The Museum of Communism

February 15, 2008

The only museum I visited on my trip to Prague was the Museum of Communism (“above McDonald’s, across from Benetton…viva la imperialism!”). As you can imagine, such a place was right up my alley, politically. A few thoughts follow:

The “interrogation room” exhibit had a bit of (I hope) unintentional humor. The plaque leading into the room began “Unlike in democratic countries, where court-issued warrants are required to conduct surveillance…”. This is true…except when you’re fighting “terror”!

The extensive information on the huge (50m) statue of Stalin built in Prague in the 1950s did a great job of showing how out-of-touch the production decisions of a centrally-planned economy can be, as well as providing evidence against the old “war is good for the economy” claim. The exhibit points out that the statue was simply a tremendous waste of time and resources that could have been better spent on other purposes, things that would have provided actual benefit to Czech citizens. Throwing away your money on things (war, statues, digging holes and filling them up again) that don’t make people better off is not justifiable on grounds that such spending is “good for the economy”.

Overall, I thought the museum was good, but it’s hard to capture in a small museum what the Cato Institute’s Tom Palmer calls the “everyday crappiness” of communist life. Black-market currency-dealing, forced migration, government-run shops, production quotas, and job and travel restrictions are all things of which we have some vague sense of their badness, but that sense doesn’t really do justice to what it was like to actually live under such a system. An actual Czech person writing in the museum’s online guest book does a better job than I possibly could:

 

Answer For Jonathan.

Hello,

I read your comment on the web of Museum of Communism.

You are asking: I\’m wondering now if people there are really \\\”loving it\\\” after all?

My answer: Yes, I do.

The ugly shopping centres are really not my love, but experience from 25 years living behind the barbed wire was a bit worst.

The museum really can’t express all details of EVERYDAY LIFE in socialism.

Please, can you imagine situation, that in Prague, the capital of CS Socialist Republic were a couple of weeks no toilet paper for sale anywhere? I’m talking about not 50’s, but mid 80’s. O.k., you can use old newspaper. But there were as well no sanitary tissues for women. There’s difficult help with old newspapers.

What others were luxury for a young man in his 20’s? Ketchoup. Bananas, oranges. Absolutely no acces to modern music from abroad. Travel possibilities only to Eastern Block (after very humiliating bureaurocratic procedures).

No, really, thanks. Such experience NO MORE, please.

That’s a lot better than someone (i.e. me) who really has no idea what it was like making assumptions.

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