Part 2: Prague’s 'Left Bank of the '90s'
In the years immediately after the 1989 Velvet Revolution, thousands of young people from all around the world moved en masse to Prague. Some came to make money, drawn by the prospects of the wide-open “Wild East;” others came to teach English, work in the newly opened bars and restaurants, volunteer their services, or simply hang out, drink beer and write poetry from the bluffs of the Vltava River. The emergence of Prague as the world’s “Left Bank of the ‘90s” – a conscious invocation of Paris of the 1920s – began around 1991 and lasted for several years. It was one of the oddest phenomena of the immediate post-communist period to take place anywhere in the former Eastern bloc.
The decade of the 1990s – the music, the films, the styles – is now back in fashion, and it’s got me thinking about those strange days all over again. In particular, I’ve been wrestling with the notion of that “expat* invasion” and what significance, if any, it had for Czechoslovakia, the post-communist transformation, and for those of us who were part of it. It’s tempting, from a distance of three decades, to dismiss the whole thing as mere media hype (and there was a lot of that), but maybe that’s too easy. After all, that sudden, surprising influx of foreigners really did happen – even if it now seems like a distant memory. Last week, in Part 1, I wrote about what catalyzed Prague’s curious moment in the international spotlight; this week, I’ll focus on how it came to an end and what we might make of it now thirty years later.