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.
A little cross-over with Slavic Saturday today, because it is not a coincidence that majority of the nations behind the Iron Curtain were Slavic nations. It was a direct consequence of history.
In early middle ages many Slavic nations were fairly influential – both Czechs and Poles were at the center of big kingdoms and even empires. As time went however, this changed and virtually all Slavic nations but one (Russians) were conquered and incorporated into empires and kingdoms ruled by other nationalities – German-speaking nations in the central and northern west Europe, Ottomans in the South and Russians in the east and north-east. The minority Slavic nations were treated poorly, to say the least, and some groups were slowly essentially absorbed by majority into non-existence. That is why there is no Polabian language today. In my country, Habsburgs attempted over these centuries to germanize Czechs in the same way and to eliminate Czech language altogether.
This has obviously failed and one of the reasons was so-called Czech national revival in nineteenth century. This was active political movement in Bohemia, aimed at what it says in the name – revival and preservation of Czech culture and Czech language. To this day some commonly used Czech words still have germanic origin, but some such words were replaced by artificial neologisms that were crafted by activists during this period and were good enough to take hold among the general populace.
In this period in time the so-called Panslavic Movement started, an active attempt to make Slavs stick together around shared identity. After all, “Slav” originates in essence from “he who speaks as I do”. The movement did and did not take off at the same time. It was and remained for long big sentiment in Czech and Slovak speaking lands, but not among Poles. Why is this? Because the movement was quickly dominated by Russia and there were many who advocated for all Slavs attempting to get under Russian leadership. But among the many Slavic nations, Poled had first-hand, centuries long experience with being ruled by Russians and they knew that they are not better off than Czechs under German rule and that voluntary russification is not the way to go.
But some sentiments took hold among the populace and when Communists took hold of power after WWII outside of Russia, the panslavic idea was incorporated into the party ideology. It was one of the reasons why Russian language was compulsively taught in all states behind the Iron Curtain, and the idea of Panslavism was part of school curriculum even towards the end of the regime short before its fall.
Today, when you look under some succesful video on YouTube made by someone of Slavic origin (like the video I shared before) you will find comments that can be interpreted as some expression of lingering panslavic sentiments in there. And as you might guess – correctly – there is some of this sentiment in me too.
But overall I think my yesterday’s post demonstrates clearly that the idea of Panslavism did not take very strong hold overall. The diversity among Slavs today is really, really big. For example on religion alone – there are Slavic nations that are predominantly Catholic, nations that are Orthodox Christian, nations that are Muslims and at least one nation which is decidedly Not Giving a Fuckist. And many of those nations tie their national identity strongly together with their religious identity which makes it hard to feel common bond with those whose religion is significantly different. Language similarities, even as big as between Czechs and Slovaks, are just not enough to build a strong common bond artificially after centuries of cultural divergence.
And thus when the last attempt to tie this identity together with political ideology of authoritarian communism failed, so did Panslavism fade into insignificance. The Iron Curtain was not strong enough to keep people apart. Unfortunately it was thus because it also was not good enough to keep them willingly together.