Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Communist Past: First Impressions of Prague

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Since arriving in Prague a few days ago, I have been thinking constantly about its Communist history. This is a topic I do not know much about as I have never studied it in detail as I have Romanian communism. Walking through the streets of Zizkov, an up-and-coming neighbourhood filled with trendy café’s and vintage fashion boutiques, I am drawn to the graffiti, the old buildings that seem to be left in ruins, the strange characters passing by… I wonder how communism manifested in former Czechoslovakia. Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian communist leader, tore down historical buildings throughout Bucharest in order to build commission style flats in their place, perhaps a scheme that related to his obsession of increasing the Romanian population. In the old town of Prague the buildings are left in place, cultural history is celebrated proudly through artists like Mucha and Kafka. There is Art Nouveau architecture embellished with sculptures of ladies with beautiful long hair that have witnessed centuries of happenings. After spending a few weeks in Vienna, a romantic city of grandeur and elegance, I have come to the conclusion that Prague is not dissimilar to a medieval fairytale. It is charming to the same extent as Vienna, but there is a darkness that exists within its streets. The Viennese have looked after their city and it is in pristine condition, whereas Prague is gritty. Could this be due to communism and the idea of being left behind without any significant progression into the future? This is certainly the case in Romania and it is a main feature of my research in New Romanian Cinema. Anyway, I have opened up many questions for myself and I guess the first step is to watch more Czechoslovakian and New Czech Cinema.

For the time being, here is some preliminary research: