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That Fatal August Night of 1968

Aug 27, 15:38 (Filed under: Chapters from history )

This event definitely belongs to one of the saddest in the Czechoslovak history. This year it has been 40 years since that terrible moment when Czechoslovakia was invaded by its allies – GDR, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the USSR. A vast number of the troops were, however, from the USSR.

On August 21st 1968, just few minutes after midnight, the numerous army of Warsaw-Pact crossed the Czechoslovakian borders. The Czechs and Slovaks all over the country were woken up by the unusual noise of riding tanks. Thousands of tanks. They said they came to crush down the counter-revolution in the country. They called it a “brotherly help”. How nice of them!!!

The Soviets simply didn’t like the idea of Prague Spring at all. They feared that the pro-democratic reforms which had been introduced in the Czechoslovakia and even more pro-democratic feelings of the broad public could result in weakening of Soviet’s position in the Czechoslovakia, and then maybe in other parts of the Eastern Block. Moscow didn’t want this to happen, of course.

So they intervened and showed the entire world that there is nothing like a sovereign state in the Eastern Block. The Czechoslovak country was being occupied by its savior from the 1945.

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Albrecht von Waldstein – controversial figure of the Czech history

Feb 7, 15:29 (Filed under: Chapters from history )

Now there is an interesting exhibition about Albrecht of Waldste in Prague, but who exactly he was? That is a hard question. Lets have a brief look on him.

He was born in 1583 into poor protestant branch of Protestant family. Both of his parents died when he was still a child, so his uncle raised him, he got a good education, he even spent some time at prestigious Bologna university. At the age of 21 he started to make his career in the army, fighting against the Ottoman Turks and Hungarian rebels. In the beginning he was just the lowest soldier, but he was very brave, so he went up fast. For his bravery and extravagance he even got a nickname “der dolle von Wallenstein” (foolish Waldstein). But since his childhood he was also often sick, he did not like loud noises, was very nervous and had to keep a strict diet because of his health. But he was very ambitious so he got a good position in the army. In 1606 he converted to the Catholicism. Later he came back to Bohemia to marry a rich widow Lucretia Nikossie von Landeck, who possessed the estates in Moravia. Lucretia died in 1614, so Abrecht married in 1917 for the second time, to Isabella Catharina von Harrach, with whom he had two children, a son who died very young and a daughter.

But Albrecht became a really powerful man only because of Thirty Years´ war. On it´s beginning, the Catholics were fighting with Protestants in Bohemia, and Albrecht stood on the side of the Catholics, which was also the side of the Habsburgs and the emperor, so when they won, he got some of the estates confiscated to Protestants. Then he ruled over the territory of Friedland (Frydlant) in northern Bohemia, he was a capable ruler so his land became very economically successful. He also managed that the enemy army commands avoided his land, so it was known as Terra felix (a Latin expression, which in English means Happy land).

Later the emperor Ferdinand the Second and other Habsburgs got into troubles, when their enemies made an anti-Habsburgs ally. So Albrecht offered to help the emperor, to build for him a strong and powerful army. So he said it happened. But as Albrecht was becoming more and more powerful and rich, more and more people becoming jealous on him, probably even the emperor himself. But Albrecht also was not innocent, later he was even considering the possibility to join the part fighting against the emperor. In 1934 he was accused of perfidy by the prominent generals of his army and according to their initiative murder in town of Cheb. Interesting is that during his lifetime, the famous astrological Johannes Kepler made a horoscope for Albrecht, and in this quite accurate horoscope was the year 1634 indicated as a very unhappy one.

Albrecht of Waldstein is definitely a very controversial figure of the Czech history. Was he a hero or a traitor? Or maybe both?

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The Founding of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia (Part 2)

Dec 28, 11:19 (Filed under: Chapters from history )

former czechoslovakia The days the republic was founded were marked with great political cultural activity. There were political speeches, mass demonstrations and strikes, the general strike if January 22 for example. The 50th anniversary of the founding of the National Theatre turned into a celebration of Czech independence struggle. Leading political figures used the event to transform it into a political one and there seems to have been no problem with that: the atmosphere must have been very ecstatic and hopeful. The bloody, exhausting was ending, the Austrian- Hungarian Empire was in ruins and the hopes for an independent state had a strong basis, since Masaryk had negotiated with the world’s major powers that they would accept the independent Czechoslovak state. On the other hand, it was very turbulent a time and harsh in many respects. What we tend to forget is the disastrous Spanish flu epidemic, which was devastating Europe those days. And, of course, the economy was weakened and the question of war reparations was hanging in the air.

