Behind the Iron Curtain part 9 – Shops and Services

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.

After the WW2 the regime, under the lead of Stalin, had no thought of anything other than preparing for WW3. So after communists took power in a de-facto putsch in 1948, they invested all effort into re-building heavy industries and nothing else. And, at direct order from Stalin, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic refused any offers of help from USA and their western allies.

This was, as many other things, idiocy of first water. The economy as a whole was doing relatively well, with people being employed in the heavy industries. The main support of the communist party, the labourers, were making good money. The problem was they had nothing to spend it on. There was barely enough food to buy and nearly no luxury or comfort items, because light industries were deemed secondary and therefore not important and no effort was made to restore them after the war. And the iron curtain prevented importing goods in any meaningful amounts.

But people do not work like that, they want not only to barely survive on bread and water, they want savoury things, shiny things and pretty things too. Just feeding them enough so they do not starve is not enough. Hard work has to be rewarded with something more tangible than a pat on the shoulder and a word about how you contribute to the common good.

The regimes way to deal with the situation was to artificially devaluate the currency and thus effectively steal people’s money in 1953. It was touted as a final blow to the exploiters, the last remaining self-employed artisans and land owners, but the hardest hit was on the labourers. Before they had money but nothing to spend them on, but they had a hope of spending it someday. Now they had nothing.

Riots ensued that were drowned in blood. The propaganda tried to spin those riots as a work of infiltrators and foreign agents provocateurs, but it did not work. The regime has lost the trust of its main supporting class – the labourers. And it never regained it.

In reaction to this, some effort was made to provide people with things they want. It was succesful enough to prevent further riots, but not enough to regain the trust of people.

At the time of my life the situation was not as dire as it was in the fifties, but it was still pretty glum. Buying something was very difficult, even if you had the money for it. Not only luxury items like colour TVs were difficult to obtain, but even many ordinary items, like materials to do house repairs. For cars there were waiting lists.

This has led to a few main things.

One day when I was visiting my aunt in Pilsen we went shopping in a big shopping center. A huge shopping mall with half-empty shelves that nevertheless to me seemed full because I knew nothing better. My aunt saw the shopkeeper to sell a lipstick to a woman who was apparently her acquaintance and she wanted to buy the lipstick too. The retailer told her there aren’t any, to which my aunt replied, rather angrily, “Do not lie to me, I saw you to put the whole box under the counter”. This was my first meeting the concept of “under the counter goods”. Those were items that were so rare, that shopkeepers actually kept them hidden from the general public in order to either keep them for themselves or for their closest friends. If one wanted bananas or oranges, without a relative in the shop it was difficult to get either.

At another time and place I was talking with a friend of mine from school about a little experiment I wanted to do and I sighed, “I need magnets, but no shop around here sells them.” to which his incredulous reply was “Why don’t you steal them simply from school?”. To which I, equally incredulously, replied “I do not need them as much as to steal them!”. This was my first encounter of the concept “who does not steal from the state, steals from their own family”. For honest people it was nigh impossible to obtain some even quite ordinary goods, because they either never reached the public counters or were quickly sold out when they did. So it was quite common thing to steal for example building materials from public spaces. Who did not steal, did not prosper. Part of the reason why our house fell in such serious disrepair was that my parents did not steal.∗

But not only goods were hard to come by. Labour was difficult to get too. Need a house repaired or built? You better had a friend who is a builder. Not only would he be able to steal the materials you need, but he might also be able to make a lot of the work at the time when he is supposed to work for his employer. This in combination with previously mentioned slacking has exacerbated the labour shortage that was an ever-present theme. “There is not enough people” was the commonest explanation for why nothing works as it should be and work does not get done on time. You need some minor house repairs? You better do them yourself. If you cannot do them yourself, you are in bad luck, because “There is not enough people”.

For those who had occasionally got their hands on foreign currency, like German Marks, or US Dollars, or special secondary currency called “Bony”, there were specialised shops called “Tuzex” where imported western goods could be bought. These were highly sought after and a sign of social status. Jeans and Lego for example could not be bought anywhere else. But the regime did its best to prevent ordinary people from getting their hands on these currencies, they were reserved for the elite. So of course black market emerged. The proprietors were called “Vekslák” (probably from german “wechseln” – exchange) and were the official villains for the regime, by encouraging people in the following their base instinct to follow their own good instead of sacrificing it on the altar of the common good.

The iron curtain in this regard demonstrated where extreme isolationism, protectionism and one-sided economy leads – corruption and criminality. A lesson worthy of remembering,  yet nobody seems to remember it.

∗ Since my mother was a head of local food shop and my father was a factory foreman, people had difficulty to believe that they did not use their positions to enrich herself. There were rumours about us only pretending to be poor and how we have a car hidden i the garden shed and loads of money stashed away. After the fall of the iron curtain my parents were frequently asked why they do not start their own business or invest money. Nobody believed them for years when they said that they are not rich.

