Not everyone who marked the 60th anniversary of the communist takeover on Monday was mourning the victims of the regime. Several hundred mostly elderly Communist Party sympathisers gathered in Prague, shouting slogans and waving red banners with the hammer and sickle. It was a reminder that not everybody in this country believes the class struggle is over. So how do today’s communists see the events of February 1948?
The communist takeover of February 1948 left a deep imprint, both on Czech
society and on the physical landscape of the Czech Republic. Even this
six-lane highway running either side of me here at the top of Wenceslas
Square was a communist-designed project and a highly political one at that.
For the communists it was a work of modernity and progress. For their
opponents it was a deliberate attempt to cut off the bourgeois suburbs of
Vinohrady from the city centre. Joining me is Dr Josef Skála – he’s an
adviser to the Central Committee of the present-day Communist Party and a
candidate for the party leadership.
Dr Skála, is this highway a symbol of communist era excess, or a symbol of modernity?
“Let me correct you a bit. The reason was of a technical nature. The transport was too much blocked by the rush hour and so on, so it was built this way. Maybe it wasn’t the ideal solution, but it was built simply for technical civilisation purposes, and had nothing in common with politics. It’s a little bit funny when some people try to add such a meaning through re-writing history. One should go to the roots and see what was the situation here before.”
Moving on from the architecture of Prague, is it possible to separate the achievements of communism from communism’s failures?
“Look, I think most people in this country got much better off than they were before. It would need a very long interview to enumerate all of these successes. So for me, that part of history that started 60 years ago was a launching pad for a great civilisation progress, incomparable with any other periods of our history.”
Right, but the victims of that progress included hundreds of thousands of people who emigrated, thousands of people who were imprisoned.
”This would also need a very long debate. You should study how it started. It started with the terror against our people, not our terror against their counterparts. Our predecessors also have their hands stained with blood, that’s true. But each historic development one should study from the origins, it’s eminent logic, and not to start from the end. But I’m sure we don’t have time for such a long debate today.”
Indeed we don’t. The communists called the 1948 takeover ‘Victorious February’, but looking around us at the symbols – there’s an advert for McDonalds here, there’s an advert for a Prada mobile phone over there. There’s a branch of Marks and Spencer down the road. It looks like capitalism was the victor in this battle and communism was the loser.
“Look, again, you English people have a very nice saying – ‘facts are a stubborn thing.’ If we had time for grasping the facts and comparing them, I will show you from the statistics that millions of people in this country are worse off than they were twenty years ago.”
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