I visited the Museum of Communism for the first time in Prague, Czech Republic on December 8, 2017. I will explain my experience and what I learned.
I have never been to a museum about communism before so I was interested in going to the Museum of Communism. I was also not very knowledgeable of communism or the history of Czech Republic, formerly known as Czechoslovakia, so the information was new to me. While I initially approached it with a sense of humor since I have heard Americans joke about communism, my attitude became serious after learning about how many people died under communist rule and how controlled people were.
The museum consisted of reading material that was printed on walls throughout a number of rooms, and took me approximately three hours to go through. There were displays of old communist propaganda posters, a communist flag and models that conveyed how Czech people lived and what their values supposedly were under communist rule.
The first room explained how Czechoslovakia became a communist country in 1948. It mentioned that the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia gained significant support from the Czech people after World War II when they became increasingly unhappy due to poverty and long work days. They became convinced that communism was superior, a system where property is owned by the community and wealth is distributed equally among members of society.
In 1948 the Communist Party demanded that the president of Czechoslovakia step down, which he did without challenge. Little did the Czech people know the atrocities that communism would release upon them.
After 1948, property such as money, land and businesses were seized from citizens and became property of society. Banks, insurance companies and mines became nationalized, meaning the government now controlled currency and resources. Eventually even small businesses were snatched from business owners as the government stopped supplying raw materials and confiscated equipment and even cars. Initially the communist regime claimed it would compensate business owners for taking their businesses, but more often than not, business owners received nothing.
A new currency was distributed in 1953 that was greatly undervalued compared to the former currency, meaning people could purchase less. The state used the money primarily to pay off debts for failed state enterprises. Citizens rioted about their money being taken, but they were violently suppressed by state authorities.
“Imagine going to bed on May 1, 1953 with 50,000 crowns in your account and to wake up the next day to find you have only 1,000 crowns.”
Farmers were driven from their land because they were considered to be wealthy elite who were a threat to the utopia society. The communist regime began managing the farms. As a result, the country experienced famine because the new farm managers were not knowledgeable about farming and food production. This led to thousands of Czech people dying from malnutrition.
“Several million people died in the Soviet Union as a direct result of the famine caused by disruption in the farming sector.”
The Communist Party wanted to show the rest of the world that communism was the ideal system that every country should follow. It ramped up production of natural resources such as metals in order to become a noted producer worldwide. This required citizens to work just as hard as they did before, if not more, and silenced them from complaining since they were now working for the “good” of their fellow man. Producing natural resources quickly devastated the environment of Czechoslovakia because no precautions were put in place.
Being wealthy and educated was no longer a priority in society, and was actually frowned upon, because having more wealth and knowledge was a challenge to “equality.” People were forced to be dumbed down for the good of society and were often moved to jobs that needed to be filled even if the job did not involve their expertise. For example, a university professor may be forced to fix locks even if he or she has no experience in fixing locks.
Length of life diminished quickly due to lack of adequate nutrition and poor health services. After decades of communist rule, Czech people were living an average of four years less than citizens of other developed western nations. Lack of access to healthcare forced doctors to come up with solutions to help patients survive, which led to inventions like baby formula and soft contact lenses. Doctors created these breakthrough products in secret because they did not want the government to control their inventions.
The Czech society was closed off from the rest of the world in order to maintain this utopia system. The government seized the entertainment industry which then started to only produce propaganda films. Children were only exposed to government-created content that brainwashed them into being subservient members of society. There was even a fairy tale story produced where the royal characters were called “Comrade King” and “Comrade Princess.” English was not taught in schools and the majority of the Czech people were not permitted to leave the country.
“Schoolchildren were led to harbor class hatred against the wealthy and were taught that democratic countries were the enemy; a religious-like respect for revolutionary traditions was instilled in them as well.”
Everyone became a suspect of betraying the system, even leaders themselves. People were constantly cautious of what they said or did to prevent being turned in by family members and friends to the police. If they did become a suspect, they were interrogated by the police who would often become convinced through their own reasoning that the captured person was guilty. People of concern were often killed or placed in camps. Anyone who attempted to escape was shot, and guards were often awarded for killing escapees.
“The repressive machinery of the Communist system, driven by an unquenchable thirst for power, used its brute force to smash anyone who had a different opinion.”
A subject I was particularly drawn to was the crack down on religion which was considered to be a threat to the communist regime. Religious leaders were often persecuted and sentenced to life imprisonment. People became fearful of openly practicing their religion and subscribed to atheism. This is why Czech Republic is currently noted to be one of the most atheist countries in the world.
The government hosted a major sporting event called Spartaklad every five years to display to the world how happy and prosperous the country was. The event featured thousands of Czech people moving in unison in a large stadium. Visitors from other countries were permitted to view the event but they could only stay in specific locations where they did not see poverty or government control (similar to how Nazi Germany hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics). The Spartaklad was a huge expense to the government. One year the event cost approximately $3.5 billion dollars in modern currency.
After decades passed it became evident that communism was failing and Czech people wanted change. In 1968 an event called Prague Spring took place where a leader in the communist party began introducing reforms to provide more freedom to citizens and industries. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union did not favor the reforms taking place and sent troops to crack down on reformation in Czechoslovakia until 1989.
Eventually people began stepping out of line to challenge the system. Two young men set themselves on fire to bolster motivation among the people to challenge the communist regime.
In 1991 the communist regime fell and Czechoslovakia became a democracy, eventually becoming known as the Czechoslovak Federative Republic, otherwise commonly called Czech Republic. Since then the country has gradually been catching up to the rest of the western world by introducing a free market system, teaching English, and encouraging tourism.
Imagine what it must have been like for citizens to be able to openly express how they truly feel, own their own property and travel freely!
The museum was certainly interesting and worth a visit. I would like to see museums like this in the United States so the American people become more aware of how truly horrific communism was in Czech Republic.
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