“It’s you!” At The Russian Games

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

“It’s not us – it’s you!” That’s the official Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics line they take on the latest hitch that has arisen, as reporter Jules Seegers reports in the Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad:

NRC_Sochi_itsyou
The Games have finally started, as you well know, meaning that there are now scheduled athletic events – meaning people get to turn up to see them. The problem is that too many are failing to do so: 92% of event tickets have been sold (that number itself is a separate issue worth discussing), but so far only 81% of those ticket-holders have attended the events they had paid to see.

How can that be? I mean, that’s why they traveled to that God-forsaken sub-tropical town on the shores of the Black Sea in the first place! It’s hard to think of any on-site distractions that could have diverted their attention elsewhere – OK, maybe some might have found themselves locked in their bathrooms, but you have to presume that would have affected only a few.

To Games spokeswomen Alexandra Kosterina, the cause is clear: a “problem with the Russian mentality,” by which she means too many people think they can show up at events just at the last minute! Don’t they realize that there are all sorts of security formalities to take care of before one can be admitted?

First of all, it’s curious how she paints all spectators – Russian and non-Russian – with that “Russian mentality.” (Surely there are some Germans there, too, for example.) Nonetheless, she is probably correct in pinpointing the problem: as Seegers points out here, visitors are checked “several times” before being granted admission, and an accurate awareness of the necessary measures to take in response (analogous to “Be sure to show up to the airport at least three hours before your flight!”) no doubt is only slowly taking hold. Still, this “We don’t have a problem, it’s you that has the problem!” attitude is what is notable to me, even though we’ve already had the occasion to see it here at Sochi. “It’s not us – it’s you!”: There’s your true motto for these Olympic Games!

Olympic Cover-Up

Then there is also this. Remember, we all live in a Brand, Brand World – and Samsung is part of that world when it comes to the Olympic Games, both for the Sochi Winter Games as well as for both Summer and Winter Games in the past.

Sochi_Samsung_iPhone
While it may be true that these benevolent Korean executives believe so strongly in sport, they definitely believe in spreading the Samsung name worldwide. The Olympics offer a great opportunity to do that, and for these Winter Games the company has gone all-out to support its latest phone version, even including one in each “goody bag” handed out to all the participating athletes. (The Mladá fronta dnes article to which that Zpravy tweet links even says the ones they gave the Czech team came in the Czech national colors.)

That’s the good part; the bad part is that Samsung doesn’t want to see at Sochi any phones from competing brands, which did not pay for Olympic rights. Now, they have not been granted dictatorial powers to ban any competing mobile phones from the Games (although, in this Russian context, such a measure is surely not unimagineable). Just what they have been allowed to do is still somewhat unclear, but it seems to have extended to at least making any athletes who do carry iPhones tape over the Apple logos durig the opening ceremonies.

Again, that’s the athletes – and hey, they’re getting new Samsung phones for free! – not any spectators. And the MFD piece further links to an English-language Slashgear article for corroboration.

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Unfriendly Presidential Send-Off

Monday, March 4th, 2013

[Please note the correction added at the end of this blogpost.]

Now here’s a tweet you don’t see every day! It has to do with Václav Klaus, now the former President of the Czech Republic, but it’s not just about his departure from that office:

CN: Senát má rozhodnout, zda podá na Klause žalobu pro velezradu #klaus #senat #amnestie http://t.co/ebQLBOWPP8: http://t.co/yhHmp4QGPn

@Zpravy

Zpravy


Velezradu: “treason.” So that’s “Senate must decide whether to charge Klaus with treason.”

“What’s that all about!” you might ask. It is a pretty poor good-bye present, don’t you think? Why couldn’t the Senate just have handed the ex-President a nice necktie, or maybe a gold pen?

But OK, this is fairly easy to explain in an American context, for those out there with long-enough memories. You might recall that the dying days of the Clinton Administration, back in early 2001, were rather by the ridiculous pardons Bill Clinton started handing out, most especially to Marc Rich, the financier who had made sure he was out of the country when he was indicted by the IRS for tax evasion.

Well, Václav Klaus did much the same thing as the end of his presidential term started to come within sight.around last New Year’s Day. He issued a wide series of pardons which mainly went – in a similar manner to Marc Rich, funnily enough – to businessmen guilty of abusing the Czech Republic’s system of “coupon privatization” for disposing of State-owned properties back in the 1990s, by “tunneling” many of those companies, i.e. systematically stealing their assets, sucking them dry, then escaping to foreign lands with well-stocked Swiss bank accounts. It’s no coincidence that by far the major actor involved in getting coupon privatization going was then-Premier Václav Klaus.

(OK, the České noviny report that you get when you click through the link in the abovre tweet also says that the Senate has also charged him with further harming the Czech national interest by refusing to sign duly-ratified laws that he didn’t like – for example, the EU’s Lisbon Treaty – and by paralyzing the country’s court system by refusing to nominate any new justices for a whole year.)

Well, it’s the justices of the Czech Republic’s Supreme Court which now get to preside over an impeachment trial:

Senát schválil ústavní žalobu na Václava Klause. Z 68 přítomných senátorů pro žalobu hlasovalo 38, proti 30.

