Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes prepares to launch new educative website

The country’s Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes is putting the final touches on a new educative portal mapping 40 years of communism in the former Czechoslovakia. Entitled Socialism Realised, the website is aimed at English-speaking audiences, from high school to university students with no experience of what it was like to live in the former system.

Ilana Seelinger,  photo: archive of Ilana Seelinger
I spoke to the project’s Ilana Seelinger, asking about some of its aims.

“The main aim is that we wanted to open up communist history to parts of the world which never experienced it. And we wanted to do it without repeating only clichés about socialism which is usually about political conflict and we wanted to get at the history with more of a personal face. to show how ordinary people lived under the regime, not just the dissidents, the underground but also others.”

What are some of the strategies which you applied in breaking down this story because it is 40 years of history: obviously a period like the 1950s, with Stalinism is very different from the Normalisation period in the 1970s and so on…

“Yes. We have a number of materials that people can look through and we’ve arranged them along two axes: one of these we called Perspectives and that offers visitors the chance to look at ideology, oppression, memory. The other axis is a chronological timeline.”

So the main platform is the internet site: could we talk a little about how that was designed?... because there is both a lot to pick and choose from but also a very strong visual aspect.

“We have a great web designer we have been working with very closely named Jiří Maha who was fantastic in designing the icons we used to represent each era. A lot of thinking and discussion went into that and he put it into visual form.
“The second aspect was how to work with the source materials to see which materials worked well with foreign students and which ones didn’t work at all. Some materials which will make sense to Czech viewers won’t be nearly so clear for American users, for example, so we had to keep that in mind. As a result we ran a number of pilot projects or stages at, for example, Lithuanian schools, to see how the same material was greeted there. We had to work so that materials we chose were representative of the period but also open enough so that foreign audiences who hadn’t experienced communism, would get something out of it.”