In this episode I use the radio archives to evoke the atmosphere of Czechoslovakia during the First Republic of the 1920s and 30s. The recordings that survive offer a fragmentary picture, but they capture something of the spirit of the time, from Prague’s first traffic light to the charms of the Ruthenian countryside, just before Europe was torn apart by the Second World War.
Anti-Jewish sentiment was often fuelled by vicious and clichéd imagery. Just how varied and inventive these forms of depiction could be was a theme recently explored at an international conference in Prague. It showed that while more latent than in neighbouring states such as Germany, anti-Semitic imagery was present in Czech history, often in especially curious depictions.
What, apart from blue blood, do Wenceslaus I, Přemysl Otakar II, John of Luxembourg and Charles IV, the first king of Bohemia to become Holy Roman Emperor, have in common? Their royal corpses were eviscerated via an abdominal incision, their body cavities filled with herbs, and then placed in a tank filled with resin and a mixture of potassium chloride and sulphate of potash. Until the practice was forbidden in the Czech lands in the late 18th century, a surprising number of bodies of socially and politically prominent were anthropogenically mummified
Sport has always played a big role in Czech life. At the time of the national revival in the 19th century, the Sokol gymnastics movement was founded on the idea that a healthy body was a recipe not only for a healthy mind, but also for a civilised nation. In this episode of our series drawing from the archives, we hear recordings from the huge Sokol gathering of 1938 and from the Spartakiáda displays of mass callisthenics that replaced Sokol during the communist period. We also feature an ice hockey report from the Olympics in 1936, as well as Europe’s
Few people today have heard of Bertha von Suttner, the Prague-born writer and activist whose message of peace stirred great powers to action. Yet her thoughts live on in today’s international organisations such as the European Union or the Permanent Court of Arbitration and her dreams of ending military conflicts through disarmament continue to be pursued by parliamentarians and civil society groups across the world.
The former political regime in Czechoslovakia deemed much of Western culture “damaging” and “ideologically subversive”, but authorities struggled in particular to control the flood of foreign rock ’n’ roll and pop music. State cultural agencies and censors rarely allowed Western bands to perform here or even play their music on the airwaves. But unofficial channels filled the demand – through illegal imports, home-copying networks and ‘magnetizdat’ – do-it-yourself music. At the same time, state authorities sanctioned Western music when sung by Czech
In the first of this series we heard the voice of Czechoslovakia’s first President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. His wife Charlotte was American, and thanks to her influence Tomáš became a champion of feminism. Charlotte went on to inspire many women both within Czechoslovakia and beyond and in this programme we hear some of them, speaking in their own words from the Czech Radio archive.