Pick of the Month

Time Stood Still, photo: Eva Fuka

In this edition of Pick of the Month: President Vaclav Klaus speaks to us at a ceremony remembering the Russian emigres shipped off to the gulags at the end of the war; Czech researchers may have made a break through in the fight against cancer; Czechs are more genetically mixed than you might imagine, we learn from a Prague company; the German ambassador explains why a "Trabant" is moving in his embassy's garden; American Marsha Kocabova recalls life in communist Czechoslovakia; and photographer Eva Fuka describes returning to Prague in her mid 70s.

The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, was the special guest at a ceremony in May remembering the Russian emigres with Czechoslovak citizenship kidnapped by the Soviet secret police and shipped off to the gulags as World War II drew to a close. Mr Klaus told us why he thinks that should be remembered.

"For us it's important because it was immediately after the Second World War, after the victory over German Nazism, and I think it was the first moment that Stalinist and communist methods and procedures started to function here in this country, at a moment when most people here were not aware what was going on. So this is a special event. We discuss quite often our gulags, our concentration camps in the communist era here, people know a lot about it, but this is something which is even now not part of the standard knowledge in this country."

Full article: www.radio.cz/en/article/91230

Moving on to science now, and news that researchers at the Prague Institute for Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry may have made a very important discovery in the fight against cancer. A drug they've developed in conjunction with a US company - to date named only GS9219 - has shown very positive results in the first phase of testing on animals. Zdenek Havlas is the head of the research team.

"This is a major breakthrough for cancers against which it is active. There is still something that we do not understand - why this compound targets specifically cancer cells. That is a big challenge for us because once we understand why it acts in this way we will understand the basic mechanism of treatment of cancer and that would be a real breakthrough."

When you say that you don't understand why it targets cancer cells specifically - does that mean it was a stroke of luck?

"That's typical of the world of science. You need a lot of luck in making new discoveries."

And if all goes well, when can we expect to see this new drug on the market?

"Well, the FDA approval procedures are relatively long, but my guess is that in about six years- maybe a little bit longer - it will get approved and then it could be used in hospitals around the world."

Zdenek Havlas, who was interviewed by my colleague Daniela Lazarova. Let's hope he and his team are successful with that drug.

Full article: www.radio.cz/en/article/90930

"In Search of Forefather Czech" was the title of an edition of Panorama by Pavla Horakova. She spoke to the people behind the Prague-based biotech company Genomac, who have begun providing commercial DNA tests to those who would like to trace their earliest ancestors. But genetically speaking, who are the Czechs? Genomac's Jan Zastera.

"Here in the Czech Republic, there are many people who speak Czech and think that there are typical Czechs but genetically, they have roots in, for example, Western Europe or Scandinavia or on the other side in Eastern Europe, in the area of the Caucasus. But generally, the biggest genetic group is, let's say, of Eastern European origin.

"This genetic group is usually defined as the most frequent genetic type found in people of Slavic origin. So these people are Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians and include some parts of Southern Slavic peoples, like Serbs, Croats and so on.

"But on the other hand, there is also another - the second biggest group - and this group contains people who have roots in Western Europe. These origins are typical mainly for people who are now defined as people of the Romance language group and particularly of the Germanic language group."

Full article: www.radio.cz/en/article/91168

The German ambassador to Prague Helmut Elfenkamper also appeared on our programme in May. He told me why a huge bronze sculpture of a Trabant car on legs was being moved in the German Embassy's lovely garden.

"The sculpture has been standing between these two big trees here for the last couple of years. And with the hedges growing around, we got letters from tourists, mainly from Germany, who said, you have this monument mentioned in virtually every German tourist guide - so we want to see it.

"In fact I think it is the second most important...piece here, in this premises, after the Embassy building itself. We want to have it in a visible place so that those who can't come into the grounds can see it from the fence.

"Because many tourists go around the premises...and I sometimes ask myself, do they want to see the Trabi or the Embassy?...I think it's the Trabi that they want to see. And they'll get to see it now."

What's the significance of this Trabant on legs here in the beautiful garden of the German Embassy in Prague?

"In the late summer and early fall of 1989, when the movement of Germans from the GDR started into different German embassies in central and Eastern Europe, the group here was the biggest one - it grew to 4,000 people at the end of September '89, until they could freely travel to West Germany, after the then minister Genscher had negotiated their exit into West Germany.

"And many, many of these cars were left behind by our fellow countrymen. And it symbolises this move, which was the beginning of the end of the communism in Europe."

Full article: www.radio.cz/en/article/91182

Somebody who had firsthand experience of communism in Europe is Marsha Kocabova. Born in North Carolina, she took the most unusual step of moving to Prague in the early 80s, after falling in love with the Czech rock singer Michal Kocab. Dita Asiedu asked Marsha Kocabova how difficult it was being the wife of a dissident.

"The problem was that I didn't speak Czech and he didn't speak English very well. So, we spoke in broken German. He also hid a lot of things from me because he didn't want me to get too terrified and leave. I first learned a lot when I had my first child Natalie and went to the park and became friends with the other mothers.

"I called it the 'university of the park' because there I learned the ins and outs of how the Communists worked, how the secret police worked, their pressures on people and that was the first time that I sat down on a bench and when the lady beside me learned that I was American she got up and left and screamed at me that I was a spy.

"All these kind of things started happening with other people. He [her husband] kind of kept me sheltered.

"The revolution was very difficult. We had constant threats that were against Michael a lot. I couldn't ever go to sleep until I could hear his car come in the night. He was never home but just to make sure that he was in one piece when he came home. He was threatened so much and then, of course, they threatened the children and all of us with horrible threats.

"The Red Army called, anonymous letters, people would come to our door every three days and say: 'I have a friend, who has a friend and he heard this'. It was very nerve wracking."

Full article: www.radio.cz/en/article/91298

When Marsha Kocabova was experiencing life in Czechoslovakia under the communists, the Czech photographer Eva Fuka was in the US, where she spent half her life. Now 80, she returned to Prague in the early part of this decade. A TV documentary about her is entitled I'm Returning to the Land of Labryinth, and I asked her if that's how moving back to Prague really felt.

"I must say it was, you are very right. Because when I came here first I was first looking for faces which I will recognise. But I didn't recognise anybody, they were all young faces, nobody I knew - my few friends had passed away.

"For me it was a labyrinth in that sense, because I couldn't find my way. Besides, I had lost my memory of all the streets of the city. And to start to get to know new people takes a little time. But now my friends are half my age - a quarter my age! Which is very nice because it keeps me young."

Full article: www.radio.cz/en/article/91581