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Having accumulated a bunch of frequent flyer miles, I decided to use some of them on a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic. I chose Prague because a number of events in its turbulent history touch on topics of interest into me.
First, the citizens of Czechoslovakia used a number of creative nonviolent tactics to resist the Soviet invasion in 1968. This case is often sited in civilian-based defense literature as an example of partially successful nonviolent national defense. Later, in 1989, Czechoslovakia was the setting for the largely nonviolent "Velvet Revolution" during the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
Another thing I liked about Prague was its reputation for being a center of art, literature and humanism. One of my favorite writers, Franz Kafka, lived in Prague. And despite the fact that only twenty percent of Czechs say they believe in God (or rather, perhaps, because of it), the Czech national character has a reputation for tolerance and integrity.
The main thing that attracted me to Prague was the dissident movement that resisted the communist regime during the 1970's and 1980's. The primary dissident umbrella group in Czechoslovakia was Charter 77, led by another person whose writing I admired—Václav Havel.
There were two primary tendencies that interested me about the dissidents. One was the idea of "living in truth." The dissidents, realizing they couldn't resist the regime militarily, chose to live their lives as testaments to the truths that the communists had to suppress in order to maintain legitimacy. This meant living as if they were free, as if the human rights to which the regime paid lip service actually existed.
A related dissident idea I found interesting was that of "anti-politics." The dissidents rejected all political parties and ideologies, choosing instead to open free space within the social and cultural spheres. To a totalitarian regime that needed to control all aspects of its citizen's lives in order to keep the whole system from unraveling, these activities were a direct threat. Yet monitoring all the social and cultural details of each citizen's life was an impossible task. While on the surface the dissident's actions seemed innocuous, the government felt threatened enough to expend enormous resources monitoring, harassing and imprisoning them.
So anyway, I went to Prague in October 1998 to interview some ex-dissidents and do some photography. I have yet to transcribe the interviews. The photography was difficult because it rained most of the two and half weeks I was there. Presented here are a few of the photos, along with some background and bits of Czech history.
LINKS TO RELATED PAGES ON THIS SITE
LINKS TO RELATED PAGES ON OTHER SITES
Radio Prague's History Online
A detailed history of Prague from prehistoric times to the late 1990's. Includes pictures.
The official Web site for the city of Prague.
Michael Schley Photographs
Stunning black and white photos of Prague.
Czech Photography Image
Thirty-four black and white photographs of Prague by Duncan Cheuk-sang Wong.
Pictures of the Czech Republic: Prague
Pictures of Prague and other Czech cities.
Lisa Whiteman Prague Photos
Photos of Prague by photographer Lisa Whiteman.
The Jan Palach story from Radio Prague.
The Czech National Museum home page.