Family History II: Prague Spring, 1968
Jul 22, 2009
|A couple weeks back I went to the Museum of Communism in Prague (ironically, "Located above McDonald's!") and one of the reasons I found it to be a definite highlight was for the context and history it provided me with the climate my parents and grandparents grew up with, which is exactly what I came to Prague for.
I was in the first hall of the museum, looking at the exhibit on the birth of communism when I noticed that a guy about my age was scribbling various notes in a notebook. I sort of edged over to him to see what he was writing when he looked up and noticed I was peering at what he was writing. I wasn't sure if he spoke English or not (the exhibits are in 6 languages), but he piped up with, "I'm just taking some notes to send to my friends. It's stupid, the capitalist propaganda here." He snorted derisively at the wording of the Karl Marx biography and I agreed with him that it was definitely a bit skewed ("Bohemian ideals"? Ummm...) but just kept silent with a quiet smile as he ranted a moment or two more. He could tell I wasn't interested and moved on, continuing through the exhibit at a bit of a distance from me.
What was I supposed to say? I wasn't about to get into this with him, definitely not here. I'm familiar with these personality types - my younger brother's been one of them. They have an opinion and so do I, so we agree to disagree.
I wasn't about to get into the details of how communism in theory is great, but that in reality I haven't seen it play out effectively yet (yes yes, we're keeping an eye on Venezuela). That what passed as "communism" in this specific state, where this exhibition was located, destroyed the lives of thousands of people - enough so that my parents (with older sis and bro in tow) fled the country as refugees to get to Canada.
I wasn't about to tell him about my Mom and her brother, heading down to Václavské Náměstí in 1968 to join the Prague Spring protests - how my mom left when thing started to get violent but Uncle participated in the rock throwing (admittedly, mostly at storefronts - doofus) as oppressive military police brutality started to kick in. Mom has stories about this time period, about watching the Soviet tanks roll in.
In the museum towards the end they had a FANTASTIC short film, about 20 minutes, about the Prague Spring. Aside from the family relevance to the whole thing, I was incredibly (and I mean incredibly) moved by the actual footage of what happened. A lot of it might be familiar if you watch a lot of news or if you take an interest in protesting in general - police beating women, unprovoked; beating teenagers; hoses used to disperse crowds; destruction of video cameras and film by law enforcement; people - ordinary, average people - crying, bleeding, beaten. Reminiscent of the Battle of Seattle for those looking for a reference closer to home, or of Iran or China if you're paying attention to current events. I'm consistently struck by the willingness of regular people to participate in a fight for basic shared human principles: truth, justice, liberty. The willingness even, of some, like Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc to literally set themselves on fire for their beliefs.
After the video I wandered through the rest of the museum in a bit of a daze, appreciating the replica of the Berlin Wall (which I fully intend to see while I'm on the continent!) and the exhibit on the attempted oppression of Radio Free Europe, which I actually had a contract job offer at involving copyediting news out of Pakistan here in Prague if I could've sorted out my citizenship or work permits by August.
I wrote an emotional passage in the museum guestbook and couldn't help but laugh a little inside at the number of comments along the lines of "idiot!" or "moron!" written in around left-leaning entries. So much for freedom of speech in a capitalist society, eh? Somehow I doubt the commentors grasped the irony of their remarks.
My parents aren't necessarily protestors these days - they don't go to rallies, sign petitions, or even participate particularly actively in any kind of political activity. But they do believe in freedom of speech, freedom of expression - they accepted my brother's communist inclinations and participation in left-wing politics, understood when I went to protests against the raising of tuition rates or US involvement in Iraq and have always encouraged political discussion at the dinner table (even when it ends with someone storming off).
I think it's a pretty commonly held opinion in my family that pretty much everyone in politics isn't going to do any good, but we all vote in each election nonetheless. Living in a society where we can do this - and it still counts for something - is something that's been fought and traded countries for. It's not something you just forget about.
That's family history.