For those of you living here in the Czech Republic, you'll relate. For those of you listening abroad, an account of one day from last week will tell you something about what it's like to live in a post-communist country. You go about your business day, and then, out of nowhere, you're reminded of an ugly chapter in this country's history. And you're forced to think about how Czechs are dealing with the past.
On Thursday at 8:45am, I was sipping coffee in a lounge at Prague's Hotel Diplomat, waiting for a seminar about European Union Structural Funds to begin. I was rushed that morning, so I skipped reading my favourite daily paper. At the seminar, which was organized by the Czech-Canadian Chamber of Commerce, experts in the field spoke to us about how to apply for EU structural funds, and about the fact that the Czech Republic is at a crossroads. It's one of the countries allotted money from Brussels because in all other regions besides Prague, the GDP is lower than 75% of the EU average. The European Union wants to try to balance out the vast differences between its old west European members, and the new east central European countries which have been members of the club for two years now. As we were told by one of the presenters, the differences between these regions of Europe are not purely economic—those in the east lived under a cruel system after WWII, and they are still coming to terms with this past.
After the seminar, I went to have lunch with a Canadian friend. It was only later in the day, when I stopped for another espresso that I finally got around to reading the paper. There on the front page was the swollen, bruised and bloodied face of a member of parliament, Jiri Dolejs of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. He was brutally beaten last Monday night, by unknown assailants who kicked him as he lay on the ground, and as he says, his attackers had choice words about the Communist Party. Jiri Dolejs believes the attack was politically motivated.
At 45, Jiri Dolejs is too young to have done any real harm during the communist era, but he does stand for a party that has not distanced itself from the crimes committed here between 1948 and 1989. While his politics are not to my liking, I am saddened by what happened to Jiri Dolejs. Any efforts to discuss and bring to light the harmful effects of the communist era are hampered by violent attacks like the one Jiri Dolejs suffered. Under the old system, Communist Party practices often included interrogation, torture, and even murder, and it does no one in this society good to repeat these practices. Thankfully, Jiri Dolejs returned to work two days after his attack, but the police are still searching for those who targeted him.
The entire incident has me thinking about how Czechs have processed the past. One of the things I'll do this weekend is finally buy the t-shirt I've been meaning to get for a while now—it reads "Do you remember? Well, don't forget!" There is a barbed wire beneath the letters, reminiscent of the times when the Czech Republic's borders were sealed shut. The borders are open now, and EU money is flowing into the Czech Republic, but the past still resurfaces in ugly ways sometimes.