With its location in the heart of Europe, Czechoslovakia had always been a bridge between East and West, making it more cosmopolitan, prosperous and liberal than the rest of the Soviet bloc.
Its first democratic president, Tomas G. Masaryk, had been a former spook whose spies sided with the Allies during World War One; in 1918, he signed Czechoslovakia's declaration of independence in Philadelphia at the same table used by Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin in 1776.
And in a nod to women's rights, the founder had also added his American wife's surname to his own: the 'G' stood for Garrigue.
Tragically, the Allies had tried to avoid a Second World War by gifting the tiny democracy to Hitler.
Unappeased, the Führer entrusted its subjugation to Reinhard Heydrich, an SS chief who'd helped engineer the Night of the Long Knives, chaired the committee on the Holocaust and masterminded the Salon Kitty project in Berlin.
|'May 1945': A Czech poster |
commemorating the victory over the Nazis '
When Czechoslovakia was finally liberated, the Red Army captured Prague first, and the Soviets quickly set about undermining democracy.
The Czech foreign minister—Masaryk's son—was one of the democrats who died mysteriously during the Communists' (relatively) bloodless coup, which became the blueprint for subverting democracies in the West.
And after briefly flirting with sexual excess as 'a provocation of bourgeois society,' Czechoslovakia soon pursued the Soviet ideal of 'Socialist puritanism.'
'In the early Fifties, we were more puritanical than in the West,' scoffs Jirina Siklova, a Czech feminist who came of age during the Stalinist era.
As a teenager, she remembers building a bridge as part of a Socialist youth brigade.
At night the sexes were strictly segregated: any boys or girls caught sneaking over to the other side were dismissed and officially blackballed for leading a 'bourgeois lifestyle.'