Eighty years ago today, on March 15 1939, Hitler gave Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha a stark choice: accept becoming a protectorate or face destruction. After Hácha reluctantly agreed to give up his country’s independence the German army started moving in. It was the beginning of six long years of occupation.
Right towards the end of their dynasty, the Přemyslids established what was effectively a short-lived central European empire. Its pinnacle was reached during the reign of Wenceslas II., during the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. Apart from ruling the Bohemian realm, Wenceslas also became King of Poland and secured the Hungarian crown of St. Steven for his son. However, his weak constitution and a flash of bad luck brought the short lived empire to a sudden end.
Over 25,000 books were looted from the Czech lands by the Swedes at the end of the Thirty Years War. Today these valuable prints and manuscripts are scattered in libraries all around Sweden, but also elsewhere in Europe. A new project by the Czech Academy of Sciences attempts to trace all the books that have survived and create a digital catalogue accessible both to researchers and the general public.
Voice of America (VOA), today the largest U.S. government-funded international broadcaster, ceased its Czech language broadcasts exactly 15 years ago today, on 27 February 2004, shortly ahead of the country’s accession to the European Union. The move followed budget cuts by the U.S. Congress and, the Cold War long over, a shift to “new audiences and new priorities”. We look back at the station’s local legacy.
On February 25 1969, exactly one month after Jan Palach, another man set himself alight in protest to Czechoslovak apathy following the Soviet invasion of 1968. The name of the second human torch was Jan Zajíc, a high school student from Šumperk. Fifty years on his act still brings chills of shock, but also respect among Czechs.
During the 1960s as the Warsaw Pact sought to change the balance of military power decisively in its favour it employed a largescale disinformation to fool NATO about its strength and intentions. One of the enterprises conducted to support this deception effort was Operation BLÍN. Its story is one of a daring embassy heist right under the noses of NATO intelligence officers reminiscent of a Hollywood thriller.
More than sixty years after its premiere, a unique Czech documentary from Tibet, made in the early 1950s, returns to Czech cinemas on Tuesday. Called Cesta vede do Tibetu or the Road leads to Tibet, the film had won several awards before being banned by the Communist authorities. Today it brings a unique testimony of places that have long been destroyed by the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Newlyweds Zika and Lida Ascher left Prague in early 1939 for the UK. There Zika Ascher launched a silk business that was soon thriving – and began approaching top artists, including Matisse and Henry Moore, to produce designs for a special collection of scarves, the Ascher Squares. Many of them, and other exquisite pieces produced by the company, have just gone on show as part of extensive exhibition here in the Czech capital. Shortly before it opened, I spoke to the couple's son, Peter Ascher.