Huckaby: In former East Bloc, little nostalgia for communist rule

I have spent the last two weeks behind the Iron Curtain, or I should say in the area that was once firmly in the throes of the communist bloc — puppet regimes of the USSR — back before Ronald Reagan won the Cold War. I think I will just share a few random observations about Central Europe.

 

For one thing, nobody that I’ve found is nostalgic for the good old days of Stalin, Krushchev, et al. I’ve spoken to everyone I’ve run across that seemed old enough to remember the “good old days” and to a person they have shuddered at the memory.

In Hungary, Slovakia, Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic, 1989 is a watershed year. The people I have asked about the days under the regime all speak of 1989 with great reverence.

Communist-era architecture is uglier than bowling shoes. Great big cubes of gray concrete just don’t seem to cut it next to beautiful palatial buildings from the Baroque period.

The Soviets were so jealous of all things American — and so afraid that their people would find out how much fun we are — that they invented a lovable cartoon character of their own to take the place of Mickey Mouse in the hearts and souls of little communist children everywhere. It’s called the Little Mole, which debuted in 1956 in Prague. You can buy still buy the Little Mole in all sizes and they have him on T-shirts as well. I have not, however, seen any Little Mole watches nor have I heard of any Miller-Lands, honoring his creator, Zdenek Miller, so the space race isn’t the only game where we whipped the communists.

Some people are still really, really bitter. One of our tour guides, for instance, told us, “The history books tell us that we were raised under communism, but that couldn’t be right because I learned in school as a little girl that under communism everyone is happy and everyone has exactly the same thing as everyone else and that everyone shares equally in the work and the reward. That is not at all how things were here before 1989, so I couldn’t have been living under communism.”

But, thankfully, when Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” people were listening and the wall did come down. Now Central Europe is embracing American culture in many ways. For instance, in Wenceslas Square in Prague, which is named in honor of the good king from the Christmas song, there are six McDonald’s, two Burger Kings and a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant tucked among the restaurants serving pork knuckles, dumplings and mushroom soup.

They really like Coca-Cola over here and serve it primarily in 10-ounce bottles, like the ones we had when Coke went King Sized and went up in price from six cents to a dime. They haven’t quite gotten the hang of ice, yet, but I am sure it’s just a matter of time.

There are a ton of New York Yankee fans throughout Hungary, Austria, East Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There must be because everywhere you go you see people wearing Yankee ball caps, and in every color imaginable — pink, green, and even some original navy blue. Sorry Neil Hondo Williamson, but the only Boston Red Sox cap I’ve seen over the past two weeks was worn by a guy from Boston.

I asked one lady to tell me the greatest change since 1989 and she broke into a big smile and said, “Now, everywhere is toilet paper.” If that’s not an argument in favor of capitalism and free trade, I don’t know what is. Of course, the folks in Europe still haven’t completely grasped the concept of public toiletry. You still have to pay the equivalent of about 75 cents to use the outhouse in most public places.

Hollywood is big here, too, and they show American movie with English subtitles everywhere you go. In all the big cities I’ve seen posters of Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp and George Clooney. I’m thinking all of those folks looking for a new home to get away from President Trump could consider moving over here.

I’ll tell you something else I have discovered on my most recent sojourn. Some people love to hate Americans and many of them criticize us and make fun of our ways, but I haven’t run across one person in my travels, not a single solitary one, who wouldn’t, given the chance, get on the plane and come back with me to live.

Not a single one.

 

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Fri, 2017-10-20 2:59pm

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