Today in Mailbox: Former President Václav Havel’s 75th birthday, the Angola abduction, Prime Minister Petr Nečas’s statement on racial tensions in North Bohemia, interview with US Ambassador Norman Eisen, the Ministry of Industry and Trade building in Prague; and we also reveal September’s mystery man and announce the name of the lucky winner. Listeners quoted: Sandeep Jawale, Frank Miata, Andrew H. Dral, Myriam Powell, Charles Konecny, Hans Verner Lollicke, Colin Law, David Eldridge, Jayanta Chakrabarty, Mike Shea, Qian Xiu-ping.

Václav Havel
Hello and welcome to Mailbox. Thank you very much indeed for all your valuable feedback. It’s good to know that you are out there following our broadcasts and responding to the stories.

On Wednesday, former Czech President Václav Havel celebrated his 75th birthday and there have been well-wishers among Radio Prague’s audience, too:

Mary Lou Krenek from Texas wrote:

“It was a joy to read that former President Vaclav Havel's friends are surprising him with a birthday party on Saturday. For all that he has been through in his life, the world is fortunate to have him reach the age of 75. I wish him many more years. As a human rights activist, he has become a beacon for the peaceful and orderly way to conduct dissent and political and social change.”

Also from the US, Lynda-Marie Hauptmann writes:

“I just read my e-mail bulletin, about the ‘surprise party’ for Mr. Havel's 75th birthday. I sure hope he isn't listening to the broadcast about it, or reading about it in his e mail! Or is there a Czech tradition where Mr. Havel would prove what a superior playwright/actor he is, by pretending to be completely surprised? If it means anything, please tell him Happy Birthday from the US, from this particular loyal Radio Prague reader.”

Sandeep Jawale from India expressed his thoughts on a recent programme:

“I listened to your Czech History programme about the horrible event of the Angola abduction. What the team suffered during the horrible days spent with the abductors was beyond imagination. Thank you for bringing the great program to us.”

Ilustrační foto
Moving on to other news stories, our faithful reader, Frank Miata from New York City responded to a recent statement by Prime Minister Petr Nečas who said the racial tensions in North Bohemia were the result of ‘overly generous’ social policies.

“The Prime Minister's ill chosen words, cited in the CR radio article of 17/09/2011, are code for anti-Romany bigotry. The Czech people and the EU should rebuke Nečas's comments in the strongest terms. It is irresponsible for the Prime Minister to make such veiled insults when the nation is trying to calm tensions between various national groups.”

Andrew H. Dral from California listened to a Czech Radio interview with U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen broadcast by Radio Prague:

“Your reporter, Martina Mašková, did an excellent job pushing Mr. Eisen on the ‘rendition’ issue. Clearly ‘rendition,’ the CIA torture taxi, is a breach of the International Treaty on Torture and those responsible are war criminals: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and others. Mr. Obama's administration and Mr. Eisen are covering-up for war crimes, torture...

“Note a majority of Americans don't agree with the war in Afghanistan. We want our troops out! We also don't want ‘free markets,’ we want ‘fair trade,’ that doesn't dislocate workers and betters the lives of working people.”

We are always pleased to hear about your visits to the Czech Republic. Myriam Powell from Argentina sent us a photo of a riverside building in Prague taken during her trip to the Czech capital.

The Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade in Prague, photo: Myriam Powell
“I visited Prague in May and took this photo but I don’t know what the place is. Could you help me, please? I look forward to your answer.”

The large building with a dome on top houses the Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade. Designed by renowned Czech architect Josef Fanta, it was built in the years 1928–1934.

And finally, our regular follower Charles Konecny from the United States sent us this lovely note:

“I have been forgetting, but I would like to congratulate Czech Radio on its 75 years of service to first, Czechoslovakia; then, The Czech Republic: and also to the world at large.”

Thank you so much for your comments as well as your answers to our September “mystery Czech” competition. Let’s hear a few of them:

Hans Verner Lollike from Denmark writes:

“The person you are asking for is Josef Koudelka, born in Boskovice in 1938. He studied in Prague to be an engineer, but photography grabbed him, and his genius has been to capture the right moment, he became ‘world famous’ by a series of pictures documenting the Soviet intervention in 1968. After getting asylum in UK, he settled in France and still does documentary photography in Black-white.”

