Monday, 13 January 2020

British ambassador commemorates UK initiative which helped to defeat communism in Czechoslovakia

British Embassy Prague |
15 November 2019

14 November 2019 marked the 40th anniversary of the Czech-British cooperation on the underground secret home seminars, which were metaphorically referred to as the ‘Underground University’. A commemorative plaque celebrating cooperation with Czech dissidents was revealed by British academics. Together they remembered the influence the Underground University had on the fall of the communist regime in 1989 and the courage of the participants and western lecturers, who repeatedly faced persecution under the communist regime.

The commemorative plaque was revealed at a house in Keramická street in Prague on Thursday, 14 November. The first seminar which took place at this location was initiated by dr. Julius Tomin. He took the initiative to send a letter to Oxford University in 1978 requesting their cooperation in the Underground University. His letter successfully resulted in securing the philosopher Kathleen Wilkes’ visit to Prague in 1979. Later, many other lecturers including the head of Balliol College at Oxford University participated in the Underground University. The cooperation with Oxford philosophers consequently led to the formation of the Jan Hus Educational Foundation which supported the unofficial university in then Czechoslovakia until the Velvet Revolution.

There were several key attendees at the unveiling of the plaque, which included the British ambassador to the Czech Republic Nick Archer, the writer and artist Jessica Douglas-Home, the composer David Matthews, professors Robert Grant and Andrew Lenox-Conyngham. Further, Barbara Day, the former secretary of the Jan Hus Educational Foundation, Julius Tomin, the former dissident as well as other former participants of the underground seminars also attended. Gratitude was expressed for the hundreds of individuals who contributed to the activities of the Jan Hus Educational Foundation (including the former president Václav Havel). The foundation was key in building the knowledge and contacts which were essential for the formation of a new democratic society.