As I was sat on the bus coming back to Prague from Terezin, I was thinking about how different life is now to how it was just over twenty years ago. It’s 23 years since the Velvet Revolution ended communism and this seems like no time at all to me.
I’m glad I went to Russia back in the ’80s as I feel this enables me to appreciate the extent to which people’s lives have changed. Of course two holidays of carefully orchestrated experiences won’t have given me a real idea of what life was like under communism, but I’ve got a much better idea than someone who hasn’t experienced it at all. When I was in Russia, it wasn’t the major things that surprised me. I expected the food to be different for example, but it was the unexpected things, the things I took so much for granted I couldn’t ever imagine them possibly being different. I suppose it was the whole feel of the place, the vibe. The honesty, the civil obedience.
So in my few days here I keep looking at people my age and older and thinking how different their world is now to the one they grew up in. For the older people, they will also remember life under the Nazi occupation as well as communism – even more change for them. When I see people in their 20s walking around and looking like normal young people who could be from the majority of the world – their dress, their hairstyles, the music on their t-shirts, their casual deportment and mannerisms – I wonder how their parents can recognise their lives at all.
Every generation’s children is different to their parents and parents may fret about how their offspring or the general ‘youth of today’ are behaving, what they’re wearing, what they’re listening too, what their attitudes are. But this example must surely be the most extreme. The young people of today will either have been born after the fall of communism or be too young to have any real memory of it. A bit like my memories of the power cuts of the ’70s – a bit exciting, but no sense of hardship or the bigger picture. What changes their parents have had to cope with to get to where they are today.
What is even more sobering and makes me feel really old is that some of these young people will have children of their own – that’s already a second generation of children with no experience of communism. A generation that not only doesn’t know communism itself, but one whose parents also don’t remember it.