November 17 is the anniversary of the start of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. But what is less well known is that six days earlier it was preceded by what has been described as the “smog revolution”, when hundreds of people – angered by the appalling state of the local environment – took to the streets in the north Bohemian city of Teplice.
President Václav Klaus is making his own contribution to the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. The Czech president has penned his own assessment of how and why Communism collapsed and how the new leadership, including himself, dealt with the challenges in a book that has just been released.
World leaders past and present on Monday gathered in Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The celebrations, which are expected to culminate with the toppling of a symbolic wall of dominoes, have attracted more than 100,000 people. One of them is Štepán Benda a Czech émigré who has lived in Berlin since 1968 when he emigrated from communist Czechoslovakia. He was there when the wall came down and earlier today he shared his memories of the historic event.
Anyone who has ever visited the Czech capital will have visited the 14th century Charles Bridge; but if you think you know the city’s most famous landmark, think again. You may be surprised to learn that part of the structure houses two hidden chambers - large enough for dozens of visitors. The areas, not surprisingly, remain off-limits and even their very existence until now was known only by a very few.
After the split of Czechoslovakia at the beginning of 1993, Radio Prague devoted several programmes to the impact of the new border on ordinary people’s lives. For most, life stayed much the same, but the split did have a very real impact on people living close to the border, and on Czechs living in Slovakia or vice versa. Here is one Slovak student, settled in the Czech Republic, talking to Radio Prague a few months after the split:
Reconstruction of an area rich with monuments near the village of Valeč in West Bohemia yielded a mystery that has archaeologists and anthropologists scratching their heads. When workers renovating the Church of the Holy Trinity belonging to the noble Štampach family lost a hammer through the floor, they discovered a hidden tomb and the oddly laid remains of an unknown woman. Earlier I spoke with the head of the archaeological team, Kateřina Postránecká, who described the scene:
President Václav Klaus said he wanted an opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to shield Czech courts from European law, mentioning in particular the prospect of property claims from Sudeten Germans – ethnic Germans who were expelled en masse from what was then Czechoslovakia after the war. But not everyone in the Czech Republic shares Mr Klaus’s concerns, in fact some organisations highlight the country’s German heritage as a positive thing. Rob Cameron visited the former Sudeten city of Ústí nad Labem, and spoke to Ondřej Matějka
One of the more curious aspects of Radio Prague in the early 1990s was that the station’s name kept changing. In 1991, for no particular reason, we stopped calling ourselves Radio Prague and became Radio Prague International. Then, at the beginning of 1992, in order to seem less Prague and Czech centred, we became Radio Czechoslovakia. The change was largely cosmetic, because the great majority of programmes, with the exception of a daily commentary sent from Bratislava, continued to come from the Czech part of the federation.
Descending the historic Old Castle Stairs on the way from Prague Castle to the left bank of the Vltava River, an unusual structure will catch your eye in the middle of a small park between the river and a busy road. The five-and-a-half-metre tall wooden watchtower looks strangely out of place among the 19th-century urban architecture. It is an exact replica of a watchtower from a communist-era labour camp near the town of Příbram southwest of Prague. As a symbol of the oppression of the communist regime, the watchtower is part of an extensive outdoor
Looking back at the events of 1989 in Czechoslovakia, most people will probably think of the student demonstration on November 17th which kicked off the Velvet Revolution. The November protest was the last in a series of events that took place that year and were violently suppressed by riot police. One of them was an illegal rally to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia on October 28th, 1989 held on Prague’s Wenceslas Square.