YouTube Video: What Has The EU Ever Done For Us?

We did not have any posts about the Brexit debacle, did we? A lot of the points in this video could also be applied to CZ (and we have idiots here aplenty who advocate for “Czexit” which would be even more suicidal for us than Brexit is for UK)

 

I agree with the gist of the video, which can be summed up thus: All the good things the EU makes for us here in Europe go under the radar of the media, and as a consequence under the radar of most people. Failures and mistakes are highlighted, successes and benefits are taken for granted.

I like the most the point that we, in Europe, experience the longest peace in history. We do not know what war is, for almost three generations by now in some countries. If the EU had achieved nothing else, that one thing is huge.

Slavic Saturday

Slavic people are today mostly seen as “white” to the point that a Polish game developer was in USA criticised for making the computer game Witcher 3 without any people of color that could be recognized as such in modern world. Similarly a few years later a Czech developer was criticised for the same thing in a game Kingdom Come: Deliverance, deliberately set in medieval Bohemia and made as historically accurate as possible.

Whilst I understand all the arguments for the importance of diversity in representation, I think all these critiques were misguided, because they were targeted at the wrong target – they criticised products of one culture from the perspective of another culture with entirely different roots.

Slavs are indeed white when you look at the color of their skin, and by Gob do we have an awful lot of white supremacists and neo-nazis today. However a white nationalist or even a neo-nazi Slav makes about as much sense as white nationalist or neo-nazi (or Trump loving) Jew.  After all, Jews have white skin too. And after all, how many Jew-hating Arabs and Arab-hating Jews know that both Jews and Arabs are in fact semitic tribes? I would venture a guess that many do not, or they do but don’t care. People are perfectly capable of being misguided, misinformed, bigoted and downright willfully ignorant and hold contradictory ideas in one head, so there is that.

Historically Slavs migrated in the Europe from east and north, displacing come celtic and germanic populations. As a result they lived mostly in the woodlands and mountains of north, central and East Europe and they were comparatively poor. They had no written language that we know of, so very little is in fact known about their culture or religion. Some knowledge can be derived from linguistics, some from written reports by neighbouring nations, some from archeology, but Slavs established themselves in Europe during the dark ages and knowledge is therefore scarce.

However it is sometimes alleged that their own name for themselves – Slovan (originating from the word sloviť=to speak) might have been the origin of the word sclavus (Lat), and later on Sklave (Ger) and  slave (En) . Because these poor people were popular sources of cheap slave labor for neighbouring Germanic and Italic tribes through the early history of Europe way over to the Ottoman Empire in Middle East later on.

And even apart from slavery, a lot of the time right from Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages until very recently most Slavic nations were second-class citizens in countries led by people of other nationalities. Only Russians have managed to be oppressors and not oppressed in this period, and ironically they mostly oppressed and sometimes even tried to exterminate other Slavs. Both Czechs and Poles did not have any independency right until the end of WW1, after which they had few short decades to get the taste of self-determination before being swept into the bloody cauldron of WW2.

Under the Third Reich the Slavs were seen as barely people. They were not targeted for outright extermination like Jews and Roma, but the intent was to put them back into their proper place – slavery (that is why I think that a neo-nazi Slav is an ignoramus and a completely daft person – if nazis got their way, he would think scrubbing floors with his own toothbrush is a posh job).

After the WW2 all slavic nations ended up being wrapped behind the Iron Curtain under the not-so subtle hegemony of USSR. This time at least it was not overtly attempted to obliterate local cultures and languages (not here anyway). But whilst the Russian rule did try and manage to instill some sense of Pan-Slavic belonging, they also managed to instill some anti russian sentiments along the way (in Poland on top of the hundreds of years long grudge Poles held against Russians from the time of the Russian Empire). And the sense of always being second class, not being allowed anything truly ours, pervaded.

In this sense, sprouting of some nationalism after the fall of the Iron Curtain was perhaps inevitable, what with the nations trying to finally re-assert themselves for good. I do think white nationalists are going about the business the wrong way, proclaiming your superiority over others is not the right thing to do and it is also demonstrably false. But I also think that Polish game developers who make a PC game packed with people who bear the typical facial features of contemporary Poles, with architecture and ornaments of medieval Slavic kingdoms and based on Slavic mythology, or Czech game developers making a game set in a very distinct and specific area of medieval Kingdom of Bohemia with focus on historical accuracy are doing nothing wrong and are indeed going about it the right way. And even though these works of art have managed to succeed on an international stage, their creators were in no way obliged to fall in step with USA culture and reflect USA racial make-up.

Those who criticised these two games for a lack of representation of POC have failed to realize that they were essentially trying to bully others into giving their own culture away and let the USA to appropriate said culture the way USA likes it. In fact, they should take these games as an opportunity to learn that “white people” are not a monolith and that outside of USA there is a lot more that defines your ancestry and your culture than the color of your skin. This way said critics were – probably unwittingly – perpetuating the USA collonialism ad absurdum, by requiring everyone everywhere to reflect contemporary social ills of USA.

We do not need nor want to do that, thank you very much. We have our own social ills to deal with.

Maybe he should have grabbed her by the pussy instead?

By now you have probably heard of The Incident. Depending on whether you’re a decent human being or a Republican, the actual incident is that the White House tried to forcefully remove the mic of a journalist because they didn’t like what he said and then banned him from the White House, or the real incident is Jim Acosta “laying his hands” on a young intern (who is, by pure coincidence female, white, young and pretty).

Sarah Sanders has tweeted about it several times, stressing the “disrespect” towards the “young woman” and “young women” working in the administration, mimicking feminist language and concerns for the treatment of (young) (professional) women at the hands of older men.

She also shared a clip showing him making a “chopping motion” towards her arm. Only that the video came straight from Infowars (and we all know how much those people care about women) and has a few curious differences to the original:

The intern’s reach for the mic is slowed down, and the “chop” motion is accelerated. Here’s an annotated side by side comparison:

Further analysis: video is absolutely doctored. You can see the edit when the clips are side by side and slowed down to quarter speed. See for yourself:

 The dishonesty of the Trump Administration knows no limits, as shown again, but let me make one thing clear: Even if Acosta had made a “chopping motion” he wouldn’t be the one who’s wrong here. He was talking, she tried to physically remove the mic, very eager to please her betters. She was the one making aggressive moves towards him. And also: fuck you, white women who sell out on basically everybody to lick spittle and get the rewards of being the chill girls of the Trump Administration. You work hard to remove women’s* right to their own bodies. You work double time to disenfranchise black women. You work extra time to rip babies out of their mothers’ arms and lock them in cages. And you all work for a man who is proud of sexually assaulting women. You don’t get to talk about respectful treatment of women.
*and others capable of gestation.

There are None so Blind…

When asked about the latest (unfortunately not last) mass shooting in USA, sheriff Geoff Dean said these words: “I don’t know if it happens more in the United States or doesn’t. I would have to read the stats.”

If that is the case, he must have lived in a cave. I wonder if he is telling the truth here, or if he is just feigning ignorance, because to find out that mass shootings are predominantly USA phenomenon takes less than a minute on google.

Further he states “If I knew the answer to that, I would do something to stop it.”, which is also bullshit. It is blatantly obvious that the easy availability of firearms in USA in combination with its violence-glorifying culture leads to this discrepancy, and anyone who takes just a few seconds to think about it honestly knows that.

But the sad truth is that this sheriff could not have done anything about it even if he honestly wanted to, because there is no legislative will in USA to enact sensible gun regulation laws for him to act on. And with SCOTUS packed with partisan conservative judges, I fear that current pace of a mass shooting nearly every day  will be the defining feature of American culture for decades to come.

Well, at least in this regard”USA #1!”, a slogan so beloved by MAGAhats is true. Only it is not a good thing.

How Typically American

So White House has published a pamphlet about the evils of socialism. I have not read it in full and I probably won’t since I have better things to do with my life than to read drivel from Trump administration, but on casual glance it seems to insinuate that the disastrous attempt at socialism in former Soviet bloc invalidates everything with the word root “social” in it. Therefore since badly implemented socialism in Ukraine has led to famine in 1921, “socialism” in EU in 2018 is just as bad.

That is of course complete non-sequitur.

The whole document also seems to be rather American-centric and comparing apples with pineapples, or perhaps even bananas. Like this infographic:

Whitehouse infographic about Costs of Owning a truck

Now I admit I have zero personal experience with any of the countries on that infographic except with USA.

