PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—I am in one of my favorite cities this weekend to deliver a speech at European Students for Liberty’s big LibertyCon conference. Hundreds of students have gathered here in the Czech Republic from all over Europe. As a venue to celebrate liberty, few cities can compare to beautiful Prague.
This is one of the countries of Eastern Europe that suffered under decades of Soviet-imposed socialism. When new leadership began inching away from that hellish nightmare in 1968, Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces rolled in with tanks and guns. As I’ve written before (here and here), that despicable invasion prompted a 14-year-old from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, to get involved in the cause of liberty. (His name rhymes with “Seed.”)
This is the country that was sacrificed to Adolf Hitler at the 1938 Munich Conference. Neville Chamberlain of Britain brandished the worthless agreement back home as producing “peace in our time.” Less than a year later, World War II began in Europe and in the months in between, a young stockbroker named Nicholas Winton labored feverishly to help hundreds of Jewish children escape before the conflict started.
Czechoslovakia (now two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) is where a courageous student, Jan Palach, gave his life by self-immolation to protest the Soviet invasion.
In November 1989, I was in Warsaw, Poland, for the first time since the communist regime threw me out just three years earlier. Soviet satellites were falling like dominoes that year. The Berlin Wall had come down just days before Polish friends and I assembled for dinner at Wierzynek Restaurant in Krakow. During our meal, another friend arrived and announced, “A million people are demonstrating in Wenceslaus Square in Prague right now, demanding the resignation of the communist government!”
We all raised a glass to the imminently successful Velvet Revolution.
This is the country that produced a famous playwright who later became a famous president of a free Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel. Another recent Czech president with the same first name, Vaclav Klaus, warned the world about such dangers as global warming extremism and the centralizing tendencies of the European Union.
Prague is where you can visit a terrific museum that documents the stupidity and brutality of communism. Located near the foot of Wenceslaus Square, don’t miss it if you’re ever in town.
One spot in Prague is almost magical. It’s the Charles Bridge over the Vltava River in the center of the city. Completed in 1402 after 45 years of construction, it’s the oldest bridge in town and one of the most famous on the continent. Fortified by medieval Gothic towers at both ends of its 1,700-foot span, it is now an exclusively-pedestrian walkway lined with artists, musicians, and souvenir vendors. Thirty sculptures adorn the bridge, 15 on each side. On every occasion, including this visit, I requested one of the local violinists play “Amazing Grace” as I gazed uphill at Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world (dating from the 8th Century). Instant goosebumps!
Prague was a delightful, peaceful city of history, music, and freedom before 1939. It would be 50 years before it would be free and vibrant again. More than 30 years now since its liberation from Soviet socialism, its charm is greater than ever.
According to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, the Czech Republic is the world’s 21st freest nation (Slovakia ranks nearly as high, at #36). A few hundred miles to the east, Moscow is terrorizing yet another nation, Ukraine. But here in Prague, I can only marvel at the stunning changes from the pain and stagnation this country endured under the Soviet thumb.
Thank you, European Students for Liberty, for hosting this year’s LibertyCon in such a wonderful place!
For Additional Information, See:
1968 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia (video)
Czech Man Vaclav Havel (video)
Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution 30 Years On (video)
Czech Velvet Revolution: The Turning Point in 1989 (video)
This is Exploding: Journalists Recall Hectic Days of Velvet Revolution (video)