July 25

Amber pages

Elias Canetti, author, inter alia in Italia, of "Crowds and Power", born today in 

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young debuted, today in 
1969. Or should that read Crosby-Still-Nash and Young debuted, because there seems always to have been the three-and-one, or just the three, or just the one, but never really the four.

Most artists are egotists, because most art is, to at least some and usually a very considerable degree, the exploration of the inner life, the bleeding of the inner wounds and the cauterising of the inner scars, and this is something that one cannot quite so easily do in groups (go tell that to the psychiatrists!) 
If you simply think it might be fun to do music for a career, hey let's get together and write some pop songs, you do lead guitar, I'll handle the harmonies, then playing in a band may well be a perfectly good idea (though there are still egos to contend with!), and for C, S and N it was exactly that: even those of us who followed them closely down the years struggle to remember the name of a single song that any of them wrote, and when we do suddenly get a memory, it turns out either to have been a really awful song ("Our House"; name another; "Teach Your Children"; even worse, name another), or else, and this applies to Buffalo Springfield as well as CSN&Y, to have been a Neil Young composition anyway: Broken Arrow, Hello Mr Soul, Suite:Judy Blue Eyes. 

But in the end Neil couldn't work with the other guys (he and Stills came down from Canada together...), and in the end they couldn't work with him... maybe he just came from a very different tribe?

And because I honestly don't know on what date to put this thought, but the incident that keeps prompting it has just occurred to me again today...

Rather like my Colour Chart (below), I find myself completely flawed each time I update a Book of Days page, and need to find the original Word-copy in the digital folder. Word automatically saves everything in alphabetical order, so the calendar is transformed, and hunting for particular days requires thinking about it: June comes after July, for example, December is the third month of the year, and then comes February, followed by January, while at the other end November leads into October, and then comes September. Simply a matter of alphabetics...

June 26

Amber pages

The war of rivalries between nations is such that this page will always be amber, and will always need updating, because it will never be possible to state of any building what I wrote about this one, when I was living there in the first decade of this century:

The Canadian National Tower, known locally by its initials as the CN Tower, the world's tallest free-standing, self-supporting structure, opened today in 1976

Because, within a very, very short space of time, it no longer was; and neither was the one that replaced it, nor the one that replaced that one

A mere 553 metres, the CN Tower, whereas:

The Lotte World Tower is a 123-floor, 554.5-metre supertall skyscraper located in Seoul, South Korea. It opened to the public on April 3, 2017 and is currently the tallest building in South Korea, the 5th tallest building in the world.

A whole 1.5 metres of difference! Wow! But still not enough - because the next one can build higher. Much higher! Fifty-five metres higher!!

Ping An International Finance Centre is a 115-storey megatall skyscraper in Shenzhen, Guangdong. The building was commissioned by Ping An Insurance and designed by the American architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. Height: 599 metres

Could they really not manage that extra metre that would have broken the 600 barrier? Or maybe they were working in feet and inches, and didn't make the calculation. Or maybe they knew about the next one, and their only concern was being two metres above it.

Goldin Finance 117, also known as China 117 Tower, is a skyscraper under construction in Tianjin, China. The tower is expected to be 597 m with 117 stories

Stories? As in telling non-kosher, non-hallal porkie pies about how high you are? I think you mean storeys (see April 21)

And as to that 600 metre landmark - sorry, airmark - it had already been beaten anyway:

Makkah Royal Clock Tower, Al Hajlah, Mecca 24231, Saudi Arabia. Height: 601 metres. Floors: 120

I am glad they got that spelling right. The alternative, like Grenfell Tower - height 67 metres - would have been "flaws".

But what is a mere 601 metres, when the engineering ingenuity of Humankind is at stake?

The Shanghai Tower is a 632-metre, 128-story megatall skyscraper in Lujiazui, Pudong, Shanghai. It also has the world's highest observation deck within a building or structure, and the world's fastest elevators at a top speed of 20.5 metres per second.

