Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nový hlas

Hard though it may be to believe, my mind has not actually been fixated on ornithology (even if hens are able to reject the rooster's sperm at will), river water, or for that matter tourists.
Actually, my thoughts over the past week have mostly been obsessed with the journal Nový hlas, which was published from 1932 to 1934. This riveting publication, subtitled List pro sexuální reformu, seems to have been the main voice of the interwar Czechoslovak gay rights movement, though it was preceded by Hlas sexuální menšiny, which I have not yet seen.
Thanks to Nový hlas, I now know where all the happening gay clubs of the day were located. City Dancing at Templova 1, Prague I, invited readers to enjoy “comradely fun”, beer, boxing, and dancing in a homelike, cozy place run by Kamil, formerly of the gentleman’s club and restaurant Batex. Batex (Revoluční 1, next to palác Kotva) described itself as a gentleman’s social club open all day until 3 a.m. with evening singing, music, dance floor, excellent food and the best drinks. The Casino restaurant at Ječná 10, Prague II, claimed that “the best friends rendezvous” at it, and offered a jazz orchestra and dance floor (illustrated by a drawing of a flirtatious pair of uncertain gender). And there were quite a few others, all apparently in Prague. If there was anything in Brno, Olomouc, Ostrava, or Bratislava, it did not advertise in Nový hlas.
Did members of the avant-garde visit these clubs? Well, I suppose it depends on which avant-gardists one has in mind. I haven't seen any guest lists.
Do I know more defunct 1930s gay clubs than present-day ones? Indubitably. On the other hand, I wouldn't say I don't know the names of certain present-day establishments. More to the point, at least I know where to ask.

Postscript: I have discovered that Stud Brno has a story on the First Republic situation at Postavení homosexuálů v ČSR v letech 1918 - 1938. The article is in several parts.

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Anonymous bikerbar said...

Gay history of Bohemia is an interesting theme .. I have no idea how much has been written, or if any contemporary scholars are examining it, but I'd imagine its an open field.

I'm interested in your take on life during the First Republic .. obviously it was a freer time than now, though perhaps less decadent. I wonder how different Czechs are today. The other day, for example, one of my students struck me as being just like a character from an old Burian comedy. The intimacy between Czechs in those old films is really lovely, and I love the cooing sound of the kind czech tongue. They say today is like the first republic. But I think it was a better time, though the other side of course is Kafka's Prague, the bureacracy of Rakousko-Uhersko (which still has a hold here).

More to the point, do you think gay life was freer then than now? The ads make it seem so, but what kind've distribution did Novy Hlas have?

April 06, 2006 10:23 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

As far as I know, there is not much written on the subject. There is a recent dissertation on the current situation (regarding men only), and various Czech books also about the present day, but although I gather there is a book in progress that may have some coverage of the First Republic, on the whole I'd say it's not a well explored topic.

I couldn't really say whether things were freer then than now. There are a lot more publications now, and I would guess more venues (or at least more widely distributed since they aren't all in Prague). It is hard to say about attitudes. The magazine was published by activists, at least one of whom was a well-known poet. As for the distribution for Nový hlas, I think it must have been small. The magazine makes a point of listing places where it could be bought, and of course one could subscribe, but I gather it folded for financial reasons.

It published homoerotic literature and reportage relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual movement, with its primary readers evidently men.

April 07, 2006 7:48 AM  
Anonymous Remi said...

dear Klara,

thank you for that! very enlightening...

dear Bikerbar, i do think life is freer now when you look at the number of people openly out, if you look at the partnership law recently passed, if you look at the overwhelming support (quoting 70+% from memory) of before-mentionned law in the population.

Czechs cultivate a 'myth' about 1st Republic. Truth is that if it was a prosperous country, the industries were in the hand of jewish and german owners and if the Germans took care of the Jews, the Czechs did a pretty good job with the Sudetens and they have it easy to blame the (read: russian) communists.

Truth is that it was a profoundly divided countries with constant bashing of minorities, linguistic (Germans, Hungarians, Polish...) or racial (Gypsies) and I doubt that sexual minorities fared very well in that environment...

April 10, 2006 4:13 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

It's true that people like to imagine the First Republic as a golden age. As a result, these days many scholars are pointing out the ways in which the First Republic was imperfect, one of which was treatment of minorities. Still, I think that one can go too far in emphasizing the First Republic's flaws. No country, at any time, will function in an ideal manner. One of the appealing things about the First Republic is that it represents a strong attempt by government and citizens to create a just and workable society. This provided a climate in which the gay movement of the day could publish almost entirely without censorship (I only found one censored item, less than in many other types of publication) and quite openly. Of course, it can't be compared to today's openness, but this is 80 years later.

April 10, 2006 8:13 PM  

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