In this edition of Czechs in History, we take a look at the controversial legacy of Jan Palach. This young Czech history student shocked the world by setting himself on fire in the centre of Prague in protest at the Soviet-led invasion of communist Czechoslovakia in 1968, which crushed the democratic reform movement known as the “Prague Spring”.
It is 40 years ago this Friday that student Jan Palach set himself alight following the Soviet-led invasion of 1968. Palach’s suicide turned him into a symbol of national resistance, and to this day, Czechs and Slovaks remember what he did for his country. On the eve of this 40th anniversary, historians have just discovered a document which sheds new light upon his actions.
June 30 might become the Occupation Armies Withdrawal from Czechoslovak Territory Day to mark the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country. If the proposition by a group of deputies is approved by Parliament, the day will commemorate the withdrawal of more than 73,000 Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia in 1991 where they were stationed since the Soviet-led invasion of the country in 1968.
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.
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Czechs and Germans in 1930s Czechoslovakia: a complex picture
Cold War “king of Šumava” story brought to life in new film by Irish director
Unions: Strike Wednesday will hit most Czech schools