This Monday marked an important anniversary in the history of the Czech lands. It was exactly one hundred years to the day since the death of Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, and King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia. The Habsburg monarch ascended the throne in 1848 and ruled the Czech nation for nearly seven decades.
Czech Political Prisoners: Recovering Face is the title of a book of photographs and texts by Jana Kopelentová-Rehak, a Czech anthropologist based in the US city of Baltimore. When the Šumava-born academic was in Prague recently we discussed the political prisoners, or “mukls”, she met and how they were marked by their experience of brutal communist labour camps. But first we spoke a little about her own life, starting with a key encounter in the 1980s, when she was taken in by Charter 77 signatory Miloslava Holubová.
Former Czechoslovak diplomat Vladimír Vochoč, who helped hundreds of Jews escape from Vichy, France during the Holocaust, has been recognised as “Righteous among the Nations”, the highest Israeli tribute to non-Jews who saved the lives of Jews during the Second World War. Mr Vochoč is the 116th Czech to receive the tribute, sponsored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
In the world of advanced information technology there are still remnants of an era when all human knowledge was painstakingly collected in libraries that reflected the social status of their owners. Deep in the bowels of Kinski Palace, on Prague’s Old Town Square, the Kinski family library is preserved as it served the family for generations. Its administrator for the National Museum Richard Sipek took me around one of the two remaining palace libraries in the city.
For years now, the Czech Army has been selling off, or in some cases donating, concrete military bunkers built in the 1930s. Originally, they were to have served as key fortifications against Nazi Germany but were never put to use. There are some 5,000 such pillboxes in the Czech Republic, one-fifth of which are now in private hands. More than 360 bunkers were sold in the last year-and-a-half alone.
Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman has indicated significant progress made in negotiations aimed at removing a pig farm from the site of a former Romany concentration camp. The presence of the farm at Lety, south Bohemia, has plagued several administrations and elicited sharp criticism from the European Commission.
Moscow has accused the West of waging a propaganda war against Russia and is considering setting up a centre where historians who would compile a “correct” interpretation of history as seen by the Kremlin. One of the milestone events which have reportedly been “misinterpreted” is the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia has had its fair number of top spies before the Second World War, during the conflict as well as in the post war and Cold War era. There is František Moravec, who created one of the most successful espionage networks for Czechoslovakia during the inter-war years and later took his skills into exile in Britain.