Museum of Communism (I’m in the Czech Republic!)

Prague’s Museum of Communism was a lesson in how ideology works, but ironically not the ideology of communism. In fact it was a lesson in irony and ideology all mixed up together. On our first attempt to find it I only knew the corner it was on, and thought that would be enough. But it’s obscure not just in its absence from most must-see lists, and we missed it, only seeing amazing posters for it later near the Charles Bridge that convinced us to try again.

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Above the McDonalds, they said, beside the Casino. You turn into what is almost an alley almost an entrance, turn right again into big double doors and walk along red carpet into an extraordinarily ornate Baroque entrance hall. As you walk up the stairs you are offered an existential choice, museum or casino?

IMG_8956Though the casino is at every turn. The inside is quite extraordinary, because it turns out this is after all, the Savarin Palace. For one of the few places with any interesting things to say about what the Palace is or once was, I found only the new developers:

Savarin occupies a remarkable site in Prague’s Old Town, bounded on one side by the historic Wenceslas Square and incorporating a collection of small streets and ‘passages’ (pedestrian precincts) giving access to many offices, shops and amenities. … now restored to life by Ballymore as Prague’s ne plus ultra.

Savarin was the site of an aristocratic palace complete with riding-stables…

A warren of small streets it is, it is such a strange thing to me to see a castle as a warren of small streets, but much more on castles (and The Castle) later.

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At least one tourist gambled on the museum by mistake. In this space it is hard to conceive of life under communism, you can be forgiven for believing the irony intentional. The museum shop is brilliant, full of what seems to be an intellectual and aware humour that can appeal to Marxists and free-marketers alike. Postcards of Marx and Lenin with clever captions, a museum postcard that makes fun of the museum’s own location;

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the T-shirts and posters with the brilliant artwork as below (and yes I happily bought one of those)

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You can find collections of reprints of original Soviet posters, notepads, pencils and various other fairly awesome consumer goods. Irony. The map of the museum shows the sections: the origins, the dream, the reality, the nightmare. That too seems smart, thoughtful enough, interesting. You walk in and see statues of Marx and Lenin, this wonderful picture.

IMG_8971IMG_8972And then you read:

The practice of revolutionary terror and dictatorship of the proletariat was justified by the communists by an alleged irrefutability of the ‘scientific’ theories of Karel Marx, the bohemian and intellectual adventurer. who started his life career as a romantic poet with an inclination towards apocalyptic titanism….The attempts at the implementation of Marxist theories demanded, according to contemporary and lower estimates, around 100 million human victims.

This is the even-handed treatment of the dream of Marxists? I laughed out loud as did Mark, and continued laughing through the exhibit I’m afraid. While also enjoying the collection of real communist artifacts, propaganda, and shit from the 50s.

IMG_8980Radio Tesla is just cool, and I love her shoes.

IMG_8981I don’t have too much confidence in their ‘recreation’ of a factory, it’s really just a great collection of old machinery, which I loved of course. Again I laughed at this:

Using the obsolete economic theories of Karel Marx, Stalin created an ideological doctrine according to which the life of the whole society should revolve around industrial production. The hero of the time became the laborer, who, in the name of occasional slogans and to honor the communists feasts and anniversaries, worked more than his supervisors told him to…The pressure on increased employment for women and their introduction into traditional men’s professions was justified by the party through an ideal of ‘woman’s emancipation’.

There’s the bust/statue collection:

IMG_8982And this living room setup with brilliant old furniture, but I didn’t feel the chairs were socialist enough:

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While walking through there was a strange cold war feel, so the pro-U.S. stuff was as crazy as the anti-communist. There was this:

The blackest pictures of capitalism drawn by the communist press depicted America whose democratic regime was already admired by the Czechs in the period of Hapsburg emperors. American played a decisve role in the defeat of Hitler…America was also attractive, thanks to the romantic ‘Country and Western’ music and style, as introduced in Bohemia before World War I. County and Western style was cultivated by tramps in the many recreation settlements usually named after American localities…

There was another blurb mentioning the anti-American propaganda spread by the communists like their referrals to the mass lynching of Blacks. It certainly read as though the communists had made this up when of course they didn’t.

So really, this is like walking through a cold war propaganda effort from the US side, brilliantly illustrated by the cool old things from the Czech Republic under Stalinism. The why of this is made clear from the brochure and its reproduction of an International Newsweek article discussing the museum’s origins:

Spicker, 36, spent several months and $28,000 scouring markets and junk shops for close to 1,000 items of memorabilia, including Russian textbooks, anti-American posters, chemical-warfare protection suits and statues of Lenin and Marx. A former student of politics, Spicker was passing through central Europe in the late 1980s when the Velvet Revolution toppled Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. He decided to stay on and capitalize on all the new business opportunities, opening up a jazz club and a string of bars and restaurants in Prague. Then he hit on the idea for the museum. “As a student I found communism fascinating because of the influence it had on all aspects of people’s lives,” he says. “But now its fascination for me is just how outdated it is.”

I’m glad he collected the memorabilia, but damn. Capitlising on the business opportunities offered by presenting the least balanced review of a historical time period I have ever read…

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