Casa’s Blog

A Life Abroad

Then raise the scarlet standard high. Within its shade we’ll live and die, Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

After our trip to Brno yesterday, we went out to an Italian Restaurant just around the corner from Justin’s place for some italian food and beer. Well my Risotto was probably a bit more like fried rice than risotto…but it was good nonetheless.  We then stopped off at the “Mclaren’s” bar (Never read what the real name was)  just under just apartment for some more beer and so I could try a few Czech fruit shots.  They ranged from being very fruit tasting to tasting lyrics straight alcohol and from very aromatically fruity to, well, smelling like straight alcohol.  Although the place was a little smokey in true Czech style, I must say the idea of living above  a bar like How I Met Your Mother did have its appeals for me.

After a rather weird Obama based dream (I’m blaming the Czech spirits for that one) I was up and off on what I was calling my Communism Day. Of course the Czech Republic was behind the Iron Curtain, as Churchill phrased it, for a significant percentage of the last century and me being the political nerd would need to look in to that side of the country while I was here.  Also, my history interest focuses a lot on modern history, particularly World War Two, so I had set aside the day for the Communism Walking Tour as well as doing the Communism Museum (which ironically shares a building with a casino and a MacDonald’s…you could hear Lenin turning in his grave if he was actually in one!).

I had to grab a quick snack at Starbucks before starting the walking tour as I have obviously become quickly trained to eating the regular big meals they eat in the Czech Republic and was starving. It was strange seeing as Joey and I went through almost anorexic like eating in the USA with neither of us ever getting THAT hungry despite all the walking.  I obviously haven’t been fully changed from the person who did those two  though as I got myself an iced tea from Starbucks as well and that was a regular feature of our North American Adventure.  The walking tour also started just after the hour next to the Astronomical Clock so I got to see its performance although I must admit it was really lame.  The rest of the clock is great to look at and really interesting but the fact the clock’s performance is such a landmark for Prague tourists has me a little stumped.  I found it rather lame.

The guide for the 10 or so of us on the communism tour was Palov a 30 year old, baby faced Slovak who obviously had a great knowledge of the regions political history and a great grasp of the English Language.  However, the advertising for the tour turned out to be largely false.  To call it a communism tour is wrong because it covers a fair bit of the lead up to Communist rule and the effects after communist rule.  It is much more a tour that covers the areas modern political and cultural history – which was a plus.  It also ran for over 2 hours despite being advertised as a 90 minute tour, definitely not a bad thing as Palov was talking the entire time and there was a fair distance between the relatively few spots so 2 hours, he said, was the average time.  Probably the most significant thing though was that the walking tour basically showed you things you can’t see. What do I mean by that? Well most of the blantant signs of communism like hammer and sickles, statues and the like are long gone.  There are a few monuments, bullet damage repairs to the National Museum and of course the very communist buildings, but generally what we got on the tour was the information and personal anecdotes of our awesome guide.  You could imagine though that if you tour Iraq in 2030 you won’t be able to find many of the Saddam monuments still lining the streets so it was probably not expected that you would see much. He also had a variety of photographs so you could see what the places you are standing in now looked like before the capitalist transformation.  A striking contrast.  The tour is probably not as advertised, but all the little changes are defintely for the better.

Overall the discussion covered the history that led to Communism (World War 2, Hitler, Liberation by Red Soldiers, pre-WW2 Prosperity after the independence of Czechoslovakia, etc, etc),  life under the communist regime, the 68 attempted revolution and the Velvet successful revolution of the late 80s.  What was most interest was the analysis of how the 40 years of communism still affects the country to this day in very striking ways.  The fact that there are organised crime and foreign ownership issues as a result of the privatisation of all the nationalised things when Communism ended, filling the power void. The fact that Oranges hold a place in Czech christmas celebrations as a result of the fact they could only be obtained for a limited time, in limited amounts around christmas time in Prague under Communism.  The fact that there appears to be a big generational distinction between the youth and the older Czechs as there can be quite a lot of nostalgia about the communist times among the older people as it was all that they know. They still drink the bad coffee as it was what they grew up on for instances (The lack of quality in the goods produced as a result of no competition was a repeated point) and probably most significantly the Communist Party still gets about 20% of the vote.  Palov made the point that this is largely because of people remembering the benefits of communism such as the universal and free housing, healthcare, etc but not the costs associated with the overall system.  It is fair to say that my guide was probably anti-communism, but he did make an effort to give a wider picture and for that Iam grateful. He also was able to give me information about the current Czech Governmental issues that Justin had mentioned (but probably not cared enough to understand to the level I wanted to. I am the political one remember).

Probably the most important part of the tour in my opinion was at the end when we were shown the monument to the November 17 Peaceful Uprising which was a large part of the fall of Communism in Czech.  Not only was it great to hear the story of how it all unfolded at the location where it happened but the issues associated with the monument are interesting in themselves.  It is a modest monument and a rather small one at that.  It is on a part of the street that can be protected as it has been attacked by pro-communists and the general Czech feeling about the fall of communism appears to have lost its vigour in recent years, although after over 200 years since the American War of Independence that vigour is still there.  Palov’s point was that if you forget or never learn history you are bound to make the same mistakes.    A very good point.  It is interesting to hear him follow that statement with the fact that Czech history education at high school stops at the end of World War 2…

After the tour I then went to the communist museum, where the boards covered similar areas as the tour but in less depth.  However, it was a great (even if disorganised museum) as it was full of the artifacts of the times as well as reconstructed rooms varying from fatories to shops to Secret Police Interrogation Cells. There was also a really good video of some of the main events I had heard about all day.  Well worth the price of admission (although I did pay the discounted price as I had done the walking tour, I would say it is still worth it if you had to pay the extra 20 crowns haha).  It was not a perfect museum though as it was definitely of the “Communism=bad, Capitalism = good” frame of mind and the phrasing of the stories and history was written from this view point.  However, I think that although the weaknesses in Communism are fundamental and obvious, a lot of the negatives of the communist regime were associated a lot more with political extremism and unfettered political power than any particular ideological issues.  You see footage of how the Red Army dealt with political protesters in the late 80s and compare that with the footage of G8 protests and the like and there are definite similarities.  Facism and Communism, two sides of the political spectrum, have both caused dramatic issues in modern European history.  Although as a person with “center-ish” political views, what can you expect my conclusion to be? 😛

Also, I am periodically adding photos to old posts as I can while at Justin’s place.  At the moment I have done Bruges through Niagara Falls…have a look if you want to.


June 18, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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