Twice under enemy fire, Czech Radio building named a cultural landmark

Czech Radio building

It's official: one year shy of six decades since the Czech national radio headquarters in Prague came under fire from occupying Nazi forces, - and three and a half decades since the Soviets trained their guns on Ceskoslovensky Rozhlas - the rather uninspiring, functionalist-style building on Vinohradska Street has been named a cultural landmark.

Czech Radio building
A Czech trumpet player's rendition, there, of "Fanfare for the common man." It is perhaps American composer Aaron Copeland's best-known work, celebrated for the simplicity of the opening, and the spare grandeur of the harmonized statement that follows.

Copeland wrote it as a musical tribute honouring those who fought in the Second World War; on Tuesday, the work accompanied the unveiling of a plaque designating the building that houses Czech Radio's headquarters as a cultural landmark.

Jan Knezinek
It was a fitting tribute: Alongside the shiny new brass plaque bearing the words "cultural landmark" on the building's Vinohradska Street entrance are numerous time-worn black marble plaques paying homage to the "common man" - Czechs who lost their lives in defence of the radio's headquarters.

Dozens of journalists, technicians and others died trying to defend the building during the May 1945 'Prague Uprising,' when Prague citizens took up arms against the occupying German army, and again in the 'Prague Spring' of 1968, when Czechoslovakia attempted to give a "human face" to Socialism - and the Soviets subsequently invaded.

The director of the city of Prague's historical preservation committee, Jan Knezinek, was among the officials who spoke at the brief ceremony outside Czech Radio headquarters on Tuesday, over the roar of passing traffic.

"This is a building that twice came under fire in the history of the Czech nation. This is a building that, for me, is not only a fine building, but one that embodies the struggle of the former Czechoslovakia and the Czech nation."

The 'Prague Uprising', organized by the Czech resistance, began on May 5, 1945, with a call to arms broadcast on Czech Radio, and to an extent, the uprising soon became a battle for control of the Vinohradska Street building itself.

At roughly half-past noon that Saturday afternoon almost 60 years ago, Prague Radio broadcast an appeal to all Czechs to come to the radio building's defence: it was the beginning of five days of fierce fighting in Prague.

"Calling all Czechs! Come to our aid immediately! Calling all Czechs!"

Fighting was intense, and battles were fought from block to block. The 30,000 or so ordinary Czechs who joined the resistance fighters were desperate for help from the Allies, as this appeal broadcast in English from Prague Radio by an escaped Scottish prisoner of war, conveys:

General director of Czech Radio,  Vaclav Kasik and deputy minister of culture Zdenek Novak
"Prague is in great danger. The Germans are attacking with tanks and planes. We are calling urgently our allies to help. Send immediately tanks and aircraft. Help us defend Prague. At present we are broadcasting from the broadcasting station, and outside there is a battle raging."

Less than a quarter of a century later, on August 20th, 1968, Soviet troops began entering Czechoslovakia in a carefully orchestrated invasion meant to crush the flowering of political and economic reforms known as the Prague Spring, launched by the country's new First Secretary of the Communist Party, Alexander Dubcek. By the following day, foreign troops had taken up strategic positions throughout Prague and eventually took over Czechoslovak radio and television.

As the current general director of Czech Radio, Vaclav Kasik, said at the unveiling ceremony on Tuesday, the designation of Vinohradska Street no. 12 as a cultural landmark is an important gesture to help ensure that the memory of those struggles is kept alive.