Voices that shaped Czech history
Czech Radio has one of the richest and most diverse audio archives in the world, going back to the very beginnings of radio in the 1920s. These recordings map a hundred years of Czech and Czechoslovak history through the voices of the people who shaped it. We hear not only their words, but also the tone of their voice, the mood and the atmosphere. We travel in time, as voices from the past speak to us with an immediacy that is powerful, moving and sometimes dramatic.
Prague was at the centre of many 20th century dramas: the Munich Crisis of 1938, the German invasion of March 1939, the Prague Uprising of 1945, the Communist putsch of 1948, the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989. That the archives exist at all is little short of a miracle, especially after surviving a direct hit on the radio building from a Luftwaffe aerial torpedo in 1945.
They include famous names, like Czechoslovakia’s first President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and his son, Jan Masaryk; we have the pioneering feminist Františka Plamínková and the inspirational politician Milada Horáková who was sentenced to death in the show trials of the 1950s; we have writers like Karel Čapek, inventor of the term “robot”, musicians like the great Czech jazzman Jaroslav Ježek, who paints a picture of the Czechoslovak jazz scene in the 1930s, and we have sporting heroes like Emil Zátopek, one of the greatest long-distance runners of all time. And then there are some of the people who came to Czechoslovakia from abroad, as visitors or exiles. They include the great German novelist, Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, Dwight Eisenhower, Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, Herbert von Karajan, to name just a few.
There are also some fascinating curiosities, such as some of the earliest ever live radio sports commentaries, a Dvořák opera sung in Esperanto and an experimental 1960s English-language adaptation of Karel Čapek’s “War with the Newts”.
This series of podcasts brings together some of the most vivid and evocative of these archive recordings. Through the alchemy of sound, we bring the past to life.
Sport has always played a big role in Czech life. At the time of the national revival in the 19th century, the Sokol gymnastics movement was founded on the idea that a healthy body was a recipe not only for a healthy mind, but also for a civilised nation. We hear recordings from the huge Sokol gathering of 1938 and from the Spartakiáda displays of mass callisthenics in the communist period. This episode also features an ice hockey report from the Olympics in 1936 as well as Europe’s first ever live football commentary and the voices of some of the great Czech sportsmen and women of the 20th century, from Emil Zátopek to Martina Navrátilová.
In the first of this series we heard the voice of Czechoslovakia’s first President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1935). His wife Charlotte was American, and thanks to her influence Tomáš became a champion of feminism. Charlotte went on to inspire many women both within Czechoslovakia and beyond. In this episode we hear memories of Charlotte from her friend, the American feminist and peace advocate Martha Root, speaking in 1932. We hear the voice of Tomáš and Charlotte’s daughter Alice in 1938 on the urgent need to defend democracy against the threat of Nazi Germany. And we hear two of the most prominent woman politicians of the time, Františka Plamínková and Milada Horáková. Both paid with their lives for their belief in democracy and the rights of women. We end with Tomáš and Charlotte’s great granddaughter Charlotta Kotík who talks about Masaryk’s feminism from the perspective of the family today.
We start with one of the great European democrats of the 20th century, Czechoslovakia’s first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Born in 1850, he was already in his late sixties when he became president in November 1918. He took inspiration from the western democracies, in particular the United States and Britain, having spent time in both countries during his First World War exile. The archives include recordings of him speaking almost flawless English as well as Czech.