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

Space

Space is a term that can be referred to as a boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and event have relative position and directions. Physical space is often conceived in three linear dimensions, although modern physicists usually consider it with time.

The concept of space is considered to be of fundamental importance to an understanding of the physical universe. So many scholars have defined the concept of space, according Gottfired Leibniz  viewed space as a collection of relation between object, given by their distance and direction from one another (Leibniz, 1890:45). Immauel Kant also said neither space nor time can be empirically perceived, they are elements of a systematic frame work that humans use to structure all experiences (Cited in Dikshit, 2006:70) . Leibniz he also analysed space as not more than the collection of spatial between objects in the world: ‘space is that which results from places taken together. This brings us to the simply definition of space ‘space is an abstract; it is defined through maps and geography that are physically labelled (Leibniz, 1980:62).

Our main focus in this research is the geographical and culture space and mapping out our space (ie our research location), to make sense and meaning to the research.

Geography is the branch of science concerned with identifying and describing the earth, utilizing spatial awareness to try to understand why things exist in specific location and this is done by cartography, it is the mapping of space to allow better navigation for visualization purposes and to all as a locational device.

Geographical space is often considered as land and the have a relation to ownership usage (in which space is seen as a property or territory). Space also impact on human and cultural behaviour as one person’s space is different from the other. Space also being an important factor in the design of building and structures.

As a result of our research topic, we need to map out our space to make sense to us, but before doing that we need to look into the meaning of maps, According to Peter Jackson 1989, he refers to map as a meaning of a way we make sense of the world, rendering our geographical experience intelligible, attaching value to the environment and investing the material world with symbolic significance (Jackson, 1989:1). So this to say space is important in mapping out geographical culture.

In simple term a map is a visual representation of an area a symbolic depiction, highlighting relationship between elements of the space as object, region etc. According to O’Connor 2002, he said many maps are static two dimensional, geometrically accurate or approximately accurate representation of three-dimensional space, while others are dynamic or interactive. Many maps may represent any space, real or imagined (O’Conner, 2002:16).

All this maps with descriptions have embedded meaning in them about a space, and how one can relate to a space individually, collectively and culturally. This again has to do with cultural geography – Cultural geography is the study of cultural products and norms, in relation to space and place, it focuses on describing and analysing the ways language, religion, economy, government, and other cultural phenomena vary. In understanding cultural geography one has to understand the unique cultural character of a space.

The understanding of cultural location is to recognize that each, cultural location as space has its own unique cultural characters. How to understand this is to approach a city space and its cultural characters. Giving that Prague is our primary focus, which its cultural location (geography and character) is a distinctive one.

Prague is the capital of Czech Republic, it is the fourteenth largest city in European Union, it situated in the North West of the country, it is 496 square KM about 1.2 million inhabitants live there. The Vitava River is a defining geographical feature as it rolls through the city. Prague is spread with in the Vitava River basin over a series of nine hills: Lethna, Vitkon, Opys, Vetrov, Skalka, Emauzy, Vysehrad, Karlov and the highest Petrin. The city centre of the city lives on both side of the river and was/is traditionally divided into four sections.

  • Hradcany (hill on the left bank), site of Prague castle, a complex of Palaces and churches that dates from the 10th century.
  • Lesser Quarter: (below the castle) area of winding streets Baroque Palaces, gardens and medieval houses.
  • Old Town (on the opposite side of the river connected to lesser quarter by Charles Bridge) site of the old town square and many Gothic building.
  • New Town (connected to old town) newer developments including Wenceslaus square.

The city has a temperate oceanic climate, with its warm summer and chilly winter, since the fall of the iron curtain Prague has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destination, it is the sixth most visited in European city after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, and Berlin. The city contains one of the world most pristine and varied collection of architecture (Geography of Prague, 2012).

The understanding of a map makes sense of space, place and culture, having done a research on space and map, this enable us make understand of our primary research location.

 

Reference

  • O’Connor J.J and E, Robertson, 2002: The History of Cartography. Scotland , St Andrews university.
  • Peter Jackson, 1989: Maps of Meaning. Unwin Hyman Ltd.
  • Leibniz. G, (1890). The Philosophical works of Lelbniz.
  • R.D Dikshit (2006). Geographical thought:  A contextual history of Ideas. Prentice. Hall of India.

map_large

Lesoda Otu-Iso

The Czechoslovak State Security (StB)

The Czech state security known as the StB Státní bezpečnost (Czech)/ Štátna bezpečnosť (Slovak) was active between 1945 and 1990. The sole aim of this force was to deal with any issues that could be considered anti-communist; this usually meant arresting, torturing and even executing any citizens that spoke up against or protested the communist regime.

The StB were used as an instrument by the communist party to show their power, they intimidated, spied and even forged false allegations and evidence against anti-communists. Their aim was to keep any talk against the party and therefore chance of uprising at a minimum. One of the many visible actions they took against the Czechoslovakian people was by trying to destroy or erase any signs of their revolutionary actions against the regime. One of these was the self-immolation and suicide of Jan Palach in 1973, the StB tried to destroy any memory of his action by trying to stop the demonstrations that occurred at his funeral as well as exhuming his body after burial and cremating it. An anonymous body replaced his at the grave site, reassuring the communist party that they had deprived the Czech and Slovak people of a martyr. It is not until October of 1990 when the cremated remains were returned to their rightful resting place. Actions such as this were seen as normal for the StB, as it was very important for them to keep the communist agenda.

The StB now

Though the StB was dismantled and dissolved in 1990, their headquarters still remains in Prague. It is currently being used as the police headquarters.Image

Some members of the public that we spoke with felt that this was not a coincidence as some members of the StB still held powerful positions in companies, businesses and even the police force. This is not meant to be the case, as with its dissolving in 1990 former members of the StB and associates were banned from specific and powerful roles such as that of a police office, government official etc.

Support for the opinion that this rule has not been adhered to exists in a lot of sources some of which can be seen at the bottom of this post, showing that perhaps the StB still has former members in powerful positions.

http://www.jrnyquist.com/bolshevik_inquisition_3.htm

http://www.prague-tribune.cz/2003/9/7.htm

                                                             Mwen Fikirini

Panelaks (Part 2)

Jan Sladek about the panelaks:

Source: Photographing Prague Architecture (1922-1968)

Source: Photographing Prague Architecture (1922-1968)

“One of the symbols of communism, everyone who been around Europe knows panelak can be found in France, if you look at south cell it’s one of the biggest panelak in France, in Czech republic it depends on the location, you can be part of the cities with panelak which are beautiful with good transports and some that are isolated. Now I talked about shortage, the same shortage that there was with wages was the same with housing, I remembered that my family, it was so hard for them to get a flat because they could not buy a flat. So we had to wait for the regime to build a new one and it took the regime 15yrs to build a flat… for some people that was quite a long time.

Yes it was a solution to quiet a massive shortage in housing and people were all glad for having this, not all the buildings were that bad, some of them were in beautiful location. What the problem was…the management of the building where you have 8 buildings and 40 flats. (I am talking about the panelaks where I grew up) I remember several things when the lights went out, it took days for someone to get it fixed because you had to call to get it fixed, there was no private sector who would fix the problem, you had to call the municipality  and they would say we would put you on the waiting list, our electrician would come and solve the problem in a few days, the same with the lifts systems as well. These are for common places as well as flats.

The flat was also owned by the state so the state was responsible for fixing it, this happened frequently that the people started to help themselves; I would say this was irresponsible form the government, under normal setting, you are a tenant, and you are investing in fixing up the place. People started developing close ownership of the flat. So when the regime failed on of the first question was to what is there to do with all this state flat, they had to find a way to give it out to people so the flats were privatised, so people where glad that they had one secured thing in their lives which was housing.

Again I am coming to my flat 8 stories 40 flats, 40 families. In 1994 each family got the chance to buy the flat which was on the condition that all families would do this, which not everyone wanted to stay or to buy. So there was a huge negotiation we had to renovate all the building, this went okay but there was no law about the management of the public space. So again the problem of lift and light management was still the same, it took some time to develop a strategy on how to solve the problem even though it did not work, one of the problem was, that we shared difference flat but who share the ground beneath the building all this little things lead to do with the ill management of the building and it started to de-tolerate which again was a huge contribution to all the bad image of housing.

The interesting thing about Czech panelaks which is difference from British housing, French housing, I would say even American housing, was giving their housing shortage which was distributed all around society. We had very great mix of social demographic mix in one building it was not like only poor people would leave there, we got professors, physicians and workers in the same building.”