But they did use their positions to get some advantage. We always had some of the scarce goods. One of such goods were canned tangerines, those were so rare that actual fights broke out when they got into the shop. So when we wanted to buy color TV, my mother bought a whole box of canned tangerines  in order to sell them to the electronics shop keeper in the district main town who in turn held the TV under the counter for a few weeks until my parents could organize transport.

I succumbed to the peer pressure and I stole a piece of steel from school when I first wanted to make a knife. The knife was never made, because I have hidden the steel bar in a drawer and never used it. It gnawed at my conscience. I failed to internalize the imperative “who does not steal from the state, steals from their own family”.


TNET 16: A Wee Bit Crowded.

Map created by Reddit user iBleeedorange.

The map above supposedly shows all the public saunas in Finland.

According to Statistics Finland, the total number of saunas was estimated to be over 2 million at the end of 2016 out of a population of just 5.5 million people.

Via Brilliant Maps. Open thread, don’t be an asshole. Thanks. Previous Thread.

TNET 15: Fox and the Whale.

Fox And The Whale from robin joseph on Vimeo.

Fox And The Whale is an independently produced and self-financed Animated Short Film. The film was shortlisted for the 90th Oscars and is a nominee for the 2018 Canadian Screen Awards. If you are interested in supporting you can buy the Art of book & film package here

Open Thread. Don’t be an asshole. Thanks. Previous Thread.

Hanging by a thread, from the lunatic fringe.

© Brett Lamb.

We have CNS News editor-in-chief Terry Jeffrey and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, having a chat about this net neutrality business. Like most of the altwhatthefuckever, they are thrilled by the rollback. Their little discussion runs off onto quite the side road…

Yesterday on “Washington Watch,” Jeffrey joined host and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins to discuss why he believed rolling back net neutrality rules was a good decision.  Like many of his right-wing counterparts, Jeffrey argued that net neutrality never really existed because tech giants like Facebook and Twitter have suppressed conservative voices. He went on to draw out an analogy to self-driving cars.

Okay, all of you fucking idiots out there – net neutrality is not about your personal sense of persecution. People will still be able to shun you. They’ll still be able to ban you. That would be because no one likes you. Go eat worms.

“This may seem an odd comparison, but I think it’s a real one, that we’re moving, Tony, toward automated cars, for example. And in the regulatory world, there’s the debate over how they’re going to regulate these automated vehicles. But you can imagine the control over our lives the government would have if they could remotely control our vehicles, which they may in fact someday be able to do and I think we have to think about that,” Jeffrey said.

“It doesn’t get discussed a lot but it’s going to happen,” Jeffrey said. “Down the road at some point automobiles are going to be automated and someone is going to be in control of the infrastructure that directs how those automobiles move.”

Jeffrey then painted a scenario where the government takes control of self-driving cars to prevent anti-choice activists from being able to transport themselves to protests.

“Imagine that the government is doing something outrageous like legalizing the killing of unborn babies and a lot of people want to go down to the Washington Mall one day a year and make it known they’re sticking up to the right for life, but the only way they can get through to that Mall is by getting on a transportation system that’s controlled by the government,” Jeffrey said.

Last time I looked, Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land, which means abortion is legal. Supposedly. As for the rest of your moronic scenario, Mr. Jeffrey, what is it we have now? There’s no governmental oversight of roads; there’s no licensing system for driving; there’s no speed limit; there are no regulations in place concerning automobiles; no one regulates trains, planes, subways, or traffic, and so on, right? Right? Oh, wait. Yes, there’s a fucktonne of regulation in regard to transport, that’s why transportation has its very own department in the government! Golly, guess you learn something new every day, don’t ya, fellas? So far, transportation systems don’t seem to have interfered with you nosy, judgmental assholes in the least.  Pity.

And then we have self-styled “prophet” Sundar Selvaraj, who is still on Jim Bakker’s show, who has come up with quite the tidbit:

Selvaraj recounted how, a few years ago, “the Lord Jesus appeared to me about the False Prophet who is mentioned in Revelation, chapter 13 and then very simply and very clearly he said, ‘The present Pope Francis is the prophesied False Prophet.’ And then he went on explaining to me the many things the false prophet will do, and then later on, I did some research and I found that whatever the Lord Jesus told me what what exactly Pope Francis has already begun to do.”

Selvaraj said that on the day that Pope Francis met with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli president Shimon Peres in 2014, “a meteor flew very close by earth and NASA nicknamed the meteor ‘The Beast.’ So that confirmed what the Lord revealed, that the False Prophet—the beast that is mentioned in Revelation 13—is the Pope.”

So, NASA has confirmed Selvaraj, who confirms Jehovah, who confirms that Pope Francis will lead the world into worship of the antichrist, if that lazy dude ever shows up. If Lance Wallnau hears about this, it just might wreck his little crush on Steve Bannon.

Via RWW: Oooh Scary Cars of the Future!  The Pope is Evil, a Meteor Said So!