Slavic Story Time

On April 15th, 2017, the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center hosted Slavic Story Time at the Urbana Free Library. The program, held once a semester, introduces small children in the Champaign-Urbana community to the countries and cultures of Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia through stories, songs, and crafts. At this spring’s Slavic Story Time, graduate student Madeline Artibee and REEEC Outreach Coordinator Stephanie Chung presented on the Czech Republic. The children watched the cartoon “Marishka’s Salt.” After watching the short cartoon, Stephanie taught them the Czech song “Šla Nanynka do zelí” (“Nancy Went to the Cabbage Field”). Madeline and Stephanie both assisted in making folded paper salt cellars, which the children colored and decorated. Everyone had a fun time. We at REEEC were delighted to once again work with the Urbana Free Library to promote learning about the countries and cultures of the region.

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Noontime Lecture: Katerina Capkova, “The Construction of Jewish Identities in Stalinist Poland and Czechoslovakia”

Dr. Katerina Capkova , Research Fellow, Institute for Contemporary History Czech Academy of Sciences

Dr. Katerina Capkova , Research Fellow, Institute for Contemporary History Czech Academy of Sciences

By Bethany Wages

On 12 April, 2016, Katerina Capkova gave a Noontime Lecture based on her book project entitled “The Construction of Jewish Identities in Stalinist Poland and Czechoslovakia.” Capkova is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences. Currently, she is a Visiting Scholar at the Department of History, University of Chicago.

According to Capkova, the history of Jews under Communism is often depicted as a story of religious and national assimilation, and also atomization of Jewish society. In her lecture, Capkova questioned this common assumption and attempted to answer the following questions: How was it possible to “be Jewish” in Stalinist  Poland and Czechoslovakia? Why was there a different institutional framework for Jews in the two countries? To what extent did the Communist dictatorship bring change or totally new forms to Jewish institutions and activities, and to what extent may we find continuity with Jewish life from the period before the takeovers and before the Shoah?

Capkova began her lecture by pointing out that she was able to make her arguments based on her perspective of looking to the border lands of Poland and Czechoslovakia. After World War II there was a mass migration of Jews from the main areas of these two countries to their border regions. She started by looking at Czechoslovakia. She stated that there were few secondary works to draw from in her research in this area. The only book that even attempted to cover the same issues she dealt with in her research was In the Shadows of the Holocaust and Communism, by Alena Heitlinger (2006). In this work, Heitlinger interviewed 119 people who identified as Czech Jews as opposed to Slovak Jews. In many cases, this was the first opportunity that these interviewees had the chance to meet other Jews, having only recently discovered their Jewish heritage. However, Heitlinger’s interviews did not look at Jews located in the borderlands and therefore, according to Capkova, perpetuated the distorted image of Jews in the Bohemian lands.

She argued that it was important to look to the borderlands because, according to her research, about half of the total Jewish population in the Bohemian lands were migrants. The archives from these regions provided a totally different picture of Jewish life than what Heitlinger’s study proved. In the case of communist Czechoslovakia, the Jewish communities moved into areas that were populated by German communities before the war. According to Capkova, these migrations were opposed by the Czech government. Because of this, Jewish communities were forced to create new traditions for themselves which were not used before the war. In these regions, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) provided aid and post-war infrastructure for Jewish religious practices.

When Capkova analyzed the case of the borderlands of Poland she found that forty-seven percent of all Polish Jews lived in Lower Silesia in the year 1947. She also discovered dozens of Yiddish schools in this region. In terms of work done on the Polish Jewish population, she cited Irena Hurvic Nawakowska’s research in Zydzi Polscy (1947-1950) which looked at the Jews of Warsaw, Lodz, and Lower Silesia. Nawakowska found clear evidence of differences in language, education, religion, and Jewish culture between the three Polish cities.