Marina Gogeanu

Interview transcribed by: Lesoda Otu-Iso

The amazing story of Vratislav Brabenec (Plastic People of the Universe)

The Plastic People of the Universe (PPU) is the most representative rock band from Prague, Czech Republic (1968–1989).

This avant-garde group went against the Communist regime and due to its non-conformism, its members suffered serious problems such as arrests. Banned and jailed under Czech communism, the Plastic People of the Universe helped to bring the regime down in 1989.

Vratislav Brabenec (saxophone, clarinet, vocals, composition, lyrics) and a member of The Plastic People of the Universe- told us his incredible story.

Vratislav Brabenec

“Communism is something like a religion…

It is known that the communists and the Bolsheviks and the soviet institutions were built like a catholic church. Same structure. “ I know about you, you can’t go higher because we know your sins. More sins you have, more important you are for us”. They know everything about you. […]

For me, the 70s were very bad, because I was part of a band, the Plastic People of the Universe… we had lots of concerts […] and because I was a musician, I was in jail for 8 months.

I was working as a landscape architect for the historical garden; one day they came and put me with the other people, in interrogations (very heavy interrogations) and they put me in jail.

They didn’t want to put in jail people that were workers, but intellectuals. I didn’t finish the study at theology, another guy from the band didn’t finish the architecture… but our manager finished the art history. So, I was in jail  for just 8 months, but our manager spent 8 and half years in the heaviest jail. Our manager wasn’t a performer, he was an organizer and also an art historian and jail happened because of his activity, the influence for the younger generation. So it was an example of how some fucking intellectuals wanted to have an influence on the younger generation with their crazy music, with their crazy poetry.

In the 80s I was kicked out of my country, striped from my citizenship, I was moved to Austria …Yeah.. they kicked me out . The secret police told me “you have two possibilities: to go to the jail again or to go abroad”. My daughter was 2 years old, my wife thought it would be better to move abroad, to go somewhere else…

In the beginning they told us that they would imprison us for 5 years or more , and after that they changed because a lot of things about our band , our cultural activities were published into the west, it helped us , and a lot of writers from the west helped us, because they wrote some protests to the communism government and they didn’t expect that… the communists didn’t expect that. Especially our former president… Vaclav Havel helped us a lot, he helped us after the jail again. We were recording in his farm, we had some secret concerts in his bar, and other things were happening, we were funny lucky people.!”

Marina Gogeanu

Interview transcribed by: Eduard Vasile

Man hanging out (David Cerny)

“In Man Hanging Out (1996), Černý depicts psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud suspended by one hand from a pole high above the ground. Freud was born in Freiburg, now part of the Moravian region of the Czech Republic. Freud is credited with having completed his most creative work in his 40’s, when he was suffering from psychosomatic illnesses and a number of phobias including the exaggerated fear of dying. At the age of 83 and suffering from mouth cancer, Freud called upon his personal doctor and his long-time friend Max Schur to assist in his suicide by helping to administer doses of morphine.

Černý created the piece in response to the question of what role the intellectual would play in the new millennium, as Freud was, in Černý’s words, “the founder of psychoanalysis – the intellectual face of the 20th century”. Like his other works, Man Hanging Out starts as a surprise to ordinary sensibilities, then intimates the artist’s frustration with the way things are (or were) and, for those in tune with the message, insinuates the personal questioning of the status quo. Man Hanging Out is a fine example of the reason why Černý is considered a leading sculptor and a pop-culture icon.” (OpenConceptGallery n.d.)

Reference: OpenConceptGallery (2012) Man hanging out by David Cerny [online] available from <http://www.openconceptgallery.org/portfolio/man-hanging-out-by-david-cerny/> [22 April 2013]

Man hanging out 1-_DSC0074 1-_DSC0075 2-_DSC0078

Marina Gogeanu

Hotel Crowne Plaza

Klara Mergerova:

“This hotel is known in Prague under the name of Hotel Internazional, which was the original name. It is a hotel which was constructed in the early 1950s, which was a period of the style called ‘socialism realism’ and this was after the communist regime took the power in the 1948. This was the only official style of the early 1950s, so new buildings and new housing estates were built only in this style which was a style that took elements from the history and also linked it to some decorative elements, and it was meant for the working class, for the working people to bring joy into their everyday lives.”

Marina Gogeanu