Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed

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Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed
By Mary Heimann
Yale University Press, 2009
432 pp. $45.00
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Both of the twentieth century's 74-year-long experiments failed. One was the Soviet Union. The other was Czechoslovakia. Heimann offers a no-punches-pulled political history of Czechoslovakia's whole trajectory, from its concoction in 1918, through its interwar democratic years, to its partition and acceptance of fascism, its Nazi occupation, its turn to communism, and, ultimately, its partition once again. As Heimann says, over the course of an average person's lifetime, the country "went through every kind of political regime, from military dictatorship to parliamentary democracy, and from Nazi colony to Soviet satellite." For all the misery inflicted on Czechoslovakia by the outside world, she argues, its own political elites, particularly Czech and Slovak ones, made things worse with their disregard and, at times, abuse of other ethnic groups. Few of the country's heroes, from Tomas Masaryk to Alexander Dubcek, emerge from these pages with the luster that national iconography gives them.