Monday, 8 November 2010

A Knowledge of Czech History


The other day I was browsing in a local antikvariat (second-hand bookshop) and working my way through a pile of mostly uninspiring old prints. I was about to abandon my hunt (I did not know what I was looking for anyway), when I came across some prints by a local artist, who worked in Ceske Budejovice about 40 years ago. The prints were from a larger series about a dramatic and traumatic period in Czech history – the time of the Hussite rebellions in the 15th century.

Now, as some of you will know who have visited the website for my new business, I a) love history b) am beginning to offer holidays and tours to historic South Bohemia and c) offer a Hussite tour, following a request from members of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. The prints were very much of their time (probably 1950s/60s), when the Communists adopted the Hussites as heroic members of the Czech proletariat taking on a German aristocracy, conveniently forgetting that the Hussites were motivated by religion (a.k.a. the opiate of the people). At 50 kc each (under £2) how could I resist? I chose six of the best prints and wandered over to the shop's owner.

I asked about the artist (Karel Stech by the way) and whether the owner had any prints which showed the one-eyed general of the Hussites - Jan Zizka. The owner looked at me with surprise: “You are English?”

I nodded.

“And yet you know about Czech history!” he said in amazement.

I explained that the English were indeed interested in the Hussites (well the historians of the Archaeological Society certainly were), because they like military history and there was the English link with the Lollards.

“Of course, John Wycliff,” he said and nodded.

I walked out of the shop with a package under my arm, feeling slightly guilty. I couldn't quite bring myself to say that most English know nothing about the history of this country (which is partly why I started the business), but then I consoled myself that most English don't know who John Wycliff and the Lollards were either.

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