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.
The Czech Catholic Church says that it is near to sealing an agreement with the Vatican for the return of the remains of Cardinal Josef Beran back to his homeland. Cardinal Beran was persecuted by the communist regime when it came to power in 1948 but eventually left for Rome, where he ended his days.
Heda Margolius Kovály was a well-known writer and translator who survived the Auschwitz extermination camp and whose first husband, Rudolf Margolius, a deputy minister of foreign trade, was found guilty in the notorious Slánský show trials in what is one of the darkest chapters of in modern Czechoslovak history. In the 1970s, Heda published a memoir which has been in print ever since, but now, a new publication called “Hitler, Stalin and I”, based on four days of interviews with documentary filmmaker Helena Treštíková in 2000 and made into a film
František Vláčil, Karel Kachyňa, Vojtěch Jasný, Jiří Menzel and several more of the greatest ever Czech film directors honed their craft in the army during the communist period. And as the Czechoslovak New Wave was blossoming, the country’s military were producing the kind of short films that were the envy of their counterparts elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc. That’s according to historian Alice Lovejoy, author of the book Army Film and the Avant Garde. We spoke when Lovejoy, who teaches at the University of Minnesota, was in Prague recently.
A book exploring the part played by women in the anti-Communist dissent has
been launched in Prague. Entitled Bytová revolta: Jak ženy dělaly disent
(Apartment Revolution: How Woman Made the Dissent), it features profiles of
21 women who were not afraid to stand up to the Communist authorities in
the normalisation period of the 1970 and 1980s.
Among those who attended the launch were then dissidents Marta Kubišová, Dana Němcová and Kamila Bendová.
One of the organisers of the Women in Dissent project, Marcela Linková, said there was a perception that the women had supported male dissidents but in fact they had carried out the same activities as men.
Several now elderly people who were persecuted by the Communist regime were
honoured with the Memory of Nations award at Prague’s National Theatre on
Friday night in one of a number of events marking Struggle for Freedom and
Democracy Day. The award went to former political prisoners František
Suchý, Mária Matejčíková and priest František Lízna, as well as to
Otto Šimko, a Holocaust survivor who was repeatedly persecuted because of
his Jewish origins.
The Memory of Nations award has been presented annually since 2010 by the non-profit organisation Post Bellum, which records and makes accessible interviews with victims of the Nazi and Communist regimes.
The freethinking part of Czech society suffered several defeats in recent
years, rector of Masaryk University in Brno, Mikuláš Bek maintained in
his address to attendees at Albertov in Prague on Friday marking the
courage and dedication of students and others who fought oppression in
Czechoslovakia on November 17, 1939 and 1989.
Freedom and democracy, he said, needed to be cared for and he said one shouldn't be afraid to fight for it. In his speech, he ranked the first direct presidential election as one defeat freethinking society had suffered recently. The rector added there was "no reason to panic" and that education could change Czech society for the better.
The rector of Charles University, Tomáš Zima, remembered the courage of students in both 1939 and 1989 and said he had no doubt if freedom and democracy were threatened today, people would again stand up in its defense.
Twenty-eight years ago Czechs took to the streets to demonstrate for basic human rights and freedoms. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since and many Czechs today are asking themselves where those ideals went. Sociologist Jan Hartl, head of the STEM polling agency, has been closely monitoring the change of mood in Czech society over that time. I asked him to explain how people’s priorities have changed over the years.
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: