History

Munich Agreement 1938 (Part Two)

Oct 23, 15:28 Filed under history

The Munich Agreement was signed early morning on the 30th of September by France, Britain, Italy and Germany. Hitler gained exactly what he wanted. The Czechoslovak government was informed about the results of the meeting and was strongly recommended to fulfill the agreement. As it was clear that the Czechoslovak army would not withstand the Nazi “Wehrmacht” on its own, the Czechoslovak government capitulated. The Sudetenland was soon legally occupied by Nazi Germany.

The results of Munich Agreement for Czechoslovakia were desolating. The Czechoslovakia not only had to give up 30 per cent of its territory and 34 per cent of its citizens to Nazi Germany, but by doing so it lost 70 per cent of its iron and steel and 70 per cent of its electrical power. Moreover, the Czechoslovakia without Sudetenland was left without any defensible borders with Germany and with no fortresses. Another aspect was the feeling of being betrayed by its allies France and Britain.

The Munich Agreement was just another step towards the Second World War. First was the annexation of Austria in March 1938, then the seizure of Sudetenland in September 1938, followed by the Nazi occupation of the remaining parts Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. Next step was Poland.

You have now a great chance to see all four original documents of Munich Agreement in the National Museum. The exhibition will take place until the end of March 2009.

Munich Agreement 1938 (Part One)

Oct 22, 14:54 Filed under history

On the 30th of September, the Czech Republic commemorates a very sad event in the Czech history and that is the signing of Munich Agreement in 1938. Seventy years have passed already since this dreadful moment. It may seem as a century already but people in the Czech Republic will probably never forget this moment. In fact, this Munich “Agreement” is rather called Munich Dictate or Munich Betrayal by many Czechs. Why? And what was this agreement about?

On the 29th of September, 1938, the representatives of four major European powers at that time met in Munich, Germany. Present were French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Those guys came all the way to Munich to discuss and solve the territorial demands the Nazi Germany wanted from Czechoslovakia. Surprisingly enough, no one from the Czechoslovak government was invited to this meeting.

Hitler required the so called Sudetenland, which was a Czechoslovak territory all along its borders where Germans had lived peacefully for centuries together with Czechs and Slovaks. Czechoslovak government naturally did not want to give up the Czechoslovak territory. Actually, Czechoslovak people were ready to fight for its territorial sovereignty. However, Czechoslovak army was too small to face Nazi Germany by its own. That is why Czechoslovak leaders counted with the help from France, with which they had an alliance. Unfortunately for the Czechs, appeasement was the policy number one at that time.

Both Daladier and Chamberlain wanted to avoid another war at any costs. They believed that Sudetenland was the last Hitler’s territorial demand and that by agreeing to Hitler’s proposal, there will be peace in the whole Europe. This was, of course, a very false assumption. The war came in just a few months afterwards.

Munich Agreement Part Two

The Invasion of 1968 in Pictures

Aug 28, 14:50 Filed under history

On the 21st of August 1968, Czechoslovakia was invaded by the troops of Warsaw-Pact. It was a shock for the whole world. No one could believe that Czechoslovakia, which was an ally of the USSR, was actually attacked by the Soviets. Doesn’t it sound strange even nowadays?

Czechoslovak “friends” and “allies” – GDR, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and the USSR – broke into the sovereign country. They were neither invited nor welcome. Would you welcome a friend with a loaded gun ready to shoot?

Those “brothers” came to put an end to the Prague Spring which was a very short period of political and economical liberalization in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Czechoslovak leaders, though communists, saw the immense need for reforms. They tried to create “Socialism with Human Face”. However, it is to say that they never wanted to change the system into a real democracy.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that Czechoslovak leaders were communists with every cell in their bodies, the Soviets were very nervous. They could see that the people in Czechoslovakia wanted more than few reforms, and so they had to act quickly in order not to let Czechoslovakia go out of their sphere of influence. And so they sent hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of tanks to one of their allied country and called it a “brotherly help”.

