Czech Immigrants first started settling in Chicago in the 1850s and continued in several waves in the 20th century. Today the city has the biggest number of Czech-Americans living in the US, with localities known as ”Prague” and “Pilsen”. I recently visited Chicago for the 80th Moravian Day celebrations and took the opportunity to stop by the University of Chicago, where the tradition of Slavic studies is almost as old as the university itself.
If asked to picture Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in your mind’s eye, odds are you will conjure up one of two images of the Austrian composer – both of which have Czech rather artistic roots, albeit centuries apart. If not the lead actor from Miloš Forman’s Oscar-winning film Amadeus, the image in your head is likely a posthumous portrait by Jihlava native Barbara Krafft.
Václav Havel’s relationship to the United States is the focus of the recently issued book Havel v Americe (Havel in America) by historian Rosamund Johnston and journalist Lenka Kabrhelová. Mainly based on Q&A-style interviews, it contains insights and anecdotes from Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, both presidents Bush and a host of others and is the first publication to concentrate on the subject. When I met the authors, I first asked Johnston about the genesis of Havel v Americe.
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.