You may be surprised to hear that one of the events to mark the hundredth anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia was held at the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University in Britain. On October 29 a plaque was unveiled commemorating a secret academic link set up between the university and Czechoslovakia at the height of normalisation in the 1980s. Czech and Slovak students who found themselves unable to go to university because they or their families were out of favour with the communist regime were given the opportunity to study secretly
In December 1988 Francois Mitterrand had breakfast with leading dissidents in Prague, providing a major shot in the arm to the Czechoslovak opposition. The Czech Foreign Ministry is now reported to be planning similar events on the 30th anniversary of Mitterrand’s gesture to demonstrate the country’s support for human rights.
Over two dozen people, five in memorium, received certificates asserting
their work in resisting the Communist regime in a ceremony in Prague on
Monday. Such activities included distributing samizdat literature, founding
Societies of Friends of the USA and preparing for armed uprising.
The deputy minister of defence, Alena Netolická, told the assembled that while Communist repression had changed over the decades, its criminal essence remained constant.
The Ministry of Defence has to date recognised over 1,650 people as belonging to what is referred to as the “third resistance”. This entitles them to some financial reward.
Taking advantage of relative liberalisation at home, the young Václav Havel visited New York in the spring of 1968 for the US premiere of his second major play, The Memorandum. It was staged by the Public Theater, which had just had a huge hit with Hair and was headed by director Joseph Papp. He and his wife Gail Papp got to know Havel at that time – and later visited the then dissident at his country home in communist Czechoslovakia.
The non-profit organization Post Bellum traditionally handed out awards for
civic courage on November 17, the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that
triggered the fall of communism in the Czech Republic.
Among the recipients this year were political prisoner Jiří Světlík, Milena Blatná, who helped political prisoners forced to work in the country’s uranium mines, political prisoner Helena Kociánová who lost a leg helping an inmate and Marta Szilárdová who survived the Holocaust and saved her sister’s life during the Death March.
This year the Czech Republic is celebrating many special anniversaries. Yet despite the importance of commemorating a hundred years since the Czechs gained independence, the 50 years since the 1968 invasion and more, there is and always has been one anniversary that overshadows the others in terms of political statement – November 17th.
Former Communist-era secret police lieutenant Ladislav Mácha, ultimately held responsible for the torture and death of Catholic priest Josef Toufar in 1950, died a free man some weeks ago. His passing went largely unnoticed until a makeshift memorial to Mácha’s most famous victim appeared on the pavement outside his Prague home.
Historians rarely publish comic books, but Martin Nekola is an exception. In cooperation with illustrator Jakub Dušek he has just published a comic book about the fate of Czechs who were forced to flee from their homeland after the 1948 communist coup and who found themselves in a foreign country, torn from their friends and family, having to start anew without a home, job or any kind of security. The comic book, which came out in Czech two weeks ago, is called Do švestek jsme doma or “We’ll be home by the time the plums ripen”, reflecting emigres
The Forum 2000 conference held under the theme “Democracy: In need of a
critical update?” got underway in Prague on Sunday. The annual three-day
conference, now in its 22nd year, is hosting a wide range of politicians,
philosophers, authors, activists, entrepreneurs, artists and thinkers.
Among other topics, discussions will examine current social and economic challenges to democracy, growing populism and nationalism. Forum 2000 is looking to engage the younger generation to share their views on these issues and discuss ways to renew trust in democratic governance.
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