How Not to Prepare Majales: A Meaning-Centred Analysis of Subversive Student Performances in Communist Czechoslovakia

Dominik Želinský, Werner Binder


This study offers a sociological analysis of a student carnival in communist Czechoslovakia, the Majales in Bratislava and Prague in May 1956. Utilizing sources such as newspaper articles, photographs and witness accounts, this case study aims to reconstruct the conditions, meanings and consequences of Majales, employing a theoretical framework that highlights processes of communication between centre and periphery. It is argued that the Majales were facilitated by a destabilization of the symbolic centre, triggered by Stalin’s death in March 1953 and Khrushchev’s speech in February 1956. This set the stage for the students, who criticized the centre with subversive performances and playful demonstrations of dissatisfaction. Finally, the initial reception of the performances in the official media and the efforts
of the state apparatus to control the meanings of Majales are discussed.

Klíčová slova

Stalinism; carnival; cultural sociology; hermeneutics; 1956

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