Czechs witness dramatic lifestyle changes twelve years after fall of communism

Velvet Revolution

November 17th, 1989, marked the beginning of the end for Czechoslovakia's communist regime, and the start of economic and political transformation of a country which had spent 40 years behind the Iron Curtain. Twelve years later that transformation is apparent in every shop window and on every main street in the country. But how much has really changed in the kitchens and gardens - and even the bedrooms - of the Czech people? Pavla Horakova went out onto the streets of Prague to find out.

Velvet Revolution
Twelve years might not seem a lot for a nation, but it's a long time in the life of a human being. So how much have the lives of the average man and woman in the Czech Republic changed after a dozen years of successful and not so successful privatization, several governments, a few corruption scandals and busy preparations for joining the European Union?

"So much has changed - you look around and you can see the changes everywhere. You can do what you want now - as long as it's not illegal of course! - but you can't be punished for your opinions. I think the change is definitely for the good."

The views of that man in his late 20s, window-shopping on Prague's Vinohradska street, are typical of most Czechs of his generation. There has been a real change in everyday habits: museums, theatres and libraries are no longer so popular, people have stopped writing letters and the good old railway is going out of fashion. Television, however, has become a member of the family, the average Czech spends more time on the phone, travels by air more often, and car culture is spreading just like everywhere else. In the typical Czech fridge, you'll find less red meat, less butter and milk, but more chicken and vegetables. The number of smokers has dropped too and Czechs have also discovered the interesting invention of bottled water; all these changes are part of an increasing awareness of healthy living.

"For me things have changed - dramatically. I definitely eat different things - in the old days there were so many things you couldn't get - starting with fruit and food and diet has definitely changed. But I'd also say there's been a big change in how I look after myself - by that I mean keeping fit."

And the statistics also speak of real social change: there are about 70,000 fewer Czechs than in 1989, they live longer (for men life expectancy has grown by four years, for women by two). The birth rate has dropped by a third but many more children are born out of wedlock. There are fewer weddings and first marriages are being postponed till the late twenties. On the other hand, there are fewer divorces and the number of abortions has fallen by 2 thirds. Fewer people say they believe in God, there are more than twice as many car accidents and the crime rate has tripled.

But while Czechs may be living longer, healthier lives, and stocking their fridges with bottled water - one thing hasn't changed: beer consumption. With an annual consumption of more than 300 pints per head, Czechs still maintain the world record twelve years after their lives changed irrevocably.