Czechoslovak people were shocked and confused at first. “Russians are invading us? What??? That must be a terrible misunderstanding”, they thought. And so they tried to explain to the Russians that there is no contra-revolution in Czechoslovakia. But it didn’t help. People were in agony. Many people, however, were ready to fight for the right of a sovereign state.

During this “brotherly help”, many Czechs and Slovaks got killed and hundreds were seriously wounded. It was a horrific scene – people with bare hands standing against Russian tanks with ball-cartridge. Friends turned out to be the worst enemies. Illusions were gone. The hopes for at least slight democratization were lost. People were crying. It was a truly sad and emotional moment.

However, it is impossible to describe it all. Pictures can tell much more than words. You will understand the situation much better after visiting the exhibition of authentic black-and-white pictures by Josef Koudelka at Prague’s Old Town Hall. It is right next to the Astronomical Clock at the Old Town Square. The exhibition takes place till September 10th. The closest metro station is Staromestska (green line A).

21st of August 1968

Aug 20, 15:10 Filed under history

Now, the 40th annual of August 21st 1968 is coming. It is an important date in Czechoslovak history. What happened in August forty years ago?

Czechoslovak history during 20th century was not really happy, the great period of Czechoslovak democratic Republic (1918-1938) was ended by coming of Nazis and then World War II, when Bohemia and Moravia were occupied. There was only brief period of freedom after the war, because already in February 1948 communists came to rule. Czechoslovakia thus became one of Soviet satelites. The late forties and the early fifties were extremely hard for some people, especially for those who were against the regime. Later, when in USSR died comrade Stalin in 1953, the public life was slowly starting to be more liberal. But the really big turn about was to come in 1968. It was called the Prague Spring. In January 1968 reformist Alexandr Dubcek came to the power. He started to work on many reforms, which were to make living in Czechoslovakia better. The economy was to be partialy decentralized, the free speech was to be granded, people could travel more. Now, the living in socialism should be finally good. Dubcek and his followers were calling for “Socialismus s lidskou tvari“ (which could be translated as the Socialism with people’s face), means they still wanted comunism, but without the restrictions (as censorship, poor economy etc.), which were so annoying for the people. So the people liked Dubcek’s reforms. But communist officers in Moscow did not like so. Those in Moscow were afraid of what was happening in Czechoslovakia so they have sent Warsaw Pact (Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria) troops and tanks to occupy the country. And the troops arrived on 21st of August, people were shocked by tanks in streets, for many of them was really hard to belive it. To belive, that Russians finished the period of liberalization. And some of the Russian soldiers were also confused, they were told they are going to free the country, but instead being welcomed, people were telling them to go home.

After August 21st, many people were really disapointed, and left the county – decided to emigrate. Those who stayed, had to live in an occupied country, Czechoslovakia remained until the Velvet Revolution. And after Agust came the period of normalization, Dubcek was replaced by Gustav Husak, who also became the president of Czechoslovakia, most of Dubcek’s reforms were canceled. 20 gray years of normalization period came.

There were many protests against the occupation of the country, the most famous one was when on 19th of January in 1969 a student Jan Palach burnt himself on Wenceslas Square and died subsequently. His burial then became a kind of national manifestation. But the Czechslovak people had to live in bad communism for another 20 years.

August 21st 1968 is a sad date in Czechoslovak history, but should be remembered and people should be thus also more aprreciate democracy they have. But for the popularization of this date was luckily also done a lot in films, literature, drama… for example by pretty popular Jan Hrebejk’s film Pelisky, which takes place in Prauge in 1968 and its heroes are affected by the run of history.

