The Czech Republic is marking the two-year anniversary of the death of former president Václav Havel. Current Czech president Miloš Zeman is due to lay a wreath at his predecessor’s grave, while Cardinal Dominik Duka is serving a requiem mass from St. Anne’s Church in Prague. However, much of the local media commentary about the former president is of a far less emotional nature.
American film historians recently came across a fascinating discovery when they found the Czech National Film Archive has the only surviving print of the 1929 US movie, the Mysterious Island. The archive in Prague stores around 500 films from Hollywood’s early days, proof that the global dominance of American cinema goes all the way back to the birth of the film industry.
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.
Archaeologists in Israel believe they have indentified a unique mediaeval Bohemian coin found in 2009 in the former crusaders’ city of Acre. The experts say the coin was minted during the reign of King Przemysl Ottokar II in the second half of the 13th century; if that is the case, the coin would bear the earliest known depiction of the king, as well as historically the first usage of the title “King of Bohemia”. I discussed the discovery with Robert Kool from Israel Antiquities Authority.
Pavel Blažek spent three weeks in September taking panoramic photographs of long abandoned Soviet labour camps in Siberia for the project Gulag.cz. His work now forms a unique “virtual museum” via which people around the world can view places where thousands of prisoners lost their lives on a never completed railway line. When he came into our studio, Blažek described the intense experiences he and his group had along the way. But he first described their journey to the Arctic Circle.
For many Czechs, Russia’s Natalya Gorbanevskaya was nothing less than a hero, one of eight people in 1968 who protested on Red Square in Moscow against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. All of the protesters were arrested and as punishment she was sent to a psychiatric hospital. A few years after her release in 1972, she emigrated to France where she continued to work as a poet translator and human rights activist up until her death at the age of 77 last week.
Fascinating panoramic photos of abandoned Siberian Gulag camps have just appeared on the Czech website www.gulag.cz. The pictures were taken on the third trip deep into the Taiga by the association Gulag.cz and capture long overgrown labour camps along an uncompleted stretch of railway – a construction project that saw thousands of prisoners, including Czechs, die in appalling conditions. The founder of Gulag.cz, Štěpán Černoušek, explains the thinking behind the unique virtual tour.
One the newer annual events during the commemoration of the Czech day of Democracy and Freedom on 17 November – the Memory of the Nation award ceremony – took place on Sunday. The Post Bellum historical society, which collects historical testimonies from first-hand witnesses of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, gave the award to four people this year.
Michal Bregant is the director of the National Film Archive, a state body that oversees over 150 million metres of film, tens of thousands of movie posters and other valuable materials. When we met at a lively bar near the FAMU film school, of which Bregant was dean for six years, we discussed film preservation, digitisation and the future of the NFA. But the first topic of conversation was the foundation of the Archive way back in 1943: Were the Czechoslovaks unusual in realising at that time that their movies needed to be looked after?