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Revolutions Of '89: For One Czech Family, Gains But Also Disillusionment

Jana and Jiri Homola with their son, Josef, at their home in Cakovice, Czech Republic.
Jana and Jiri Homola with their son, Josef, at their home in Cakovice, Czech Republic.
PRAGUE -- At a workshop on the outskirts of Prague, several large presses hum noisily.

They're churning out the plastic components for windows that form the core part of Jiri Homola's business.

At 77, Homola could be excused for taking life a bit easier. Instead he is active in the family business he runs with his wife, Jana.

And today, he is patiently explaining the process by which his extrusion machine takes plastic granules, heats them to 250 degrees, and presses them into specially made to measure moulds.

Any leftover pieces are then ground up and recycled. "Nothing is wasted," he says.

A former motocross racer, army dispatch rider, and driving instructor -- among other occupations -- Homola got into plastics production before the revolution that toppled communism in Czechoslovakia 20 years ago.

Shortly after November 17, 1989 -- when police cracked down on a student demonstration in Prague -- he got a call from some theater friends.

"They told me, 'Stop lounging around in that cellar and come and join the revolution,'" Homola says. "So I took the car to the Vinohrady theater and I was given the task of distributing posters [and] driving actors around, those who were taking part in the various meetings. So at that time I stopped my work and started working for the revolution."

In the garage where Homola started his business with one plastic extrusion machine now stand two shiny silver Mercedes cars.

The firm has expanded and moved. It now has three permanent employees and operates from a large workshop and storeroom in an adjacent Prague neighborhood. Homola says their export business is thriving, despite the twin challenges of a strong currency and a downturn in construction.

But despite their relative personal prosperity, during a chat with Homola and his wife and son, talk quickly turns to some of the disappointments that set in soon after 1989.

Feeling Of 'Disillusionment'

Both husband and wife say those who prospered were chiefly careerists who were well-positioned under the old regime, and who just "changed their coats" to suit the times.

They talk about a revolution "stolen" by corrupt networks of politicians and businessmen who are never punished for wrongdoing.

Fifty-seven-year-old Jana Homolova says something human has been lost over the last two decades.

"There was this wonderful euphoria, when we went to [the demonstrations on] Wenceslas Square, to Letna Plain, full of hope that there would be changes because we'd all had enough," she says. "Then suddenly we saw what was going on around us -- the embezzlement, the handing out of huge loans that were never repaid, then a state bank took them over and taxpayers' money was used for that.

"The political scene is terrible; it makes you sick. What's going on there has nothing in common with ethics or culture."

She says she and others feel "disillusioned" by the course that events have taken.

"I can't say that we're bad off because we've been in business so long that our firm is established and, thank goodness, sales are fine," she says, "but from the political and social point of view, even people we knew before and were friends with, even that is cooling off, and you get this envy."

Homolova says she appreciates the freedoms and opportunities now open to the younger generation. But she adds that young people are too materialistic, more interested in mobile phones and fashion than ideals or learning about the past.

Just 'A Nice Memory'?

On particular anniversaries, she says, she and her husband talk to their 18-year-old son Josef about history. But she faults schools for not doing enough to teach about the past.

Josef, who plans to follow in his father's footsteps in business, says he isn't too well-acquainted with the events of 1989 or earlier, which happened before he was born.

"We don't do much about it in school because I'm at a business academy, which puts an emphasis on economics, business, and so on," Josef says. "So there's not much said about history. We only had it in our first year, so we don’t find out much."

Homolova says the 1989 revolution now more than anything is a "nice memory."

But, perhaps worried the conversation has dwelled too much on complaints, she also points out what was gained, like freedom of the press.

"We can't just be negative," she says. "Thank goodness that it happened, that we can travel, that we can go into business. But you can't be satisfied with what's going on -- the corruption, that things don't work the way they should, that there's no moral principles, no respect."

Revolutions Of '89

When The Wall Came Down
Revolutions Of '89
In the fall of 1989, a singular wind of change swept across the continent, blowing down the Iron Curtain and revealing the public's yearning for freedom. Click here for RFE/RL's look back at the year communism collapsed.