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Teenagers think life during socialism was all right

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Twenty years have passed since people were wearing tesil trousers [made of synthetic fibre from polyester], took pioneer pledges and participated in obligatory marches on 1 May. However, the contemporary young generation do not consider the period of lack of freedom under socialist Czechoslovakia that bad.

More 20% of secondary school students even think that people had a better life under the communist regime and one fifth of children do not see a difference between today and the time 20 years ago. On the other hand, 60% consider the current situation to be much better.

The way teenagers think today was reflected in a unique survey by People in Need organisation who surveyed one thousand of students of grammar schools, vocational schools and specialized secondary school at the turn of the year about their life attitudes, life style, relation to the European Union, travelling and language skills, among other things.

“I wouldn’t blame those 20% too much that they are idealizing socialist Czechoslovakia. I think they rather have little information about it and three quarters of students actually admitted it in the survey. But of course that their opinions are also influenced by their parents,” said Karel Strachota from People in Need.

Symbol of lack of freedom
In their responses teenagers aged 15 to 20 described the former Czechoslovakia most often as “undemocratic harsh regime, where civil liberties were restricted”. Students also associate this period with the reign of communists and suppression of human rights.

“On the other hand, economy and lack of goods did not show up that often in their replies,” said Karel Strachota.

The communist regime also symbolized lower unemployment for students. According to sociologist Martin Jílek, co-author of the survey, young people may have been influenced in this opinion also because they will soon face the task of finding a job and some of them are afraid of it. Moreover, the survey was conducted at a time when all media were showing the impacts of the current financial crisis.

However, opinions of secondary-school students on the past were quite different. The school they were attending was decisive. While 80% of grammar school students think that to live under the communist regime was worse, 30% less students from vocational schools think the same. “Moreover, the more educated students’ parents are, the more critical students are of that period,” said Karel Strachota. What is important in his opinion is that half of the polled secondary school students want to find out more about the past.

The problem lies in the way history is taught today. Teachers in history classes often get only till the end of World War II and they have no time left for the gloomy period of the Czechoslovak history. The Education Ministry is therefore now preparing new history curriculum. Teachers should be inviting more witnesses for discussions and show documentaries in classes.

Life in the United States and Britain
Secondary school students also associate the communist regime with isolation and impossibility to travel abroad. Summer holidays at Balaton or the Sun Coast in Bulgaria would probably not be too appealing to them.

When students were to answer where they would like to live, Anglophone countries – Great Britain and the United States – were the winners. Grammar school students, especially girls, would vote for France as their top destination. For 59% of students travelling is very important. Moreover, two thirds of teenagers know one foreign language and 38% know two foreign languages.

“Especially at grammar schools the level of education has risen significantly. But the problem is to find good foreign language teachers for elementary schools,” said Libor Vacek, the spokesman of the Czech School Inspectorate. While seven years ago 360,000 children were studying English at secondary schools, last year there were 420,000 of them. Students have also become more interested in French and Spanish, while the popularity of German has been decreasing.

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