At the Museum of Communism

by the Night Writer

Museum of CommunismI saw this museum advertised the first day we were in Prague and made a note to see it while we were here. I loved the poster, for one thing. It came down to our last weekend and I realized we still needed to go, so we set out. I have to say it is one of the most affecting places I’ve visited over here.

The Czechs are not known for their sense of humor, but it can be found, such as their placing this museum in the same building as a McDonald’s, next to a casino, and across the street from Benetton. There are also some rather rude jokes at the expense of the Russians and Communism in the gift shop, but the museum itself is serious. One might even say, “deadly serious.”

I could write in greater detail about my impressions, but perhaps it’s better to let the people who lived through it do it in their way. I took photos of some of the English-language placards that accompanied the photos and displays. These are also available in French, German, Czech, and several other languages for greater edification. Let’s let them tell the story.


“…authorized to issue temporary decrees enforcing laws without any approval of the parliament…” hmmm?


Targeting opponents with heinous accusations and show trials, and extravagant media campaigns.


A “shock-workers” movement to push laborers to maximum effort, and trade unions declaring that “after the victory of socialism, laborer’s wages would not be important.”


Supply and Demand? Why, there ought to be a law…


Those in power always find a way to get their luxury goods. Or their groceries.


There are no spiritual values, outside the State. There is no beauty, but what serves the State. There is no eternity…but the State. Rape, pillage and pollute the land and consequently the people; it doesn’t matter as long as the State benefits. 


A well-regulated militia?


You can’t find a more “well-regulated” militia than that: armed groups established by the government as “the fist of the labor class” to intimidate its enemies, especially the labor class. Of course, they couldn’t be trusted with bullets for their guns.

MC 9


To get a better feel for the exhibits, take the virtual tour here.

You wind your way through the rooms of the museum in what was once the Savarin Palace. The exhibits feature authentic memorabilia, though “memorabilia” is such a trifling-sounding word that implies nostalgia, and the memories here are far from fond. The last portion on your way out (before the gift shop, Comrade Lenin) is devoted to a small viewing room that plays a short film in a loop describing Czech life from the Communist takeover to the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It was called the “Velvet” Revolution because shots weren’t fired, but that does not mean it was peaceful or that the history leading up to it wasn’t bloody.

I can remember, as a kid, watching the news in 1969 as the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague to crush the “Prague Spring” and any nascent hopes of reform within the Czech Communist Party. This, too, was depicted in the film and on the wall outside the viewing room: riots, beatings, tear-gassing, armed troops and war-machines rolling over the cobblestones of Wenceslas Square that we’d come to know so well, plain-clothes agents in the crowd tackling and kicking protesters, plus accounts of three students who self-immolated in protest against Communist control.Despite the incessant cradle-to-grave indoctrination, propagandizing, intimidation and spying, the Communists couldn’t stamp out hope and a desire for freedom from such a dehumanizing existence.

Communist doctrine often referred to the “inevitability of history” and Communism’s ultimate victory, yet by the 1980s, history was clearly turning against Communism as Poland, Hungary and East Germany shook off the shackles of totalitarianism. Even so, Czechoslovakia’s escape was not a done deal. The first protest drew maybe 10,000 to Wenceslas; as the week went on the numbers grew, until finally 500,000 were crowding in every night to apply pressure and turn the tables of intimidation as they watched their one-time rulers caving in. (Velvet Revolution timeline and summary here).  Blood was still being spilled; certain claws do not release easily, after all. The film ends with a bittersweet poem and images describing how much sweeter survival is after all the bitter pain that preceded it.

As I said, it is very affecting. As we left, I stopped at the desk of the woman who had sold us our tickets. She was about my age, and would have seen 1969 and 1989, and spoke very good English. She was standing, and turned to me. “Thank you,” I said, and she responded with a small, polite smile. “And thank you to people of Prague,” I added, and received a slow, solemn nod.

You did see this coming, right?

