Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Peter Sis, a Czechoslovak immigrant to America in the 1980s, wrote about what it was like to be born at the start of the Communist regime and grow up in a totalitarian system.
When I lived in Prague, I had listened with extraordinary intent to Czech friends who had gone through this history. I loved hearing their experiences, their wisdom from what they had been through, and learning from them how people and families cope with a dystopian reality.
Peter Sis has compressed his own history and his nations' history into this graphical history that can be read in less than an hour. He bore witness! He warned! It's as if he is handing the reader at home the conversations we expats got to have in Prague with our Czech friends about what it was like.
I can't recommend the book enough. It would make a wonderful book to read together as a family for an intergenerational discussion about freedom.
This book has been widely acclaimed both as a Caldecott Honor book for distinguished illustration (the author's wonderful drawings help tell the story), and as the winner of the Siebert award for the most distinguished informational title in America, for children, in the year it was published.
Here is a short interview with the author.
From "The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain"
“When my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion, and lies. I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it’s hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life— before America—for them.” —Peter Sis
You may be interested in these other reads:
The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia" by Milan Simecka
How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulic
In Prague, You Can Enjoy Reading "Café Europa" at the Café Europa
WWII was worse for Central Europe than even our histories and memories tell us
Heda Kovaly, Czech Who Wrote of Totalitarianism, Is Dead at 91
Understanding Iran: The Power of One Graphic Novel named "Persepolis"
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Our last speaker in the series was an expert on Czech church history and I asked him if it was possible to create a list of "dos and don'ts to share with future congregations on how not to get co-opted by repressive regimes." There was a general chuckle at my naivete because this sort of thing is not preventable. Each generation has to learn for themselves. We've all heard the phrase "those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it," right? Well at this session I learned the phrase, "what we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."
Want some evidence of that (with apologies for sounding so dark, so Czech!)? This article, linked to in my blog post title, shows that the "restoration of order" has begun in Iran. Even the phrase that this young woman uses to describe the regime's actions is the same in English as it was back then in post-1968 Czechoslovakia.
What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.
Monday, June 15, 2009
There are at least two possible outcomes for the current crisis. If the Ahmadinejad's coup is successful, we will witness another post-1968 Prague spring, crushing the reform movement and including a military attempt at "normalizing" society. Mousavi will be forced to appear on television and play the role of an Iranian Dubcek, expressing regrets and calling on people to stop resisting the military regime.
If this coup fails, on the other hand, Tehran may experience the Prague spring of 1989, and the country will be wide open to the possibility of substantial reforms and liberalization, well beyond what was seen in the Khatami era. In either case, the Islamic Republic we have known for the last three decades is gone. That strange, fragile and contradictory 1979 newborn, a hybrid of clerical theocracy and Western-style republic, has long been dead. Some have argued it was a stillbirth. Others have insisted on its potential. Either way we evaluate the regime, it's clear today that only brutal military force can sustain the theocratic element.If you don't know what normalization is, there's a chilling book that describes the entire dehumanizing process. Normalization is so draconian that it seems it just makes the eventual political explosion that much bigger because no human being can live that way for long. The book is called "The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia" by Milan Simecka. You can read my review of it here.
So my dear Czech readers, do you have advice for the Iranian people how to make 1989 happen rather than 1968? And not to be pessimistic (or as Czechs would say: realistic) what advice do you have for them on surviving normalization, if 1968 happens?
Friday, March 20, 2009
How was the totalitarian country able to reinstitute a Stalinist-style state without violence after the Prague Spring in 1968? How did the government eliminate dissent in less than two years? In chilling detail, Simecka shows how the State used it's power over people's income, jobs, friendships, even their children's future to control each citizen's every move.
Approximately 10-20% of the Czech population still votes for the Communist Party. My Czech friends tell me that the people still voting for the Communist party look back with nostalgia at getting a job from the state, getting a flat from the state, and cheap bread. With everything "provided" life had "no worries."
Today's young people, especially, may not know the horrors of that time, because the Czechs are so sick of that period there hasn't yet been a national curriculum developed to teach young people what happened. Czechs want to let it go and move on (hence, they think we Americans are obsessed with it all!)
I recommend this book for every reader of any country who wants to understand the communist totalitarian period. It would be a great book for any Czech/Slovak or political book club. I also think it would be especially useful for every Czech and Slovak high school student to understand the choices their parents and grandparents had to make to survive.
Like "The Diary of Ann Frank," which most American kids read sometime during their education, this book makes the choices presented by the times very personal and imaginable.
You may be interested in another book about governmental abuse of power:
Understanding Iran: The Power of One Graphic Novel called 'Persepolis'