"Initiative Z" was the Czechoslovak communist regime's attempt to tap a volunteer work and community spirit toward supplementing local infrastructure and public facility improvement using volunteer work while the construction material and the logistics were provided by the government.
In Communist Czechoslovakia, Initiative Z (Czech: Akce Z) was a nationwide program of a volunteer, community-improvement unpaid manual labor by population, which was officially recognized as volunteer work which run for several decades, mainly on the projects where the 5-year planned economy was in a substantial delay.
Specific local plans with Initiative Z community-improvement projects were usually announced by a local Národní výbor ("People's Committee", i.e. an elected city council-like local government administrative body). Larger projects undertaken within the Initiative Z have eventually found their place into the nationwide state plans of economic development, such as Five-Year Plans.
The work was done outside the regular work hours, very often on Saturday morning and was somehow similar to subbotniks in the Soviet Union or standard community-action or community-improvement initiatives and programs in the West.
Although it was meant to be entirely voluntary work, the names of volunteers and a number of worked hours were duly documented. Those citizens who did not participate and their names therefore did not figure on the lists, were questioned, why they did not come to contribute and in many cases put under an unpleasant pressure by mentioning possible disadvantages such as a reduced choice with respect to future education or difficult change of employer.
Those citizens who worked the most hours were publicly recognized and there was an award-system which gave those who contributed more than 50 hours in a given year a Silver Akce Z Pin and those with more than 100 hours a Golden Akce Z Pin. Many, especially young people, earned - over the years - several of these and mentioned the fact say in applications for university admission.
"Z" stands for the Czech word zvelebování, "improvement", referring to improvement of public places. Typical activities ranged from garbage removal and planting trees to construction of some public-service facilities, such as children playgrounds, cultural centers (Kulturní domy, Houses of Culture), municipal pipelines or sewage lines, large number of grocery stores in small villages (for example grocery store Smíšené Zboží in village (Hůrky coordinates 49.049331 N ,15.133108 E) near Nová Bystřice) etc..
In the late 1980s when the planned economy was in the latest phase of its struggle, even technically advanced projects were attempted to be progressed by sending numbers of unskilled volunteers to help under the umbrella of Initiative Z. However, the lack of skills among volunteers often resulted in contra-productive outcome and faulty results of volunteer work, although well hidden, regularly led to even longer delays. Many participants recalled futile work be ordered upon them, for illustration having to shuffle a large heap of sand with shovels and wheelbarrows the whole day by 20 meters, just to witness it being relocated by a machine to its original location in the following working days.
Under any regime always sceptical, Czech folk wit claimed that "Z" stood for zdarma, i.e., "without pay".
- Notice 6/1960 of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Finance and State Bank[permanent dead link], see sections 15, 18 (Czech)
- The Czechoslovak Cooperator, Issues 3-4, p. 6
- "From Good King Wenceslas to the Good Soldier Švejk: a dictionary of Czech Popular Culture ", by Andrew Lawrence Roberts, ISBN 963-7326-27-8, 2005, p. 1