Behind the Iron Curtain Part 2 – Education

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.

I was born towards the end of summer, which effectively means I was almost a year younger than many of other kids who were supposed to go to school that year. This has led to concerns whether I will be mentally mature enough to cope so I was brought in for preliminary evaluation in the spring prior to my first school year. I do not remember almost anything of it, only that it was a pleasant conversation with some old lady whom I did not know.

After I was deemed eligible, the education started. It was pretty normal as an education anywhere else at that time. Children sitting in rows in cheap, uncomfortable chairs behind small tables. Teacher standing in front of the class talking. Don’t talk unless asked, raise your hand if you want to say something or ask.

The regime had somewhat ambiguous attitude to education. On one hand it has recognized that knowledge is empowering and completely ignorant and uneducated populace is useless. Therefore eight years of elementary school were compulsory and the regime took pride in nearly universal literacy and numeracy.

On the other hand it has also recognized that educated and well-informed people are harder to control because they have that unpredictable tendency to be critical of the information presented to them and reach their own conclusion. which has proven correct, since the velvet revolution was initiated by massive student protests.

So the higher education was theoretically available to anyone who was capable, but there were caveats that had nothing to do with capability and everything to do with how much one was perceived to be a threat.

Ever since childhood I was recognized as a university material. I was top of the class and despite year-long health problems that impeded me significantly for a few years I did not need to repeat classes. My father was a member of the communist party and of Peoples Militia, and he was working class. This was considered a good thing in my yearly evaluations and was always mentioned together with my good notes. However one of my uncles was a political dissident who has emigrated to USA and was in the employ of US government. This was considered a bad thing although I was never told this and I only learned about this later on. Further, by a twist of destiny, my father, the communist, was the only one from the family who remained on good terms with his dissident brother. So there was always a big question mark about my future education and whether I will be allowed to pursue either my love of science or my passion for painting.

The regime seems to have had some sort of poorly thought out and poorly formulated concept of hereditary sin. Children and even grandchildren of aristocrats or bourgeois or anyone really even remotely related to dissidents were treated as a threat and were put under close scrutiny. As I grew older I learned about this and I have tried to understand it but I never did. It did not make any logical sense to deny someone higher education just because their grandfather was a bourgeois factory owner. They are not factory owner, they live in this wonderful socialist country where everyone is equal just like everyone else. They did not do anything wrong, their grandfather did. Where is the logic in this?

That way I learned there is another iron curtain in addition to the corporeal one in the forests. An invisible social barrier creating a tangled maze nearly impossible to navigate, because the rules were never clear and were subject to the whims of the powers that be. There was only one sure way to higher education, and that was being a relative of a high party affiliate. Everyone else could be denied for reasons they will never fully learn.

Luckily for me when I was a the end of elementary school, the regime fell and the Iron Curtain was torn down. And with it fell the artificial barriers that might prevent me from getting adequate education. There were other barriers still and new ones emerged, but that is a different story.


  1. DonDueed says

    You chose a good time to be born, it would seem. I’m glad you weren’t denied your education (unless the “different story” includes that sad chapter too).

  2. voyager says

    That’s really interesting Charly. Here, in the west, we thought that anyone with aptitude would be provided an education by the Soviets. I was actually envious because my family could not afford to send me for higher education. We misunderstood so much about communism.

  3. rq says

    That way I learned there is another iron curtain in addition to the corporeal one in the forests. An invisible social barrier creating a tangled maze nearly impossible to navigate, because the rules were never clear and were subject to the whims of the powers that be.

    For many people, this invisible barrier has never actually come down. There’s just a lot more confusion (not entirely the correct term but general drift) about who the rightful powers that be are.
    There’s a quote, I forget by whom and I forget the exact wording, about how it’s easy to be born too soon or too late, but it takes a great deal of effort to be born in the right time and the right place (I mean, that’s the general idea of it). While it’s not meant literally, the first time I read it, it made me think a lot about the time period I was born and, really, how I (for some definition of ‘I’) could have been living in a very different time and place.
    In other words, I am also glad you got the education you so thoroughly deserve, and I hope many of your contemporaries had that same opportunity that they would not have had before.

  4. secondtofirstworld says

    It is, again, a well written account, yet I still have to disagree with its last paragraph, calling later hurdles a different story, when in fact it isn’t really one, and I don’t mean student loans or the limited access to stipends.

    The reason Eastern Europe is filled to the brim with very flawed democracies is because said nations lack strong reflexes attributed to democracy and how they’re to be protected. Once the majority lens is taken away from the picture, the metaphorical hole burnt into it by the Sun is the story of minorities. While true that the Marxist Leninist methods were abolished, said societies did not take long to marginalize people with renewed fervor. It’s well documented that while the Tuskegee Experiments were underway, the same forced fertilization was performed on gypsy women, and their kids have regularly only received education through schools reserved for the mentally handicapped. A practice only modified after the countries apply for membership to the EU.

    The refugee crisis hit the region’s xenophobia hard as it stems from wishing to rid themselves from perceived “undesirable elements”. The actual winners of the cold war’s end are companies close to American conservatives and religious organizations as any policy they wish to implement back home can be tested out in the former Eastern Bloc, and usually the people eat them up as they did with Soviet socialism. As long as the drive doesn’t fade out that inspires voters to follow a strong (but utter populist) leader, the curtain refuses to be called.

  5. says

    Please note that this is a part of ongoing series that begun mere three weeks ago. You are taking an issue with things that I did not mention. Has it occured to you that I may plan to mention them in future articles (like the racism, where, I think, you meant forced sterilization, not fertilization)? No article ever can cover absolutely all conceivable angles in one go. That is why it is an ongoing series not a finished and published book.

    Not to mention the short disclaimer at the beginning of each article. This series covers my experiences behind the iron curtain. After I am done with it for lack of further ideas and if Caine still needs help with content I might perhaps start another one about what followed after its fall. Or not.

  6. says

    I like all your posts, Charly, and I hope you’ll keep doing them a long time. Can’t speak for anyone else, but I learn a lot too, and the learning is easier because it’s from your personal perspective. I always find it much easier to relate to personal experiences, rather than an attempt at objective big picture.

  7. says


    This is Charly’s thread, and he can deal with commenters as he chooses. As you’re on the new side here, you should be aware of the one rule at Affinity: Don’t be an asshole. I don’t much care for your left-handed compliment crap, so watch yourself. If you’re so damn certain your point of view is perfect, go blog about it somewhere.

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