Libor Pesek and the liberators who trod on the flowers

22-07-2003

Libor Pesek is one of the best-known and most respected Czech conductors, famous in the English-speaking world for the ten successful years he spent in Britain as chief conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. He recently celebrated his 70th birthday, but for this week's "Witness", he looks into his distant past long before his musical career began, to a childhood memory of the day in 1945 when the Red Army liberated Prague.

"I was born in 1933 in Prague and there was this square with a lawn and flowers and whenever, as a small boy - I was five years old - I stepped on the lawn or on the flowers, my mother said: 'You mustn't do that, this is forbidden, you don't do these things.' And then I remember, when I was 12, it was on the 9th May 1945, everybody was expecting the Anglo-American forces coming from the west down to Dejvice, which is Prague 6, and suddenly there were Russians, and Russian tanks. And the first Russian tank which came in just drove through this beautiful garden, through this lawn and those flowers and something in me collapsed. I knew that a new age was coming in, and it really did come in. So this is just an image which I still carry in my mind."