Exploring a city through a derive

When looking into De Certeau’s theory, he suggests that you walk through a city not view it. He argues that  walking in the city has “its own rhetoric” and with people’s limited scope as they move about and write their own course of subjective use of the urban space “the network of these moving, intersecting writings compose and manifold story that has neither author nor spectator”.

De Certeau, “the pedestrians of a city create it through their walking about, as an objective mass made of subjects which escape any planned or regulated scheme of the city. The pedestrian, while walking in the city, has his own style, which is a sort of language which speaks about the city and take part in creating its meaning.” In walking in the city, the pedestrian gives new meanings to places and streets which are not the same as those originally assigned to them. Pedestrians, for De Certeau, create the meaning of the urban space by applying their imagination to it through the manner in which they move about the city “linking acts and footsteps, opening meanings and directions, these words operate in the name of an emptying-out and wearing away of their primary role. They become liberated spaces that can be occupied”. 

We used De Certeau’s theory in ‘walking in the city’ and applied it to Guy Debord theory the derive. A derive is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travelers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience. Having applied the two theories together, to make sense of our location, and to avoid what the city wants us as tourist to look at, we did two of Debords derive, to explore the city in depth.

We did the random directions derive, we started off at the hotel, and took turns at choosing random directions to follow. With these directions we found ourselves at VE Stinadech, here we found a wall full of communism related graffiti and we had our first sighting of and old style communist tenant building (Panelak).

We did a second derive called the wrong map, this derive involves us taking a map of another city for example the map of Bucharest and using it as if it was a map in Prague. We used a Bucharest map and mapped out a route starting from Intercontinental hotel to Parliament Palace. When we used this route in Prague, it lead us from our hotel in Prague through Charles Bridge and the final destination which was The American Embassy.

Bucharest Map 

map hotel praliament building 2

Prague Map 

map prague

Lesoda Otu-Iso

Interview with Karol Ander – perceptions of the communist era in Czech Republic

During the field trip to Prague we had the opportunity to interview a student attending an event to commemorate the 65th
anniversary of February 1948 when the communist party took over power.  On asked what his perceptions were on communism, this is what he had to say.

“That is a question I cannot answer in a few sentences.  It’s a very sensitive issue for anybody.  I have an opinion of mine, however I did not live through the era when the communists were in power so all that I got is the text books and the stuff I study myself and the people that I talk to about former regime and while the communist regime did a lot of bad things to this country, to the people and we have a very nasty legacy thanks to the communists in here and the society today which is not only what I think but it’s pretty clear the Society today in here is very divided on the subject of the former communist regime and the problem is that there is no effort to open the subject under public level.  Nobody really has managed to find any tools on how to debate on this subject and that’s one of the main problems I think”.

Rose Muzvondiwa

Media Portrayal

Jan Palach article – http://www.britishpathe.com/video/jan-palach-funeral

Jan Palach article 2 – http://articles.philly.com/1989-11-22/news/26140827_1_czech-regime-czech-government-civic-forum

Prague Spring article – http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/21/newsid_2781000/2781867.stm

Vaclav havel article – http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/05/opinion/avlon-vaclav-havel

Plastic People of the Universe article – http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/sep/06/plastic-people-velvet-revolution-1989

Jan Palach 2 : Media Portrayals

The story of Jan Palach and his dramatic action of self-immolation captured a lot of hearts. Many people and media outlets wanted to retell the story and help the world become aware of his actions, and message. From documentaries, music videos to simple references Jan Palach became world known as one of the heroes that actively stood up against communist Czechoslovakia.

One of the most acclaimed documentaries that told of his story and the days following his suicide, is The Burning Bush by Agnieszka Holland. Holland is a Polish born director who having had studied in Prague at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), had knowledge and interest in the Czechoslovak revolution and Jan Palach.

Many bands and musicians also wanted to portray or dedicate and tribute their songs and music videos to Palach’s actions including Kasabian’s song “Club Foot”, Francesco Guccini’s song  “La Primavera di Praga”, “The funeral of Jan Palach” by the Zippo band.

As well as documentaries and songs, statues were also erected to commemorate Palach.  Though statues and art might not be considered media, they still serve the same purpose of informing and reminding the masses of a person or event creating a collective memory. Andras Beck unveiled a statue in the city of Melnik dedicated to Palach on the 40th anniversary of his death. This statue is currently in France.

beck_andras_palach1970

Mwen Fikirini

Jan Palach

Jan Palach was a student at Charles University in Prague that committed suicide in 1969 in protest against the invasion of the Soviet forces marking the end of the Prague Spring. His act of self-immolation was meant to remind the Czech people of their demoralisation, it was said a resistance group was set up for the purpose of acting out until these demands were met. Many different people some who spoke to Jan and knew him reflected upon their meetings with trying to explain why he did what he did. Many people spoke of his protest against demoralization of the Czech people and his hatred of the Soviet regime. These demands were abolition of censorship, the banning of Zprava (the official newspaper of the Soviet forces) also calling for the Czechoslovak people to strike in support of these demands.

The people of Czechoslovakia united in their sympathy for Palach and their realisation of what their government was doing to them.

“Last night, students in Vienna took to the streets to express their solidarity with Czechoslovak students. Equipped with dozens of banners, they organized a silent procession.”

Svobodné slovo daily, 25 January 1969

 

The world also sympathised with the Czech people, many newspapers reported of his suicide and even officials from around the world sent their condolences. Pope Paul VI paid tribute to Jan Palach’s memory in his message of 26 January 1969 when he stated: “We can uphold the values that put self-sacrifice above others to the supreme test, but we cannot approve the tragic form taken on behalf of their aims.”

Palach was buried at Olsany Cemetary, because of his politically charged suicide his gravesite became a national shrine. This scared the communist party as they did not want an anti-communist martyr, so the StB exhumed and cremated his remains sending them back to his mother. The urn with the remains was not returned until 1990.

Memorial

P1010732In 1989 people began airing their grievances in peaceful marches, these protests were named “Palach Week”, the police tried to quash these anti-communist demonstrations. Since they knew news of them might spread disobedience and revolt through the country, the Velvet Revolution occurred and less than a year later communism had fallen. In Tim Cresswell’s book Place an introduction, he states there can be “many manifestations of place” (2004:3), in Prague this can be related to Jan Palach’s (and Jan Zajic’s) memorial. After the revolution they were commemorated through a bronze cross embedded in Prague outside the National Museum, for the people this is a sign of hope and honour to their memory while for the communists it was a significant sign of the revolutions both Velvet and Prague Spring as well as the end of communism. Different spaces are made meaningful by different individuals making them places “a meaningful location” (Cresswell, 2004:7) because they become attached in a variety of ways.

When considering place it is also important to highlight that John Agnew (1987) defined place as having 3 components making it a meaningful location these are location, locale and sense of place. Cresswell also discusses the issue of gaining a sense of a place from filmic representations of the place, this relates to hyper reality. If you look into the previously linked BBC video of Jan Palach’s funeral which was broadcasted across the world, it is important to realise to the western world this was one of the few representations of war torn Czechoslovakia. This sense of place proved to be very different to what we came across when we travelled to the Czech Republic.

As well as this memorial, Jan Palach was also honoured through different places, streets and squares being named after him in Czechoslovakia, Luxembourg, France, Poland, Netherlands, Italy, Bulgaria, United Kingdom and even Mauritius.

References

Cresswell, T. (2004) Place: a short introduction. Blackwell Publishing Ltd:Oxford

Mwen Fikirini