The initial reaction to communism in Czechoslovakia

Dr. Oldrich Tuma also talked to us about the initial reaction to communism in Czechoslovakia:

“In Czechoslovakia and especially the Czech lands part of Czechoslovakia, I think was an exception in Eastern Europe because there the communist party had the communist ideology immediately after 1945 and they had perhaps support  not from the majority of the society, but definitely from a very important part of it; (not only workers but intellectuals, artists) […]. They had hoped and trusted that this is an area especially to improve special economics, social life and to establish a system of social justice and things like that.

[…] there was the experience of Second World War and of course a very important issue was how to keep Czechoslovakia safe, how to take care of the security of Czechoslovakia after the experience of military occupation of Czechoslovakia. […] I think that this was not only communist that were persuaded but even many people who wished to have democracy were persuaded that the only way that to make Czechoslovakia secure in the middle of Europe was to cooperate very closely with the Soviet Union against Germany. Because there was a lot of opinions that in a few years Germany would be strong again or an aggressive state.

So the situation after Second World War was very similar to the one after the First World War [..]. But Germany became a different sort of society and state, so it was a misperception […].

Unlike the Polishes, Romanians, Hungarians, Czechs never had any direct experience with Russia. There were no common borders, there were no wars since the middle ages and so on. So Russians and the Russian state was more something like a distant but relatively beloved cousin if not then brother in the passive conflict that there was a long time confrontation between the Czechs and Germany, not only Germany but Germans living within Bohemia and Moravia. So it seems that this powerful Slavic state and Great Russian cultural heritage was really admired in the 19th Century. So there were a lot of sympathies and genuine sympathies for Russia with some over also for Czechs I think 1945, Soviet Union was especially Russia. So Soviet soldiers were red army soldiers, who were Russian soldiers, so they […] had to save Czechs from Nazi Germany (I think more understood it as German occupation not Nazi occupation).

So originally there was a lot of sympathies but many people also were aware that there is a danger that the communists who were speaking like democrats perhaps were for a coalition government (they spoke about free elections and so on). But there was a danger that it could turn into a totalitarian regime, undemocratic regime so there was a conflict within the society. Unfortunately the communists were much better prepared; they knew what they wished to achieve and fortified the position of the other political parties. And simply by waiting some hoped this is an extraordinary situation after war we have to survive and so on but it didn’t.

Communists seized power in 1948 and again that is the difference in Czechoslovakia; It happened during one short political crisis; in fact it was one week. In other countries it was a really long process. Let’s remind this Hungarian guy and his army tactics. In a way it was in Czechoslovakia too, but finally it was really a takeover it happened with the mobilisation of supporters of communism and paramilitary forces marching into the streets and so on. Even after 1948 still important part of society especially young people and so on who really trusted and hoped that very quickly that it would lead to the communist regime to very different directions and very different levels of great development of society and cultural social, economic and so on. And if it is necessary to pay something for some time to repress opponents of communism so we have to do it but during the next ten years would definitely be 56 or 58 most of those people I mean young communist people who were enthusiastic about communism but after 1945 became more sceptical and started to think about problems, mistakes and lies and so on. Didn’t see any great economic or social progress, they were more and more averted in cultural and educational, information. There was more and more censorship and so on and they didn’t like it.

So from that milieu Not yet resistance to communism, but very common I think in Czechoslovakia in the 1950’s early 60’s, was this idea of the necessity to reform the generated system. I think there was a majority of Czechoslovak society who simply didn’t like communism as for them it was an oppressive regime. In the early 50’s many people simply hoped that next fall or the next spring or something like that there will be war…there were a lot of illusions that the West will somehow intervene with diplomatic or economic measures that will make the communist regime to have elections and so on and so on. I think this illusion disappeared between 53 and 56, so definitely after the Hungarian uprising in 56 when there was no Western intervention. So this would be the end of the illusion that this will be for just a short time and the west will do something; it simply disappeared… more and more people realised that maybe it’s forever… and if they didn’t feel like that then, in 68 they understood that it was about to be for a very long time. So, they thought… if we can’t get rid of the system, maybe we can improve it or reform it. And so from this I think there was this general ethos of the 60’s in Czechoslovakia and of 68 which was something like a merge of very different opinions, a lot of very enthusiastic communists that hoped they would be able to improve the regime and even create something like a sort of model for other, even for Soviet Union. They thought that maybe the Russian communists will follow them…  But they were really disappointed instead, when these Russian tanks arrived.So people who simply didn’t like communism and understood 68 (the Prague spring) as an opportunity to at least change something and improve the system realised there were some limits.”

 

Marina Gogeanu

Interview transcribed by: Mwen Fikirini

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