Life under communist rule

Discussion in 'Culture' started by Ark1tec, Jun 25, 2008.

  1. bouncingczech

    bouncingczech Active Member

    In many respects, life under communism was much simpler. I do not write this in a nostalgic way, only because the amount of personal choices one could make was very limited. All restaurants, pubs and cafes were run by one company, so menus were similar, usually with many items not available. Shortages of everyday products were endemic. A rumor could spread that one store on one side of Prague just received a delivery of ...panties...and a line would form immediately and waiting could last several hours. This applied to just about everything. I lved above a butcher shop and there was always a line outside where people waited for hours, just to by some meat or sausage.
    The result of this was a thriving underground economy where everything was bartered without any money changing hands. Because there was no incentive for any company to do well - usually there was no competition - the workers did very little and pilfering was rife. "If you don't steal from the state, you steal from your family" was the mantra.
    There was a chronic shortage of housing. Many families shared a very small apartment for years. A new car took years to be delivered, which led to a paradox of used cars being more expensive then new as there was no waiting list.
    Civil liberties were non existent. People spied on each other, there was constant fear of the police and the possibility to be a victim of some trumped up charge.
    It's a grim picture, huh? But here's a thing. We did not know any better. I was born in 1951 and I spent 18 years in Czechoslovakia. I've never been abroad during that time and the only information I received that life is somewhat different in the West was from magazines and radio. So living this insular life, meant that our expectations were not that high. I don't recall my childhood as being unhappy or lacking something badly. We did not have a car, but neither did many others families. We'd escape at every opportunity to our little cabin in the country and life was not that bad. I suppose it'd get worse had I stayed....but I didn't.
  2. scrimshaw

    scrimshaw Well-Known Member

    Funny how the mind works. That was the norm you knew, so without something to compare it to, I guess it seemed somewhat normal.
    And the fun of being young can also allow someone to overlook certain things. Nostalgia, is a funny thing, often remembering the good while forgetting the bad.
    Nice description though.

    Alexx....that 'seven wonders of communism' was great.
    Lots of paradoxes.
  3. Petr_B

    Petr_B Well-Known Member

    Re: the first paragraph of bouncingczech's post:
    That might have been the reality of 1950's and 1960's but 1980's were different and 1980's are what most people remembers and compares to.
    The shortages of basic goods weren't that common (of course the queues were always there because not only the opening hours of shops were more limited than nowadays, but there was MUCH less shops available and no supermarkets as we now them today). Most people didn't fear police like that, simply because they didn't have to since they learned to obey the regime.
  4. TReady

    TReady Member

    Were there "brands" of things produced by the State in those years? It always seemed strange to me that there were "choices" offered when everything was owned and manufactured by the State. I know Havel was forced to work for the East Bohemian brewery in the early 70's, but what beer did they produce? Would I know it in America?

    A for instance: let's say you went and bought a bottle of vodka for yourself in 1976. Did it have a name, like a copyright for example, and did you have a choice between national brands? Was there a "cheap" pint of rotgut that you could get, or was there just one brand and that was what you were stuck with?

    It's the little everyday things that I find most fascinating about life under these kind of regimes. No matter what, people still went to work and got married, etc. and getting an occasional drink is certainly part of that. I just don't understand how any of this worked, growing up an American and being here my whole life.
  5. TReady

    TReady Member

    The story about the used cars is classic. That's one I've never heard before. Your posts are always worth reading, BC.
  6. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    Just recently found out they didn't have potato chips during communism. :?
  7. bouncingczech

    bouncingczech Active Member

    No, we had potato chips, closely resembling those Hawaiian-type chips, but we didn't have french fries for some reason. Here are few other food items that I never had while growing up in Czechoslovakia. Avocado, eggplant, zucchini (or courgettes in English English), shrimp (and other seafood like oysters) sushi, pizza, hamburgers in a bun (other then "karbanatky"), anything barbecued (other than sausages cooked over a camp fire), artichokes, Coca Cola (appeared in limited way in 1968), olives, escargot. I am sure I forgot something. One of my relatives brought a small can of smoked salmon from France and I thought it was the most delicious thing I've ever had.
  8. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    Of course.
    Why? There was a lot of brands, albeit mostly produced by one state company. The state companies were not uniform, they typically consisted of more different plants, since the commies tended to merge all the companies they have stolen into one company for every individual branch. They mostly respected the old capitalistic trademarks, it was good for export.
    That was in Trunov ( The beer is primarily for local market.

    Yes. And it is possible the same branch is still available, like Pražská vodka, for example.

    Do you mean the choice between Czech and Slovak brands? Yes, very often.

    Or the brands from abroad? Yes, we had them.
    There was a lot of brands from other states in the Eastern Block. These were mostly imported in bursts as the other countries were trying to get rid of overproduction, but some eastern brands were available practically always.
    There was also occasionally some import from other pro-communist countries like Cuba.
    The import from capitalistic states was less common, and mostly limited for Tuzex, but still there was a lot of western brands available, especially from the countries with strong "progressive powers" (= communistic movement) like France or Italy.

    Who said this? We had chips.

    Just the frozen french fries prepared for use. It was common to made them from the potatoes.

    Neither me.

    Not commonly for sale, but it was possible to grow them in the garden. My mother did so, I remember it very well because I always hated it.

    The instant pizza was available. See the advertisement from the communstic era. 8)

    Always in Tuzex. In the 80's it was even produced here for export, and sometimes the surplus was released for local market. It was also possible to buy it in the other eastern countries with less strict regime (like Hungary).

