Celebrating Liberation: The Commemoration and Instrumentalisation of the End of the Second World War in Contemporary Czech and Slovak Politics

by Vladimír Naxera (Author) Petr Krčál (Author)
©2021 Monographs 144 Pages


This book contributes to the discussion about the instrumental use of history. It
analyses two examples of public festivities related to the events and legacy of the final
stage of World War II. The first of these commemoration events is the Liberation Festival
in Pilsen, a public event celebrating the liberation of Pilsen in 1945. The second
event is the celebration of the Slovak National Uprising anniversary, held annually
in Banská Bystrica. The analysis focuses on the manner in which public commemorations
of historical events are used and instrumentalised by contemporary political
elites. Prior to the political and social relevance of the analysed events, the narratives
they produce are transcending into the cultural and commercial spheres.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Prologue
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1 Politics, history, memory, and commemoration
  • History, memory, and national mythology
  • The others and national enemies
  • Political calendars, holidays, commemoration, and Lieux de Mémoire
  • Chapter 2 Liberation Festival in the most “American city” in Europe
  • Liberation of Pilsen and Western Bohemia
  • History of (non)celebration and sites of collective memory
  • Festival’s organisation and the course of celebrations
  • Narrative structure of the Liberation Festival
  • Liberation
  • Occupation
  • Chapter 3 Slovak National Uprising as a “national treasure” and its annual celebrations in Banská Bystrica
  • Slovak National Uprising
  • History of celebrations and sites of collective memory
  • Organisation and the course of celebrations
  • Narrative structure of the SNU anniversary celebrations
  • Liberation
  • Occupation
  • Conclusion
  • Epilogue
  • List of figures
  • Bibliography


Pilsen – 1986

We were both born in Pilsen in 1986. In those days, a few years before the fall of Communism, one could not say in public that Pilsen was liberated by American and Belgian troops at the end of the Second World War. The party’s official narrative said that Pilsen, just as the rest of Czechoslovakia, was liberated by the Soviets.

Pilsen – early 1990s

Vladimír: Sometime in the early 1990s, I might have been around six years old, I went with my family to an exhibition in the maashaus of the historical building of the Pilsen city hall. Besides other things, there was an illustrated map of the Pilsen centre. The street, which was named Americká třída (American Avenue) after the communist regime fell, had a drawing of a jeep full of American soldiers waving the American flag. I remember asking my parents why there were American soldiers in Pilsen.

Petr: As a little child, I remember going regularly (I guess) to the celebrations commemorating the liberation of Pilsen with my parents. My memories of this event are rather fragmentary: a lot of people and noise, military vehicles, candy floss of a disgusting pink colour. At the same time, I remember the following bit – I remember that during the celebrations, someone said to someone else near me that they were finally enjoying the festivities because nobody believed the talk that the liberators were Soviet soldiers dressed as Americans anyway.

Pilsen – mid-1990s

Vladimír: From the mid-1990s, I already remember the yearly celebrations of the liberation of Pilsen by the American army at the end of the Second World War. One year, in particular, stuck in my mind – our family were spending that weekend at our cottage. Our neighbour was taking his sons on a trip to Pilsen, where a convoy of historical and modern military vehicles would be ←7 | 8→passing (just like any other year). There were hundreds of military enthusiasts in the city, clad in American but also Czechoslovakian or German historical uniforms. I armed myself with an old Soviet camera for this trip, which used an old film big enough for 36 pictures. I remember the first picture I took being of two men in German uniforms waiting for a tram. With a 36-picture film equipped, I pressed the shutter release perhaps 80 times during that day when we saw, besides the convoy, also a re-enactment of the battle for the church in the central city square. Only back at the cottage did I find out that the film had not been properly placed and that it was empty. Back then, I had no idea that the official name of that event was the Liberation Festival, and I did not realise its historical or ideological proportions. To a 10- or 11-year-old child, it was just a day you could watch tanks.

Pilsen – around 2000

Vladimír: At that time, I played in a youth brass orchestra, which often performed at various festivities. Somewhere around 2000, together with members of Sokol and the Scouts, war veterans, and military enthusiasts, we took part in the parade accompanying the convoy of historical vehicles. The traffic was stopped in the city centre, and the parade passed through the street, crossing the whole centre of Pilsen. We played marching music for the whole two or three kilometres of the parade’s route. I remember the weather being extremely hot for early May. I dragged my heavy tuba, and the only part of the celebrations I was aware of was the heat and my wish to be anywhere else.

Banská Bystrica and Komárno – summer 2010

In 2010, Vladimír started his doctoral studies in political science, and Petr entered his last year of master’s studies. That summer, our teacher and future colleague Ľubomír Lupták, who influenced our professional interests to a great extent then, took us twice to Slovakia for a field research for his project. It was quite an experience for us as we got to know a “somewhat different political science”. At the beginning of the summer holiday, we went to Bratislava, which became our base for shorter trips to Devin and Komárno in particular, where we participated in the unveiling of a statue of the Saints Cyril and Methodius, attended by many political representatives.←8 | 9→

Now after some time has passed, we remember mainly the bizarre nature of the situation in Komárno. In the middle of a roundabout surrounded by a grey (post)socialist concrete housing complex, the said statue was unveiled, standing on a massive pedestal, and completely bronze-plated.

We have a different, although similarly curious, experience from Devin where we met a bookseller during the celebrations of the Slovak State, whose stand offered obscure books published by Matica slovenská which presented a “scientific” proof that the Slovaks are an ancient nation because they have had the lactase enzyme allowing them to digest dairy products for over 10,000 years.

At the end of August, we went on the second trip, this time to Banská Bystrica, which we have visited many times since on different occasions. Before the first journey, however, we did not have a completely clear idea of where the city was located and what made it so specific. During our first visit, we observed the celebrations of the Slovak National Uprising anniversary, again with many members of the Slovak political elite present. The research in Komárno and Banská Bystrica resulted in our first paper, among other things, dealing with the political extent of the celebrations.

Pilsen and Banská Bystrica – 2015

For the next few years, we pursued different topics. We kept coming back to Banská Bystrica, which we can say we fell for; not for research, however, but mainly for the conferences held by the local university. At the beginning of 2015, we decided to continue researching the political relevance of public holidays. We managed to get a rather small university project which helped us fund a few days’ stay in Banská Bystrica, among other things. Our first trip in 2015 was not a very organised one. We remember that we started wondering if there would be any schedule at all only in the taxi taking us from the Banská Bystrica station to the hotel. In 2015, we also decided to start analyzing the Pilsen Liberation Festival. This did not mean just random observations as in 2010 anymore; in 2015, we started a consistent research of both places, which lasted several years and was completed in 2018–2020 as part of a project provided by the Czech Science Foundation. This book is one of the outcomes of that project.←9 | 10→


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (September)
Banská Bystrica Czech and Slovak politics Second World War Slovak National Uprising political festivities politics use of history
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 144 pp., 6 fig. b/w, 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Vladimír Naxera (Author) Petr Krčál (Author)

Vladimír Naxera and Petr Krcˇál are political scientists at the University of West Bohemia, Pilsen, Czech Republic. Their research is focused on populism, the use of history as a political tool, and performative aspects of politics.


Title: Celebrating Liberation: The Commemoration and Instrumentalisation of the End of the Second World War in Contemporary Czech and Slovak Politics
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146 pages