Communism in display cases: Interview with the owner of Prague's Museum of Communism

09-05-2003

The communist regime in the Czech Republic has been over for more than 13 years. Its history is still a subject of study and discussion. One of the contributions to this discussion is a museum of communism which opened in Prague about a year ago, welcoming an average of 100 guests per day. Busts of Lenin, posters from the totalitarian era, magazine covers of publications promoting totalitarian ideology, a mock interrogation office with decrepit black furniture and a mock shop with only a few items, including tin cans of Hungarian soup with bacon -- all this and more is on display. The museum was established by American entrepreneur Glenn Spicker, who never lived under a communist regime, although international politics and communism have been his passion since his student years. I talked to Mr. Spicker about the museum and asked him first what reactions he was getting from visitors:

Museum of communismMuseum of communism "The reaction varies. Eighty or ninety percent of the people have a very positive reaction, kind of a thankful reaction. Sometimes I think the reaction is too positive and not critical enough. On the other hand, there is some criticism. It tends to be more from kind of liberal socialist Brazilian kids who say, 'America is bad as well. Imperialism is bad, and capitalism is bad,' which I might wholeheartedly agree with, but it isn't the museum of capitalism. More in-depth criticism I don't hear that often, but I want to listen to what the Czechs say about it, and I want to improve the museum based on what the Czechs think and how they feel because I think the museum should be for the Czechs and represent how the Czechs feel."

How did you acquire the objects in the museum?

"Basically, I scoured the streets and scoured the country and went around. Once I knew really what I was looking for and once I had the themes outlined, then I pretty much knew what to look for and what pieces to look for."

Which piece are you most proud of? Which piece do you think is the most significant for the museum?

"That's difficult to say. A lot of pieces may be overlooked by people, but they mean something to me because they have a history - like we have a Zapotocky rug which is kind of an odd thing. It happened to be in Strougal's office. So, people don't really see that or notice that, but it's an interesting piece. Right now I'm trying to collect more oil paintings. I was influenced a lot by the socialist-realist exhibit at the Rudolfinum, and I realized that the museum really needs some nice big oil legitimate museum pieces such as that. So, I'm starting to collect some oils and I have a pretty extensive poster collection which is not on exhibit right now, but we're slowly phasing in these original posters and if we ever get more space or move to another place or something, I'd like to do an exhibit of fifties era posters."

In your opinion, is communism something that can be defined or explained in objects?

Museum of communismMuseum of communism "I would say in essence, no, not specifically. Unfortunately, with what the regime did to people in the past, objects such as a statue of Lenin or a statue of Gottwald is going to bring up a lot of memories when people see those objects. So, the memorabilia will strike a nerve with people, definitely."

Do you feel that communism is 'dead', that it is only a part of the Czech past and not a part of the present day situation here?

"No, I don't think it's dead by any means, but I personally am not completely up-to-date on present day domestic politics, and we don't see the museum as an outlet or as a venue to discuss current political events. Our goal is more of an objective historical overlook which starts in the twenties basically and goes through 1989."

09-05-2003