Neil Young
Young is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

Despite a Slovakian sweep at the Finále in Plzeň this year, two Czech newcomers stood out from the crowd.

Štvanice / The Last Shift of Tomáš Hisem

Michaela Režová / Jindřich Andrš

Czech Republic, 2017

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.

Turning point

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.

https://vimeo.com/201472221

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. After a sham show-trial, all were given jail sentences for their supposedly treasonous plans to defect (based on overheard chatter in a pub), some of only a few months, but several of swingeing severity. Goalie Bohumil Modrý was given 15 years, forwards Gustav Bubník and Stanislav Konopásek a dozen years apiece.

«Masaryk’s violent exit turned out to be a key turning point in Czechoslovakian history.»

These sentences were later reduced by presidential pardon, but the damage was already done: Modrý served 13 years in prisons in Prague and Plzeň and as a forced labourer in a uranium mine. He died at 47, a broken man, within weeks of his release. Czechoslovakia, long an ice-hockey-crazed nation, would not win the world title again until 1972 – although they did, somewhat amazingly given the circumstances, get the bronze medal in 1955, 1957 and 1959.

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