Czechs rebrand communist holidays





A Czech travel agency is offering package holidays for people nostalgic for the trade union perks of communist Czechoslovakia, when factory workers were bussed off to recuperate from the daily grind.

For a modest sum, guests can stay at a grim-looking hotel in Slovakia's Tatra Mountains, to relive the sights, sounds, and smells of pre-1989 holidays, the BBC's Rob Cameron reports.

It's 8.30am and holidaymaker Viera Kubisova is eating breakfast. I think I've upset her.

"It's history. That's all it is. It's history, and it'll never be erased," she says, waving a spicy sausage at me.

She is upset because I've asked if she was bothered by the bust of Stalin in the hotel lobby.

"It's our history and it's inside us," she continues, still brandishing the sausage.

"People of my generation felt it for 40 years. We lived it, and we'll never be able to detach ourselves from it."

Viera, from the Slovak capital Bratislava, is one of 80 or so Czechs and Slovaks who have spent a week enjoying a "retro" holiday in the style of the workers' breaks that used to be organised by the Communist Revolutionary Trade Union Movement - or ROH, to use the Czech acronym.

The holidays were a reward for a year of toil in the offices, factories, and coal mines of socialist Czechoslovakia.

Spirit of socialism

Mostly middle-aged or elderly, Viera and friends have come to the large and eerie Hotel Morava in Tatranska Lomnica, a winter resort in Slovakia's Tatra Mountains, to rekindle fond memories of ROH holidays gone by.

The hotel rooms are gloomy and claustrophobic. There is a weird smell in the bathroom. Ugly 1950s chairs sit empty at the end of silent corridors. It is a bit like the hotel in Stephen King's The Shining, only with Lenin and Stalin playing the ghosts.

And for some guests the authentic communist ambience is all part of the hotel's charm.

But surly communist-style service is no longer a feature.

"The idea came about totally by chance," explains Petr Krc, Czech travel agency owner and creator of the ROH retro holiday.

"The Morava's manager was showing us round the basement, and we came across a storeroom. Inside were boxes and boxes of flags, towels, napkins, cutlery, glasses, all with the ROH logo on them," he says.

"I said to him 'What are you going to do with this lot?' And he said 'I don't know, guess we'll hire a skip and chuck it'. And I said 'For God's sake, don't do that! You're sitting on a goldmine!'"

At 7am, the hotel wakes with a start. Loudspeakers crackle into life, blaring out a mixture of revolutionary songs and socialist-era pop. Those guests still asleep are roused by a hotel worker with a whistle.

Bleary-eyed and yawning, the holidaymakers are dragged out onto the hotel lawn for some vigorous open-air exercise.

At this point it becomes clear that the whole thing is more of an elaborate practical joke than a real exercise in nostalgia.

Dressed in an assortment of pyjamas, nightcaps and red scarves, the guests try their best to keep up with the exercises before collapsing, some in fits of giggles, on the grass.

"I really wouldn't politicise it too much, it's just a bit of a laugh," says Vladimir Polak, dressed in the light blue uniform of the Communist Union of Youth. Vladimir clearly bade farewell to youth several decades ago, so presumably the uniform is not his original.

"It's about reliving your memories - in my case childhood memories of having to stand on the pavement and wave a red flag on May Day. We're just having a bit of fun."

The fun continues with a train ride to a neighbouring resort, where a mock May Day parade awaits. Even Lenin is on hand to greet the marchers; clearly he was the only local man with a goatee and a flat cap. I also don't remember anything in the history books about Lenin wowing revolutionary crowds with jokes.

"Look, you have to laugh at communism," says Petr Krc, when I ask him whether if it is really appropriate to make light of a brutal totalitarian dictatorship.

"Back then, we had to whisper, you couldn't make jokes about the regime. Now all of us are laughing - and this time we're laughing out loud."


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