But my experience with USA is that people there own pickup trucks in about 80% of the cases just to own them, not because they actually, really need them. I mean, I have seen them used for grocery shopping in big cities, with the deck empty and the groceries being put in a bag on the passenger seat. People commuted daily to work in them. Most owners of pickup trucks in USA could do just as well with only ordinary cars and for those rare occasions where they really, really might need something bigger (like buying building materials for house repairs etc.) the options available in for example Germany (i.e. renting a truck or goods trailer at the shop for a few days) would suffice ample. Further populations in EU are much more tightly knit than they are in USA, there are not many far-off farms and isolated homesteads that really need pickup trucks. I am not sure how this is in Nordic countries, but I still suspect that a real need for big pickup truck there is smaller than in US just due to the USA’s sheer size and wast empty places.

Thus this infographic is used either ignorantly or dishonestly to scaremonger. Or both.

As far as the economic side of the pamphlet goes, I will leave the critique to an expert who says everything better than I ever can:
Are the Danes Melancholy? Are the Swedes Sad?

On the whole I get the feeling that this pamphlet starts with the assumption that everything USA=good and everything socialism=bad and tries to spin evidence to appear to validate those assumptions.

How typically American of them, to ignore all context an only seek ways to put USA at the center of the universe. Again.

#Unteilbar

People at a demonstratiopn at night

Source: Tagesschau

Unteilbar, adjective, German: inseparable.

Sometimes, there are good news, things that give you hope. Yesterday such a thing happened. In Berlin (and other cities), people protested against racism, xenophobia and attenpts to split society along ethnic, national and religious lines, against Nazis and in favour of rescuing refugees. It was a broad alliance of parties, churches, organisations, unions prominent people*. The organisers had hoped for and registered the demonstration for 40.000 people. Those 40.000 people came and brought 200.000 more along with them.

But today there’s a general election happening in Bavaria, the Texas of Germany. Let’s see what happens there.

 

*The conservative party explicitly did not support it because of “radical left wing organisations”, which they’ll keep complaining about until the moment they themselves will be prohibited as such.

Teacher’s Corner: I hate parents

Obligatory #not all parents, but if you’re one of those I don’t hate, we probably hate the same people.

I basically have two types of special needs kids: kids with learning difficulties and kids with socio-emotional difficulties. The later group can basically be divided into three groups: kids whose issues stem from their environment and past, kids whose issues are medical (ADHS, autism spectrum, …) and both. Which is why I hate parents.

With this new system of inclusive teaching we can do a lot for these kids. We can give them leeway in a way that wasn’t possible, often with me acting as a calming influence, taking them out of the context that is causing the conflict, spending the time somewhere else. Some kids write their tests alone with me in a room because for them it’s important to keep talking. That way they don’t disturb their classmates and don’t have to waste their energy on keeping quiet.

Those things are great, but they are only ONE part of a complex issue. I am not a psychiatrist, I cannot prescribe drugs. I’m not a therapist, I cannot do behavioural therapies or talk therapies or whatever*. And most importantly, I cannot change their homes. Some parents will simply refuse to see how big their kid’s issues are. We’ve got one mother who is convinced that her son is a little genius. He scored 122 points in one subtest of an IQ test! Sure, he refused the parts where he was expecting to perform poorly, and even if you believe in IQ tests, 122 isn’t exactly a genius, especially not when it’s that one peak. She therefore firmly believes that her son isn’t actually a kid with the emotional development of a three year old who is still suffering from the abuse that happened to him as a three year old. Her son is just way too smart for us and plays with us. She also believes that she can tell us how to run the school. Charming.

Another mother’s hobby is to threaten the teacher, because her darling innocent boy whom I saw chasing another kid through the school building and had to physically prevent from hurting that kid badly is being unfairly picked on.

And then there are the ones who simply don’t care. You implement checklists, systems with rewards, you write into their homework notebooks like every day and they will simply ignore it. The kid hasn’t had a pen to write with for 3 weeks? Who cares?**

All of this makes me very angry. Not because it’s exhausting to deal with those kids. It is, but I get paid for it and in the afternoon I go home. I’m angry because when those kids go home nothing has changed for them. Their chances are getting smaller with every day they’re not getting the support they need and that their parents are denying them, and our hands are bound because without the parents we can’t even get the school psychologist to talk to the kid. And it makes me even more angry when I see how their peers are doing who are getting that support. Surprisingly, often those kids do best who are in group homes because their responsible adults can deal with all of that without having their own lives and decisions challenged. I just wished that parents would leave their own vanity at the door and work for the good of their kids as well.

*Though a big part is actually listening.

