The last issue of hidden europe was nearing completion when we heard the sad news from the United States that singersongwriter Pete Seeger had died. In the following days and weeks we read a stream of tributes to Seeger, coming from both sides of the Atlantic. Many from the US focused on Seeger’s seminal contribution to the American folk music tradition, saying no more than was necessary about the singer’s political activism. More left-leaning media, particularly in Europe, highlighted Seeger’s position within a wider proletarian music tradition that found expression in many countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Cast back half a century, and Seeger had just reached home after a remarkable world tour which had taken him and his wife Toshi to two dozen countries over a spell of nine months. The couple returned to New York in June 1964. The latter part of the tour had seen Seeger performing to packed venues in Russia, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
The reception accorded to Pete Seeger in Prague was particularly strong. The liberal winds of Khrushchev’s Thaw, already felt for some years in the Soviet Union, had barely touched Czechoslovakia which in the first half of 1964 was only just beginning to explore new economic, political and cultural opportunities. That process was of course abruptly terminated by the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 — an event which decisively marked the end of the Thaw across the whole of Eastern Europe.