|BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in the Czechoslovak Republic|
The censorship case BRONENOSEZ POTEMKIN / BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN / KRINÍK POTEMKIN / PANZERKREUZER POTEMKIN - one of the most famous films all over the world – belongs to the group of the most interesting censorship cases which took place in the Czechoslovak Republic in the period 1918 – 1939. On the one hand the “Potemkin case” is not so much complicated as the German one. But on the other hand a huge number of censorship documents and press materials providing detailed information about the case and its social backdrop is available. In the Czechoslovak Republic the film BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was censored in two versions:
number 1326/32 Fc
number 1757/37 F
Note: Before starting of censorship procedure the film distributing company give notice to Censor Advisory Board that some scenes were cut off because of bad quality of the available film print.
number 1738/30 Fc
The film BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was screened for Censurní sbor poradní (Censor Advisory Board) 3rd August 1926. But more than three months before this date some references appeared in daily press and film magazines. Several more or less different translations of the original title were mentioned: “Kriník Potemkin”, “Pancérový kriník Potemkin” (Armoured Battleship Potemkin), “Potemkin”, “Knaz Potemkin” (Prince Potemkin). Articles in film magazines emphasized artistic originality of the film, mostly the style of direction and photography, idea of “collective hero” and the montage. All kinds of periodicals concentrated mostly on informing about the censorship case of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in Germany [cf. The affair BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in Germany]. The revocation of censorship permission by the Censorship Headquarters (Film-Oberprüfstelle) initiated by several local governments and police authorities was mentioned very often, especially by the communist daily paper “Rudé právo” and its evening version [press article]. Globally the reason for the interdiction was seen in the film’s controversial political and revolutionary tendency. The depiction of mutiny and other social continuities were considered a danger for public order.
The rhetoric of articles, of course, was influenced by the political orientation of the journal. Right-wing periodicals agreed with this “strike against the art of Soviet propaganda”. But the approach of German censorship authorities was criticised by communist and democratic press. The majority of articles from the whole spectrum of daily press emphasized the artistic quality of the film and repeatedly spoke for the screening of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in the Czechoslovak cinemas. But the press articles did not conceal the political content of the film. Therefore some doubts concerning the approach of the Czechoslovak censorship occurred [press article]. The film was purchased for the Czechoslovakia by one of the greatest film production and distribution company - Elektafilm, Praha. The application for the censorship of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN under the official distribution title KRINÍK POTEMKIN / PANZERKREUZER POTEMKIN was delivered to Ministerstvo vnitra/Ministry of the Interior on 30th July 1926.
10.8.1926, examination number 50918/26
The first group was represented by experts from the “oppressive”
Representatives of Ministry of Justice (Linhart) and Ministry of the Interior (Dr. Kodítek) were the most active participants in the discussion. They argued for complete interdiction of the film most intensively. A representative of Ministry of Defence (gen. Kunz) shared most of their arguments. The representative of the Ministry of Justice was irritated by a “glorification of mutiny which could produce dissatisfaction among the people with existing law and social order and could endanger the military discipline”. The Ministry of Defence’s representative mentioned “offering of instructions for mutiny and creating restlessness in the Czechoslovak army, which must be saved from infiltration by political ideas”.
The opposite group consisted of of educational and cultural authorities:
Representatives of “educational” state authority – Ministry of Education (Inderka; Dr. Novotný) – supported the qualification for public screening because “the film was merely showed historical events with the dramatic depiction of terrible conditions of living in Russia. Revolution is the result of long-lasting oppression of the Russian people by the Tsar’s regime”. The representatives of cultural institutions – Masaryk´s Institute for National Education (Dr. Hrudicka) and The Central Labour School (Dr. Vorácek) – also shared these arguments.
The censorship procedure continued with the voting about the qualification for public screening:
PRO – for qualification for public screening voted:
CONTRA – for complete interdiction voted:
The Representative of The Central Labors School suggested an exclusion of scenes of massacre in staircase and the quotations from the book “Svetová revoluce” (A World Revolution) written by the president of the Czechoslovak Republic Tomáš G. Masaryk (1850 – 1937). It was signed as an attempt of shielding the film by the name of the president of the Czechoslovak Republic.
A representative of Ministry of the Interior is not mentioned in this
voting. But this authority expressed its opinion in a very detailed statement
supporting complete interdiction of the film. Ministry of the Interior
refused the arguments of the representatives of Ministry of Education
at first. On the contrary, a biased depiction of historical events was
pointed out. And finally the Ministry of the Interior filed characteristic
elements of this crass misinterpretation legitimising complete interdiction
of the film:
The public screening of the film could endanger the army discipline, provoke a dissatisfaction of some groups of inhabitants with existing social order, it could give instructions for disparagement of state and army authorities and finally offer support for acts of subversive elements.
All the arguments mentioned above were resumed in the following final
Mostly democratic and communist periodicals commented on the interdiction of the film. They criticised the slow procedure, emphasised “5 pro vs. 4 contras” and argued for a new examination.