632 metres, 128 tall tales, because it's a cheat, the top floor only reaches 587.4 m; the rest is satellite aerials and metal

And then there is: 

The Burj Khalifa, known as the Burj Dubai before its inauguration in 2010, is a skyscraper in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. 828 metres, 830 metres to the tip (2,717 ft)

2,717 ft - doesn't that make it sound so much even higher. I wonder what that would be in Biblical cubits.

And I missed the Tokyo Skytree (634 metres), and the Canton Tower (a mere 604 metres), and the Abraj Al Bait Towers in Mecca (601 metres), and soon there will be the Jeddah Tower, "previously known as Kingdom Tower and Mile-High Tower, and planned to be the world's first 1 km high building". Yes indeed - 1,008 metres. Or no indeed, actually, because this one too is going to stick a metal pin into the air, and claim the world record by doing so. Architecture on steroids. Engineering by ball-tampering and spot-fixing. The top floor will be a mere 668 metres. Cheats!

And not an American building anywhere in the top 15 (Freedom Tower in New York is a paltry, a dwarfish 564 metres, and the top 20 of that is embroidery)!

But all of these are just pathetic modern attempts, by primitive people with limited capacity. The tallest building ever remains the one that the Babylonians put up, almost four thousand years ago, and it was so high, way beyond measurement in feet or metres, even without radio aerials, that its summit touched the very gates of Heaven.

Illustration by M.C. Escher

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

June 22

Amber pages

This date poses a question that I haven't asked before - or maybe I have, but not quite in this way. The trigger is:

Today in 1342 (
Shire Reckoning), Bilbo Baggins returned to his home at Bag End.

I would have no issue with, say, "
21st September 1937, publication of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien" - a book that has acquired considerable status in the world of teenage literature, and therefore merits the commemoration. But this elevates the events of the novel to the status of history:

April 1st 1375 BCE, Moses leaves Egypt for Mount Sinai

January 6th 1, Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem
July 4th 1666, first recorded game of Quidditch in China
December 16th 1793, birth of Elizabeth Bennet
January 3rd 1842, Martin Chuzzlewit sets off for America

(you can work out for yourselves how I calculated the day, month, year)

The list could go on for... well, for as long as literature and the human imagination can think up fictions, and then ascribe entirely fictional dates to them as well (I believe that all five on my list are fictions, and their dates likewise - feel free to email me if you think I'm wrong)...

No fiction in either the event or the date of this though: 

France fell to Germany in WWII, today in 1940. France falling to Germany had sadly become a national habit, ever since the rout of Napoleon switched the boots from the feet...

And precisely one year later, the event that would start the commencement of the beginning of the end: Germany invaded Russia, today in 

Charon, one of Pluto's moons, discovered, today in 
1978, by a man who was genuinely named J. Christy - J for James on this occasion - and his partner Robert Harrington (there is a Lulie Harrington in John Dos Passos' novel "Chosen Country", and a Melchisedek Harrington in George Merdith's "Evan Harrington" - I wonder if they are related). But now that Pluto has been demoted from its status as a planet, is it still permitted to have moons, or does Charon have to row his boat across the Styx to somewhere else now (and do I have to look for imaginary characters in short-stories, rather than full-length novels?)?

And anyway: why would you name anything after Charon! Charon is the Prime Minister of Hell isn't he, the one who guides the dead into the hands of the devil Phalange, across the rivers Sabra and Shatilla. No? Have I got my history and my politics and my mythology mixed up?

So I looked him up, just in case, and it turns out that I do have my Sharon mixed up with my Charon, who may actually be Kharon, or Acheron(and even, in some accounts which may be fictional, Sauron, though in the realms of the dead there is also Vol De Mort), and what I appear to have done, foolishly, so foolishly, is to slip into the error of anti-Semitism (anti-Zionism as a cover for anti-Semitism, same thing really). 

But then I noticed, on theoi.com, which is a highly reputable and respectable web-encyclopedia, that:

"Kharon was depicted in ancient Greek art as an ugly, bearded man with a crooked nose, wearing a conical hat and tunic..."

