Jan Palach article – http://www.britishpathe.com/video/jan-palach-funeral
Prague Spring article – http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/21/newsid_2781000/2781867.stm
Vaclav havel article – http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/05/opinion/avlon-vaclav-havel
Plastic People of the Universe article – http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/sep/06/plastic-people-velvet-revolution-1989
We’ve also asked Jan Sladek how does he think that people feel about communism now. This was his answer:
“Talking about nostalgia and about protest, I believe this goes down in the family… you can do much with education, everyone has different experience even the dissident had many faces… some part of the new life in the Czech republic, children then but now my age whose parents were arrested because the were against communism, they reach for a new life.
What we have witnessed again the last regional election… communist parties went high and got some of the seat in the regional parliament. Young people, especially high school student, started protesting against it. Now this is called in the Czech society anti-communism. This is my own interpretation, I think it is simplifying the way communism was because anti-communism says communism is a bad thing, everyone who supports it supports something bad, this is something that cannot and do not work in the majority of the society because you have to face the fact that some people (not a large, but few amount of people) felt better in the society.”
Interview transcribed by: Lesoda Otu-Iso
Jan Sladek about the panelaks:
“One of the symbols of communism, everyone who been around Europe knows panelak can be found in France, if you look at south cell it’s one of the biggest panelak in France, in Czech republic it depends on the location, you can be part of the cities with panelak which are beautiful with good transports and some that are isolated. Now I talked about shortage, the same shortage that there was with wages was the same with housing, I remembered that my family, it was so hard for them to get a flat because they could not buy a flat. So we had to wait for the regime to build a new one and it took the regime 15yrs to build a flat… for some people that was quite a long time.
Yes it was a solution to quiet a massive shortage in housing and people were all glad for having this, not all the buildings were that bad, some of them were in beautiful location. What the problem was…the management of the building where you have 8 buildings and 40 flats. (I am talking about the panelaks where I grew up) I remember several things when the lights went out, it took days for someone to get it fixed because you had to call to get it fixed, there was no private sector who would fix the problem, you had to call the municipality and they would say we would put you on the waiting list, our electrician would come and solve the problem in a few days, the same with the lifts systems as well. These are for common places as well as flats.
The flat was also owned by the state so the state was responsible for fixing it, this happened frequently that the people started to help themselves; I would say this was irresponsible form the government, under normal setting, you are a tenant, and you are investing in fixing up the place. People started developing close ownership of the flat. So when the regime failed on of the first question was to what is there to do with all this state flat, they had to find a way to give it out to people so the flats were privatised, so people where glad that they had one secured thing in their lives which was housing.
Again I am coming to my flat 8 stories 40 flats, 40 families. In 1994 each family got the chance to buy the flat which was on the condition that all families would do this, which not everyone wanted to stay or to buy. So there was a huge negotiation we had to renovate all the building, this went okay but there was no law about the management of the public space. So again the problem of lift and light management was still the same, it took some time to develop a strategy on how to solve the problem even though it did not work, one of the problem was, that we shared difference flat but who share the ground beneath the building all this little things lead to do with the ill management of the building and it started to de-tolerate which again was a huge contribution to all the bad image of housing.
The interesting thing about Czech panelaks which is difference from British housing, French housing, I would say even American housing, was giving their housing shortage which was distributed all around society. We had very great mix of social demographic mix in one building it was not like only poor people would leave there, we got professors, physicians and workers in the same building.”
Interview transcribed by: Lesoda Otu-Iso
Jan Sladek is a lecturer at Charles University- Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy. During our stay in Prague, we had the pleasure to meet and interview him. One of the very first questions was about the Plastic people of the universe as we were very interested in finding out what’s his opinion regarding the way the communists treated the dissidents. Here is what he said:
“This is a paradigm case of the totalitarian regime. Harriet a famous thinker of the 21st century, had this idea about totalitarian regime. She said “in a normal democratic regime you can separate private sphere, public and state sphere. Example in universities you have private, public and state universities. You can have your private life and have public. For example, I am a teacher and lecturer, and if I go to a political party I will try to get some share of the state power… that is how it works.
In totalitarian regime one of the best pictures you can find in 1984 by Howell, it basically sees no difference between this. In Howell there is a quote where he said “sex is an empty state thing”, that is to say your private intimate thing is seen by the state as an offensive. This is what happen to Plastic People of the Universe- a bunch of crazy guys making songs or singing songs de-picturing the consummate society. There was a great joke about this consummate in a country with shortage economy. A group of people who say we are consuming in the society, they didn’t even have strong anti—regime or anti political quotes but the regime was so sensitive to its opposition and felt it everywhere.
Even these things that are seen as just a normal, public expression is seen offensive and felt as an ethic on the state. Even the fact that the people choose to have long hair (which is a private thing)… the regime felt it has a state opposition. what happened was that they went into trials, most of them went to jail, this was what triggered the opposition and charta 77, which was the appeal to the court for human right and the appeal was based on the ground that Czech Republic sign a treaty saying as a country that they would defend civil liberty.
This is one of the trigger and one of the pictures of how silly the regime reacted to any kind of unconformity to identity. Fighting against music group and make it triggers the biggest opposition in the Czech republic/Czechoslovakia at the time “I think this a joke of history”
To conclude this, even though we have many face of communism and many face of dissident, one thing was sure that the regime in Czech republic was very sensitive, it was very paranoid and this is what basically, with together in the shortage economy lead to the end because if you go against people who play music then no one feels safe in the country because they were not politicians and they were not political. So if you fight this people will be afraid, and when people start getting afraid due to what they say, insecurity comes in.”
