>Lost World of Communism loses its way
After weeks of overwork, I get time to watch a little TV. It’s a busman’s holiday. Itune into BBC’s 2’s The Lost World of Communism. This week’s second part of the series is about communist Czechoslovakia. The programme’s a disappointment, however. Well made and watchable. if built around the rather conventional TV history technique of tracing a few key figures and themes from the 1940s to the 1980s. Informative too, I guess – if you know practically nothing about Czechoslovakia. And, in fairness, there was some powerful documentary footage of Jan Palach’s funeral, and some rather less finely wrought, satirical films made in 1970 or 80s with an odd Benny Hill quality, neither of which I’d seen screened. There was also , for once, some effort to redress the balance and indicate that socialism did have its beneficiaries and supporters (A communist miner is proud of his awards, achievements – and earnings – under the old system, Karel Gott, the cheesy pop troubadour professes total ignorance of signing a document denouncing Charter 77 (unlikely), and points out that he earned as much hard currency for the country as Škoda factory (probably true)).
The rest, however, was less the Lost World of Communism than the World of Communism Everyone Who Knows Anything About Eastern Europe Already Knows About. Accordingly we got a familiar sideshow of images telescoping Czechoslovak socialism’s half century of existence the show trials of the 1950s and the judicial murder of Milada Horaková; the Prague Spring – reformist pop diva Marta Kubišová (and boy, could she sing) presents an impromptu bouquet to Dubček; then the tanks come crashing in and there are the familiar scenes; a brief bit on the stupification and stagnation of ‘normalization’, we see Václav Havel besieged by secret policeman at his country house, as well as some nods to Timothy Garton Ash with various references to Czechoslovakia as the Kingdom of Forgetting although they forgot to tell us what was being forgotten); then it’s 1989 Velvet Revolution and Havel and Kubišová on the balcony of the Melantrich building overlooking Wenceslas Square speaking and singing to a vast emotional and ecstatic crowd. An iconic scene. – but the lost world of communism stayed pretty much lost.