Nada, a 72-year-old Czech native, sits idly behind an aged, dark wood desk, waiting for visitors to hand her entry tickets to Prague’s Museum of Communism. She dusts off her desk and re-organizes numerous magazines that keep her occupied. Nada works at the museum not to educate visitors of the horrors of the era but to have a job — a job and a way of life that were once guaranteed to her 25 years ago.
“Everybody had a job and a place to live,” she said. But today, “life is full of uncertainties.”
More than 25 years have passed since the fall of Communism in the Czech Republic, but like Nada, many elderly Czechs still find the transition to capitalism to be slow, uncertain and often painful. About 60 percent of citizens 55 and older believe that job opportunities, housing and quality of life were better regulated in the Czech Republic during the Communist Era, according to a national opinion poll conducted in Fall 2014.
The 1989 Velvet Revolution led to the fall of the Soviet Empire and the establishment of a democratic and capitalist nation. The fall of communism brought freedom, but some Czech natives feel nostalgia for guaranteed employment and housing, which has led to bittersweet feelings.
Nada yearns for the time when, “people suffered and were poor but were all together.” Nada clarifies that she is not sentimental about the communist system but regrets that she spent 41 years of her life producing goods for her country only to watch the rich benefit from her labor after the fall of Communism.
For Czechs who are close to retirement or have retired, the increasing gap between rich and poor and the increasing cost of living showcase some of the negative aspects of Czech Republic reforms. The Czech Republic has a “moderate” gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20 percent of the population earn nearly five times as much as the bottom 20 percent, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Better Life Index.
“Looking at economic data, we can say that macro-economic numbers have improved,” says Tomáš Kostelecký, Professor of the Institute of Sociology at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. “But there are people who are not doing better without the guaranteed necessities of life.”
Communism is mostly remembered by extreme censorship, secret police, forced collectivization, a lack of goods and death, Kostelecký explains. Yet, the guaranteed aspects of everyday life under Communism makes the transition to democracy lead to a feeling of discontent and nostalgia. Communist nostalgia has many levels, both generational and general discontent, says Joakim Ekman in the journal “Communist Nostalgia and the Consolidation of Democracy in Eastern Europe.”
Today, capitalism promises equality for opportunity, but during the journey for prosperity, the wealthy, educated and young are on top and leave the weakest, elderly to fall, says Nadia Strakova, a human rights Czech journalist.
Nada explains that elderly Czechs recognize the misery from the communist era, but her age demographic reserves a place in their heart for those times. They refuse to believe that their entire lives up until 1989 had been completely meaningless, she says.
Nostalgia can materialize in various ways and in various types of people – old, young, anti-communist or communist. As the Czech Republic’s society continues to grow and change, some residents will always be nostalgic for the past. Some of those memories, both positive and negative, are captured at Prague’s Museum of Communism
“I do not want to work here,” Nada said. “I need to.”
**Nada requested to keep her last name anonymous.
For more information about the Czech Republic’s Communist history, visit the Museum of Communism located in the center of Prague. The museum presents a narrative history of Czechoslovakia Communism and the road to the Czech Republic. You will walk through the daily life, politics, history, athletics, economy, education, arts, media propaganda and censorship of the Czech Communist Era.
Address: Václavské nám. 840/5, 110 00 Praha
Hours: Open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.