IN SEARCH OF A USEABLE PAST: POLITICS OF HISTORY IN THE POST-COMMUNIST CZECH REPUBLIC AND SLOVAKIA FROM A COMPARATIVE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
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The dissertation examines the puzzle of the divergent post-communist discourses and rituals of collective memory in the Czech republic and Slovakia - in particular, the difference in (1) the two countries' attitudes toward de-communization, (2) their interpretations of their common Czechoslovak past, and (3) the overall content and style of official memory discourses employed in the two countries after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Taking a comparative historical perspective, the dissertation traces the transformation of the Czech and Slovak historical narratives over time and finds the roots of the divergent Czech and Slovak post-communist paths in the legacies of the Czechoslovak communist and interwar regimes. On a conceptual level, the dissertation presents a culturalist critique of the dominant institutionalist literature on democratization and an argument on how we might think of post-communist transitions outside of the strictly institutional framework. It conceptualizes democratization as a dynamic and a highly contentious process of meaning creation in which various actors struggle to legitimize themselves and their visions of the present and the future by making references to the past and highlights the special role of political myths in this process. Rather than a straightforward adoption of some ready-made institutions and processes, in other words, democratization is presented as an activity of sensemaking - of searching for useable pasts and new legitimizing mythologies. The Czech and Slovak post-communist search for useable pasts represents neither an unprecedented "return of history" nor some cynical sinister power play of elites acting on some well-constituted interests but rather a new phase of an ongoing, dynamic project of identity and meaning-creation - of sense-making through time.