    Czechoslovakia massively supplied France with the escargots, but it is not considered a delicacy by most of the Czechs. :D
  9. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    Most of these things didn't appear in the UK until the 70's, or if they did, they were so expensive that 'ordinary' people couldn't afford them. I remember giving my older brother a pineapple for his birthday about then, as a really exotic treat. When I was growing up in the 60's, chicken was something that you only had for Sunday lunch. In those days, no-one had heard of pizzas, even. The only 'fast food' was fish and chips and it was really exciting when our local chippie started selling fried chicken!
  10. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    I was watching a documentary on this history of potato chips, how they were discovered and how they became so popular & common with so many different varieties. One of our czech friends came in the house and began watching it with me. When it was brought out how American companies realized the large profit in potato chips in the 50's or 60's (can't remember exactly), it spread like crazy into several different varieties and brands. The czech friend there said, "yeah we didn't even have them in communism".

    I thought he meant potato chips but perhaps he meant several different varieties & brands. :?
  11. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    Another case of British English versus American English. Chips in the UK are hranolky; the potato chips you're talking about are crisps!
  12. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    google image of hranolky
    which are french fries. :)

    I'm talking about potato chips:

    So did they have potato chips during communism? :?
  13. Petr_B

    Petr_B Well-Known Member

    Sure we did. We actually had both French Fries and potato chips. Of course, the choice was limited compared to what is it today.
    It seems that in this thread, you often compare apples to oranges, ie. not only different countries but also different eras. Don't forget that e.g. life in post-war 1950's was different than life in 1980's in quite many ways. Sometimes you can't just generalize and say "life during communism".
  14. bouncingczech

    bouncingczech Active Member

    Yeah, we had potato chips. Even in the late fifties. Called them "bramburky" and they came in a transparent celophane bag. They were quite greasy and salty.
    Does anybody remember "zu-zu" pronounced "zhu-zhu"?
  15. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    When my Czech friend comes over to Prague, the first thing she buys, because she prefers the Czech version to what she can buy in England, is the bread and the crisps - the greasy, salty sort and yes, they're still in transparent bags.
  16. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    Actually, french fries like these were not available. :wink:

    Only the prism-shaped, that's why we call it "hranolky" (= small prisma).

    OK, in detail:

    I don't remember the salt ones to not to be available nationwide.
    The paprika ones were definitelly available nationwide in the late 80's, but I'm not so sure of the era before.
    I also remember salt, paprika and garlic chips distributed localy in my region by one of the JZD's. These were extremely greasy.
    All the chips I remember from that era were made of slices of whole potatoes. There was nothing like Pringles.

    Not like under communism. There was no economical competition and thus the packaging of most of the products was rather simple. An extreme example are the chips distributed in my region by the JZD. These were packed in totally transparent cellophane bags. There was just a cyclostyled paper label within the bag. There were always greasy marks on the label as it soaked up the oil from the chips.
  17. scrimshaw

    scrimshaw Well-Known Member

    Wer wrote.......Not like under communism. There was no economical competition and thus the packaging of most of the products was rather simple. An extreme example are the chips distributed in my region by the JZD.

    Here you use the term 'economic competition'
    Example.... an ad......Hey, buy our brand, it's so much better than the other guy's brand.

    Some one mentioned in an earlier post, about why they never understood why the state would advertise on tv. or radio about a product if there were no competition between competing brands.

    So the adds were pretty much there to let you know the product was available and try to convince you that you should try it, rather than to get you to try one brand instead of another?

    By the way, not familiar with the term JZD.
  18. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    The original question was about brands, not about advertisement. It has much more sense to discuss the need of advertisement under communism than the existence of different brands.

    Well, the advertisements under communism were not competitive at all. They were used as a sort of public education, as propaganda to demonstrate the achievements of communism, to drive the demand on the products in surplus, or to introduce a new product.
    Very often the advertisement was not for a particular brand, but for the product in general. From the capitalist perspective it could be really curious to have an advertisement for eggs, right?

    There is a lot of the old TV advertisements (I hesitate to call it "commercial") on Youtube:

    eggs, instant pizza, milk, honey (this one is legendary :D), head cabbage (my favourite :wink:, quite absurd), head cabbage (Slovak version), melon (in Slovak), personal life insurance, olomoucké tvarůžky, eggs in plastic case, starting cable, apple-pie, jewellery, buying up of the snails (Slovak), frozen fruit dumplings, artificial flowers, garlic, shorts (Slovak), store on wheels, horse racing, juice

    JZD/JRD (Czech/Slovak) means "Jednotné zemědělské družstvo / Jednotné roľnícke družstvo" (~ Integrated agricultural association). It was one of the rare non-state forms of ownership of means of production. It was supposed to be a legal form for collective farming, but some of them were engaged even in the other economical activities.
  19. scrimshaw

    scrimshaw Well-Known Member

    Ah, I see.
    Now I see the difference in the advertising.

    Sometimes there are commercials(tv advertisements), done as public service messages, by the health department, and not promoting certain brands.

    One that sticks in my mind is....

    Milk, it does a body good.
  20. Troll

    Troll Well-Known Member

    For example: High noon, The big country, The magnificent seven, Someone likes it hot, ... :)

    But you probably meant such films like All the president's men or Sacco and Vanzetti, i.e. films that criticize the American system.

Share This Page