Hope versus dictatorship & the power of the word among themes highlighted at 11th Mene Tekel festival

Exhibition dedicated to priest Jan Bula, photo: CTK

The annual Mene Tekel Festival, focussing on persecution by totalitarian regimes, is underway in the Czech capital, this year focussing on a number of topics, including the strength of the word and paths to freedom, featuring artistic work by students.

Exhibition dedicated to priest Jan Bula,  photo: CTK
Mene Tekel, Prague’s international festival against totalitarianism, is well underway in the Czech capital, with exhibitions and other events highlighting the crushing impact of past regimes. Covered are infamous show trials in 1950s Czechoslovakia or the criminal deportation of thousands of Lithuanians to the gulag in the former Soviet Union.

One of the festival’s main aims is to ensure that crimes committed by the communist regime are not forgotten, and to allow those who experienced some of the darkest days in their nation’s history to share their memories with younger generations who never experienced totalitarianism first-hand. Artist Jan Řeřicha, one of the festival’s organizers, told Radio Prague more about this year’s programme:

“This year’s festival is dedicated to the power of the word and also how words can be manipulated. It is also about paths of religion and paths to freedom. The range of topics is quite broad and also very current.”

Paths to Freedom features works by students from elementary and secondary schools while The Paths of Faith covers the communist persecution of the Roman Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia from 1948 – 1989. Jan Řeřicha again:

“The children focused more on the paths to freedom in the artistic competition and how they interpret those at their young age and the result is fascinating. The paths to religion have to do with the persecution of the Church and forced atheization of society which had an enormous impact which we still see today and will feel for many years to come.”

Jan Řeřicha,  photo: Martina Schneibergová
As in past years, the festival worked closely with the Czech Confederation of Political Prisoners, what Mr Řeřicha calls its moral guarantor, but also with experts at Charles University and at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. Mr Řeřicha also described an important ongoing tradition now held annually as part of the festival at Charles University’s Faculty of Law in Prague.

“It has become a tradition: for the ninth time I will be taking part in a seminar at the Law Faculty examining the political show trials of the 1950s. Students there learn about how the regime acted outside the law. It is a warning and also a message that ultimately everyone is responsible for their deeds. Each year, the students approach a case study which they then re-enact at the authentic premises at the High Court at Pankrác where it all happened.”

Mene Tekel continues through to Sunday, March 5. You can find more information at www.menetekel.cz/en