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Emil Zatopek 1922 - 2000

the "human locomotive"

Emil Zatopek was born on September 19, 1922 in Koprivinice, Czechoslovakia, in the region called Moravia. Grew up in a large and humble family, sustained by the father shoemaker. Emil works as a labor in a shoe factory when, during a race organized by his employer, a sport enthusiast, he places second without any experience or training. He then becomes aware of his predisposition and special talent for running and begins to cultivate it.

Denominated the “human locomotive”, Zatopeck is the man simbol of the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952, where he accomplishes a legendary challenge winning 3 gold medals in a week: 5.000 metres, 10.000 metres and maraton. Pioneer of the interval-training (which consist of a series repetition of 400 metres, interrupted by 200 metres of recovery), Zatopek becomes famous for is running style, with the head tilted backwards, elbows to the body, and a pain grimace always on his face.

In 1968 he supports the Prague Spring, signing the Two Thousand Words Manifesto which started Dubcek political season.

At the Olympic Games in Mexico City, meanwhile the Russian tanks are still in the streets of Prague, Zatopek declares: “We have lost, but the way in which our attempt has been cut down belongs to the savageness. However, I am not afraid: I am Zatopek, they won’t dare to touch me…”. On the way back to his homeland, in fact, Emil and his wife Dana Ingrova, she as well a gold medal in Helsinki in javelin throw, don’t suffer any immediate repercussions. The Soviet normalisation, anyway, will submerge them in more than twenty years of oblivion.

Emil is expelled from the Czech Communist Party and from the army. Sent to the uranium mines in Jachymov, at the German border, he lives for six years in a warehouse before coming back to the capital as a garbage man.

Emil Zatopek has definitively retired from the sports’ world in 1982, to live in Prague together with his wife Dana, who has assisted him until the day of his death.  

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Dissidents of totalitarianism

in Central Europe's communist regimes

The so called "dissent" in the communist regimes of Eastern Europe cannot be just reduced to the simple notion of an "opposition" as its definition would suggest, but it should be above all considered as an attempt to build a "parallel polis" based on the responsibility of every citizen and aimed at occupying the spaces where cultural, social and human freedom are allowed, as wrenched from the totalitarian rule over the social fabric. Members of Charter 77 and Solidarnosc, such as Vaclav Havel, Radim Palous, Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik, have always underlined that “the power of the powerless” consists in winning over fear through the empowerment made possible through a collective assumption of responsibility, witnessed by the exhortation to "live the truth" within a society based on lie. Ver often their "dissent" consisted in a way to claim the enforcement of laws, such as the ones about freedom of conscience, or the international agreements subscribed by their countries, such as the Helsinki Accords. This was the origin of a broad movement that was able to condition the behaviour and mentality of the public opinion, up to the point in which, letting aside Romania, the totalitarian rule was overthrown in a peaceful way, without shedding blood, with the rise of a new leading class recognized by the majority of the population and ready to take on government responsibilities.