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Polarization in Poland: A Warning From Europe - The Atlantic

Lenin’s one-party state was based on different values. It overthrew the aristocratic order. But it did not put a competitive model in place. The Bolshevik one-party state was not merely undemocratic; it was also anticompetitive and antimeritocratic. Places in universities, civil-service jobs, and roles in government and industry did not go to the most industrious or the most capable. Instead, they went to the most loyal. People advanced because they were willing to conform to the rules of party membership. Though those rules were different at different times, they were consistent in certain ways. They usually excluded the former ruling elite and their children, as well as suspicious ethnic groups. They favored the children of the working class. Above all, they favored people who loudly professed belief in the creed, who attended party meetings, who participated in public displays of enthusiasm. Unlike an ordinary oligarchy, the one-party state allows for upward mobility: True believers can advance. As Hannah Arendt wrote back in the 1940s, the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

The Communist Cookbook Responsible for Prague’s Slow Culinary Comeback - Gastro Obscura

Cooks that wanted to deviate from these recipes had to get approval from the Ministry of Health, a request that could take years to go through. Most people opted for the easier route, which is how thousands of nearly identical menus came to be established across the country. Paired with limited ingredient diversity, the nation suffered a creative drought: It wasn’t just that all the same dishes were served, but the dishes were prepared exactly the same way, resulting in identical versions of dishes, too. Each bite was calculated as a means of productivity, and dining for pleasure was considered extravagant. “Special” meals were no longer considered, and the scope of Czech cuisine shrunk. Yet as NYU Prague sociologist Vanda Thorne points out, people were eating outside the home more than ever before. Children ate at school cafeterias, and parents dined at work cantinas. Since prices were controlled and salaries were largely uniform, everyone could afford restaurants. “Meals at home were often prepared from prefabricated components as there was a noticeable lack of fresh produce,” Thorne says. Though homemade meals weren’t as strictly regulated by the state, there was still little opportunity for originality there.

The Communist Cookbook Responsible for Prague’s Slow Culinary Comeback - Gastro Obscura

When communists came to power in 1948, citizens were hopeful they could return to a life containing more prewar luxuries. Though the quality of food improved, life under socialist ideas still proved restrictive. Twenty years later, when liberalization started to gain traction, the party saw a need for even stricter control. In an effort to consolidate power, they purged reformist officials from the government and established a range of restrictions on everyday activities. Eating was no exception. The state Restaurants and Cafeterias company soon issued a national cookbook entitled Receptury teplých pokrmu, or Recipes for Warm Meals. Dubbed “normovacka,” or “the book of standards,” it dictated what cooks in the country could serve in 845 recipes. Ladislav Pravaan, curator of the Gastronomie Muzeum of Prague, explains that the book even specified sources and serving styles for everything from sauces to side dishes.

Self-affirmation as the key to argumentation

Could recalling a time when you felt good about yourself make you more broad-minded about highly politicized issues, like the Iraq surge or global warming? As it turns out, it would. On all issues, attitudes became more accurate with self-affirmation, and remained just as inaccurate without. That effect held even when no additional information was presented—that is, when people were simply asked the same questions twice, before and after the self-affirmation.

Grow up controlled, become paranoid?

“Small children are justified in being conspiracy theorists, since their world is run by an inscrutable and all-powerful organization possessing secret communications and mysterious powers—a world of adults, who act by a system of rules that children gradually master as they grow up,” write the cognitive scientists Thomas Griffiths and Joshua Tenenbaum in a 2006 study on coincidences.

Grow up in a fog and you'll believe mysterious, malign winds move the world

Földi’s favorite theme is that Europe is at war. A war that was started by the United States and her allies and that by now has reached Europe in the form of the influx of migrants. They are foot soldiers sent by ISIS to destroy Europe. He is convinced that there is a whole intelligence network behind the refugees whose members organize the movement of the people. “This is a consciously planned, built-up system in which everybody to the last man is channeled in.” All of them receive instructions from the organizers. Földi believes that the intelligence agencies of European countries are fully aware of all this and that, if the fence is not enough, “if necessary even weapons must be used.”

