Of all the perspectives we offer, memory is the most difficult one to grasp, as it presents the various forms of recollecting the socialist era. We include it here because the prominence of the debate about collective memory in the countries that shared the experience shows how important it is. All the documents and clips presented on Socialism Realised somehow relate to memory. We selected certain period films as representation of the given historic era. Even period documentaries are seen with specific knowledge of the given era, influenced by family memories or personal experiences.
The contents of the memory axis focus on the various ways of remembering and recollecting the socialist era. The socialist regime formed and maintained its memory culture through rituals and the support of art production. The memory culture was specific in that there was only one accepted way of remembering; any other interpretation of history was suppressed.
After the so called Velvet Revolution, there was a reversal in the memory culture. Soviet occupatation in 1968 (see Slovak Tank Man), state repressions (see History at the Opera) or protests of the 1989 era (see Here when we need them) are remembered as symbols of communist despotism and illegal practices, or in some cases, as a period of the people’s victory over this chapter of Czech history, a chapter that is presented as tragic in official narative.
Alternative memories, mostly in the family sphere, relate to the history of everyday life. The families that escaped the repression of the regime can remember the economic prosperity and the communist social politics, like the woman in the Back to the Past clip.
In Czech society, there’s even greater debate over the character of the regime in the 1970s and 80s. The memories of the greater part of Czech society are different from the experience of dissidents, and they pretty much copy the period media representation of Normalization as the era of community, family and friends. Popular Czech TV series and movies combine a sentimental view of normalization with reminders of the regime’s violence (see The Dilemma).
Media such as popular films and TV are the dominant space for confrontation with the past, and they influence the public debate (see Good Ol’ Days). Unlike during the period of socialism, their representation of the past isn’t directed centrally. Instead, it springs from the demands of the viewers or from the artistic intent of their authors. Films that return to the communist and socialist past are an important part of Czech cinematography, and they function as the background for a society-wide debate about the past.
Back to the past
Good ol’ days
Here when we need them
History at the opera
In the first row
Slovak Tank Man
- Ekiert, Grzegorz, and Stephen. E. Hanson. Capitalism and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe: Assessing the Legacy of Communist Rule. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
- Esterházy, P ter. The Book of Hrabal. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1995.
- Mark, James. The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
- Mayer, Francoise. Les Tchéques et leur communisme: Mémoire et identité politiques. Paris: Éditions de l’École des hautes Études en sciences sociales, 2004.
- Stan, Lavinia, ed. Transitional Justice in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union: Reckoning with the Communist Past. Oxon: Routledge, 2009.
- Stasiuk, Andrzej. Tales of Galicia. Prague: Twisted Spoon Press, 2003.
- Verdery, Katherine. What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next? Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.’