ATypI in Prague

After 35 years, Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI) is returning to Prague, Czech Republic, for its 48th annual conference. The first ATypI Prague conference took place 1969.

In March 1968, my dear friend and great Polish typographer Andrzej Tomaszewski was doing his compulsory military service. He was fortunate not to have to go to Prague in a tank – but some of his colleagues had to. It was a terrible experience, both to the citizens of Czechoslovakia and to the soldiers from the Warsaw Pact countries. One year later, his father Roman, a renowned typographer and designer, long-time ATypI Board member and country delegate for Poland, joined other typographers at the historic ATypI Prague 1969 congress.

ATypI Prague 1969, John Dreyfus speaking ATypI Prague 1969

Andrzej recalls his father's and his own memories: “The first ATypI Prague conference (the eleventh ATypI conference) was planned to take place in 1968. However, as the older ones among us remember, 200,000 soldiers from the Warsaw Pact and 5,000 tanks (including many from Poland) invaded Czechoslovakia and violently stifled the Prague Spring – a movement that was giving great hope to Czechs, Slovaks and people from neighboring countries. The Prague meeting of typographers, designers and printers was rescheduled for the following year. Paradoxically, the political tragedy made the ATypI event even more important. Many significant personalities decided to go to Prague despite all obstacles, including the legend of European typography, Jan Tschichold from Switzerland, the elegant John Dreyfus from England, the readability researchers François Richadeau from France and Bror Zachrisson from Sweden, the very popular West German designer Kurt Weidemann and the Dutch typography expert Gerrit Willem Ovink. The convention was held in the assembly hall of the Charles University Faculty of Law, and was chaired by Oldřich Hlavsa from Czechoslovakia and Roman Tomaszewski from Poland, among others. A very real topic back then was the transition of visual information from the Gutenberg galaxy to the computer era – a subject that is still of concern. ”

In 1968, the Czech and Slovaks started their run for freedom, but it was too early. The ATypI conference was to coincide with this political development that turned out horribly. Despite the tragedy, the ATypI conference was not cancelled, but only postponed. Finally the typographers came together in Prague to prove that typography can be a means of communication above barriers. Despite the tension between the political forces, type artists from both sides of the Iron Curtain met, talked and enjoyed the time together. It reinstated the fact that the political division of Europe between West and East was artificial.

In 2004, after 25 years, this run for freedom will be symbolically finished. This year, another political process is taking place, but this time the outcome will be very different. The Czech Republic and other Central and Eastern European countries join the European Union, manifesting that the political division is finally over – beyond all doubt. Thirty-five years later, ATypI comes to Prague once again, to celebrate the dialogue, the cultural exchange and the communication.

To some, this may sound like a cliché, but for me, it’s reality – even that I was born six years after the first ATypI Prague congress...

– Adam Twardoch