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Monday, October 12, 2015

Eastern Europeans teach communist occupation history

After a wonderful 10 day visit to four Eastern European nations, that were once in the heart of the Cold War block, my husband and I were surprised to discover how willing our hosts were to discuss the years when Soviet Communism ruled.  (Our tour director, a nice man named Andre Toth, a Hungarian, said we were really in "Central Europe", but our trip seemed to be as far "east" as we might ever travel.)

Richard and Juliana in Prague celebrating our Golden Years in Prague and Eastern (okay- "Central") Europe.

We were behind the former "Iron Curtain", an iconic border during the Cold War. 

Yet, Iron Curtain became an anachronism, almost over night, when the power struggle ended. In fact, the Cold War was the ideological conflict and physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas, from the end of World War II in 1945 until 1991, when the Cold War ended.

Since then, the nations once occupied by the Soviet Communists have built energized economies. 

Obviously, communism was a complete failure.

Now, the European Union (EU) allows freedom of travel between the Eastern European nations, particularly the ones we visited in October, 2015....without any border checks!

Our small group tour visited Prague in the Czech Republic, Vienna in Austria, Budapest in Hungary and we took a side trip  to the Slovenia city of Bratslava. (This small nation was once part of Czechoslovokia.)
Bratslava in Slovenia

We certainly enjoyed visiting nations that we never dreamed of going to, even a decade ago.

While sorting through many pictures taken in Eastern Europe, three of them make for an interesting history collage.

Although, the pictures weren't taken in sequence, they're a personal collage of how we learned about the communist occupation of  Czechoslovakia (Prague in the Czech Republic) and Hungary - in Budapest.

A picture of the World War II bullet holes, purposefully retained in the Budapest Defense Ministry (even after renovation) building, to remind people about the horrors of World War II. 

Budapest remains of World War II- bullet holes in the Defense Ministry

Our guide called the battles in Budapest, between the Russians invading the city against the occupying Germans, "a second Leningrad". 

Unfortunately, after the Russians liberated Budapest, they "forgot to leave," said our tour guide.  They took over the government and forced the people to accept communism.  Our guide said everything was controlled by the central government (I assume in Moscow). This control was frequently incompetent. For example, one communist agricultural directive was given to the Hungarians to begin to grow orange trees!

A picture taken on the main boulevard in Prague, shows a historical main thoroughfare, where centuries of history have transpired. This photo shows how the communists tried to destroy the culture in the nations they occupied after World War II. A communist office building on the left, with virtually no decor, was erected next to a beautiful Prague facade, now a small inn, on the main boulevard, in Prague. Stark contrast!

Prague, in Czech Republic, the main boulevard contrast between austere communist and lovely cultural architecture

Today, the old communist buildings are practically vacant and the Prague residents are discussing whether or not to destroy them, or to let them stand, as reminders of the austerity of communist oppression.

Finally, in Budapest, the city on the "Buda" side of the Danube River decided to exhibit the communist automobile, on the street, to remind people about the hideousness of the communist regime. Apparently, people were once forced to buy these ugly cars. They're now relics of the communist occupation.
Budapest "LADA" automobile relic. 
Communist Eastern Europeans were required to buy this model car, even though they were known for having "a LADA problems".  In other words, they often broke down. This auto relic is now on display on Budapest street, as a reminder of the failed communist Hungarian occupation.

What's most interesting about this history was how freely everyone was willing to discuss and to talk about it, rather than to try and pretend it didn't happen.

A validation of this history came in a message from Gail, who lives in North Carolina.  
She recognized the picture showing the stark contrast between the pre-communist era and the quaint, pre-World War II, cultural architecture.  

She noticed that same marked difference when traveling into the former East Germany, from West Germany, right after the Iron Curtain fell. ""The austere-looking buildings were so ugly," she wrote.  "It had a profound affect on my visual senses; everything immediately became gray and design-less", she wrote. "Even the once beautiful town of Potsdam was in waste, with the lovely houses crumbling. Many of those (communist made) cars you had in one of your pictures were made by a company called LODA. They caused a 'lot-a trouble' because they continually broke down. The Russians and many other East European diplomats in Algeria drove those cars in Algiers in the mid 80s. They were always having problems with them".  

Another interesting travel experience was our ability to cross the borders between Austria and the Czech Republic without incident.

In fact, our motor coach was relieved when we were able to pass right over the Czech-Austrian border without being stopped. Nevertheless, there were Syrian refugees living on the Czech side of the crossing; some of the women were hand washing their cloths and hanging them on cloths lines.

In our lifetime, we've experienced the Iron Curtain going up and coming down. Now, even the Iron Curtain border crossing is a memory. 

As a result of the European Union (EU) the border is just a spot in the highway; although, Czech guards were pulling some
cars over that were entering the country from Austria. 

Leaving the Czech Republic, however, was no problem at all. 

We also visited a nation now called Slovania, the other half of what was, at one time, Czechoslovakia. 

This link below is informative. 

As our Eastern Europe journey is now a memory, my  husband and I can't believe we've now "been there".

Obviously, when crossing the Czech-Austrian border, we did NOT stop to take pictures!!!! 
But, we certainly felt the experiences of what it was like to live under the Soviet Communist government, a forbidding regime that existed during most of our formative lives.

Moreover, and most importantly, we saw how the Eastern European people have, finally, liberated themselves from communism.

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