Over the next four weeks, at almost 600 primary and secondary schools throughout the Czech Republic, pupils will come face to face with the many injustices carried out during four decades of communist rule. Using documentary films and interaction with real people who lived through those times, the Stories of Injustice project attempts to shed light on a period that barely features on the mainstream Czech curriculum. The programme is run by the NGO People in Need, and this is its fourth year, but as Rob Cameron reports, it's not to everyone's
Czechoslovakia played an active part in the Soviet Union’s propaganda war with the United States during the 1950s, a time of edginess and paranoia on both sides. There was no shortage of people trying to flee across the Iron Curtain to the West, but every now and then the flight would be in the other direction, and someone from the West would actively seek asylum in the Communist Bloc. For the communist regimes this was a propaganda opportunity not to be missed.
Even after the death of Stalin in the Soviet Union and Klement Gottwald in Czechoslovakia the 1950s remained a period of high political tension between East and West. The Cold War was at its height; with it came the arms race and the space race. Here is Czechoslovakia’s president Antonín Novotný, in a New Year radio address on January 1 1958:
When Joseph Stalin died on March 5 1953, it sent shockwaves round the world. In Czechoslovakia his personality cult had been almost as overwhelming as in the Soviet Union itself. At the time of his death, work was already well under way to build the biggest statue of the Soviet dictator in the world – unveiled two years later in Letná Park. Stalin had a close ally and kindred spirit in the Czechoslovak President, Klement Gottwald, and Gottwald ignored warnings from his doctors in order to attend his friend and protector’s funeral. Before leading
An exhibition of rare photos showing the crushing of the Prague Spring reform movement in 1968 is on display at a gallery in Vienna. The photographs were taken by Austrian photographer Franc Goess who worked for Paris-Match magazine and happened to be in Prague at the time of the Soviet led invasion. He made 100 shots of the groundbreaking event but they were never published, languishing for decades in an archive. Following an April premiere in Prague – to mark the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia – the collection is now on show at the Westlicht Gallery in Vienna. It will remain on display until mid-October.
This week in Mailbox: The 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Joe Hewer’s memories of a 1956 trip to Czechoslovakia, a 1970 Radio Prague print to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Czechoslovakia, weapons used by two Czech Olympic medallists, Kateřina Emmons and David Kostelecký. Listeners quoted: Jayanta Chakrabarty, Joe Hewer, Bill Smith, Steve Price.
This week no topic in the Czech Republic was more dominant than the 40th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. On August 21st, tanks and soldiers moved in, and forever changed the course of the country, crushing reforms that had made life in Czechoslovakia tolerable compared to the Stalinist 1950s. But all too soon, the reforms came to an end. In the weeks which followed, many Czechs and Slovaks opted to escape, among them my parents – only a few years married. They were among the first to leave: that same night of the 21st crossing
Soviet propaganda described the invasion of Czechoslovakia as “brotherly help” to a nation threatened by “counter-revolutionary forces”, and the Warsaw Pact forces that occupied the country in August 1968 came from Russia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. But not all the citizens of those countries agreed with the invasion, and several of them risked their lives to protest against Moscow’s crackdown. On Thursday, nine of them received medals in gratitude from Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek.
The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia resulted in a permanent Soviet military presence on Czech soil. Between 1968 and 1991 –when the last of the Soviet troops finally left the country – they operated in 73 localities. The environmental damage they caused is taking years to repair and has already cost billions of crowns. Jakub Kašpar is a spokesman for the Czech Environment Ministry:
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