Prague, this dramatic and suffering centre of Western destiny, is gradually fading away into the mists of Eastern Europe, to which it has never really belonged. This city – the first university town east of the Rhine, the scene in the fifteenth century of the first great European revolution, the cradle of the Reformation, the city where the Thirty Years War broke out, the capital of the Baroque and its excesses – this city tried in vain in 1968 to westernize a socialism ‘that came in from the cold’.
The picture of Atlantis comes to mind. And it’s not just the relatively recent political annexation of Prague which has made this city seem so far away and vague. The Czech language, so inaccessible to foreigners, has always stood as an opaque glass between Prague and the rest of Europe.
Everything known about my country, outside the borders of Bohemia, has been known at second hand. Czech history has been based on German sources. The work of Antonin Dvořák and Leoš Janáček has been discussed without a knowledge of their correspondence, their theoretical writings, their milieu. And even now people are looking at the relationship between Prague and Kafka without knowing anything about Czech culture. And ‘brilliant’ speculations have been advanced about the Prague Spring without any knowledge of the newspapers and magazines of those days. The great wave of structuralism that has swept over the entire world originated in Prague, but most of the work of the founder of that school has not been translated because it analyses Czech novels and poetry which are unknown abroad.