge was essential if the case officers were going to give their informants.

Doctor–Patient Relationship as the Situation of Observation

The value of informants in the eyes of the state security forces thus depended not only on the content and form of their reports, but also on their psychological characteristics and social embeddedness as the preconditions of a systematic acquisition of information. Following this line of thought, first I examine the aspects of medical practice that made doctors desirable as informants in the eyes of the state security forces.

The case of “Tarkői”20 sheds light on why and how medical activity could be either the reason, the aim, or the circumstance of recruitment. In October 1957, when the 32-year-old “Tarkői” was approached by the agents of the secret police, he was working as a general practitioner in Miskolc, though he had originally been trained as surgeon.21 He was recruited because of his participation as a physician in the 1956 Revolution: he organized first aid stations in the “counterrevolutionary centers” of Miskolc.22 It was not uncommon for agents of the state security forces to approach someone because of his or her participation in the events of the revolution. In many cases, a person who had participated in the revolution would be under pressure to cooperate with the authorities simply out of fear of the potential consequences of refusal were he or she to refuse. The state security forces, furthermore, were also motivated to approach such individuals in the hopes of uncovering other “counterrevolutionaries.” The case of “Tarkői,” however, is different. The professional and political norms in this case are in stark opposition: as far as the medical explanation goes, as “Tarkői” had taken the Hippocratic Oath, he was ethically obliged to provide each sick or injured person proper medical care during the revolution.23 Thus, he was only fulfilling his professional duty. In the eyes of the state security forces, however, his medical-professional activity was understood as advancing the success of the “counterrevolution.”

The first encounter between the case officer and “Tarkői” occurred in a medical context, when the officer visited him as a patient suffering from a contagious disease. The goal of his visit was to get to know the doctor and to assess his eligibility. The case officer’s two-page report portrays a professionally competent physician with a wide social network, or in other words, a suitable candidate for the role of informant. As the officer reports, “Tarkői” “received him with great politeness,” examined him thoroughly, wrote a prescription, and engaged in pleasant conversation about the local problems of healthcare and his own life and past. The “well-trained” doctor “had a good memory and good conversational skills.” He was not “verbose, but rather direct and friendly.”24 “Tarkői” was thus the ideal type of a socialist physician, and he met all the requirements that a medical professional had to meet to serve both individual patients and society properly. In the medicalization of society, the individual doctor–patient relationships were given great significance, and one of the most important components of these relationships was personal sympathy.25 Furthermore, as pinpointed by studies in the period, this confidential relationship had a substantial impact on the recovery of patients, so “Tarkői’s” behavior would have been a perfect foundation for an ideal doctor–patient relationship if he was visited by a real patient.26

This confidential conversation on “Tarkői’s” professional qualities also offered a good opportunity to evaluate his potential as a good informant: his caring and attentive nature and his proneness to “flattery” made him a trustworthy and ideal candidate in the eyes of agents of the secret police.27 Furthermore, “Tarkői’s” future case officer got a clearer idea of his social network. He concluded that “[‘Tarkői’] knows people from different [social] backgrounds well. Some of his patients have functions either in the party or the state bureaucracy.” Though the officer wished to point out “Tarkői’s” wide clientage and the value of his work for the community, the underlying logic shows the categorization of individuals according to their relationships with the state socialist system. This prefigures the potential aspects of observation.28 Consequently, the case officer’s report shows “Tarkői” as an ideal candidate due to his wide social network and trustworthy nature. His professional qualities could also easily be translated into the new context.

Confidence in the case of an ophthalmologist from Kalocsa in Southern Hungary, who worked under the code name “Siva,” and his case officer was built on an appealing doctor–patient relationship and an underlying existential vulnerability. “Siva” started working for the network in 1953, and by 1962, when his assignment was changed, he was already an experienced informant. From 1962 onwards, he was ordered to observe and report on the activities of W., one of his close acquaintances, who also happened to be his patient. The dossier reveals that W. turned to “Siva” for advice on numerous occasions and even recounted some aspects of his clerical activity that could have been seen by the authorities as seditious.29 This confidentiality in itself could have been exploited by the secret police, but the doctor–patient relationship, which was formed after they had already grown close owing to their common interest in music, added another layer to it. This new aspect made their relationship, which had been casual, in certain respects hierarchical and formal.30 The case officer, realizing this change in power relations, decided that from then on, observation should occur in a new, medical context: “The pretext of the invitation should be a follow-up examination after a previous illness. […] As his doctor, he should reassure him [W.] about his condition. He should point out that with occasional check-ups, he would recover completely. He should offer his services, help, and complete confidentiality. Thereafter, he could get to the point [investigating potential seditious activities].”31 Regular meetings necessitated by the condition of W.—[meetings] that allegedly served [W.’s] interests—secured the opportunity for further inquiries and for maintaining a confidential relationship. W. was thus observed in a delicate situation, in which the patient is both vulnerable and is expected to confide in his caretaker.32 Though vulnerability is not mentioned explicitly in the above passage, by instructing the informant to calm the patient, the case officer implicitly suggests that he expects the patient to be anxious in a situation in which the doctor’s diagnosis clearly would have consequences for his perception of his physical and mental wellbeing, short-term and long-term. And even though questioning about potential seditious activities followed the physical examination, the situation itself and the conscious reflection on the potential feelings it could induce all suggest that the doctor–patient relationship was viewed as more valuable from the point of view of observation than other, even closer relationships (close acquaintance, friendship), as it was founded on (physical) vulnerability.

“Siva’s” case officer considered the doctor–patient relationship useful because of its official, hierarchical nature and its confidentiality, which made it a rich source of information. The information obtained concerning the patients’ activities and social relations during examination and treatment, however, did not necessarily have to be used by the agents of the secret police: the protection of privacy and the prohibition of the use of information outside of the administrative context of healthcare were regulated, and under state socialism, all patients had the right to medical privacy.33 This regulation, which simultaneously served the doctors’ professional autonomy and the protection of patients, even if the extent of medical privacy was not generally agreed upon, encompassed all information (regardless of its nature) that came to light in medical contexts.34 Divergence from the principle of medical privacy because of loyalty to the system or fear of the state security forces will be discussed later. The question of whether the case officers reflected on the norm of medical privacy and its impact on the work of the secret police should be addressed here.

This phenomenon is discussed only once, in the case of a doctor who used the code name “Szentedrei,” though whatever qualms he may have had about protecting patient privacy, they do not seem to have hindered his activities as an agent. “Szentendrei” was a psychiatrist, and at the time in question, he worked as a primary physician at the Institute for Work Therapy in Pomáz. He had a rather wide social network. One of his close acquaintances was a man named György Krassó,35 who was a significant member of the opposition in the Kádár era. At Krassó’s request and with the case officer’s approval, “Szentendrei” examined Krassó’s French female friend. The woman “subjected herself to an almost one-and-a-half-hour medical examination,” the results of which were to be delivered to the French woman’s Hungarian friend, but “keeping medical privacy in mind.”36 In this case, medical privacy not only did not hinder the work of the secret police, but appears to have confirmed “Szentendrei’s” trustworthiness. “Szentendrei’s” willingness to ignore the patient’s right to privacy casts light on his work not only as a doctor, but also as an agent. He shared information with the state security forces that he did not necessarily share with someone who was close to the patient (Krassó).

In conclusion, medical activity and the doctors’ position within this context were associated in the eyes of the secret police’s agents with both social confidence and reliability, as well as exploitable vulnerability. Moreover, physicians, who conformed to the norms of modern medical practice had character traits that were perceived as desirable in their new “work environment” within the network of state security.

The Perception of Medical Knowledge within the Network

Medical diagnosis, social prognosis

So far, we have seen that doctors were considered ideal informants, but we have not touched on how the actual methods they used to diagnose and cure their patients were understood in this new context. How did the medical gaze construct its patient when the state security’s gaze was absorbed into it?37

An agent who worked under the code name “László Kaposvári” was a 45-year-old hospital physician in Sopron. In 1975, he shared the story of a young female neurology patient with his case officer. The composition of the report suggests formal and logical deliberateness. In the first part, relying on the information shared by the patient’s father, “Kaposvári” recounts the underlying reasons for hospitalization and the circumstances of the onset of her daughter’s illness: “According to the father, his daughter was hospitalized because she was recruited by two agents of the state security in Sopron. […] They even gave her money so that she could cover her expenses when she meets suspicious persons [who wish to flee the county].”38 The report then reflects on the need for hospitalization because of an “occupational disease.” Though the following sections of the anamnesis were mostly anonymized, the available details suggest that the condition of the patient was analyzed further.

If we interpret the report with the state security’s gaze in mind, the story of a de-conspired informant unfolds. However, if we consider that “Kaposvári” also used the specific methodology of medical knowledge production to construct the narrative, another possible interpretation is implied. Reliance on the father’s account could imply that the report was constructed similarly to a heteroanamnesis.39 In this, the patient’s condition is clearly interpreted as an “occupational disease.” This explanation is then mirrored in the doctor’s diagnosis. Therefore, the report highlighted the risks of the agents’ work to the individual’s health, even though the original aim of the report was to indicate possible threats to the state socialist system, for example, seditious behavior.40 This also meant that “Kaposvári” not only ignored the prescribed standards of report writing but also favored the individual’s interests as opposed to the society’s (or the regime’s). Bearing this in mind, it is rather striking that the case officer accepted his report without criticizing its form and content.

“Kaposvári” was not the only person who applied the same methodology used in medical diagnostics to interpret information reported to the secret police. A man who went by the name “Hegyi” also used this method on some occasions between the 1960s and 1970s. “Hegyi” was the primary physician41 of the Intapuszta Institute of Work Therapy, located close to the Austrian border. Owing to his position and wide social network,42 he was considered a potentially “useful” informant, and his recruitment was of great importance to the state security forces. His dossier contains two reports, the subjects of which had valuable relationships with people abroad. He characterized them as follows:

In my estimation, the onset of his lunacy was around ’54 or ’55, with the appearance of paranoid delusions. […] From a psychiatric point of view, his current condition could be evaluated as follows: he is in a balanced state, which means neither recovery nor health. Any unexpected event or trauma, in fact, any curious occurrence could induce remission. […] I do not think he could give any valuable information, as he has been hospitalized for approximately 15–16 years.43


He recounted that at work he had many conflicts because of his drinking, sometimes he showed up to work drunk. […] As we say, he suffers from chronic alcoholism. […] I would say that because of his obscure relations, he could be useful […] though not for obtaining information, rather for some other assignments, as he is an existentially unstable, unreliable person.44


The reports from which these rather expressive passages are quoted can be divided into three lengthy sections. In the first part, “Hegyi” discusses the individual’s past and his or her preceding medical conditions in detail. The wording and underlying logic of these narratives evoke the structure and content of anamneses: they detail the evolution of symptoms and the changes in the individuals’ behavior in a chronological order. The anamnesis in these cases, however, not only functions as a standard medical method of questioning, but is also fundamental to the “social prognosis” presented to the case officer. “Hegyi,” though he does not want to follow the logic of the state security forces in “reconstructing” his patients based what he was told, provides a thorough explanation for his medical observations in order to ensure that his case officer understands it properly. On the other hand, he characterizes the patients, who were potentially interesting for the secret police, in a narrative framework which was, owing to his professional, medical expertise, more “comfortable” for him than for the non-expert case officer. And although unusually an informant’s work was evaluated by his or her case officer, in these particular cases, no evaluations were made, which might suggest that this recurring method was accepted by “Hegyi’s” case officer.

