Nothing better symbolizes the political thaw in 1960s Czechoslovakia than the boom in jazz, which many saw as embodying the very idea of individual expression and freedom from constraint. It is not hard to imagine the excitement when Louis Armstrong came to Prague in March 1965. Many people felt that Czechoslovakia had at last come in from the cold, and his concert at Prague’s Lucerna Ballroom was a cultural milestone. It ended with Satchmo thanking his audience, commenting that the Czech passion for jazz had come as quite a surprise to him.
It is 40 years ago this Friday that student Jan Palach set himself alight following the Soviet-led invasion of 1968. Palach’s suicide turned him into a symbol of national resistance, and to this day, Czechs and Slovaks remember what he did for his country. On the eve of this 40th anniversary, historians have just discovered a document which sheds new light upon his actions.
Vesna Vulovic, a flight attendant on a Yugoslav plane that broke apart above northern Bohemia in 1972, holds the world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute: 10,160 metres. Now, however, that story is being challenged by a German journalist in Prague. He says the official version of what happened was a communist fabrication: Vesna Vulovic fell from a far shorter distance – and the plane may well have been shot down by Czechoslovakia.
Today in Mailbox we reveal the identity of December’s mystery Czech and quote from your answers. Finally, we announce the names of the four winners as well as a brand new quiz question. Listeners quoted: David Eldridge, Jayanta Chakrabarty, K.Thiagarajan, C. O. Agboola, Li Ming, Steve Wara, Anne Faust, Sara-Anne Peterson, Krzysztof Borski, Riaz Ahmad Khan, Henrik Klemetz, Charles Konecny, Mani Sankar Chhatri, Yukiko Tsuji-Maki, Paul R Peacock, and Colin Law.
If any country in the world is home to the Christmas carol, it has to be the Czech Republic. The tradition of carolling goes back centuries, and Czech Christmas music is a wonderfully rich mixture of spiritual, secular, classical and folk traditions. So for this special programme, we take you on a journey into the world of Czech Christmas music. In order to enjoy this programme fully, you need to hear the music. Just click on the “listen” icon. But even if you are not able to listen, you can read a transcript of part of my interview with a person
This year, some historians contend, marks exactly 1,100 years since the birth of St. Wenceslas, the Czech king and chief patron of the Czech lands. To celebrate this important anniversary, the National Gallery together with the Prague Archbishopric, organised a special exhibition at St Agnes’ Convent in Prague entitled Svatý Václav – ochránce české země or King Wenceslas – the Patron of the Czech lands.
With Christmas just round the corner, we break our chronological journey through the archives this week to go back to Christmas 1945. We’re in Kročehlavy, a suburb of the industrial town of Kladno near Prague. This was home to the survivors of one of the horrors of the wartime occupation, the murder in June 1942 of all the men and most of the children from the nearby village of Lidice. Only one Lidice family had survived the massacre intact: Josef Horák was one of two young pilots from the village who had fled at the beginning of the occupation,