@iDNES_vyber

Zprávy iDNES.cz


Right, the vote among Senators was 38 in favor, 30 against. This probably isn’t about Klaus actually ever going to jail, though. Just as elsewhere, impeachment is mainly a matter of removing a sitting President who can be shown to have violated the law in a serious way. Conveniently, the Senate waited until Klaus had already left office – but he still stands to lose the payments he is still due from being President (e.g. his pension, though he has other pensions) if he is convicted.

BTW that same article has an instant mini-poll to the side showing 69% approving of the impeachment. Those numbers might change by the time you access that page later.

So Václav Klaus, second President of the Czech Republic, is not just going to fade away into the sunset; the Senate won’t let him. Things could get exciting!

P.S. Apologies that the IDNES tweet above announcing the result of the Senate impeachment vote did not have the usual link within it to allow you to go look at a Czech-language article. But let’s give IDNES (= the on-line paper of the Czech Republic’s biggest non-tabloid daily, Mladá fronta dnes) a bit of a break, they’ve had a hard time:

České zpravodajské servery čelí druhé vlně počítačových útoků. Weby iDNES.cz tak mohou být opět problematicky dostupné. Situaci řešíme.

@iDNES_vyber

Zprávy iDNES.cz


That’s right, they’ve been hacked! There’s a lot of that going around among news organizations these days. Should you desire to access their website, it might not be working quite yet.

CORRECTION: Klaus has not yet left the Czech Presidency, his last day is 7 March 2013. So the Senate’s action has caught him in the last days of his term. Naturally, there is hardly enough time to resolve the treason charges during his remaining time in office, so this impeachment cannot have the effect of removing him as president.

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In a Bit of a Jam

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Are you in or headed towards the Czech Republic, but still looking forward to your marmalade at breakfast time? Sorry, that’s probably not possible:

iDnes: Marmeláda se nevrátí, Unie odsoudila Česko k rosolu a džemu: Marmeláda se do regálů českých obchodů hned … http://t.co/6FXkUxdZ

@Zpravy

Zpravy


But don’t despair: it depends on what you call “marmalade,” as we learn from a recent article from Mladá fronta dnes. The European Commission is quite strict about what it allows to be called marmalade. That is one of the EU’s protected food designations – like “champagne” or “Parma ham” – so the Commission has demanding requirements: “marmalade” must at all times be made only of citrus fruits, and must have at a minimum 20% of actual fruit content.

A certain Czech foods company called Hamé realized it was about to get into trouble (e.g. incur fines) for calling some of its fruity breakfast-spread concoctions “marmalade” and so filed an appeal to be allowed an exception. That was rejected; the choices for the label are to be only “jam” (džem) or jelly (rosol). But it might still be what you yourself regard as “marmalade”; you’ll have to examine the label – yes, it will be in Czech, so instead just take the plunge and purchase a likely-looking jar and go home and see!

So now the Czech public can savor – if they haven’t had the chance before – the sort of laughable instance of EU interference in their everyday lives that people in older member-states have been complaining about for years. The thing is, that’s precisely the wrong audience, given the pronounced anti-EU attitudes already prevailing among many leading Czech politicians, notoriously headed by President Václav Klaus himself.

Finally, I mentioned that the Commission was “quite strict” about its protected designations, but that’s not quite true, even in the case of “marmalade”: in Denmark, Greece and Austria you can find products with that designation which do not meet the citrus fruit/20% content requirement. But that’s because the respective governments were careful to get their marmalade exemptions as their countries were becoming member-states, i.e. back when they had a little more leverage. The Czech authorities didn’t think of that back in 2004 when the Czech Republic entered the EU – they were busy defending designations a bit closer to home, like slivovice, a potent fruit-based alcohol.

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Not So Isolated

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s the make-or-break EU summit, going on now within the cavernous Justus Lipsius European Council building in the Brussels European Quarter. Will what issues from this conference be enough to save the euro?

The answer to that remains up in the air, as the summit continues into the weekend. What we do already know, however, is that an important split has occurred within the EU, resulting from the failure of German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy to have accepted by all 27 member-states their proposals for greater national budget control and coordination. Now the action on that front has shifted to the group of 17 member-states who actually use the euro.

The excellent “Charlemagne” commentator from the Economist has already termed this development Europe’s great divorce, in an article (in English, of course) featuring at its head a picture of the defiant-looking British PM David Cameron pointing an aggressive finger towards the camera. And indeed, this one and many other press reports from the summit would have their readers believe that the UK is isolated in its stand of resistance against those “Merkozy” proposals for greater EU power over national budgets. That is certainly also the message from the authoritative German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, where an analytical piece from Michael König is rather dramatically entitled Bulldog Cameron bites the British into isolation.