Capkova’s main aim was to explore how, in both of these borderland regions, the communist regime influenced how Jewish people met, expressed their religious practices, and how they chose hobbies. She found that in post-war Czechoslovakia the government refused to recognize Jewish rights, meaning that Jews were allowed no political party, no schools, and all Jewish organizations and centers were closed. Until 1989, any meetings of Jewish people had to be officially approved before they could take place. Consently, Capkova argued that the only places where Jewish people could express themselves fully were prayer halls, homes for the elderly, and cemetaries. She argued that because of this separation, Czech Jews felt that they lived in two worlds; a world where one lived as a Czech and a world where one lived as a Jew.

Bethany Wages is REEES M.A. at UIUC. Her focus of study is history. She recently completed her thesis entitled “The Political Evolution of Vera Zasulich: Populist, Marxist, Socialist.” She received her B.A. in Honors/History and English Literature in 2014 at Wright State University and will graduate this May. She will attend Indiana University at Bloomington to study Information and Library Sciences in the fall of 2016.

Creators of 19th century Czech literary hoaxes deserve credit, says academic David Cooper

Radio Prague interviewed Prof. David Cooper, Director of REEEC,  about his research into and translation of the Green Mountain Manuscript (Rukopis zelenohorský) and the Queen’s Court Manuscript (Rukopis královédvorský) from the 19th century. The following is a re-posting of the original interview, published on June 8, 2015. The complete article, including an audio recording of the interview, can be found here.


08-06-2015 15:18 | Ian Willoughby

The Green Mountain Manuscript (Rukopis zelenohorský) and the Queen’s Court Manuscript (Rukopis královédvorský) were important texts in the Czech National Revival of the 19th century, helping to underpin burgeoning national consciousness and becoming part of the broader culture. However, the compendia of Czech legends and folklore turned out to be forgeries. David Cooper of the University of Illinois is currently in Prague doing research into and translating the manuscripts. He discussed them on a visit to our studios last week.

David Cooper, photo: Ian Willoughby

David Cooper, photo: Ian Willoughby

“The Queen’s Court Manuscript and the Green Mountain Manuscript are made to look like medieval manuscripts and they contain poetic texts.

“The biggest one is the Queen’s Court Manuscript. It has six epic poems that relate historical battles – some of which are historical, some of which are not.

“The Green Mountain Manuscript was just a single poetic text. The first manuscript by its appearance looks like it comes from the 13th century.

“The Green Mountain Manuscript by its appearance looks like it came from around the 9th century, so really quite early.

“It contains an account of the legendary Libuše holding court for a dispute between two brothers over their father’s inheritance. This is a story that is also known from Czech chronicles, but this is sort of a unique account of it.”

What was the purpose of these texts?

“This was a moment in European literature when everyone was rediscovering the medieval roots of their literature.

“As they were breaking away from classical models they were looking to their own native traditions for new models, for new ways of advancing their own literature going forward. And to go forward they often looked to the past.

“This is a period when the French rediscovered The Song of Roland, when some years later Beowulf was discovered again, The Song of Cid for Spain, and the Germans had of course discovered the Nibelungen song.

“The Czechs were looking in their manuscript traditions for similar kinds of material and they weren’t finding it.

Green Mountain Manuscript

Green Mountain Manuscript

“The feeling was that it certainly had to exist, because every other European nation that had a literature… And the Czechs had a literature already from the 14th century that had begun in this epic tradition, singing historical heroic songs.

“When they didn’t find it, they figured either it was burnt during the Hussite Wars, when a lot of Czech manuscripts were burnt, or during the Counter-Reformation in the 17th and 18th centuries, when Czech manuscripts took heavy losses.

“The idea was that they had had it but it was lost. This was an attempt to recreate it. It also has to do with the cultural competition with the German speakers in Bohemia.”

This was during the Czech Nation Revival?

“Yes, this was the second decade of the 19th century [when the texts were produced]. The Czech national movement is just starting to develop some momentum. People are signing on to it. They want to do work to develop Czech nationality and they really need this.

“The feeling is, and the understanding of national literature is at this point, that they need something like this as a base, as a ground in order to go forward.”

When these texts were discovered or disseminated what impact did they have?

