This year is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Canadian historian Gordon Skilling. As we have already reported on Radio Prague, the anniversary has been marked by an international conference and an exhibition at Prague’s Kampa Museum, a rare honour for an academic. But Gordon Skilling was different. Between 1937 and his death in 2001, he was in Prague or Bratislava for many of the most important moments in 20th century Czechoslovak history, and this gave him a very close and personal relationship to the Czechs and Slovaks. David Vaughan
If you tune in to Czech Radio on New Year’s Day, at some point you will hear the stirring tones of the presidential fanfare, introducing the president’s annual address to the nation. It was Czechoslovakia’s first head of state, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who established the tradition, when he spoke to listeners on the Czechoslovakia’s tenth birthday in 1928. Here is a short extract from his address, which also happens to be one the oldest recordings in our archives:
My guest today is Jiřina Šiklová, a noted sociologist and author. Born in 1935 in Prague, Šiklová studied history and philosophy at Charles University. As a member of the Czech Communist Party, she became a key voice in the reform efforts that culminated in the Prague Spring. She left the party after the Soviet invasion of August 1968, severely limited in her official career opportunities as a result. As a dissident, she often published under an assumed name, and assisted in the smuggling of literature both to and from the country, for which she
The expression “jako kůl v plotě” – “like a fencepost” - entered Czech folklore in the summer of 1989. The date was July 17 and Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party chief Miloš Jakeš was meeting local party activists in the small West Bohemian town of Červený Hrádek. The authority of the party was being increasingly challenged, and thousands had signed Charter 77's appeal for democratic reform, "Několik vět" (a few sentences). Not realizing that he was being recorded, Jakeš complained bitterly that he felt he was standing on his own and unsupported “like
In the second half of the 1980s the sweeping reforms in the Soviet Union were being echoed in several of the country’s Eastern Bloc satellites. But in Czechoslovakia there were few signs of change, despite growing diplomatic pressure from abroad. A key moment came in December 1988, when President Francois Mitterrand made the first ever official trip to Czechoslovakia by a French head of state. This was part of a broader attempt to improve dialogue with communist countries, but Mitterrand also came with clear human rights agenda. Just before his
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Monday attended a commemorative ceremony for the victims of the Romany Holocaust. At the site of a former concentration camp in Lety, Mr Nečas admitted the Czech responsibility for the murder of over 5,000 Romanies during the war. But the official event sparked controversy among the Romany community which says the government should first make sure the victims were giving a dignified memorial.
When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, it heralded a revolution in Soviet-American relations. At a series of high-profile summits, beginning in Geneva in 1985, a growing personal trust developed between the Soviet and American leaders. Here is President Reagan – from the Czech Radio archives - in Moscow on June 1 1988:
The previous episode of Czech Life featured the first part of Lillian Schořová’s life story. The 92-year-old Englishwoman is one of the hundreds of English war brides who went home with their Czechoslovak husbands after the war. Lillian came to Czechoslovakia with Josef, a tankist from the armored brigade who was stationed in the United Kingdom, in 1945. In this episode, she talks about her life after the war, her difficulties learning Czech, her unusual career and how she feels today, looking back on all the ups and downs of her adventurous