Not many of the thousands of passengers arriving every day at London’s busy St Pancras Station are aware that they are passing just a few dozen metres away from one of the largest and most diverse collections of Czech books outside the Czech Republic. Tucked in beside the station is the huge, but surprisingly inconspicuous complex of the British Library. In this week’s Czech Books, David Vaughan shows us some of the highlights of the library’s rich Czech collection.
August 21 marks the anniversary of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and other communist countries. The occupation crushed an attempt to reform the communist regime, and drove the country into two decades of hard-line rule. What that all meant to the people of Czechoslovakia has been looked at many times. In our special programme today, we look at August 1968 from another perspective: that of the occupiers.
A monument was unveiled in Prague on Friday morning to Ryszard Siwiec, the Polish man who set himself alight in September 1968 in protest at his country’s participation in the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Siwiec committed suicide in Warsaw just weeks after the invasion and six months before the Czech student Jan Palach made his own terrible sacrifice in Prague. The monument was unveiled on the eve of the 42nd anniversary of the invasion.
The Czechoslovak legions occupy an almost legendary place in Czech history. They comprise the armed forces that fought during and after World War I on the allied side in pursuit of an independent Czechoslovakia. The biggest force, and most potent myths, centre on the Russian force, which became embroiled in the civil war, spending three years and travelling thousands of miles before returning home. We look at the myths and facts about their exploits.
A gruesome find has made headlines in the Czech Republic: police have uncovered human remains in what appears to be a mass grave in a field near the village of Dobronin, in the Jihlava region. Fifteen Germans are said to have been brutally murdered there by the locals in the turbulent days after the end of World War II. The discovery is the first piece of evidence pertaining to this long-forgotten massacre and has once again re-opened a dark chapter of Czech-German history.
In his basement studio in the Šelmberkovský Palace in Prague’s Malá Strana, Oldřich Škácha is visibly amused as he points out a shot he took in 1991. It features then finance minister Václav Klaus, grinning broadly, flanked by two bunny girls at a Playboy ball. Škácha says he likes to exhibit the picture today as a little jab at the president.
No visit to Prague is complete without a stroll across Charles Bridge. A masterpiece of mediaeval architecture, the bridge has survived floods, sieges and even some poorly executed renovations. In this edition of Spotlight, we walk across the bridge with architect Martin Krise from a preservationists’ association called the Club for Ancient Prague.
The funeral has taken place of Milan Paumer, who died on July 22 at the age of 79. He was a member of the controversial Mašín group, who dramatically shot their way across the Iron Curtain in the 1950s. Though many people consider the group killers, a number of senior Czech politicians attended Wednesday’s ceremony, and the prime minister no less made a strong defence of their actions.