I will admit my bias immediately – I love the Czech Republic. I love everything about it. The food, the beer, the gritty nature, the art, the difficult Slavic language, and most of all, Prague. I love Vienna and its rich history but Prague will always be my first European love since I visited the first time in 2012.
These past two weeks have been a whirlwind. Two weeks ago, I had three job interviews within two days and landed a position at the Austro-American Institute of Education as an English teacher and a part time nanny job. E and I were both so
happy relieved that I had found work so our pre-planned visit to Prague visit to see The Lumineers at Velký Sál Lucerna was perfectly timed.
We took the bus into Prague on a Thursday and dropped our bags at our hotel before heading towards Staré Město to get some food. As much as I would like to say we did it on purpose, we arrived in Prague on the most political of public holidays, November 17th or, The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day. This holiday commemorates the beginning of non-violent student protests against the Communist party of former Czechoslovakia in 1989. From November 17th through late December, there were a series of protests and worker strikes which forced many Communist party officials to resign, instituted a federal parliament, and ultimately lead to the downfall of the one party system, and still later, the break up of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. They call this the Velvet Revolution.
“Freedom is not free”
(Translation note: I will admit, my knowledge of Czech is limited to short phrases which help me get food and beer, find the bathroom, count to ten, and apologize for being stupid. All translations were provided by E.)
November 17th is a day of celebration for Czechs while also being a day for political protests of all kinds. We were swept up in one of these protests, which was characteristically Czech – peaceful, polite, not loud or aggressive, but tenacious all the same. The police were decked out in their full riot gear but also casually chatting with each other while they observed the crowds making their way towards Václavské náměstí, one of the main city squares where many demonstrations or protests have taken place.
“Teplice (town in Czech Republic) is here, because to us, Zeman (current president) is an embarrassment”
My father’s voice was in the back of my head telling me to avoid gatherings of political protesters and police in large groups. Sorry Dad – it was too good to miss. E and I never once felt uncomfortable or in danger as everything was extremely calm and many people had an air of celebration.
“Two totalitarian (regimes) were enough“
In 1939, the Czechs protested against the Nazis and, 50 years later to the day, they protested the one party Communist government. The scars of oppression are still seen in Václavské náměstí. The header photo above shows the memorial for Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc who both protested the invasion of the Soviet Union lighting themselves on fire in front of the national museum. Palach carried out his self-immolation in January 1969 at 20 years old and Zajíc in February 1969 at the age of 18. On Palach’s death notice, his family quoted Jan Hus, another Czech hero who was burned at the stake for religious heresy in 1415; “Defend the truth unto the death, for truth will set you free.”
Suffice to say, many people have suffered under brutal Communist regimes, not just Czechs. After watching the protests and celebrations dotted with rock concerts and political speeches, it only make sense that the next day, we would visit one of the most highly recommended museums in Prague – The Museum of Communism. We had meant to visit each time we had been in Prague before but never made the time. This weekend was the perfect chance.
Karl, Stalin, and their comrades
Flat Maris meets Stalin
“Cheerful and happy thanks to the Source shops“
Your standard interrogation room complete with a bust of Lenin and handcuffs so the suspect is not confused about when he or she may leave
A special wing dedicated to the horrors of North Korea’s dictatorship
“Spending money recklessly, while neglecting the starving millions…Kim Jong II owns several luxury villas…spent $650,000-$800,000 annually on imported cognac…[Kim Jong II’s] ‘Pleasure Team’, which selected and trained young girls for Kim Jong II’s pleasure…[he] ordered four women to dance and then take their clothes off as well…Kim ordered them to take their underwear off as well.”
The Mountain of Flowers – The Great Famine (1994-1998) caused so many deaths from starvation that there was not enough space and time to bury the dead underground. The bodies were placed, without coffins or headstones, and dirt was tossed on top of them causing these mounds.
Replicated graffiti from the fallen Berlin Wall
Whether or not you agree with the museum’s take on Communism, one must admit that first, conditions must have been quite atrocious to drive two healthy young men to burn themselves alive in protest of their government. And second, the Czechs don’t put up with any shit. Any reading of the history of the Czech people in any era reveals their strong will and perseverance to not only live but to thrive and on their own terms. Until next time, Na zdraví!