„Folk guitar as a gun“. The political dimension of music in late socialism: the case of Czechoslovak singer and poet Karel Kryl, Martin Mejzr, 2. – 3. 6. 2016

Popular Music in Eastern Europe, University of Debrecen

Folk music gained strong political content from the 1960s to 1980s, including socialist Czechoslovakia. Probably the most famous singer/songwriter was Karel Kryl, a songwriter inseparably connected with the year 1968 and a persistent critic of the military occupation of Czechoslovakia. One year after the occupation, he chose to immigrate to West Germany because of the arrival of a new, pro-Soviet political establishment. After that the cultural policy of state socialism tried to erase the name of Karel Kryl from the collective memory. However, this effort failed, even though his songs and records were strictly forbidden under threat of persecution.

The presented case study pays attention to contradictory phenomena. On one hand, there were the claims of the post-1968 political establishment over the control (and suppression if necessary) of the political content of music. On the other hand social activities and mechanisms of musical propagation “from below” emerged. The case of Karel Kryl and his music can be also perceived as a specific “lieu de memoire” of the year 1968, or in other words as a part of a counter-memory discourse facing the state-promoted oblivion within the official politics of memory.

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