So one of the things that I was very eager to learn more about in Prague was its history within the Communist Block. Having grown up in the States at the tail end of the Cold War, I have some memories of the big events surrounding the fall of the Soviet Union but not a whole lot. I was in kindergarten when the Berlin wall came down, for example. Between this and our shared love of history museums, Hubby and I were both super excited to check out the Museum of Communism near Wenceslas Square. Ironically enough, today it is next door to a McDonald's and across the street from Bennetton. I couldn't make that up if I tried!
At least the museum has a sense of humor about it!
After a treat, we were off to the museum! It's located in a creaky, dusty old building that it shares with a casino (more irony) but houses a fascinating look at Communist Czechoslovakia.
Communism first came to Prague and the rest of Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II. After having been ceded to the Nazis by their western allies in the Munich Agreement, some in Prague were happy to be liberated by Soviet forces and voted a predominately Communist interim government into power. The Communists then suppressed further elections, using the army, police, and armed workers unions. Despite the crackdown, there was a pretty optimistic embracing of Communist values covered in detail. As a teacher, I was most interested by their influence on education:
From the display: "The communists did not doubt that the long-term success of their social experiment depended on whether the succeeded in raising a 'socialist man'. A socialist man should be satisfied with a modest income while conscientiously fulfilling the work tasks, improving his knowledge of communist doctrines, cooperating with the state bodies and watching cautiously and being observant as to whether someone in his environment does not disturb the social order. The example was the "Soviet man", as it was depicted by Stalinist literature. Therefore it was necessary to re-develop the Czech education system according to the Soviet example, in order to produce comparable human types. Pupils were "raised" or encouraged from first grade towards class hatred against more wealthy classes, hostility towards democratic states as well as towards religion in respect to the revolutionary traditions."
Kind of scary, isn't it? The goal of an education, in my opinion, should be to equip students with the tools they need to think critically for themselves, not to mold them into an obedient servant of the government.
There was also some information about the space race and a LOT of propaganda posters. It was really interesting to look at the posters and realize that they were aimed at getting complete strangers to hate my parents and grandparents. (To be fair, the U.S. wasn't exactly innocent in this regard either, with all of their Red Scare propaganda.)
The museum also covered the problems that citizens experienced under communist rule, including food shortages, economic hardships, and oppression of dissent.
The back corner of the museum even had a Soviet area interrogation room recreating with some pretty disturbing posters about how they extracted information out of traitor and suspected traitors.
The final wing of the museum covered the Velvet Revolution that led to the end of communist rule in Prague and took a snarky, lighthearted approach to their own past. We indulged in a series of hysterical postcards in the gift shop. I don't want to include pictures of all of them, for fear of copyright infringement, but here's a larger framed example from one of the displays:
All in all, it was a fun, fascinating way to spend an afternoon. And yes, we did go to the McDonald's afterwards. :)
Stay tuned for more of our anniversary trip to Prague!