"Everything Is Relative"

I felt myself tearing up as my host mom told me about what it was like to live in communist Czech Republic. Never before had it been so real. Never before had it stung or hit home so much as when someone I cared about told me a piece of her story, in her language from her life.

About two nights ago my host family and I sat around the dinner table chatting when I was asked, "so do you know about communist Czech Republic?" I wasn't really sure how to reply. I knew about the USSR, I knew it was bad, I knew communism is the thing we don't want, I knew about the Velvet Revolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velvet_Revolution) in Czech Republic but I didn't really know they depth of any of it. When I considered that only twenty-three years ago Czechoslovakia was still a communist country it's a bit shocking. I mean it's amazing how much this country has changed over such a short period of time. Czech Republic is essentially westernized. Advertisements, brands, and capitalism has brought a new front to this country; however, some will never forget a time not too long ago.

Consider living in a bubble and you kinda have what it was like to live here. There were electric fence borders blocking Austria and Germany, if you were to touch them you died. Guards stood at the borders with guns waiting for anyone looking to escape to the west. We live about twenty minutes from Austria and from the time my host mom was born to until she was thirty-three she had never set foot on Austrian soil. Another interesting little detail, her father was one of those guards standing at the fence.  It's not that he necessarily believed in the cause or was a supporter of the Russians it was that he had no choice. This was the job he was given, they were his orders. Because he was a man of the government if he ever wanted to leave the USSR this would not be possible for fear of an uprising within the system.

When my host mom needed to buy groceries she had to wait in line for hours as people were handed there rations. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they gave meat, on Mondays she could go to get bananas and other vegetables. When she reached the front of the line she was asked how many people her family consisted of, she would reply five, and she would receive five bananas. Imagine that in this store there are no advertisements. If you wanted toothpaste, the casing read "toothpaste." There weren't Dole Bananas, just bananas. When my host mom did finally receive the opportunity to travel the twenty minutes into Austria she was amazed that she could buy whatever she wanted and how much she wanted at that. Elections were monitored harshly, if you took a wrong step (I mean this literally) your name was marked and you were considered suspicious. It was possible for my host mom to lose her job if they found her suspicious. Religion was out of the question. This is interesting to me because if you consider why religion was banned it's essentially because ones belief could be even more powerful than the fear instilled in these people. The communists knew that.

Life in a communist country was essentially terrible, a life living in fear. However, if you followed the rules it could be peaceful. They didn't realize the freedoms they were missing because like I said, they lived in a bubble. Another interesting point is that the childhood of a person living in a communist country was great. My host sisters' husband told me that when he was a child he was very happy. The government did everything for the children. We has provided with education, free sport lessons, free music lessons and could essentially do anything he was interested in within the bounds of the country. When the threat of a nuclear bomb was announced the day before he always knew that the next day he wouldn't have school and that it was just a drill, so he wouldn't do his homework while Americans lived in fear and hid under desks.

Later we traveled further into history. We traveled to World War Two. My host grandmother lived in this house her whole life and when she was a girl her house was occupied by Nazis. The things she saw and the fear she felt I can't imagine. The Nazis chose this house because it was the tallest in the village so it received the best radio signal. She was scared people in the village would eventually tear the house down to keep the Nazis away. We spoke about what their parents had seen and how there histories had some relation to the war. One of the people we spoke of, my host brother in laws mother, witnessed Jewish people so hungry they ate grass. When the Nazis saw this they whipped and punished the Jews. Then a good point was brought up, that waiting a couple hours in line for bananas ideal compared to that. That the starving Jewish man would laugh in the face of a person for complaining of waiting a couple hours in line for bananas or meat. So from another perspective some people miss the days of communism. Some miss the days of being guaranteed a job and home, while in America in the word "communism" or even "socialism" is basically deemed dirty.

From the things I heard I realized that I was extremely lucky and that Americans are lucky as a whole. We are lucky to have the freedom to live how we please. However, I also realized just how much we take advantage and how obnoxious it is. I can see it in every adult here how grateful they are for everything, I see their lack of materialism, I see how they conserve and I see how they are just as happy with or without. And then I look at the younger generations and see a group of people becoming entitled and greedy, kinda like many Americans I know. They did not experience the same life has their elders. In this sense, America is the unfortunate one. We are a consuming society and I truly hope that someday we can see past our endless wants and see into truly living a quality life. Also, I learned that everything is relative. That perhaps for people who were living in communist Czech living in a bubble wasn't as bad as I see it, and that from their past they have learned to be grateful while in America we still have not.

Also, although Czech isn't a very common country to visit I feel I was given a very unique opportunity. This country is very different compared to other countries in Europe. It amazes me that more people don't come here but perhaps it isn't visited more simply because before twenty-three years visiting wasn't really possible for most. Czech - Europe's hidden treasure.

And on a side note, I'm no historian and I'm certainly not a politician so if you feel that something I said is wrong feel free to tell me. Or if you have an different opinion than myself I'm open to listen also :)

Comments

  1. Chelsea, you have an amazing writing style. I always love reading your blog posts. The way you write is just so captivating! I totally agree with you that the Czech is Europe's hidden treasure.

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    1. Wow Christan! Thank you so much! This made me smile :)

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