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.
In today’s programme we look at two novels, both published within the last two years by American writers with Czech roots. Both have chosen the same series of wartime events as their starting point. They look back to 1942, when a group of Czech patriots was parachuted from London to assassinate the brutal Nazi chief in occupied Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, an event that triggered cruel retributions and the cold-blooded destruction of the entire village of Lidice.
A street in Prague has been renamed in honour of a Polish man who committed suicide in protest at the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Ryszard Siwiec set himself alight in a Warsaw stadium in September 1968, and died four days later. His protest was long covered up by the communist authorities, and only recently have details begun to emerge.