The Other Europe (Press release)12/10/19

The Václav Havel Library has made an extraordinary audio-visual acquisition as regards contents and scope, the complete recordings for the documentary film entitled The Other Europe, most of which are shot on 16 mm film.

The Other Europe was a series in six-episodes shot in 1987–1988 in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, especially Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and Romania. It was produced by the now defunct company Panoptic for Channel Four and the author and narrator was the French political scientist and commentator Jacques Rupnik. It was directed by Tom Roberts and produced by Nick Fraser. The document was broadcast on Czechoslovak TV in the early 1990s.

The film document contains around a hundred authentic testimonies of the leading representatives of the domestic anti-communist opposition as well as the exiled, personalities from the cultural sphere as well as ordinary citizens, who speak of the real life behind the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s. “The people in the recordings do not recollect memories but testify about their everyday life, without anticipating that in a few years the Iron Curtain would fall”, says Jacques Rupnik, now also one of the members of the Board of Trustees of the Václav Havel Library. And the Library’s Director, Michael Žantovský, adds that “the testimonies aren’t therefore burdened with the knowledge of how everything was going to end up, and even less by romantic memories, which couldn’t have been avoided if the interviews had been made later”.

The historical authenticity is emphasized by the unusually wide international context in which this was made. The archival value of the materials is significant also because no similar audio-visual work has been known to deal with the topic in such an exhaustive manner and with such a broad international scope.

The original film strips were stored with the British Imperial War Museum in Great Britain. It donated them to the Václav Havel Library, which signed a contract for cooperation with the Czech National Film Archives in January 2018 to store the materials and digitise them. Besides the Václav Havel Library, the other partners to prepare the final version in their language and subtitles are the European Solidarity Centre in Gdansk, the National Széchényi Library in Budapest, the National Memory Institute in Bratislava and Gedenkstätte Bautzner Straße in Dresden. The project is scheduled to continue until spring 2022 and as a result should provide a public database of all these interviews. A webpage will be available for each of the approximately hundred speakers, where their video recording can be viewed with English subtitles, a transcript of the interview can be read and an audio recording can be listened to.

On Monday 9 December 2019, the first public presentation of the project was held at the Ponrepo cinema in Prague in the presence of Jacques Rupnik, and the Other Europe website was introduced, containing the first three interviews, with Václav Havel, Zdena Tominová and Gábor Demszky. Other interviews are to be added. Photographs from the presentation can be seen here.

The digitisation has been supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. Further processing of the materials and the events associated with the project have been supported by the Visegrad Fund and the Europe for Citizens programme.