Linda Jablonska - creator of "Left, Right, Forward" a new documentary on the lives of young conservatives and communists in the Czech Rep

13-11-2006

In today's One on One Jan's guest is young documentary filmmaker Linda Jablonska who has made a splash on the Czech scene with "Left, Right, Forward", a new documentary about the behind-the-scenes lives of two curious groups on the Czech political spectrum: the young conservatives and the young communists. The film is extremely engaging and at times also very funny: throughout, Jablonska maps the routines and events of both groups, from charity balls to daytrips to demonstrations, and it's no surprise the feature film took the better part of a year to complete.

When I met with Linda to talk about "Left, Right, Forward", the first thing I asked her was whether she as a filmmaker found one of the groups was more interesting.

"Well, shooting the young communists was definitely more interesting of the two considering the visuals. The red flags, the portraits of Lenin and Stalin. Also, for us the young communist are also something very rare [after forty years of Communist rule], the young conservatives are more normal - they're not normal, not at all, but they're closer to the rest of us, to our thinking. So, it was more interesting shooting with the young communists, definitely."

What surprised you about the young communists? I was thinking in terms of how they understand the impact of communism on Czechoslovakia in the past.

"Well, they are about the same age as me, a few years younger, and I remember almost nothing and they remember nothing at all, they were about four or five when the revolution came. That's quite interesting to actually see how they idealise for example the 1970s and this is quite unusual I think among young Czech people. They want to live in the '70s! Which is really rare!"

It wasn't the best of times for a lot of people, so I find it strange that someone would idealise that period...

"No, it wasn't a good time, it definitely was a shitty time! They think... what they think is that everyone had jobs, by law everybody had to work actually, there were no homeless people, there were no disabled people, and so on. They just think that everyone was happy, that everything was fine within their eastern bloc.

"And, they are against capitalism, so they hate that somebody who knows how to make money can, while those who don't, don't have money. They want everyone to have the same, so that's why they idealise this regime. It wasn't like that, but they think so."

If we're talking about ideals how do the young conservatives compare? What are their ideals?

"They don't want to pay any taxes! {laughs} They really look up to the United States, they look up to George W. Bush. They just don't have social feelings, everyone should work for himself, make money and they just don't want the state to have an influence over where the money goes."

How important for them is the figure of the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus?

"Vaclav Klaus for them is a big idol, they really look up to him, even before when he was the head of the right-wing party the Civic Democrats. They actually have his portraits in their houses, in their rooms, which is quite interesting. I mean, we used to have the president's portrait up in our classrooms but we don't do that anymore. That's quite funny, I haven't seen it anywhere else but I saw portraits of the president in the homes of three or four young conservatives with Klaus in every single room! And... they read his books and when the phone rings they have Vaclav Klaus speaking, you can hear his voice."

They have his voice as the ring-tone.

"Yeah."

Trust is obviously important: how did you go about getting members from both groups to trust you?

"Well, definitely it was a lot of work. I went to their meetings before we started shooting, just me without any camera. Just me. I was kind of friendly with them, though I never became friends with them. I never liked them, never said that I followed their ideas. But, I was friendly, I didn't argue with them because I knew it didn't make sense and I knew if I started arguing with them I wouldn't shoot anything.

"So, we were friendly and it wasn't on purpose that they are not my friends, my close friends. But, since I tried to find out why they are young communists and I think I found out 'why' they joined the organisation - sometimes, for example, following their parents - I do think that I kind of understand them. Also, members from both groups want to represent their respective groups, so many want the media attention. That's also why they were open."

It struck me that, taken together, both groups are kind of misfits. In one scene in the film there's a 17-year-old communist who berates a trio of teenage girls: my own reaction was, well, he's 17 he should probably be trying to pick one of these girls up rather than complaining that they don't know enough about a Russian hero who supposedly died for their freedom. What are your feelings: are they misfits?

"I think that's 'why' they're young communists, I think they want to be misfits. They feel good in it. Basically, they are in opposition and they want to be in opposition. They say 'Everybody hates us' but when they say it they like it."

It also seems like there is some kind of security in belonging to some kind of group...

"Yes definitely. And it's a very closed group. Really, they have their relationships within the organisation, they go out together they go to weekend houses, whatever. One of the reasons I think someone might have entered the organisation was simply because they were unable to find any good friends anywhere else."

Now shortly before the film was released the Interior Ministry effected a ban on the Young Communists Association for backing a programme they say is unconstitutional. What are your feelings about the ban?

"Well, I don't really think it matters. I think they will gather anyway and they're still functioning. It will go to trial and they may take it as far as the European Court so it can take a year or maybe more and nothing will happen in between. As for why the ministry did it I think it was a political act just a few days before the Senate and municipal elections. As for the reasoning why, I think it was the young communists' use of symbols and what they say."

The 17-year-old actually has a Stalin t-shirt on for much of the movie. What is so sexy for them about Stalin?!

"What is sexy about Stalin... Well Stalin is a hero for them, for some of them, not all. I think that those who like him feel they are special when they say Stalin was a good person. Nobody says this but them! Not even the old communists, members of the Communist Party, they don't say this. Ever. What is sexy for them: they see Stalin as having killed Nazism and having won the war. The fact that millions died is kind of 'well, that was the period, that's how it went. That was the need: some people had to be killed to win the war.' Or win whatever."

Have you had feedback from the two groups, from either the young conservatives or the communists?

"Yeah, yeah. I showed them the film first in order to be fair and some of them really liked it. They were like 'Wow, such a cool film!' and they laughed whenever the other group appeared in the film. When they were watching it at home, alone in their rooms, they were okay. But, then we showed it at the Jihlava Film Festival and they came there and saw everyone laughing like hell! They went there and then they kind of realised 'They're laughing at us!'

Of course they didn't know what was going to happen and I didn't know what was going to happen, you know? But, right now they're famous."

Do you see any of them going beyond being 'foot soldiers', from politicians at a local level to actually making it higher in politics? Can we rule that out?

"I'm not sure, I can't say. But, I kind of commented on it by choosing people I thought might have a chance to make it. I'm not sure about the communists. But, they are actually working on the basic level, in lower politics, they're involved. But, higher politics I'm not sure but I think so: some of them we'll maybe see in ten year's time. In ten year's time we may see some of these young people in higher positions."

13-11-2006

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