It is rather difficult to determine, however, whether what these methods were part of a general tendency or were simply individual approaches to the composition of these specific narratives. Could medical knowledge play a part in procuring a more advantageous position in a situation when an informant was both an observer and someone under observation? Or did physicians who were also serving as informants simply use the routinized techniques of producing medical knowledge in another context? The doctors, logically, do not reflect on their choices of register in their reports, so a deeper analysis of the problem would require situations in which a possible change or break is detectable which then leads to the conscious use of medical knowledge tailored to new circumstances. I have only found one such case, that of “Orvos.”45

“Orvos” was a radiologist in Budapest and also an emblematic figure of the neo-avantgarde underground musical scene of the capital from the end of the 1950s. In 1960, he wrote a report on the potential spying activities of a clerical figure and employee of Orion, which was a state-owned company manufacturing telecommunications equipment. “Orvos” and the worker were introduced to each other by a friend on account of their common interest in speakers. In his report, “Orvos” described the worker as a well-prepared person in telecommunication. Born in Transylvania, he had a widespread network of friends and acquaintances abroad, and he traveled frequently to repair and sell radios. And even though his activities were suspicious in and of themselves, “Orvos” also added that his new acquaintance had several names, and his ID, which contained false information, was not valid. This report had significant relevance for the authorities, but the structure of the report was so chaotic that “Orvos,” though he had already been working as an agent for nine years, was asked to revise it. Thereafter, “Orvos” made some changes to the report and amended it with a medical evaluation missing from the previous version: “Medical opinion. […] I consider unverifiable and exclude personality change due to trauma or family and genetic inheritance. Though his interests are not monomaniac, his judgements are partly compulsive. Based on this, I consider his stories credible and true.”46 This addition suggests that after his earlier unsuccessful attempt, “Orvos” intended to use his medical knowledge to underline his opinion, assuming that medical knowledge is a socially accepted area of expertise of which he was in possession. His report suggests that the observed spy was, in fact, of sound mind and that his activities could indeed undermine the system. In this light, the value of “Orvos’s” activity as an informant was significantly more valuable. The report was eventually accepted by the case officer and assessed as operationally valuable. Although “Orvos” was a radiologist and his medical description was based on psychiatric knowledge, his report could be considered acceptable and interpretable for two main reasons. First, as I mentioned at the beginning of my article, reflecting on mental problems and the nonconformist behavior of the target person or the informant was one of the recommended methods during state security observation. Second, the information given by “Orvos” may have been acceptable to the officer because, despite the officer’s operational training, the officer presumably saw “Orvos” as having a more profound knowledge of psychology than he, the case officer, had.

Until now, I have focused on procedures and methods which are not strongly linked to the different fields of medicine but are generally true for physicians who work in an institutional context. The last three examples, however, show the significance of psychiatric and neurological expertise, since psychiatric and neurological expertise serve as the technology with which the patients are “reconstructed” in this new narrative context, outside of the medical field. This might be linked to the development of psychiatry as a discipline. Though psychiatry, especially with the broadening of neurological knowledge, was given a strongly biomedical character in the period, diagnosing “madness” required different “tests” that were meant to determine the normalcy or abnormality of the individual’s behavior from the perspective of society at large. The social character of these tests does not mean, however, that they were not medically verifiable methods. They were created precisely to attest to the medical validity of the different technologies of mental normalization.47 From among the three doctors, only “Hegyi” had a confirmed background as a psychiatrist. Still, one does not necessarily have to be a specialist in psychiatry to give an account of the social and political implications of a patients’ psychological functions, as physicians had all been required to appropriate the basics of psychiatry and neurology during their studies. Psychiatric knowledge, however, was one of the rare forms of medical expertise which was seen as enabling a physician to interpret patients’ attitudes towards the norms of socialist society. This knowledge also made these reports valuable for the authorities, but at the same time, it did not expose the patients or the doctors to the discursive and hierarchic logic characteristic of the state security.


Differences in knowledge, social prestige, and hierarchy

As we have seen, the doctors examined so far did not use the expected discursive and logical patterns, but rather recreated the techniques of medical knowledge production in a new context. This seems to have been an accepted, even recurring method, as in most cases, the doctors were not ordered to revise and resubmit their reports, and sometimes the information obtained this way had considerable operational value. But what could explain the approval of these methods? It seems plausible that regardless of the applied discursive techniques, the reports were comprehensible for the case officers. In case of “Hegyi” and “Kaposvári,” this interpretation could suffice. However, “Orvos’s” case does not seem to fit into this logic: he first provided the information, which had considerable operational value, and then he amended his report with a medical explanation, and this explanation led to the acceptance of his report. Furthermore, the content-centric explanation is weakened if we consider that expecting the informants to conform to the discursive logic prescribed by the state security also had a disciplinary aspect: the practice of ordering the informants to revise their reports was important in sustaining a hierarchical relationship. If the relationship between the case officer and the informant is understood more flexibly, taking other factors, for example, social prestige into consideration, we can find further explanations as to why medical knowledge was accepted by the officers as a methodology with which to interpret operationally valuable information.

One possible explanation is the high social prestige of doctors and medical knowledge. Doctors in state socialist societies, owing to their expertise in maintaining and restoring the health of workers, who were seen as the pillars of society, were of fundamental importance, and their positions were linked in both medical and sociological discourses to considerable social prestige.48 The first prestige analyses were carried out, however, only in the 1980s, in 1983 and 1988. The analyses underpinned the high social prestige of doctors: from among the 156 occupations under study, hospital physicians were ranked first and general practitioners fourth.49 As for the amount of expertise required to hold a certain position, hospital physicians were ranked first and general practitioners second, above all other occupations. Therefore, based on a representative sample, medical knowledge was considered the most valuable knowledge.50

A second explanation is grounded on the quality and unapproachability of medical knowledge. Due to the gradual professionalization and specialization of the different fields of medicine and the proliferation of technologies, the production of medical knowledge became more specific and impenetrable for non-experts.51 Thus, the agent-doctors based their work within the network of state security on a form of knowledge and its methods of evaluation that were largely incomprehensible for outsiders. And even though public health policy strove to incorporate some elements of the “socialist self-consciousness” into the discourse and urged the members of society (the patients) to turn to medical ethics committees,52 the task and prerogative of evaluating the complaints and possibly issuing sanctions were still in the hands of medical experts, not laymen. If we accept this explanation, it is likely that even the possibility of criticizing medical knowledge was dismissed by laymen, who, in this case, were the officers of the state security forces.

Opposition in the Wards

The adaptability of medical knowledge and the doctors’ positions, which rested on the solid foundation of the social value of their knowledge, presented something of a conundrum from the perspective of the state security forces. While their position in society was advantageous, as they could operate easily as observers in a wide social network, their expert knowledge made them unreliable, as they could manipulate the obtained information and mask potential seditious activities effortlessly. Consequently, the specific features of diagnostic and therapeutic practice and their social perceptions could enable doctors to elude the interpretive (and at the same time, disciplinary) methods dictated by the logic of the state security forces. What complicates this scheme is that applying the techniques of medical knowledge production in this new context implied the violation of professional norms and disregard for medical privacy. These explanations, however, are still insufficient to give a reassuring answer to my original research questions, because the above conclusions focus exclusively on the possibilities of obtaining information in a medical context. So far, I have not explored the phenomena strongly linked to medical activities that made the presence of doctors as the agents of state security services indispensable. Or to medicalize my inquiry: where did the blind spot of the secret police lie, a blind spot to which only doctors had access?

The secret police, as one of the fundamental networks of surveillance in the Kádár era, strove to uncover the secrets of individuals or certain groups and their attitudes towards social norms and to interpret the implications of their potentially threatening activities. Consequently, the secret police tried to infiltrate alternative spaces in society, for example, meetings among people belonging to intellectual circles or private art events that were for some reason hidden from the public eye.53 As for hospitals, the secret police was supposed to have easy access to any information, considering the public funding and extensive administrative practices of these institutions. Yet this was not always the case. Fortunately, some of the dossiers reveal exactly how permeable the walls of hospitals were and who had access to information produced within these spaces.

“Viola” worked as a physician at the First Department of Neurology of the hospital on Róbert Károly Boulevard. She was recruited because, in the hospital and especially at the neurology clinic, more people who had actively participated in the events of the 1956 Revolution were hidden. By the time “Viola” was recruited, the agents of the state security forces, who played a leading role in identifying and tracking “counterrevolutionaries” until 1963 (when a general amnesty was proclaimed), had already identified three such individuals. This could be seen as a success. However, by this time, already more than a year had passed since the revolution. Also, this particular institution played a particularly prominent role in serving the medical needs of the state socialist elite, especially the Hungarian army and the Soviet troops stationed in the country. These two facts may have cast a shadow on the efficiency of the agents’ work in identifying the potential enemies of the system. Therefore, a doctor was needed to provide an inner perspective and assist the police forces in their efforts to detect those hiding from retribution. That their reasoning in the assignment plan was sound was proven by “Viola” during their first meeting: she immediately named an individual who had successfully eluded the gaze of state security. The further analysis of the assignment plan also reveals that hospitals could serve as “asylums” for those who wanted to escape retribution.54 And as this example testifies, they sometimes hid in plain sight, but owing to the (partial) impermeability of the hospital’s walls, doctors were indispensable in assisting the agents of the state security in exposing potential enemies.

The recruitment of “Viola” in 1958 could be explained either as a consequence of the relative closeness of the revolution in time or the efforts of the authorities to expose the enemies of the system. However, even when these circumstances did not hold, hospitals remained places of interest for the agents of the secret police, as the cases of “Kaposvári” and “Marossi Pál,” a physician at the Second Department of Internal Medicine of the Medical University of Pécs, show.

“Marossi” was first asked to report on a patient in 1960. The patient, K. L., who had been at the clinic for months, was a religious person and had numerous visitors. Though “he was not visited by the priests of the Church of the Order of Mercy, he often called priests for fellow patients and strove to persuade others to follow his example. The directors of the clinic, however, prohibited him from continuing with such activities.”55 K. L.’s religiosity is emphasized throughout the report, and this explains why he was under surveillance. However, “Marossi” tried to divert the attention of the case officer from K. L.’s religiosity by making it seem as if it remained merely a private matter and did not influence the other patients.

Like “Marossi,” “Kaposvári” also gave an account of his patients’ behavior in the wards. He reported that “Mrs. H. A., a teacher from Sopron, listens to Radio Free Europe daily, though she does not share what she has heard with the others.” Upon evaluation, “Kaposvári” added the following: “Mrs. H. A. listens to Radio Free Europe again. However, her roommate is hard of hearing, and thus she does not know which frequency her roommate listens to.”56 According to a 1953 court decision, listening to RFE was not prohibited as long as it was not done in public. “Kaposvári,” who presumably was familiar with the court decision, by referring to the hearing loss of Mrs. H. A.’s roommate, tailored his report to the norms and expectations of socialism, and he used a medical explanation to minimize the possibility of any drastic measures being taken by the police. Although the informants never knew what the State Security Service would do with the information obtained through them and or what consequences their contributions to the system would have for the individuals “denounced,” according to the report issued by “Kaposvári,” the patient had not violated any rules, so the report qualified as operationally valuable, and the agents of the state security remained alert.

The cases of “Kaposvári” and “Marossi” reveal that the individuals under surveillance were already known by the secret police, and their stay in the hospital was seen as a period that could be instrumental in uncovering their potential seditious activities. It was therefore particularly important, from the perspective of the authorities, to keep them under observation on account of their potentially threatening activities and the ideological influence they could exert on other patients. As both cases illustrate, the social space of hospitals was seen as a milieu in which listening to the RFE or engaging in religious activities that were tolerated if done in private could become subversive because of the impact they could have on other individuals. This is something that authorities could not turn a blind eye to. Furthermore, reports on the visitors who came to see these patients could shed light on the patients’ social networks, which in turn could assist the authorities in tracking other potentially dangerous individuals.

Observing the behavior of patients was only one possible reason for the active presence of the secret police in medical institutions. As the cases of “Lénárd Pál” and “Angyalföldi” illustrate, other, more complex problems of socialist healthcare could come to the surface, which, in addition, could shed light on the common violation of norms by either doctors or their patients.57 While “Angyalföldi” reported on the practice of prioritizing Yugoslavian patients, who paid in foreign currency for medical services, to the detriment of insured Hungarian patients, “Lénárd Pál,” a neurologist at the Székesfehérvár hospital, wanted to declare a patient who had already suffered of ill health an invalid. However, in doing so, encouraged by his case officer, “Lénárd” did not follow the usual, official route, but rather bribed other physicians, a seemingly common method for declaring healthy individuals invalids. Though the two situations differ, the aim in both cases was to uncover activities that had already been known broadly, but the authorities were in need of more information (names, venues, dates) to move forward. These were significant details that non-medical personae would not have been able to unearth. The above situations also demonstrate that hospitals, even though they were intended, in principle, to serve the wellbeing of society, could function as institutions in which the evasion of norms was rather frequent.