Vienna

Aug 14, 14:37 Filed under history

Have you already visited the Austrian capital? It is a place which is definitelly worth of visit. And it should be noticed that there used to be extremly strong connections betveen Vienna and Czech country. As Bohemia and Morivia vere both parts of Austro-hungarian empire with its capital in Vienna. There were the seat of emperor, who was thus also Czech ruler. Only exception was Rudolf the second, who moved the throne to mystical Prague, and thus made it the centre of empire, but only for a short time. After his death, the next emperor moved the administrative cenre of the monarchy again to Vienna. And as the seat of the ruler, it was also the centre of the official culture and education in the monarchy.

And Vienna was magnifugue! For the emporor was built beautiful palaces, gardens… but there were also beautiful houses for people close to emperor and beautiful churches for christians of the city, the finest European artists worked here…
And Vienna was extremely inspiring at the turn of 19th and 20th century. With its artists, philosophers… Members of Weiner Secession made excelent works of Art, Sigmund Freud wrote his extremely infuencial books… and there were many others, Vienna was the extremely important centre of the European culture that time.

In 1918, with the end of World War I, where was the emperor defeated, the Austro-Hungarian empire was over. Czechoslovakia was created and Prague become its capital, so Vienna was not for Czech people that important anymore. Later came World War II, then long times of communism, which was not good time for travelling. Only after the Velvet Revolution, the borders were opened again and travelling from Prague to Vienna became easy again. The only problem is distance, from Prague you would go to Vienna through Brno, it is possible to go by bus and it is not that close, so it is better to stay there overnight.

Vienna is worth to visit because of its history, architecture and its amazing museums. If you like Art, you will love Vienna. The Art galleries here are really good, very often helding the exhbition of best world artists. To be honest, must be said, that there are in general much better and ambitious Art exhibitions then in Prague. And also shopping in Vienna is really good. But to compare it with Prague, it can not be easily said which one is better. Well, personally, I prefer Prague. Vienna is monumental, nice, as all Austria extremely clean. But Prague has its special magic, and you can find there really interesting old streets, many more churges and buidings with middle-ages look. Prague has its famous ocultist history, cool clubs… yes, Praugue is not that clean as Vienna, not that nice. But I find in that uncleaness of Prague its specific magic. Well, what do you think? If you were to compare Prague and Vienna, what would you say? But both those towns definitelly are interesting and worth of visit and spending some time there.

Czech Transformation which started in 1989

Jun 19, 13:31 Filed under history

One of the key issues after 1989 was how to kick- start the Czech economy. The 1980’s were not hungry years, but the production was narrow and the technology lagged behind the West considerably. As the regime collapsed and, symbolically, Václav Havel took over the presidency from Gustáv Husák, the father of “real socialism”, the West was open and friendly towards the newcomer. George Bush Sr., Rolling Stones and other celebrities rushed in to congratulate the new- born democracy.

But a warm welcome and a wish of good luck didn’t mean a fierce competition won’t start. The market economy is not built on sentiments and everyone knew the republic has to get on its feet as fast as possible. The question was how.

One option was to privatize and set up competitive environment as quickly as possible. The other was that rules must be set first. Václav Klaus finally pushed through the first concept, after disputes with, for example Waltr Komárek, who advocated the second way. That is interesting also because Komárek was his former boss at the Institute for Prognosis, which was regarded as the sole base of centre or sometimes even centre- right economists towards the end of the regime.

The transformation was difficult and accompanied by large losses. Quite a number of entrepreneurs abused the chaotic system and “tunneled out” (a Czech term for a specific form of embezzlement) billions of state money. This is what the opponents of Klaus charge him of: he allowed the system to be built while working, not in advance. He started the free enterprise without setting proper rules, without strengthening mechanisms of control and so those who wanted to steal had a user- friendly environment. He shares responsibility for the losses.

What the defenders of “Klausformation” would reply is: if rules were to be set, if mechanisms were to be built before the free enterprise was allowed, it would have been worse. It would take years and nobody would wait for the Czechs to recover, we would end up like a poor Eastern state with clean, but weak economy.

