The Czech philosopher and Charter 77 signatory Julius Tomin is perhaps best-known for inviting top Western philosophers to speak at clandestine seminars he ran in Prague during the late communist era. Recently the UK-based Mr. Tomin visited his native city for events marking the 40th anniversary of that move, which eventually gave rise to the Oxford-based Jan Hus Educational Foundation. But when we met I first asked the 79-year-old ex-dissident about his family background.
In the early years of Radio Free Europe, the U.S. station – although initially founded and largely secretly funded by the CIA – played a critical role in providing balanced, objective news to listeners in the Eastern Bloc, especially during turbulent periods of history. Having failed to live up its own standards when covering the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, RFE took a radically different approach to its coverage of the Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, says former RFE director A. Ross Johnson.
Restoration work on Prague’s famous medieval Astronomical Clock at the city’s Old Town Hall has revealed hidden secrets; a number of objects which were placed in the tower by former restorers. The discovered objects include small stone statues of animals and a letter hidden in the hollow of the statue of St. Thomas, which was left there in 1948.
In the last edition of Czech Books we featured an interview with Zuzana Justman, who with her older brother and mother survived the wartime Terezín ghetto. Her brother Jiří Robert Pick later wrote a remarkable novel set in the ghetto, under the title “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”. The book draws richly from his own memories; with an unexpected lightness and humour it tells the story of a teenage boy and the people around him – his friends and the older men sharing a ward with him in the ghetto infirmary. Thanks to Zuzana Justman
The Czech Republic’s famous Karlštejn castle, built by the Bohemian King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, as a treasury for the crown jewels and other precious royal artefacts, is marking an important anniversary this week. It is exactly 670 years ago, in 1348, when the foundation stone of the Gothic castle was ceremoniously laid.
One hundred years ago this autumn, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk stood atop the stairs of Independence Hall in Philadelphia – where both the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were adopted – to proclaim the creation of a new sovereign state, Czechoslovakia. But the seeds of liberty first took firm root in the spring of 1918 with the May 31st signing of the “Pittsburgh Agreement”, a memorandum of understanding between the Czech and Slovak immigrant communities to create an independent republic.
A new exhibition put together by Prague’s National Museum traces the around 500 year history of the Celts as the dominant culture across most of Europe. It draws on one of the richest collections of Celtic artefacts in Europe, which is held by the museum, and showcases some of the recent thinking about this Iron Age civilisation.
400 years ago this May, Bohemian noblemen threw a pair of Hapsburg officials out a Prague Castle window. That act of rebellion, known as the “Defenestration of Prague”, sparked a revolt in the Czech lands. It was also a catalyst for the outbreak of the “30 Years’ War” in Europe – one of the longest, most destructive conflicts in human history, waged in the name of religion.
“Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” is a remarkable book by many standards. It is a comic novel set in the wartime Jewish ghetto in Terezín, written by the Czech satirist Jiří Robert Pick some twenty years after he survived the ghetto. The book is a classic, sparkling with life and humour, in defiance of the dehumanizing environment in which it was written. Thanks to J. R. Pick’s sister, the award-winning documentary film-maker Zuzana Justman, the book has just been published in English translation. In a two-part special, Zuzana talks