By Matt Welch, Reason
In 1990s Prague, wonderful things happened in the chaotic space between the end of communism and the rise of its replacement.
Reason‘s December special issue marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This story is part of our exploration of the global legacy of that evil empire, and our effort to be certain that the dire consequences of communism are not forgotten.
“Shhhhh!!!” I slurred to the Amsterdam-based American jazz pianist who was at that moment bellowing out a profane interpretation of the “Star-Spangled Banner” while swigging from a bottle of cheap Moravian wine at around 3 a.m. on a weeknight in Prague’s Old Town Square. It was August 1990, nine months after Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, and I had just spotted two armed men in red-accented military fatigues veering in our direction with sudden interest. My lubricated 22-year-old brain, facing the prospect of confrontation with the Red Army, lapsed into a panicky pop culture tailspin—War Games, Red Dawn, Amerika…run!
The expat ivory-tickler, seasoned enough to have dodged the Vietnam draft, did not share my apprehension. “WEEEeeeeLLLL,” he offered, in leery adaptation of Steve Martin’s 1970s catchphrase, middle fingers beginning to jab defiantly upward, “FfffffUUUuuuUCCCKKK…YOUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!” I blinked dumbly in shock, too paralyzed to thwart the ensuing (and in retrospect inevitable) soldier-directed Heil Hitlers.