The 1960s witnessed many refugee movements. The rise of the Soviet Union triggered one such displacement. Czechoslovakia had been under Soviet communist control since 1948. In 1968, Alexander Dubček began a liberalizing regime. This represented a challenge to socialism as enforced by the Soviet Union. Dubček’s attempts to relax control over citizens, such as easing censorship, were not tolerated. In August of 1968, Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia with 500,000 soldiers. Around 300,000 people feared for their lives, forcing them to flee. This meant leaving their homes, families, and the country of their birth. The crisis was named the Prague Spring. Its legacy echoed in the lives of its displaced artists across the world.
Eva Jiřičná was one such refugee. She was initially part of an exchange programme and was asked to work for the Greater London Council as an architect. As a consequence of her political allegiances, she was barred from her home in 1968. Membership to the 'Society for the Protection of Human Rights' was incompatible with recently occupied Czechoslovakia. In her late 20s, Jiřičná remained working in the UK. Harnessing her skills, she founded her own successful architecture company. Her fusion of interior and architectural design can be found in the V&A museum, as well as in Somerset House. Her artistic vision gained her an international reputation and she was awarded a CBE in 1994.
It wouldn’t be until the 1990s that Jiřičná was able to return to her native land. The Prague she returned to looked very different. She considered “the biggest loss to be Wenceslas Square...one of the most beautiful urban places”.
We cannot ignore the impact of refugee artists. Jiřičná’s architectural design is one of the many examples of the artistic legacies of displacement which enhance our world today.