The wheels of Czech justice are famously slow to turn, with court cases dragging on for what seems like – and often is – years. But how about this one for size: in the early days of the Velvet Revolution, in November 1989, three students of architecture described their Communist professor as an arrogant careerist and demagogue. He later demanded an apology, and took them to court. Twenty years on, and the case is still unresolved.
Last week we heard how a song, Marta Kubišová’s “A Prayer for Marta”, came to symbolize the period of the Velvet Revolution. But there were other songs and singers who also captured the spirit of the time. One of them was Jaroslav Hutka. After signing Charter 77, he had been bullied into exile in 1978, and all his songs and recordings banned. As soon as the revolution of November 1989 began, he came back home, and in one of the most moving moments of the period, he appeared at the vast demonstration held on Prague’s Letná Plain on November
All this year Czechs are remembering the fall of communism in November 1989, but just what was it exactly? Was it the “overthrow” of communism? Or simply “the collapse”? That’s a debate that’s still simmering away in Czech society, and on Saturday the country’s president Václav Klaus once again waded into it, telling students in Prague that the role of individuals in 1989 is often overestimated.
Václav Bartuška was one of the leaders of the student protests which toppled the Czechoslovak Communist regime in November 1989. Recently he has been the Czech energy security trouble shooter and has been recruited as an advisor by Sweden’s current EU presidency. I asked Mr Bartuška how he became one of the leaders of the student protests.
In last week’s From the Archives, we heard how Czechoslovak Radio reported on the student demonstration that sparked the Velvet Revolution on November 17 1989. Initially the radio toed the official line, defending the violent police clampdown, but gradually the spirit of revolution spread through the corridors of our headquarters here in Vinohradská Street. Every day Wenceslas Square filled with tens of thousands of people, as it became increasingly clear that the communists’ hold on power was weakening.
Královská Kaple, the King’s Chapel, was part of the history of the city of Brno for 600 years. But at the beginning of the 20th century it was pulled down to make way for modernisation. The destruction caused protest, and the progressive city planners were made to agree that one day they would resurrect the building. It might have been a long time coming, but now Brno City Hall has announced it will be making good on its 101-year-old promise.
Monday marks exactly 40 years since the moment man first set foot on the moon. At that time, in 1969, Czechoslovakia was one of the only Soviet satellite states broadcasting the event. Among those relaying history live to the nation of 15 million on national TV was Antonín Vítek, one of the country’s leading experts in cosmology. He recalled the day for me in his office in the Academy of Sciences.
Igor Lukeš is professor of international relations and history at Boston University in the US. He left Czechoslovakia in the 1970’s and has become one of the foremost historians of its 20th century history as well as a sought after expert on Central Europe and Russia. One of his recent works was “Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: the Diplomacy of Edvard Beneš in the 1930’s.” He drew heavily on Czech archive sources for the work. I talked to Igor Lukeš on one of his frequent trips back to the Czech Republic and asked him how it had been