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.
Thirty years ago this Christmas, Czechs were in an especially festive spirit – the entire Communist Party leadership had resigned a month before, and in a matter of days a majority democratic parliament would elect Václav Havel as president, bringing the Velvet Revolution to a glorious end. Ahead of the holiday, I spoke to Adéla and Petr Mucha – a historian and theologian, respectively, born into practicing Catholic families under Communism – about their experiences with the “Underground Church”, religious figures active in the dissident Charter 77
As the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution approaches, we take you to places that are closely associated with the events that led to the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989. In the fourth episode of our mini-series, we visit the former Czechoslovak Federal Assembly building, where some key political changes took place 30 years ago.
Harold Wilson Fernyhough an aide to Prime Minister Harold Wilson who was
reported to have spied for Czechoslovakia in the 1950’s and 1960s, was
very likely unaware that he was not associating with diplomats, but
communist secret police handlers, according to Czech archivist Svetlana
Ptáčníková, who heads the Security Services Archive, said that according to the secret police files Fernyhough shared information willingly, but without knowledge of who he was dealing with. The archivist noted that secret police handlers were often placed in diplomatic posts in order to acquire information.
According to the files Fernyhough never revealed anything confidential, only sharing information that was either common knowledge or was later made public.
Reports that Harold Wilson Fernyhough had spied for the Czechoslovak communist secret police appeared in the British press at the weekend.
During the 1960s as the Warsaw Pact sought to change the balance of military power decisively in its favour it employed a largescale disinformation to fool NATO about its strength and intentions. One of the enterprises conducted to support this deception effort was Operation BLÍN. Its story is one of a daring embassy heist right under the noses of NATO intelligence officers reminiscent of a Hollywood thriller.
Until recently Zdeněk Toman was an obscure name to many Czechs. However, his incredible story has now reached a broad audience thanks to an eponymous film about him that was released last autumn. Just this week Toman was nominated for 13 prizes at the upcoming annual Czech Lion awards. I spoke to Martin Šmok, the man who originally discovered his extraordinary story.
In her book The Greengrocer and His TV: The Culture of Communism after the 1968 Prague Spring, historian Paulina Bren offers fresh perspectives on various aspects of Czechoslovakia’s normalisation period. These include how the Communists used TV serials to get their message across at a time when the nation, forced to accept the re-imposition of relatively hardline rule, largely turned inward. She makes particular reference to TV writer Jaroslav Dietl, creator of some of the most popular shows of that era.
The short-lived secret organisation Světlana formed in 1948 grew to become the largest anti-Communist group in Czechoslovakia, boasting several hundred members at its peak, operating in more than a dozen cells, mainly in Moravia. That’s one version of events. Many long believed that Světlana was not only infiltrated by the State Security force, or StB, but was in fact a creation of it – part of operations to ensnare “counter-revolutionaries”, those sympathetic to what is now known as the Third Resistance movement. Other questions remain as to whether
One of the most fascinating Cold War spy tales, involving a Czechoslovak spy who fooled a woman into thinking he was her long abandoned son, is being adopted as a screenplay by a Hollywood studio. Jaroslav Kmenta, who is the author of a book on the spy and later sold the rights to Fox Searchlight Pictures, says the studio has used its option to go ahead.