New website offers insight into socialist era

A small database of materials in English is intended for students and teachers

A new web portal has resources in English for people that want to know more about life in socialist Czechoslovakia. The site was prepared by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (ÚSTR) and is intended for students and teachers, but anyone can use it.

The site is called Socialism Realised: Life in Communist Czechoslovakia 1948–1989, and takes an analytical approach to the material. There are 38 historical film clips, scenes from fiction films, photographs and copies of newspaper and magazine articles with translations, and some sample study questions to help people analyze the material.

While the examples some from Czechoslovakia, they are intended to offer insight into the whole region. “Socialism Realised is a project that innovatively works with the history of the Eastern bloc not only when it comes to content, but also with how it introduces its content to users. … It is structured to meet the needs of various users — both beginning and advanced students of history, teachers looking for material for their classes, and other people interested in the past, who might just be able to learn something new about the region,” the website states.

“Socialism Realised does not tell users how things were in the past; instead, we let the past speak for itself through various media representations of it. The basis of Socialism Realised is a selection of media sources — mainly fictional films, but also documentaries, photographs, and personal documents,” the website adds.

A section called Pathways organizes some of the material into themes for easy study. The topics are the basics of communism, the life and times of Milan Kundera, and women during socialism. The material in the database is also organized by perspective and by era.

The first big unit, chronologically, is on the show trials of the 1950s, with eight documents ranging from a letter written by a mother who wants to send her jailed son cherries to video clips from a newsreel and two fiction films.

Collectivization of farms in the 1950s is shown by a clip from the 1968 feature film All My Compatriots. The film was banned after its initial release and could not be seen until 1989. A brief written commentary gives the background to why some people were evicted from their farms.

Events from Prague Spring are seen in documentary clips, like one from Elective Affinities, about elections after senior representative of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia Antonín Novotný resigned. Another video clip shows the negotiations that went on between Soviet and Czechoslovak leaders just before the invasion.

For the invasion itself, students are asked to compare a famous picture of a Slovak man defying a tank to images from Tiananmen Square in 1989. A documentary video clip, a fiction film clip and a radio broadcast are also presented.

Nornalization, or the era after the invasion, and the collapse of the regime, are covered as well.

The site lists books and other resources in English for further study of the subject.

The website can be found here:

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