Fifty years ago on January 16, a young Czech university student named Jan Palach doused himself in petrol and set himself alight at the top of Prague’s Wenceslas Square. Three days after staging this desperate attempt to rouse a demoralised Czechoslovakia in the face of Soviet occupation, he died in a burns clinic. Though his immediate political goals failed, Jan Palach inspired and steeled the resolve of countless others to fight for freedom during the two decades of ‘Normalisation’ that followed the crushing of the Prague Spring.
The 20th anniversary of Jan Palach’s self-immolation brought many thousands onto the streets for protests that had no precedent in communist Czechoslovakia. Palach Week, as it became known, began on January 15 1989 and saw running battles between demonstrators and riot police. Hundreds were arrested, among them top dissidents such as Václav Havel, and the events are seen by some as foreshadowing the Velvet Revolution, 10 months later.
Today, nine out of 10 Czech children are learning English at school. It seems strange that for decades English was considered the language of the enemy – first by Nazi Germany, which occupied present-day Czechia; and later by the communist totalitarian regime. This is the story of an extraordinary man for whom English was a lifelong passion no matter who was in power.
Fifty years ago this January, Jan Palach doused himself in petrol and set himself alight on Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Prague City Hall is now looking to buy the former hospital where he died – slated to become a luxury hotel – and turn it into a “museum of totalitarianism”.
Whether it is glutton-free, paleo, vegan or just low-carb, the modern world offers special diets for the most selective consumers. But how does one eat when all but the most basic foodstuffs are cut off? That was the question that Czechs living during the Protectorate era between 1939 and 1945 had to ask themselves nearly every day.
Dr. Paul Ort’s mother and grandfather were murdered by the Nazis in reprisals that followed the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. A childhood friend of Vaclav Havel’s, the then Pavel Ort escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia via Tunisia after securing a medical degree against the odds. He went on to have a very successful career in the US, where he is still practising at the age of 82.
Lodged just before Christmas, December 22nd may at first seem a rather unremarkable day. However, it marks the anniversary of the first recorded Christmas tree being introduced on Czech soil. Today Christmas trees have not only established themselves in nearly every household but also dominate many town squares. This despite an initial struggle against Czech revivalists, who saw it as a German import.
Officials of the Pardubice region recently announced a surprise discovery. Dozens of gold coins were found on a pasture near the town of Králíky in the north east of Bohemia. Experts, who have analysed the coins, say they date to the period of the Thirty Years’ War and may have been buried while an army was on the march.
Thanks to Steven Spielberg, the story of Oskar Schindler and the twelve hundred Jews he saved during World War II is well known. But not many people know that the factory where he employed them still stands. It is in the village of Brněnec, north of the Czech Republic’s second city of Brno, and for many years it has stood derelict. There has been a lot of talk of saving the building and turning it into a museum and memorial, and the latest initiative comes from members of the Low-Beer family, who owned the factory until 1938 when they had to flee