“The two manuscripts really had quite different fates. The first one that was discovered was the Queen’s Court Manuscript and it was never in question. People accepted it as authentic and it wasn’t really until the 1870s that you started to get serious questions about its authenticity.

“The reason you started to get those questions was because of the second manuscript, which was in doubt really right from the very beginning. Ninth century, Czech writing, Czech poetic traditions – this was at least three centuries earlier than anything they’d seen before. So it was immediately suspicious.

“Josef Dobrovský, who was one of the spiritual founders of the Czech National Revival, said immediately, It’s a fake, it comes from my students – they’re the only ones who know Old Czech well enough to fake it…”

So the counterfeiters went too far? 

Josef Dobrovsky

Josef Dobrovsky

“Yes, essentially they went too far. The thing is that the Czech patriots embraced the second manuscript as well. They defended it against Dobrovský and other sceptics and they held the two manuscripts together as almost kind of sacred texts for the Czech National Revival.

“One of the things I’m interested in is and that I’m looking at is a sort of quasi-religious faith in the manuscripts. To be a Czech patriot in some sense meant to believe in the authenticity of both of the manuscripts.”

And the Green Mountain Manuscript entered the broader culture?

“Yes, it did. For example if you go to the National Theatre, on the ceiling of the lobby on the second floor there’s a painting of Libuše sitting in court on a golden throne, her father’s golden throne.

“This is a phrase which is repeated – it’s sort of a mantra – in the Green Mountain Manuscript. The depiction of Libuše in the National Theatre, which was of course constructed in the late 19th century… this is a moment when the controversy was already starting about the authenticity of the manuscripts.”

How was the falsification discovered?

“It happens at a moment when Prague University is undergoing a kind of crisis. It splits into a German faculty and a Czech faculty. The young scholars in the Czech faculty need to establish themselves, need to establish their legitimacy.

“One of them, Jan Gebauer, who’s a historical linguist, has been working on the manuscripts for some time, has been a defender of their authenticity, but he’s starting to have doubts.

“There are starting to be too many exceptions they have to make in terms of the nature of Old Czech for these manuscripts. It’s starting to become clear to him that they don’t fit in, that their language doesn’t fit into the historical development of Czech.

“It’s really Gebauer in the lead, although the organiser of the campaign against the authenticity of the manuscripts was led by the future first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk.”

And Masaryk got a lot of abuse for his stance on the issue.

Jan Gebauer

Jan Gebauer

“Yes, he did. He and Gebauer and the other scholars who were involved in writing these articles, laying out the evidence for the falsification of the manuscripts, were called national traitors.

“These manuscripts had so become part of what it meant to be a Czech patriot and so much a part of Czech national mythology that to call them false was a serious betrayal.

“Gebauer, for example, for at least 10 years had terrible problems getting any of his scholarly work published.

“The journal that had originally published the articles had to step away from it. Masaryk had to find financial support in order to get it published. They were really personae non grata for a while in Czech patriotic circles.”

If I understand it right, you believe that these texts, although false, benefited the Czech nation?

“I do, yes. And I think that’s the direction that the research is going in on these manuscripts these days.

“It’s really since a couple of decades after they were shown to be false that the manuscripts sort of came back into the study of Czech literature, as examples of poetry from the early 19th century. So if you do a study of how Czech poetry developed, the manuscripts are included.

“What weren’t included were the people suspected of being their authors. The usual suspects – Vaclav Hanka, Josef Linda – you don’t find books written about them. You don’t find studies of their other writing, because they’ve been pushed out.

“So one of the things that’s happening is a recognition that this is some of the most influential poetry of the first half of the 19th century.

“It was the most translated work of Czech literature for most of the 19th century into English. The authors deserve some credit for that, rather than exile, essentially.”

And you are translating again now?

“I am, yes. The first translation was done… There were some interesting contacts in the first half of the 19th century between England and Bohemia.

“There was a Slavist, John Bowring, who published the very first ever anthology of Czech literature in English. He included in that several of the songs from these manuscripts, as well as some other mystifications, literature that pretended to be something that it wasn’t.

