Apr 21 2012: Twenty-Nine Monochrome Photographs from a Souvenir Volume Documenting Socialist Czechoslovakia (CSSR, c.1957)

From the same 1957 publication as yesterday’s gallery of colour images, these monochrome plates show life in the then relatively new Communist state of Czechoslovakia as idealised and in the service of State propaganda, as though addressing the outside world from the Ministries of a kind of earthly paradise. Yet as with yesterday’s colour photographs’ close resemblance to the images now being produced by Western corporations and agencies, so here we can see that the visual tropes being deployed are very familiar. Here are the same gleaming industrial factories as were extolled by contemporary films of Western Postwar reconstruction; the same democratic gatherings of ordinary people suddenly granted sway over their own fates; the same aspirational products gazed upon by children; the same pretty girls among the same agricultural bounty; and the same images of leisure and progressive modern living conditions. As in the Western equivalents of this book, of which there are many, perhaps it’s as well that we note the propaganda but also acknowledge at least a grain of truth, even as we know the images – real as they are – conceal much more than they show. Equally, we might consider that the resemblances between 1950s Communist propaganda images and those circulating in our own time, almost 23 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, are not merely accidental or superficial. Since around 1984, and accelerated by the ‘Big Bang’ of financial deregulation in 1986, we have found ourselves living increasingly in a privatised ‘command economy’, as a decreasing number of large globalised corporations and financial houses dictate policy to national governments, much as the Kremlin dictated to its satellite states in the former Eastern Bloc. The evidence that is where we are – not living under ‘free markets’ or fully functioning democracy but under limits dictated by powerful financial interests – is seen in the reaction to the opposition to ‘austerity’ in many states, whose citizens are considered irresponsible for opposing these interests. Just as the people of Czechoslovakia were considered irresponsible in pressing for a furtherance of the reforms initiated by Alexander Dubcek in 1968, so democratic pressures to defend living standards in Greece, Spain and elsewhere today are being resisted by financial rather than military means. The methods may be less visible, but the intentions and results may well prove to be far more similar than has so far been acknowledged.

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