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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Memories of Communism

Over the last week my students have asked me about the American election, who I voted for, if I’m happy about Obama, blah blah blah. In turn I asked them about their political system and, perhaps more importantly, what “democracy” means to them.  Most of them have little recollection of life under communism, because they were either too young or just in their teen years and we all know most teens haven’t a clue.

Their parents remember communism of course, but they don’t talk about it much because “it’s in the past! Who wants to talk about those people?” Fair enough. Some students do remember communism, or have stories to tell about their family:

Pavol remembers standing in line for fresh fruit: “Bananas were hard to get, so when bananas came to the market, I stood in line to buy some.” Today the markets have so many bananas that you could think Czech have some extra monkey gene or something.

Ana remembers being 15 years old in 1989 when the Velvet Revolution happened: “It meant to me and my friends that we had a day off of school. We never had days off of school, so this was a big deal. We went down to Wenceslaus Square [sight of student protests that eventually turned national and thus forced a change in government] and hung out. We didn’t really know what was going on. We didn’t meet a lot of people who knew what was going on, either. I’m surprised the revolution happened because most of the people there, I think, were just having a good time being out of school.”

Martin told me the story of his grandfather: “My grandfather was a doctor and he hated the Russian government. He was always saying things against them. My grandmother warned him that he shouldn’t say these things around the wrong people. The wrong people could be anyone outside your family. One day when he was at a big meeting, some guy strong in the party said something like ‘The Russians are really good leaders’ and my father just got angry and said in this big group that the Russians were terrible for Czechs and he hated them. Two days later the police came and arrested him. He spent a year in prison doing hard labor. This was man who had never done things like that: he was a doctor and intellectual. My parents were kicked out of university because my grandfather was arrested. After a year he came home, but he was never the same. … You have to be able to say things against the government in order to be free.”

Lukas says he remembers long lines and having little money, but that the family was always happy because they did things together. When you just ignored the politics and got on with living, he said, you can focus on being happy and devoting time to your children. Under communism, people got home from work at 3 o’clock, so they could be with their children who had just come home from school. Now everyone works longer hours and worries about having enough money to retire.

Marie remembers life under communism as very happy for her, because she was just a kid and kids don’t know anything about the world outside their little life in the house and around the neighborhood with her friends. Parents do their best to shelter kids from the reality of the situation, until it’s time they need to know about such things.

My students say that the Czech Republic needs a couple more generations of leaders to make things better for them. Right now there are too many old people with old ideas, socialist ideas that take a lot of money and then don’t make things better. “We are only 20 years old as a country. We have a lot to learn.” Many Czechs are “fed up” with politics. They don’t want to go back to communism – they are liking their consumer society – but they know that right now politics just aren’t working out for “people.”


  mlbeyer wrote @ November 14th, 2008 at 1:10 am

Speaking of Obama, what do you think of the huge bail-out he wants to do for the auto companies? I believe he should be setting conditions for them to create more environmentally healthy cars in exchange for the bail-out.

  Mark wrote @ November 16th, 2008 at 8:20 pm

No conditions should be set. That sparks of government ownership and thus communism. Either give them the money to help so the workers not lose their jobs, or just let the companies die. It’s America itself that must demand enviro cars. When oil drops down to $60/bbl again, idiot Americans lose their memory, don’t understand that oil is on its way out, so want their big gas-guzzling cars. Then they bitch when oil prices spike. Idiots.

  mlbeyer wrote @ November 17th, 2008 at 3:42 pm

That sounds smart, but do you really think American “idiots” will start demanding enviro cars? They never have before. Every person I know here at college who owns a car is over the moon because gas is back to $1.85 per gallon-they do not want to look at facts or help decrease America’s oil dependence.

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