 

**Yes, I know many parents in our school are poor. But just giving the kid a bottle of water to drink instead of a soda would both free enough money for a dozen pens a month and do the kid some good.

Why Did You not Try to Stay in USA?

As readers of Affinity know, I was growing up until 13 years of age in a totalitarian state with little real autonomy, an effective satellite of USSR. I also grew up in a poor family so it was a bit of an uphill financial struggle for me to get a university education.

Towards the end of my education I had to decide how to actually start my independence and one of the options that presented themselves in 2000 was to go to USA with a “Work And Travel” program and J1 visa. I might write about my American adventure maybe some more later, today I wish to only briefly discuss the question in the title, which in various forms was posited to me in later years from many people here, old as well as young.

Even before venturing to USA I was of the opinion that it is a proto-fascist state and my opinion was further solidified by my experiences there.

So my answers at that time were these four points:

  1. Crappy healthcare. I have met ordinary people fearing that a simple case of flu might send them down the spiral of personal bankruptcy. I have seen outrageous prices for one course of antibiotics. I knew that USA had, in contrast to European countries, no universal healthcare, but seeing it first hand was a real eye opener. Fear of loosing even the crappy health insurance provided by the employer kept many people in essential slavery, when the were putting up with blatant abuse by their managers. For my friends I summed this argument up as “if I have grown up in USA, I would not live to become an adult, because my parents would not be able to pay for the medication I needed”.
  2. Crappy education. I have already mentioned that for me to get a university education was an uphill struggle. I was not bad student, but I am not so intelligent as to be able to study and work (not to mention that job availability was not that great – unemployment rate 8%), so I had only negligible income and I had to rely on my parents, which was hard – I had to live by with about 100,-$ a month to pay for my lodgings, food, books etc. For my friends I summed this argument up as “in USA I would not get a university degree, because even without tuition fees it was not cheap and with tuition fees it would be ruinous”.
  3. The mony that I made n USA was worthless there, it only had worth here because of the very favourable exchange rate. In US, the measly 5.50$/h were to barely live by – even though as a student I was tax exempt. So staying in USA would mean to lock myself into perpetual poverty. I find it incredible how many of my peers with university education failed to grasp this reality, that money’s worth is contextual and 1.000,-$ monthly income in USA is shit, whilst being absolutely amazing and nearly unattainable here.  I tried to sum it up as “for the money I was making there, I could not even rent a flat. And I would be forced to do work well bellow my qualification even for that. Here, I could use it to at least repair my house.”
  4. Absolutely inane laws and judiciary process. I have always thought that outcome of a judicial case should not be decided by a bunch of barely literate amateurs and that precedent law should not still be employed in any civilised country. And what I particularly did not admire was the “sue happy” culture in USA, where people try to win the lottery by suing each other for money. And the lack of properly functional system for “ex officio” advocates for people who cannot afford to pay. I summed it up as “any time you could get sued by some idiot over some trivial thing and if they could afford better lawyer than you, you are screwed”.

And mind you, this all was in 2000. The only progress that I see from behind the Atlantic was on health care, everything else got  much worse since then. And it seems that USA is managing to drag back the rest of the world as well – in last decade or so the main American exports are jingoism and creationism.

The USA was never democracy and never free. It only managed to convince its enslaved citizens that they are free. I am entirely content with my decision to not even try to live there permanently.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 19 – Pionýr

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.


In my opinion, totalitarian regimes are very good at recognizing one crucial fact of life – it is important to reach children as soon as possible and indoctrinate them into your ideology, because later on it might not work. Throughout history of totalitarian regimes therefore are many examples of youth’s organizations whose main purpose was political.

The communist regime in former Soviet bloc was no different and the youth organization in our country was named “Pionýr” a derivative of the word pioneer, attempting to imply boldness and strength to freely explore hitherto unexplored. Where “freely” means “in the direction the party allows and if the conclusions confirm with party line”.

It started at an early age, about seven years, with a membership in “Jiskra” (spark), an organisation that was essentially preparing children for future membership in pionýr. After that, at the eight-nine years of age, the child could enter the Pionýr organization and become a full member.

Membership was confirmed by a public pledge first as Jiskra, then as Pionýr. I do not remember my Pionýr pledge, but I do remember some feelings about being overwhelmed by the Jiskra one, to the point that I still remember the first sentence of the pledge – but I had to look up the rest. I had my heart in my throat as I was standing in an auditorium in front of most of the town and piping up the pledge loud enough to be heard. I also remember that I actually believed and meant what I was saying.

