17 November 2018
My last non travel day in Europe. So sad.
I mentioned the Prague Spring book in an earlier post. As I said, not a great book, too much masculine gaze for my liking. In my Googling of Prague Spring I found there was a temporary outdoor exhibition about it at the City of Prague Museum, just a few hundred metres from my hotel. Extra bonus: the exhibition was out the front of the museum so I didn’t have to pay an entry fee! But before I give more details about Prague Spring, it’s time for a brief 100 year history lesson (highly reliant on Wikipedia, I confess). Read it and be rewarded with some music at the end.
In 1918 Czechoslovakia declared independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By 1933 it was the only democracy in the region but minority groups were grumbling, including the Germans who were seeing the attraction of Nazi Germany. Foreign minister, Beneš, established an agreement with France but France dropped them like a hot potato with the 1938 appeasement of Hitler. “Sure, have it,” said the UK and France. “Just don’t hurt us please”. During WWII Czechoslovakia was officially stateless but continued to be internally governed to an extent. Czechoslovakia ended up behind the iron curtain after WWII, under the rule of the Soviet Union. Actually, the people voted for the Communist Party in 1946 but with support for the communists waning a couple of years later, the Soviet Union assumed control in a coup d’état (an unfair arm wrestle). This meant there was massive censorship, oppression of religion and a devaluation of the currency to ensure the Soviet Union was economically stronger.
So now we come to 1968. Alexander Duček, a key figure in government, led a relaxation of restrictions placed on people. Even though it is referred to as Prague Spring it lasted several months. The Soviet Union was not happy and failed to persuade them to alter this course. So the Soviet Union teamed up with the other countries within their control and formed the Warsaw Pact, invading the country to suppress the rotten upstarts. Civilians fought back harder than they expected. The rebellion centred around Wenceslas Square. Subversive acts included removing or obscuring street signs to confuse the invaders and protecting the location of where radio broadcasts and newspapers were being produced (these acts of resistance were also in the novel). However, the Soviet Union force was too much and the government agreed to comply to their rules.
[Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Dissidents were not quelled completely. Some even went to the extent of suicide by self-immolation, including Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc. Known dissidents, and their children, were banned from professional jobs and attending university. During this time many people emigrated at great cost (after all, people had to repay the state for providing an education and more) or they found a way to unofficially leave.
The Velvet Revolution, a non-violent series of protests, started first in Bratislava (in modern day Slovakia) and the next day, 17 November, 1989, in Prague, 50 years ago today. Despite severe beatings, the protests continued and culminated with other Eastern Bloc countries in the fall of communism and the restoration of democracy. I certainly remember the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
The Velvet Divorce between the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic occurred in 1993, a peaceful split, whilst the nearby Bosnian War was occurring. In 1991 I worked with a Croatian and a Yugoslavian who were friends but tensions arose at this time so through them I gained a little understanding of the region.
Back to today. I next walked to Wenceslas Square. Wenceslas is the patron Saint of the Czechs. He is who we we sing about in the Christmas carol. The aim of visiting the ‘square’ (long rectangle really) was to picture the resistance in 1968 but I gained more than that. There was a soundcheck occurring for a concert ending the Festival Svoboda (Freedom Festival). As the novel indicated, years ending in ‘8’ are significant in the history of the Czech Republic. It is 100 years since it declared independence. It is 50 years since Prague Spring. It is 30 years since it returned to democracy. I stayed for three acts performing their soundcheck. My favourite act is below and the YouTube version of this song is at the end of this post. There was also a plaque to two men who had died from self-immolation in Wenceslas Square, thus knowing to include them in the history above.
When the soundcheck ended I walked up the hill, between the new and historical buildings of the National Museum and passed by a good view of the main train station (photo for Dad). There was a MASSIVE queue outside the historical building which I’ve since learnt was due to free entry (for the rest of the year) since its recent reopening after an extensive renovation process. I walked around the area of a recommended walk (for being aesthetically pleasing) that I had on my laptop back in my hotel room. I only hit a small fraction of the streets it had mapped out. There were lots of pretty houses. Lots of dogs being walked. Lots of pooch parlours. No dog poo. Lots of cigarette butts. Some yucky graffiti. A drink called Mate in the window of a furniture store (closed - only tourist shops are open on weekends). A French themed Farmers' Market. A great big park with a real live woodpecker who I heard before I saw (turn the sound up - suppression has lowered the volume). A view of a television tower that has a restaurant I can’t afford.
I have ended the day again in my seat at the bar to write this. How else would I spend my final night in Prague?
What? Go to the concert tonight? I thought about it. There’s a Facebook chat with Emma testament to the fact. In the end I decided the cold, the crowds, the language barrier and my dreadfully sore feet from walking so much the last four days ruled against it. It is being streamed live. I’ll watch it in bed. Or should I watch Strictly Come Dancing? Andrew and Sidney hooked me in when I watched it with them two weeks ago in London. I watched it last weekend in Bath. Why not Prague? I was reading this morning that staying in your comfort zone is not such a bad thing.
I have in the back of my mind to write posts about hotels and airports but basically, this is probably the last post about my trip. So sad.