One of the most accomplished Czech Jazz guitarists, Rudy Linka, first gained fame abroad after moving to Sweden in 1980 and later learning from jazz titans such as John Scofield and John Abercrombie in the USA. Today he lives mainly in New York, but has also become a popular music personality in his native Czech Republic, founding one of Europe’s biggest summer jazz festivals and hosting his own shows on Czech Television and Radio. We caught up with him in Prague, while he was preparing this year’s Bohemia Jazz Festival.
In 1946 a secret American operation in Czechoslovakia led to major diplomatic protests. The US authorities had organized a mission aimed at obtaining hidden Nazi documents from a cache in a forest near Prague. However, they had not alerted the Czechoslovak authorities or sought permission – and that led to a real propaganda coup for the country’s pro-Soviet Communist politicians and press.
At the beginning of May 1945 fighting was still going on in Prague. The Czech lands were one of the last places in Europe where people were dying even after the official end of hostilities between the German Army and the Allies on May 8. There was a last-minute uprising in the Czech capital and the US 3rd Army was only some 80 kilometers (or about 50 miles) away, near the western city of Plzeň.
Seventy years ago the new Czechoslovak government was fully in the hands of the Communists. After the Stalinist coup d'etat in February 1948, a wave of arrests started and all democratic opposition was suppressed. Unclassified documents of the US Department of State show the degree of naïveté with which the American diplomats and intelligence officers in Prague faced their communist opponents and the subsequent shocking realization that there was nothing they could do.
For around 40 years, so-called Victorious February was sacred for the Czechoslovak communist regime. The period from around February 17 and culminating on February 25 marked the party’s seizure of power when leader Klement Gottwald was finally named as prime minister of a communist dominated government.
Professor Igor Lukeš teaches at Boston University and has written extensively on modern Czech history, the Cold War and contemporary developments in Central and Eastern Europe. When we spoke recently the conversation took in everything from his increasingly sympathetic view of Neville Chamberlain to his own arrival in New York in the late 1970s. But I first asked the renowned historian about his early life in communist Czechoslovakia.
The legendary Fišer bookstore in Kaprova Street near the Old Town Square, which has been selling books since the 1930s, is closing down. Despite a petition with over 3,500 signatures against its closure, the owner of the space refused to extend its lease. Dozens of fans and faithful customers gathered in the bookstore on Wednesday night to say their last goodbye.
A book issued at the end of last year has more than woken up a rather tired and threadbare debate about the death of former Czechoslovak foreign minister Jan Masaryk in 1948. Jan Masaryk, was found dead in his pyjamas in the street outside the foreign ministry. His death was explained as a suicide with the version given out that he had jumped from his flat at the foreign ministry building. But suspicions of murder were hard for the Communist authorities to quash. The communists had just taken over power a few weeks earlier.
Last week’s decision by a Bratislava court that Czech finance minister Andrej Babiš was falsely described as being an agent of the Communist era secret police has sparked a lively debate about the apparent clearing of his name. Part of that debate focuses on how the StB functioned and whom it recruited. We look at the working of the StB in former Czechoslovakia and the ongoing arguments about the Babiš’ affair.
The literary historian Martin C. Putna has been made professor. The title was conferred on the academic on Tuesday by the minister of education, Petr Fiala, after President Miloš Zeman refused to present Mr. Putna with a professorial decree on the grounds that he had carried a provocative sign in a gay pride parade. Mr. Zeman's position was widely criticised in the academic community. The president has since said the right to appoint professors should be removed from the head of state, a move that would put the Czech Republic in line with other European countries.