The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

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4/21- Imperial Form, National Content? The Paradoxes of the Czechoslovak Sokol Association in the Interwar Period

The CUNY REEES Kruzhok for research in progress is delighted to host:


Imperial Form, National Content? The Paradoxes of the Czechoslovak Sokol Association in the Interwar Period

John Paul Newman, Associate Professor, Maynooth University

April 21 @ 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm EDT


The Sokol movement is said to have experienced something of a ‘golden age’ in the interwar period, similar to that of the Czechoslovak Republic itself. The Czechoslovak Sokol Association, which became a mass movement in the interwar period, received and also gave fulsome support to the national institutions of the state, and its impressive organisation and public pageantry were routinely put on display both at home and abroad in the movement’s large synchronized gatherings, so-called ‘Slets’. This paper explores some of the paradoxes of this golden age of Sokol. The leadership of the movement in the interwar period were at pains to emphasize Sokol’s steadfast role in the anti-imperial struggle that had culminated in the creation of the state in 1918. But in fact, the roots of Sokol organisation were deeply embedded in the tradition of Habsburg associational life and civil society, and the group’s relationship with the Habsburg state before 1914 was far more ambivalent than typically presented. Moreover, Sokol leadership and members were in many cases implicated in the military and paramilitary violence that attended the early years of the state (especially during the Hungarian invasion of Slovakia in 1919). This put them at odds with the supposedly peaceable nature of the transition to statehood and the peaceable public face of the state itself, one replicated in much of the historiography. These two ‘paradoxes’ of the Sokol movement reveal deeper paradoxes and elisions of the Czechoslovak state and its society in the interwar period: that of its societal and institutional debts to the Habsburg period, and to the role of violence in its formation after the First World War.


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The CUNY REEES Kruzhok is a space for scholars in the social sciences and humanities to share research in progress for feedback, with a wider aim of connecting specialists focused on this region within CUNY, New York, and further afield. We pre-circulate an unpublished paper before the workshop, so that we can read them in advance and have a fruitful discussion with the author.


Dr John Paul Newman specializes in Twentieth-century European History. He is interested in the modern history of the Southeastern and East-Central Europe, with a particular focus on Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. His first book, Yugoslavia in the Shadow of War: Veterans and the Limits of State-Building, 1903-1945, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015. He is currently working on a study of Croatian General Josip Jelačić, the Habsburg Military frontier, and the intersections of national and imperial identities in nineteenth-century Central Europe (under contract with Oxford University Press).