In last week’s From the Archives we followed the tragic last days of the student Jan Palach, who on January 16 1969 set himself alight in protest against growing apathy in the face of the Soviet invasion five months earlier. The whole country was in shock. Such a drastic and violent sacrifice had little precedent in modern Czech and Slovak history, and perhaps for just that reason Palach immediately became a symbol of the country’s lost liberty and a rallying cry for those who still hoped to save something of the reforms of 1968. Those in power
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.”
You might not recognise the name straight away, but Antonín Josef Čermák - a miner’s son from Kladno, Central Bohemia - is one of the most famous Czech-Americans to have ever lived. Anton (or Tony) Cermak became mayor of Chicago at the height of prohibition, overhauled Democratic Party politics in the city, and was then assassinated in the most mysterious of surroundings. All quite dramatic for someone who started his career selling firewood…
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
What would happen if the Czechs still had a monarch? Or if the country’s population was still one-third German? What would be different today if the 1948 communist coup had been defeated? These are some of the questions explored in a new Czech TV show entitled What If which looks at some of the turning points in modern Czech history. Rather than providing answers, however, the creators of the new programme say they wanted to provoke viewers to look at some of the historical milestones from a different perspective. In this edition of Czech History,
You will probably not have heard of Gross Sarne, Brande, Blechhammer or Schatzlar, but these are places that should be remembered. They were all Nazi slave labour camps in World War Two. The last on that list, Schatzlar, or Žacléř as it is known in Czech, was in what is now the Czech Republic, in the part of north-eastern Bohemia annexed by the German Reich in 1938. Few people in this country, even among the inhabitants of Žacléř itself, know that the camp even existed, but a new book should help to put that right. The daughter of one of the survivors
This week marks the 35-year-anniversary of the founding of Charter 77, an informal civic initiative against the communist regime. Many of its signatories would later become important figures in post-communist Czech society, such as philosopher and playwright Václav Havel, who was elected the country’s first president after the revolution. Now, the anniversary of the charter is being honored in Prague with a week-long commemoration, the Week of Charter 77.
Prague City Museum recently put on display a part of the biggest silver treasure ever found in the country. Visitors are able to admire just a fraction of the vast depot of nearly half a ton of silver jewelry, tableware, goblets, coins as well as raw silver, which was hidden in a Prague building some time after the end of WWII. The museum is now trying to find out who hid such a huge treasure, only discovered by accident roughly three years ago.