Wishing you a peaceful holiday season, as I continue to work on the Greenwich Meridian memoir about our family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia to the U.S.
Based on a request from Mary Lacy, a vendor of M&M Prescious Gems at the Lowell Area Historical Museum, I decided to add two more chapters about living in socialism.
Below is an excerpt from the Greenwich Meridian memoir:
The Good and the Bad
The socialist system had its own way of getting at you by creating mysterious “profiles.” It was a compilation of background checks that ranged from, whether you were a member of the Communist Party or not, to how many volunteer hours have you worked on a community project like building a nursery.
If you went to church, your profile would state that, and it went against you when you applied for jobs or to universities.
My profile was “speckled” because we had returned from the U.S. for Czech President Gustav Husak’s amnesty in 1973. Even though, it was an official amnesty for political victims of the 1968 Prague Spring, like us, it served more as a punishment and a showcase of what can happen if you screwed over the regime.
The profiles also took into account your mandatory volunteering at different community projects and brigades. The communists must have used some sort of a scoring point system; the worst part was that they took into account your entire family. For example, if you came from an agricultural family that used to own large parcels of land, that went against you, even though the communists took all the land in two major nationalizations in 1945 and in 1948. If you were a former business owner, that wasn’t good either.
Among interesting events at workplaces were birthday celebrations. My husband Ludek described a typical birthday when the celebrant brought in a bottle of plum brandy and poured everyone from each department a shot. After work, the celebration continued at the local pubs. There was a lot of birthday celebrations throughout the years. For the 50th birthday, you always got a fancy watch.
During national holidays, the factory workers would steal anything and take it through the gates without being checked because there were so many of them leaving at once for the parades. So, the parades were known as the “March of Thieves.” The parades actually started inside the factory.
On the matter of overtime, one individual was selected to punch for all, who waited somewhere behind the gates. The huge factory complex known as Svit and ZPS spanned several blocks in Zlin, and it was built during the Thomas Bata era in the 1940s. It employed 10,000 workers per factory. Svit was the shoe factory started by Bata, while ZPS was the mechanical engineering factory. The shoe factory mainly employed women, while ZPS employed mostly men.
Both were the major employers in Zlin, and people worked there for generations. In socialism, everything was planned accordingly into one- year plans, five -year plans and 10- year plans. All the companies had to strive to fulfill the plans to the highest percentage for bonuses at the end of the year, called the 13th salary.
To be continued…Socialism perks through ROH
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An excerpt fromGreenwich Meridian: Living in socialist Czechoslovakia, The Good and the Bad.