Prague: Pets Reflect Politics?

Interesting observation during our visit to Prague: very few dogs wore leashes. They followed their owners obediently and submissively, displaying little interest in other dogs or people.

As we watched this day after day, I wondered about the differences in culture.

Why do American dogs seem so exuberant and curious about their surroundings? Out of control, some might say. Do American owners indulge their dogs or treat their dogs differently? Do we lack the training skills, as a people, to bring our dogs into submission? Are we an excessive society that allows our dogs free rein?

DachshundOn one occasion, we followed a tiny noodle dog (I’m a cat person) as a larger dog approached. The noodle dog jumped off the sidewalk and tumbled onto the cobblestone road to get around the other dog. The larger dog noticed the noodle dog stumble, then turned his attention back to the sidewalk and kept moving forward. Once the larger dog passed, the tiny dog scrambled back up onto the sidewalk. The owner was already around a corner and out of sight. The little guy could barely keep up.

Fascinating.

How can all these dogs be so well-behaved? Why do they show so little interest in their surroundings? Why do they keep to themselves? What can this mean?

Behind the Iron Curtain

Behind the Iron Curtain

Can it be possible that dog-behavior reflects an Iron Curtain mentality? I know that seems a stretch, but work with me.

Let’s look at Czech history. World leaders sliced and diced Czechoslovakia during World War II — way too complicated to summarize. The Czech Republic of today is a democratic republic, born from a heritage of brutal suppression under Communist rule from 1948-1968, and Warsaw Pact invasion force in 1968 through 1989. A few gory details: in 1969, student Jan Palach torched himself in Prague’s Wenceslas Square to protest Soviet occupation. Horrified, I googled Jan Palach. He survived for three pain-filled days before he died from third degree burns over 85% of his body.

Jaroslava Moserova, Czech burn specialist who treated Jan Palach, relayed his desperation in the crushed human spirit of his fellow citizens:

It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, all the decent people who were on the verge of making compromises.[1]

Memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc in front of Prague National Museum

Memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc (fellow protestor) in front of Prague National Museum.

In his last words, he discouraged others from following his example!!!

“My act fulfilled its role. But no-one else should follow me. Students should try to save themselves, and devote their lives to fulfilling our goals. They should fight alive.

Fast forward 20 years to 1989 and the non-violent Velvet Revolution which led to Democratic elections in 1990, the first in 60 years. January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia split peacefully into two states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

I, for one, feel incredibly thankful that I lead a very safe life in the land of the free. I’m thankful for the peaceful shift in political power every four to eight years. I’m thankful for the freedom to express my opinions and disagree with the leadership of my country.

But, what if I didn’t have the democratic freedoms I take for granted? How would handle the pressures of oppressive rule — the real life-and-death kind — not the bureaucratic red-tape kind I deal with daily in the federal government. How would I react if my life (or the lives of my daughters) depended on it? Would I submit or resist? I’d love to imagine myself as a freedom fighter, hiding families in my attic, and smuggling people to safety. But is that just wishful thinking? In reality, would I survive by:

  • keeping my eyes on the ground,
  • minding my own business,
  • following the rules, and
  • not making waves?

Hopefully, I’ll never have to make these choices.

So back to the story of the dogs.

Prague dogs keep their noses forward, eyes to the ground — indifferent to stimuli around them. Can we attribute this good behavior to superior training techniques? Or…do these pets mirror Iron Curtain survival traits?

Can the crushed human spirit from oppressive rule manifest itself in pet behavior?

Granted, this is all pure speculation. But, as a political scientist, I’m curious.

5 Comments

Filed under culture, federal government, leadership

5 responses to “Prague: Pets Reflect Politics?

  1. As one who has now lived in two former Warsaw pact countries, your observation that recent history impacts culture in Eastern and Central Europe has great merit.

    Read this article about the current events in Hungary. It also includes some important insights into the cultural response to significant events.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39592671/ns/us_news-environment

    You’re definitely on to something.