And no, that is definitely a description of Sharon, the cartoon character from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (see August 26, traditional image of the European Jew. Do you see how deeply embedded it is? Fact posing as fiction, fiction posing as fact. The mythology of science.

illustration courtesy of http://www.danceshistoricalmiscellany.com/jewish-life-in-medieval-england/

December 27

Amber pages

Johannes Kepler, German astronomer and mathematician, born today in 1571

Louis Pasteur, French bacteriologist, born today in 

Marlene Dietrich, actress, born today in 

Regina Jonas became the first woman, ever, to obtain smichah, formal ordination as a Rabbi - in Offenbach am Main, under the leadership of Rabbi Leo Baeck, but under the personal signature of Rabbi Max Dienemann, today in 1935. She would be among those who died in Auschwitz (see also June 3).

Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani political leader, daughter of the assassinated President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, assassinated in Rawalpindi, today in 2007. See also the various Ghandhi assassinations (the Mahatma wasn't the same family as Indira or Rajiv, but leave that aside), and then wonder if there isn't some sort of a lesson to be learned, across the sub-continent. I do hope Imran Khan never makes it to the Presidency.

[update: this page was published on 17th July 2018; just ten days later he did, or ot least to the Prime Ministership, which is frankly just as dangerous. May he live to achieve all that he has spent the last twenty years promising, and never believing for a minute that he would be given so much as an opportunity. Read his book, "Pakistan, A Personal History". If it can be done, it provides a model for the Third World such as only Uruguay and especially Botswana have yet demonstrated workable.]

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

June 20

Amber pages

Lillian Hellman, author-playwright, born today in 1905... which cues the re-entry, even further stage left than Ms Hellman, of 
Vanessa Redgrave - she manages to win several Oscar-equivalents in my personal Academy of the Cinematic Arts, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I spent fifteen years on stage at least once a week, in various capacities (acting, directing, guitaring, debating or chairing school debates, and once, back in the day, introducing the speakers for a political debate about Europe, in which the new name on the block, his first public opportunity to share his thoughts on the subject, was one Nigel Farage), in the theatre named for her dad, Sir Michael, the Redgrave Theatre shared between Clifton College and the Bristol New Vic Theatre Company. The connection is with the film-version of Hellman's "Julia", in which Jane Fonda turned Hellman into a neurotic, and Redgrave explained the purpose of empathy with the most understated acting of her entire career.

To speak of Lilian Hellman is to call up the ghost of Dashiell Hammett too...

And speaking of dads... m
y dad, born today in 1924

Brian Wilson, singer-songwriter, born today in 1942

If there was a Nobel Prize for songwriting, and it wasn't given to Dylan or Leonard Cohen or Jacques Brel, I suspect that BW would be considered one of the more serious candidates; there aren't that many who are truly serious candidates. Lots of good writers of nebulous pop songs, but innovation and creativity is required to get into Nobel class, and who but the aforementioned, and Pink Floyd, and BW, really can be counted. "California Girls" was simply revolutionary - its starting-point all that cliché-riddled surfing music of the most superficial kind, and then this, counterpoints, harmonies, all sorts of technical devices (listen to it with the maestro here)... Neil Young doing "Broken Arrow" and the live version of "Mr Soul" (the studio version is very conventional) with Buffalo Springfield at exactly the same time, and in excatly the same place, might be another rival for the laurel crown. Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. There really isn't much else besides it's just another good Stevie Wonder number, or another Spice Girls piece, or Elton in his Bernie Taupin phase, or maybe Carole King jazzing up the clichés... but they're still mostly clichés.

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

June 10

Amber pages

Palestinians talk about "
al-Naksa", the "Setback" or "Catastrophe" of 1967, and the "Disaster" of 1947, as the seminal moments that led to the Palestinian Diaspora, but the truth is that the real catastrophe happened much earlier, when the Great Arab Revolt began, today in 1916. What they lost then, and will never recover, was fully 60% of traditional Falastina - the land that is now misnomered as the Hashemite Republic of Jordan (click here for the full details)

Victoria Chaflin Woodhull, the first female candidate for the Presidency of the 
United States, died today in 1927 (who was she? how did she get to be this? why did she fail? who was she against? which party was she in? what happened to her afterwards?)