Canada's beer monopoly

“Truth be told, it is a highly cost efficient model for consumers,” said a Beer Store spokesman. “I know what’s best for consumers. And having seen a wide range of retailing across the world, I can tell you that this is a system that is low¬ cost and passes that cost along to consumers.” Which might be fine except for two things. First, it’s not actually low cost. Second, The Beer Store is actually owned by three of the world’s largest breweries – Anheuser¬Busch InBev, Molson Coors and Sapporo – which include Canada’s two largest firms, Labatt’s and Molson. And that spokesman for The Beer Store? That’s the CEO of Molson Coors Canada. What seemed like a good idea at the time has become problematic now that the industry subject to regulated distribution has effectively captured the distribution.

Ivan Klima's library

As he explains all this, Klima goes to the bookshelves that line his living room and starts pulling down thin volumes, typed double-sided on air-mail paper. "This is one of Havel's plays, this is a volume of Jaroslav Seifert's poetry." A neatly bound history of dissent. "In the end we managed about 300 titles in 18 years," he says. At first the police tried to confiscate individual samizdat copies during house searches but the words spread too quickly; they could not cope. It was a secret policeman's worst nightmare. "It was also," says Klima, "really what kept us going."

Ivan Klima recalls the early 70s

Klima began to fight back against these privations straightaway. "I organised a reading the week after we got back," he says. "I invited about 45 guests, which I'd worked out was the most I could get into our living room. And I prepared meatballs, 'Klima-balls' as they came to be known. There was some wine, and somebody read something that was newly written. That was how it went on, every week. I remember Havel read two of his new plays; Kundera, who was still in Prague at that point, came and read some things." After about a year, Klima's friend Ludvik Vaculik (the author of A Cup of Cof fee with my Interrogator ) brought along a man from Ostrava to one of the gatherings, a writer who had spent a year in prison. The man, who later committed suicide, had signed an agreement in prison to work with the secret police and he passed on the names of everyone who was there, and pictures were taken of people coming in and out. "So from that point," Klima says, "we were known." The writers were followed, and their houses searched. Meetings became more difficult but, Klima says: "We were determined to be in close contact." Someone suggested circulating typewritten pieces of writing, and books, as a way of continuing to spread ideas - samizdat ("self-published"). Novels or poems or plays were typed up - originally by Vaculik's girlfriend - copied, and circulated among the friends, to begin with in editions of 14 copies, later 50 or 60 and eventually, in an underground network of printing and binding and copying, several thousand.

Havel needs a beer

By the 1980s, before Gorbachev and glasnost, Havel sensed his growing authority. When the American Embassy in Prague gave parties, visiting writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Albee, and Philip Roth sought him out. When Havel ran out of beer at a gathering in his Prague apartment, the cop assigned to surveil him volunteered to go to a nearby pub to refill his jug. This was when he knew that power was flowing his way.

Czechoslovakia in the 70s

In January 1969, Jan Palach, a philosophy undergraduate, burned himself to death in Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet invasion. Unlike most of his fellow dissidents, Havel did not react to Palach’s death with tears, desperation, or hopeless rage. Instead, like the politician he was to become, he gave a television interview in which he declared, with strange—and up to this point uncharacteristic—bravado, “There is just one road open to us: to wage our political battle until the end … I understand the death of Jan Palach as a warning against the moral suicide of all of us.” Moral suicide—taking a job with the regime, informing on your erstwhile dissident friends—became a standard if depressing mode of collaboration in the 1970s. The parallel polis collapsed, leaving the few remaining dissidents to face the full pressure of the regime alone. Of that long decade, Zantovsky writes, “few … can imagine the twilight mood, the torpor, which resembled a state of semi-anaesthesia.”