Green Mountain Manuscript

Green Mountain Manuscript

“There was another translator, and I’ve never gotten the first name, it’s A. Vratislav. He was a second generation immigrant to England who had studied at Cambridge. He also produced a translation of the entire manuscripts.

“But both of these translations were done in the 1840s and they’ve aged a little bit. Vratislav was fond of rhyme and used rhyme in the epic poems, which really doesn’t belong in epic poems.

“The poems from the manuscripts were sort of programmatically unrhymed. The idea was that rhyme came to Czech culture from German culture, which isn’t true – it came along with Christian culture.

“So the idea was that if you want to get back to authentic, original, Slavic Czech poetry, it’s certainly unrhymed.”

As well as doing these translations, you’re also writing a book about unresolved issues surrounding the manuscripts. What are those unresolved issues?

“One of the main issues still remains authorship. They’ve never found any direct evidence of participation in the creation of the manuscripts.

“There’s primarily indirect evidence. They’ve never found drafts or correspondence. The conspirators were apparently quite careful.”

There’s no smoking gun?

“There’s no smoking gun. But there is a lot of evidence in terms of the types of things that the people who were probably involved wrote elsewhere that connect pretty clearly to the way that the manuscripts were composed.

“Also thinking about the idea of authorship in the Romantic period and the role that forgery plays in that, newer perspectives on this that have also been worked out in the study of English literature in connection with the forgeries of Macpherson, the Ossian poems – this needs to be thought through again in Czech literature.

“Also if we’re going to rehabilitate the authors of these poems [we need] to see forgery as a Romantic form of creativity, rather than a trespass against creativity.”

My impression is that the word mystification [mystifikace] is much more common in Czech than in English. Czechs, it seems to me, have a kind of sympathy with mystification. Would you agree?

“I would agree. There’s even a kind of national pride, that we’re a nation of mystifiers or mystificators. They’ve done an amazing job of cataloguing the kinds of mystifications that are very much a part of Czech literary practice in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“I think the fact is that it’s not a more prominent a practice in Czech literature. The Czechs are, I think, more aware of it. I think part of the reason they are more aware of it this whole episode with the forged manuscripts in the 19th century.

Queen's Court Manuscript

Queen’s Court Manuscript

“And a lot of Czechs embrace this playful aspect of Czech culture and this idea that we can have fun making things up and not have that be damaging.”

You’re a specialist in literary forgeries. What’s the attraction of that area?

“Partly the taboo of it. And the opportunity to overturn and open up that taboo, to look at why forgery was for so long considered to be a kind of literary crime.

“If you go back and look at the medieval period, forgery has a different feel and a different morality about it. Forgery has always been a very common practice and there are periods in which forgery was a celebrated method.

“It was often a necessary method, in order for culture to be able to sort of replicate itself and to advance itself.

“The paradox is that the Romantic period, the early 19th century, both sort of invites forgery, demands forgery, forgeries are prevalent in the period.

“At the same time, it’s this period which creates the idea of the original work and the original authorial genius creating out of nothing.

“That’s not really how creativity works, so forgery is one of the supplements that’s necessary in the period. But when people start to worry about authenticity – which is also a big Romantic value – and originality, forgeries look like the biggest transgression against that.

“One of the paradoxes that I’m exploring is the fact that this Romantic period sort of pushes forward the method of forgery and makes it quite common, but also creates the values that make it illicit.”

