Memorial plaque in Prague commemorates secret underground seminars

British academics and Czech former dissidents have unveiled a memorial plaque from the Jan Hus Educational Foundation in Prague, in the Letná quarter of the city. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, they remembered the organization that sent foreign professors to Czechoslovakia in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. The professors would then speak at secret seminars. The first such seminar was held exactly where the plaque was unveiled.

The memorial plaque was unveiled today at a building on Keramická street in Prague. It was here that the first seminar took place in 1979. Philosopher Kathleen Wilkens came to Prague on the initiative of Czech philosopher and university professor Julius Tomin, who had sent a request for cooperation to the University of Oxford in late 1978. Cooperation with Oxford philosophers resulted in the establishment of the Jan Hus Educational Foundation. In 1988, the Czechoslovak Secret State Police described this organization as “one of the most dangerous organizations of an ideologically subversive nature operating from the territory of Great Britain against the Czechoslovak Republic”.

In Brno, British lecturers sent to Czechoslovakia by the Jan Hus Educational Foundation were hosted by Petr Oslzlý, playwright and current Rector of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts.

At first, lectures were mainly oriented towards philosophy and political science; the seminars would later expand to include a wide variety of disciplines. Among the many lecturers were world-famous philosophers Roger Scruton and Anthony Kenny, political philosopher David Levy, political scientist John Keane, philosopher Francis Dunlop and political scientist David Regan.

"The aim was to support the unofficial culture by sending foreign lecturers to gradually prepare Czechoslovak society for life in a democracy," explained British Ambassador Nick Archer, on whose initiative the commemorative plaque was made. "Participants and foreign lecturers showed extraordinary courage because the communist regime threatened them and committed acts of physical and psychological violence," he continued.

Hundreds of people, including future President Václav Havel, playwright Milan Uhde, political scientist Rudolf Kučera and theologian Milan Balabán, attended the Jan Hus Educational Foundation seminars.