Exactly 70 years ago, three former RAF pilots staged the greatest air escape in Czechoslovak history. Defying strict Communist security measures, they flew themselves, their families and a score of unsuspecting miners into West Germany. Their success brought them freedom, but also hastened the crackdown on any former RAF pilots remaining in Czechoslovakia.
Czechoslovakia had arguably the best national ice hockey team in the world for years after the Second World War – despite the Communists side-lining a slew of “politically unreliable” star players on the road to building socialism. We look back at the roots of a historic pub brawl and police raid 70 years ago, after frustrated hockey players blew the whistle on official lies.
The opening up of the archives of Pope Pius XII by the Vatican is seen worldwide as an opportunity to find answers to long-term questions about the secretive pontiff who was in charge of the Holy See between 1939 and the early stages of the Cold War. There are also hopes that the documents could shed light on the Vatican’s position towards Czechoslovakia in many of the key moments of the country’s history.
When Eda Kriseová was barred from journalism after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion she chose an unlikely escape from the grim reality of that time: voluntary work at an isolated mental hospital. She also wrote in samizdat, which led to her gradually becoming part of Czechoslovakia’s anti-Communist dissent. As we will hear, Kriseová – whose husband is filmmaker Josef Platz – found novel ways to resist secret police pressure. But the first part of this two-part interview begins with the author’s early days.
A new film called The Trap, which is due to premiere on Czech Television this Sunday, tells the tragic fate of the great Czech film and theatre actress Jiřina Štepničková who fell into a trap set by the communist secret police in the 1950s and was sentenced to 15 years in jail for attempting to flee the country with her four-year-old son. The communist hysteria surrounding the process was so great that many of Štepničková’s colleague actors and actresses signed a petition for her to be put to death for treason.
In this programme, the last in the current series looking at Czech history through the archives, we get a flavour of the Cold War. The archives throw up some curious stories: a man in love with a drill, a Czechoslovak cosmonaut celebrated in song, a campaign against noisy rockers with long hair, and some Cold War dramas – tales of defectors and spies. And we end with the strange, sad story of the Red Elvis. But first to the glowing dawn of the new regime in 1948.
Philosopher and one-time dissident Jan Sokol is perhaps best-known among the Czech public as a failed presidential candidate, having missed out to Václav Klaus in the final round of voting in 2003, the last time the country’s head of state was chosen by legislators. Professor Sokol has known the current, directly elected president since before 1989 – and offers sharp criticism of Miloš Zeman in this the second half of a two-part interview. But first we discuss the period when, after the fall of communism, he was finally allowed to pursue an academic
Philosopher Jan Sokol was an MP in the early 1990s, served as Czech education minister and lost in the final round of voting for president in 2003. Barred from studying under the Communists, Professor Sokol came to philosophy via his father-in-law Jan Patočka, an early signatory of Charter 77. In the first part of a two-part interview, he discusses Patočka’s death, the achievements of Charter 77 – which he also signed – and the Velvet Revolution. But our conversation began with Jan Sokol’s family background and his own beginnings.
A new book on Communist Czechoslovakia was launched under the auspices of the Minister of Foreign Affairs at Prague’s Czernin Palace this week. Titled Czechoslovakia: Behind the Iron Curtain, it tracks the history of the communist state, through a combination of narrative, contemporary pictures and extensive oral history in over 600 pages. It was penned by two female Slovak academics Dr Gabriela Beregházyová and Dr Zuzana Palovič. After the official ceremony was ended by a symbolic ringing of keys, I asked Dr Palovič how the idea to write the publication
The Czech government’s Commissioner for Human Rights Helena Válková (ANO) is under pressure after the news site Info.cz accused her of defending laws used against dissidents during the normalisation era, providing an article on “protective surveillance” that she penned with a famous show trial procurator in 1979 as evidence. Mrs Válková told Czech Radio that the accusation was a “horrendous lie”. However, the opposition has called for her resignation and even the prime minister says that the allegations need to be explained.