written by: Cecilie Frederiksen
If you go to Prague as a young woman from Denmark, you do not think much about the communistic history. Sure, you know the land was part of the USSR-regime, but do you really think about what it meant? Those great beautiful buildings from the 14th and 16th century takes our breath away, and we seem to forget, that less than 35 years ago, Prague was not the same as it is today. At all.
How the communistic life of living was like for the average Czech woman in the years between 1948 and 1989 is not a question we give a lot of thoughts during school. In history classes we learn about the political problems and the historic events, but we really do not learn much about the average person’s life. Unless we are lucky enough to watch: ”Goodbye Lenin” or ”das Leben der Anderen” in German classes – but that shows the life in East Berlin which shows special kinds of events or the most outstanding histories. We do not know much about everyday life.
In the West everything was open, free and every person had the basic human rights as we know from today. But around the same time, people in Eastern Europe were locked in – with or without a wall. With no possibilities to speak their dissatisfaction with the government and the system without the fear of getting punished. With no ability to live the sort of life they might have wanted.
Before 1948 Czech Republic was a well-educated country where women studied in universities and were very ahead in time. That was, compared to Denmark, very unique.
At the same time women in Denmark were housewives or maybe working half time without any training. But this country in the east of Europe had women in schools of engineering and history and everything that interest women just as much as men. But only years later, one of the most educated and cultural societies became closed and re-stricted.
After The Second World War Denmark could have become part of the Warsaw Pact, if we had become liberated by USSR, but instead we became part of the Western Union (NATO) and lived a more or less uncomplicated life and made an enormous progress after the war. Of course people in Denmark had stuff to worry about, but looking and learning about Czech Republic, and more specific Czech women in the years between 1948 and 1989, it is obvious that western people’s concerns were about a cold war turning warm while people in eastern Europe, in this case Czech Republic, lived a completely different life, where freedom to speak, freedom to live as before the communistic regime and freedom of religion was something utopic.
It came to my mind the 8th of May when everything was closed in Prague. I looked it up and found out, that it was a national holiday. The 8th of May is the liberation day. As in every other country Czech Republic celebrates the day where they were liberated from Nazi-Germany. Any way it seemed so weird to me celebrating the fact that the country became free after six years of the German occupation, but shortly after the country was completely closed again and under strict control for 40 years.
Of course you cannot compare the German occupation and the communist years, but it crossed my mind. Specially because Denmark celebrated the liberation three days earlier, and that day really made a difference and had an enormous impact on the following years.
Prague Spring in 1968 had a huge impact on many parts of Europe, but asking my friends in Denmark, they do not know what Prague Spring really was and why it happened. Everyone who has been to High School in Denmark knows, that Prague Spring took place simultaneously with the Youth revolution and after that (in 1969) the hippies became an important part of danish history. At the time while danish feminists fought for equality, freedom to grow bodyhair and step out of the shadow of the men (1970), women in Czech Republic had way different concerns. The right to grow bodyhair was probably not the biggest issue for people living in a communistic society. People say that western women were ahead and liberated, but if you know the history about some of the Czech women, you might change your opinion about that.
Women fought for their rights in Czech Republic on a way higher level. Some women in jail risked their life just to teach other women about history, art or other topics. They broke the law about not teaching in prison, because they knew, that education was such an important thing in a society.
Other women risked their own and their childrens life, just to get their critical litterature about the regime out to the public. Often they got their text or litterature published in samizdat, which is basically what the danish resistance movement did under World War 2. So at the same time Czech women fought a hidden fight, in risk of getting caught by the system, danish women fought for the right to free abortion and the ability to have sex without being judged.
Both women-struggles were important. But they happened at the same time, and in Denmark we have absolutely no idea that when basically everyone could go to the store and buy a washing maschine, people in Czech Republic might have to wait 8 months in line to get one. While we lived in big collectives because we thought it was nice and cozy, women in Czech Republic stayed an extra hour at work, because they shared a 3-bedroom-apartment with three generations and could not relax when constantly being in the same place as their mother in law.
While history classes teach us that it was awful living in East-Germany and that families were
splitted up by a wall in the middle of Berlin overnight, they simply forget to teach us about the real
life, happening all over eastern Europe at the same time.
They need to teach us, that when we go on High School-trips to get drunk and ravage hotels in Prague, because we think it is so cheap that we have to do it, they have a history we will never understand. We need to learn and understand that Czech Republic and Denmark have two completely different views on the world because we do not have the same history. In some way it is our job to get to know a bit about the culture and the history, and know more than: ”they have cheap beers.”
There is a reason for the cheap beers. And the reason might be, that this beautiful country was under strict control for 40 years. Everything was planned, resolved and executed in the light of a communistic regime. A regime that decided who were good citizens and who were not. A regime that was nothing but comparative to the democratic one we had in Denmark at the same time.