May 29

Amber pages

Mehmed II's Turks captured Constantinople - and renamed it Istanbul - today in 1453. What theme does this lead to? The end of the European Middle Ages, because that was defined by the Rome-Byzantine schism? The transfer of Islamic power from Mecca, or was it Cairo or Damascus by then anyway? The start of the Ottoman empire, the worst thing that ever happened to the Moslem-Arab world, and will again, if Erdogan gets his way (he usually does). The threat to Europe (Jan Sobieski and the battle of Vienna is on May 21)? Or is the theme the "merging" of the two faiths, the Hagia Sophia (a mosque inside a cathedral) here and the Mezquita (a cathedral inside a mosque) in Cordoba: that could actually make a rather interesting essay.

Charles II was restored to the English throne, today in 

Baha'u'llah, the prophet of the Baha'i Faith, died today in 1892. I have the birth of the other founder, the Bab, on May 23 - but why am I doing this one's death anyway? He was born in Tehran, Iran on 12th November, 1817, as Mirza Husayn-Alí . The comparison of his to the Bab with John the Baptist and Jesus is worth making; also his origins make him comparable with the Buddha (has anyone ever pointed out that the early life of Moses, sanctuaried in the royal palace with no knowledge of the outside world, and then going out to see it as a young adult, witnessing slavery and the bullying of the overseers, and reacting by committing murder... and then going and sitting under his version of the Bodhi tree to acquire a moral and an ethical code...). And his being a merchant parallels Mohammed. So he becomes a reincarnation of all of them. How convenient!

And can I resist writing a travel-paragraph or two, based on innumerable visits down the years, to the glorious, magnificent, stunningly beautiful Bahai Temple and Gardens in Haifa?

Sir Edmund Percival Hillary and Tenzing Norkay reached the summit of Mount Everest, today in 1953 (see July 24)

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

February 23


Keats died today, in Rome, just twenty-five years old. 

Of consumption, though in those days they called it tuberculosis. 

His younger brother Tom had died of it just two years earlier, and John the trained apothecary had taken personal care of him throughout; so more than likely, if must have been contagious.

From my book: "A Small Drop Of Ink - a life of Lord Byron"


Keats died in Rome. Tuberculosis first,
Compounded by two brain haemorrhages.
He’d come to Italy to flee the worst
Weather for his condition, a pilgrimage
Too, to be with his fellow-peers in verse.
He coughed up blood. The mental ravages
Were almost harder. Until he asked “How long
Is this posthumous existence to go on?”

February the 23rd, 18-
21, just twenty-five years old, one
Of the greatest poets there had been
In any land or language. For Byron
And Shelley it was shattering. They’d seen
Him in Rome, were friends, admirers. “Adon”
They called him, “Master” or “Lord”, and Shelley
It was who wrote John Keats’ eulogy.

“I weep for Adonais - he is dead!
Oh, weep for Adonais! though our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
And teach them thine own sorrow, say: ‘With me
Died Adonais; till the Future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!’”

I would include the whole poem, but it is rather long - click here and read it at the Poetry Foundation

As to Keats' legacy. There is the endless imposition of his verse on reluctant "A" level students, compelled to vivisect live matter until it lies mordant in an examination essay (no one else but "A" level students, and other poets, ever read poetry any more). There is the lovely house in Hampstead with its adjacent library (students there too, though few visit the house). And a really very charming memorial, in the back garden of Thomas Guy's House in Southwark.

Guy was the man who founded and left his name with Guy's Hospital, not a hundred yards from where that other glory of English poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer, set the opening of his Canterbury Tales, the Tabard Inn, next to the still-standing George Tavern, opposite the best food-market anywhere on Earth, Borough Market: go down the narrow side-street where the Uni of Beds has its Hall of Residence named Chaucer House (but surprisingly no plaque, no streetboard), and keep going, just a few more yards, through White Hart Yard specifically, onto Guy's campus of King's College, the Italianate Collonade of the old Counting House, known officially as The London Bridge Niche, with honour plaques to John Fry and Wittgenstein, a statue of Lord Nuffield...  and dominant amid all this splendour, seated lonely on a bench under a domed portico like the pianist Glenn Gould on its street-bench outside the CBC building in Toronto, John Keats (he was an apothecary at Guys Hospital in 1816): "sure a poet is a sage; a humanist, physician to all men" - Moneta's words in "Fall of Hyperion. A Dream", engraved on the bench. What a shame that poetry alone is insufficient as a cure for consumption.