This was one of the surest bets you could have made a year ago:

Smoking ban has apparently cut into revenue from charitable gambling
The statewide ban, which began late last year, is tied to a significant decline in bar pulltab and bingo receipts, according to a study by the State Gambling Control Board.


Affirming what American Legion hall operators and mom-and-pop bar owners had warned, a new report shows that the statewide ban on smoking enacted last year appears to have cut into charitable gambling revenues from bar game pulltabs and bingo.

Gross receipts from charitable gambling were down 12.8 percent in the last three months of 2007, which correlates with when the statewide smoking ban took effect. Even taking into account a weakening economy, the ban is likely to be responsible for a decline in gross receipts of 7.5 percent to 8 percent, or a loss equal to $95 million to $105 million a year, according to the report.

The overall 12.8 percent drop represents the largest decline in receipts since lawful gambling was first regulated in the state in 1985, according to the report released Monday by the State Gambling Control Board, which regulates the industry.

The new report shows that towns close to states that have not enacted a smoking ban appear to have been more affected. Sites near tribal casinos, where smoking can be permitted, have seen receipts decline more than the state average for several years, an apparent trend that began before the ban.

Charitable gambling officials predict revenue declines of 16 percent to 18 percent through this year. Anticipating the effect, the industry has been pushing for several pieces of legislation that would give them more flexibility in their operations.

So now, what do you want to bet that we’ll have legislation liberalizing (good word, that) or expanding gambling to more venues to make up for the shortfall? After all, it’s for the children! And the vets! Or are you some unpatriotic child-hater? Come on, everybody pull(tab) together!

The lobbyists and our legislature have focused on getting everyone to kick their Camels … while letting another camel get it’s head further into the tent. (But hey, it’s a big tent!)


Awesome tribute to George Washington on his birthday from Sheila. She’s excerpted several fine descriptions of Washington as a man and a leader from those close to him, and from his own words, that are both humbling and inspiring.

Could there ever be another like him?

Thomas Jefferson on George Washington:

The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.

Martha Washington wrote a letter to a relative on the eve of her husband’s departure to the Convention in 1774:

I foresee consequences; dark days and darker nights; domestic happiness suspended; social enjoyments abandoned; property of every kind put in jeopardy by war, perhaps; neighbors and friends at variance, and eternal separations on earth possible. But what are all these evils when compared with the fate of which the Port Bill may be only a threat? My mind is made up; my heart is in the cause. George is right; he is always right. God has promised to protect the righteous, and I will trust him.

FAGS fighting back

Don’t look at me like that. In this case FAGS stands for Fight Against Government Suppression (it’s also Brit slang for cigarettes), and is the name of an English political party established by pub-owner Hamish Howitt, the first pub-owner in England to be prosecuted for violating the country’s new smoking ban for pubs and restaurants. Howitt, a non-smoker himself, pleaded guilty but vows to continue to allow smoking in his pub and to not pay the fines.


I’ll still ignore smoking ban, vows publican fined £500

A SCOTTISH pub landlord vowed yesterday to continue to allow his customers to flout the smoking ban in England after being fined for offences at his bar in Blackpool.

Hamish Howitt, 55, who was born in Glasgow, was fined £500 and ordered to pay £2,000 prosecution costs after he admitted flouting the ban, which was introduced in England in July.

The owner of the Happy Scots Bar is the first publican south of the Border to be convicted of breaching the law. Howitt, a non-smoker, has been a staunch critic of the ban and set up a political party called Fight Against Government Suppression, or FAGS.

However, District Judge Peter Ward, sentencing Howitt at Blackpool Magistrates’ Court, said his campaign had been “silly, misguided and pointless”.

Granted, it’s not exactly William Wallace mooning the Brits, but Howitt has definitely set out to pick a fight as the signage on the outside walls of his pub demonstrate in these Flickr photos here and here. (Normally I would download the images and post them here rather than poaching bandwidth by linking to the site but the images are copyrighted and I don’t want to stretch the “fair-use” doctrine, especially when I don’t know who to credit for the originals).

