Communism ruled over Czechoslovakia between 1948 and 1989. Under the Soviet Union’s rule, life in Prague and other cities was governed by rules which controlled where people could travel, what they could say, and which jobs they could hold. The Museum of Communism is a great educational and fun resource, where you can learn about the realities of communist life. Here are 10 things you’ll realize once there.
1. There was a stark difference between dream and reality.
The museum is cleverly divided into three sections: The Dream, The Reality, and The Nightmare. This is an important division, because it shows the difference between the vision the leaders had in mind and the grim reality the population had to endure.
2. Propaganda was part of everyday life.
The communist regime used propaganda to convey positive messages about their basic philosophy and to influence people’s opinions, with messages such as “Socialism helps the poor” and “Equality for all.” Propaganda posters were very common and could be found everywhere, from hospitals to schools to businesses.
3. Food was scarce.
One of the exhibits in the museum is a small shop with only a few items on the shelves. This is a representation of how things were during communist times, when food was often scarce and some products completely disappeared from the shops. People often queued for hours to buy basic necessities, and there were times when you were only allowed to buy one loaf of bread or a single bottle of milk, to give everyone a fair chance to buy the products they needed.
4. Freedom of expression was banned.
There’s no special exhibit dedicated to the effect of communist rule on freedom of speech, but the message is loud and clear throughout the museum. An abstract representation is an empty telephone booth, which represents the inability to communicate freely. There’s also a film constantly playing showing protesters being beaten by the police.
5. Lenin was ever-present.
Perhaps one of the first things you’ll notice when you walk through the museum is Lenin’s presence everywhere: on posters, in the form of statues, mentioned in books and printed on flags. A Russian communist revolutionary, Lenin became a symbol of the ideals the party adopted, which included a society free of class, the abolition of religion, and strict control of the media. Having his image everywhere was a constant reminder of the ideals to which people were expected to adhere.
6. The penal system was skewed.
Rudolf Slánský was a Czech communist politician accused of and arrested for treason in 1952. Along with 13 other people, he was forced to participate in a show trial. Show trials were events which looked like real trials but the accused had already been determined guilty before the process started. The trials themselves were a show to publicly declare treason and highlight to others what happens to those who betray the Party. Texts and audio in the museum’s Interrogation Room show you Slánský’s story and his end (he was sentenced to death).
7. Service took many forms.
During communist times, people were awarded medals for a number of reasons—all related to their service to help preserve and promote the government’s goals. The museum houses a small collection of merit badges and medals given to both civilians and military personnel for their service. Unusual medals include the Mother Heroine (given to women who had more than ten children), Order of the Red Banner (for military deeds), and Order of the Patriotic War (given to army soldiers and eventually to any soldiers who survived the Great Patriotic War, or WWII).
8. Prague took steps to erase its communist past.
Perhaps the most obvious gesture in this regard was the tearing down of a massive 30-meter statue of Lenin that used to stand in Letna Park. The statue was destroyed in 1962, so the only way to see it today is through photos like the ones exhibited at this museum.
9. Nobody was safe.
The government distrusted everybody, and random people were often accused of treason or being spies. This happened in the case of the national ice hockey team, which in 1950 was jailed for treason. Their crime? A rumor they were planning on seeking asylum in the UK during the World Championships. Some of the players were eventually released from jail (after a few years), but at least one died in prison.
10. Education was one of the pillars of communist rule.
During communist times, education in the former Czechoslovakia was supposed to be all about ideological purity. Political doctrine played a major part in basic education, and subjects such as Marxism-Leninism were introduced into the curriculum. In addition, discussion and free thinking were forbidden, so teachers had to adhere to a strict type of education based on memorizing and repetition of basic principles and beliefs.