MotherJones JF93: Springtime in Prague

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Visitors to Prague just four years ago saw a city marked by beauty and calm; the striking preservation of ancient architecture, untouched by World War II; a window into the past, enhanced by the lack of western-style commerce.

Today Wenceslas Square rivals Times Square for pushy crowds and crass marketing. Billboards flash from the baroque roofs that line the stoic Old Town Square. Vendors hawk tacky souvenirs and Coca-Cola. Casinos and striptease shows vie with crystal shops for tourist dollars. Half the conversations are dominated by loud American English, and the city now supports three English-language newspapers. The cold war is over and, as George Bush liked to brag, we won.

Small wonder, then, that postcommunist Prague has become a magnet for Americans. Cheap food and rent, a low police profile, and a populace that loves American pop culture make the city a natural destination for hustling capitalists, impoverished students, and adventurers. Locals call the American kids “Recessionists.”

“It’s definitely getting more crowded with Americans all the time,” says Prague Post reporter Ross Larsen, himself a recent arrival. “It’s infested with them. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an American.” The Post’s editor, Alan Levy, proudly takes credit. “We are living in the Left Bank of the nineties,” Levy wrote across the front page over a year ago. “Prague is Second Chance City. Future Hemingways and Fitzgeralds, Audens and Isherwoods, Boswells and Shirers will chronicle our course.”

Maybe. But like many of the Americans setting up shop in Prague, Montanan John Bruce Shoemaker sees dollars, not culture, from the dance floor of his thriving nightclub Ubiquity.

“The East is like the Wild West,” he says. “Look who’s coming through. They’re mostly twenty-one years old with Daddy’s money, get upset when their knapsack is ripped off, and go home. I know very few people who have produced. I’d say on the whole, not much gets done.”

As long as the living is cheap and easy, refugees from the recession will keep coming. It’ll be a few more post-Velvet Revolution years, though, before it’s clear if the Yankee influx is a productive influence, or just hastens Prague’s slide toward becoming a tawdry Eastern European version of Amsterdam.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate