>Post-communist transformation: did the cat get the cream?

> Over the past few days I have been reading and re-reading my daughter’s current favourite, Puss in Boots, to her

All great political discourses, they say, have an archetypical mythical structure also found in the most basic of narratives such as fairy tales. As the Czech sociologist Jiří Kabele has argued this is also true, indeed particularly true, of discourses of political transformation, which have been a feature of modern Czech political history as regimes have shifted abruptly – most recentlyin 1989. The favourite political tales since have been the Transition to Democracy, Return to Europe, the Tightening of Belts and the Magic of the Market, although as historians such as Jiří Rak and anthropologists such as the late Ladislav Holy have noted. like all good fairy stories, these ‘new’ post-communist tales tend to recycle and remake older narratives dating back to the Czech liberal nationalism of the 19th century.

I couldn’t, however, for the life of me work out the subtext of Puss in Boots, however,. You could read it as a fable of meritocratic social mobility– the cat’s guile gets the miller’s son the top job; or a kind of historic compromise between the popular classes and the monarchy – kings are never overthrown in fairy tales, are they? – rather like that made with some of the more palatable elites of communist regime in and after 1989 for the sake of peaceful transition; or you could see it as a metaphor of the little people (and animals) resisting an authoritarian regime; or an echo of the trickster capitalism of self-made ‘business’ men like Viktor Kožený making fortunes out of nothing because of the perception of wealth.

Happily, in the Czech (and Central European) context Viktor and other similar Czech captains of industry like Puss were basically contented with a bit of cream and didn’t swallow the whole kingdom in the manner of post-Soviet oligarchs. No wonder Russian fairy tales are grimmer.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply