Prague’s skyline gave the capital one of its nicknames: the city of a hundred spires. But in actual fact around a thousand spires, belfries and towers of various styles and ages now grace the city centre. Some of them are popular tourist attractions offering great views of the city, others only recently revealed their mysteries. One served as an observation post for the secret police; another hosted a morbid display of a dozen severed heads.
Since it was established six years ago the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes has provided unprecedented public access to secret files once held by the security apparatus of communist Czechoslovakia. But it’s been a troubled institution, under constant political pressure and plagued by in-fighting. And now it’s in turmoil again, after the latest director was sacked.
Wherever you are in the Northern Hemisphere, it is likely that sometime around now you are marking one of the dozens of religious or cultural holidays that celebrates the beginning of spring. In this year’s Easter Monday special, we look at the ancient origins some of the peculiar traditions and trappings of the Czech spring celebration.
The Prague City Council has approved a revitalization plan for the capital’s Old Town Square that includes the installation of a replica of a Marian column that stood on the square for over 250 years until it was torn down in 1918. Many consider the column a symbol of oppression, but its supporters, who have campaigned for its return for over 20 years, have found a strong ally in the current mayor.
Police have reported the discovery of one of the biggest hoards of silver coins unearthed on the territory of the Czech Republic. Two years ago a treasure hunter in Moravia came upon the find of his life: a jug containing thousands of silver coins minted between the 15th and 17th centuries. He failed to report the find, selling most of it to a collector and only part of it has now been retrieved.
Czech President Václav Klaus leaves offices on Thursday, as his second term at the helm of the country expires. Mr Klaus has been one of the country’s most distinct public figures of the post-communist era. Credited with creating a democratic political system and carrying out economic reforms in the 1990s, his presidency has been marked with controversies over his strong views on a number of issues, from global climate change to the EU.
Monday marks the 65th anniversary of the communist putsch of 1948 which for the next four decades turned Czechoslovakia into a totalitarian state and a satellite of the Soviet Union. The anniversary is being commemorated by a series of events, warning against the Communists’ growing support in the society.
More than a dozen people who risked their lives to stand up to the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia received recognition from the government on Monday for participating in the so-called third resistance. The Prime Minister awarded 12 former dissidents, people smugglers and political prisoners for their resistance to the totalitarian regime. Six awards were granted posthumously.
My ears pricked up recently when a guest on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs selected as one of the songs he’d like to be stranded with a track by Louis Armstrong – recorded live in Prague. The LP Louis Armstrong in Prague: Lucerna 1965 was extremely familiar from the racks of the city’s secondhand shops. But I had never picked up a copy.