What if Neoliberalism had never come to our countries? Speculative history of post-Communist Czecho-Slovakia

Online lecture by Milena Bartlová

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Thursday 27 January 2022, 6 pm.

Online lecture accessible via live stream at Facebook page or a Zoom webinar link. Lecture will be held in Czech language.

The question asked by the organizers of the exhibition entitled “Nikdy sme neboli bližšie / We Have Never Been Closer” is one of the alternative, virtual or perhaps most accurate speculative histories. It is a specific historical thinking which is based on the professional consensus concerning the “facts” of a certain historical phase; however, when interpreting them it enriches standard historical thinking by a larger or smaller dose of the imagination. Therefore, it is closer to artistic expression than usual historiographic work. However, it cannot be a narrative arbitrariness and a very serious question remains at its core: to what extent are specific historical events and directions determined by what happened in the past or even by some timeless driving forces.

To begin, I will present the main concepts of speculative history which are particularly connected with the politically conservative British historian Niall Ferguson. I will then try to identify how the alternative possibilities to the disintegration and fall of the Soviet bloc, the end of the dictatorship of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and planned economy and to the subsequent predominance of the neoliberal consensus in politics, economy and culture. During this journey back in time I will note the sensitive points and crossroads where the prevailing assessment of events, personalities and values have prevailed in a competition with the other possibilities. The scene laid out in this fashion should result in one or more possible albeit unimplemented conditions and circumstances under which the cultural scene in Czechia and Slovakia (Czecho-Slovakia?) could operate.

Speculative history is frequently perceived as a politically conservative project because it radically reacts to the strict logic of historical development which is typical for Marxism. But we can also see it as a way to find hope in history: because the future can always be determined by how we ourselves create it.

Milena Bartlová is an art historian. Since 2011 she has lectured at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. She previously worked at the National Gallery in Prague, besides others and was one of the lecturers at the Art History Seminar of the Faculty of Arts of Masaryk University in Brno. For more than three decades she focused on the art history of the Middle Ages. However, she recently turned to museology and visual studies; in particular, she studied the issues related to national identity and methodology and the history of art history. Her most recent publications are “Dějiny českých dějin umění 1945-1969/The History of Czech Art History 1945-1969” (UMPRUM 2020) and “Ženy, které nechtěly mlčet/Women Who Refused to Remain Silent” about Czech feminism and her own family (Nadace Rosy Luxemburg v ČR/Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in the Czech Republic, 2021). She is also involved in journalism and fine art criticism. In 2021 she won the Věra Jirousová Award for established art critics. For more details and a list of publications, click here.

Event is part of the Art Connected 2021 – 2022 series initiated by

ERSTE Foundation is main partner of tranzit. Supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council.

Photo: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec