Saturday, May 22, 2010
I am safely ensconsed in my little apartment in the lovely Mala Strana district of Prague, where the past is most definitely not past. History breathes through the walls here. Above me as I type is a wooden ceiling painted in intricate design 300 years ago. The buildings here are old enough that they were not originally marked by a number, but rather by a design. Here, for example, is the design that marks the building next to my apartment (I took this picture from my window). To send a letter to this house in the old days, you would address it to House of the Crowned Geese, Mala Strana, Prague.
And do you think your law school has tradition? Charles University Faculty of Law was founded in 1348, by King Charles IV. That's him kneeling before St. Wencelas, patron saint of the Czechs, receiving the charter for the school. Incidentally, I understand some of the inaugural faculty are still waiting for tenure.
But of course, some past is even less past: this marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Czechoslovakia from its horrific and deadly Nazi occupation, a great moment to be celebrated; but it also marks the beginning of the collective expulsion of ethnic Germans, and the eventual slide into Soviet-style communism, moments that I think are to be mourned (as one law professor wryly explained to me yesterday, under communism Czechs had freedom of speech, but not freedom after speech). This beautiful society still wrestles with untangling the past, particularly with regard to property. I interviewed a family whose property was confiscated, in succession, by the Nazis, the Republic, and the Communists. They are still trying to reclaim it, and there are no easy answers for this amazing country that is both deeply rooted in history and very, very young.
Much more to come . . . .
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