NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the lingering effects of Communism.
The Berlin Wall came down on November 9, 1989. Since that time, communist governments fell, too, all throughout Europe. In the former Czechoslovakia, thousands of protesters hit the streets of Bratislava and Prague. Twenty days after the Wall fell, the communist party officially relinquished power.
EICHER: The peaceful overthrow became known as the Velvet Revolution. But while communism has been gone for thirty years, the effects of that regime remain.
Anna Johansen recently visited the Czech Republic and brings our story.
ANNA JOHANSEN: Everyone who goes to Prague has to see the Astronomical Clock. At least, that’s what Google says. Built in 1410, it’s the oldest operating clock in existence—and a prime tourist destination. Every hour, the clock chimes and tiny moving sculptures march out of the tower.
ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK: [Astronomical Clock bonging, cheering]
But to be honest, the clock is just one site in a city chock full of history. These pastel buildings, cobblestones, castle spires…they look almost the same as they would have a thousand years ago, like something out of a storybook. But life in Prague hasn’t exactly been a fairytale.
RAUS: In communism, life was hard.
This is Daniel Raus: gray haired, soft spoken, steely eyed. In 1989, he lived in what was then Czechoslovakia.
RAUS: We could not travel. We could not study what we wanted. We could not—the government was deciding many things for you and you either obeyed or they just destroyed you.
The communist government didn’t just control politics and economics. It also had a stranglehold on spirituality.
RAUS: Communism was the most atheistic system in the history of mankind.
The government didn’t shut down every church. Its approach was more subtle. It put pressure on Christians and didn’t let them work in certain fields, like education or law.
VICKY MOBLEY: You could have been discriminated against in school.
Vicky Mobley has lived in Prague for 11 years. She and her husband, Curt, work in church planting and discipleship, and they’ve heard a lot of stories about life under communism.
VICKY MOBLEY: They would make you stand up and the teacher would mock you and make fun of your beliefs in front of the class.
CURT MOBLEY: Yeah, make fun of Daniel. He believes in God. Can you believe that? Point and laugh. Yeah. They still do it in some villages, right?
VICKY MOBLEY: Yeah.
Then, November 17th, 1989. Fifteen thousand students gathered and walked the streets of Prague. They carried banners and chanted anti-communist slogans. When they gathered in the center of the city, riot police surrounded them and attacked.
RAUS: That was the day it all started. 17th of November, 1989. So that was Friday.
When Raus heard the report, he and 50 others hit the streets in a spontaneous protest. First, they stood around for 20 minutes.
RAUS: We did not know what to do. It was kind of funny, but we wanted to demonstrate that this is enough. And we are finished with communism and we, we wanted to, to proclaim it.
The protestors eventually started walking through Bratislava. And across the country, other demonstrations grew.
AUDIO: [Peter Jennings, ABC]
Eleven days later, the regime fell. But that wasn’t the end of communism’s influence.
AUDIO: [Sound of Prague street musician]
Today, the Czech Republic is busy, successful. Wenceslas Square is a popular tourist destination with street performers every hundred feet or so. The economy is solid. People are comfortable. But they’re also extremely secular. Seven out of 10 say they have no faith of any kind. But Daniel Raus points out an anomaly.
RAUS: The biggest market for amulets in, in Europe is in the Czech Republic.
People in Prague love amulets. They’re little pieces of jewelry that supposedly provide energy and protect you from danger or disease. But if you’re an atheist—you don’t believe in God or a spiritual world—why would you believe in amulets?
Raus has his own theory about that. He cites philosopher and writer G.K. Chesterton.
RAUS: Chesterton once said, that if you stop believing in God, it does not mean that you are believing in nothing. It means that you are believing in anything. And Czechs are quite a good example of this because they are able to believe in really absurd stupidities.
Curt and Vicky Mobley agree with that.
VICKY MOBLEY: It is weird—there’s a lot of superstitions and there’s a lot of spiritualism. You know, where people are trying to find out some way to connect with another part of their lives.
She says if you ask someone, “What do you think happens when we die,” they’ll tell you they haven’t really thought about it. Not many people have even a basic understanding of religion.
CURT MOBLEY: After the Berlin Wall came down, there was a slight movement towards understanding religious freedom, but from the early eighties on…church attendance has consistently gone down in Czech Republic.
It’s an uphill climb for the Mobleys. But they’re used to investing without immediate return.
CURT MOBLEY: Nobody believes you until 10, 15 years later, you’re still a Christian. Then they go, Oh, what’s going on there?
The Mobleys go to a little church in the Zizkov neighborhood.
VICKY MOBLEY: It’s just called Zizkov Cirkev Braterska, which means church of the brothers.
It’s only a couple of miles from the Astronomical Clock, but this place is off the beaten path. No tower…no massive crowds. There are a hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty people here on a regular basis.
AUDIO: [Czech singing]
The Mobleys just finished running an evangelistic English camp, something they do almost every year. This time, one person professed faith in Christ. And that was encouraging…because usually it’s zero. So although it’s slow, the church is growing—little, by little, by little.
AUDIO: [Sound of American worship song]
For WORLD Radio, I’m Anna Johansen reporting from Prague, Czech Republic.