Between the 'Prague Spring' and the 'French May': Transnational Exchange and National Recontextualization of Protest Cultures in 1960/70s Europe

Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Universität Heidelberg
-Martin Klimke, Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Universität Heidelberg -Joachim Scharloth, Deutsches Seminar, Universität Zürich
25.08.2006 - 27.08.2006
Martin Klimke / Joachim Scharloth

Research on both the domestic dissent and social unrest in the U.S. and on the transatlantic nature of political protest has been blossoming for several years. However, despite significant advances with regard to the analysis of local movements, the specific European dimension of protest movements and their subcultures during the Cold War has hitherto only been analyzed marginally and within closed national contexts. This extensive gap in historical research is all the more regrettable since Europe at the time of the Cold War can be considered a microcosm for global political events. It was here that the geopolitical faultline between East and West was most visible, with the Berlin Wall as its symbolic embodiment. Consequently, not only the unique geopolitical environment but also the variety of national experience ranging from the Communist East European states of the Warsaw Pact to the democratic nations of Western Europe, as well as the dictatorships of Spain, Portugal and Greece, warrant a more thorough examination with respect to border transcending cultures of domestic dissent.

Despite similar political concerns and international counter-cultural inspirations, national variants of what was perceived as a worldwide generational revolt were often strikingly different. Whereas activists in Western Europe frequently attacked the United States for its imperialist interventions, most notably in Vietnam, dissenters in Eastern Europe often utilized American cultural items such as music or clothing to voice their grievances. International encounters or meetings such as the World Youth Festival in Sofia 1968 occasionally illustrated the distance of political concepts and intellectual sources between the two: while the young generation in Eastern Europe, for example, welcomed efforts such as the Prague Spring, the same was often denounced as reformist by their Western counterparts.

However, not only the “First World” of Western capitalism, but also the “Second World” of the Communist bloc, and the “Third World” were shattered by largely unexpected internal ruptures in particular in the late 1960s. One outstanding common characteristic of these movements was thus the goal of transgressing the ideological fronts of the Cold War, which threatened the existing geopolitical division of the world, especially on the European scene. Regardless of different national consequences, these networks of protest and their antecedents in the 1950s spurred each other’s activism, and through their cooperation and mutual inspiration contributed to far-reaching internal and international changes. The conference will therefore aim at tracing these long-term socio-political transformations with a focus on Europe and a particular emphasis on processes of transnational exchange.


Friday, August 2006
2.00 Welcome: Prof. Detlef Junker (HCA, University of Heidelberg)

2.15 Organizer’s Welcome: Martin Klimke (HCA, Heidelberg)
Joachim Scharloth (German Department, Zürich)

Section 1: Origins & Leftist Traditions
Chair: Joachim Scharloth (German Department, Zürich)

2.15 “Out of Apathy”: The British New Left
Holger Nehring (St. Peter’s College, Oxford University)

3.05 The PCF and the Impasse of Detente: The Impossibility of a Revolutionary Strategy in France in 1968
Maud Bracke (Department of History, Glasgow)

3.45 The Left and the Nation in Denmark and Sweden, 1956-1980
Thomas Jorgensen (Kopenhagen)

4.25 Coffee

Section 2: Activist Role Models & Their Adaptations
Chair: Wilfried Mausbach (HCA, Universität Heidelberg)

4.50 Mediatisation of Provo: The Image Game (1965-1967)
Niek Pas (Institute for Media Studies, Amsterdam University)

5.30 “Indiani Metropolitani” and “Stadtindianer”:
Representing Autonomy in Italy and West-Germany
Sebastian Haumann (History Department, University of Düsseldorf)

6.15 Dinner

8.00 Keynote Address:

The European 1960/70s and the World: The Case of Régis Debray
Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey (History Department, University of Bielefeld)

Discussion with K.D. Wolff (Frankfurt)

Saturday, August 26
Section 3: Eastern Europe I
Chair: Philipp Gassert (HCA, Heidelberg)

9.00 1968 in Yugoslavia – Student Revolt between East and West
Boris Kanzleiter (Institute for Eastern European Studies, Free University Berlin)

9.40 Unity in Diversity - World Youth Festival, Sofia, 1968
Gyula Virag (University of Eötvös Lorand, Budapest)

10.20 Coffee

Section 4: Eastern Europe II
Chair: Birgit Hofmann (Department of Political Science, Universität Freiburg)

10.50 Language of Protest or Protest of Language? Student Movement in Czechoslovakia of the 1960s
Zdenek Nebrensky (Faculty of Humanities, Charles-University, Prague)

11.30 Ceausescu’s First Balcony Scene: August 21, 1968, in Romanian Media
Corina Petrescu (Institute for Advanced Study, New Europe College, Bucharest, Romania)

12.10 Greece and Spain in the 1960s
Kostis Kornetis (History Department, European University, Florence)

12.50 Lunch Break

Section 5: Recontextualization of Protest Cultures
Chair: Beate Kutschke (Institute for New Music, University of Arts, Berlin)

2.30 Shifting Boundaries: Concepts and Symptoms of Transnational Identification and Disassociation in the Language of the German Student Movement of 1968
Andreas Rothenhöfer (Institut für Deutsche Sprache, Mannheim)

3.00 A Tale of Two Revolts: “1968” in Divided Germany
Timothy Brown (History Department, Northeastern University, Boston)

3.40 Prague – Paris via East- and West-Berlin: East German Literature as the Seismograph of a European Protest Movement
Susanne Rinner (Department of German, Georgetown University, Washington)

4.20 Coffee

Section 6: European Perspectives on Terrorism in the 1970s
Chair: Martin Klimke (HCA, Heidelberg)

5.20 Hijacking As Politics: Strategic and Symbolic Surplus in the Cold War Era
Annette Vowinckel (Kulturwissenschaftliches Seminar, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin)

6.00 The 1970s RAF Solidarity Movement from a European Perspective
Jacco Pekelder (Duitsland Institute, Amsterdam University)

6.40 Adjourn

For more detailed abstracts see:

Further conference information is available at:


Martin Klimke

Heidelberg Center for American Studies

Between the 'Prague Spring' and the 'French May': Transnational Exchange and National Recontextualization of Protest Cultures in 1960/70s Europe, 25.08.2006 – 27.08.2006 Heidelberg, in: H-Soz-Kult, 29.05.2006, <>.