There is no easy answer and the question is still there. Last time it was re-stated was during the presidential election, where Klaus and Svejnar disputed about it, among other things.

At this moment the Czech economy is doing well. There is a lot of foreign investment, job growth, the crown is strong. The largest former embezzlers are hiding abroad and most people seem to have forgotten about them. Everyone knows the “wild nineties” are gone.

Czech presidents

Jun 5, 14:43 Filed under history

On February 15, Vaclav Klaus was re-elected as a president of the Czech Republic. He is the person, which is sympathetic for some ones and (very) non-sympathetic to other ones. He is quite controversial not only because of his opinions about the global worming and his claiming that ecology is not that important at all and so on. It is quite a pity that such an important person, as the Czech president is, do not take ecological problems more seriously. He does actually the contrary – belittle them.

He holds the post of the Czech president since 7 March 2003. But do you know who were the presidents before him? Yes, Vaclav Havel, the first president of democratic Czechoslovakia, is pretty well know. But how about the others?
The very first president of Czechoslovakia was Tomas Garrique Masaryk. A man, who was later often remembered for his strong character and for the popularity he had among the people. The times of his rule were later remembered as the golden times of this country, when there was a democracy and Czechoslovakia was one of the most advanced countries in Europe. He was a president from 1918 until 1935. After him, there was Edvard Benes, but soon the war was to break out. In 1938, shortly before the occupation, he resigned from his post and left the country for exile. Instead him, the hard job in hard times of the country was left on Emil Hacha. He had almost no power or possibilities and had to sign and do basically what Nazis told him. After the war, Benes came back from the exile and become the president of freed Czechoslovakia, his name is often remembered in context of so-called Benes´ decrees, among them those according to which Sudetten Germans were forced to leave Czechoslovakia and go to Germany. But those decrees were mainly prepared by the government, because president himself was not such powerful, as other Czech presidents also never were.

The first communist president was Klement Gottwald (1948 – 1953), after him was even named a town – Zlin was renamed to Gottwaldow. Then there was Antonin Zapotocky (1953 – 1957), then Antonin Novotny (1957 – 1968), after him Ludvik Svoboda (1968 – 1975) and finally Gustav Husak (1975 – 1989), who ruled for the longest time from the communist presidents, from the all Czech presidents only Tomas Garrique Masaryk was on the post longer.

As you probably know, the first Czech, respectively that time Czechoslovak president after the Velvet revolution was Vaclav Havel, if we do not count acting president Marian Calfa (December 10 – December 29 1989). Vaclav Havel, who is also respected as a drama writer, was elected on December 29 1989 and was quite popular for his charismatic personality. After the parting of Czechoslovakia in 1993 he also became the first president of the new Czech Republic and stayed on the post until 2003, when Vaclav Klaus got the post. Now Vaclav Havel is still active as a dramatist, his brand new drama is now to be played in the Archa theatre in Prague.

The Underground and the Dissent

May 8, 13:38 Filed under history

The normalization era that followed the 1968 invasion is a bitter part of Czech recent history. The “Prague Spring” made Czechs hopeful that a change is possible, the subsequent events made it clear that they will not decide for themselves. The following years were, in this sense, desperate.

The underground movement emerged among the disillusioned, who saw there is no point in attempting to reform the party, join the artist organizations, unions etc. They chose not to challenge the system head- on, or they decided not to challenge it at all. Soon this incoherent, anarchic sector attracted the anti- regime intellectuals, often those who were forced to confront the system in 1968, who sought to challenge the state of affairs in a non- violent way.

the plastic people of the universe - the inevitable equipment of a dissidet of that times was 'angel head' Poets, thinkers, musicians, journalists, former politicians, artists… people with different opinions, who shared maybe some kind of ethos and mainly interests. It wasn’t a movement really, it could, in a way, resemble the sixties movement in the US, without the optimism and without explicit politics. Mostly they tended to create king of small oasis of free expression, counterculture, open debate. In a democratic system they should not mean any damage to the people in power.

