Life Under a Totalitarian Regime, Unpacked

To fully understand life in the Eastern Bloc under Communist rule, you have to look beyond academic history, according to Vojtêch Ripka, head of the education department at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in Prague, Czech Republic.

Ripka visited Hotchkiss Dec. 3-5 as part of the Center for Global Understanding and Independent Thinking visiting speaker series. The Institute, founded in 2007 as part of the country's process of coming to terms with the past, investigates the periods of the communist dictatorship (1948-1989) and the Nazi occupation (1939-1945).

Ripka spoke to faculty members and students about ways to use the Institute's website, "Socialism Realized: Life in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1948-1989," in their own teaching and research.

"The dominant narrative of the Cold War focuses on politics and conflict; we try to make it more colorful," he said. Using feature films, novels, and other primary sources, students learn through their own agency and investigation. "Our goal is to use Czech history to help students gain a more nuanced view of life under a totalitarian regime," he said. "We chose material that attests to the lives of people in the whole Eastern bloc and brings up themes that could be important for anybody, even today."

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