Memory of the Nation to open first multimedia institute focusing on history of totalitarianism

The Memory of the Nation (Paměť národa) project has for decades collected testimony from witnesses to major events in modern Czech history, including those who fought against Nazism and Communism, or fell victim to those regimes. To date, the project has recorded interviews with nearly 13,000 people, over half of which are available online. This autumn, the institute plans to open its first brick-and-mortar multimedia institute, a kind of museum of totalitarianism.

The Memory of the Nation multimedia collection, which apart from the oral histories includes more than 96,000 photos and 42,000 video clips, is administered by the Post Bellum project in partnership with Czech Radio and the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (ÚSTR) in Prague.

The culmination of that decades-long joint effort is to be multimedia “institutes” focused on totalitarianism in the 20th century. The very first one is to open in Pardubice, under the direction of Tomáš Heller, head of the Memory of the Nation institute for the eastern Bohemian region.

“In our database, we have very old recordings, even a few of Czechoslovak legionnaires. We used to record mainly veterans of World War II. But now we are focussing on the Stalinist era, the 1950s, and interviewing witnesses impacted directly by totalitarian regimes. Our priority is to interview those who soon may not be able to share their stories.”

The idea of the institutes, Mr Heller told Czech Radio, is to present modern multimedia exhibitions and bring different generations together. In part, this will be done by building on various oral history and educational projects.

“We want the institute museum also to be a meeting place for different generations, building on educational projects like ‘Stories of Our Neighbours’, through which schoolchildren interview witnesses and present their stories to the public.

“Schools often lack the opportunity to visit a brick-and-mortar institution where students can learn, for example, about the 1950’s era, about the witnesses and hear their stories. It should help them understand why it is important to know that history, and motivate them to learn.”

The hope, says Mr Heller, is that modern multimedia exhibitions will give students and young people a greater understanding of World War II and the Holocaust, Communism, the Soviet-led occupation of 1968 and the subsequent “Normalization” era, which ended with the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Apart from the institute in Pardubice, which is due to open in October, the Memory of the Nation project plans to establish ones in Prague, Brno and Olomouc, and later on in other regional capitals. In each institute, the stories presented are those of ordinary locals – whose experiences reflect the historical situation in the given region to the greatest possible extent.