What followed was an escalation of pressure: manifestations and strikes, independent assemblies. Emperor Karl I tried to settle tensions down by offering a federation, but its shape was unacceptable- Czechs would lose the border regions and Slovakia would remain a part of Hungary. However, until October 27 the regime still proved strong enough to contain all-out political demonstrations.

On the mentioned day the foreign affairs minister of Austria- Hungary sent a letter to President Wilson, asking for peace talks. Although it was not a capitulation yet, it was interpreted as such by the public and, at the news center on Wenceslas square, in front of the exposed printed news, a demonstration was formed. Also, because the minister mentioned self- determination of Slavic states, it was seen as an approval of Czech and Slovak independence. Tens of thousands marched through Příkopy, crossed the Old Town Square and then returned to the Wenceslas Square. The numbers grew considerably and the new beginning was taken for granted.

Apart from Masaryk one ought to remember the role of, among others, Karel Kramár, Vladimír Svehla or Alois Rasín, who unfortunately became victim of assassination five years later.
The new state was declared under the St Wenceslas monument on Wenceslas square at 11 am, 28 October. Other cities were to follow, but there were certain communication problems due to lack of time and period technology, the result being that the declaration was mostly a Prague event.
The Slovaks formally joined the Czech declaration several days later.

Continue to The Founding of the Republic (Part 1)

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The Founding of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia (Part 1)

Dec 19, 15:19 (Filed under: Chapters from history )

Throughout the 19th Century, the Czechoslovak lands were experiencing a renaissance of national self- esteem, nationalism in the older sense (closer to the way we use the word “patriotism” these days). It was largely related to the cultivation and re-statement of the Czech language and carried out to great extent by cultural activities. Many of the time’s leading political figures were scholars. This includes the first president of the Republic.

t.g.masaryk Masaryk was already very well known towards the end of the century. He had decided to face the public opinion on two occasions. One was an anti-Semitic criminal case, where he defended the Jewish victim of the hatred campaign. The other was more damaging, as he argued the case against two fake Early Middle Age epics, written by two contemporary poets. The epics were widely accepted as true and statues were named after heroes of the texts. Together with a handful of other scholars, notably the linguist Jan Gebauer, Masaryk faced severe depiction. Many of the times’ great cultural figures joined the newspaper hotheads in labeling the scholars as agents of the Austrians or enemies of the nation.

Several decades later, as he accepted the role of the first president, he may have been the most beloved figure in the state. There was a lot of enthusiasm and naivety, Masaryk was often treated as a Tsar-like Father of the Nation, flawless, perfect, undisputed. The twist in the perception of this man was extreme. Why? Maybe the public took time and realized that national identity and dignity can’t be based on a lie, however well- meant may it be. And he proved his devotion to the Czechoslovak independence transparently enough on many occasions. A respected figure, he developed strong ties with the Western powers’, whose support was essential in 1918. Notoriously it was President Wilson’s claim of a right for self- determination and his explicit support of Czechoslovak independence. Not to forget Czechoslovak military units, the independent legions fighting abroad on the side of Allied powers.

What we should also bear in mind is the fact that there was no consensus about Czechoslovak independence within the country itself. Prague was indeed the centre of the movement against monarchy, but there were various voices, some advocating the view that monarchy should be preserved. It was, in eyes of many, at least a stable subject and there were fears about the new state’s vitality. This view was not shared by the public and Masaryk became the symbol of the more radical, uncompromising stance, trusted that he will manage the new state and in most respects he did.

Continue to The Founding of the Republic (Part 2)

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Zizkov - where it got its name

Dec 8, 14:36 (Filed under: Chapters from history )

A relatively young part of Prague, traditionally an area of working-class livelihoods and a place of the symbolic conflict between the old crown city and the new urbanist one. Originally a plain hill which was later turned into a vineyard, Zizkov had to wait for its status of a town until 1881. The hill is called Vitkov and it was the place of a major 1420 battle between the Hussit warlord Jan Zizka and the king’s armies. The successful warlord’s name is the basis of the name of the whole quarter and the hill is dominated by a monument of his.

The Hussit movement, called after Jan Hus, a Czech priest burned alive for his critique of the Catholic Church in 1415, is still a controversial part of the Czech history. On one hand an act of courage and a will to go against the rich and powerful Church elite, on the other a massive rampage, which drowned its modern thoughts in blood.