Interview transcribed by: Lesoda Otu-Iso
Could you introduce yourself and then relate us some experiences you had during the communist regime?
My name is Ivan Hurnik, I was born in Czechoslovakia in year 1954, September 22nd. It was really a hard time of communism. I was growing up during the time of communism in the 50s and 60s.
My father was an Army pilot; he was flying on the Mid 15 and one of the Mid15 almost killed him, so he stopped his career as an Army pilot… And processed to work for Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In the beginning of his career, as a Foreign Affairs Minister he was working as a diplomatic courier, so he visited all the countries in the world. But at the time of 1986, my father was working in Czechoslovakia embassy. My father took part in the political movement of Prague spring 1968, while he was still a minister. At the end of the spring he was sent to Africa Sudan as a Czechoslovak diplomat, so our family left Czechoslovak on the 25th of July 1968, just one month before the invasion in August. Our family was eight thousand kilometers away from Prague. Of course it was a very big surprise what happened there, we were even affected in Sudan because of the Invasion, we were imprisoned in our house in Kartun, we were guarded by Sudanese police, we were not allowed to go to school, my father was not allowed to go to the embassy for a week.
In 1969 it was exchange of the general secretary of communist party of Czechoslovakia, instead of Alexander Dubcek, Gustav Husak took over and became general secretary. He was very good friend of comrade Brenzhnev in Moscow, Gustav said it was not an invasion, it was an international help. The communist party in the year 1970 made some kind of questioning of other members of the party, and who said during the questioning that it was an inversion, was dismissed from the party. So my father did not say it was an inversion, he only asked, if it was a help, why did the come with tanks? Of course he got a simple answer; he was kicked out of the party in the year 1970, but the main reason why he was kicked out, was that he took part in the political movement of Prague spring 1986.
When he got back from Sudan in May 1971, my father was fired out of the Foreign affairs minister, and he was unemployed for three years, in a socialist country, which was officially impossible. My siblings and I were not allowed to study, travel, or have good jobs, because our father was fired out of the communist party. Just imagine we finished school in Africa, but we were not allowed to finish secondary school in our country.
I did not have a passport for nine years, when I ask for a passport from the foreign police, I was told three times to go to eastern Germany… you can’t travel with an ID card only, which means you can’t travel anywhere else because they had power to say so.
From the beginning, I was working in a company which was called Foreign Trade Corporation. Companies were not allowed to import product directly, they were doing it through foreign trade corporation. I was using English every day at work, so my boss told me to go to the management and ask to take the English exams which will give me 30 crown over my normal wage per month. 30 crowns which is approximately just one dollar more, my salary was 800 crown in the year 1971, and I was just asking for 30 crown over the wage. When I went to the management office, and said to them I want to take the exams for English, since I am using English every day, The asked me do I speak Russian and I said to them no I don’t, they said to me you can’t have 30 crown for just English.
Until the first half of the 1980s there was nothing to buy, let say the tropical fruit, oranges, bananas, melon etc, we usually have them three or four times in a year in a shop, it is not like now where we have them every day, and it was very expensive. Life was completely different.
My experience with communism is not good;[…]
I have a group of friends… we know each other from the 60s, in that group there are two friends which I know each other from the 60s, because we were in elementary school from the first class. We were always going to the pub every Friday, just for drinking, of course… and the boys were studying at the university; we usually talked about politics and other things and also singing forbidden song sometimes… And…Someone heard us and said something to the police and three boys from the group were in prison for six months!!
Later on there was a trial, but the secret police called STB made a little mistake, because during the time of communism, when the police is searching your apartment, the usually have a witness with them it could be anybody. But the police made the search without a witness, so they lost the trial.
Anyway the boys were kicked out of university. Later on one of them immigrated to Austria. Then there was another trial, it was said that the guy who immigrated was at fault. So the others were allowed to study again. It was normal.
In fact if you said political jokes and someone heard it, you will go straight ahead o prison. Also, it was a crime to have one dollar bill in your pocket, it was not allowed to have foreign currency, it was a crime.
In simple terms what does communism mean to you?
Very bad time, and very bad memories, because I was not allowed to travel, but now I can go anywhere I want to, I don’t even know where I have my passport, because I don’t need it. The last time I used it was when I was travelling to Ukraine, but now within Europe I don’t need my passport. I can now say anything I want to say, and of course if I have the money, I can buy anything I want to, But during communism, if I want to buy a car, I will have to have good friends.
During the time of communism everything that was good was only for the members of the party, we can say we had two categories of inhabitants: members of the party and non-members, if you want to have well-paid jobs, your children going to school, and travel around, you have to be in the party, really everything was just for the members of the party.
But life in Czechoslovak was best in all the socialist country, because Czechoslovak was used as a shop window of socialism, because we had boarder with western Germany and lot of people from Germany and Austria were coming here for business purposes. But the life here was best compared to other countries, let’s say in the Soviet Union it was much worst, because in the Soviet Union, everything was under control of the KGB, let’s say you were living in one city and you wanted to travel to the another city which is just 100/150 kilometres away, you will have to ask for a permit to travel around in your own country.
Interview transcribed by: Lesoda Otu-Iso