The last five cases prove that hospitals and wards enabled subversion and could serve as hiding places for enemies of the state and at the same time could effectively conceal these activities. The impermeability of the hospital’s walls is due to its function as a total institution. As Erving Goffman points out, hospitals and similar institutions, such as prisons, monasteries, and schools, have a special, socializing function either to habituate individuals to follow norms or to correct their behavior. If these institutions are going to perform this function successfully, any passage between the inner world of the institutions and the “real” world outside must be severely restricted. The physical and mental separation of the two spaces could mean reformulating the rules and norms of the outside world, all the while creating a new order within the walls of the institutions.58 The agent-doctors, therefore, could offer a glimpse into a segment of social space that would have been impenetrable without their cooperation. At the same time, this impermeability meant that they had some autonomy in selecting the information to be shared or concealed.59


In this study, I have offered several concrete cases illustrating ways in which doctors maneuvered within the network of the state security forces, one of the most significant institutions of state socialist societies responsible for the surveillance and control of individuals. A physician’s adherence to professional norms, expertise, and institutional position made him or her a potentially valuable asset in the eyes of the authorities. It was not as simple to exploit this potential, however, as it may have seemed initially. Though on many occasions, the doctors’ performance as agents was assessed positively by their case officers, the doctors often failed to follow the prescribed norms of construing the enemy. The gray zone between the standard practices of the state security forces and medical activities denotes social spaces which the authorities would have been unable to permeate without the assistance of medical practitioners. At the same time, this points at a specific quality of medical knowledge that made these spaces inaccessible for outsiders, thus facilitating social resistance, at least to some extent.

I have also attempted to underline that, following Foucault’s argument, the affiliation between doctors and their case officers exerted an influence through relationships and institutions. In the framework of the strongly hierarchical operations of the state security forces, the social position of physicians also came into prominence, and in this context, this social position gave physicians a certain amount of autonomy. In the future, this aspect should be explored in further detail, using a wider array of sources which could shed light on the extent to which the publicly funded healthcare system and its publicly financed employees could realize their autonomy from the state in other respects, such as medical education and primary care.



Table 1.



Place of operation

Year of birth

Role in the network











“Marossi Pál”














Agent (until 1958)

Thereafter: informant











“Kaposvári László”




Secret emissary





Secret emissary

“Lénárd Pál”




Secret emissary


Archival Sources

Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára [Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security] (ÁBTL)

2.8.1. BM Vas Megyei RFK személyi gyűjtők [Ministry of the Interior, Vas County Police Headquarters, Personal dossiers]

3.1.1. B-84186 “Viola”

3.1.1. B-92993 “Tarkői”

3.1.2 M-17361 “Marossi Pál”

3.1.2. M-17764/1 “Orvos”

3.1.2. M-18864/1 “Siva”

3.1.2. M-31222 “Szentendrei”

3.1.2. M-33556 “Hegyi”

3.1.2. M-37256 “Kaposvári László”

3.1.2. M-39489 “Angyalföldi”

3.1.2. M-39640 “Lénárd Pál”

4.1 A-3120. Ivanin, G. I. Az operatív pszichológia néhány kérdése [Some questions of operative psychology]. Moscow, 1973.

4.1. A-3121. Láng György. Operatív pszichológia III. A hírszerzés hálózata vezetésének és nevelésének szociálpszichológiai kérdései [Operative psychology III. Some questions of social psychology on leading and training the members of intelligence services].

4.1 A-4510. Horváth István. A pszichológia és szociálpszichológia felhasználása hálózati munkában [Using psychology and social psychology in the work of intelligence services]. Thesis.

Decree No. 8. Medical Regulation, 1959.

11/1972. (30. VI.), Regulation of medical workers, issued by the Ministry of Health.


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1* My research enjoyed the support of the ÚNKP-20-3 New National Excellence Program of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology from the Source of National Research, Development and Innovation Fund.
On the history of the Hungarian state socialist regime’s political and social changes, see Borhi, Hungary in the Cold War; Gyarmati and Valuch, Hungary under Soviet Domination.

2 In England, following the National Service Act in 1946, most healthcare institutions were de-privatized, providing health insurance for 96 percent of the population, whereas in Sweden, the whole population was allowed access to insurance and universal healthcare from 1955. For more on this see Fülöp, Néhány tőkés ország, 3–43; Light, “Universal Health Care.”

3 In Hungary, before the end of 1950s, a significant number of peasants kept their land ownership and thus remained independent farmers without insurance. It was only the third attempt of agricultural collectivization from 1958 to 1961 which was successful; thus, the majority of agricultural workers were insured only from the 1960s.

4 On these changes see Szalai, Az egészségügy betegségei, 53–75; Hahn, A magyar egészségügy története, 144–87.

5 The concept of medicalization has several definitions in the social sciences (see van Dijk et al. “Medicalization Defined in Empirical Context.”) In this study, this term refers to the processes by which the human body and behavior as well as different activities and characteristics became the subject of medical activity and discourse in modern societies. Aside from accepting the fact that the more extensive use of medical knowledge serves the wellbeing of individuals, the concept of medicalization provides an opportunity to analyze these changes as the manifestations of growing social control. However, if we consider the Hungarian case, even though the social history of state socialist healthcare has hardly been studied and it is thus hard to tell how political intentions were realized on a micro-level, the problems emphasized by the different state regulations and the extension of medical care to prioritized groups provide some insight into how the party state might have imagined the project of medicalization. Which social groups were to be medialized, and how? According to the ideological, social, and economic goals of the state, the development of hospitals and outpatient care and the organization of a system of GPs and factory doctors (both in the cities and the countryside) shed light on and helped provide a solution mainly to the physical problems of industrial and agricultural workers. In addition, the emphasis on well-organized health education programs and prophylaxis suggests that ideal individuals in a state socialist society were not just able to think about their existing problems in a medical framework but were also aware of different ways of maintaining their health and preventing illnesses.

6 The research of Ágnes Losonczi and Júlia Szalai merits particular mention. The studies published in the 1970s and 1980s discuss the anomalies of healthcare, such as the vulnerability of both patients and physicians within the system or the difficulties of accessing quality care. Losonczi and Szalai identify the peculiarities of the development of socialist healthcare as an underlying reason to these tensions. In their works, the history of the transformation of healthcare is examined from the point of view of structural errors. See for example: Losonczi, A kiszolgáltatottság anatómiája; Szalai, Az egészségügy betegségei.

7 Foucault’s views on power were summarized more or less coherently in Discipline and Punish, later elaborated on in lectures and interviews: Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 135–309; Foucault, “The Eye of Power.” On the aspects discussed in this article see Deleuze, Foucault, 34–38.

8 On the application of Foucault’s perception of power to specifically medical contexts see Hancock, “Michel Foucault and the Problematics of Power”; Peerson, “Foucault and the Modern Medicine.”

9 This expression was first used in a historical context by Primo Levi. This research, however, benefits more from two different takes on the concept. The sociologist Alan Blum, devoting particular attention to the contexts of healthcare and the approaches to health and sickness, explained “gray area” as the unsaid ambiguities that yield decisions from a certain individual and that are influenced by unsaid presumptions and interpretive processes. Sándor Horváth, working in different a field, but within the context of state socialism, described the type of historical knowledge production as a “gray zone” which occurs “in the shadow of the official propaganda” and is thus either weakly related or unrelated to it (Blum, The Grey Zone of Health and Illness, 1–17; Horváth, “A helytörténetírás mint szürkezóna,” 89). In creating my concept, I build on Blum’s approach by considering the professional and social autonomy of physicians in decision-making. As for Horváth’s understanding of the concept, I find the examination of relations between “official” and “non-official” knowledge in a certain area especially useful.

10 In addition to the instances examined in this study, doctors helped the work of the secret police on numerous occasions. A typical case was participation in research trips, in, for example, factories or conferences, which often benefitted the development of scientific relations and at the same time offered an opportunity to write lengthy reports on individuals.

11 Classification depended on the role the recruited individual held within state security forces. While the agents’ task encompassed both the acquisition of information and the prevention of seditious activities against the state, the latter was not expected of informants. The function of “secret emissary” was created during the restructuring of state security in 1972–1973, and their role was similar to the roles of the informants. See Rainer, Jelentések hálójában, 70–75.

12 See for example Verdery, Secrets and Truth; Vatulescu, Police Aesthetics; Bolgár, “A hatalom mindennapjai.”

13 The transformation of the state security force’s function was related to the consolidation of the Kádár regime. Since the 1960s, the legitimacy of Hungarian state socialism was based on the acceptance of the state party’s will in economic and social questions and on the success of welfare reforms (for example, rising living standards and the relative freedom of individuals as compared to the Stalinist era), rather than on the different forms of terror and fear. Mary Fulbrook described a very similar process in the case of the GDR in the 1960s and 1970s, to which she refers as the period of “returning to normal.” (Fulbrook, “The Concept of ‘Normalization’.”)

14 Rainer M., Jelentések hálójában, 262. According to Verdery, a similar change took place in Romania in the 1970s. Verdery, Secrets and Truth, 17.

15 Verdery, Secrets and Truth, 170–73; Horváth, “Life of an Agent.”

16 Horváth, “Life of an Agent.” The “gaze of the state security” is explored by Éva Argejó through textbooks and educational films made specifically for case officers. Her article depicts how this gaze is created through the visual perception and interpretation of the people observed and their surroundings. Argejó, “Az állambiztonsági tekintet.”

17 Operative psychology served the purposes of securing cohesion within the network of state security, obfuscating, disorganizing groups built on solidarity, and confusing individuals in order to undermine social confidence. Betts, Within Walls, 41.

18 These textbooks were used in the training of case officers, and they were secret or top secret and intended for internal use only. A strong psychological aspect was included after 1972, following an order from the Ministry of Interior. The subsequent issues followed the current psychological trends of the second half of the twentieth centuries, incorporating both the basics of physiology and the theories of Edward Lee Thorndike, Erich Fromm, and Albert Bandura.

19 ÁBTL 4.1A-3120. Ivan in, Az operatív pszichológia néhány kérdése, 49–85; ÁBTL 4.1. A-31.21. Láng, Operatív pszichológia III. 11–24; ÁBTL 4.1. A-4510; Horváth, A pszichológia és szociálpszichológia felhasználása.

20 For the sake of anonymity, in the case of officers and informants, their code names are used and in the case of patients their initials are used.

21 The dossiers do not reflect on the reasons behind this change of medical specialties.

22 ÁBTL 3.1. B-92993 “Tarkői”, 5–10. It was very common, especially in the early years of Kádár era, for individuals to be blackmailed by the state security forces to join the network because of their (real or supposed) participation in the 1956 Revolution or their other politically intolerable activities. In the context of the GDR, Francesca Weil’s research has shown that for doctors who provided information for the Stasi, in addition to fostering their institution and their own personal interests and fear, blackmailing those who had previously attempted to leave the country provided an important means of recruitment. (Weil, Zielgruppe Ärzteschaft, 281–91.) As far as I know, a comprehensive study has not been done concerning the different reasons for recruitment in the Hungarian context. Thus, the proportion of cases in which blackmail was used is unknown. However, in the late 1950s, the indication of the “social category” of the recruited individual was one of the most important detail in the register file. According to these categories, one could have been a kulak, a member of the former ruling classes, a member of former fascist and bourgeois organizations, a counterrevolutionary, a Zionist, or a rightwing smallholder. (See Takács, “Az ügynökhálózat társadalomtörténeti kutatása,” 118–19.) Using this part of the documents, it was easy to determine whether an individual was a friend or foe of socialism. This information could also be used to recruit individuals.

