< SWITCH ME >

Tuesday, 02 December 2014 00:00

Children of the Revolution: Considering the Czech Republic

Written by Kamila Kubásková
Wenceslas Square
Photo: Daniel Antal (Flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0
 
On Prague's famous Wenceslas Square during the Velvet Revolution of November 1989

 

In the third part of our mini series commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in many parts of Central and Southeastern Europe, Kamila Kubásková, a recent graduate, currently based in Munich, shares her experiences of growing up in the Czech Republic.

It must have been wonderful to have been living in Czechoslovakia in November 1989. Although I belong to the lucky ones who never had to put up with communist rule, I could not particularly enjoy the events of the year, as I was a baby with entirely apolitical interests. But I can vividly imagine the atmosphere of the day. I can feel the excitement, the air of anticipation and expectation. I picture people all over the country waiting impatiently for news from the capital, trying to comprehend what was happening and knowing that everything in their lives was about to change. The revolution was a peaceful event that filled the people with euphoria and, for the first time in many decades, with hope for a better future.

My parents could not join the spontaneous celebrations that were happening in the streets, because they had to look after me and my older brother. However, the knowledge that their children would grow up with the freedom to travel, study and live without constant fear of their own government, was satisfying enough for them. Parents of our generation also knew that our lives will be very different to their own and they would not always be able to prepare for all the choices that would lie ahead of us.

Growing up in the Czech Republic, I have never thought of myself as being from "Eastern Europe". Neither I nor my friends remember anything from the communist era, the Velvet Revolution, or the years that followed, and in geography class we were taught that the Czech Republic lies in Central Europe. We were able to have all the things our parents could not, and we took it for granted. As kids, we mostly just appreciated having a new mountain bike, cool toys for Christmas and a large selection of candy in the supermarkets. Later on we were able to choose from a variety of high schools and colleges, to travel wherever our hearts took us, or to study abroad. As adults, we can participate in democratic elections, own property, found our own companies, find work in a foreign country, stay at home, or choose not to work at all. This freedom of choice is one of the most important things we gained after the revolution.

Growing up in the Czech Republic, I have never thought of myself as being from "Eastern Europe".

 

For decades, the government had made many decisions about the lives of the people directly through laws and censorship, or indirectly through the internationally-isolated planned economy. Today, there are many more choices we have to make for ourselves. From the long-term decisions such as studies and career path, through mid-term decisions including choosing which political party to vote for, which a bank, car or insurance company, to the daily choices about the right shampoo, breakfast cereal or loaf of bread. Some of the decisions are only relevant to us personally, while others influence the future of the country. Such responsibility can be overwhelming.

Today, there is growing dissatisfaction with many decisions that have been made for the sake of our country over the past 25 years. For many, the hope of democracy changed into the disappointment that to have a corruption-free government, which favours the needs of its people over its own, we have to do more than throw a ballot paper into a box every four years. The euphoria of freedom was replaced by insecurity about the European Union, the structures of which are mysterious to regular people and daily work of which does not get presented in the mainstream media, unless something worth mocking happens. For example, when the EU banned curvy cucumbers and bendy bananas or when it decided that the popular Czech cream cheese called "pomazánkové máslo" (roughly: "spread butter") should be renamed because, despite its name, is not actually a type of butter. The happiness of opening our market to be driven by supply and demand gave way to worries about an uncertain future.

Pomazánkové máslo 581
 Photo: Matěj Baťha (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
Can you believe it's not butter? Pomazánkové máslo from the Czech Republic, now banned under that name.

Of course, building a democracy from scratch is not a simple task, but a process that will never be perfect, even after years of hard work. However, I refuse to see only the bad things. I choose to see that we now have supermarkets filled with good food, that we can travel freely, study, live and work abroad, that we can think and say whatever we want to, without fear of persecution and that for the first time in nearly a century, our small country has the power to have its voice heard and be respected in many international forums.

This year I celebrated my 25th birthday and when I think back, I realise that every major life decision I have made so far, the values I find important, the schools I have studied at, the places I have visited and the people I have met, have all been influenced by the events of November 1989. And although I admit that our current system is not flawless, I am eternally grateful for the freedom it has given me.

Last modified on Sunday, 25 January 2015 20:14

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

NEXT ISSUE
IN -975 DAYS