Tuesday, December 15, 2009

1989-2009: A Czech town survives two utopias

The Czech city of Zlin has had a strange century.

One hundred years ago it was a village of less than 4000, seventeen years later, a centrally-planned industrial utopia of 45,000, the brain child of a local cobbler who would build the world's largest footwear company. Ten years, a world war, and a Soviet "liberation" later, it found itself part of another centrally-planned vision, this time guided by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin rather than a self-made industrial tycoon. In 1989 that second utopia collapsed, of course, and by the beginning of the 21st century the shoe industry that had built the city was gone too.

So how has Zlin weathered it all? Very nicely, thank you, not least because its peculiar past. Passport members can read all about it in my feature now posted at Global Post.

Scholars of the industrialist Tomas Bata will be interested to know that elements of his vision for a centrally-planned garden city were co-opted by the Communist regime, which also pressed Bata Company technocrats into service, creating the concrete panel buildings that ring many Czech and Slovak cities today.

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