In a memorable moment of history, dissent and playwright Václav Havel was elected the first post-communist president of Czechoslovakia 20 years ago. His inauguration put the final seal on the country’s road to democracy. Two decades later, most Czechs believe Mr Havel’s role in the process was crucial.
Exactly 20 years ago, Czechs and Slovaks were celebrating their first Christmas for four decades without a hint of official disapproval. While the communists tolerated the trappings of Christmas – with Christmas trees and traditional Czech Christmas carp in abundance – their tolerance of Christian traditions was never more than skin deep. In the 1950s, priests and members of religious orders were often locked up for their beliefs, and the brief reforms of the 1960s were followed by another wave of persecution, following the Soviet-led invasion
Archbishop, later Cardinal, Josef Beran, become a symbol of opposition to totalitarian regimes. He was dubbed the archbishop who refused to be silenced. The punishment for speaking out was imprisonment first under the Nazi occupation and then the Communists. In this week’s Czechs in History we look at Josef Beran’s exemplary life on the 40th anniversary of his death in exile.
This is the third Sunday of the Christian period of Advent, referred to in Czech as Stříbrná neděle or Silver Sunday. One particular third Sunday in Advent, 60 years ago in 1949, entered the history books, as it marked the start of an odd and rather grotesque episode in the Communist regime’s war against one of its ideological enemies, Czechoslovakia’s Roman Catholic Church.
A statue has just been unveiled in Prague to one of the most courageous Czech opponents of the Communist regime, Cardinal Josef Beran. The memorial is a tribute to a man whom the Communists even feared after his death in exile. The authorities refused to allow the body of the one-time archbishop of Prague to be brought back to his homeland for burial.
Officials from the Central Bohemian region bought a rare 15th century miniature at auction at Sotheby’s in London on Tuesday. The artwork, depicting silver mining in the Bohemia town of Kutná Hora, eventually went for over half a million pounds sterling, and is set to be the most important piece at a newly established gallery there.
Today in Mailbox we reveal the identity of November’s mystery man and announce the names of the four winners who will receive Radio Prague souvenirs for their correct answers. Listeners quoted: Tracy Andreotti, Colin Law, Henrik Klemetz, Yuri Nikolaev, Barbara Ziemba, Gordon Martindale, David Eldridge, Charles Konecny, Yukiko Maki, Ian Morrison, Uday Nayak.
Barbara Day works for a non-profit organization called The Prague Society, promoting international links in business, politics and academia. Twenty-five years ago, Barbara was doing a job that, at least on the surface, seems very similar. Then based in London, she was coordinating visits by Western academics to Czechoslovakia. But times could hardly have been more different. In those days, such initiatives were seen by the communist regime as a subversive activity. Constantly harangued by Czechoslovakia’s secret police – the StB – visiting lecturers, including