The Czech Republic, from where I am writing, has made tremendous strides since the fall of Communism in the country. Just over a decade after the Velvet Revolution, the Czechs seek to both join the European Union and solidify their fledgling democracy.
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is a great example of the country’s progress. Some buildings are on the verge of being a millennium old, while the skyline is littered with cranes constructing new, modern architecture. In between, drab monoliths of the Soviet era stand out as eyesores between baroque beauty and modern progress. After a decade of cleaning out communism — in the case of the environment, quite literally — the city is beginning to shine again.
Communism imposed on the country a harsh, atheistic, material way of life. Cars ran without catalytic converters and pollution was abundant. Even now, spending a few hours in the city turns the underside of fingernails grimy and black. Yet, with the restoration of true democracy, the Czechs have undertaken ambitious steps to clean the air, the water, the ground, and the buildings. Life expectancy has increased by more than ten years. A new wave of young people have taken to the streets who do not remember communism, but still bear the scars of atheism and materialism.
The youth carry their cell phones everywhere. Advertising for cell phone companies, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Coca-Cola litter the sides of buildings. Billboards for the latest and greatest electronics cover the remaining free space. Young people, dressed in their Levis and Adidas, make out on the buses, trams, and trains. Public displays of serious affection are out of control. It is readily apparent that just as the United States had a baby boom after World War II, the Czechs had a baby boom after the Cold War ended and freedom was restored.
Stumbling through the snow flurries, the pace of progress and feeling of freedom collide with the worst parts of sudden freedom after years of oppression. Pick pockets prey on unsuspecting tourists, graffiti detracts from the beautiful architecture, prostitutes lurch from the shadows asking directly, “Want Sex?” to the obvious tourists. It is as if the city and the country teeter precariously on the edge of chaos.
At the end of the day a tourist such as me can only help but appreciate this country. The Czechs are generally pro-Western and like the United States — the hostility of the French and Germans has not seeped into the national identity. The people, for so long enslaved to Soviet masters, have taken charge of their destiny and are on the march toward the future. The hope in the populace is as inspiring as the view from the valley of the city up to Prague Castle. This country is on the move.