The political reforms of the 1960s accelerated dramatically when on January 5 1968 Alexander Dubček became First Secretary of the Communist Party, the most powerful position in the country. Dubček immediately set Czechoslovakia on a course of economic and political reform, to create what was described as “socialism with a human face”. Today we are going to hear two recordings of Dubček from 1968 that show both the hopes with which the year started and the despair which followed the Soviet invasion in August.
A Renaissance mystery is beginning to unravel in Prague. A team of experts from Denmark have asked the authorities for permission to open and explore the grave of the Danish-born astronomer Tycho Brahe who died in Prague in 1601. They are hoping to learn more about one of the most famous scholars of the time – and perhaps to throw more light on his mysterious death.
In this edition of Czechs in History, we take a look at the controversial legacy of Jan Palach. This young Czech history student shocked the world by setting himself on fire in the centre of Prague in protest at the Soviet-led invasion of communist Czechoslovakia in 1968, which crushed the democratic reform movement known as the “Prague Spring”.
In 1409, Wenceslas IV, King of Bohemia, was in a tight spot. He had already been imprisoned several times by his own advisors, and was being undermined by those in his kingdom with different religious views. So what did he do? Well, he commissioned a document which gave his opponents less of a say. The Kutná Hora or Kuttenberg Decree is seen by some historians as the first ever Czech nationalist document. Six hundred years ago on Sunday, it gave Czechs sitting on the council of Charles University in Prague more votes than their Saxon, Polish and
During the Second World War, over 140,000 people were imprisoned in the Terezín ghetto north of Prague. Their only crime was to be Jewish. One in four died in the ghetto itself, and most who survived later perished in other Nazi camps. But despite appalling overcrowding, there was still a semblance of normal life in Terezín. The ghetto’s streets still had names; people would still go to work in the morning, and come home to their cramped barracks at night. And against the odds, Terezín had a thriving cultural life. This included theatre, a fact
Following his suicide, Jan Palach was adopted by Czechs as a national hero, while the communist authorities tried – in vain – to erase all trace of what he had done. When Czechs gathered to mark his death 20 years later in 1989, they were met with tear gas and unprecedented police brutality. The clampdown resulted in a week of protests, which some say led to the Velvet Revolution in November that year.
The horrible death of Jan Palach shook the Czechoslovak nation. In the ten days between Palach’s self-immolation and his massive funeral, the country saw a number of rallies and protests, as people expressed their opposition to both the Soviet occupiers and the home-grown communist elite that was beginning to collaborate with them. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Jan Palach’s death, a new exhibition has just opened in Prague featuring rarely seen photos of those events.
Friday marks the 40th anniversary of the self-immolation of Jan Palach, a 20-year old student from Prague’s Charles University. At the top of the city’s Wenceslas Square Palach doused himself in petrol and set himself alight, in a desperate attempt to rouse Czechs from what he saw as their increasing apathy in the wake of the Soviet-led invasion of the previous summer. He died three days later on January 19 1969, with his huge funeral becoming at a protest against the occupation. Tomáš Halík, a Roman Catholic priest and head of the Czech Christian
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.