Prague train station – Praha Hlavni Nadrazi

Prague train station - Praha Hlavni Nadrazi

At the Prague train station is a small plaque to Woodrow Wilson, as a monument to democracy. My impressions from talking with people and reading some – and to be fair, my visit was very short, so take these with a grain of salt! – are that Prague is currently in a very difficult and somewhat ungrounded political situation. The prevailing attitude of the Czech people is deeply cynical after feeling betrayed by the Soviet occupation, betrayed by the western Europeans who in the words of an actual tourist guide book “handed them over to the Communists!”, and betrayed by the corruption they experienced from capitalism and the rise of a rich class from international business after the Velvet Revolution. Most people do not trust any institution or authority any more. What has resulted is a kind of individual materialism, seeking personal economic gain within the constraints of a fragile economy, and accumulating the signs of middle class wealth: expensive watches, electronics, fashionable clothing, and for some, cars. Daily life is insular. From a religious perspective, less than about 30% of the population subscribe to organized religion. The great majority of these are Catholic, with small communities of Protestants, Jews and Muslims. Unlike other European countries where arguably the best humanist values were retained after secularization, my experience of Prague was that people are left post-Communism with a kind of anomie and fatalism. It’s a sad commentary, and I hope I’m wrong! The social work school, Jabok, and its partnership with the Protestant Theology Department with its thoughtful, critical theological curriculum, were signs of hope to me that change is still possible once people shake off the hopelessness of so many generations of being oppressed and traded like pawns in the global schemes of European politics, war, and international business. Can a genuine democracy, with neither the excesses of Capitalism or Communism, take root and survive here? And what would need to happen politically, both within the Czech Republic (who by all accounts from people I met just elected a disastrous, populist President) and internationally?


About pcooperwhite

Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion, Union Theological Seminary, New York NY
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