Faculty Highlight – Laura Davies Brenier

Laura Davies Brenier

Laura Davies Brenier

This year, Laura Davies Brenier joins the REEEC affiliated faculty as a Lecturer in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. She teaches all of the Czech language courses offered.  Professor Brenier earned her Ph.D. from Princeton University in Slavic Linguistics and Theoretical Linguistics. Her dissertation was entitled “A Construction-Grammatical Analysis of Impersonalization in Russian.” Her work dealt with the notion of grammatical subject and logical subject, and subjectlessness in Russian. Professor Brenier has extensive experience studying and teaching foreign languages. Previously, she taught Russian at the Georgia Institute of Technology as an Adjunct Instructor, and while studying at Princeton, she taught both Russian and Czech. In addition, she has also taught Russian and Czech at Beloit College’s summer language program. Prior to her doctoral work, she received a Fulbright Fellowship, which allowed her to pursue a fascinating study as well as teach. She researched Czech sign language and taught American sign language at a school in Olomouc, a city in the Czech Republic. As an undergraduate, she also studied Czech in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Her current research interests are comparative Slavic Linguistics and comparative sign language.  She is particularly interested in the spoken dialects on the border region between the Czech Republic and Poland, where there is an intriguing combination of Czech and Polish in use.  This is a relatively unexplored area in linguistic study, which she believes needs attention, and there is much to investigate.  She plans to pursue this study by first “looking at syntactic phenomena,” and she hopes to continue a thorough examination of this topic in the future.  So far, Professor Brenier has really enjoyed her experience here at the University of Illinois and living in Urbana-Champaign.  She likes the “friendly people” and really enjoys teaching in the department.


Ryan Eavenson’s Summer 2014 Experiences in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic

My summer in Eastern Europe was a challenging, exciting, and rewarding experience.  I had the opportunity through a FLAS to study Czech language at the intermediate level in Prague.  As a student with a serious interest in Czech history in addition to Czech language, I couldn’t have been happier!  But my journey did not begin in Prague.  I decided to travel to some additional countries in Eastern Europe before the start of my intensive Czech language course.  I wanted to take the opportunity to further advance my knowledge of this part of the world by exploring the culture and seeing in person the places I had read and heard so much about.

Eavenson - Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest (Image Source)

A plate of chicken paprikash (Image Source)

A plate of chicken paprikash (Image Source)

First, I flew to Budapest, Hungary, arriving in the mid-morning after a long flight from the United States.  I was very tired, but excited to have finally arrived in Europe!  I spent my first day getting acquainted with the city by walking around.  I really enjoyed the experience of simply observing my surroundings and studying the amazing architecture of Budapest.  Some of my most enjoyable experiences were venturing across the famous Chain Bridge, and stopping to admire its unique design and lion statues that greet you upon entry.  This bridge provides a wonderful view of the Hungarian Parliament Building, which sits on the bank of the Danube.  I walked down Andrassy Street, the historic main street of the city, and before leaving, I also made sure to eat a traditional Hungarian meal of chicken paprikash at a small local restaurant.

After a few days in Budapest, I traveled by train to Bratislava, Slovakia, where I arrived in the late afternoon.  Eager to explore, I immediately walked down to the old historic district as the sun was beginning to set.  With my knowledge of Czech, I found that I was able to read many of the Slovak signs throughout the city.  This gave me a greater understanding of the close similarity between these two languages.  In Bratislava, I visited the well-known castle  which rests on a large hill over looking the city.  Nearby, I stopped to see St. Michael’s gate, which is a very old and important landmark.  My last night in Bratislava was exceptionally memorable.  I had the chance to observe a traditional  Slovak folk dance at the main town square.  This was an event that truly presented to me the essence of Slovakia’s rich culture and tradition.


Main square in Bratislava

Main square in Bratislava (Image Source)

The final part of my journey took me to Prague.  Traveling by train allowed me to see the extraordinary countryside of Moravia, a part of the Czech Republic defined by clear lakes and dense forests.  After a long trip from Bratislava, I finally arrived at my dorm.  I immediately knew the moment I checked in that this was going to be an enriching summer because the receptionist only spoke to me in Czech.  In Prague, I embarked on a demanding Czech language course while simultaneously experiencing Czech culture by visiting both museums and many historic locations.  I found the Czech food to be excellent, and there were so many different meals to try.  My favorite foods included beef goulash, potato dumplings, and the wide variety of freshly baked bread.  Having a particular interest in post World War II Eastern Europe, I visited the Museum of Communism, where I was exposed in detail to the nature of life in the Czech lands during this period.  My dorm was within walking distance of the Prague castle, a truly amazing structure.  Through a walking tour, I gained a greater appreciation for the importance of this castle and its place in Czech history.  The cathedral in the castle complex is exceptional both for its size and design.  In addition, I spent a great deal of time on the Charles Bridge, a place  with tremendous historical significance and one of the most notable symbols of Prague.  I was amazed by the exceptional detail of the numerous statues that line the bridge.  Close to the Charles Bridge, I visited the Franz Kafka Museum.  There, I had the unique chance to see some of the actual writings of this famous author while also learning new information about his life.  Overall, it was wonderful to be able to constantly use and improve my Czech everyday during my time in the Czech Republic, and I am certain that I have developed a deeper understanding of Czech culture.  I had a wonderful experience in Eastern Europe this summer, and I hope to return in the near future and continue to learn more about this unique part of the world.

