Special screening to highlight Tatra expedition that left a communist state but returned to democracy – and little interest

Photo: Hynek Moravec, CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1987 a Czechoslovak Tatra truck set off on a trip around the planet that was to take in no fewer than 67 countries. The crew were treated like heroes when they left. However, by the time they returned communism had ended and interest in their adventures evaporated fast. Now long-lost footage from the trip is to be shown for the first time at Czech Radio.

Tatra expedition 1987-1990,  photo: Tatrakolemsveta.cz

Photo: Hynek Moravec,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0
The domestic media was out in force in early 1987 when thousands saw a Tatra 815 truck off from Prague’s Old Town Square. It was beginning a three-year expedition dubbed Tatra Around the World.

This is how Czechoslovak Radio described the mission.

“As well as representing Czechoslovakia’s auto industry – and documenting our socialist society’s dreams of peace, aimed at understanding between the nations – the goal of this long-distance trip is to test out the design and quality of the vehicle in different operational, terrain and climactic conditions.”

Czech Radio journalist Matěj Skalický has done a lot of research into this subject. He describes the buzz surrounding Tatra Around the World in communist Czechoslovakia.

Matěj Skalický,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio
“People, especially young boys, were completely amazed that someone was travelling across almost 70 countries with this truck, which was also a movable house for the members of the expedition.

“They were following it on TV, in the newspapers, sometimes even on the radio, when some big things happened on the road.

“On top of that, Czechoslovak TV also sent a few special foreign correspondents to meet the expedition, which was not very usual during this period of time.

“So you can imagine what a big thing this expedition was, 30 years ago.”

The five-member Tatra crew covered around 130,000 kilometres in 37 months, finally coming home in April 1990.

Tatra 815 at the Technical Museum Kopřivnice,  photo: Michal Polášek,  Czech Radio
But while smaller crowds did welcome them back, interest faded very fast. After all, the country had just undergone the Velvet Revolution.

“They had departed from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and they returned to the Czechoslovak Republic, with a democratic regime and Mr. Havel as president – and so many things going on that nobody cared about some expedition that travelled around the world for three years when history was being made in Czechoslovakia.”

Another of the expedition’s aims was to gather film material that would bring the 67 states the crew visited to Czechoslovak TV screens.

But again there was no interest – and the cassettes of footage gathered dust in archives until reporter Matěj Skalický began looking into them.

“It was me and the National Film Archive that found them again last year and opened them again.

Photo: Hynek Moravec,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0
“I’m so glad that Czech Radio were able to buy the license to screen them again, after 30 years, this Saturday in Czech Radio’s biggest studio at Vinohradská Street in central Prague.

“So come and see them. It’s three hours of amazing documentary that includes shots from America, Guatemala, the Galapagos Islands, Australia, China during the protests in 1989, South America, the Middle East, Syria, with monuments in Palmyra that were probably destroyed by so-called Islamic State.

“It is really, really interesting to watch and everybody is most welcome to visit us on Saturday and see it.”

On Saturday two Tatra trucks will stand in front of the main Czech Radio building.

One will be of the same type used in the late 1980s while the other model will be setting off on a fresh Tatra Around the World expedition later this year.