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The Greengrocer and his TV: the Culture of Communism after the 1968 Prague Spring, by Paulina Bren

Heimann, Mary (2011) The Greengrocer and his TV: the Culture of Communism after the 1968 Prague Spring, by Paulina Bren. [Review]

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Paulina Bren has produced a witty and thought-provoking analysis of Czechoslovak culture during ‘Normalisation’, the years which followed the forced ending to the 1968 Prague Spring. The ‘TV’ in the title is Communist-controlled Czechoslovak state television of the 1970s and 1980s. The ‘greengrocer’ is the compliant Czechoslovak Everyman (as described in Václav Havel's essay ‘The Power of the Powerless’) who unthinkingly places the slogan ‘Workers of the World Unite’ in his shop window, thereby subtly increasing the pressure on his fellow-citizens similarly to conform to the norms of the ‘post-totalitarian’ regime under which they live. As in the story of the Emperor's new clothes, the implication in Havel's essay, which was written in 1978, is that the entire edifice of Communist power would crumble the moment that ordinary people chose to stop colluding with the regime's official lies and opted instead to ‘live in truth’. Bren's fresh look at Czechoslovakia in the 1970s helps to explain why they might not have wanted to do so.