Former US ambassador to Czechoslovakia William Luers and his wife Wendy recently visited Prague and gave a talk at the American Centre about what it was like to be posted in Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, how they were able to support dissidents such as Václav Havel and how they later helped the country on the road to democracy. I spoke to them after the debate and began by asking the former ambassador what it had been like to serve behind the Iron Curtain.
In 2018 Czechs and Slovaks will jointly mark the centenary of the birth of independent Czechoslovakia. At the same time the two nations will look back on 1993, the year that their coexistence in a common state of Czechs and Slovaks ended in divorce. In the first part of Radio Prague’s miniseries on the Velvet Divorce we look at why Czechoslovakia broke up.
Václav Havel has been the subject of many books and quite a few have been devoted to the so-called Czechoslovak underground, the cultural movement which above all in music but also through literature and art ignored the desires and instructions of the ruling communist party. But while the link between the two has often been made, a new book bluntly argues that without the support of the underground, dissident leader Havel would have been nowhere in creating a coherent opposition.
In his twenty years as editor-in-chief of the publishers Faber and Faber, Robert McCrum introduced some of the best Czech writers, including Václav Havel, Milan Kundera and Josef Škvorecký, to English speaking readers. This was in the days before the fall of communism and his visits to Czechoslovakia involved a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities. A few days ago Robert McCrum returned to the Czech Republic, to see how the country is faring on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion. He spoke to David Vaughan.
Monika MacDonagh-Pajerová is a political activist and university lecturer. Back in 1989, she served as a press spokesperson for the student leaders protesting against the communist regime. Pajerová also helped to organise some of the now famous protests that led to the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. I joined her for an informal conversation about the subsequent mood in the country – and how for some, hope soon turned to cynicism. But I began by asking her to briefly describe her role in the events of November 1989:
Prague’s O2 Arena is set to see a very special concert next week. One of the most popular Czech bands Chinaski will team up with the Whakaari Rotorua group from New Zealand to perform a traditional Māori dance, called haka, trying to set a new record for the largest-ever haka. Whakaari Rorotua will also mark the visit of the late Czech president Václav Havel to New Zealand in 1995 with a special program at the Václav Havel library.
The former US president, Bill Clinton, first visited the Czech Republic in 1994, to offer the countries of the former communist block support and assistance on the road to democracy. It was a historic, trust-building visit in many ways, which saw the birth of a special friendship between the then US head of state and the Czech Republic’s first president Vaclav Havel. This week Bill Clinton gave Czech Radio’s Washington correspondent Lenka Kabrhelová an interview in which he recalled his visit to Prague, his admiration for Vaclav Havel, and how he
Producer Rick McCallum is nothing less than a legend in the film business, known for his many years with Lucasfilm and his work on enormous projects like The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and the Star Wars prequels. After retiring from Lucasfilm several years ago, McCallum relocated to Prague where he founded Film United. In our interview he discusses Czech talent and the benefits of shooting in the Czech Republic, and tells the story of a chance meeting he had in the 1990s with President Václav Havel.
For many years Jana Fraňková was the regular interpreter for President Václav Havel when he welcomed foreign visitors and travelled abroad. Fraňková was one of the few Czechs of her generation to graduate from Oxford University and following her return to Prague in the 1970s was harassed by the secret police for translating for Charter 77. She was also involved, she told me at Radio Prague’s studios, with the Jan Hus Educational Foundation, a group of Western academics who provided underground support to intellectuals in Czechoslovakia.