Despite a Slovakian sweep at the Finále in Plzeň this year, two Czech newcomers stood out from the crowd.
Seventy years ago this March, the Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk was found dead in a Prague courtyard below the window of his apartment. The circumstances of his death – which find a contemporary echo in April’s mysterious demise of Russian investigative journalist Maxim Borodin – have remained a source of intrigue and controversy ever since: Did he jump? Did he fall? Was he pushed?
The initial investigation by the Communist government (stacked with foes of Masaryk) unsurprisingly delivered a verdict of suicide. Twenty years later, during the short-lived «Prague Spring,» a second inquest ruled in favour of an accident (but didn’t rule out the possibility of murder). In the early 1990s, after the «Velvet Revolution» that led to the «velvet divorce» between what became the Czech Republic and Slovakia, this was revised to homicide.
Masaryk’s violent exit turned out to be a key turning point in Czechoslovakian history – its course might have been very different if this charismatic figure, a confirmed internationalist (his mother was American) had survived. As it was, the «CSSR» quickly adopted a hard core Stalinist tack, with dire consequences for anyone suspected of deviating – or suspected of planning to deviate – from the party line.
Perhaps the most spectacular and remarkable example of this came in 1950, when twelve players from Czechoslovakia’s ice hockey team (which had won the World Championship in Sweden the previous year) were arrested just before departing to defend their title in London.
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