Tomáš Vilímek - But They’re Threatening and Cursing Us! A Study of the Complaints and Notices sent in by Czechoslovak Citizens during Czechoslovakia’s Perestroika

This paper looks at the complaints and notices filed by Czechoslovak citizens during the period when the legitimacy of the communist regime was in crisis in 1986–1989. They represent not only the “soft stabiliser of the rule of dictatorship” but also a remarkable and in its own way the most intense interaction between the state power bodies and the citizens demanding, often quite resolutely, that the regime fulfil its promises. Drawing on archival sources, scholarly literature and period press, the author describes the topics, form and overall numbers of complaints and notices; how- ever, the responses from the party, state and trade union bodies are also explored. In consequence of the transformation of the international situation and the deepening economic, environmental and social issues in Czechoslovakia, there were a growing number of complaints and notices in the late 1980s, written by people especially in the hope of improving their own living standards, while at the same time they were growing increasingly critical and forthright. The complaints are also a remarkable and authentic reflection upon the individual and society-wide problems of the time, and can be seen as one of the symptoms of the society-wide crisis and a manifestation of the majority society’s sole focus on consumption, while the recipients were probably better aware of the dimension and the potential destabilisation effects of the crisis than the senders. Despite complaints being presented in the state media as a means for citizens to protect their guaranteed rights and interests, in practice they were understood rather as a tool for controlling the work of the state and economic authorities and institutions, intended to help eliminate the adverse factors in society, thus increasing workers’ involvement in management and administration. However, the complaints and notices from the end of the 1980s imply that the ruling regime was not particularly successful in its effort to make them another link in the chain of control, or more accurately, was unable to take advantage of the stimuli it received in this area. For the complainants, they were often the last and relatively safe option for defending their own interests, or a means to voice, often anonymously, their dis- satisfaction with the reality of late-socialist everyday life. Although for many years complaints served as a kind of release valve, or a means of directing the conflicts between the powerful and seemingly powerless, it turns out that in this very period of so-called perestroika the potential for conflict rose remarkably, a problem the power bodies were unable to deal with.