Prague History – A Modern Country
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The Czechoslovak government, after recovering its breath after those heady days and months which followed the Velvet Revolution (or “November”), set about dismantling old frameworks. The totally new situation after the fall of Communism led to an almost immediate about-face in international relations for Czechoslovakia.
After the fall of communism, people in the arts had feared that the loss of state subsidies would lead to a sharp decline in the standard of Czech culture. This has not, apparently, been the case – and Czech film, theatre and music have flourished in the absence of censorship and other state interference.
As you can see from the chart, money is not everything when it comes to literacy.
Architectural activity has mostly focused on the reconstruction of important buildings that suffered from 40 years of criminal neglect under the communists. As for new buildings, the “Dancing House” (also nicknamed “Fred and Ginger”) on Rasinovo nabrezi (next to President Havel’s former flat) has – like the Cubist, Rondo, and other new architectural styles which came before it – caused many disputes and much controversy. But new building activity is low, and the housing crisis which has plagued this country since at least the 1920s is as bad as ever it was. The lifting of rent controls on July 1, 1997 has helped to remedy the situation at least a little. As with the current economic and political crises, we will have to wait and see.
As early as 1990, the Czech military cooperated closely with the US military while participating in the UN-sanctioned Gulf War. Since then, the country’s army has played a continuous role in UN peace-keeping missions in the former Yugoslavia.
In Prague, the city has gone to great lengths to deal with a free market and the considerable influx of tourists. Even now, many shops do not accept credit cards so you can imagine the situation 10 years ago. The shops and businesses which exist now are reasonably self supporting with some kind of business plan and firm financial backing unlike the 1000’s of start-ups which failed due to not having one or the other in the early 1990’s. Opening a bar still seems to be profitable if you can get a regular crowd and somebody must have decided that Czechs like pizza as the number has increased ten fold in the last two years. The last fad for cuisine, which is still current, is for Mexican food and you will find a few places here and there. In the last 5 years, shopping has improved with the introduction in the centrum of large multi-store arcades with established brand-names less likely to go out of business than the little shops in the arcades left and right on Wenceslas Square. Integrating a restaurant and a coffee shop into these malls encourages people to stay longer and they provide a pleasant break after walking around all morning.
Sport in the Czech Republic received a huge shot in the arm in 1996 with the Czech victory at the 1996 World Hockey championships in Vienna, their second-place in the European Cup soccer finals the same year as well as the 9 medals they brought back from the 1998 Nagano Olympics and defending the Ice Hockey World title twice more over the last 3 years. The republic has an established football league to go with it’s more widespread Hockey League. Any town with a population of more than 1000 will have it’s own ice-hockey rink. Tennis, once popular in the 1980’s is not the power it once was. Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova to name two world beaters who became naturalised Americans. Clay courts buzz in the summer and the hardy ones move to the inside hard courts in the winter time. Water sports like rowing, kayaking are also popular and and glance down to the Vltava will note some athlete practicing his sport.
Many foreigners have also moved to the Czech Republic, myself included, especially to Prague. This has returned the kind of lively, cosmopolitan feel the capital city has traditionally enjoyed through the ages, situated as it always has been on the “crossroads of Europe”. The Russian Language has faded away although still offered as an option to students. English has overtaken German as the language spoken by people under 30 years old.
The Czech Republic has 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites and accomplishments like the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 1996 going to the Czech film, Kolya, have raised the stock of the Czech Republic making it the third most popular destination for US travellers after Paris and London.
On May 1st 2004 the Czech Republic became a member of the European Union.