One deal I have with myself as a traveler is that I will partake of every opportunity to see something that advertises itself as a museum (I could stop the sentence there and it would be mostly true) of the cold war period. This has led me into some truly awful, abysmal, corn-ball shit (the "Spy Museum" in DC is among the funniest things I've seen that was not intended to be funny) and a few interesting places as well.
This will sound bad, but I don't go into such places to learn anything. I don't mean that I already know it all; it's more that I could get all the information I could ever want from any number of books, online sources, documentaries, and so on. So, and I suspect this is a big reason behind the Disneyfication of museums everywhere, they have to find an interesting way to tell the story.
Finding out that Prague has a "Museum of Communism" was a no-hesitation moment for me. Finding out once we arrived that it is located in a tourist-heavy area and thus would likely cater to American tastes was icing on the cake. This would be BAD.
On one count the place was legitimately good – everything was presented from a Czech perspective. That was refreshing. I feel like younger people (those who don't remember pre-1989) could learn a lot there. Points of reference as specific as addresses, small towns, and stories from normal people were used widely for context. I mean, I know that's not exactly rare in the museum world now but as shit as I was expecting the place to be, it was welcome.
The editorial perspective, though, was weird. It's always weird on this topic. It's clearly the "See? Communism failed! You are so lucky not to have to live in this failed system!" perspective, as every take on the Soviet bloc written after 1989 has used. Hooray! Capitalism won! Here's an enormous list of flaws with centrally planned government.
The genius of that framing is that it's impossible to refute in a vacuum. Clearly nobody really misses a system in which toilet paper was a rare commodity. It's indisputable that if you judge systems by their ability to churn out consumer products, there's no comparison. If you give people a choice between two systems that don't really work and one has ample, cheap Ass Paper, they're going to pick that one every time.
The irony, though, is that focusing attention exclusively on the failings of "Communism" is a great way to allow people of a certain mindset to walk out thinking, "See? Communism sucked!" without prompting any kind of reflection about the system we live in now. Because aside from the obvious gap in ability to make cheap shit to fill store shelves, every criticism in the entire museum was as applicable to modern capitalism as to Soviet-style communism.
Oh, under communism lots of people were imprisoned? People didn't feel free? Government was corrupt and unresponsive? Wow interesting tell me more. Through that lens even the line of argument that capitalism is awesome for consumption looks a little wobbly; "Most people couldn't get the things they wanted or needed" sounds an awful lot like "Most people can't afford the things they want or need" and the difference is semantic. I guess if the reason people end up under-provided for is the most important thing to you, that argument is worth having. In practice it isn't.
I liked all the photos and video of Wenceslas Square during the events of 1989. In that era it looked gray, dull, and absent any obvious symbols of affluence. Today it's crammed with equally sad, but in the sense that every available inch of space has been crammed full of foreign chain stores. The Jan Palach memorial is about 25 feet from a McDonald's. Across the square from that is a casino. It's gaudy and shitty and sad in a very affluent First World way that you can experience in just about any city on Earth.
It's not that the argument about a "failed system" is flawed. That doesn't bother me. What does bother me is the absence of recognition that it has been replaced with an equally flawed system. There was and is no "winner." People with power and money simply decided one set of flaws was more to their liking than another.