But this regime tended to make enemies. The Czech underground was not primarily political. Mostly the bands, the artists simply wanted to be left alone. There was no single political affiliation. There were democratic liberals, monarchists, socialists etc. What held them together was a demand for freedom of expression- and the regime’s ongoing idiotic persecution. This is also visible in case of Slovakia, where the formerly apolitical environmentalist movement gradually turned anti- regime, because the regime felt need to persecute them from the very beginning. However it made some sense: the system was so centralized it simply couldn’t cope with any non- state activities. Independent activities undermined its authority.

The most prominent names are Vaclav Havel and The Plastic People of the Universe. Havel always tried to speak for rights, for principles, even as president he wanted to be seen as a man unconcerned with power or influence. The Plastic People reflected the dead of normalization in nihilistic- sounding alternative rock music, influenced heavily by the Velvet Underground.

The reasons why Havel and other dissidents joined the Plastic People campaign, after the band was arrested, were political. Like many other dissidents he probably did not enjoy the music itself, that being pretty hard to enjoy while sober: all kinds of noises, Egon Bondy’s intentionally banal, often extravagant poetry, melodies breaking down. The message was clear though: no matter what we do with our voices and instruments, the state has no right to interfere. The fact that id did, absurdly, by arresting the band and starting an anti- Plastic campaign (calling them “assassins of culture”) underlined the twisted nature of the regime. The regime proving vividly that it would not respect the right of freedom of speech, although it pledged to by signing the Helsinki Treaty and so encouraged all the different formations into a kind of unity.

The most important things to know about the Czech dissent and underground is probably that they based their claims on principles of human and civil rights. They did not form a program, they completely renounced any form of violence, they did not even demand a regime change. All they asked for was respect to the rights the regime itself pledged to respect.

There were many activities, the most well- known being the Charter 77 and VONS (something like The Committee For Support of the Unjustly Persecuted). Both were based on regular publication of facts about any faults, mistreatment, unlawful practices the regime carried out.

As for the Underground, there were many other bands like, for example, DG 307, which soon turned to a more arty, atmospheric style, leaving most of the noise and anger behind. There were people who established connections between the two spheres, mainly Ivan Martin Jirous (“Magor”- The Madman), an extravagant poet who was very much behind the politicization of the underground scene and the rise in attention paid to it by the dissidents. The restrained scholarly part of the movement was represented and inspired mainly by philosopher Jan Patočka, who died in relation to an exhausting series of interrogations by the Czech police.

The fall of the regime was rather a result of the changes in the Soviet Union than of the dissent’s activities, some former underground and/or dissent protagonists attempted for a political career. Mostly with little success. With the exception of the first president, who also remains a controversial figure for many.

Czechoslovakia

May 1, 15:06 Filed under history

Many people know that the Czech Republic used to be in the some state together with Slovakia – in Czechoslovakia. Some people even still did not realize that those states are not the same one any more and the term “Czechoslovakia” still says much more to them then “the Czech Republic”. The truth is, that bigger part of the 20th century spent Czechs and Slovaks in the same country.

Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, when it declared its independence on Austro-Hungarian monarchy. It was rational to put those states together, because this way the new country was stronger, bigger and of more population so it was easier to get independence this way.

Czech and Slovak languages are very similar, except very few different words (which were often subjects of jokes), it is very easy to understand each other. So it was easy to declare both nations as brothers and to live in one democratic state together, also with a Ruthenia, today the very western part of Ukraine. The capital was in Prague. It worked quite well until 1938 as this period was later often recognized as the “gold times” of Czechoslovakia. But in 1938 Sudetenland was annexed by Nazi Germany and the former democratic republic quickly turned into a state with loose connections between Czech, Slovak and Ruthenian parts. During war years, 1939 – 1945, it was de-facto split into Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovak Republic. But interesting fact is, that de jure Czechoslovakia still existed, with its exile government based in London.

the original cechoslovak sign After the war, Czechs and Slovaks lived in one country again, in 1948 the communists took the rule, which was a start of another totalitarian regime in the region, and this one lasted, sadly enough, over 40 years. The country was officially named the Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic. In 1969 it became a federation, consisting of the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic. In late 1989 came the Velvet revolution, and the long communist was finally over. In the beginning of 1990 the state was declared as a federal democratic republic consisting of Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. But it did not last long.

