Mene Tekel - bid to 'revive consciousness of nation' during communism
Prague is remembering the long winter of Communism this week with an unusual multi-media festival called Mene Tekel. Hebrew for ‘the writing on the wall’, the festival – now in its fifth year - bills itself as ‘an international festival against totalitarianism, evil and violence’. Films, concerts, exhibitions and even reconstructions of Stalinist show trials are on hand in what the organisers say is an attempt to preserve the memory of the nation.
“The name of the festival – Mene Tekel, the writing is on the wall, comes from the Bible, from the Old Testament. It refers to the message that evil is always present within man, at all times. What matters is whether evil is given the space, the right conditions, to escape its confines, or whether it’s suppressed in some way. So it’s not a political thing, it’s an ethical thing.”
In a sense Uherské Hradiště had become a sort of communist Abu Graib, where guards devised ever crueller torments for the inmates until the higher authorities intervened. The building is now deserted, a hulking, crumbling 19th century fortress in the centre of a city. The obvious question is what to do with it now? Jakub Jareš and his colleagues would like to see it house a proper museum to communism, something still lacking in the Czech Republic. The exhibition shows various architectural proposals for how the prison could be transformed into a museum.
The 1968 hit ‘Sunny Grave’ by the immensely popular Czechoslovak pop group Blue Effect, banned after the Soviet invasion for their love of western music. Blue Effect – who are still around - performed at a Prague club this week as part of the festival. Jan Řeřicha and his colleagues say they try in seven days to revive the memories and consciousness of the Czech nation, already beginning to fade as a whole generation groups up with no meaningful recollection of communism.