An autumnal addition to this wintery obituary can be found on September 19, and a Shelley-inspired political reworking of his "Ode: On A Grecian Urn", on February 6

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2017 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

February 20 - Photographers


It was my good friend Desmond Bender who introduced me to the work of Ansel Adams (born today in 1902). I happened to be at his house, one Toronto Friday night, for shabbat dinner, and conversation turned to particular students we had worked with over the years, he mostly as a teacher of the History of Art, me mostly in the sphere of religion, but both of us also English teachers, and now the team of two introducing the International Baccalaureate to our school. 

A couple of days earlier I had received a bulky envelope from a former student, one Damion Berger, who had gained an internship with Helmut Newton before his final A level year, and then gone to work as his apprentice when he graduated. His first book of photos, mostly of those parts of Cuba that tourists couldn't get to, was in the package, and the package was in my briefcase, so I brought it out. Desmond took one look, smiled appreciatively while nodding his head, pronounced the magic words "Ansel" and "Adams", and left the dinner-table most bad-manneredly. What he brought back was a coffee-table book, a much better conclusion to the meal than bensching - and by the time coffee was served, Prashker was enfanned.

I have posted one of his great Yosemite black-and-whites above, but you can easily find more for yourself. Anseladams.com for an easy starting-point.

Amber pages

Matthiae-Mahlzeit, The Oldest Annual Dinner in the World,
Damion Berger, Hamburg, 2004

In general my amber pages follow the date, picking up - or planning, one day, eventually, to pick up - those other people born or died, those significant events, which took place on this date. But on this occasion there is something different in my head, a sense of something that connects both back and from this moment when I first looked seriously at photographs, and through the guiding eye of someone very expert in the subject. 

1) The only serious photographer I knew before this was Man Ray, whose attempts to capture movement fascinated me; twenty years on in his career, Damion's early Ansel Adams influence has gone, and his work (click here) is very much a technological development of Man Ray.

"Dragon's Breath" - Peter Lik
2) In the summer of 2013 I moved to Miami for the second time, and rented a studio just a few blocks south of Lincoln Road, on South Beach. Coffee bars and on-street tourist restaurants for the most part, but also the grand art deco spaces of the Lincoln Road Art Centre, with more than a dozen working artists in residence behind open doors. And over the road, visited every time I walked that street, like a junkie drawn in by the very smell of ganja, the gallery of Australia's answer to Ansel Adams, the extraordinary Peter Lik (click here for hundreds of examples)

3) When Damion first told me about that internship, I looked at the photographs of Helmut Newton, which were mostly portaiture, and mostly fashion; I could appreciate their quality, but never found much in them to respond to. I like my portraits to have depth, and these were superficialities. Then, in the spring of 2017, Tate Britain hosted a small exhibition of the works of somebody who the posters named as Craigie Horsfeld, a woman I presumed, from the name, and something in the profound sensitivity of the greyscale - but no, a man, and clearly an extremely, deeply talented one (the photograph of the Horsfeld photograph is by me; I claim no talent in this medium).

So there is a piece here, waiting to be written. In amber, officially, though I have left it in black-and-white, because that seems to me appropriate on this occasion. I will try to add the colours later.

December 30

Amber pages

Simon Guggenheim, American capitalist and philanthropist, born today in 1867, younger brother of Solomon, who built the New York art museum, slightly younger brother of Benjamin Guggenheim, who was part of that little group of wealthy Jewish friends who died together on the Titanic (see December 23), and whose daughter Marguerite, generally known as Peggy, built her own art museums, in Bilbao and Venice... quite a family (bottom left is Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, currently being built)

Rudyard Kipling, who was a far, far better poet than his reputation today allows, and who is chiefly remembered for authoring "The Jungle Book" because Victorianism is in such disrepute, born today in 1865 - see my defense of him here

And today in 1853, the United States of America paid Mexico a paltry $10 million for the purchase of Arizona and New Mexico - click here for a PBS cartoon-map, showing the timeline of American take-over of Mexico. 

