In the last days of World War II, nine-year-old Ota Heller picked up a revolver and fired it at a German soldier. He did not wait to see if the man was still alive. For decades afterwards he talked to no one about the experience, and only recently has Ota Heller – or Charles Ota Heller, as he is now called – felt able to return to his memories of the war, collecting them in his book “Out of Prague”. In this week’s Czech Books he talks to David Vaughan.
The Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II left a deep mark in Czech history. Various legends and myths surround the 16th century ruler who made Prague his imperial seat and whose diverse interests made the city a centre of Renaissance arts and sciences. One monument from his time is hidden beneath the surface of the earth – a water tunnel carved deep into the rock of one of Prague’s hills.
It was one of the most remarkable single acts in Czechoslovak history, one that still today evokes mingled shock and admiration. Now the documents, reports, essays and films relating to the self-immolation of Jan Palach - five months after the invasion of his country by Warsaw Pact forces – is available to the public through a new website launched to commemorate the life and sacrifice of the young activist.
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.
The last communist president of Czechoslovakia Gustáv Husák became the symbol of the spineless regime that ruled the country after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Himself a political prisoner in the 1950s, he oversaw the persecution of opposition activists in the 1970s and 80s – an intellectual who supported the reforms of the Prague Spring turned into the Soviet Union’s lackey. We look at the life of Gustáv Husák on the 99th anniversary of his birth.
With its rich history and impressive neo-Renaissance architecture Zbiroh Chateau is a big attraction in its own right. In the course of the next two months it will moreover boast a rare exhibit – the Lucan portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, an alleged self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, which has never before been shown outside Italy.
By the mid 1960s political control over many aspects of cultural and social life in Czechoslovakia had relaxed considerably. This was the height of the “New Wave” in Czechoslovak cinema, in theatre socialist realism had long gone out of fashion and in music the swinging sixties were well under way. But it wasn’t just through the music it was playing that Czechoslovak Radio tried to keep pace with the changes. One programme that broke the traditional mould was launched in 1966 and was called “The 33 Questions of Marcel Proust”. These were questions