While we were in Prague, we visited the Communist Museum. Czechs seem to have put their post-communist energy into looking (and moving) forward and not looking back at communism. Even so, signs of their time under communist rule are unescapable.
In the 1946 elections, communists got more votes than any other party and their chairman, Klement Gottwald, became Prime Minister. He was an alcoholic, syphilitic, anti-democratic and more than happy to take orders from Stalin.
In 1948, 12 non-communist government leaders resigned as a protest, believing their resignations would not be accepted. They were. Communists took complete control of the government and Czechoslovakia fell under the strong influence of Moscow.
There was forced collectivisation of industries and the government carried out a currency reform that rendered savings worthless. The Czechoslovakian secret police’s repression was powerful. People fled the country, were imprisoned and/or executed.
As you can see from the poster, Czechoslovakia supported North Korea.
This translates to “Watch Border Zone Entry Only Allowed”.
In 1968, there was a battle between hard-line communists as a group wanted liberalization to a less strict version of communism. Reforms for the end of citizen’s surveillance by the secret police, the end of censorship freedom of assembly and expression ensued. It is known as the Prague Spring. The Soviet Union feared the Czech Republic would leave the Communist Bloc, the spreading of liberal communism and unrest, the loss of control and an opening of borders with the West.
In 1968, the Soviet’s and other Warsaw Pact countries invaded in a large, well-executed and well-planned operation. The plastered over bullet holes are still visible on the facade of the Czech National Museum because the builders used a lighter color of plaster in their repairs.
In January 1969, student Jan Palach, set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square to protest the invasion. His funeral turned into a major protest against the occupation. Protests were unsuccessful and a clampdown followed. The Communist Party was thoroughly cleansed of any liberalizing members after the Prague Spring, kicked half a million members out of the part and dissolved all organizations that had supported reform. Censorship was strict and Czechoslovakia’s sovereignty was limited by the Soviet Union. The cross in the pavement marks the spot where Jan Palach and others died.
Wenceslas Square filled with protesters, again for protests marking the 20th anniversary of Palach’s death criticism of the regime escalated. This time, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev didn’t react violently. The ensuing confrontations with police were one of the catalysts for the demonstrations that preceded the fall of the communism with the Velvet Revolution 11 months later.
The museum contained a segment of the Berlin Wall which fell not long after.
When we were there Wenceslas Square still contained piles of memorials to its first post-communist leader Vaclev Havel who died in December 2011.