It played a major role in the 19th Century, mainly its second half, as the Czech nationalists (patriots we would say today) used it often as an argument of the nation’s potential, as the Czechs, between 1419 and 1434, were able to frighten the elites of the whole Europe. On the other hand and sentiments aside, the Hussits and especially Zizka, were also responsible for numerous atrocities and unjustifiable cruelty, mainly towards monks and nuns of the conquered monasteries. The movement also brought sheer destruction to what we would today call “cultural heritage” and there are historians who claim it actually postponed the reformatory process. By being so brutal and radical the Hussits prepared fertile ground for the conservatives. All the anti- reformists had to do was point at the horrors of the berserk rebel armies and used it to discredit the movement altogether. The ideas of a church close to the common man, of the elites having to strengthen ties with the people, of some amount of religious freedom, could hardly have been rejected as easily.

In my opinion the key question lies on the same level as in the case of other revolutionary movements of the past centuries: the great difference between the ethos and the realization, the question whether such a cruel and remorseless chain of events could at all be seen positively. However a different case that is, I think the moral problem is in many ways similar to that of the French Revolution.

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Prague legends – Dalibor

Nov 23, 11:59 (Filed under: Chapters from history )

One of the towers of Prague Castle is called Daliborka (Dalibor´s tower). It is a round shape tower, situated on the edge of the Golden Street. The tower was built in the late gothic style in the end of 15th century, during the rule of the king Vladislav Jagello by the architect Benedikt Ried. The tower was used as a prison for dangerous prisoners, and after the first one of them, Dalibor of Kozojedy, it got its name.

The legend says that Dalibor was a good noble man, whose neighbor was an evil knight Adam of Drahonice. Adam of Drahonice was very cruel to his dependants. So they rebelled, captured him and made him to set them free. Then they asked kind Dalibor to be their new liege. He agreed, and promised them much more freedom then they got under the rule of Adam of Drahonice. But the fallen knight got angry and with other evil knights brought a false accusation against Dalibor, so the king had to imprison him.

Of course, that Dalibor was not very happy in the prison, but he was not starving, because the prisoners were allowed to buy some food, if they had money. But suddenly, Dalibor became quite short of money and thus in danger of death by hunger. Luckily, he was saved by chance.

In the prison, he was often bored, because he had nothing to do, so once he bought a violin and stared to play on it. He was pretty talented so soon was such a good player, that passer-byes were stopping under the tower to listen him playing. And once hungry Dalibor got an idea, he asked the jailor for a basket and a rope. Then he put the basket on the rope and let it go down on the street. Those who liked his music put some food in the basked. And because he played very well, he got a lot. Dalibor was popular among the people, so they often asked the king to free him, but it did not happen. He was sentenced to death and beheaded.

But sometimes, during the nights when the moon shines brightly, the voice of his violin can be heard even these days.

Now, it is hard to say, if Dalibor was really just an innocent and poor kind noble man as says the legend. Maybe he just wanted to gain the domains of Adam of Drahonice, so he encouraged his people to rebel against him for what he was rightly imprisoned.

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National holiday of 17th November

Nov 7, 13:39 (Filed under: Chapters from history )

Demonstranion on Narodni Trida the banner says - stop violence - 17th of November is the day of National holiday in the Czech Republic. Do you know why?

The day is officially celebrated as „The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day“ but it is also known as „The Day of students“. It is so because that day is in the Czech history connected with two very important students manifestations, during which the youth became the conscience of the nation.

The first Manifestation took part in Prague, in 1939, during the World War II, when the funeral of Jan Opletal turned into manifestation against Nazi occupation. Jan Opletal was a Charles University student, who took part in march celebrating the annual of the Czechoslovak Republic Independence on 28th of October, the march was suppressed by Nazi forces, Opletal was seriously injured and he died on 11th of November. 15th of November was the day of his funeral, which was attended by thousands of students and became the huge anti-Nazi demonstration. As a result, all the Czech universities and colleges were closed, over 1000 students were sent to concentration camps and 9 students were executed on 17th November. To commemorate these events, the 17th of November was marked as The International Student’s Day by the International Students Council in London in 1941.

Fifty years later, in 1989, when the communist rule over central-eastern Europe was already breaking down, the students manifestation commemorating the memory of Jan Opletal started so called Velvet Revolution, which led to Czechoslovakia freed of the deliberating communist regime. This peaceful demonstration, attended by thousands of people, was suppressed by police riots in order to not to let the students go to Wenceslas Square, the most symbolic place for the Czech nation in the modern history. A lot of people were injured; students went into strike and soon were joined by artists and then by other people who also wished the end of the communist rule in Czechoslovakia. And it was successful. On 10th of December the communist president Gustav Husak appointed largely non-communist government and resigned. On 29th of November, Vaclav Havel was elected the president of democratic Czechoslovakia. And finally, in June 1990, the first democratic election since 1946 was held in the country.

