Essayist, educator and debut novelist René Georg Vasicek was conceived in communist-era Czechoslovakia, born in Austria a year after the Soviet-led invasion of his parents’ homeland, and raised in the pine barrens of eastern Long Island, New York. His novel The Defectors is a self-described book of odd and uncanny episodes about people, many of them Czechs, trying not just to escape reality but “defect” from it.
Czech classical music is not only a part of national culture and history, but also of the nation’s soul. This year we have prepared a series on the renowned hits of Czech classical music. You will be familiar with many of them, as they are widely known and regularly performed in concert halls all over the world. The background to their creation and how they were recorded will all be covered by this series in the coming weeks.
Czech journalist Jana Ciglerová recently published the book Americký Deník (American Diary), compiling a series of columns she wrote during a stay in Florida between late 2016 and last summer. When she came to our studios, the conversation took in US and Czech attitudes to parenting, education and friendship, as well as Ciglerová’s experience of reporting from Trump’s America. But I first asked her what had been the hardest single thing to get used to in the US.
The Sykora Bakery, established in 1903 is a valued “Czech” landmark in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The historic bakery in the heart of Czech Village, has provided the local community with authentic Czech and Moravian delicacies for over a century now. Apart from the regulars who are addicted to its housky and kolache, it has greeted Czech and Slovak presidents with rye bread and salt and hosted President Bill Clinton.
Sitting in a living room during World War II; lying on a bunk in a steam ship on your way to America or standing in Wenceslas Square among the thousands of protesters at the height of the Velvet Revolution. What did it sound like? What did it feel like? The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids tells the story of Czechs and Slovaks in peace-time, under oppression and in the turmoil of war, bringing back memories to those who remember and sharing the story with those for whom it is entirely new.
The Moravian town of Nové Město is renaming a street on its main square in honour of a Jewish family whose tragic fate featured in the international bestseller Hana’s Suitcase. The tribute comes ahead of the anniversary of the death of the only family member to have survived the Holocaust – who was denied a Czech state honour due to an unrelated political spat.
There are many places in US where you will find Bohemian cemeteries, established wherever Czechs settled in the country. The Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago was formed in 1877 and, with its 120 acres it is one of the largest. Chuck Michalek, Bohemian National Cemetery Association board member and delegate, took Radio Prague’s editor-in-chief Klára Stejskalová through the grounds and began by explaining how the cemetery was established.
Czech Immigrants first started settling in Chicago in the 1850s and continued in several waves in the 20th century. Today the city has the biggest number of Czech-Americans living in the US, with localities known as ”Prague” and “Pilsen”. I recently visited Chicago for the 80th Moravian Day celebrations and took the opportunity to stop by the University of Chicago, where the tradition of Slavic studies is almost as old as the university itself.
In a book just out, the renowned Czech author and illustrator Renáta Fučíková tells the story of Czechs in North America. The idea to chronicle stories of Czech immigrants originated in Chicago, which is sometimes referred to as “the most Czech city” in the US. I met up with Renáta Fučíková at her studio in the Old Town district of Prague, where she was putting finishing touches on the final illustrations for her new book.
Celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution are taking place not only in the Czech Republic but also among Czech and Slovak communities abroad. The Czech consulate in Chicago has prepared several events highlighting the 30 years of freedom, including a showcase of photos by the award-winning photographer Karel Cudlín.