The fourth seminar of “How we shape our past” was about to take place in Prague and I took the train from Berlin, traveling trough the changing landscapes in a fast pace. I was bursting with excitement to participate on my first project trough Citizens of Europe. During my travel, numerous thoughts crossed my mind. What on earth could I, as a young Scandinavian/ European contribute on this seminar? What did I know about the Czech’s past of fascism and communism? I wasn’t even born when the “Iron Curtain” reigned over Eastern Europe and only a baby when it finally collapsed.
After a quick overview where I summed up my knowledge about the Czech’s history, I found out it was mostly based on information from school, a documentary about the Velvet Revolution I randomly saw on TV and…what I had snapped up from friends, whom parents had fled to Sweden from former Czechoslovakia during the 1970s. I realized that this was a perfect start on my participation. With the projects general and specific goals in mind, I could join with minimum expectations on the four-day seminar and instead, focus on learning, discussing and capturing the Czech’s experiences of their past with the other participants. In Prague, our hosting organization Vuste Envis aimed to give us a micro-perspective of the Czech’s remembrance of the past, by inviting individuals who shared their personal stories from these periods in the countries history. They arranged eyewitness-workshops in a program combined with visits at historical sites.
The first witness we met was Mr. Zalenka, whom had survived the fascism during World War II. This old but energetic man was eager to share his memories from the past and it wasn’t a bright and happy past he reminisced Mr Zalenka was one of the few surviving children from the Lidice-village massacre in 1942, a national trauma that’s still remembered throughout the Czech society. Lidice was a village completely demolished by the Nazi’s, as a revenge for the killing of Reinhardt Heyndrich, an officer chosen by Hitler as the German protector in Czechoslovakia. Mr. Zalenka had been through hell and came back, and he saw it as a mission, to make youths today aware of the horrors in Lidice and the cruelty of humans in this time. Our visit at the Lidice museum and memorial place gave a harsh reminder of the Nazis inhuman brutality under the Holocaust.
The seminar had from my opinion, one important topic missing – why didn’t we visit the Jewish quarters in Prague or speak about their situation in the Czechoslovakian society during this time? I had wished for our hosts to bring up the Jews situation. As a part of the remembrance and in order to open up for further, that would have given us even broader knowledge about the countries past. I personally felt that their sometimes was a bit too much “heroes and victims”- mentality in how the history was discussed and re-told trough the Czechs perspective.
This is a problem often encountered when the commemoration of political and social traumas is brought up, regardless from which country you’re in. It can be hard to act self-critical and include the remembrance of the shameful parts of history when your country have endured both fascism and communism, but it is necessary, in order to understand the future and not at least history’s impact on the mentality and shape of society in todays post-fascism and communism nations. Witnesses, who grew up under the Soviet Stalinist rule, were also contributing with their stories throughout the workshops we had.
Mr. Jir Zboril, a pragmatic anti-communist choose the life of an outsider, fighting for his personal right to “not give a damn” about the communistic society. Jiri experiences the year of 1968, when the Soviet army occupied and forced the country under Soviet rule. As a contrast to Jiri’s statements, Mr. Stanislav Penc, a significant activist in Czech’s political spheres, shared his story of political grassroots commitment. Being one of the leading activists in the strive towards democratization and transparency in the country, Mr. Penc repeatedly got into trouble when working for changes, some of them that eventually would be realized. Mr. Penc is still a controversial activist working to raise awareness and public opinion in Czech Republic, constantly in warfare with the political establishment, who he still find corrupted on many levels.
History is a powerful tool in promoting understanding for how our present is shaped and these four days with participants that had personal experiences of growing up in eastern Europe, reminded me how diverse European countries past is. History can never give us a truly insight in how our countries past were. History will always be constructed stories about the past, influenced by political and social norms during that time. There is no natural law saying that events in countries past necessarily must have implications for the present and future, it can also lead to great achievements amongst the civilians and political reforms towards democracy and openness. History is necessary and reminds us that we all carry our social, cultural and political “baggage” on our back; lets share it with each other in order to understand our history together and shape our European history coming ahead. By understanding how the past is shaped, we can create a wider understanding and development towards democratic societies with strong citizens having the freedom to speak out their opinions, without fear of reprisals or judgments.