Here are the translations (not trying to convey the cadence and rhyming of the originals):
Jiskra – “Slibuji dnes přede všemi, jako jiskra jasná, chci žít pro svou krásnou zemi, aby byla šťastná” – Like a bright spark I promise in front of all, that I want to live for my beautiful country so it can be happy.

Pionýr: “Slibuji před svými druhy, že budu pracovat, učit se a žít podle pionýrských zákonů, abych byl dobrým občanem své milované vlasti, Československé socialistické republiky, a svým jednáním chránit čest pionýrské organizace Socialistického svazu mládeže.” – I promise in front of my comrades, that I will work, learn and live by pionýr law, in order to become good citizen of my beloved country, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and with my behaviour I promise to guard the honor of the Pionýr organization of Socialist Youth Association.

Membership in Pionýr was not compulsory. But it was not compulsory in the sense “it is voluntary, but you must”. In my class, there were a few children who were not members, and our teacher – a fanatical communist to this day – did give them some grief for that. Remember what I said about education? Not being a member of Pionýr was a huge hindrance to getting meaningful highschool education, and made it nigh impossible to get into university later on. So most children entered the organization even when privately they and their parents disagreed with the regime.

I do not remember much about what we were doing in the name of the organization as such, apart from a few summer camps to which I went, and a few marches on memorable occasions (like 1.st of May). Maybe I will remember something more later.

I still have my red scarf in the cupboard, despite not agreeing with communist philosophy. I do not know why.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 17 – Advertisements

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.


For today I had to pick a theme that is really, really short.

And there really is not much to say about this, astounding as it might sound in today’s time. Nowadays commercial advertisements are everywhere – not only on TV and in magazines, but in newspapers, on billboards along the roads, on buildings and, of course, on the internet. And from what I gather, they were very common in the West in the past too, minus the internet.

However behind the Iron Curtain, commercial advertisements were very nearly unknown. The only place I remember ever seeing them was on TV between the programs – but never in the programs. Such a thing as an advertisement in the middle of a movie or a tv-series episode was unheard of.

Another typical feature of the advertisements that I remember was that they were product-oriented, not brand oriented. Since all brands were state-owned, and all production was centrally planned, there were no brands that would compete to sell the same product. Further the advertisements were so dull, that I only remember a single one – for milk. A glass of milk stood on a table, a man walks up to it, drinks it, and puts the empty glass back to a background of singing chorus “For your beauty and your health. What? Of course milk, milk, milk!”

Where I live we did pick up West German TV, so we knew that things look differently over there, but not knowing German, we did not know how different they are and what lies in store for us. This is one of the rare instances when I think that the “good ol’ times” actually were, you know, good.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 16 – Languages

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.


In Czech we have a saying – how many languages you know is how many times you are a human. As a grown man I do appreciate the wisdom of this saying, since language barriers are difficult to breach and in combination with other things they do lead to a lot of nasty stuff. It is for example very easy to other people whose language you do not understand and with whom you therefore cannot effectively communicate. Even with all other barriers removed, language barrier in itself can be insurmountable obstacle. And when you can and do speak with people, all other differences tend to fade away.

As a child, I did not appreciate the saying at all. My parents were trying to get me to learn German from early age, but since they are not the pushy type and I was not too receptive, it did not work out. Later at school from age 10 Russian language was compulsory. But there we hit the snag of not only another language, but another alphabet as well – for me it was difficult enough to learn writing in one alphabet and sure enough, another one was difficult even more and soon I started to write fluently but illegibly in Azbuka as well.

I do not remember whether the explanation as to why we must learn Russian was given to us as a matter of course or whether someone asked, but it was given to us nevertheless. It was argued that it is useful to know at least one widely distributed language so one can communicate with more people. And that most widely distributed languages are English, Spanish and Russian, because USSR covers one eight of inhabitable land and Russian is spoken in all other countries of the Warsaw Pact, covering most of Europe and Asia, therefore Russian is the most useful language for us of them all. Q.E.D.

You probably have spotted already the flaw in that argument, as did I – the area of inhabited land is not as important as the amount of actual people with whom you can speak using given language. But lacking further data, I have not questioned the wisdom of this and I thought that it is a valid argument at the time. So I plodded on with difficulties trying to learn Russian, torturing my teacher in turn as much as she tortured me.

