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Barbara Day
Barbara Day

Barbara Day works for a non-profit organization called The Prague Society, promoting international links in business, politics and academia. Twenty-five years ago, Barbara was doing a job that, at least on the surface, seems very similar. Then based in London, she was coordinating visits by Western academics to Czechoslovakia. But times could hardly have been more different. In those days, such initiatives were seen by the communist regime as a subversive activity. Constantly harangued by Czechoslovakia’s secret police – the StB – visiting lecturers, including some of the world’s most renowned philosophers, would meet secretly at private flats. In what came to be known as the “underground seminars” they would address small groups made up of students, dissidents and anyone else brave enough to turn up, and lectures covered subjects as varied as the philosophy of Plato and the music of Mahler. Barbara Day’s book, The Velvet Philosophers, recounts the details of how the seminars worked. When I met Barbara, she began by telling me how the seminars started: It was in the years just after the 1968 Soviet invasion, when many of Czechoslovakia’s top academics were thrown out of their jobs, and even their children found themselves in trouble.

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