23 Since the Hippocratic Oath encompassed the obligations of doctors to their patients, in, for example, the Soviet Union, certain elements of the original version were eliminated that did not conform to the official ideology, among them the requirement of medical privacy. Bernstein, “Behind the Closed Doors,” 106–7.

24 ÁBTL 3.1. B-92993 “Tarkői”, 19–20.

25 Farádi, “Dialektikus materializmus a gyakorlati,” 819–20.

26 Balint, “The Doctor, his Patient and the Illness.” The relationship between practitioner and his patient, especially the confidential communication required in this context and its therapeutical benefits, were fundamental principles of the humanistic medical movements of the second half of the twentieth century. See for example Bates, “Yesterday’s Doctors.”

27 ÁBTL 3.1.1. B-92993 “Tarkői”, 20.

28 The monitoring of party members, the elite group of state socialism, was not among the tasks of the state security forces. These individuals were held to account, rather, in the context of party disciplinary procedures. See Koltai, Akik a “Párt” ellen vétkeztek, 83–115.

29 ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-18864/1 “Siva.” Assignment plan, Cegléd, January 2, 1962. 84.

30 There were voices on both sides of the Iron Curtain speaking out against the hierarchical nature of the doctor–patient relationship, however. In a reconsidered framework, as propagated, for example, by Michael Balint, patients could play an active role in their recovery. In the state socialist context, conforming to the ideological expectations, this could mean an equal relationship between two workers. In the Hungarian case, this initiative was unsuccessful, and the hierarchical doctor–patient relationship remained dominant. Losonczi, A kiszolgáltatottság anatómiája, 15–22.

31 ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-18864/1. “Siva.” Assignment plan, January 2, 1962. Cegléd, 1962, 84–85.

32 Losonczi, A kiszolgáltatottság anatómiája, 9–15. A similar case to “Siva’s,” founded on the patient’s vulnerability, is found in the dossier of the agent who worked under the code name “Orvos.” He was also ordered to summon his patient for a visit and to inquire about potential seditious activities. As the two situations show striking similarities, I will not analyze this case in more detail here. ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-17764/1. “Orvos,” 340–41. Report, Budapest, January 12, 1961.

33 1959, Decree No. 8. Medical Regulation. 10.§; 11/1972. (30. VI.), Regulation of medical workers issued by the Ministry of Health. §. 22. The introduction of medical privacy was far from self-evident in the Eastern Bloc. In the Soviet Union, a doctor’s obligation to keep delicate information private was not regulated legally and was not discussed in professional circles. Furthermore, the passage referring to medical privacy was eliminated from the original text of the Hippocratic Oath (Bernstein, “Behind the Closed Doors”).

34 In state socialist countries, even in the authoritarian and repressive context of the political-social system, there remained circles of trust that did not allow individuals to atomize completely. On this, see for example Hosking, “Trust and Distrust,” 17–25; Betts, Within Walls. There were several factors, however, that could affect this confidentiality within the doctor–patient relationship (for example, society’s attitudes towards alternative medicine were replaced entirely by Western medicine in the period or the attitudes towards doctors seen as “bureaucrats”). This will be discussed in my PhD dissertation in more detail.

35 György Krassó (1932–1991) participated in the events of 1956 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison. He left prison in 1963 after János Kádár issued a general amnesty. In the 1970s, he became an active member of the opposition, and in 1982 he established the Magyar Október [Hungarian October] press, which published several samizdats. He was under constant surveillance and was arrested several times.

36 ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-31222 “Szentendrei,” 43–45. Report, Pomáz, January 26, 1968.

37 On the origins of the medical gaze, its transformation, and role in medicine in more detail see Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic.

38 ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-37256. “Kaposvári László.” Report, Győr, January 30, 1975. 24–25.

39 Heteroanamnesis means that it is not the patient who gives an account of his or her own medical history, complaints, or the circumstances of, for example, an accident, but others, such as family members or an eyewitness.

40 The social tendencies in state socialist systems and their possible links to psychiatric conditions have already been discussed in detail. In the case of Hungary, see for example Kovai, “Számtalan forró csókkal”; Csikós, “Countryside Modernized or Traumatized?” On the GDR, see: Bonhomme, “Le Mur lui.”

41 The everyday life of this institution prior to “Hegyi’s” directorship was depicted by István Benedek (Benedek, The Gilded Cage.) After “Hegyi” left the institution, “Szentendrei” was appointed as primary physician.

42 One of these acquaintances was the psychologist Ferenc Mérei, who was under surveillance and attacks by the authorities for both his professional and personal activities.

43 ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-33556 “Hegyi.” Report, Szombathely, October 1, 1970, 258–61.

44 ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-33556 “Hegyi.” Report, Szombathely, November 12, 1970, 270–76.

45 “Orvos” (whose code name means doctor in Hungarian) is examined in a different role as one of the significant members of the underground musical scene of the Kádár era by Kürti, Glissando és húrtépés.

46 ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-17764/1 “Orvos.” Report, Budapest, December 3, 1960, 328–31.

47 One of the techniques focusing on the individual’s social existence is questioning, which might be oriented around previous moments in one’s family and medical history to uncover the signs of madness. Foucault, Le pouvoir psychiatrique, 267–76.

48 Though these publications are far from proper prestige analyses, they pinpoint the rapidly transforming social perception of doctors, which had wide social implications. See for example: Harmat, “Az orvosi tekintély,” Lukáts, “Strukturális vizsgálódások,” 73–75.

49 Though these analyses were done in the last decade of state socialism, its results could be relevant retrospectively. As the principal investigator pointed out, the social prestige of an occupation is a social value that is prone to change only slowly, and the 1983 and 1988, sociological investigations proved that the social and scientific value of doctors was gradually increasing. See Kulcsár, Foglalkozások presztízse, 5–20, 27.

50 The prestige of medical knowledge could be valorized because of the differences in the levels of (expert) knowledge between the doctor and his case officer. This aspect, however, can only be examined in the case of “Hegyi,” as only his case officer’s personal dossiers were kept in the archives. According to this, the officer, after having finished primary school, studied for two months in the party’s school and the officer’s training school in the 1950s. In 1965, he graduated from the Police College of the Ministry of Interior. These brief trainings offered ideological and technical knowledge, but they were not sufficient to convey extensive knowledge. (ÁBTL 2.8.1. BM Vas Megyei RKF, Personal Dossiers. 773.)

51 Horváth, “Orvosok – pedagógusok,” 59–61.

52 On the principles of the committees and some sample cases see Szabó, Orvosetikai kérdésekről.

53 This is exemplified by the dossiers of “Hegyi” and “Szentendrei,” who had to provide information about Ferenc Mérei’s activities, for example the professional events he organized.

54 Among health care institutions, psychiatric wards were particularly well suited to this asylum function. Comparing the methods of making a psychiatric diagnosis with the methods used in other medical disciplines, psychiatric diagnoses could be perceived as more subjective and blurred because they were first and foremost based on observations of individual behavior and decisions that were made according to social norms instead of physiological symptoms. Thus, it could be easier to fake a psychiatric diagnosis than any other medical diagnosis. This social aspect of psychiatry was exploited in cases concerning politically threatening individuals in Hungary and also in the Soviet Union, if we consider the well-known practice of political psychiatry. In the case of Soviet political psychiatry and its most common diagnosis (sluggish schizophrenia, a disease that could be hardly verified by solid evidence), the state confined individuals to concealed wards. As the sources under study testify, the Hungarian case was the other way around. The individuals and their doctors took advantage of this aspect of psychiatry.

55 ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-17361. “Marossi Pál” Report, Pécs, August 16, 1960, 326.

56 ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-37256. “Kaposvári László” Report, Győr, January 30, 1975, 23–24.

57 These were recurring topics in both of their reports. See for example: ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-39640 “Lénárd Pál” Report, Székesfehérvár, December 29, 1979, 12–20; ÁBTL 3.1.2. M-39489 “Angyalföldi” Report, Békéscsaba, October 17, 1979, 23–29.

58 Goffman, Asylums, 1–125.

59 In the course of my research, I have not come across any instances in which case officers double-checked the operationally valuable details provided by doctors, even though this kind of double-checking was a commonly used method of confirming information. Moreover, based on these results, it would be interesting to examine how the aforementioned “impermeability” of hospital walls and the autonomy of physicians was extended and also to consider the roles played by the location of institutions (rural, urban, or metropolitan institutions) and their specialization in this relative independence.

pdfRepresentatives in a Changing World: Characteristics of Urban Advocacy at the Turn of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries*

István H. Németh
National Archives of Hungary
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 1  (2021): 3-34 DOI 10.38145/2021.1.3

The Kingdom of Hungary had a strong system of estates within the Habsburg Monarchy, and this exerted a significant influence on the positions of free royal cities. The free royal cities enjoyed a large degree of internal autonomy until roughly the end of the seventeenth century, with little oversight or interference by the larger state. Since 1526, the cities had been members of the estates which had taken part in the Diets (the parliaments which could be regarded as the early modern form of the Hungarian), though they had played a minor role in comparison to the counties. In the last third of the seventeenth century, the system of estates underwent significant changes. The royal state came to exert more control, and in the free royal cities, the central administration began to play a stronger role as a force for oversight. The interests of the state administration now played an important role in the selection of the city’s leaders. The delegates who represented the cities in the Diets were also chosen according to these considerations. The local bodies of state administration were given major say in the selection of the representatives. As a consequence of this, delegates began to be chosen who were from different social backgrounds, including people who had different places within the system of the estates. While earlier, the individuals who had been sent to take part in the Diets had been members of the Lutheran bourgeois elite, from roughly the late seventeenth century onwards, members of the nobility living in the cities began to play an increasingly influential role. Many of the delegates from the city of Kassa (today Košice, Slovakia) who will be discussed in the analysis below came from families of non-noble origins which, however, had been granted nobility as a reward for the services they had performed in the chamber administration. The career paths for members of these families led either to administrative bodies in the city or back into state administration.

Keywords: Catholicization, confessionalism, urban elites, professionalism, state administration, Habsburg Monarchy

The Positions and Roles of the Free Royal Cities in the Hungarian Diets

Within the Habsburg Monarchy, the Kingdom of Hungary remained a province with a strong system of estates (or feudal order). The threat of the Ottoman Empire, which ultimately affected the other provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy, compelled the Habsburg rulers and the Hungarian estates to seek mutual compromise. The influence of the estates of the Kingdom of Hungary, which played a significant role in providing protection for the monarchy and also in its food supplies, became so strong in these areas (precisely because of the importance of these two considerations) that the central government and the estates were able to reconcile their apparently conflicting interests for a very long time. The central administration of the monarchy, which was undergoing dramatic development at the time, and the strong feudal order in Hungary were able to coexist, and the counties governing the internal life of Hungary remained in the hands of the Hungarian estates. Even after the proclamation of highly centralizing decrees at the end of the seventeenth century, the counties retained a strong domestic political role essentially until the formation of the modern nineteenth-century state. As a consequence of this, the estates in Hungary played a more prominent role in the domestic politics of the country than the estates in the other provinces of the monarchy. These differences became increasingly apparent, particularly from the first quarter of the seventeenth century. Assemblies of representatives of the estates became the main forums for the internal sovereignty of the country, and the participating estates took control of domestic feudal policy (i.e. in addition to the counties, they took control of the judiciary, the local military, tax collection, etc.). Thus, the Diets in feudal Hungary were considerably more important than the assemblies of the estates in other provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy. For the historian, then, both the Diets themselves and the domestic participants who appeared at the Diets (which were the most important forum of the feudal order) are significant subjects of study.1 In this complex feudal monarchy, since the fifteenth century, the free royal cities had had municipal rights independent of the royal court.2 The state order of the cities grew even more rigid compared to the late Middle Ages, and they maintained their right to self-government even if members of the nobility who moved into the burgs and, in the case of some cities, the military strained the medieval administrative framework.3 However, the cities did not have significant political influence in the Diets. From the perspective of the authorities, the monarch had more direct say in their lives. They had to pay an annual land tax (census) to the ruler as the landlord, and the extraordinary war tax (taxa) was set by the central organs of finance, not the estates. From the first third of the seventeenth century on, these taxes could even be collected several times, independently of the decisions reached at the Diets.4