    • bethbeck

      Wow. The last couple of lines in the article are so sad. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39592671/ns/us_news-environment
      Even the national anthem is downbeat. Adapted in the 19th century from a poem bearing the subtitle “From the rough centuries of the Hungarian people,” it pleads to God to pity a people “long by waves of danger tossed.”
      No wonder “Hungarians always see their glass as half empty,” Bohm said.
      Asked how Hungarians see themselves, he responds: “Constant losers.”

      Thanks, Janet, for sharing it. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to see you when we were so close. We’ll connect on your side of the Atlantic at some point!

  2. brobof

    As a cat herder you probably don’t understand that a well trained dog is much more fun than an unruly beast. Especially in densely populated Europe.

    However Europe is more ‘lassie faire’ (sorry ;) than the UK where we have rather draconian laws.
    Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1991/65/contents
    IMHO there is no such thing as a “dangerous dog” only dangerous owners!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Woodhouse

    As to the politics. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968 as well as the unsuppressable Soviet samizdat: underground newspapers, political cartoons, polemics and reprinting of suppressed works… All indicated that noses only *appeared* to be pointed at the ground.
    Tails, however, were wagging!
    Perhaps this perception was due to the American ‘Party line’ stretching from “Reds under the Beds” McCarthy to “Evil Empire” Reagan. In Europe we had a more nuanced approach and an active student exchange program! My family playing host to two Czech students in the late ’60s. One opted to stay! Family members back home were not executed or even punished!

    No. The Solidarity Movement, The Velvet Revolution et seq. were not “fast forward” Revolutions but part of the slow process of progressives out thinking, out smarting and out Evolving, the dull minded control of a repressive regime. As it became easier to print and distribute new ideology and counter propaganda, the classic means of control: State TV; Newspapers; Radio;… were subverted. Leading us nicely to the modern era: where barriers to communication and data access all but non-existant. And the Information Revolution is only just starting…

    But turnabout is fair play. I would humbly suggest that the post 1960′s evolutionary culture in the US is too self satisfied and self absorbed to break the current shackles that bind America. ‘Homeland Security’ aside: Corporate Lobby Groups, oxymoronic “Think Tanks”, unaccountable Media Barons and the Aristocracy of Wall Street.

    “God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.”
    Thomas Jefferson: an early proponent of the “permanent revolution” of Marx and Engels. One wonders what he would have made of the Supreme Court’s recent reversal on the campaign-finance reform law. Apart from certain “ahem” astroturfed movements, are there really any revolutionaries left in America?

    As for being a real democracy. How much does it cost to run for office these days?
    Here in the UK it’s £500.

    http://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/electing-mps/candidates/
    Here in the UK we have the unelectable Monster Raving Loony Party. And twelve different political parties courtesy of our first Green MP: Caroline Lucas!

    Alas from what I understand of American ‘democracy’ (via the excellent “Daily Show”) by the time one of your bipolar political class gets any power, they are already bought and paid for…
    We have a saying over here in Blighty:
    “Whoever you voted for ‘They’ got in again.”

    • bethbeck

      Great to have a different perspective.

      Yes, we have many flaws in our democratic system. If I could rewrite it, I would. Then we would find flaws in the new system. I still treasure my vote.

      The Daily Show is comedy, as you know. A valuable reflection of our culture, even though it doesn’t represent my point of view. I see the world with more hope. But that’s just me. ;)

      Signed, Yank cat-herder

      • brobof

        I would regard The Daily Show as Satire! (And good Bipartisan satire at that!) If you think they are harsh on the Republicans you should see them evicerate the Democrats! Speaking ‘Truthiness’ to Power. However 44% of Americans seem to regard it as News: http://www.timepolls.com/hppolls/archive/poll_results_417.html

        As the UK moves (hopefully) towards rewriting its political system via PR and an elected House of Lords, I would argue that a vote must be more than treasured… it must be fought for!

        “The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”
        Franklin D. Roosevelt April 29, 1938

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism

        Thank you for this exchange. For, whilst doing the research, I found this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stuart_Mill

        (Probably old hat to you political science types but new to me!)

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