As a result of the Munich Agreement of September 1938, Czechoslovakia ended up losing 30% of its territory, a third of its population and the greater part of its industry and raw materials. Few people had much faith in the country’s long-term survival as a democracy amid dictatorships. It was, as Jan Masaryk put it, an “experiment in vivisection”. The radio archives give a vivid picture of the consequences of that experiment, which was to last less than six months and end in occupation and eventually war.
Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the Ministry of Culture will designate seven sites as ‘national cultural monuments’. All of them are tied to the Czech nation’s struggle to secure freedom or rid itself of Nazi or Soviet oppression. Among them is the Czech Radio building in Prague, a focal point of resistance both in 1968 and at the close of WWII.
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 this episode I use the radio archives to evoke the atmosphere of Czechoslovakia during the First Republic of the 1920s and 30s. The recordings that survive offer a fragmentary picture, but they capture something of the spirit of the time, from Prague’s first traffic light to the charms of the Ruthenian countryside, just before Europe was torn apart by the Second World War.
In the first of this series we heard the voice of Czechoslovakia’s first President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. His wife Charlotte was American, and thanks to her influence Tomáš became a champion of feminism. Charlotte went on to inspire many women both within Czechoslovakia and beyond and in this programme we hear some of them, speaking in their own words from the Czech Radio archive.
President Miloš Zeman lit a bonfire at Lany chateau to mark the 82nd
anniversary of the death of Czechoslovakia’s first president Tomáš
Garrigue Masaryk on Saturday.
The traditional ceremony was also attended by Cardinal Dominik Duka and the honorary chairman of TOP 09 Karel Schwarzenberg.
The tradition of Masaryk bonfires goes back to 1935 when they were lit around the country to celebrate the president’s 85th birthday. The tradition was cut off by the communist regime and renewed in 2001.
We start this series with one of the great European democrats of the 20th century, Czechoslovakia’s first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Born in 1850, he was already in his late sixties when he became president in November 1918. He took inspiration from the western democracies, in particular the United States and Britain, having spent time in both countries during his First World War exile. But he was also a passionate European.
Pavel Mikeš, the Czech Ambassador to Ethiopia, studied African History and Linguistics at Charles University in the 1980s. Despite not being allowed to travel to the continent under communism, he managed to learn fluent Swahili and Amharic, the dominant Ethiopian language, along with English and French. After a long career in academia, he joined the Czech Foreign Ministry in 1999, and has since served as head of mission or ambassador in several other African countries. Along the way, he has written books on the history and geography of Ethiopia,
T.G. Masaryk’s daughter Alice was imprisoned in 1915 for treason, a charge that carried the death penalty. Her time in a grim jail in Vienna is the focus of Charlotte and Alice, a freshly published and highly illuminating collection of over 200 letters between her and her US-born mother, Charlotte Masaryk. The book is the work of Anne Johnson, an American editor and translator who lives in Brno. She explained its genesis when we spoke recently in the city.
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