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

December 29


December 21st, four days before Michelmas (Christmas in those days fell on January 6th), in the month then called Early Yule but now December, on Mumping Day, when everybody dressed down or even put on rags and went a-begging, though some called it Gooding Day, because the shopkeepers gave a morsel extra, or handed out free calendars; on December 21st anyway, the fifth of the eight days of Saturnalia that ended with the great turkey-feast of Brumalia on the 25th (New Year's Day in the Julian calendar), the shortest day in the solar year (Sol Invictus, "the Unconquerable Sun"), the right day to plant shallots and hang up wicken crosses in the stables and cowsheds according to mediaeval almanackers; on this date Thomas Becket was born in London, without an "à" let alone a sainthood, in 1118, and most likely he was given his name because this was also St Thomas the Doubter's Day. 

Fifty-two years and eight days later, on December 29th 1170, he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights who had taken at face value the outburst of King Henry II, not aware that kings, like all frail human beings, do not always mean precisely what they say, or in this case mean precisely what they mean. Henry was so upset, he appointed Thomas' sister Mary as Abbess of Barking Abbey by way of compensation - an equivalent in "damages" to many millions today.

One of my very earliest sketchbooks includes a hasty charcoal drawing of the "is that meant to be some sort of Crucifixion?" that adorns Becket's tomb in Canterbury, and in front of me as I write this is my ridiculously over-notated A-level teaching copy of Graham Swift's novel "Last Orders", in which a pilgrimage to Canterbury, including a pause at Becket's tomb, beautifully merges Chaucer with William Faulkner (Swift "borrowed" his narrative technique from Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying"), and then with Somerset Maugham, because after Canterbury the Swift tale continues on to Margate by way of Whitstable, where Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" found its final resting-place: what a splendid way of teaching literature as history and history as literature.

The names of the four calumnious horsemen of this particular apocalypse were Hugh de Merville, William de Tracey, Reginal Fitzurse and Richard le Breton, four names whose etymology would, I suspect, be worth the exploring, to see if this tale is genuine history or belongs, in fact, as the Christmas dates also suggest, to a messing about with mythology (cf Robin Hood, Guy Fawkes et al). The unprecedented speed - less than two years - of his canonisation adds to my suspicions, as does the huge convenience for Henry, who lived all his life in Poitiers, and had nothing but a dynastic interest in England, of having his own personal saint, his own personal guilt to expiate, as a pretext for a triumphal procession to the seat of genuine English power, just two more years after that.

As noted above Thomas was not "à" Becket at all; he would in fact have been as perplexed by it as you and I are; he didn't use it; he didn't even know it; he was just plain Becket. The "à" got added years later, by those who wished to make him a man of less humble background than he really was (I wonder, if we renamed him Guilliam de Shakspere, would the elitist snobs drop all their silly nonsense about Francis Bacon, or was it Lord Oxford, being the author of his plays).

The date on the sketch is 8/88, a decade before the invention of the Internet. Twenty years further on, even my limited skills are redundant, when people have selfie-machines and free-wifi upload. This is what it actually looks like.

Amber pages

Vera Brittain, feminist author (as opposed to authoress), and mother of Shirley Williams (Social Democrat politician), born today in 1893

The Battle of Wounded Knee, today in 1890, in which two hundred native tribesmen of Meso-America were killed.

Grigori Efimovich Rasputin (Novjkh), Russian mystic, shot today in 1916 - apparently it took multiple bullets, and still he refused to die.

And to end on a most positive note, today in 1989, Václav Havel became President of Czechoslovakia, a position he would only relinquish when Czechoslovakia was formally dissolved as a country, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia set up independently in its place. 

The first President of the new Czech Republic was sworn in on February 2nd, 1993 - an interesting choice, given that this was a man whose family property had been confiscated by the Communists, who had been denied access to formal education, whose plays had once been banned and his passport confiscated, who had been one of the senior troublemakers of the Prague Spring, who had served four years in prison for daring to challenge the legitimate government's record on human rights, and who had previously served as President of a country whose very existence had now been declared obsolete: the selfsame Václav Havel