It’s probably widely accepted these days that all countries spy on each other, even states on their so-called allies. And a book presented in Prague this week about the former East German secret police, the STASI, shows how it was true of the fraternal Communist countries of the former Eastern bloc, including former Czechoslovakia, as well.
Czech Political Prisoners: Recovering Face is the title of a book of photographs and texts by Jana Kopelentová-Rehak, a Czech anthropologist based in the US city of Baltimore. When the Šumava-born academic was in Prague recently we discussed the political prisoners, or “mukls”, she met and how they were marked by their experience of brutal communist labour camps. But first we spoke a little about her own life, starting with a key encounter in the 1980s, when she was taken in by Charter 77 signatory Miloslava Holubová.
The Czech Republic and most of its Central European neighbours are among the least empathetic countries in the world according to a US survey. Michigan State University attempted to survey around 104,000 people aged between 18 and 90 in 63 countries worldwide and tried to rank their overall empathy. On the basis of those scores, the Czech Republic was placed 55th in the table. Slovakia was placed in 57th place with nine out of the 10 worst placed countries in former communist countries. The most empathetic countries are Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Denmark, and the United Arab Emirates.
The Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia has had its fair number of top spies before the Second World War, during the conflict as well as in the post war and Cold War era. There is František Moravec, who created one of the most successful espionage networks for Czechoslovakia during the inter-war years and later took his skills into exile in Britain.
Every October 28th, marking the founding of the former Czechoslovakia, the president presents state honours to chosen recipients which recognise their life’s work, sacrifice and outstanding contribution. Awards range from the country’s highest honours – the Order of the White Lion or the Order of T.G. Masaryk – to Medals of Merit.
The late Czech president, Václav Havel, who died five years ago, would have turned 80 on Wednesday, October 5. Celebrations of his life and legacy are taking place at home and abroad. In this special program on Radio Prague we recall the heady days of the Velvet Revolution that swept the dissident playwright from jail to Prague Castle.
When Czechoslovak dissidents produced samizdat literature in the late communist period they did so in large part thanks to the material and financial support of the Charter 77 Foundation. It was run by František Janouch, a Czech émigré who is still mainly based in Sweden. In the second half of a two-part interview with the nuclear scientist, we discussed his relationship with Václav Havel, the Velvet Revolution and the work of the Charter 77 Foundation today. But first I asked Mr. Janouch, now 85, how the organisation had managed to get printers
A nuclear scientist, František Janouch is perhaps best-known for the Charter 77 Foundation, which he set up in exile in Sweden to provide dissidents in his native Czechoslovakia with financial support and technical equipment in the latter years of the communist regime. In this the first half of a two-part interview, Mr. Janouch – who turned 85 last week – recalls the war, his years in the Communist Party, his forced emigration and the beginnings of the Charter 77 Foundation.
This year’s George Theiner Prize, which honours people who have helped to promote Czech literature abroad, went to Markéta Goetz-Stankiewicz. At the University of British Columbia she has devoted decades to promoting, translating and writing about modern Czech literature. It was also thanks to Markéta that many Czech playwrights, banned back home, managed to have their work performed on stages in Canada during the 1970s and ‘80s. She has worked just as hard to promote interest in the rich legacy of German writing from what is now the Czech Republic.
Former high ranking communist party leaders such as Milouš Jakes and prime minister Lubomir Štrougal are among 67 Czechs and Slovaks being sued for the deaths of five German citizens who were killed on the Iron Curtain trying to flee communist Czechoslovakia. The Platform for European Memory and Conscience filed a criminal complaint in Germany after losing faith that justice would be done in the Czech Republic.