The Greengrocer and His TV: The Culture of Communism After the 1968 Prague Spring

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The Greengrocer and His TV: The Culture of Communism After the 1968 Prague Spring
By Paulina Bren
Cornell Univ Pr, 2010
264 pp. $24.95
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Between 1968, when Moscow planted its boot athwart the Prague Spring, and 1989, when the Velvet Revolution overthrew the communist government in Czechoslovakia, the Czechoslovak regime went about cowing society in the name of "normalization." Accounts that focus on the civic group Charter 77, the spread of dissidence, and the petty revolts of a sullen population would lead one to believe that this did not work. But Bren argues that it was largely successful. In fact, the average Czech or Slovak -- Václav Havel's greengrocer -- settled into the regime's imposed "quiet life." They were joined by a good portion of the country's cultural elite, who could not bear to stop painting, singing, playing, and acting. Doing the history of passivity and accommodation is not easy, and Bren proceeds ingeniously by exploring the subtle buying into the system by the vast viewing audience that embraced the lives of the characters on popular television serials, lives redolent of what "normalization" meant. Then, in a particularly revealing step, she examines the awkward response to reruns of some of the most popular of these serials in the aftermath of what she calls Czechoslovakia's "late communism."