However it did not take long to learn how untrue this argument is in real life. It started when I saw how difficult it was for children to get help with homework in Russian language. Nobody could read it and nobody understood it much, despite the fact that they all learned it in school. That way I learned that actual use of Russian among ordinary people was so minimal that most of them forgot most of it as soon as they left the school. Second observation was when I was at a summer camp in German Democratic Republic. We were allowed to have some pocket-money and to do some shopping. Hooray! We are in a foreign country, but people here learned Russian in school, therefore we will be able to communicate with them! And to this day I remember the totally blank expression of a quite young shopkeeper when I told her that I would like to buy that aeroplane model of – (I forgot the exact type) and I had to resort to pointing and grunting instead. Huh, so much for that argument then.

By the time my elementary school education was nearing its end, I was convinced of two things – first was that I am hopeless at learning other languages and I hate it. Second was that learning foreign languages is nearly useless.

For the second conviction I actually had some solid data at the time – the Iron Curtain was an effective barrier going anywhere west of my home, making any need to understand people living there moot. And from experience I knew that even if I manage to get to some of the other eastern countries, Russian will be of nearly zero use.

To this day my generation and those older are still the least language-savvy generations in our country. And the country as a whole has therefore still abysmal proficiency in other languages, as well as in many other former east bloc countries. The Iron Curtain persists in this form, still fostering xenophobia and bigotry. A reminder that a regime change is not enough.

Voracious Lapse

Kreator has sent us another Roman Cura mural, this one titled Voracious Lapse. I love this artist’s work. He has such an eye for the dangerous undercurrents in society and an unflinching ability to convey fear and loathing in bright happy colours and cartoonish shapes. Kreator tells us:

A small one. Located in the wall of the Luis Yllana canteen from the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco.

Thanks for sharing Kreator.

Voracious Lapse by Roman Cura (left), ©Kreator, all rights reserved

Voracious Lapse by Roman Cura (right), ©Kreator, all rights reserved

Behind the Iron Curtain part 14 – Greyness

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.


Coincidentally my mother mentioned to me that she overheard some talk about people who emigrated from here before the fall of the Iron Curtain, and this year was the first time they visited since then. Allegedly they were speechless when they saw the town.

I find it totally believable, because independently from this I was just thinking about the same – how much the country has changed, visibly, for the better since then. Because if there is one overwhelming association that I have with the “good old times” as some people insist calling them, it is an overwhelming sense of dullness, and not because we mostly have black and white photographs and movies from that era.

Today people are used to simply go and buy things they need. Want to plant flowers in your front yard? Well, you can buy them! Want to paint house bright yellow? Well, buy the paint! That was not always the case. I have already mentioned the scarcity of even some basic goods. And those that were available, were often (not always) of questionable quality, because high quality goods were exported to the west so the regime can actually make some money to run itself.

So most buildings were grey on the outside, no matter whether public or private. Not that it was always intended to be grey – privately people did sometimes at least whitewash the walls, and public buildings occasionally had some not very bright pigmentation in the plaster. But no matter what one did, in a few years time it has turned grey-ish due to the ever-present air pollution and dust. So many people, and most of public projects, did not bother and the favourite finish for facades became so-called brizolit, cheap, durable, low-maintenance and, above all, dull and grey.

Private house owners did what they could at least with the gardens – sometimes. It took real dedication for years to build, for example, rock garden, like one of my aunts had. But even the flowers could not fight against dirt and their bright colours did not last for more than a few days at best. And getting new varieties or replacing dead plants required connections, because, you guessed it, you could not simply go and buy a rhododendron to plant whenever the fancy took you, even if you had the money.

So only houses of those really well-off, well connected, those unscrupulous and those extremely dedicated looked somewhat-fancy at least some of the time.

However as a child I did not know anything else, so I thought this is how it is supposed to be. This is normal. It was only much later, shortly after the Iron Curtain fell, when I had an opportunity to cross the border to Germany and visit the town where I now work. The contrast was incredible. Every garden neatly kept, mostly with at least some decorative shrubbery and a patch of flowers. Facades also well maintained, brightly painted, with whites white, greens green and reds red. Even the macadam streets looked cleaner and it is hard for a road to look clean.

The Iron curtain has really managed only to make the whole country look poor and rather mediocre at its best. The black and white photographs are sometimes actualy an improvement over the real thing.