Newyorske listy Nezavisle ceske elektronicke noviny ***
spring 99 (Jann 2002)
The end of a century old glory of a Czech publisher
That was House Melantrich
And its daily Svobodne slovo

About a hundred years ago editor Jaroslav Salda took advantage of the national renaissance and founded in Prague a daily paper with the name Ceske slovo [Czech Word]. Success was so great that he bought in the middle of the Vaclavske namesti [Wenceslaw Square] a building Hvezda [Star], which he then renamed after a famous Czech printer Melantrich. (Georgio Melantrich of Avertine) This became also the name of the largest publishing house. Because the Ceske slovo was a serious daily, he begun to publish a pulp "morning-daily" with the name A-Zet and the Vecerni Slovo [Evening Word], Telegraf, and a long line of weekly papers and magazines such as the Prazsky ilustrovany zpravodaj {the Prague's Illustrated Herald], Hvezda cs. pani a divek [the Star of Czech Girls and Ladies] STAR, Eva, Mlady hlasatel [the Young Herald], etc. The glory of Melantrich under the leadership of Salda continued. The trademark of Melantich became a symbol of ideas of "czechism", patriotism. It was the center of Czech culture of art of publishing and printing arts, one of the largest publisher of books and the heart of the Czech literary treasures.
Building Melantrich
right Josef Schrabal

(photo es - 1990)

After the Second World War (1945) Melantrich continued in its publishing activity. The Ceske slovo was renamed to Svobodne slovo [Free Word] under the leadership of the legendary Editor Ivan Herben and a new weekly, Svobodny zitrek [Free Tomorrow] under the leadership of the Editor Ludek Stransky, it reached over a million in circulation. Both papers became an anti-Communist foundation of the post-war Czechoslovakia being ruled by government of the "National Front".

After the February Communist Revolution (1948), the new communist Gottwald's government terminated the life of this major enemy of communism by dividing Melantrich into three parts: the real estate company owning the building on Wenceslaw Square, the printer and the publishing company.

During the November days of 1989, the balcony of Melantrich became famous by it enabled the first historical meeting of Vaclav Havel and the other "dissidents" with overcrowded Wenceslaw Square and from here televised all over the world. They named it the "Velvet revolution". The Svobodne slovo became once again the first and legendary daily with the largest circulation.

Unification and restitution of the original Melantrich never realized despite the "present Melantrich" trying and suing. As is customary in the present Czech Republic, they proclaim "continuity" of the (communist) laws and the (communist) judiciary, hence they don't want to restore what the communist dictatorship imposed.

The prosperity of a newspaper is in its circulation and expenses. Because the rent of the editorial offices (in stolen building) at Wenceslaw Square were tremendous, and equally overly expensive paper's printing and distribution, totaly dependent upon will of monopolizing company distributing all the other daily papers. Also because of incapacity and inability of the management, the circulation went down year after year and the Svobodne slovo was loosing millions.

Since 1990 there was a long line of managers and in the same way a long line of (chief) Editors (as much as I can recall some such as Jaromir Masek, Lubos Petrik, Cestmir Kubik, Jaroslav Friedrich, Jaroslav Huk, Jindrich Marek, Pavel Parma, Pavel Paral), of which only two (Jaroslav Bocek a Libor Sevcik) managed to remain a little over one year. Finally the Svobodne slovo was sold to Chemapol (headed by a former communist spy Junek), who renamed the paper Slovo. Two years later the Chemapol itself, as is usual these days over there, became Chapter 11.

Then, during the second half of 1998 the Slovo was sold to a (German) printer (N-Tisk/MittelRhein Verlag), which is the publisher of the Zemske noviny (formerly the Farmers Herald). This new owner solved the financial situation of the declining Slovo by firing 90 percent of the editorial staff, relocating the editorial department to Rimska ulive at Vinohrady and merging it with the editorial department of the Zemske noviny.

Finally at the end of 2001 the daily Slove ceased publication.

House Melantrich was auctioned out in 1999.

(With tearts in my eyes) Josef Schrabal ,
who on February 23rd, 1948, made up the last free Free Word

Original article in Czech

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