Prague museum shows totalitarian-era surveillance tech

The Iron Curtain was greater than only a determine of speech: Communist regimes arrange 1000’s of miles of heavily-guarded, electrified barbed wire fencing to utterly isolate Jap Europe from the West.

That also didn’t cease many from desperately trying to flee the totalitarian East. Some succeeded however many misplaced their lives.

Among the many latter, in what was then Czechoslovakia, was a priest within the brutally-persecuted Catholic Church named Josef Skop. Hoping to succeed in East Germany, earlier than the Berlin Wall sealed off its reference to the West, he determined to cross the River Elbe undetected by strolling underwater in a home-made diving swimsuit full with rubber boots.

Not being an skilled, he used a rubber backyard hose as a respiratory tube – a deadly mistake because it proved too lengthy and too slim to make sure a ample air provide.

Practically 300 individuals are recognized to have died, many killed by border guards with orders to shoot on sight, whereas trying to flee from Czechoslovakia to the West.

Skop’s diving swimsuit is on show in Expertise in Dictatorships, a brand new exhibition on the Nationwide Technical Museum in Prague, now capital of the Czech Republic, one of many two international locations into which Czechoslovakia break up after communism. The show marks the 30th anniversary of the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution by wanting again on the surreal repression the nation underwent and at the way it resisted.

It focuses on the know-how utilized by the totalitarian regime to manage its residents – and the progressive means they used to undermine the omnipresent management.

There are typical James Bond-style spy devices, akin to a microphone hid in a watch or tiny cameras. However probably the most commonly-used surveillance tools was a lot bulkier and needed to be hidden in suitcases, items of baggage and even child carriages.

“Spying was large, ” stated Jan Hostak, the exhibition’s curator. The key police often known as State Safety (StB) – with about 15,000 staffers and a community of as much as 100,000 collaborators – may spy on and bug 600 folks on the identical time.

For many years, this was sufficient to restrict the actions of the comparatively small variety of dissidents who brazenly challenged the regime.

“The key police brokers have been masters in bugging and eavesdropping on folks and no dissidents might be sure that their condominium was not focused, ” Hostak stated.

However protests intensified in 1989 and the StB may now not comprise them.

On Nov 17,1989, fiery speeches at a college campus impressed 1000’s of scholars to march towards Prague’s central Wenceslas Sq.. As darkness fell, police cracked down exhausting. Unbowed, the scholars went on strike and large avenue rallies adopted. The federal government collapsed and President Gustav Husak resigned.

Weeks later, Vaclav Havel grew to become the nation’s first democratically elected president in many years.

The exhibition consists of mimeographs, copying machines that helped Havel and different dissidents unfold their message, the Constitution 77 human proper manifesto amongst them.

One other centrepiece is a 1960s gyroplane – a helicopter-like super-light plane – that ought to have flown Vojtech Vala to the West. Vala acquired it with out the mandatory engine and used an previous Walter Mikron II mild airplane engine from the 1930s to energy it.

On Oct 27,1977, he took off from a freeway development web site close to Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia, and was quickly heading easily for the close by Austrian border. He landed after a five-minute flight solely to search out out he was nonetheless in Czechoslovakia. Vala was arrested and later sentenced to 13 years in jail.

“It’s necessary to remind folks of what it actually was like, ” Hostak stated. – AP


Journey notes

All of the items on show are accompanied by textual content in English. The Nationwide Technical Museum is open on daily basis besides Monday, from 9am to 6pm. Expertise in Dictatorships is on till June 28,2020. Entrance payment is 250 Czech crowns (RM46). Malaysia Airways, Singapore Airways and Qatar Airways are only a few of the airways that provide flights to Prague from Kuala Lumpur.

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