doing so, by “adapting to conditions,” he “help[ed] create conditions.”
The more one person complies, the more compliance is expected, demanded, and received from everyone.
Though most people I meet seem to come from families who went along
only to the extent necessary, one exception is a man in his thirties, Jiri,
who tells me that his grandfather was a Communist. Party membership
got you good jobs and apartments that you couldn’t get otherwise, even
if you had the money. Jiri is proud that his father, born in 1953, had the
“courage” not to join the party, though he acknowledges that the grandfather’s party affiliation probably helped get his father into medical school.
Though his father was never a party member, his work as a doctor was
appreciated in a small, remote town, and Jiri’s family did not suffer.
And how do father and grandfather reconcile their past differences
when they meet? They don’t, Jiri says. Communism is never discussed.
However, Jiri knows that his grandmother voted Communist in the last
election: “She thinks she’ll get a little more, maybe another piece of meat
for her table.”
I encounter only one person whose family directly suffered. Vanesa, a
professional woman in her forties, tells me that her uncle went to prison
for leading a group of workmen in a protest. As for Vanesa herself, she
did not exactly suffer unless you count teenaged angst over the unob-
tainability of Western jeans. Walking down the street in Prague, she
points out the site of the hard currency store where Western goods were
available, but only to the party elite. As for the Velvet Revolution, a main
change for her was that she could leave the study of metallurgy, a subject
to which she had been assigned. Now she could switch to her favorite
Well, there are plenty of jeans on offer today, and—except for railway
stations out in the country, where you take a few grayish sheets under
the eye of an attendant—toilet paper doesn’t seem to be a problem. Yes,
it was a dark era, both terrifying and tiresome. But it’s over now. Communism lost; the West won.
And things here seem to be going pretty well. There is near full employment. Wages are low, but so is the cost of living. Everyone gets free
education and free health care. And almost everyone seems to have a
cottage in the country. To some extent, this appears to be a positive legacy of Communism, when people developed the habit of getting away
from the surveillance of the concierge in the panelacky. People make