In the first day of 1993 Czechoslovakia was split in two independent countries. Because Slovakia wanted it, but as there was no referendum about it, it was not really will of its people as of maybe too ambitious politicians. So Slovakia got independence, it got new flag, new money and capital in Bratislava, and most of all – a new government. But the parting was peaceful and not really dramatic. So regardless the parting,

Czechs and Slovaks are still very good friends. There is a lot of Slovakian both students and workers in Prague. And if Czechs and Slovaks meet abroad, they still keep being friends, understanding each other, knowing same books, movies, singers, they still lived in one state for quite long. And recently, there was an interesting investigation, whose authors asked Czechs, which nations they like the most (well, accept themselves…) and who do you think won the first place?

Czech History - Isn’t it Mystic?

Mar 12, 13:21 Filed under history

Have you ever thought about it? Just have a look at the important dates in the Czech history and you will see it immediately! It will hit you in the eye right away. It is so evident that it is scary. Go back in time with me – 1618, 1848, 1918, 1938, 1948, and 1968.

All those dates are the key dates in the Czech history!! Do you see it? Do you know what I am talking here about? Hello there, all dates are ending with an eight!!! There must be something behind this, don’t you think? Or do you really believe this was only a coincidence?

To tell you the truth, I was not the first to discover this. Gosh no. Serious historians as well as lunatic astrologers have been trying to come up with meaningful explanations for some time. So far, none has been accepted. Hence it is believed that all this truly was only a random accident. But I don’t know…
Let’s have a brief overview at what happened.

The year 1618 is known as the Second Defenestration in Prague and the beginning of the Thirty Years´ War in Europe. It brought inquisition into the Czech lands. No surprise that the following era is called “The Time of Gloom”.

The year 1848 is a year of revolutions in all Europe. However, the revolution in the Czech lands was not successful. The ruling Hapsburgs monarchy remained strong in their governance. Czechs had to wait for their political freedom.

The year 1918 is finally a happy year for the Czech history, and not only for Czechs. It was the end of the First World War and the year when Czechs together with Slovaks declared their independence. The optimistic time period of democracy is called the First Republic, with T.G. Masaryk as the first Czechoslovak president.

However, the year 1938 was a sad one again. It was the time of appeasement policy, unfortunately for the Czechs. Hitler wanted to gain the Czechoslovakia under his control and was successful. The representatives of Germany, Italy, Great Britain and France agreed in Munich that the Czechoslovakia must give a part of its land, the so called Sudetenland, to Nazi Germany. It is known as the Munich dictate, since the Czechoslovakia was not allowed to participate in the meeting and was forced to give up its territory. This was the end of the First Republic. The Second World War was about to start soon.

In 1948, the Communist coup took place. Czechoslovakia thus became a communist country for long 41 years. Civil rights were violated, many people were put into jails or working camps, many were killed and thousands fled the country.

In 1968 there was a slight hope that life could be better. Czech reformed Communists started to initiate some reforms. This time period is known as Prague Spring since the first reforms were introduced in spring. People immediately wanted more. This, however, troubled the Soviets and so they crashed the reforms by armed invasion. Another sad moment in the Czech history.

All those dates are the most important for Czechs. All Czech students must know them by heart. Just one more date is missing and that is 1989, of course. But again, there is the eight, although not at the end. That was the time of Velvet Revolution when democracy returned to Czech lands again.

So the question is what will happen in 2008???

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