3.9.1926, examination number 56693/26
Before the hearing started, the representative of Ministry of the Interior (Dr. Anders) announced the statement of the previous censorship. After the screening the procedure continued with the voting: Twelve members favoured qualification for public screening, six members voted for complete interdiction – representatives of Ministry of Justice (Linhart; Dr. Neudek), Ministry of the Interior (Dr. Anders, Dr. Novák) and Ministry of Defence (col. Komárek).
Each state authority had 2 representatives in Extended Censor Advisory Board, cultural and educational institution only one. According to the procedure rule of Extended Censor Advisory Board the decision was valid if 2/3 members of Extended Censor Advisory Board voted for qualification of the film for public screening. On the one hand the film was qualified, but on the other hand the changes – exclusions of scenes and titles – were inevitable. So the discussion started immediately…
The members voting for qualification of the film also initiated the discussion
about the shortages. They suggested deleting scenes depicting the sailors’
mutiny (reel III) and the massacre on the “Odessa staircase”
(reel V). Only the beginning of this scene remained – soldiers going
downstairs. All bloody and violent scenes from the “Odessa staircase”
were cut out.
Title No.121 had a new version: Battleship passed around the flagship. The Potemkin crew was interned by the Rumanian government (28th June 1905) in the harbour of Constanza.
Representative of Masaryk´s Institute for National Education (Trnka) suggested to omit text passages referring to the mutiny of sailors in Boka Kotorska in 1917 (reel I). This historical event was caused by completely different circumstances. This suggestion was supported by the representatives of Ministry of Education. Dr. Trnka still insisted on the exclusion of titles containing quotes from Masaryk’s “Svetová revoluce” (The World Revolution). The Ministry of the Interior asked for an opinion of the Office of the President of the Czechoslovak Republic. But there were no objections against using of these quotations.
An important point for qualification was the attitude of Ministry of
Interior. Its representative, Dr. Anders, was satisfied with the shortages
but he suggested an additional exclusion of the scene in reel VI (Potemkin
sails around the flagship and sailors greet each other). The Ministry
of the Interior also recommended the qualification of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN
and the film was qualified for public screening with the following restrictions:
Before première BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN had to be screened to Ministry of the Interior again for controlling the shortages. The film was finally accepted for public screening but the Ministry recommended special observation of the screenings. Subordinate authorities should control all impulses endangering public law and order during showings. If some such impulses occurred, the revocation of permission should be considered.
The reaction of the periodicals was again shaped by their political orientation. There was an agreement with the qualification in most of the democratic press. Journals of the right-wing parties wrote about a shocking approach of the censorship and regarded the film a work of Bolshevik propaganda. The Communist press criticised the practice of censoring Soviet films.
Some disturbance appeared during screening of the film in Prague at the end of October 1926 and daily press reported about the riot – e.g. Rudé právo or Csl. Republika [press article] (both 30.10.1926). The incident happened at the cinema Bio Kapitol on 29th October 1926. A group of young men (probably representatives of ultra right-wing movement) provoked obstructions after the beginning of the screening – roaring, squeaking and singing of the song “Hej Slované!” (Hey, Slavs!). They also started to spread incorrect information about an additional interdiction of the film in the district of Prague. Present police agent stopped the performance and four people were taken to the police station. But after identification they were let off.
Observation activities could be reconstructed from several reports about screenings in Prague, written by police agents. They watched the film between 5th and 11th November 1926 in Bio Kapitol and Hvezda. All supervised screenings took place without any riots but there were also some cases of demonstration of approval. In the “late night screening” organized by the Communist cultural association “Proletkult” great applause was registered especially on the scene depicting the mutiny of sailors. On 9th November 1926 there was some applause during the scene “Mutiny of officers”. But there were no additional restrictions against BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN.
The Ministry of the Interior usually issued censorship permissions for
the whole area of Czechoslovakia. But in some special cases - films with
the affix “s výhradou Slovenska” (except Slovakia)
versus localised film assessment in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany]
- Cenzúrna komisia pre filmy [pri ministerstve s plnou mocou pre
správu Slovenska] v Bratislave (Censor Advisory Board [by ministry
for Slovakia] in Bratislava) [cf.
The film censorship in the Czechoslovakia 1919 – 1940] was authorized
to decided about a ban of a film within its sphere of influence.
The film was repeatedly censored by Censor Advisory Board [by ministry for Slovakia] in Bratislava and again completely banned on 22nd March 1927. The Ministry of the Interior could not affect these decisions; they were competence of the Ministry for Slovakia in Bratislava. BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was finally qualified for public screening in Slovakia on 4th April 1929 (length: 1394 m) but banned for young people and without titles containing quotes from the book of Masaryks “A World Revolution”.
2.12.1932: examination number 1326/32
7.1.1938: examination number 1757/37
The screening of the film BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was completely interdicted on 27th April 1939 at the beginning of occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia (Bohemia and Moravia) by Nazi Germany.
20.11.1930, examination number 1738/30
Thematically the excluded scenes are very similar to the excluded ones from the original silent version of the film.
by Tomáš Lachman