Westerners, even some living in Central and Eastern Europe, often don’t have a deep grasp of the Cold War era. Call it a byproduct of education that focuses on imagery. A typical summation of why, how and when it all ended might go like this: There was this Ronald Reagan guy in the 80s who gave a speech in Moscow to Stalin and then the Germans invaded Poland to stop Solidarity but the Hungarians tore down a wall in Berlin and the Czechs escaped the Slovakians. If you think it’s not possibly that bad, I apologize. It’s that bad. Luckily for those visiting Prague, they can get their fill of some of the more pertinent truths about the rise, decay and fall of Communism at the appropriately named Museum of Communism.
Everything from Marx and Lenin to the last leaders of the Czechoslovakian government and the Soviet Union is detailed for easy perusal. Historical accounts and information are surrounded by relics from the era they pertain to, giving you a slightly immersive experience to get lost in. It’s all laid out, from idealistic revolution to Stalinist mass murders and the years in between. The end of it all, especially the Velvet Revolution, is given a thorough overview that can fill in the blanks for less-aware but interested visitors.
Visually, the propaganda posters are fascinating for their glorification of “the people” (or more precisely, the proletariat). There is even some art in the style of “Socalist Realism” to be seen here. Though definitely not an art museum per se, some will definitely find artistic merit in the collections. Some of those displayed posters seem outright provocative bait for the would-be Commie-conquering Western tourist. One in particular calls on workers to “Beware the Imperialists! Our local agency is not signed on with the Americans!”
I can just hear some American redneck hooting at that one, “They are now, buddy! Oo-rah! Amurrika!” That is, if any traveling American rednecks could read or be bothered to Google-translate Czech (or visit Prague for anything but beer).
The museum features exhibits that relay a sense of the living conditions that Czechs (and other Eastern Bloc) citizens existed under, even if they don’t stop to read or decipher the propaganda posters. Work spaces, living spaces and even the interrogation room of a secret police agency are here to explore. The Museum itself is by no means a Soviet-style huge space, but what it has is depth. If you find yourself fascinated, or your hunger for some deeper understanding of the system that defined (or at least impacted) the lives of generations around the world, you can stop in the cinema and absorb even more.
A walk through the museum can be long and educationally rich or short and filled with gloating pride. It all depends on how much time you spend reading and examining the rather impressive and well-preserved collection of relics and carefully crafted exhibits. Either way, it’s a good time with a gift shop to boot. But if you would have given the young lady who gave me the above “short version” of the end of the cold war partial credit, then please take your damn time.
Museum of Communism Na Prikope 10 110 00, Prague 1, Czech Republic Tel: +420 224 212 966 Gsm.: +420 777 949 472 www.muzeumkomunismu.cz