time to enjoy nature; public transport is often filled with backpackers of
all ages heading for the woods. Even the schools, in what seems to be a
holdover from Communist youth programs, promote healthy activity in
the outdoors, staggering spring breaks so young hikers will not find the
So if everything is going well, why, on a twelve-degree morning in
the heart of Prague, do I see hundreds of protesters staging an antiCommunist rally? Isn’t it, like, over?
Those out on the street on the seventieth anniversary of the 1948
Communist putsch are not so sure. Despite the cold, they are determined to send a message to their fellow citizens: Seventy years ago, democracy was quietly lost; the Communists came in without a fight. Today, democratic institutions are threatened by Czech leaders, some who
were Communists in the past, others who are openly cozy with Russia’s
And though the Communists no longer rule, there are Czech Communists. The party—average age seventy-five—took a small fraction of
the vote in the most recent election. Their seats are a minority in parliament but enough to create alliances that can sway policies.
But it isn’t only the small Communist Party that makes Czechs nervous. Many are also uncomfortable about the Russian presence in the
country today; some thirty-seven thousand hold residency permits. In
addition, thousands throng the city as tourists. And then there are the
spies: A majority of the 140 or so Russian diplomats in the country are
reckoned to be secret agents, the most found in any country allied with
The theme of the rally, then: Remember what a stealthy totalitarian
takeover meant for the Czechs. On a screen at the front of the rally, a
film loop shows scenes from the Communist era: a young man in a light
raincoat being apprehended at a barbed-wire fence as he seeks to escape
to the West; a sea of Czechs of all ages surrounding Russian tanks in
1968, entreating the heavily armed teenaged soldiers.
In the crowd, I notice a woman who came prepared for the cold; she
is a thick bundle of goose down, topped with a heavy wool hat. She looks
to be in her sixties and thus would have spent the first half of her adulthood under Communism. I ask her why she is here on such a cold day.
“We don’t want Communism once more,” she tells me. She raises her
chin a little and uses an epithet for herself that a politician has recently