Changes in the Hungarian Feudal Order in the Seventeenth Century

The changes which exerted a direct influence on Hungarian policy towards the cities from the end of the seventeenth century also influenced both the selection process of the individuals who served as envoys of the cities to the Diets in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the responsibilities and prerogatives of these individuals. The extension of the state administration to the free royal cities, the city leaders, and the denominational affiliations of the inhabitants of the cities determined, in the long run, the city administration and political representation. The era was not a period of calm construction. A decisive and irreversible turn came in the fates of the free royal cities in these decades of change, and this turn was further aggravated by numerous external factors. Between 1662 and 1681, a period spanning almost two decades, not a single Diet was held. The primary reasons for this were the responses which were caused by the differences concerning ideas of state administration, within the Habsburg Monarchy, between the Kingdom of Hungary and the elite which governed the monarchy. The county estates were resolved to maintain the domestic political relations which had developed in the sixteenth century and changed several times over the course of the seventeenth. Beginning with the period of the Wesselényi uprising (1670–1671), however, the political leadership at the head of the monarchy planned and implemented fundamental changes in these relations. The changes in public administration and domestic political life were hardly unique, however. On the contrary, they were part of a larger European trend. One of the fundamental shifts in the early modern era, a shift which came in parallel with the formation of the modern state, was the extension, simply, of the prerogatives of the state. This was accompanied by the introduction by the state, which was using centralizing and later absolutist measures, of central regulations concerning matters which earlier had been determined entirely by the estates and their representatives. In the areas which had become the responsibility of the state which had been built under the authority of the absolute ruler, the state administration, reinforced by the ruler’s legitimacy, became an unambiguously decisive factor.5 Economic history characterizes this transformation as the creation of the fiscal state (of the fiscal-military state), an expression which captures the purely economic, financial relationship between cause and solution.6

One immensely important area of centralization is confessionalization, or to put it more simply, the extension of the authority of the ruler over religion and the church (and this is one of the hallmarks of an absolutist or centralized state administration). The religious policy pursued by the Habsburg government in the Czech-Moravian and Austrian hereditary provinces was clearly part of an effort in this direction, and this was indeed part of larger political practice in the other states of Europe. The notion of “one state, one religion” had become a fairly uniformly espoused political stance in the seventeenth century in each of the states which sought to create a more or less centralized or absolutist administration.7 The issue of confessional belonging was of key importance in Hungarian domestic politics, as the events which took place in part as a result of the advance of state confessionalization clearly indicate. As the end of the Bocskai uprising (1604–1606), which broke out in no small part because of issues and conflicts of a strongly sectarian and confessional nature, the Peace of Vienna (1606) resolved (among other things) the sectarian dispute between the two parties, i.e. the Hungarian estates and the ruler. At the beginning of the reign of Ferdinand II, there was a strong demand for the establishment of a state with only one denomination, but this did not take place in the case of the Kingdom of Hungary. The reasons for this are related in part to the domestic political compromise which addressed, over the course of the whole period, the domestic political conflicts between the estates and the ruler/state.8 This compromise seemed precarious at the time precisely because of the issue of confessionalization. The attacks launched by the two Transylvanian princes (Gábor Bethlen and György I. Rákóczi) confirmed the previous place of the Hungarian estates. The Diet which was held in Sopron in 1622 and then the Peace of Linz (1645) restored the relationship between the estates and the ruler.9 In contrast, in the Austrian provinces (mainly Lower and Upper Austria and Styria), a strong counter-reformation had been underway since the first quarter of the century, which had included forced relocations and conversions.10 In contrast with the practices used to implement religious policy in the other parts of the Habsburg Monarchy, in the Kingdom of Hungary, attempts were made to effect change with peaceful means. Educational institutions run mainly by the Jesuits were established in the free royal cities and landlord market towns, and with them came the monasteries.11 The monasteries became the foundations for a slow process of conversion which enjoyed funding from the state. By the last third of the seventeenth century, the nobility had, for the most part, been converted,12 as had the middle-nobility stratum of trained professionals working in the state administrative bodies in Hungary.13 Debates and decisions reached in the Diets strengthened the results of the process of Catholic renewal, and the Hungarian Protestant political elite was increasingly pushed to the margins.14

While the parties managed to resolve the conflicts which had emerged earlier relatively quickly (1606–1608, 1622, 1645) and the domestic political balance between the estates and the ruler was, ultimately, restored, in the 1660s, the primary concern for the new political generation, which consisted of the people surrounding the new ruler, Leopold I, was simply the issue of the efficient operation of the state.15 The newly emerging political system of the Viennese government was now negotiating with a fundamentally changed Hungarian political elite, which was no longer the generation which had been born in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. For this new generation, the compromise and the rules of the political game which had emerged as a consequence or corollary of this compromise were self-evident and repeatable.16 The complete political turnaround and the reforms to public administration which were favored by the Vienna government were made possible by the period following the Wesselényi conspiracy (1664–1671). The series of armed uprisings and trials concerning accusations of treason in the wake of the conspiracy were unique in Hungarian politics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but they enabled the Vienna government to implement its plans for reform without constraints. Extremely high taxes were levied in the Kingdom of Hungary, and radical changes were implemented in the ways in which the taxes were levied. The tax based on providing for the military and the levy that was introduced as a sales tax were collected without the consent of the Diet.17 With the establishment of the Gubernium, an attempt was made to set up a new system with an office better connected to the central bodies that would govern instead of the estates. However, the Gubernium could not play a significant role due to the prevailing conditions in the country. One of the first tasks of the new administration was the recatholicization of the country. Protestant churches were confiscated and handed over to the Catholic Church.18 The measures adopted led to religious civil war,19 and the comparative stability of domestic life, which had been based until this point on compromises, was upset, as the old rules of the game no longer applied.

The measures introduced by the Habsburg government were very rapid and effective, especially when it came to restoring the institutions of the Catholic Church and taking control of the estates and buildings which had formed the basis of the institutional system. However, they had rapid repercussions for Hungarian politics due to the larger tax burdens and the radical changes to confessional life. The Thököly Uprising (1677–1685) and the Rákóczi War of Independence (1703–1711) were both consequences of the effects these measures had. At the time, during the period of the “religious civil war” of the late seventeenth century, people who belonged to different denominations were automatically regarded as enemies or, in situations of war, even as spies. The Rákóczi War of Independence was something of an exception to this, as the Lutherans again came to hold the advantage, but as a consequence of a balanced religious policy, the different denominations were still able to achieve of a certain degree of compromise and cooperation.20 The political circumstances of the Szatmár Peace Treaty (1711) helped ensure that the new administrative system that had emerged by the end of the seventeenth century could continue to develop relatively peacefully and essentially remain in place until 1848. In the first quarter of the eighteenth century, the entire Hungarian central administration underwent major reform, and the Hungarian Royal Lieutenancy Council (which replaced the Gubernium), the Hungarian Royal Chamber (which had been reorganized), and the Hungarian Court Chancellery formed the backbone of the Hungarian state administration. The Hungarian counties retained their prominence and influence in domestic politics, but in the free royal cities and the organs of the central government, the Catholic revival program was successful. Only Catholics could hold important positions in the administration, and the newly introduced administrative principles remained.

The Turning Point in Urban Policy

The new domestic policy affected the free royal cities of Hungary the most, where, beginning in the early 1670s, a significant political turn took place. The change served in part to further recatholicization and in part to secure the financial resources for increased spending by the state administration and, in particular, the army. Instead of having to rely on cities which had gone into debt and had to struggle to pay their tax burdens, the central government wanted to create a situation in which the cities would constitute a larger and more secure foundation for tax incomes. In order to address economic problems, the government wanted to introduce administrative tools similar to mechanisms and measures in other provinces of the monarchy. It sought to exert an influence on the internal composition of the city councils and to introduce state overview and reform of urban management. The central government’s primary goal was to reform urban management, and it approached this issue from several angles. First, it sought to make the city administration even more layered and more complex and also easier to keep under strict oversight and control. It also sought to determine the composition of the staff that led and operated the administration to ensure that it consisted of people who had the adequate training and expertise, who were loyal to the state administration, and who could be trusted to deal reliably with the incomes and properties of the cities and not to use them for their own purposes. The primary task of the initial period of intervention was to remove the (Lutheran) burghers in key positions and replace them with Catholics. The process of recatholicization served not only to implement increasingly the principle of one state, one religion. The selection of Catholics for positions of prominence and influence was, in the political context of the last third of the seventeenth century, a primary criterion of loyalty.21

In addition to ensuring the loyalty of its subjects, the state also needed to restore the cities economically. The factors which were taken into consideration when new members were chosen by the commissioners and delegated to the councils would have furthered the economic growth of the cities and the transparency of administration, as, alongside the criterion of belonging to the Catholic Church, knowledge of law and economics was also given considerable emphasis in the instructions.22 According to the chamber commissioners, the ability to elect the most important officers had to be taken away from the people and made subject to a decision by the ruler, since these figures allegedly “were the first leaders from the perspective of the ruin and retention of the city.” The cities would have been left only with the right to make nominations, and the commissioners would have selected the appropriate individuals from among the candidates, as was customary in Austria (sicuti moris est in Austria). Were a commissioner unable to choose a suitable candidate from the nominees, the Hungarian Chamber would have made the decision.23

In the end, the extreme means of nomination were never used. Rather, a policy was adopted according to which Catholics enjoyed strong support, but the city’s economy was also taken into consideration. The positions of key leaders in the city can be clearly discerned on the basis of the instructions given in the first few years. The city magistrate, the mayor (where there was one), and the notary had to be selected from among the candidates nominated by the central authorities.24 The commissioners not only determined the selection of the magistrate and, in some cases, the mayor, but also exerted an increasingly strong influence on the composition of the members of the internal council, then the elected council, and, where it existed, the external council. However, the election commissioners did not have an easy task, as very few of the individuals available met the ruler’s expectations, especially in the first period. The city official to be selected had to belong to the Catholic Church, but in addition to this, he also had to have an estate (benepossesionatus) and proper qualifications (qualificatus).25 In the last third of the seventeenth century, due to the haste with which changes were being introduced, individuals with inadequate qualifications and social status were often appointed to very significant city offices.26 However, it cannot be claimed that, contrary to the intent of the ruler, the changes made on the basis of denominational belonging led to a striking or irreversible drop in the qualifications of city leaders. Indeed, by the time people belonging to the second generation since the change began to take office, quite the contrary was true.