The Franz Kafka Museum in Prague (Image Source)

The Franz Kafka Museum in Prague (Image Source)

Ryan Eavenson is a MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.  He is particularly interested in communist development in Eastern Europe.  His additional interests include Imperial and Soviet Russian history, Czech history, and Russian and Czech language.  He received a AB in History/Russian and East European Studies from Lafayette College in 2010.  After graduation, he hopes to find employment focusing on international affairs and then continue his education.

Summer 2012 FLAS Fellowship Recipients

From Left to Right: Jenelle Davis, Samantha Wong, Alejandra Pires, Katerina Lakhmitko, Hristo Alexiev, Nellie Manis

Hristo Alexiev is a Graduate Student of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. He studied Turkish at Bogazici University in Istanbul.

Jenelle Davis is a Graduate Student of Art History. She studied Czech at Charles University in Prague.

Katerina Lakhmitko is a Graduate student of Slavic Literatures and Languages. She studied Polish at Jagellonian University in Krakow.

Nellie Manis is a Graduate Student of  Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. She studied Russian for the summer of 2012.

Alejandra Pires is a Graduate Student of Slavic Literatures and Languages. She studied Russian in the American Councils RLAS Program in St. Petersburg.

Samantha Wong is an Undergraduate Student of International Studies. She studied Turkish at the Bogazici University in Istanbul

Discourse Across Borders: Slavic Studies from Kievan Rus to Present Day

February 24: 12 noon-5 pm & February 25: 9 am-7 pm

On February 24th and 25th, the Slavic Graduate Students’ Association (SGSA) will host the Third Annual Graduate Student Conference in Slavic Studies. The conference will take place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Foreign Language Building (FLB) in the Lucy Ellis Lounge (1080). The conference theme is Discourse Across Borders: Slavic Studies from Kievan Rus to Present-Day. With this year’s theme the conference organizers wanted to explore the shifting subtleties of national and cultural traditions in East European literature, art, language, pop culture, politics and performance. Several Slavic Department graduate student scholars were interested in looking at the influence of socio-political aspects on representational and creative systems.

The SGSA reached out to Slavists and young scholars across disciplinary fields and regional institutions. Consequently, SGSA is hosting several out-of-state panelists. We hope that this interstate and interdisciplinary show of interest proves for a rewarding and invigorating exchange of ideas.

The scope of this conference is large, as is evidenced by the number of diverse panel topics. This year’s panel subjects span the traditional and modern scopes of Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Czech and Moldavian culture. Specifically, panelists will discuss topics like, “Ressentiment, Colonial Subjects, and Death”; “Ukrainian Literature, Cinema and Art”; “Device and Mechanism”; “Identity and Mythology”; “Polish Pop Culture”; and “Emigration, Code and Language.”

The Discourse Across Borders: Slavic Studies from Kievan Rus to Present-Day conference will feature two keynote speeches, one on each of the conference days. On February 24th, Dr. Vitaly Chernetsky (Miami University, Oxford Ohio) will discuss national identity and cinema in his talk titled: “National Cinema and Cinematic Nationhood: The Case of Modern Ukraine.” On the final conference day, February 25th, Dr. Volodymyr Chumachenko (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) will conclude the conference with his talk: “Novel As a Sign of Time.”

SGSA invites you to attend.  You can find additional information and a full schedule online at .