tials. His grandmother cleared brush in the forests; others in the family
were tailors. One particular memory is of his grandmother’s hoarding:
toilet paper and clocks. If things got bad, she believed, you could always
trade either for something to eat. And he remembers the absence of variety. When you went to play at a friend’s house, the apartment, furniture,
and toys were identical to the ones you had. On the street, the beautiful buildings of central Prague were always covered in scaffolding, as
money was not allocated for their repair. There seemed to be only three
colors: yellow, brown, and gray.
“We were little gray mice,” he says. But today he’s dapper, in an expensive topcoat and gloves so new the packing creases still show. He
loves being in the EU. Things are good.
Tomas’s family was not alone in feeling more fear than joy following
the Velvet Revolution. For Sabina, a college freshman in 1989, the anxiety
began even before the November 17 Revolution, on November 9, when
the Berlin Wall fell. The memory of the Nazis was still strong among the
older generation, and in the Soviet period, propaganda about the warlike
intentions of the West had been intense. Now there were anxious discussions about whether there would be a German resurgence.
Most people I meet did not have—or do not admit to having—family
members who were Communists. But many, it seems, conformed to the
party in some way. Verka’s mother, a doctor, did not become a Communist but found it necessary to take training courses from the party. Zoe,
a woman in her thirties, has one predominant memory: after her mother
joined the party to get a better job, her father was so angry he punched
down a door.
Everyone made their different arrangements. But everyone, Vaclav
Havel suggests in his famous essay “The Power of the Powerless,” was
complicit. As an example, he describes a greengrocer who put up a placard in the window reading, “Workers of the World Unite.” Since the
same slogan was up in every other shop window, he did not really feel
a responsibility to promote worker unity. Further, Havel claims, by the
1970s, no one believed in the once inspirational program of the Communists, not even the regime itself. Ideology was no longer a real belief
but merely a “bridge of excuses between the system and the individual.”
The greengrocer put up the placard, but he knew he was doing it only
to stay out of trouble. What the placard really meant was “I am obedient, and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” Havel appreciates
the problem of the greengrocer; he did what he must to survive. But by