Colin Law from New Zealand writes:

Josef Koudelka
“As a teenager, Josef saved up for his first camera, a Bakelite camera, far removed from today’s electronic gadgets used to take photographs. That must have been about the same time that I began to take photographs with a Bakelite camera. Whereas photography remained a hobby for me, Josef went on to become a professional photographer or world renown.

“Josef is also famous for his photographs of the 1968 Russian invasion of Prague. The photographs which he took of the Soviet tanks from the roof of a building in Wenceslas Square were smuggled out of the Czech Republic and published under the pseudonym PP, Prague Photographer. Josef could not reveal his name for fear of reprisals to his family. Soon afterwards he fled to London and later Paris. In 1969 the photographs won the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award, but the prize was dedicated to 'an unknown Czech photographer'. It was not until a 1984 exhibition that he was named as the photographer.

“Josef became a French citizen in 1987 and returned to Czechoslovakia for the first time in 1991. At that time he produced a documentary entitled Black Triangle which documented the wasted Czech landscapes. In the course of his career he has won many awards and grants for his photography.”

David Eldridge from England sent in this answer:

“On being presented with a set of Josef Koudelka’s photographs, to me they are immediately recognisable as Czech. What causes that immediate response I am not sure, but from then on there is only the progression to the confirmation that they are indeed Czech.

“Joseph’s life as a photographer began in 1952 when at the age of 14 his local village baker introduced him to photography. He bought his first camera from the proceeds of selling strawberries in the village. Photography was not his immediate career however. He first worked as an aeronautical engineer after graduating from the University of Technology in Prague in 1961. Coincidentally that was also the year of his first photographic exhibition.

“Josef Koudelka is on record as saying '[that] no one can buy me is important for me. I refuse assignments, even for projects that I have decided to do anyhow.' [interview with Frank Horvat, January 1987]. However, it was in 1986 he was invited by the French government to document the urban and rural landscape of France, which he accepted, and became a French citizen in 1987.”

Charles Konecny from the United States wrote:

“Although Koudelka graduated from university as an engineer, he migrated to his interest in photography where he made his mark. He won acclaim for his photos of Roma life which (as critics noted) appeared to be ‘mysterious’ and ‘brooding’, augmented by their ‘grainy, black and white look’. More of a ‘news’ look was his Prague photos of the 1968 Soviet invasion which also won awards. Of course, since he dared to publish the invasion photos, he had to leave the country or get arrested. But Josef overcame that problem, and in his travels he went on to receive many other awards. Also he was accepted by Magnum Photos which (after reading) I found to be a very prestigious photography group. Those interested in photography as a career would do well by studying his techniques. I wish the good Czech continued success.”

Jayanta Chakrabarty from India sent us this answer:

“Josef Koudelka is the man credited with visual recording of the most startling images of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague – even capturing the exact time of 11 pm on a bystander's wrist watch and of a protester waving a flag of resistance. Considered as the last of the contemporary hardened romantics of reportage, Koudelka has always been guided by the pursuit of freedom whether for his beloved country or for the gypsies he has been closely associated with.”

Mike Shea from Scotland wrote:

“Surely this is Josef Koudelka. He recorded the Soviet invasion in 1968 and was forced into exile in England in 1970. His work published under the alias ‘P.P’ (Prague Photographer) was recognized by the award of the Robert Capa Gold Medal for photographs requiring extreme courage in 1969, and many awards were to follow. He became a French citizen in 1987 and was finally able to return to Czech in 1991. He currently spends his time between Prague and France from where he continues to photograph European landscapes.”

Qian Xiu-ping from China wrote:

“Koudelka’s photographic accomplishments include the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1969 for his work chronicling the tumultuous period of the Warsaw Pact armies' intervention in Prague. Koudelka moved to England in 1970 where he soon joined Magnum Photo. He was awarded two grants from the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1973 and 1976. Koudelka became a naturalized citizen of France in 1987. He also received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980 and the Grand Prix National in France in 1987. His numerous monographs include Exiles, The Black Triangle, Chaos, and Limestone.”

Thank you so much for your answers and this time our prize goes to Mike Shea from Scotland. My congratulations and here is another chance for those of you who haven’t been lucky this time:

Millions of people the world over use contact lenses to improve their eyesight but perhaps few are aware that the aid was invented by a Czech scientist. We want you to tell us his name by the end of October and send it to

Please keep your e-mails coming and don’t forget that you can also leave us a comment on our Facebook page. Until next time, take care.