We start this series with one of the great European democrats of the 20th century, Czechoslovakia’s first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Born in 1850, he was already in his late sixties when he became president in November 1918. He took inspiration from the western democracies, in particular the United States and Britain, having spent time in both countries during his First World War exile. But he was also a passionate European.
Exactly a year after the Prague Spring was crushed by a Warsaw Pact invasion, many thousands of Czechoslovaks went into the streets once more to protest their country’s occupation. The subsequent brutal crackdown on demonstrators, this time by their own countrymen, resulted in hundreds of arrests and even five deaths. It crushed the last vestiges of hope and persuaded the public that “normalisation” was here to stay.
In 1946 a secret American operation in Czechoslovakia led to major diplomatic protests. The US authorities had organized a mission aimed at obtaining hidden Nazi documents from a cache in a forest near Prague. However, they had not alerted the Czechoslovak authorities or sought permission – and that led to a real propaganda coup for the country’s pro-Soviet Communist politicians and press.
Until recently Zdeněk Toman was an obscure name to many Czechs. However, his incredible story has now reached a broad audience thanks to an eponymous film about him that was released last autumn. Just this week Toman was nominated for 13 prizes at the upcoming annual Czech Lion awards. I spoke to Martin Šmok, the man who originally discovered his extraordinary story.
In a world still ruled by men, Hana Podolská –later dubbed the Czech “Coco Chanel” –fulfilled her childhood dream – she married a man who loved her passionately and built up a family fashion empire. Her clothes and fashion advice was sought after by the film stars of the First Republic, the wives of rich entrepreneurs and the country’s first ladies. But the communist take-over robbed her of everything she had worked hard to achieve and she died abandoned and forgotten in the harsh normalization years following the crushing of the Prague Spring.
Whether it is glutton-free, paleo, vegan or just low-carb, the modern world offers special diets for the most selective consumers. But how does one eat when all but the most basic foodstuffs are cut off? That was the question that Czechs living during the Protectorate era between 1939 and 1945 had to ask themselves nearly every day.
Earlier this year the Czech Republic marked the 80th anniversary of the Munich Agreement, signed in September 1938 by the leaders of Germany, France, Great Britain, and Italy, resulting in the annexation of the Sudetenland by Nazi Germany. Radio Prague’s David Vaughan recently published a book in the UK titled “Hear My Voice”, most of which is set in Czechoslovakia in the months preceding the Munich agreement. Its narrator is an interpreter for the international press corps in Prague and he watches the events of 1938 unfold in Central Europe as