I first visited Czechoslovakia in 1979, and went back to both Prague and Bratislava sporadically through the eighties and then again after the Velvet Revolution. Some of what I found there ended up in my book Tank: the Progress of a Monstrous War Machine (2000), but the articles gathered here may give a more immediate impression of the transformations of that time. They span the years of the hyphen: inserted into the name of Czecho-Slovakia at the request of the Slovaks, who wanted to loosen the communist state, stretched by the events of 1990, and finally broken when the two countries separated in 1993.
Image: detail from cover of the guitarist Rudolf Dašek’s LP ‘Dialogy’, Supraphon 1979
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Tomas Bata was a Czech shoe manufacturer, who set out to do for the shoe what Henry Ford did for the motor car. One branch of his international empire, a workers’ community as well as a factory, was established in 1933 at East Tilbury, Essex, on the north bank of the Thames estuary. The British Bata Shoe Company’s factory is now closed but I visited this modernist settlement in 1998 when it was still working. This text is extracted from my book The River: The Thames in Our Time (1999).
About Chris Cutler, percussionist, lyricist, publisher, and the contrary entrepreneur behind ReR Megacorp. Published in the Guardian (Weekend section), 11 November 1995.
In March 1995, Bob Dylan launched a European tour at the House of Culture in Prague. I went to the concert with Vladimir Merta, a leading song writer with the cultural opposition before the Velvet Revolution. Published in the Guardian, 23 March 1995
One night in the summer of 1991, a young Czech artist named David Cerny went out onto the streets of Prague with some friends and painted a Soviet tank pink. The action caused a row that extended throughout Czechoslovakia, a country that had yet to divide into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It had international ramifications too. Published in the Guardian 25 July 1991. A fuller version of the article appears in my book Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine (2000).
In the summer of 1990, I visited Slovakia, then still part of Czechoslovakia, to watch preparations for the first general election since the Velvet Revolution. Jan Budaj had recently emerged as leader of Public Against Violence (VPN), the Slovak sister organisation of Civic Forum, but I had previously met him in the Communist era. Having been much impressed by the courage with which he had then lived as a persistently harassed dissident, I was shocked when I heard, just after my return to Britain (and the publication of this article), that he had been forced to resign after the closure of the polls. He was the victim of a ‘lustration’ process involving the manipulative publication of information from secret police files in Prague. Having won the election through Budaj’s campaign, Public Against Violence split in 1991, and power went to the breakaway Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, lead by the populist Vladimir Meciar. This article was published as ‘Gesture Politics’ in New Statesman and Society, 1 June 1990, pp. 16-20