The Worker for the Peasant, the Peasant for the Worker: the Transformation of Harvest Festival from a Traditional Folk Feast into a Tool of the Politics of Normalization in Czechoslovakia
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In the past, harvest festival was a distinctive custom in the life of rural communities. Its visual attractiveness and the social context of its organization meant that since the eighteenth century it was exploited as a representative element of rural culture on diverse public occasions. From the late nineteenth century onwards, harvest festival underwent several transformations, and harvest festivals in the Central European village were increasingly organized by the local government or by civic associations and were thus no longer strictly tied to a particular farmstead. While in some places local forms of harvest festival remained safeguarded even after the social changes of 1948, the mid-twentieth century also witnessed the beginning of harvest festivals organized by the political regime. It was mainly national harvest festivals in the 1970s that were large in scale, besides district and regional harvest festivals. Their organizers maintained some elements that linked these festivals to the traditional form of the feast (the harvest wreath, thanksgiving speeches by agricultural workers, the involvement of people dressed in folk costumes). The schedule of events included at such festivals, however, was subject to the ideological needs of state socialism, and harvest festival became an instrument to celebrate the successes of socialist agriculture (and the related processing industries). It was mainly the entertainment events that displayed the loosening of ties to agriculture, whereby harvest festivals became largely based on mass forms of popular culture and consumption. Agricultural workers thus became participants in a grand theatre performance with ideological outlines, and for playing a role in this spectacle they received cultural and material rewards.
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