In last week’s From the Archives, we heard how Czechoslovak Radio reported on the student demonstration that sparked the Velvet Revolution on November 17 1989. Initially the radio toed the official line, defending the violent police clampdown, but gradually the spirit of revolution spread through the corridors of our headquarters here in Vinohradská Street. Every day Wenceslas Square filled with tens of thousands of people, as it became increasingly clear that the communists’ hold on power was weakening.
Immediately after the end of the Second World War, Czechoslovakia became a testing ground in the contest between democracy and communist one-party rule. In Prague, the United States was hoping to challenge Stalin’s aim of including the country within the Soviet empire by supporting Czech and Slovak democrats in their uneven struggle against the communists. In his new book entitled On the Edge of Cold War – American Diplomats and Spies in Post-war Prague, Boston University professor of history Igor Lukeš explores the US efforts to counter the communist
The Czech capital boasts many historical monuments but few of its residents realize it is also home to the world’s last preserved pneumatic post. Using simple laws of physics, messages and small parcels were shipped though the system of pipes until the network was severely damaged by the 2002 floods. But now, 125 years since the Prague pneumatic post was first launched, a Czech businessman promises to bring it back.
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
For a few weeks in the late summer of 1989, Prague became the scene of a bizarre – and now largely forgotten - refugee crisis. It had all begun in the spring, when Hungary had declared its decision to take down the barbed wire on its borders with Austria. A growing number of East Germans, desperate at the suffocating lack of reform in their country, took advantage of this new gap in the Iron Curtain as a way of fleeing to the West. But smuggling themselves into Austria was an uncertain business, and before long, they started seeking refuge at the
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