Howitt doesn’t risk losing his head (merely his pub license) for his violations, though judging by the comments from readers at the end of the article, there are some who wouldn’t mind seeing him drawn and quartered.

As a dedicated non-smoker myself (never smoked, in fact) and someone who has deliberately avoided public places that are too smokey, I nevertheless side with the rights of private property owners to manage their legal businesses (and customers using legal products) as they see fit, free from government encroachment, especially when dubious science is involved. (I’m sure it won’t be long before some study links the number of smokers being forced outside to man-made global warming.)

“Fat Bastard” was Scottish, wasn’t he?

On the heels of the first anniversary of the Scottish smoking ban, it may not be long before the next ghillie drops. An article in The Scotsman today bemoans the cost of the “obesity epidemic,” including a 16 percent increase in the prescribing of anti-obesity drugs to citizens. The cost of the obesity pills to treat this “epidemic” (watch out, it’s contagious) represents an annual additional cost to the Scottish taxpayer of £500 (about $1,000).

It won’t be long now (if it hasn’t already occurred) that the nannies will be calling for bans on fatty foods as a matter of health and national interest.

This is a problem on two levels in Scotland: one, the nanny-state mentality that holds sway and makes such bans not only conceivable but likely; and two, the fact that healthcare in Scotland is nationalized in the first place, which simultaneously puts the government in charge of extracting the costs from all citizens while also being in position to ration what care is provided and deciding who is “worthy.” And is it any surprise that obesity is increasing when the government stands ready to pass out anti-obesity pills? The pills might be effective but they’re no match for the principle that you get more of whatever you subsidize.

This is also an issue that also points out the challenges ahead for Minnesota as we are on the verge of enacting our own state-wide smoking ban (in public places, for now) and where our current legislature can’t wait for the opportunity to pass single-payer healthcare provisions. (By the way, the population of Scotland is about the same as Minnesota’s; according to 2005 estimates there are 5.09 million people in Scotland and 5.13 million in Minnesota).

The article didn’t expressly call for a ban on selling unhealthy foods, but it’s the next logical step from a system that has, ironically, force-fed its citizens with a never-ending platter of entitlements as if they were so many veal calfs or geese being prepared for foie gras , limiting their movement (freedoms) til they were in a dullard’s stupor unable to resist and fit only to be harvested for their taxes.

Snippets from the article include:

… Spending on anti-obesity drugs rocketed to more than £4 million in Scotland last year as GPs doled out 89,000 prescriptions.

…Spending on the two main anti-obesity drugs rose from £3.55 million in 2004-5 to £4.12 million in 2005-6.

…”Being overweight is a disease, and why shouldn’t these patients get these drugs?” she said.

…The World Health Organisation has described obesity as a “worldwide epidemic”, and it is already thought to cause 9,000 premature deaths a year in the UK and costs the NHS £1 billion annually.

…A recent study by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that the annual cost for the two main drugs, Orlistat and Sibutramine, has hit almost £38 million in the UK, which means that £1 in every £264 spent on NHS drugs is now being used for obesity medication.

Now I am rather robust of frame myself. If it were, in fact, “raining men” as the old song sang, I’d be my own puddle. Of course, armed with the information from the article I now know that I have a disease and that I am a helpless victim of a worldwide epidemic. I’m sure I caught this disease from using a contaminated spoon while eating ice cream, or from one of those people in line next to me at McDonald’s coughing on me. If only someone would do something to help me!

That’s not to diminish the serious health issues of obesity. If I, myself, am to diminish however it should be up to me, not the government. I can eat less, exercise more and even counter-intuitive as it sounds — sleep more and lose weight. Sleeping more is something that I’ve been trying to do, since studies have shown that getting more than seven hours of sleep a night helps your body control its weight. The problem is, I always wake up after six hours (or less) regardless of when I go to bed, no matter how much I’d like to sleep longer.

Maybe someone should pass a law.

[For other accounts on this blog describing Scotland’s infatuation with running people’s lives, go here and here.]

They’re not kilts, they’re aprons

Scotland is now one year into it’s nation-wide smoking ban, something that I could see Robert the Bruce agreeing to but never William Wallace.