From the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Catholic city leaders almost without exception had training in law, and it was gradually inconceivable that someone without strong social ties would be elected. Alongside the converted city leaders, the urban nobility, which had important family and social-economic ties and therefore enjoyed considerable prestige and were among the former economic intellectuals, also played a major role in the leadership of the cities. Usually, the descendants of the people belonging to this circle remained in the city leadership or entered the service of the state (or married people who had entered the service of the state). In the first decades of the eighteenth century, there were some city leaders from burgher families who, as Catholics, were seen as having the necessary qualifications. They came to occupy important positions in the city leadership as burghers with suitable social recognition and prestige who, from the perspective of their family circles, had a kind of double identity. They were tied to the local burgher communities because of their occupations and family ties, but they were also tied to the public administration because of their roles as public officers and other familial ties with public officials.27

New Considerations on the Basis of which the City Delegates Were Chosen

The frameworks described above exerted a decisive influence on the ways in which the representatives who were sent to the Diets were selected and the question of who, ultimately, represented and was eligible to represent the interests of some of the free royal cities. The urban state policy which had begun to emerge in the second half of the fifteenth century was consolidated in the sixteenth century, as is indicated by the fact that (in contrast with earlier years) from the middle of the century on, the possibility that a city might not send a delegate to the Diet was not raised by a single urban council. The number of delegates that the city would send was not fixed in this period, but the cities usually sent two and sometimes three or four representatives to the Diet. The instructions for the representatives of the cities and their credentials were issued by the city’s internal councils, and the points contained in them focused essentially on the protection of the interests of the given city. The delegates were always members of the city council, but in many cases the city notary was included among them or the notary accompanied the two-person delegation.28 State oversight of seventeenth-century urban policy may have influenced the cities to support the aspirations of the ruler at the Diets as well (as they were in a more vulnerable position). By the end of the seventeenth century, the cities had managed to acquire considerable influence through the ruler and the government, and this influence was quite clear in the Diets from the eighteenth century onwards. One very clear consequence of this change was that, in the Diet held in 1687, a legal limitation was placed on the number of free royal cities, as there was legitimate fear that the number of cities would exceed the number of counties.29 As in the case of other city officials, the individuals who were selected to serve as delegates were chosen by the chamber bodies. This direct use of political control was clearly apparent in the fact that, in the 1681 Diet, at least one of the delegates sent from each of the free royal cities (which earlier had spoken out against the Counter Reformation) was Catholic, and sometimes both of the delegates were Catholic, even in cases of cities which still had clear Lutheran majorities. This shift in the denominational longing of the delegates was clearly a consequence of the instructions given by the chamber. In the first such Diet, 30 of the 49 envoys of the fourth order were Catholic, while only 16 were Lutherans and 3 were Calvinist. The cities of Kassa, Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia), and Eperjes (today Prešov, Slovakia), for example, which had strong Lutheran elites, sent only Catholic ambassadors to the Diet. In the case of Lőcse (today Levoča, Slovakia), the sources clearly indicate that Johann Fabritius and Daniel Weber were nominated under pressure from the chamber administration of the Szepes (Spiš) region, while the selection of the famous Lutheran printer Johann Brewer reflected the views of the majority of the city. Credentials were issued and instructions given for three delegates, but only the two Catholics could officially appear at the meetings of the Sopron Diet.30

The frameworks presented above and the shift in the composition of the urban elite thus exerted a strong influence on the individuals who were chosen to serve as city leaders. Drawing on the example of the city of Kassa, I offer a sketch of their social backgrounds. The sources suggest that there were no significant differences among the delegates sent by the cities from the perspective of their social backgrounds. Where there were differences, these differences were due to distinctive circumstances (for instance, varying proportions of members of the nobility or the intelligentsia) within a particular city, such as Pozsony and the mining cities of what is today central Slovakia (and at the time was referred to as “Alsó-Magyarország,” or “Lower Hungary,”) to Nagybánya (today Baia Mare, Romania). In the discussion which follows, I will offer an overview of the careers of some of the delegates from Kassa whose professional trajectories can be considered typical as a means of offering insights into the socio-historical effects of these changes. While in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the city notaries had played prominent roles, from the end of the seventeenth century on their relevance diminished drastically. It suffices perhaps to consider the example of the most famous notary from Kassa, Johannes (Bock) Bocatius, who for a short time also held the office of magistrate. Bocatius took part in the 1601 Diet as a notary. Then, during István Bocskai’s military campaign in Upper Hungary (a term used to refer to a region which today, essentially, is Slovakia), he became one of the prince’s close intellectual advisers. As Bocskai’s foreign ambassador, he was taken prisoner by Rudolf I. Like many of his associates, as a dominant urban intellectual and one of the decisive figures who shaped the ideology of the uprising, Bocatius also played a prominent role in domestic political life.31 Daniel Türck, a notary from Lőcse, took part in seven parliaments. His diary, which fortunately survived the upheavals of history, has become one of the essential sources on the early sixteenth-century Diets.32 At the end of the seventeenth century, there was only one notary, András Kercho, among the delegates to the Diet, though we know of a total of 14 delegates sent from Kassa by 1741. It is worth noting that Kercho was a Catholic burgher when he acquired his position as notary, as this post was given high priority by the royal commissioners in the post-1670 period, and only Catholics could be appointed to hold it.33 Kercho was the child of a family from Turóc County, as the last will and testament which he drew up with his wife on December 30, 1709 indicates. When he arrived in Kassa, he did not have any inherited property. (One could suggest a parallel between his career and that of János Keviczky, a key figure in the seventeenth-century Kassa elite.34) Kercho married the widow of György Szentsimonyi. Between 1691 and 1697, he was active on the external committee that represented the burghers, and from 1699 until his death on August 14, 1710, he served as a member of the internal council. He had the typical career of a Kassa notary, broken only by the period during which the soldiers of Ferenc II Rákóczi occupied the city. Kercho did not hold any city office between 1705 and 1707. However, the land he acquired lay in the part of the outskirts of Kassa where the majority of the city leaders also acquired estates. His neighbors were the Demeczky family, Johann Grasz, and János Jászay. His connections thus tied him to the new elite of the city.35

There were many German burghers among the Kassa urban elite even in the seventeenth century, despite the fact that during this period, the German population was becoming less and less significant and a large number of Hungarians had moved into the city. Hungarians had begun to settle in Kassa in significant numbers in the middle of the sixteenth century, but it was really in the seventeenth century that they began to acquire a role and place in the city elite that was significant enough for them to replace the German elite. With the increase in the number and significance of the Hungarians in Kassa, not only was the ethnic and power map of the city redrawn, but the place of Lutheranism as the confession which had held sway since the Reformation was undermined, as the vast majority of the Hungarians were Calvinists. Initially, the Lutheran city leadership had not allowed the Calvinists into the city. The Calvinists were only allowed to have their own religious community in the city beginning in the first third of the seventeenth century, and only as a consequence of pressure put on the city by the Transylvanian prince. The tensions between the Lutherans and the Calvinists only further facilitated the flow of Catholics into the city, a process which already enjoyed the support of the Vienna government.36 At the end of the seventeenth century, Andreas Breiner and Michael Goldberger were the only two Kassa councilors to appear at the Pozsony Diets with credentials. This was tied both to the shifts which had taken place in the ethnic makeup of the city of Kassa and to the fact that the highest authorities considered the selection of the Catholic delegates a priority. The non-Catholic Hungarian population of Kassa was represented by Dávid Féja and András Vida. They were both representatives of the old Kassa bourgeoisie, as socially tied to the city as the seventeenth-century local urban elite.37 This trend continued in the Diets which met during the Rákóczi War of Independence, in which, thanks to Rákóczi’s confessional policy, Protestants and Catholics enjoyed relatively balanced representation.38

Urban Nobles as Representatives of Urban Interests

The most dramatic change to take place in the delegates who were sent by the city of Kassa to the Diets was the sudden leap in the number of Catholic Hungarians who belonged to the nobility. Kassa was predestined by its status as a regional center, its role as the administrative center for the military and the chamber of Upper Hungary, and its distinctive sociohistorical characteristics to become a local center for the urban nobility, which was clearly emerging as a new social stratum in Western Europe as well. This transformation of the social order of the city was also furthered by the fact that Kassa, as the seat of the region between the Transylvanian principality and the Hungarian Kingdom, often served as a kind of place or refuge for members of the Transylvanian nobility, who sought refuge at times of unrest or turmoil (which were relatively frequent) in the Principality of Transylvania.39 Almost all the individuals who appeared in the name of the city at the national Diets and smaller Diets held at the end of the seventeenth century fell into this category. Imre Szentmártony, a member of the legal intelligentsia of the time, was active in Kassa as a recognized lawyer.40 From 1703 until 1720, he served as a member of the internal council, and he served as magistrate for three years when the city was under occupation by Rákóczi, and he regularly took part in the Kuruc Diets. His wife, Katalin Marussy, widow of István Orbán, was related to the Lászay and Regéczi families, and his father was a so-called iudex nobilium (noble judge) in Abaúj County.41

Mihály Demeczky was the child of a noble family from Gyergyószék. He may have studied law at the Jesuit University of Nagyszombat (today Trnava, Slovakia) before settling in Abaúj County. At first, working in the service of Imre Thököly, he represented the prince as his ambassador. He became a city notary in Kassa and very quickly became a member of the internal council, director of the city’s estates, and a magistrate in 1686 and 1687,42 but he also held minor positions in the county as a juror and accountant.43 Demeczky was not chosen by the royal commissioners by chance. As a young nobleman who had spent time among the Jesuits of Nagyszombat, he was selected as the solution to a challenging problem, for he had to replace Mihály Udvarhelyi, who himself had been selected in 1674 with some difficulty and who, as the chapter notary, worked both for the city and for the chapter.44 The position of city clerk not only secured him a salary, it also gave him considerable influence. In order to maintain his position, he allegedly did not hesitate to lobby against a resolution passed by the Diet in 1687 on the election of officials in the free royal cities. However, after this came to light, he fell out with the city leadership and renounced his rights as a burgher. Indeed, before doing this, he was not even willing to go to the meetings of the city council. Rather, the internal opposition of the city leadership met in his home. Although this unhappy state of affairs was resolved in accordance with the strict instructions of Leopold I, Demeczky’s relationship with the council clearly remained troubled, for he never held office again.45

Like Demeczky and Szentmártony, László Jászay may have been an intellectual nobleman who had studied law, though the sources contain no clear indication that he had any degree at all. He served as a delegate to the Diet, and this and the services he performed in city affairs and the various occasions on which he served as a delegate suggest that, like Demeczky and Szentmártony, Jászay had also been a member of this stratum. This is also supported by the fact that in 1676, citing the services he had performed for the city and his poverty, he asked the council to refrain from compelling him to present a letter of confirmation (the document which attested to his noble birth) or from paying the tax levied on burghers. Six years later, he had become a member of the internal council, and there is no indication in the sources that he was among the community of the elected.46 He also served as the delegate sent by Kassa to the assembly of the representatives of the cities of Upper Hungary, and one year later, he was a delegate to the Diet. Alongside the magistrate and city prosecutor Balázs Váncsay, he was a member of the committee charged with the task of designating the site of a church for the Lutherans, in accordance with the decisions reached at the 1687 Diet.47 Balázs Váncsay was the father of István Váncsay, who would emerge as a prominent Kassa politician. His career illustrates the changes which were underway and the ways in which individuals were compelled to adapt to these changes. Balázs Váncsay is mentioned in the sources as a Hungarian cantor and, later, as the city prosecutor. He was one of the figures who helped the family acquire a noble title. Together with his brothers Mihály and Mátyás, he was given a title on May 4, 1665 by Leopold I.48 Váncsay may have served as a suitable link between Catholics and Lutherans, as he converted to the Catholic faith very early on. His son István was baptized on July 25, 1673 by a Lutheran pastor. His godparents, Márton Madarász, István Kassai, organist Sándor Pischel, Mrs. Zsófia Puttemberger Ádám Kiss, Mrs. Judit Liptai András Tornay, and Mrs. Judit Faigel Dávid Féja, were prominent members of the city’s Lutheran elite.49 His second child, Gábor, was baptized by the Catholic parish priest in 1681,50 so he clearly converted sometime between these two dates, but presumably sometime around the moment when he went from being the Hungarian cantor to serving as the city prosecutor, as it was customary to reward intellectuals who had converted with positions in the city or state administration and thus to ensure them a livelihood. This may have taken place sometime around 1676, or at least this is suggested by the fact that in 1676, András Újvári-Bodnár, a resident of Kassa, rebuked Váncsay precisely for this reason, and indeed he rebuked him so churlishly that he was sentenced to pay a fine of 100 thalers.51 The council, which was already mostly Catholic by that time, may have chosen Váncsay to negotiate with Thököly, who was marching against the city, precisely because he was a convert.52