So the 17th of November is officially remembered as the Student’s day already since 1941, but only in 2000 this day was as „the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day“ made an official national holiday.

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St Hastal’s Church (St Castullus Church)

Oct 12, 15:32 (Filed under: Chapters from history )

The name is untypical, the only church in Czechia to carry it. It is derived from St Castullus, a Roman citizen of a high rank, who secretly converted to Christianity and took the pains to spread the religion illegally. In the end he fell victim to the tyrant and anti- Christian fanatic Diocletian (towards the end of the 3rd Century), who had him tortured and killed, like all the Christians he could find.

germans transfer form prague Formerly a small Romanic church was sanctified in St Castullus’ name in the 12th Century. There are foundations of the former building about a meter and a half under the current one. That was founded in the forties of the 14th Century and built in a Gothic manner. Originally a three- body project resulted in a combination of two bodies and a chapel.

As it is placed near the river and on a low level, the disastrous floods of 1436 decimated the church. The fact that it recovered owes much to spontaneous activity of the Prague wealthy citizens, since the number of contributions was considerable.
Like many churches, St Hastal church also served as a school. It is, however, believed, that it could not keep up with the demands and was closed down in 1624, becoming a Catholic vicarage after two centuries of unsuccessful management by Hus’s followers.

It burned down on 21 June 1689, as both the Old and the New towns were struck by a tragic, revolting case of arson. The disaster was probably caused by a group of French criminals operating in Prague and resulted in a series of brutal acts of vengeance against French expatriates in general. The church itself was repaired, though the reconstruction naturally gave it a different character and consequently, we may now see only remains of the original Gothic ceiling and the sacristy. It was damaged again in 1757, during the Prussian conquest of Prague, as a cannon ball flew through the altar and into one of the walls, where it still lies today.
Surviving Joseph II’ and his anti- church reforms, only the neighboring cemetery was closed down.

The inside offers famous religious statues and a sacristy, which was left unharmed by the many wounds St Hastal received. It is also in very pleasant a place, Hastalske namesti (Castullus Square), in an unusually calm area near the Republic Square. An area of narrow streets, older than the surroundings and visibly so since it is situated a bit lower than the neighboring parts.

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Some East European Accounts on Historical Prague

Sep 27, 10:01 (Filed under: Chapters from history )

Historic map of Prague from mapy cz.jpg The oldest of Czech chronicles did mention Polish captives in the kingdom, the father of our first chronicle-writer, Cosmas, supposedly one of them. A daughter of the Polish king of the period married the first Czech to be crowned king and so became the first Czech queen in 1062.

The court of the Czech king towards the end of 1290s offered an interesting sight. The chronicle of Zbraslav reports, that there were numerous monks and guests came from Russia, Hungary and other Slavic lands, causing some confusion with their long beards and Slavic- language ordinances, while the official language for such occasions at the time was Latin.
During the rule of the House of Luxembourg (1308- 1442) the Polish and Hungarian nobles and even rulers visited the court on numerous occasions. The reasons were often practical, in pursuit of marriage for example, as in the case of the king Casimir the Great in the 1340s. His daughter Jadwiga later founded a college at the Prague (Charles) University, a department for the Latvian students, who did not turn up in substantial numbers and the college was used mainly by less wealthy Czech students.

In order to stay with substantial testimonies of Prague we better move on to the 17th Century, when Francis II Rákóczi spent years on studies in the city. The Hungarian prince and later a leader of an Anti- Habsbourg uprising- and a man considered national hero in Hungary, studied philosophy and paid a lot of attention to Prague social life. His notes are critical of the University teaching system and present Prague as a city of wild night life.
A grave situation occurred in 1741 as German and Polish forces attacked the city. It was, needed to say, mainly the Saxon army. There was less of a battle than of a skirmish at the Vysehrad, by the parts of the city fortifications still to be seen today.

A testimony worth mention remained after Countess Golicyn (1766- 1821), a visitor from Russia when she belonged to the favorites of Catherine the Great. She mainly recalled Prague’s gothic character and the spectacle of the Saint John of Nepomuk celebrations. During a 1835 visit, another Russian noblewoman thought Prague resembled old Italian cities. Admiring in general, she only criticized the city’s dressing fashion, supposedly inferior to similar customs in Vienna. Of the notorious 19th Century Russian figures, one of the fathers of anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin paid several visits to the Czech patriots and, more notably, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky made a great impression on the Prague audience in 1888.

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