Category Archives: socialism

Excerpt from greenwich meridian memoir- Shortage of toilet paper

After having a second show- the West Michigan Women’s Expo – canceled due to the coronavirus threat and reading the posts about the shortage of toilet paper, this excerpt seems like a great fit.

The Haves and the Have Nots

The useless feeling never went away; it intensified with time until it became a monster. I watched this happen between my mom, Ella, and her younger sister, Anna, over the years before 1968 and after my parents’ immigration to the U.S.A. 

In 2018, Time published a special edition:1968 The Year That Shaped a Generation with introduction: “Like a knife blade, the year severed past from future.” 

Before 1968, the two sisters were like regular siblings with occasional hard and soft feelings for each other. They even went together on vacations with their spouses to the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. Aunt Anna is also my godmother as was the custom in the old country for the closest relatives to be the Godparents. 

Their parents treated them equally as any parent would. They had similar hopes and dreams. Neither one of them made a lot of money. 

Life before the 1968 “Socialism with a human face” movement started by Alexander Dubcek and the Velvet Revolution in 1989 was simple.

People enjoyed both the advantages and the disadvantages of socialism; everyone had the right to work. There was no such thing as unemployment. If you were unemployed for more than six weeks, you went to jail. Since the economy was regulated and planned, there was always work, whatever work and any work at any given time. If you wanted a good job, you needed connections or my mom’s long arm.

That was balanced out by having to stand in long lines for basic items such as toilet paper. However, college education was free, along with healthcare for all and free daycare. 

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Final revisions of Greenwich Meridian memoir

I finally crossed the 51-k word line with the revisions of the Greenwich Meridian Memoir. I have two more chapters to go.

Excerpt

The Haves and the Have Nots

The useless feeling never went away; it intensified with time until it became a monster. I watched this happen between my mom Ella and her younger sister Anna over the years before 1968 and after my parents’ immigration to the USA.  

In 2018, Time published a special edition:1968 The Year That Shaped a Generation with introduction: “Like a knife blade, the year severed past from future.”  

Before 1968, the two sisters were like regular siblings with occasional hard and soft feelings for each other. They even went together on vacations with their spouses to the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. Aunt Anna is also my godmother as was the custom in the old country for the closest relatives to be the Godparents.  

Their parents treated them equally as any parent would. They had similar hopes and dreams. Neither one of them made a lot of money.  

Life before the 1968 “Socialism with a human face” movement started by Alexander Dubcek and the Velvet Revolution in 1989 was simple. 

People enjoyed both the advantages and the disadvantages of socialism; everyone had the right to work. There was no such thing as unemployment. If you were unemployed for more than six weeks, you went to jail. Since the economy was regulated and planned, there was always work, whatever work and any work at any given time. If you wanted a good job, you needed connections or my mom’s long arm. 

That was balanced out by having to stand in long lines for basic items such as toilet paper. However, college education was free, along with healthcare for all and free daycare.  

Travel was more problematic and based on your “profile.” We each had a profile ever since we were old enough to join the Socialist Youth Union at approximately the age of 14. The profile also contained information about your parents. Then volunteer hours on socialist projects were added to the profile. At 18, you were expected to become a member in the Czechoslovak Communist Party and get your red membership card. Soon profile info started to add up in your favor or against you.  

Certain things were unacceptable like if your family was a member of the bourgeoisie, royalty or owned land, you would definitely go nowhere. Based on the bizarre profile criteria, if they were good, you could go to Yugoslavia or maybe somewhere west if you got the exit visa.  

If your profile was bad like mine, because we left the country illegally for the USA, you sat at home. The profile thing continues to puzzle me to this day.  

Like in Hitler’s Germany nothing was ever forgotten or forgiven. That was in an era before computers. The whole socialist machinery was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You always got what you didn’t wish for, but somebody else wanted it for you. Sometimes you never found out who wanted all that hogwash for you.  

“Oh, we just wanted the best for you,” a voice would say.  

“How do you know what’s best for me?” I asked.  

“Socialism never sleeps,” the voice would persist. “We know what’s best for the country. Look at all the improvements in the last 40 years.”  

Banners hung on buildings proclaiming the “Successes of Socialism” and the bright future for the socialist youth like me.  

We were constantly brainwashed with the socialist youth philosophy, even though they did not want me in the Socialist Youth Union, which was too bad for them.  

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Memoir Revisions

On track with final revisions of the Greenwich Meridian Memoir

Greenwich Meridian Memoir cover designed by Jeanne Boss.

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – As of Saturday, I’ve crossed the 40,000- word mark of the final revisions of the Greenwich Meridian Memoir about our family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia. I completed the first draft during the NaNoWriMo 2019 challenge and I signed the pledge to revise and revise again.

The memoir spans more than 50 years of trials and tribulations of two generations alternating with victories. The epic story started with the Prague Spring of 1968; it was exacerbated by the presidential amnesty in 1973 for political refugees and it peaked in the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

These are the historical anchors that pitched the characters into action, sometimes against their own will or the will of others.

At each crossroad, the characters had to make major decisions for themselves and for others. Time hasn’t erased some resentments.

Read in: Excerpt from Greenwich Meridian Memoir written in her own words by mom Ella

“Charles, here’s another one with three passports,” he said. 

Charles came and took me and the kids to a room where we waited the entire afternoon. The officials were waiting for other airplanes that spit out similar victims like me. At this moment, I knew there was something wrong; I remembered Vaclav’s friend from Canada warning me not to return, that the amnesty wasn’t working. All the joy from returning home was gone and I kept thinking what’s going to happen with us. 

Around 6 p.m., a man in a dark suit entered the room and took us through  the many hallways and backdoors back on the tarmac. However, there was no plane; instead there was a minivan with six to eight people seated in it. What ensued was the saddest trip through Prague that I will never forget. We were headed into the unknown- that always in the communist system foreshadowed bad things to come.  

I regretted that I had left the peaceful village of Hawkins. I prayed to God to save us from all evil. I thought they were taking us to jail. Looking through the minivan window, I envied each pedestrian walking on the sidewalk his freedom and liberty. We drove through the entire capital Prague and continued south of the city. We were in Trebotov, according to the signs by the road. After a short ride through the city we made a turn to a four-story building. I don’t know what was exactly on the signs on the building, probably some kind of a hospital facility. Two soldiers with guns were guarding the gates. 

The driver opened the doors of the minivan and told us to get out. I was increasingly scared as my heart skipped a beat. Nobody wanted to get out of the minivan; they had to tell us twice. Later we found out that the facility was a hospital for people with long-term illnesses.   

After the declaration of the amnesty in February, that lasted through the end of 1973 and impacted 40,000 to 50,000 Czechoslovaks who fled abroad, the Interior Ministery rented the austere building for the 1968 refugees, who decided to return to the homeland. The officials used an excuse that we may have contracted different diseases in foreign countries and that we needed to undergo health screening. However, during our stay at the quarantine, we never had any tests done, X-rays or blood tests; it was a camouflage for the public.

The cover was designed by graphic artist Jeanne Boss of Rockford. 

To be continued…..

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Greenwich meridian Memoir cover

Cover Design by Jeanne S. Boss

Collage: the story behind the cover

It is said that a long journey starts with the first step.

During the entire process of putting together the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir,” that spans more than 50 years of our family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia to the U.S., I was using a globe as a visual tool.

I got the globe probably at the old Flat River Antique Mall in Lowell when we moved out into the country in 1995. I kept it downstairs in my writing studio, but dragged it upstairs to look at it while on the treadmill.

Putting one foot in front of the other, word after word, page after page, year after year, that’s how the memoir went, often interrupted by life’s events.

After all, travel around the world made an imprint on our lives forever. However, later into the writing process, I realized the story wasn’t just about our nomadic lifestyle prompted by the political events in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

When I first asked mom for info about our immigration, she handed me two small stapled pages from a Best Western notepad with nine bullet points summarizing our life.

As I got deeper into the story and mom cooperated more, it became obvious that looking back at your past can be a painful experience.

Unlike writing fiction, writing the memoir was very emotional, at times depressing. It meant uncovering layers and layers of events, preceeded by decisions; your own decisions and other people’s decisions that impacted your own life and other people’s lives.

Decisions were lurking at every crossroad or a fork on the path to freedom. Mistakes and resentments alternated with victories and elation.

The main characters, mom Ella and dad Vaclav, were the driving forces of the immigration; I picked up two decades later when the Velvet Revolution rolled in 1989.

I found out that the main motivation for dad’s decision to emigrate was his career as a mathematician, while mom clung onto her past pharmacist job and relatives in Czech. And that’s where the characters clashed.

The Prague Spring 1968 movement was the catalyst.

I wanted to express all this on the cover of the memoir using a collage of photos, postcards, mom’s African driver’s license, the Czech coat-of-arms and the globe. There is a postcard with a Vaclav Havel stamp from Czechoslovakia.

Graphic designer Jeanne S. Boss of Rockford captured all of the above on the artistic cover. Boss is the former editor of the Lowell Ledger and the Buyer’s Guide, and a long time friend.

I would like to thank Boss for all the creative work.

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Happy holidays with excerpt

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

Subscribe or email questions about living in socialism or any other questions or comments: 

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