Balázs Váncsay was also a link to the next generation of Kassa city leaders, to the members of the elite who represented the interests of the city of Kassa in the Diets which were being held at a time in which the political circumstances and issues had changed dramatically. Balázs Váncsay’s son István, who was born a Lutheran (or Calvinist), became both the most significant figure of the city government who wielded the greatest influence but also the person who caused the biggest scandal in the politics of the city at the time. From the perspective of his social connections, the young Váncsay was clearly among the city leaders who were proud of their noble rank and sought ties to the noble families of the county.53 Already as a young man, he may have been a divisive figure, for in 1692, he came into conflict with Mihály Tarnóczy. Váncsay had sought to cheat Tarnóczy, and Tarnóczy had become so enraged that he had chased Váncsay through the vineyards, but first he struck him in the head with a small hatchet. He threw a stone at Váncsay (who fled) which quite possibly would have killed him had Váncsay, who had only recently turned 20, not been quick on his feet.54 He began his career as an advocate in the city council, in the council that was newly elected by Ferenc II Rákóczi, but he was soon mentioned in the sources from subsequent years among the most prominent members of the internal council. During the War of Independence, he was one of the members of the Kassa council who was sent the most frequently to meet with Rákóczi or Rákóczi’s most important officers or to represent the city at the Kuruc Diets.55 István Váncsay was at the Diet held in 1712 (which brought the War of Independence to an end from the perspective of domestic politics) as the only city notary of the time, with András Hlavathy, the envoy sent by Kassa, at his side. During the Diet, the two delegates participated in the debate with the cities which again had been given the status of free royal cities over their rank, but they were dealing, in addition, with the issues concerning the tax agreement, which was deemed hopeless, and they also worked to facilitate the selection of the new parish priest of Kassa.56 Váncsay was a respected councilor at the time. He had served as deputy magistrate in 1709 and then had been elected to serve as magistrate in 1710 and 1711.57 Váncsay seems to have been someone who did not hesitate to come into conflict with others if he felt he had to protect his own interests or if he felt that a member of his family had been insulted.58 As noted above, he was baptized a Protestant, but by 1712, he had converted to Catholicism, for in this year he became the godfather of one of István Radikovicz’s twins.59 The fact that he was ranked second on the council which was elected in front of chamber councilor Franz Meixner on January 28, 1712 and which consisted exclusively of Catholics is again clear indication that he had converted. He was also elected to serve as a tax collector.60

Váncsay served on the council until 1714, and it is reasonable to suggest that he failed to hold his position because of events which had transpired during the Rákóczi War of Independence and suspicions concerning biased management of city funds. In 1717, Baron Johann Ignatz Viechter, a chamber councilor and delegated election commissioner, was given the task of putting the management of Kassa on stable footing. In order to do this, he had Bertalan Máray appointed mayor of the city, and he requested all the records of the city accounts and strove to determine who had been responsible for the earlier mismanagement of city finances. Váncsay was among the accused. According to the report, he was chosen to serve as a member of the council again on condition that he submit for examination the records of accounts from the period during which he had served as magistrate. It had then become clear that, during the upheavals caused by the War of Independence, Váncsay may have dealt in an underhanded manner with the wealth which had flown into the city, as it came to light, in the course of the investigation, that he had taken 13 last wills and testaments from the city archives which had never been found again. Each of these last wills and testaments had named the city as the heir.61 In spite of the suspicions which were cast on him, Váncsay was still nominated to serve as deputy magistrate62 that year and as advocate and magistrate the following year. Of the latter two positions, he secured the second with a majority of the votes, and he remained in office as magistrate until 1727, or in other words for nine years.63 Váncsay ruled with an iron fist during his time in office, as evidenced by the fact that he did not leave office voluntarily or simply as a result of a vote held by the council, but rather as the consequence of an extraordinary procedure, something that was used only as a rare exception at the time. In January 1726, the Szepesi chamber, which passed on the contents of the annual royal decrees, informed the city that they would not send an election commissioner. Rather, the election would be held without a commissioner. Their only stipulation was that Váncsay submit the records of accounts from the period between 1709 and 1712 to the chamber for examination.64 It referred, as an antecedent to this, to the fact that during the election of city officials held in 1724, the royal commissioner had objected to Váncsay’s management,65 but as Váncsay had failed to submit the records (which now were well over a decade old) even after having been called on to do so several times, royal commissioner Pál Lipót Mednyánszky was having him removed from office, and he would not be allowed anywhere near the highest circles of the city leadership until he had done as instructed and had submitted the records.66

The city of Kassa treated the case of its former magistrate as a matter of considerable importance and even urgency. One explanation for this may simply have been the prestige and authority which Váncsay enjoyed, but the city may also have resented the manner in which the royal commissioner and the ruler were infringing on the rights of the city council. The council turned to the Hungarian Court Chancellery and then the Court Chamber with its complaints, and it charged Adam Aloysius Talheim, who was a Vienna agent and who served on the chancellery, with the specific task of handling this matter. The council was perfectly willing to spend money and barter with the wines stored in the city cellars in order to ensure that Váncsay be restored to his position as magistrate as soon as possible. (They even turned to Mátyás Bél, a Pozsony pastor, for assistance, as indicated by the fact that two of the barrels of wine that were sent to the chancellor were stored in his cellar.67) Talheim earned his money, and the wine given to further Váncsay’s case also proved an effective bartering tool, for in February 1728, the chancellery recommended that the Royal Chamber support Váncsay’s reappointment as magistrate, as, in the end, he had submitted the records requested of him and had settled the issues concerning the city finances. The chancellery felt that Váncsay had already proven his capacity for the office and that he had done a great deal for Kassa as a royal estate (peculium regium).68 Kassa therefore quickly received permission from the ruler, and Váncsay regained power over the city, as he began serving as deputy magistrate that year and then regained his seat as magistrate the following year in the election that was held before the royal commissioner.69 True, the Szepes Chamber Administration was by no means satisfied with Váncsay’s work. Indeed, it had several specific complaints. It objected, for instance, to the various luxury expenditures he ordered, and records of accounts again were missing. The basic principles according to which the orphanage would be run had not been clearly specified, and the urbarium for the city estates still had not been prepared. The apothecary, which was worth more than 30,000 forints, had been leased for 3,000 forints, and worst of all, no records had been kept of the estates which had ended up in the hands of the city.70 Váncsay nonetheless triumphed over the other candidates in the 1729 and 1730 elections and again in 1733, and he sat in the most prominent places on the council until his death. Considering that, as the most prominent member of the council, he also held the position of mayor (as was established practice) and thus essentially had complete control over the management of the city, we can justifiably say that István Váncsay was the most significant magistrate of Kassa in the first half of the eighteenth century.

Social Ties and the Early Stages of Career Paths

Members of the Váncsay family were working in the service of the chambers by the middle of the eighteenth century, but like the children of many other individuals who held offices in Kassai, they saw greater assurance of good career prospects in the service of the state. János Nossiczi Thurzó, who worked as part of the office responsible for collecting the thirtieth (a tax),71 was a permanent member of the Catholic council created in 1712 until his death on August 12, 1732, and in the last two years of his life, he served as the city magistrate.72 In addition to serving on the city council, he was also given constant employment by the Szepes Chamber Administration.73 One sees evidence of the close relationship between the chamber and the city management in the fact that, among the children of the city councilors, members of the Almássy, Csomortányi, Demeczky, Ganóczy, and Berezik families became the chamber officials. Usually, the officers who had positions as clerks were sons of the mayors of Kassa, but some of them managed to make it to positions in the middle of the hierarchy of offices. György Thurzó, the son of the aforementioned János Thurzó, served as assistant accountant to the chamber administration.74

There were tendencies in the family and social ties of the Kassa delegates and, more generally, the new elite of the city which indicate the existence of various subgroups. The delegates tended to come from a social group which could perhaps most accurately be characterized as the intellectual, officeholding stratum of the nobility the families of which had gotten their noble titles one generation earlier (usually, in the middle of the second half of the seventeenth century). If one looks at the network of relationships involving the godparents of the Kassa delegates and their children, one notes one of the largest nodes of this network was formed by the relationships among the families which sought closer bonds (such as the bond between family and godparent) among people who belonged to the city elite. The few delegates who were Lutherans formed a distinct group, the most interesting of which was perhaps the subgroup formed by András Hlavathy and Gergely Lukácsik, who asked women who were married to leaders of the Szepes Chamber Administration to be godmothers to their children. This all clearly illustrates that the smaller groups which had already been identified in Sopron also existed in Kassa, and the model introduced there was also valid in the case of a city which was an administrative center in Upper Hungary.75 Indeed, as the seat of the Szepes Chamber Administration, Kassa perhaps bore a stronger affinity with Pozsony from the perspective of its ties to the local network of officeholders. The roles of the city, which served as a prominent site for domestic political affairs in the Kingdom of Hungary, as both a residence and an administrative center further strengthened these urban-political and social factors, which were also factors in the other free royal cities and which exerted a stronger or weaker influence on the lives of the city communities. Members of the new, well-educated, Catholic urban elite appeared very quickly among the city leaders in the first years of the turnaround in urban policy. Elected officials almost without exception had legal degrees, and they built strong social ties. It was also not at all uncommon for a Catholic intellectual to enter into a familial relationship not with someone who belonged to one of the families which was part of the city elite, but rather with one of the employees of the local chamber. In these cases, we can speak of people who had ties to the city and the burghers because of their occupations and lifestyles but who were also tied to the state administration because of their family connections to state offices and people who held positions in the state offices. Naturally, this put them in a very advantageous position. As burghers who were also intellectuals (for the most part, with training as physicians or apothecaries), they were recognized members of the given communities, and because of their good ties to local representatives of state power, they clearly enjoyed an array of other advantages.76 The close study of the Kassa delegates definitely indicates that the leaders of the burgher community of the city tended to develop close ties to the local nobility and the state administration, even more so than in the case of Sopron or Pozsony. This was true not simply in cases involving the official affairs of the city but also from the perspective of the personal relationships of the city leaders.

In Summary

This discussion of the careers of delegates from the city of Kassa to the Diets sheds light on fact that, from the perspective of its professional (administrative) training and qualifications, the new Catholic urban elite managed to catch up relatively quickly to the Lutheran burgher community. In contrast with the Lutherans, however, Catholics enjoyed significant advantages according to the new principles of urban policy. Thus, the two groups were never on an equal footing from the perspective of politics. This was especially true when, due to the administrative significance of the city (like Pozsony and Kassa), the government no longer sought to maintain the former confessional balance and instead wanted to create a city leadership consisting exclusively of Catholics. This new, professional, trained urban elite was no longer tied exclusively to the burgher class. Rather, it was closely linked to the local nobility and the noble-officeholding urban stratum, which it came to resemble more and more. For the sons of this new elite, the prospect of serving in state office seemed an increasingly normal, natural way to launch a career. It also became increasingly common for the leading urban elite to include many individuals who were members of the nobility who lived primarily off their incomes as officeholders or, in other words, who belonged to the abovementioned stratum of noblemen intellectuals. Thus, from the perspective of social history, a new class of officeholding intellectuals emerged from the very mixed stratum that consisted of both burghers and members of the nobility. This new class had strong ties to the burgher lifestyle, and it not only took the baton from the honorary urban leaders in city administration but also began to serve in ever larger numbers in state offices.

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Schw. Colectio Schwartzenbachiana

Štátny archív v Banskej Bystrici, pracovisko Banská Bystrica [State Archive in Banská Bystrica, Banská Bystrica workplace] (StABB)

MMBB: Magistrat Mesta Banská Bystrica

Štátny Archiv v Košiciach [State Archive in Košice] (StAKE)

Zb. cirk. matr. Zbierka cirkevných matrík

Štátny archív v Prešove, špecializované pracovisko Spišský archív v Levoči [State Archive in Prešov, specialized workplace Spišský archiv in Levoča] (StALE)

MML Magistrat Mesta Levoče


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Zsilinszky, Mihály. A magyar országgyűlések vallásügyi tárgyalásai a reformátiótól kezdve [Negotiations concerning religious affairs in the Hungarian Diets since the Reformation]. 4 vols. Budapest: Magyarországi Protestánsegylet, Hornyánszky, 1880–1891.

