As the end of 2018 draws near, Czechs are reflecting on the century of their independent state. All years ending in “8” have a special meaning for this nation – 1918, 1938, 1948, and 1968 were the main turning points for the country and its people. Pavel Kosatík is a journalist and writer, author of many books, screenplays and documentaries about Czech history.
The short-lived secret organisation Světlana formed in 1948 grew to become the largest anti-Communist group in Czechoslovakia, boasting several hundred members at its peak, operating in more than a dozen cells, mainly in Moravia. That’s one version of events. Many long believed that Světlana was not only infiltrated by the State Security force, or StB, but was in fact a creation of it – part of operations to ensnare “counter-revolutionaries”, those sympathetic to what is now known as the Third Resistance movement. Other questions remain as to whether
One of the most fascinating Cold War spy tales, involving a Czechoslovak spy who fooled a woman into thinking he was her long abandoned son, is being adopted as a screenplay by a Hollywood studio. Jaroslav Kmenta, who is the author of a book on the spy and later sold the rights to Fox Searchlight Pictures, says the studio has used its option to go ahead.
Czechs have always had somewhat contradictory feelings toward their nobility. One of the country’s leading aristocrats once even bitterly complained that Czechs are either louts or boot-lickers, nothing in between. One of the first laws of the newly independent Czechoslovakia, one hundred years ago, forbade the use of aristocratic titles. On the other hand, today Czechs have developed an avid interest in the lives of their dukes and counts.
In 1941, Nazi Germany turned the centuries-old Czech garrison town of Terezín into a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp. Over the next few years, some 155,000 people were held there in desperate conditions awaiting transport to the death camps further east. And yet, there was a well-documented flourishing of cultural life in the ghetto. Many artists also risked their lives to depict the harsh reality of daily life. But this is a story of the traces left behind by more ordinary people who endured those extraordinary times.
Kurt Taussig is one of the 669 Czech Jewish children who were saved from the Holocaust by Sir Nicholas Winton on the eve of the Second World War. The 95-year-old man, who went on to join the RAF as a fighter pilot, has since lived in Great Britain and, until recently, was unknown to Czech historians. Now, more than 75 years after he left his country, he was granted honorary citizenship in his birth-town of Teplice.
You may be surprised to hear that one of the events to mark the hundredth anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia was held at the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University in Britain. On October 29 a plaque was unveiled commemorating a secret academic link set up between the university and Czechoslovakia at the height of normalisation in the 1980s. Czech and Slovak students who found themselves unable to go to university because they or their families were out of favour with the communist regime were given the opportunity to study secretly
As a war crimes investigator in former Yugoslavia Vladimír Dzuro took part in the exhumation of a notorious mass grave in which 200 massacred Croats had been dumped. He was later involved in the arrest of one of those responsible, delivering the first European war crimes indictment handed down by an international tribunal since the end of WWII. He has captured his sometimes hair-raising experiences in the book The Investigator: Demons of the Balkan War.
Historian Timothy Snyder is a leading expert on Central and Eastern Europe and has written forcefully about the threat posed by Putin’s Russia and how ordinary people can stand up to tyranny. This week Professor Snyder has been giving lectures in Prague that packed auditoriums. During his visit, Czech Radio’s Lenka Kabrhelová discussed aspects of this country’s history – and present – with Professor Snyder.