Everything in Czechoslovakia was kind of drab, gray and brown – we went to Austria and it was like a different world. The gas stations with the colorful flags and colors everywhere and new cars. I think that left a huge impression on me. [I thought] ‘I want to live here,’ you know? And Coca-Cola and fries! Eating fries was like ‘Wow.’ It was amazing.
Prague Spring Tag
I remember at one point in time, he wanted to import some Jewish cookies and things that were used for Sabbath and so on from Slovakia, and he did, and he got into trouble selling it, because it was not something on the government list. It was a constant struggle – him trying to improve the business and the government saying ‘These are the regulations and you can’t do that.’
He had really good ideas, and those ideas which I heard, which he told me, I liked them, because I felt yeah, everybody should… there shouldn’t be hungry people, there shouldn’t be poor people, everybody should have a little piece of something, everybody should have free school, free health program. And that’s what communists promised. So that’s how he believed it.
And then finally we got across the border and we heard the car going, and then the car stopped. They went from the main road to a corn field. It was this dusty road in a cornfield. They opened the trunk and we just fell out. We couldn’t stand; we had no blood circulation. I remember, my first sight of the west was lying in dust on this dusty road.
“I played guitar. When I was about 14, I went to work for a summer in a cinderblock factory. It was hard work, but I made some money and bought my guitar. That’s also a time when I met a lot of people. You look, it’s a cinderblock factory, but everybody was an ex-professor, ex-teacher, ex-accountant, because they lost their job and the only thing they could do was doing manual labor. So that was another thought, ‘Now hold on just a minute, this is not right.”
We went to the streets, we talked to them [the soldiers], and it essentially was pretty much hopeless. There were some guys who would throw the Molotov cocktails at the tanks, but it was pretty much useless. You cannot fight the tanks and an armed army with bare hands and with stones. And if you do, they will shoot you. So then I went home.
The free education, the free medical care. There were a lot of good things and if you could have political freedom and travel and exchange, then I think the system would have been very good. I didn’t understand why anybody would say no to it, because we didn’t want to declare war on Russia or some stupid thing like that.
My son was in kindergarten, no actually, he was in nursery school and we went along the street for a walk and there was a big poster of Lenin and my [son] said ‘Look mommy, Comrade Lenin!’ And she said ‘This is enough. I don’t want this anymore. I had enough. They put it into the children. We have to go. We have to leave.’
It’s already probably starting in 1964 to 1966. There was a sense of great liberalization, without us completely realizing it. We would listen to the foreign radio – Radio Free Europe, I think, and one other station – we would be completely into Beatles music and all of the contemporary music and outfits and all of these kinds of things.
In high school, I think it was quite quality and, again, a combination of the ideology and then the real subjects. We were lucky because our last year of high school was ’68, so it was very liberal and many changes took place, even in our education and the information provided. Like reading Literární noviny was mandatory, and it was quite exciting. Then we graduated and enjoyed this happy time for a few more days and it was over.