Breaking down the psychological walls

Over the last two years we have listened to sounds from the Czech Radio archives going back over eighty years. In this, the last of the series, we look at two of the big events of the last decade - the Czech Republic’s accession to NATO and then, five years later, to the European Union. We start with NATO, which the Czech Republic joined in March 1999 along with Hungary and Poland. In 2002 Prague hosted a major NATO summit, at which seven further Eastern and Central European countries were invited to join. At the summit, President Václav Havel gave one of his rare speeches in English. Here is an extract:

“The last surviving remnant of the Iron Curtain, that strange psychological wall that used to separate the old democracies from the post-communist ones, is finally breaking down. If the whole of Europe is uniting itself within such an eminent security organization, in the name of shared values, it also signifies that Europe is also once and for all discarding all the dark features that have accompanied its history to date.”

And the last big step in that process came when the Czech Republic, along with nine other countries, joined the European Union on May 1 2004. Although there was little of the euphoria seen at the time of the Velvet Revolution back in 1989, many did feel that the Czech Republic was once again taking its place at the heart of Europe. At the time Radio Prague’s Brian Kenety went out into the streets to join the party:

B.K.: Which country are you from? And what instrument are you playing there?

"We come from Latvia."

B.K.: And what is this horn you are playing?

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "This horn is an archaic horn. A wooden horn."

B.K.: It's very traditional one, right?

"Not very - but traditional."

B.K.: Are you about to play a song for the people?

"Yes. Polka. It will be a dance."

"I'm from Germany and I'm passing out cheesecake."

B.K.: One of the great fears of Czechs upon entry into the EU is that there'll be great price hikes in the cost of everything from rice to sugar to God knows what. But one thing that will go down, actually, is the price of wine and cheese and other specialty goods from within the EU. So I, for one, look forward to some nice French cheese — cheaper French cheese. So I'm standing in the French information tent and I've corned one of the helpers here.

B.K.: I understand you've got some cheese.

"Yes. We have French cheese offered by Carrefour, a French company here."

B.K.: What kind of cheese is it?

"Gruyere. And ‘Vache qui rit‘."

B.K.: Wonderful. Thank you.

"My name is 'Medvěd'. It's a nickname"

B.K.: It means 'Bear', right?

"Yeah, actually."

B.K.: And what are you doing here today?

"We are working for the European Union."

B.K.: You are juggling bowling pins and you're riding unicycles and so on.

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission "Yes, that's it."

B.K.: You know, there's a European Union directive against that. You need a license.

"Seriously?"

B.K.: No. I'm only joking. Have a good day.

"Thank you very much."

B.K.: So, you're a volunteer and you're handing out leaflets and flags.

"Yes, actually I'm from the European Parliament and we're a team of European Parliament officials who are in the Czech Republic for 10 days, just to stimulate voting and participating in the next European Parliament election."

B.K.: How many flags do you have on hand — you've got Czech and EU flags — how many are you prepared to give out?

"We have a lot. And we try to give both to each person. And we think those two flags go well together."

That bid to encourage people to vote in the EU elections was far from successful. Turn-out in the Czech Republic’s first ever European Parliamentary election, just six weeks later, in June 2004, was less than 30%.

 

The episode featured today was first broadcast on November 19, 2009.

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