The Show: Living Abroad
The Location: Prague
Hostess Chi-Lan Lieu was viewing the stunningly banal architecture built during Communism's heyday in Prague when that hilarious one-liner just kinda slipped out: "Communism is so boring!" she exclaimed.
You hear a lot of things about Communism. But Chi-Lan is right! Communist art, Communist music, Communist literature, life in general under Communism pretty much sucked. No one ever really says, "I gotta get me some of that"...not even the Lefties. They push the policies of Socialism but I've never heard one of them actually blurt out, "America should be just like Mother Russia during the 1970s." They wouldn't dare!
In the face of ugly buildings, ugly art and atonal music, Communists had just one home run swing: killing people. They excel at that. Otherwise, there's really not much to do under Communism except drink.
Understanding the Times
If you've been reading AMERICA: The Blog for awhile, you may've noticed I don't talk about Socialism nor Communism nor Marxism nor other forms of government very much. There's a good reason for that.
Government ranks right up there with mathematics: I've got a brain like sieve when it comes to numbers and government. Even after a year of studying every type of possible regime with the Understanding the Times curriculum in homeschool, I still can't explain the difference between Marxism vs Leninism vs Stalinism. God gave me words, but not numbers and not comprehension of governments. Stories, anecdotes, people, quotes, poetry...I can retain all that. But algebra or government structures...ppfffttttt. In one ear, out the other.
My understanding boils down to representative government under our Constitutional Republic with a capitalistic competitive economy: Good, good, good.
Everything else: Bad, bad, bad.
Nevertheless, here are two of my favorite anecdotes about Communism.
Once upon a time...
"We Pretend to Work..."
Even though I can't intellectually understand different types of governments, I can see the difference by traveling the world. Digitally, I mean. I spend my Sabbaths traveling the world thanks to ROKU...and if it's a food travel show, even better!
When Todd Carmichael visited Cuba on the show Uncommon Grounds, he didn't mince words about Communism. For example, under Castro's rule production of the über-expensive coffee beans Todd sought had been cut by at least half. There was just no incentive to produce any more and even Todd couldn't procure the fancy-pants Cuban coffee beans despite visiting Cuba in person.
A popular cliché in Cuba is, "We pretend to work, the government pretends to pay us." There's no motivation to better yourself. It won't pay off anyways. Under Fidel Castro, you weren't even allowed to sell your house nor your 1956 jimmy-rigged Chevrolet!
Don't Mess With Texas
The year was 1958 and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was determined to prove the superiority of Mother Russia in every way, from space exploration to the Soviet military to the arts. But he hadn't reckoned on a tall, skinny 6' 4" drink of Texan water by the name of Van Cliburn.
Wikipedia sums it up nicely: "The first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 was an event designed to demonstrate Soviet cultural superiority during the Cold War, after the USSR's technological victory with the Sputnik launch in October 1957."
A Russian had to win. Their national honor was at stake.
There was only one problem: Cliburn was the best. Hands down. He was upright, forthright, downright the best pianist to compete in the Tchaikovsky Competition which left the Soviet judges in one heck of a dilemma.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, they finally went to Khrushchev and presented their problem. According to the story I read, Khrushchev asked one simple question: "Is he the best?"
With fear and trepidation, the judges admitted that, yes, Cliburn was the best.
"Then give him the prize," Krushchev barked. And this from the man of the infamous United Nations shoe-banging "We will bury you" incident.
That is how at the tender age of just 23, a tall Texan pianist captured the heart of the Russian people and smoothed American/USSR relations for decades to come.
Almost thirty years later when Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev were welcomed to the White House by President Reagan, Van Cliburn broke a nine year sabbatical to serenade them on the White House Steinway piano tuned and voiced by Steinway's Head Technician, German-born Franz Mohr who survived the Americans bombing his hometown during WWII, came to America and found Jesus Christ. Van Cliburn passed in 2013 but Franz Mohr is still with us today at the age of 94!
(This first YouTube with President Reagan is a must watch. Cliburn even sings to the Gorbachevs in Russian! WOW!)
Later, when Van set-up the Van Cliburn Piano Completion in Fort Worth, Texas, droves of Russians competed and many won. In 2001 in an unprecedented departure, 3rd prize was not awarded and instead two 1st prizes were awarded to Russian Olga Kern and Uzbekistani Stanislav Ioudenitch, both of whom now reside in the United States!
That's really I've got: two marvelous anecdotes about Communism which show, yet again, that it's not the people who are the problem in any nation. Oh no, it's never the people.
It's always the governments.
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