But such observers should be careful about rushing into any over-hasty conclusions. They should remember that a number of other member-states share an attitude towards the EU rather closer to that of the UK than Germany or France. The Czech Republic, for instance:

iDnes: Klaus a Telička schvalují rozvážnost v Bruselu, ČSSD varuje před izolací: Prezident Václav Klaus označil … http://t.co/Qh043Qmm

@Zpravy

Zpravy


(more…)

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A European Crisis Glossary

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Amid all the brouhaha about S&P downgrading its rating for US Government debt, the parallel ongoing crisis in Europe should not be forgotten. “Crisis”? Take it away, Nouriel:

Definition of “crisis”: when officials need to huddle up on a weekend before Asia opening to take decisions & do statements a turmoil rages

@Nouriel

Nouriel Roubini


The Czech daily Mladá fronta dnes, as caught by the @Zpravy Twitter-feed, has the details on this particular edition:

iDnes: Lídři EU chtějí rychle realizovat závěry summitu. Uklidní tak trhy: Vlády musí urychleně dokončit dohody … http://bit.ly/oLaqvt

@Zpravy

Zpravy


Turns out, if you like, that you can blame everything on European vacation syndrome (e.g. “No one touches my August holiday!”): EU leaders want to quickly carry out changes from summit, that way they’ll calm markets is the headline here.

  • “Summit”? That’s the one they just had, of course, an extraordinary convening in Brussels on July 21 in reaction to the Italy/Spain funding troubles.
  • “Changes”? That has to do with the European Financia Stability Facility (EFSF), which leaders at that summit agreed would be beefed up to better be able to intervene to assist eurozone member-states in financial need, eventually even becoming a sort of European Monetary Fund.

(more…)

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Czech Police Dum-Dums

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Pssssssst – looking to wreak some mayhem? Maybe a stag-party the likes of which has ever been seen? Well, turns out the police in the Czech Republic are running seriously short of ammunition for the 9mm handguns. This bit of helpful information has just recently been revealed . . . by Mladá fronta dnes (on-line idnes.cz), merely the top-circulation mainstream newspaper in the whole country!

Police having a hard time loading pistols, are sharing out last supplies
The police are struggling with a shortage of 9mm ammunition, which is fired by the service-pistols of practically every officer of the law. Police commanders assert that a disturbance in the procurement procedure is at fault and that they’re already preparing a new one. Meanwhile well-supplied police agents are sharing with those having trouble with their supplies.

So go ahead, head on over there, find some outlet ready to sell/rent you some firearms (harder than in the US, but by no means impossible), and go to town: you’ll surely out-gun the local authorities. Especially after you realize, along with me, that that picture of a well-filled box of ammo at the top of the on-line article indicates no relief: those are military rifle-grade rounds, not pistol ammunition.

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Communist Poland Sheltered, Armed Palestinian Terrorists

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

An interesting revelation came to light just yesterday, in a program broadcast on the private Polish TV station TVN. So far – strangely – I have found the story picked up only by the premier Flemish newspaper De Standaard and by the Czech mainstream daily Mladá fronta dnes. (That’s right: nothing in the Polish on-line press, yet.)

Of particular interest in that program was the interview it included with former Polish general Czesław Kiszczak, who headed the Interior Ministry of that then-Communist country from 1981 through 1989 – thus for the entire period of martial law that was initiated in mid-December 1981 in response to the growth in popularity of the Solidarity movement. General Kiszczak was willing to openly admit that Communist Poland provided shelter and weapons to Palestinian terrorists on the lam during the 1970s and 1980s, including to Abu Nidal, head of the Black September group which was responsible for the hostage-taking and massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 summer Olympic games in Munich, among other incidents. “We closed our eyes to the fact that they came to Poland to recuperate and equip themselves for further terrorist actions,” Kiszczak admitted. Poland was also quite willing to help with such preparations by selling these militants as many weapons as they wanted. Abu Nidal was even allowed to run a business in Poland – known by the name or abbreviation “SAS” according to the MFD account – for a while in the 1980s.

Former Polish president Wojciech Jaruzelski (thus Kiszczak’s colleague and immediate superior) was also interviewed for the program, according to De Standaard’s account. He could not recall anything of the sort happening.

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Vikings vs. Pirates

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

The pirate threat in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast is still very real, and Denmark recently was given the opportunity for the very first time to be in charge of the collection of NATO frigates (currently four) conducting anti-pirate operations in that area under the name Operation Ocean Shield. From January 25 Danish fleet admiral Christian Rune took over command, as his flagship Absalon set sail for the area after a stop in port at Muscat, the capital of Oman. He will stay in charge until March.

(Absalon – pictured here, photocredit to Uncle Buddha on Flickr – was the “fighting archbishop” of the Danish Middle Ages, who did much to build up Copenhagen towards the city it was to become by building a fort there. His statue is there in the city’s center, mounted on a magnificent rearing horse, in Højbroplads – that’s the square right by the Folketing, Denmark’s one-chamber parliament. The main sort of enemy he fought in his day, it turns out, was in fact Baltic Sea pirates.)

It’s no surprise that the Absalon has already seen some action, and the Danish press is following along to report. (more…)

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Was Swine Flu Just a Hoax?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

It’s all there in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Just months after rushing to order enough swine-flu vaccine to protect their citizens, European governments are canceling orders and trying to sell or give away extra doses as they sit on a glut of the vaccine.

The main reason: European health officials decided that only one shot per person was needed, instead of the two originally planned.

Actually, there may have been another reason, as announced in the headline of the Czech Republic’s largest-circulation mainstream paper Mladá fronta dnes: Expert: Swine flu pandemic is a swindle by the pharmaceutical companies.

That’s right, it is alleged their profits were not all that they should be, so the drug companies manufactured a crisis to pump up sales revenue by at least millions. But who is the “expert” making this claim? His name is Wolfgang Wodarg, and he is chairman of the Health Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. (Note: that has no direct connection to the European Union, it’s a completely separate – in fact, earlier – organization. I know, it’s confusing . . .) And it seems that that Parliamentary Assembly will debate this question later this month, so maybe we’ll hear more about it then and become better able to judge.

Fortunately, the MFD article cited another piece giving all the details in the UK’s Daily Mail, so you can read about them there. But it also links to an article it published itself (i.e. in the Czech paper MFD) last July, about how the prominent Czech politician (and former Minister for Health) David Rath was also of the opinion that swine flu was just some sort of fraud for the benefit of the drug companies.

UPDATE: And indeed, French president Sarkozy’s house-newspaper Le Figaro is now announcing that the swine-flu epidemic there (known as “H1N1”) is over, according to an organization of French doctors called Réseau [i.e. network] Sentinelles France. At the same time, the article’s author (mysteriously known only as “C.J.”) says that it’s still recommended that one get immunized – the disease “could know a rebound.”

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Don’t Look Now – Don’t Look Ever – But New Miss Saudi Arabia Crowned!

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Miss SAOh joy! Longer-term €S readers will remember all the way back to May, when I first brought you word in this space about the “Miss Saudi Arabia” pageant. Due to the . . . er . . . somewhat different nature of that extravaganza’s judging-process, it takes rather longer than your average beauty pageant. But now this year’s winner has finally been crowned, and that is eighteen-year-old Aya Ali Mulla. I had not really been on the look-out for any sort of follow-up to May’s story – I promise! – but my RSS feeds nonetheless came up for me big-time and alerted me to recent coverage of that pageant’s outcome from the Czech press, namely from Lidové noviny and Mladá fronta dnes. These articles are (almost) the same, as they both are by-lined to the same Czech press agency piece. For example, they have similar headlines: “Saudi Arabia has new Miss, but no one has seen her” and “Miss Saudi Arabia’s face seen only by female jury-members,” respectively.

Naturally, both Czech papers ultimately refer back to the Saudi press for coverage of this marquee event, but have to report that no Saudi paper was actually able to state what it was about Ms. Mulla* that catapulted her to victory. It was easier just to report what she won: an amount in riyals that, from the Czech-crown equivalent that is cited, seems to be just under €1,000; a pearl necklace; some diamonds (mounted on what, is not revealed); a wristwatch; and a paid vacation to Malaysia, which, although of course another Islamic land, is a pretty nice place to visit, I’ve heard. There’s also further detail here on one of the event’s key competitions, the “How much do you respect your mother?” event: apparently contestants each spend an entire day out “in the country” with their own mother, under the observation of one of the jury-members (wielding a clipboard, no doubt). I say, get coverage of that on the X-Games channel, pronto!

The Czech papers are able to contribute some added detail, perhaps somewhat wistfully, about another beauty pageant held in the Arab world that does actually conform a bit more tightly to what most of the rest of the world understands by the concept, namely the one for Miss Lebanon, where the girls do actually appear in swimsuits (one-piece only, though) and in evening gowns, and are interviewed in front of an audience. In contrast, returning again to Saudi Arabia, the LN article states “Beauty competitions there only have to do with goats, sheep, camels, and other animals” – despite the considerable effort required each year to get the camels into their one-piece bathing-suits!

[Cymbal crash] No, that last part I made up myself . . .

*Quite a suitable name, eh? No, I’m not making it up, click through above to the articles and see for yourself if you want. But don’t be fooled when you see the winner’s last name as “Mullaová”: that last “-ová” part is added routinely in Czech, Slovak, and some other Slavic languages to women’s last names.

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“He Kissed Me – and My World Started to Spin!”

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

The popular Czech daily Mladá fronta dnes shows how determined it is to stay on top of key events, wherever they might be occuring in the world, with its recent article Pow to the nose! And where’s the ring? Pair from New York wed in a state of weightlessness.

Yes, it’s the story of that wild-and-crazy guy-and-gal from Gotham who recently set a mark of some sort by becoming the first (known) pair in history to marry in zero-gravity. They achieved this by arranging for the ceremony to go down (so to speak) in the 27-meter cargo-cabin of “G-Force One,” the Boeing 727-200 owned by a company that enables people to experience weightlessness – for more-extended periods than, say, on a roller-coaster – by constantly diving while in flight. Apparently the bride, one Erin Finnegan (“Erin Finneganová” in Czech) had been to too many boring weddings and so let her imagination take flight when it came to contemplating the details of her own.

