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Czech it out: Science/art/music festival celebrates 25 years of Czechoslovakian research in Svalbard

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Mirek Wanek’s progressive rock lyrics are described as an “an axe for the frozen sea inside us,” so his band will be in a fitting setting when he fulfills his longtime dream of performing in Svalbard. But now he’s planning to take that proverbial axe far beyond the stage during a festival this week featuring scientific and artistic highlights by his native Czech Republic in the far north.

The festival, which translates in English to “At Home On Svalbard,” technically began with a couple of art exhibits that are on display at Galleri Svalbard and Svalbard Church between Aug. 21 and Sept. 13. But the main part of the festival is between Thursday and Sunday, with a multitude of scientific lectures the main focus during the first two days before shifting mostly to cultural events during the weekend (see end of article for full schedule of events and lectures).

“Because I really love north– and especially Svalbard – for many years I always dreamed about having opportunity to play there, but during the decades there was always lack of money (mainly) or time, but finally in year 2014 I visited Svalbard and met several people and introduced them my idea,” Wanek wrote in an e-mail.

“During our meetings in Longyearbyen with many other people (especially UNIS and Svalbard Church), the whole happening started to grow. Some other artists will be coming and even Scientistic Conference got involved, so now it could be so called ‘Czech Cultural and Scientific Days.'”

Wanek is the primary composer of the band Už jsme doma (“Already at Home”), which will perform a concert and release its new album “Floes” (the CD cover features a polar bear on ice menacing  over some obviously wayward penguins in life jackets) at 9 p.m. Saturday at Huset.  The band will also perform in Pyramiden during a day trip by boat there on Sunday.

The scientific lectures are scheduled between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday at The University Centre in Svalbard, and 9 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Friday at Julius Payer House (the Czech research facility in Longyearbyen). Topics will include Czech research throughout both polar regions, as well as historic and cooperative projects with other countries.

Artistic events during the first two days include the presentation of the art project “Art Installations in the Landscape” by three women at Julius Payer House at 7 p.m. Thursday, the debut of the exhibit “Saami Myths and Legends” and a historical presentation at 3 p.m. Friday at Svalbard Church, and the opening of the exhibition “Inuit Myths and Legends through the Eyes of Martin Velíšek” by the artist at 7 p.m. Friday at Galleri Svalbard.

Saturday’s events include a lecture about Czech missionaries in the Arctic” by Tomáš Petráček at 11 a.m. Saturday at Svalbard Church, followed by three events at Huset.  A youth-oriented presentation by Wanek about Czech animated film is scheduled at 1 p.m., a musical puppet show titled  “Five Beats to a Hat” (featuring items crafted by local students during a workshop on Friday) at 3 p.m., and the concert by Už jsme doma.

The festival’s timing commemorates 25 years of Czech research in Svalbard, as well as numerous other historic occasions.

“August 21st is important date for Czech history, it was the day in 1968 when Soviet tanks (and another four countries too) attacked Prague and invasion plus 21 years of occupancy started,” Wanek wrote. “At the same time the Czech Republic (or Czechoslovakia) celebrates 100 years of its new age history. In year 1918 after 300 years of Austrian domination Czechs and Slovaks got their independent state. And in year 1993 Czech Republic as separate state started to exist, so it is 25 years. Many things to celebrate.”



• 10 a.m.: Official opening. UNIS.
• 10:15 a.m.-5:30 p.m.: Lectures: UNIS (full schedule below).
• 7 p.m.: Presentation of the project “Art Installations in the Landscape” by Dana Elsterová (Flying
 Message), Anna Leschingerová (Luminous Chime), Anežka Podzemská (Beams of the Midnight Sun). Julius Payer House.

• 9 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: Lectures. Julius Payer House (full schedule below).
• 2 p.m.: Cakes and Puppets – a workshop for the puppet performance “Five Beats to a Hat.” Longyearbyen School.
• 3 p.m.: Opening of the exhibition “Saami myths and legends” (Luboš Drtina) and a lecture (Zdeněk Lyčka). Svalbard Church
• 7 p.m.: Opening of the exhibition “Inuit Myths and Legends through the Eyes of Martin Velíšek” in the presence 
 of the author and UJD. Galleri Svalbard.

• 11 a.m.: Lecture: “Czech missionaries in the Arctic” (Tomáš Petráček). Svalbard Church.
• 1 p.m.: Lecture on Czech animated film (Miroslav Wanek). Huset.
• 2 p.m.: Music-puppet performance “Five Beats to a Hat.” Huset.
• 9 p.m.: Concert by UJD, release of their new CD “Floes.” Huset.

8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.: Boat trip to Pyramiden, where UHD and Cake and Puppets will perform.


Scientific lecture schedule

Friday (UNIS)
• Czechoslovak/Czech science in the Arctic and the role of the University of South Bohemia (Tomáš Machula, Rector / František Vácha, Dean of the Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia)
• Contribution of Slovak science to the research in polar regions (Martin Bačkor, Pavol Jozef Šafařík University, Košice)
• Science in a changing environment (Harald Ellingsen, UNIS)
Svalbard: Nature in rapid transformation with a changing climate (Kim Holmén, Norwegian Polar Institute)
• Arctic Geopolitics and its importance in International Relations (Barbora Padrtová, Masaryk University, Brno)
• Czech Arctic Scientific Infrastructure and possible biotechnology applications (Josef Elster, Jana Kvíderová, Centre for Polar Ecology /CPE/)
• Czech Antarctic Research Infrastructure (Daniel Nývlt, Masaryk University, Brno)
• Crossing Greenland on skis (Zdeněk Lyčka)

Friday (Julius Payer House)
• Impact of climate change and human activities on animals and their parasites in polar regions (Oleg Ditrich, Václav Pavel, Tereza Hromádková, CPE)
• New world of microbes in glaciers (Marie Šabacká, CPE)
• The involvement of the Czech Arctic Scientific Infrastructure in the international INTERACT project (Alexandra Bernardová, CPE)
• Greenlandic myths and legends in Czech translation (Zdeněk Lyčka, Martin Velíšek)
• Vikings in the North Atlantic and the Norse in Greenland: demise of a Christian community (Naja Elisabeth Mikkelsen, IASC)


About Post Author

Mark Sabbatini

I'm a professional transient living on a tiny Norwegian island next door to the North Pole, where once a week (or thereabouts) I pollute our extreme and pristine environment with paper fishwrappers decorated with seemingly random letters that would cause a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters to die of humiliation. Such is the wisdom one acquires after more than 25 years in the world's second-least-respected occupation, much of it roaming the seven continents in search of jazz, unrecognizable street food and escorts I f****d with by insisting they give me the platonic tours of their cities promised in their ads. But it turns out this tiny group of islands known as Svalbard is my True Love and, generous contributions from you willing, I'll keep littering until they dig my body out when my climate-change-deformed apartment collapses or they exile my penniless ass because I'm not even worthy of washing your dirty dishes.
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