Zsoldos, Attila, ed. Matricula Universitatis Tyrnaviensis 1635–1701. A Nagyszombati Egyetem anyakönyve 1635–1701 [Registry of the University of Nagyszombat, 1635–1701]. Fejezetek az Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem történetéből 11. Budapest: Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem, 1990.

1 Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary, 177–91.

2 Szűcs, “Das Städtewesen in Ungarn”; Kubinyi, “Der ungarische König und seine Städte.”

3 H. Németh, Várospolitika és gazdaságpolitika.

4 H. Németh, “Die finanziellen Auswirkungen.”

5 Vierhaus, Staaten und Stände; Heinrich, “Staatsaufsicht und Stadtfreiheit”; Henshall, The Myth of Absolutismus; Duchhardt, “Absolutismus”; Asch and Duchhardt, Der Absolutismus.

6 Brien and Hunt, “The Rise of a Fiscal State”; Hart, The Making of a Bourgeois State; Bonney, The Rise of the Fiscal State; Cavaciocchi, La Fiscalità Nell’economia Europea; Kenyeres, “A ‘Fiscal-Military State’ és a Habsburg Monarchia.”

7 Hinrichs, “Abschied vom Absolutismus”; Vierhaus, Staaten und Stände, 15–38. On the changes which took place in the lands of the Habsburg Monarchy, see Bahlcke, Konfessionalisierung in Ostmitteleuropa; Mikulec, Pobělohorská rekatolizace; Mikulec, “Praga w okresie kontrreformacji”; Sterneck, “Obnovování českobudějovické městské rady”; Hrdlička, “Die (Re-)Katholisierung lokaler Amtsträger,” 357–66; Mikulec, “Die staatlichen Behörden”; Fejtová, Rekatolizace na Novém Městě pražském.

8 Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary.

9 Péter, “The struggle for Protestant religious liberty”; Pálffy, “Ewige Verlierer”; Pálffy, “Ein vergessener Ausgleich”; Dominkovits and H. Németh, “Bethlen Gábor 1619–1621. évi hadjárata és Sopron.”

10 Herzig, Der Zwang zum wahren Glauben; Deventer, Gegenreformation in Schlesien; Kunisch, “Staatsräson und Konfessionaliserung”; Mikulec, 31.7.1627. Rekatolizace šlechty.

11 Molnár, Mezőváros és katolicizmus; Molnár, Lehetetlen küldetés; Kádár, “Jezsuita kollégium.”

12 Fraknói, Pázmány Péter, vol. 2, 40–55, 233–49, 372–79; Bitskey, “A reformáció kezdetei”; Bitskey, “Pázmány Péter felső-magyarországi missziója”; Tusor, “Nemesi és polgári érdekérvényesítési törekvések”; Tusor, “Problems and Possibilities”; Fazekas, A reform útján.

13 Signs of the initiative can be discerned under the reign of Rudolf: OeStA/FHKA AHK HFUung.MBW RN 8. 1602. fol. 172–189. On the preferences shown for mine officers who were Catholic, see: RN 10. 1618. fol. 52–65, 112–116, RN 11. 1623. fol. 271–273, RN 11. 1625. fol. 246–257, RN 11. 1626. fol. 138–141, 295., 615; OeStA/FHKA AHK HFU Akten RN 142. 1630. Juli fol. 144–157, RN 196. 1655. Juli fol. 44. See: Bahlcke, Konfessionalisierung; Hrdlička, “Die (Re-)Katholisierung lokaler Amtsträger.”

14 Szilágyi, A linzi béke; Fabó, Az 1662-diki országgyűlés; Zsilinszky, A magyar országgyűlések vallásügyi tárgyalásai, vol. 2, 186–267; Bessenyei, “A szabad királyi városok,” 255–63; Tusor, “Nemesi és polgári érdekérvényesítési törekvések.”

15 On the political circles and divisions that worked alongside Leopold I, see the monograph by Stefan Sienell: Sienell, Die Geheime Konferenz.

16 Tusor, “Problems and Possibilities.”

17 Nagy, “A Magyar Kamara.”

18 Benczédi, Rendiség, abszolutizmus, 53–57, 68–74; S. Varga, Az 1674-es gályarabper; Michels, “Az 1674. évi pozsonyi prédikátorper”; Mihalik,Papok, polgárok, konvertiták, 152–66, 183–97; Kónya, Prešov, Bardejov a Sabinov.Scheutz, “Compromise and Shake Hands.”

19 Mihalik.Papok, polgárok, konvertiták, 19, 93.

20 For a summary, see Misóczki, Vallás- és egyházügy.

21 H. Németh, “Állam és városok.”

22 See Rügge, Im Dienst von Stadt und Staat, 70–108. Regarding the Kingdom of Hungary, see Vári, Pál and Brakensiek, Herrschaft an der Grenze, 143–207.

23 MNL OLE 23 (Litt.Cam. Scep.) March 4, 1673.

24 Ibid. 1674. April. 22, MNL OL E 210 (Misc.) Civitatensia 20. t. 2, no. Vienna, December 22, 1677, AMK Schw. No. 9214. Vienna, December 6, 1673. The same in Lőcse: StALE MML X/36/2 and Besztercebánya (today Banská Bystrica, Slovakia): StABB MMBB Spisy Fasc. 286. No. 38.

25 “…necessarium valde et expediens iudicavimus, ut quandoquidem catholica ortodoxa per Dei gratium fides, magnum illic incrementum sumpsisse, frequentesque catholicae bene qualificatae, ad gerenda senatoria, et quaelibet alia inter vos consueta officia, idoneae personae inveniri comperiantur.” AMK Schw. No. 9277. Vienna, December 16, 1674. See No. 9332. Pozsony, June 19, 1675, No. 9405. Kassa, January 7, 1676, No. 9475. Vienna, December 24, 1677, No. 9476. Pozsony, January 2, 1677, No. 11008. Vienna, December 2, 1696.

26 Szűcs, “Das Städtewesen,” 156; Špiesz,Slobodné královské mestá, 29–46, 83–95; Špiesz, “Rekatolizácia na Slovensku”; Marečková, “Politická autonomie.”

27 Vörös, “A modern értelmiség”; Kosáry, “Értelmiség és kulturális elit”; Tóth, “Hivatali szakszerűsödés.”

28 Kassa, for instance, sent three delegates to Pozsony in 1609: AMK H I. 1609. November 16.

29 1687. 17. tc.; Szijártó, A diéta, 168–73.

30 MML XXI/10. 28–36; MNL OLE 254 (Repr., inf. et inst.) April 1681, No. 38, 46. Pavercsik, “A lőcsei Brewer-nyomda,” 385.

31 Teszelszky and Zászkaliczky, “A Bocskai-felkelés.”

32 Szabó, “Caspar Hain.”

33 Németh, “Állam és városok,” 790–94.

34 Wick, Kassa régi síremlékei, 101–10; J. Újváry, “Polgár vagy nemes?” 423–25.

35 AMK H III/2. re 9, Schw. No. 12869.

36 J. Újváry, “Kassa polgárságának etnikai-politikai változásai.” More recently on confessional relationships: H. Németh, “Kassa, egy többfelekezetű régióközpont.”

37 J. Újváry, “Kassa város polgársága”; J. Újváry, “Egy kereskedőcsalád metamorfózisa.”

38 H. Németh, “Otázky mestskej politiky.”

39 H. Németh, “Šľachta v mestách.” H. Németh, “Košice a drift in the European municipal politics”; H. Németh, “Városok, várospolitika.”

40 He took the attorney’s oath on January 2, 1702 before the Eger chapter. AMK Schw. 11831.

41 AMK H III/2. re 9, Schw. No. 10517, 12018, 13383, 13603. As the delegate for the city: Schw. No. 12185, 12228, 12355, 12782.

42 OeStA/FHKA AHK HFU Akten RN 280. fol. 284–286, AMK Schw. No.9777, 10699; H. Németh, Kassa szabad királyi város archontológiája, 257.

43 Gyergyószék’s testimony on the family’s noble title: http://demeczky.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=369 (Accessed on September 16, 2020). On his years at university, see Zsoldos, Matricula, 183, 190, 196. As Thököly’s delegate: Gergely, “Thököly Imre,” vol. 11, 493.

44 H. Németh, “Állam és városok,” 793.

45 AMK H III/2. mac. 86. fol. 1, 114, 121–122, Schw. No. 10564.

46 AMK H II. 1676., and H. Németh, Kassa szabad királyi város archontológiája, 269.

47 AMK H III/2. pur. 30. fol. 106. July 29, 1686. fol. 110. August 5, 1686. mac. 85. fol. 98. January 3, 1687. mac. 86. fol. 66. September 6, 1687. fol. 92. September 30, 1687.

48 MNL OL C 30 (Acata nob.) Pozsony vm., Documenta No. 22., and uitt Pozsony vm., Protocollum investigationis nobilium, 471., Pozsony vm., Investigatio nobilium, A füzet 8.

49 StAKE Zb. cirk. matr. Evanjelícká cirkev,1673. 626.

50 ŠtAKE, Zb. cirk. matr. Rímsko-katolícká cirkev, 1681. 373.

51 AMK Schw. No. 9442.

52 AMK Schw. No. 9830.

53 His wives were members of the Kiséry and Pálfalvay families. AMK Schw. No. 13390, 13675, 13961, 14117, Schr. No. 19712.

54 AMK Schw. No. 10517. November 1, 1692.

55 AMK H I. 12541/2. Miskolc, January 24, 1706. 12541/3. Miskolc, February 14, 1706. 12541/4. Miskolc, January 31, 1706. 12726/14. Késmárk, January 10, 1707. 12726/30. Köröm, June 16, 1707. H III/2. mac. 103. fol. 29. March 21, 1707. fol. 37–38. April 15, 1707. Schw. Nr. 12516.

56 The reversalises of the two delegates: Schw. No. 13201. Their reports: AMK H I. 13310/2, 7–9, Schw. No. 13182.

57 Schw. No. 12871. Kassa, August 9, 1709. Schw. No. 13010. August 18, 1710. Schw. No. 12984. August 21, 1710. H III/2. re 9. fol. 144, 149.

58 In defense of his sister-in-law, István Váncsay came to blows with Mihály Czirjáki, for instance, at the marriage feast of council member István Surányi. AMK Schw. No. 13151, 13168. He was embroiled in trials with the Pálfalvay family for a long time over his wife Julianna Pálfalvy’s bequest: ibid. No. 14117.

59 ŠtAKE, Zb. cirk. matr. Rímsko-katolícká cirkev, 1712. 393.

60 AMK H III/2. re 9. fol. 159–160.

61 MNL OL A 20 (Litt. Cam. Hung.)1717. No. 34.

62 AMK Schw. No. 13964. November 10, 1717.

63 AMK III/2. re 9.

64 AMK Schw. No. 15181. Kassa, January 1, 1726.

65 MNL OL E 23 (Litt ad Cam. Scep.) October 27, 1724.

66 AMK Schw. No. 15498. August 2, 1727.

67 AMK Schw. No. 15590. Vienna, December 3, 1727. Schw. No. 15691. Kassa, February 7, 1728. Schw. No. 15724. February 7, 1728.

68 AMK Schw. No. 15779. Vienna, February 24, 1728.

69 AMK Schw. No. 15592. Vienna, February 24, 1728. No. 15625.

70 MNL OL E 23 (Litt ad Cam. Scep.) October 1, 1728. August 16, 1730.

71 MNL OL Magyar Kamara Archivuma, Urbaria et Conscriptiones (E 156), Regestrata Fasc. 35. No. 56.

72 AMK H III/2. re 9.

73 MNL OL E 156 (UetC) Regestrata, Fasc. 55. No. 51. (1715), Fasc. 84. No. 58. (1715), Fasc. 24. No. 58. (1723)

74 Fallenbüchl, “A Szepesi Kamara tisztviselői,” 214–215, 226.

75 H. Németh, “Venerable Senators,” H. Németh, “Állam és városok.”

76 H. Németh, “Pozsony centrális szerepköreinek hatásai.”

* The essay was made possible with the support of an NKFI K 116166 grant and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Momentum “Family History Research Group.”