Naturally, it’s not like MFD got any sort of scoop here; a wacky human-interest story like this one is sure to get its share of English-language press-coverage as well, as the wedding ceremony duly did in other places like the New York Daily News, the Telegraph (UK), and the Daily Mirror (also UK). But comparing the coverage, I’d have to say that the (unattributed) Czech reporter/rewrite-man did a very good job indeed. Regarding that “Pow to the Nose!” (Bum do nosu! in Czech) from the title, for example, the MFD article (only) quotes Finneganová about the climactic kiss at the ceremony’s end as follows: “Noah rather socked me on the nose. I thought I was going to bleed.” It also exclusively adds the interesting detail that the bride relied, not on heavy hairspray, but actually on wires for her coiffure to keep it well-behaved during the ceremony’s twists and turns. (Props to the Telegraph, though, for this vital detail: “His wife [i.e. Finneganová] wore a designer wedding dress with trousers to protect her modesty during weightlessness.” I was wondering about that.)

Oh, and MFD has three excellent photos of the ceremony on the article’s webpage itself, accompanied by this excellent supplementary photo-series.

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Czech Reputation on the Line

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Notice anything different today? Do you feel that edginess in the air? OK, those of you reading this from outside of Europe are probably too far away to get the full effect, but what about all you Europeans? After all, as the Czech daily Lidové noviny writes, “All of Europe is following along today with tension to see whether the Czech Senate ratifies the Lisbon Treaty which is supposed to reform the EU.”

OK, maybe the local Czech press is overstating somewhat the general interest in what the Senate has before it (although the Czech Senate Press Office does report the presence today of seventy journalists and eleven foreign film-crews, including one even from Hong Kong.) Still, the fact remains that, three months after the lower house of the Czech parliament approved the Lisbon Treaty, today the vote is to be held to see whether the upper house does the same (which is required, of course, along with the presidential signature, for the Czech Republic formally to approve it). (more…)

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Dry Presidential Groupie

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

After Barack Obama finished up his speech on Sunday to the tens of thousands present on Prague’s Castle (Hradčanské) Square, he decided to wade into the crowd a bit. In the process, one enthusiastic Czech got so close as to pat the head of the Most Powerful Man on Earth.

An article in the largest-circulation quality Czech daily, Mladá fronta dnes (I patted Obama on the head. He hugged me.), has the details about this character, as well as a couple of pictures of the incident in question so you can decide just how outraged you’d care to be. That guy’s name is Jaroslav Suchý (a fairly common Czech last-name; it means “dry”), and he’s no stranger to the Czech security service. But hold on, it’s not what you think: as the head of that organization, Lubomír Kvíčala, told MFD:

That person who lightly touched the president on his hair I know. We already encountered him a couple of times at previous visits of the American president Bush and at a visit by Mrs. [Condoleezzaa] Rice. He is just enthusiastic about such visits and loves them. He’s definitely not dangerous.

According to Suchý himself, he was waiting at the checkpoint offering access to Castle Square from midnight Saturday, i.e. seven hours before the gates were opened for the public, and other on-the-scene MFD reporters confirm that he was among the first to be admitted by police, which enabled him to rush up to grab a prime position up front (into what generally would be termed the “mosh pit” in a rock-concert context – here, it turned into the “press-the-flesh zone”). As one such reporter states, “[f]or a whole three hours he loudly let people in his vicinity know how he was looking forward to the speech.” And Suchý himself also told MFD that “although I don’t really speak English, I clapped at every one of Obama’s sentences. Despite the fact that I was mainly looking at the president rather than the [translated] sub-titles.”

The article goes on to note that, when Jaroslav Suchý is not tracking down and applauding high-ranking American officials, he is pursuing a case in the Czech courts seeking compensation for being forced to attend “special schools” (i.e. schools for the handicapped), which he claims he was forced into solely because of the color of his skin. Perhaps some of you, examining the article’s photos again, may think this is some sort of joke, but it likely is not: the Czech Republic does still have an ethnic-discrimination problem, although it is not directed against black people (who are exceedinly rare) but against the Romany, or “gypsies.” So apparently the authorities where Suchý grew up kept classifying him as a gypsy.

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Klement, You Were the Weakest Link!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Photo credit: che, from Wikipedia

Photo credit: che, from Wikipedia

All visitors to Prague will eventually encounter Vítkov Hill (pictured here), which forms one part of the boundary between Prague 8 (Karlín, on the south bank of the Vltava river, to the left side here) and Prague 3 (Žižkov). You can’t miss it because 1) It’s a massive, stand-alone hill near the center of town covered almost entirely by trees, and 2) At its western end (that is, closest to the city center, that we can see here), it features a massive equestrian statue – the largest in the world – of Jan Žižka, the one-eyed general of the Hussite Wars.
Just beyond that statue is another gigantic building, the National Mausoleum, intended to be the resting- (and exhibition-) place for the remains of Czechoslovakia’s leadership throughout the glorious thousand-year epoch of Communist brotherhood that was supposed to have been inaugurated by the coup d’état in Prague culminating on 25 February 1948. Much like Lenin in Red Square, the mummified body of the leader of that coup , Klement Gottwald, was in fact exhibited at the National Mausoleum from shortly after his death in March, 1953, until 1962 – when it had reached such an advanced state of decay due to the mishandled mummification process that it had to be cremated.
To the outside observer, there is an important clue there in the gaping contrast between the ostentatious facilities built to celebrate Gottwald’s legacy and the ultimate messy disposal of his remains – although the Czechs themselves long ago dismissed him as merely a stooge for Stalin, affording him little to no respect (unless required to by their position) even back when he was the country’s president. Now, just after the commemoration of the 61st anniversary of that coup, comes an article in the largest-circulation Czech broadsheet newspaper Mladá fronta dnes disclosing that things were even worse than most Czechs had assumed: for most of his presidency, Gottwald was in fact a serious alcoholic completely incapable of carrying out his presidential functions. (more…)

