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Khrushchev’s February 1956 ‘Secret Speech’ at a closed session of the Soviet Union’s 20th Party Congress sent shockwaves throughout communist Eastern Europe that threatened to destabilize the fragile political and ideological legitimacy of the Soviet bloc regimes. In CWIHP Working Paper No. 66, “The ‘Club of Politically Engaged Conformists’? The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Popular Opinion and the Crisis of Communism, 1956,” Kevin McDermott and Vítězslav Sommer argue that 1956 represented a ‘crisis of communism’ of monumental proportions, but although Czechoslovakia remained a haven of political stability compared to neighboring Poland and Hungary, the Communist Party was thrown into disarray and Czech and Slovak citizens responded to the cataclysmic events of 1956 in multifarious ways ranging from outright opposition to the regime to steadfast loyalty.

Kevin McDermott is Senior Lecturer in Political History at Sheffield Hallam University. He is the author of Stalin: Revolutionary in an Era of War (2006) and co-editor of several volumes, including The 1989 Revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe: From Communism to Pluralism (2013); Stalinist Terror in Eastern Europe: Elite Purges and Mass Repression (2010) and Revolution and Resistance in Eastern Europe: Challenges to Communist Rule (2006) (all with Matthew Stibbe). He is currently writing a study of communist Czechoslovakia.

Vitezslav Sommer received his PhD from Charles University, Prague in 2011. His dissertation explored the origins of communist party historiography in Czechoslovakia and its development in the Stalinist, post-Stalinist and reform communist period (1950–1970). He is at present a post-doctoral researcher at the Sciences Po in Paris (ERC project ‘A political history of the future: knowledge production and future governance 1945-2010 - FUTUREPOL’). He is the author of Angažované dějepisectví: Stranická historiografie mezi stalinismem a reformním komunismem, 1950–1970 (Engaged Historiography: Party Historiography between Stalinism and Reform Communism, 1950–1970), Prague 2011.


Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. Through an award winning Digital Archive, the Project allows scholars, journalists, students, and the interested public to reassess the Cold War and its many contemporary legacies. It is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more