Munich as event, concept, symbol
On the night of September 29-30, 1938, Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy agreed in Munich to order a sovereign state, Czechoslovakia, to cede at very short notice significant parts of its territory to Germany. Czechoslovakia was not invited to the negotiations, which were therefore perceived as a dictate and a national disaster, which resulted in the collapse of the democratic multi-party system that had characterized the country since its creation in 1918.
Neville Chamberlain famously expressed his satisfaction with the agreement, which he believed was a guarantee of “peace for our time.” But the international commission that was to oversee the orderly fulfilment of the agreement never came into being, and on March 15, 1939, Hitler violated the agreement by occupying the remains of Bohemia and Moravia. Five and half months later, Germany’s assault on Poland released the Second World War.
This chain of events led to the rapid discrediting of the Agreement, and “Munich” soon became a historical concept in its own right, like “Waterloo” or “Trianon.” The Czech debate has mostly focussed on whether the government did right in capitulating without struggle, and on the nature of the “trauma” that Munich allegedly inflicted on the national psyche. In an international context, Munich has become a symbol of failed appeasement, of capitulation before aggression and dictatorship. The Munich analogy was standard equipment in American foreign politics during and after the Cold War, and also Margaret Thatcher and other European politicians have used it. The rhetorical mobilization of the analogy in the build-up to the Iraq War 2002-2003 testifies to its continued vitality.
This conference, which marks the 75th anniversary of the Munich Agreement, will bring together sixteen international scholars to take stock and present new research into “Munich” as event, concept and symbol in national and international contexts. We aim to focus on the following key questions:
1) Munich as event: What do we know today about the road to the Munich Agreement and about its consequences for Czechoslovakia, Germany, Europe, the USA, and the USSR in the time leading up to the Second World War?
2) Munich in Czechoslovakia. Hardly any historical event has been mythologized as intensely in Czech historical consciousness as the Munich Agreement. We invite papers on the use of Munich as a symbol and a point of reference before, during, and after the Communist era 1948-1989. A discussion of diverging Czech and Slovak perceptions and uses of Munich is also welcome.
3) Munich as slogan, symbol and analogy in Scandinavian, British, American, French, Italian and German foreign politics. At least since the war in Korea, Munich has served as an argument justifying foreign policy initiatives. We invite papers looking at the status of Munich in the countries signing the Agreement, in the USA, in Scandinavia, or in a comparative framework.
4) Munich in the USSR/Russia and among Czechoslovakia’s neighbours. The USSR was quick to exploit a claim that the country had been ready to help Czechoslovakia in 1938 but that the country’s bourgeois leaders were afraid to accept the offer, while today Putin uses Munich to explain the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Though rarely mentioned, Poland and Hungary too exploited the Munich Agreement to annex Czechoslovak territory in October-November 1938. Studies analyzing the status of Munich in Russian, Polish, and Hungarian political and historical discourse are most welcome.
We herewith invite contributions to the conference, at which Professor Igor Lukes of Boston University will give a keynote speech. The organizers provide funding for accommodation and travel for all participants. Abstracts (400 – 800 words) should be sent to Peter Bugge (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Niels Wium Olesen (email@example.com) before March 15, 2013. Both can be contacted for further information.