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Harry, You Don’t Sound Like A Royal

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Prince Harry, third-in-line to the British throne, is going back to school. His record of non-PC utterances that have escaped to public scrutiny has now lengthened to the point that a place has been hastily reserved for him in the British Army’s “Equality and Diversity” course, designed to instill in its students some sort of self-restraint for when they otherwise might be tempted to use insensitive language when referring to (or addressing directly, for that matter) minority groups.

As you might expect, amused coverage of this latest stage in the young prince’s education can be found in a number of Europe’s on-line papers. I sort of like best, though, the treatment in the Czech Republic’s widest-circulation mainstream daily, Mladá fronta dnes (Prince Harry gains himself a behavior-course for his racist utterances). If you want to click on that link you can see one reason why right away: the photo there shows the prince on duty in Afghanistan, to be sure, but he’s revving through the desert on a motorcycle (wearing no helmet, naturally – but that’s just the old fart in me speaking), in front of two heavily-laden personnel-carriers and a couple of his soldier-mates who presumably must content themselves with such steerage-class transportation. Let me add now a couple more observations based upon having had the same sort of experience (i.e. deployed in wartime to the desert with armored vehicles) in my own life: what with the red coloring and what seems to be an abundance of other shiny metal, that motorcycle is for sure not “tactical,” i.e. does not belong in an environment where other people, somewhere out there, are authorized to shoot you and your companions if they can just find you, aim, and fire. Also, Harry lives fully up to his name (and I don’t mean “Windsor,” he’s not wearing a tie): the officer that I was back during my own desert deployment (1991) would immediately send him straight off to some sergeant to get a proper military haircut.

But the MFD article is a winner in a couple other ways, too. It turns out that this will in fact be the second time Harry is sent to such a course; the article notes that “the present course should however be more intensive.” And one’s curiosity is satisfied here about just how it is that you say “Paki” and “black guy” in Czech. (Respectively, it’s Pakoše and černouš; the latter stems from Harry’s remark of a few months ago to British comedian Stephen Amos, “You don’t sound like a black chap.”)

For the record, EuroSavant is much more on Harry’s case for his evident tactical shortcomings, as newly-revealed in this Profimedia.cz photo, than his remarks, which actually seem a certain cut above what we were used to hearing from fellow British and American officers back-in-the-day. But he’s a royal, a British state employee of a very unique sort, so he can’t be allowed to talk like any other 24-year-old British Army officer would be naturally inclined to speak.

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Bookworm Champs

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

So how are you going to spend your upcoming Christmas holidays? Curled up with a stack of books? Yes, it’s true that Xmas customs vary widely from culture to culture, but if you’re Czech it seems pretty likely that that’s exactly what you have planned, if we can go by an interview just published in Mladá fronta dnes (If Czech, then book-lover: According to survey Czechs are among the most-active readers).

The interview is with Prof. Jirí Trávnícek of Prague’s Charles Univerity, who was heavily involved with a recent survey about Czech reading habits carried out jointly by the (Czech) National Library and the Institute for Czech Literature of the (Czech) Academy of Sciences. And sure enough, that survey (termed the “most extensive so far” even as the good professor reveals towards the interview’s end that the sample was but 1,500 people) shows that the Czechs are among the top readers in the European Union, and indeed in the entire world. (more…)

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Dissent = Treason

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Oh joy! In Russia government authorities have now submitted a law to the Duma (parliament) designed to re-define the legal definition of treason. Up to now that has been defined simply as “activities carried out with the aim of damaging internal security,” but the Kremlin proposes to change that to “any act carried out with the intention of threatening the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.” This news comes from the Czechs, who have a considerable stock of their own of both experience with the Russians and of laws equating opposing the State to treason. Specifically, it comes from an article in the largest-circulation non-tabloid daily, Mladá fronta dnes: Kremlin wants law to forbid criticism of state. (The article has multiple references to a treatment of the issue in the London Times, but all that I found on-line was this, which covers the separate issue of a recently-approved bill in the Duma that ended trial-by-jury for terror and treason cases.)

