If you can imagine a group of scientists in the 25th century going through the cushions of your couch, and excitedly labelling your loose change and lost socks, then you can get some idea of what has been going on in Prague Castle for over the last few months. Taking advantage of the restoration of a floor in a main hall, archaeologists sifting through the backfill have stumbled upon a hoard of items of everyday use - that are now historical treasures.
In last week’s From the Archives we followed the tragic last days of the student Jan Palach, who on January 16 1969 set himself alight in protest against growing apathy in the face of the Soviet invasion five months earlier. The whole country was in shock. Such a drastic and violent sacrifice had little precedent in modern Czech and Slovak history, and perhaps for just that reason Palach immediately became a symbol of the country’s lost liberty and a rallying cry for those who still hoped to save something of the reforms of 1968. Those in power
Under communism, hundreds of people died trying to escape across Czechoslovakia’s borders into the West. However, the traffic was not all one way, as in the years following the Communist takeover of 1948, Western states sent Czechoslovak agents into the country to work secretly with the small anti-communist resistance. They are the subject of a new exhibition in Prague.
This week in Mailbox: We reveal the identity of February’s mystery man and announce the names of the four winners. Listeners quoted: Hans Verner Lollike, Juan Carlos Gil Mongio, Jayanta Chakrabarty, Catherine Agboola, Constantin Liviu Viorel, Fares Alnsair, Paul R Peacock, Steve Wara, David Eldridge, Charles Konecny, Colin Law.
There is one place I like showing both Czechs and visitors who have been to Prague several times, a place I myself learned about when recording a piece about Kampa Island a few years ago. Right inside the doors of a hotel about 10 metres from Charles Bridge you can see part of its predecessor, the Judith Bridge.
On the evening of January 16 1969, Czechoslovak Radio broadcast a disturbing item of news: “Today at around 3 pm, 21-year-old J.P., a student at the Philosophical Faculty suffered serious burns on Wenceslas Square. He poured an as yet unknown flammable liquid over himself and set his clothes alight resulting in severe burns.”
On the airwaves, 1968 ended very much as it had begun. For New Year’s Eve, Czechoslovak Radio chose the same format as the year before, with the light-hearted musical cabaret of the Semafor Theatre. But behind the scenes, the Soviet-led occupation in August had changed everything. The Soviets were only too pleased for the radio to give the impression of normality. A gradual, almost imperceptible drift back to hard-line communism was beginning. The process came to be known cynically as “normalization”, a word that was first used by Alexander Dubček himself
In today’s Spotlight we look at the history of Výstaviště - Prague’s Exhibition Grounds founded in the late 19th century but used to this day for fairs, exhibitions, concerts and other activities. Every year, Výstaviště, which is found at the edge of Bubeneč’s Stromovka Park and the Prague district of Holešovice, continually draws tens of thousands of visitors, both from the Czech Republic and from abroad. Its centerpiece is the 19th century Industrial Palace – an architectural gem that was partly destroyed by fire last year.