As they enjoy a day off work every year on July 6, few Czechs give much thought to the man behind the holiday. In the Czech calendar this date marks the feast of the early 15th century religious reformer, Jan Hus. In fact, it is a rather grim anniversary that we are remembering. On July 6 1415, Jan Hus (or John Huss, as he is sometimes known in English) was burned at the stake as a heretic in the southern German city of Constance. It was a time of deep schisms within the Roman Catholic Church, and from the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague Hus had preached
Opposed, later persecuted – and finally forgotten. That was the fate of many Czech Catholic writers, who stood outside the literary mainstream. In one of Europe’s most atheist nations, the impact of these authors gradually diminished throughout the 20th century although in their heyday, in the interwar period, they managed to convey many original ideas and intriguing artistic expressions.
When she lost her job after twenty years in the Czech section of the BBC, Hana Wilson was far from despondent. She simply allowed her hobby to take over her life. Hana, who left Czechoslovakia back in 1980, has spent much of the last decade on the waterways of Britain. Now she has published a book, introducing Czechs to the wonders of life on a narrowboat. Hana Wilson is David Vaughan’s guest in this week’s edition of Czech Books.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara is to many people a symbol of revolution. In fact his handsome, defiant face topped by a beret is said to be one of the most reproduced images in the world. The Argentinean Marxist famously took part in the Cuban revolution, and died trying to foment another uprising in Bolivia. What is perhaps less well known is his connection to a small town south of Prague.
How did communist propaganda brainwash people? What were the most frequent words used in the communist press? And was it at all possible to learn any real news from the censored newspapers? These are some of the questions a team of Czech linguists is trying to answer in their Dictionary of Communist Totalitarianism.
With just days remaining until the World Cup kicks off in South Africa, football fever is beginning to grip fans around the globe. The Czech Republic failed to qualify this year, but many will have fond memories of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, when supporters from Czechoslovakia were finally able to travel freely to a major soccer tournament.
In Part I of last week’s Czechs in History we focussed on Czech adventurer and ethnologist Alberto Vojtěch Frič’s journeys to South America, where he befriended the Chamacoco Indians in Paraguay. At the end of his third journey, in 1908, he learned to his dismay that the Chamacoco were being decimated by a mysterious illness. Through a curious mix of circumstances, he ended up bringing one of them, the son of a tribal leader named Cherwuish, back to Prague and they soon became good friends. A burden of responsibility for the South American, however,
Looking for something to do this summer? How about spending it on board a fully functioning replica of an 18th century sailing ship similar to that captained by the Czech explorer, merchant and privateer Augustine Herman? The cap’n of the good ship La Grace is currently recruiting crew for the 100-foot brig, which will set sail from Suez in Egypt in a few months’ time.
Not many people have their first book published when they are over 80, but Jaroslava Skleničková is a remarkable exception. Her home village is Lidice, a few miles to the west of Prague, where she and her husband Čestmír, will be celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary next year. But the fact that Jaroslava is alive at all is nothing short of a miracle. Her book, which has just been published in English, tells the moving story of her life, as David Vaughan reports in this week’s Czech Books.
Alberto Vojtěch Frič was a Czech botanist, ethnologist and traveller, who earned fame in Bohemia, Europe, and parts of South America in the early 20th century. His first love from childhood was botany but early after his first travels to South America, his professional focus shifted from plants to the lives of indigenous peoples. During his excursions, he befriended the Chamacoco Indians at Gran Chaco in Paraguay, and on his third visit, learning that the tribe was being decimated by an unknown illness, brought one of them, Cherwuish (the son of