“My first love was a drill”: building the socialist state

After the communist coup, Czechoslovak Radio was at the political vanguard and transformed into a tool of propaganda. One of the first big changes at Radio Prague was that our familiar call signal from Dvořák’s New World Symphony was replaced by a stirring socialist anthem – “Ku předu levá”. The words are simple: “Left foot forwards, left foot forwards, and never a backwards step.” All broadcasts acquired a political hue. Here, for example, is a factory worker, talking about his first love:

“I wasn’t yet fifteen when she was brought to the factory and I first caught sight of her. It was love at first sight. I know that many of the others were envious, because we became inseparable friends. For that whole year we remained faithful; we had some wonderful times together. She was always the same, because no-one else knew how to talk to her as I did.

“I knew that one day we would have to part, but I stayed faithful to the end. I was just thinking about this when the foreman came round and shook me out of my daydream with the words, ‘So, we’re taking you away from that drill.’ Yes, my first and greatest love was a drill.”

For the new atheist regime, Christmas posed something of a problem; Czechoslovakia’s rulers did not just want to be seen to be spoiling the fun. In 1952 the prime minister (and later president) Antonín Zápotocký offered a rather unusual Christmas greeting to radio listeners, capturing perfectly the spirit of the time.

First he tells listeners that the Infant Jesus – who in Czech tradition brings the Christmas presents - has now grown up into his Russian, secular equivalent, “Grandfather Frost.” In poetic terms he then goes on to describe how Grandfather Frost’s path is lit “not just by one star, as in Bethlehem, but by a whole plethora of red stars shining above our mines, steelworks, factories and building sites.”