This is Part III in a series that started with one Czech writing why he was going to vote for the communists. Part II was the first response, and this is another.
This page provides some background on the political history behind this question. Italicized text in square brackets is my explanatory comments.
The communist regime was tyrannical
by Jan Čulík
Although I fully understand the frustration of Mr. Tůma (in decent countries, effective laws eliminate discrimination against old people or women, and by the way, 43 isn’t old) and respect the opinion of a clearly significant part of today’s public that the coming of “democracy” and “freedom” to the Czech Republic over the last 22 years was a disappointment, I think that recollected optimism and anger at today’s political and economic situation gives people a false conviction that “it was better under communism.”
Of course, in this connection I think there’s an important point that must be emphasized. The governing right wing and its media commentators scare the public by linking today’s KSČM [the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, the successor to the KSČ, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia] with the Stalinist regime in Czechoslovakia in the 50s and the normalization regime in the 70s and 80s. ["Normalization” refers to the reimposition of stricter communist control after the relative openness of the 1960s, culminating in the Prague Spring of 1968 and the subsequent Warsaw Pact invasion.] This is a crude, ahistorical mistake.
The communist totalitarian regime could arise in Czechoslovakia only under the influence of the Soviet Union. But for more than 20 years now the Czech lands have no longer been a colony of Russia and clearly won’t be again for a long time, if ever. Without the political and military power of Russia, the KSČM isn’t a totalitarian party and it would never manage to create again a Stalinist or normalization regime. The KSČM is a somewhat stupid, obsolete political party whose more extreme representatives say provocative nonsense in the press, yet it’s an organization that for more than 20 years has fully respected the functioning of democracy in the Czech Republic. After all, does any of you know about the communists organizing terrorist assassinations on Czech territory? :)
But I’m fascinated by the mechanisms of memory in people like Mr. Tůma who completely pass over how intellectually stifling and bound up the normalization regime was (nobody remembers the Stalinist regime of the 50s anymore, and that means that all that serves as a bogeyman is stereotypical, paper concepts).
You really don’t remember how sterile, hysterical, and idiotic the daily propaganda in the media was? How everything had to be ostentatiously connected to Marxism, how people had to do conspicuous little political dances about how they were thrilled with the Husák regime, otherwise they wouldn’t even show themselves. [Gustav Husák was the de facto leader of Czechoslovakia through pretty much the entire normalization period.] Perhaps the same rituals survive in the Czech lands to this day, now transfigured into “capitalist” and “economic” forms (I’m more appalled that Stalinist or neostalinist methods are being implemented in Britain in the universities, where until now that truly wasn’t the custom), but that can’t be a reason to pretend that under “socialism” things were “great.” Rather, we should investigate which oppressive methods from socialism have successfully lasted to this day so that we continue living with them, in “capitalist” garb. Because, let’s admit, Czech “capitalism” often has some fairly Husákite, normalizationist traits.
But I’d like to emphasize: Freedom is indivisible. It’s an indisputable fact that under the Husákite normalization and before that under the Stalinism of the 50s, people who expressed nonconformist opinions were persecuted, and very often people were persecuted for nothing—just because the regime wanted to destroy them.
It’s probably true that the majority of the nation—perhaps—wasn’t affected by this (even though I have my doubts, because the atmosphere in a small town in 1975 must have been pretty stifling—Viewegh captured this well in his short book Báječná léta pod psa (The blissful years of lousy living). Maybe they just cut out of their thinking whatever was forbidden, they didn’t do the things the regime forbade them to do, they accepted the reduction of their personalities to those of small children, and then they were fine in the Husákite sanatorium. Except that that’s a false perspective on reality.
Not to mention the fact that the Czechoslovak regime was almost hermetically isolated from the outside world and was technologically backward. There are so, so many things that were poorly handled after the fall of communism in 1989. There was no strategy for how to secure the independent development of the Czech economy and prevent the Czech lands from becoming a mere assembly line and a sales market for big Western companies. There wasn’t and still isn’t any intelligent foreign policy by means of which the Czech Republic could gain for itself security and reliable allies—today western countries treat the Czech Republic more or less as a somewhat eccentric, irrelevant little country, whose politicians are greeted in western cloakrooms politely but without interest. If there were to be a crisis, nobody would do anything for the Czech lands, and in the European Union the country hasn’t made for itself any allies among countries of comparable size.
All that and much more is reason for serious concern over the state of today’s Czech Republic. But the notion that “things were great under communism” is entirely bogus.