The important thing to note here is that, while this is so far only a legislative proposal, it is certain to become Russian law, given how packed the Duma is (two-thirds) with supporters of the Government, specifically with members of the ruling United Russia party. But it goes even further, also outlawing any provision of financial, material, or technical aid or advice to “suspicious” foreign organizations. What makes a foreign organization “suspicious”? When it is after state secrets. In practice, this means that Russian citizens can get in trouble even for talking with foreigners, and certainly for contacting any outside journalists.

As cherry-on-the-top, the Mladá fronta dnes article features some comments on those who would be “traitors” to the Russian state from Andrei Lugovoy. He’s the one, you might recall, whom Scotland Yard strongly suspects to be the killer (by radioactive polonium 210) of the anti-Putin KGB renegade Alexander Litvinenko, but whom Russia refuses to extradite to the UK. With his legal safety extra-protected by his status as Duma representative, Lugovoy feels no particular reason to shut up, and the article quotes him telling the Spanish newspaper El País that, if it were up to him, “traitors” would simply be executed: “If someone caused serious damage to the Russian state, he should be disposed of.”

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Longest – and Dirtiest? – Campaign Ever

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Tired of all the US election news? (“Obama, McCain, Obama, Palin, William Ayers, Rashid Khalidi . . .” and on and on.) Well, today is the day before Election Day 2008: here at EuroSavant I just can’t stop now – and you can be quite sure that I’ll be monitoring foreign coverage of the results later this week as well. Just be patient, all of this will soon pass . . .

In the meantime, you have the occasional foreign article about the US elections that you rather wish did not have to be there, like what we see today in the main Czech daily Mladá fronta dnes: You’ll be arrested at the polls, leaflets mislead American voters. The lede:

In the last hours before the presidential elections American voters are being flooded with dirty tricks. Misleading e-mails go to Americans, disquieting telephone calls occur, and people find under their doors slanderous pamphlets. Their purpose is to dissuade people from voting, to mislead and confuse them. A part of these tricks this year have a racist flavor due to Barack Obama’s dark skin.

The article (no by-line given) proceeds to give a pretty good list of the various don’t-get-out-the-vote schemes that have been uncovered so far; some of them I hadn’t even heard of yet. (more…)

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Heading for the Exits

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Back to the subject of Iceland, which holds the doubtful distinction of occupying the current financial crisis’ leading-edge of economic suffering. As the FT recently reported, that country’s monetary authorities have now had to raise interest rates for the Icelandic krona to a record 18% as one condition for receiving what is still a “proposed” $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The future will seemingly bring a 10% contraction of the economy there, with simultaneous 8% unemployment and 20%-plus inflation.

I’m afraid I do not possess the skills in Icelandic to start investigating that country’s on-line press to look deeper into this mess that way. But there’s at least some interesting coverage from the Czech Republic’s leading general-interest quality daily, Mladá fronta dnes, in the form of an article Alarmed by the crisis, a third of Icelanders consider moving out of the country. (more…)

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It’s the “Czech Republic” – Get It Right!

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Oops, he did it again: At a press conference last Monday, John McCain made reference to the Russian government cutting off energy supplies to “Czechoslovakia,” a country that has not actually existed since it split apart into the Czech Republic and Slovakia as of 1 January 1993. And it’s not like that was the first time he has made this mistake.

No, not at all – and you can be sure that the Czechs themselves are watching closely and keeping track, as we can gather from today’s article on the website of the Czech Republic’s leading general interest newspaper, Mladá fronta dnes (Even after 15 Years the World Confuses Czechs with Slovaks, Chechens, and Chess-Players). In fact, author Jan Wirnitzer crowns the presumed Republican presidential candidate with the “Greatest Endurance in Repeating a Mistake” award, recounting how he also mistakenly spoke of Czechoslovakia in his first presidential campaign of eight years ago, and then also three months ago. (more…)

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So You Think You’re So Smart . . .

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Calling all intelligence test devotees! You think you’re pretty good? Are you up for a new challenge? How about an IQ test in Czech? Mladá fronta dnes offers you one here.

Actually, it shouldn’t be that intimidating. Of course you’re wondering what question one is all about: all that explanatory text and then only one choice for an answer, labeled “START.” What that’s about, is that you get 52 points (out of a possible maximum of 142) for free, just by checking that box. They need to do that to calibrate the test, it seems; the final score you get in the end should correspond to the real IQ it reflects.

Going on: Really, you should give this a shot, it’s often easy to understand the questions – which are often expressed numerically – and then it’s often easy to answer. For example, question 4 should be clear: what is the next number that belongs in the series “16 – 34 – 70 – 142 – 286 – ?” Anyway, good luck.

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Ahmadinejad to Visit Iraq Beginning of March

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

The website of the mass-circulation Czech daily Mladá fronta dnes reports today that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to pay a two-day visit to Iraq starting on 2 March. It will be the very first visit ever to Iraq by the president of the Islamic Republic (which, however, has only existed since 1979). Ahmadinejad was invited there by the Iraqi president, the Kurd Jalal Talabani. The Mladá fronta dnes article – without a byline; it seems it derives to a large degree from reports from the Czech news agency CTK – claims that the US supports the vist as a means to improve Iranian-Iraqi relations. At the same time, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe called on Iran to cease its alleged support for “extremists in Iraq.”