Personally, I’m a lifelong non-smoker. In my youth I considered the economies and relative “coolness” of smoking vs. driving and decided to use that money to put gas in my car. Furthermore, the last few years I haven’t gone to many bars, but when I did I preferred to go to ones that had no-smoking sections. Nevertheless, I enjoyed going to Keegan’s (pre-Minneapolis ban) for Trivia Night even though I knew I’d come home reeking of smoke. It was a trade-off I was willing to make for the socializing. I draw the line at socialism, however, and other people telling a private business how it ought to operate through laws rather than the marketplace. That’s not because the marketplace is any kinder or gentler than the government, but it is a lot more grounded in reality. Not that the marketplace can’t be a cruel master, but at least its focus is on finding ways to entice me to give it money voluntarily while the government is dedicated to finding ways to take more money, preferably while giving me as little say in the process as possible.

Anyway, because of a news thread I’ve been following on a business matter I occasionally come across news stories about the effects of the smoking ban in Scotland (unrelated to my original news search). An article in today’s The Publican, a UK pub-trade publication, takes a look at the results of the past year. It notes that many pubs have been hurt and are even going out of business since the ban went into effect, but that this may not be tied solely to the ban, and that other pubs have not been as affected.

One year on: the Scottish smoking ban
22 March, 2007

Licensees there have faced the new laws with varying success, Roy Beers investigates

Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days into the smoking ban, pubs north of the border are experiencing mixed fortunes.

The ban in Scotland has hit some pubs and clubs even harder than trade pessimists expected, according to the country’s biggest licensee organisation. However, on-trade multiple operators, for example Mitchells & Butlers and Belhaven (now part of Greene King), have reported only minor damage to their Scottish pubs’ drinks sales.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association’s (SLTA) chief executive, Paul Waterson, says independent commissioned research showed overall pub turnover slumped 11 per cent last year, a more serious decline than the organisation’s own original estimate of seven per cent.

He told The Publican a combination of the ban and discount beer offers in supermarkets was driving many pubs to the wall.

He has warned publicans in England that even some of those pubs that “do everything possible” ­- for example enhance food business and provide smoking areas -­ are still certain to lose trade.

In Scotland traditional wet-led community pubs are said to have been hardest hit, along with community-based social clubs. Bingo halls have suffered a wave of closures. Scotland’s growing pub leasing sector is also said to be under particular pressure.

Making the lease unworkable

James Hickman, lessee of Scottish & Newcastle Pub Enterprises (S&NPE) McEwans Ale House, in the Newington area of Edinburgh, said last week that the ban had been “the major factor in making the lease unworkable” ­ as he prepared to wind up his business with major debts. “Besides the ban driving people away, you see people passing all the time with carryouts from cheap supermarket deals -­ they’re the students who would be our customers, but who can now drink cheaply as well as smoke freely in their flats,” he added.

S&NPE operations and sales director for Scotland, Ken McGown, said: “In addition to the impact of the smoking ban, for which we have sympathy with the lessee, there were a number of other factors which ultimately led to him deciding to move on.”

Loyal customers

“Some (S&NPE) pubs you would imagine would suffer have actually borne up due to a loyal customer base, and pubs with good food offers are reporting a positive response to the smoking ban,” said McGown.

In Fife, some community-based registered social clubs have shut, while others have seen annual takings ­ and charity donations slashed. Davie Nelson of the Coal Industry Social Work Organisation in Glenrothes, said:

“We’re losing £1,000 per week, and two other clubs have closed ­- some pubs are in trouble too. Local charities will be getting only around half the usual amounts because of the ban ­ and a local wheelchair users’ club has been forced to close for lack of money.” In addition to falling sales, licensees around the country have been dogged by complaints about noise and litter created by outdoor smokers: a North-East councillor last year tried unsuccessfully to ban smoking at outdoor tables.

“We were promised a massive influx of customers when smoking was banned -­ and it simply hasn’t happened.”

Read the whole thing.