Archive: History | Communism Communism

“Biggest of all is human freedom”: Jaroslav Hutka and the Velvet Revolution

25-08-2012 02:01 | David Vaughan

Photo: CTK Last week we heard how a song, Marta Kubišová’s “A Prayer for Marta”, came to symbolize the period of the Velvet Revolution. But there were other songs and singers who also captured the spirit of the time. One of them was Jaroslav Hutka. After signing Charter 77, he had been bullied into exile in 1978, and all his songs and recordings banned. As soon as the revolution of November 1989 began, he came back home, and in one of the most moving moments of the period, he appeared at the vast demonstration held on Prague’s Letná Plain on November 25.  More

A song becomes the symbol of the revolution

18-08-2012 02:01 | David Vaughan

In last week’s From the Archives, we heard how Czechoslovak Radio reported on the student demonstration that sparked the Velvet Revolution on November 17 1989. Initially the radio toed the official line, defending the violent police clampdown, but gradually the spirit of revolution spread through the corridors of our headquarters here in Vinohradská Street. Every day Wenceslas Square filled with tens of thousands of people, as it became increasingly clear that the communists’ hold on power was weakening.  More

The US failed to counter communist threat in post-war Prague, says historian Igor Lukeš in his new book

11-08-2012 02:01 | Jan Richter

Immediately after the end of the Second World War, Czechoslovakia became a testing ground in the contest between democracy and communist one-party rule. In Prague, the United States was hoping to challenge Stalin’s aim of including the country within the Soviet empire by supporting Czech and Slovak democrats in their uneven struggle against the communists. In his new book entitled On the Edge of Cold War – American Diplomats and Spies in Post-war Prague, Boston University professor of history Igor Lukeš explores the US efforts to counter the communist offensive in Czechoslovakia, and arrives at the conclusion that the half-hearted and even amateurish attempts by US diplomats in Prague were doomed to fail.  More

The revolution begins

11-08-2012 02:01 | David Vaughan

Národní třída, November 17 1989 November 17 1989 did not begin dramatically. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the execution of nine Prague students who had led protests in 1939 against the German occupation. Various officially sanctioned commemorations were taking place and the centre of Prague was filled with students.  More

The East German refugees in Prague

04-08-2012 02:01 | David Vaughan

Photo: CTK For a few weeks in the late summer of 1989, Prague became the scene of a bizarre – and now largely forgotten - refugee crisis. It had all begun in the spring, when Hungary had declared its decision to take down the barbed wire on its borders with Austria. A growing number of East Germans, desperate at the suffocating lack of reform in their country, took advantage of this new gap in the Iron Curtain as a way of fleeing to the West. But smuggling themselves into Austria was an uncertain business, and before long, they started seeking refuge at the West German embassy in Budapest - and then in Prague. It was much closer to home than Hungary and easier to get to, as East German citizens did not need a visa.  More

The different worlds of Husák and Havel

28-07-2012 02:01 | David Vaughan

Gustáv Husák If you tune in to Czech Radio on New Year’s Day, at some point you will hear the stirring tones of the presidential fanfare, introducing the president’s annual address to the nation. It was Czechoslovakia’s first head of state, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who established the tradition, when he spoke to listeners on the Czechoslovakia’s tenth birthday in 1928. Here is a short extract from his address, which also happens to be one the oldest recordings in our archives:  More

Jiřina Šiklová - from sociologist to dissident smuggler to pre-emancipated feminist

23-07-2012 15:47 | Dominik Jůn

Jiřina Šiklová, photo: Alžběta Švarcová My guest today is Jiřina Šiklová, a noted sociologist and author. Born in 1935 in Prague, Šiklová studied history and philosophy at Charles University. As a member of the Czech Communist Party, she became a key voice in the reform efforts that culminated in the Prague Spring. She left the party after the Soviet invasion of August 1968, severely limited in her official career opportunities as a result. As a dissident, she often published under an assumed name, and assisted in the smuggling of literature both to and from the country, for which she was ultimately briefly imprisoned in 1981. Today, she continues in her work as a sociologist, giving university lectures and writing books and articles and often having heated debates with the powers-that-be. Jiřina Šiklová, welcome to the studio.  More

Jakeš stands alone like a fencepost

21-07-2012 | David Vaughan

The expression “jako kůl v plotě” – “like a fencepost” - entered Czech folklore in the summer of 1989. The date was July 17 and Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party chief Miloš Jakeš was meeting local party activists in the small West Bohemian town of Červený Hrádek. The authority of the party was being increasingly challenged, and thousands had signed Charter 77's appeal for democratic reform, "Několik vět" (a few sentences). Not realizing that he was being recorded, Jakeš complained bitterly that he felt he was standing on his own and unsupported “like a fencepost”. Soon the recording had circulated around the country and abroad, and Jakeš, who was already famous for his malapropisms – he once mixed up the words “boiler” and “broiler” - found his authority shaken still more.  More

December 1988: Mitterrand meets dissidents in Prague

14-07-2012 02:01 | David Vaughan

Václav Havel and Francois Mitterrand (right) In the second half of the 1980s the sweeping reforms in the Soviet Union were being echoed in several of the country’s Eastern Bloc satellites. But in Czechoslovakia there were few signs of change, despite growing diplomatic pressure from abroad. A key moment came in December 1988, when President Francois Mitterrand made the first ever official trip to Czechoslovakia by a French head of state. This was part of a broader attempt to improve dialogue with communist countries, but Mitterrand also came with clear human rights agenda. Just before his trip he was interviewed by Czechoslovak Radio:  More

Perestroika passes Czechoslovakia by

07-07-2012 02:01 | David Vaughan

When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, it heralded a revolution in Soviet-American relations. At a series of high-profile summits, beginning in Geneva in 1985, a growing personal trust developed between the Soviet and American leaders. Here is President Reagan – from the Czech Radio archives - in Moscow on June 1 1988:  More

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