The first match of our chess tour of Czechoslovakia and Russia was actually in Prague. I was struck by the similarities of Prague with Vienna, which I had had the good fortune to visit on a school trip a few years earlier. The spirit of the people seemed similar, yet more depressed. Many of the magnificent buildings bequeathed by history were in much need of repair. Prague was not thriving at this time.
During our time off we explored some of the great historic sights – the powder tower, cathedral, astronomical clock, but my main memory is of doing all this sightseeing while playing blindfold chess with friend Brian Kerr. Maybe we did not adequately attend to the magnificence around us.
Little did we know at that time, but the spirit rising that we sensed was soon to be inflamed by the Prague Spring led by Alexander Dubček‘s reforming government and then crushed by the Russian invasion in August 1968. We later learned in horror and admiration that in January 1969 Jan Palach set himself on fire in protest, in the very same Wenceslas Square we had wandered through.
The parallels with the current invasion of Ukraine are all too apparent. Russia seeks to rule by fear and compel compliance, and punishes those who will not submit.
There is an echo of an earlier religious reformer, Jan Hus, who died by burning at the stake for heresy, by order of the Catholic Church in 1415, memorialised in this statue before the Tyn church.
The cycles of history go on and on.
Featured image is from cathedral door at Prague.
2 thoughts on “1965 Prague”
I had to wait a lot longer before I visited Prague in the early 2000s, to sing in a concert with the choir I belonged to – an opportunity not to be missed. The events of 1968 had burned themselves into my memory & I was eager to visit this city, see the well-know sights and visit the place where Jan Pallach had self-immolated in protest of the Russian invasion. It was a moving visit which brought into sharp reality what he’d done, and why. There were plaques and flowers and tributes at the site. It was humbling to stand there & take myself back to 1968 and the news we heard daily of the invasion. The people were quite subdued and reserved, but polite and welcoming to tourists. The hotel where we stayed had dodgy electrics, was a bit shabby but clean. Singing in a central church location perhaps should have been the highight, but while it was a pretty good experience, seeing Prague for real easily outweighed it.
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