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.
Today it seems like protecting the nature has become a leftist issue, and raping and pillaging it is the modus operandi of the right. This amuses me slightly, because the “left” that I grew up with was very different.
Unofficial motto of communist regime was “Poručíme větru, dešti.”. Translated into English “We shall take command of the winds and the rain.”. Humans were central to any policy and it was seen as imperative to take total control of nature and shape it to our needs and wants. In retrospect, some of it resembled christian ideas about humans being given dominion over the Earth.
One of the environmental abominations the communists did whose damage pays heavy dividends these last dry years had three steps.
First was connecting the by then relatively small fields divided by boundaries of bushes and small trees into vast fields. Second was to drain as many marshes and wetlands as possible so they can be ploughed by heavy machinery. Third was to straighten as many rivers and creeks as possible.
The negative consequences were visible within a few years but despite that these things were, to my memory, touted as a sucesses to the very end.
And those consequences?
Destroying the bush covered boundaries admittedly reduced slightly the occurrence of some infections affecting crops (especially the grass rust), and some insects. However it also drastically reduced the birds populations by depriving them of nesting places, and it exposed the soil in the spring and fall to heavy wind and water erosion. That took a few decades to be visible with naked eye, but today there are fields in CZ that have patches completely stripped of all topsoil.
Draining marshes and wetlands brought near to nothing to increase crop production. Thusly gained soil when dried was heavy infertile clay that did not want to take in water from rain and where nothing very much grew. The only things that seemed to prosper there were pioneering plants like birches and chamomile. What was lost almost immediately were multiple species of orchids and other wetland plants, many of which became endangered as a result and to this day grow only in few areas.
Straightening the creeks and rivers was perhaps the most damaging of these all. Together with the first two steps it created a landscape where water retention capabilities of the land are damaged beyond repair. Today we are seeing the consequences in the form of droughts and subsequent flash floods when rain water does not seep into soil, but flows away as quickly as possible across the uninterrupted fields and through the straightened water-bed. Oh, and salmon are mostly gone too.
Anther thing to consider is the regime’s contribution to acid rains and global warming, which were both acknowledged as real and both ignored on grand scale. In school we were taught that the success of a state can be measured in the tonnage of coal mined and steel produced. So coal was mined and steel produced even at a time when western European countries already realized that this is not the right way to go. And this was touted as an example of our magnanimous socialist countries outperforming those dumb evil capitalists.
Our (CZ) coal power plants burned sulphur rich coal and made no effort to filter out the sulphur oxides and fly ash even at a time when in neighbouring Germany many, if not all, such plants have been equipped with both sulphur and fly ash capture. Thus when the wind was blowing from the west, the air was fresh, when it was blowing from the east, it was foul. In a rare occurrence these facts were mentioned at school to us and I have asked the teacher why our coal plants are not equipped with the same devices. surprisingly I got what probably was an honest answer – it is expensive and our state cannot afford it. I did not ask further but I do remember the dissonance I felt thinking about it – we are outperforming those evil capitalists yet we cannot afford to protect our environment like they co?
Last thing I want to mention is the protection of animals against abuse. There was none. As a child I have read an article about this in one children magazine my parents were buying to me. The author somehow got through censors very sincere article talking about this problem, and demonstrated how wild as well as domestic animals are being abused and tortured on regular basis. He mentioned an instance where some state representative was asked why the regime does not try to enact such laws which again were common in many western countries at that time. The answer was “Socialist human does not need laws to be kind to animals.”. The author of the article finished with bitter words “Well, it is evident not everyone deserves to be called (not only) socialist.”.
The problem, like with many other things, was that whatever the regime has decided to do or not to do was correct by definition. The regime had all the smartest people, the bestest people, and was in possession of all the answers. Evidence was only acknowledged when it could not be ignored anymore, and even then very reluctantly. Remind you of something/one?
That made me wary of anyone who claims to have all answers.