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Equal Rights for National Defense in the Czech Republic

Friday, January 7th, 2005

With the new year a new national defense law came into effect in the Czech Republic – one that marks a change from most such regimes in the Western world in that it no longer discriminates between the obligations of men and women. This development is tracked in a handful of articles in the Czech press – here, here, and here – which soon all started to sound rather alike to me, until I realized that they are basically the same article from CTK, the Czech News Agency! So take your pick, although the first article (from MFDnes) has the best photo of uniformed babes, if you’re into that sort of thing. (more…)

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Czech Republic at Rear of Cigarette Pack

Wednesday, October 13th, 2004

A notable topic covered lately in the Czech press is one of that country’s chief vices: smoking. That coverage does not really concern the associated damage to one’s health and the fact that anyone who can quit really should – the Czechs know about all that already. Rather, what has occurred is two recent developments with seemingly opposite meanings for the country’s smoking classes, but which in the end still basically leave them gasping for air. (more…)

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Slainte! to a New EU Official Language?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2004

Slainte? That’s Irish, or Gaelic (henceforth we’ll use the latter) for the salutation made at a toast with alcoholic drinks – as in “Bottom’s up!” or “Here’s to you!” – and the Irish hope to be commemorating soon with a celebratory round of the finest Irish whiskey the addition of Gaelic to the EU’s corridors of power. As reported by the sharped-eyed Hana Lesenarová of the Czech daily Mladá fronta dnes (Ireland Desires Recognition of its Original Language in the EU), the Irish government decided this week – “unanimously,” whatever that means – to ask the EU to recognize Gaelic as its twenty-first official language. (Yes, it’s a little bizarre to be reading this news in Czech. I did consult the Irish Times, but didn’t find any mention – although much of that website is shut off behind pay-per-view.) (more…)

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Reader’s Digest Euro-Poll

Monday, June 21st, 2004

The main Czech Daily Mladá fronta dnes today reports the results of a recent pan-European survey undertaken on behalf of Reader’s Digest (and conducted in nineteen countries) on the attitudes of European peoples towards each other and towards each other’s countries and cities. Given its location and function, the paper is obliged constantly to remind its readers that the Czech Republic (and, indeed, all of Central Europe) generally finishes rather low in all results (except for Prague, in the list of favorite European cities). But enough of that, it’s the results that are interesting – naming whoever needs to be named, without fear or favor – and they’re as follows (in order from the first-place on down, and with percentage results when available from the article): (more…)

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Something Rotten in Czech Football

Thursday, May 20th, 2004

We go today to the Czech press, and specifically to the commentary weekly Respekt, for news about a shocking development there that I somehow missed. Apparently, the Czech national football league (that’s “soccer” to some of you) has been revealed as deeply corrupt. Of the sixteen teams that make up the Czech first division, fourteen were implicated, in investigative articles published late last week, in the practice of bribing referees to influence the results of games. As Respekt’s article (Czech Football: End of the Illusion) details, these payments didn’t even feature the twisted elegance of being made to secret accounts in Switzerland or the Caribbean; they were made in cash, “from hand to hand behind the gas pump or in underground garages.” As a result, in that paper’s opinion, “after May, 2004, no one can believe anymore in the cleanness [cistota] of Czech football.” (more…)

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Six of One, Half-A-Dozen of the Other

Wednesday, April 7th, 2004

Let’s continue today our “When Good Central European Electorates Go Bad” series in which, while defending to the death the right of voters there to choose the governments they want, we take out our spectacles, lean in for a closer look, and then blurt out “You want to choose that lot?!”

Today’s subject is one I mentioned in passing in this weblog’s last post, namely the seemingly unstoppable ascent of Vladimir Meciar to the presidency of the Slovak Republic. I took a closer look myself, and while the crisp, succinct, bottom-line summary of what’s going on that I’ve just given you is bad enough, in fact the situation viewed more broadly is even worse – not that there aren’t plenty of comic elements that can’t be extracted to put a little sugar on the bitter pill. Or at least that’s for those of you who are not Slovak and so will not have to live through the next few years with the results of what is about to happen. We’ll do our best to do this in the following, so get yourself in tune for some bittersweet humor. (more…)

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The Coming Dot-Com Goldmine

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

As we get very close to Christmas, much of the press that I monitor is getting rather insular, if not downright silly. (Like how about the photos of six famous Czechs and their born-in-2003 babies on the very front page of today’s Mladá fronta dnes (PDF format)?) I guess this is the time of year when nothing much is supposed to happen – at least now that there aren’t that many naughty Communists around, who invaded Afghanistan and then Vietnam in successive Christmas seasons back in the 1970s.

At least it’s also the season for looking back at the preceding year and ahead at what’s to come, something at least potentially of interest to those outside of a given paper’s immediate readership. Germany’s Die Zeit is always a good bet for engaging general-interest content; what caught my eye in its latest issue was Return of the Dot-coms?. Get your business plans ready: “The technology-crash is over, and the Internet is becoming a goldmine again,” writer Thomas Fischermann announces in the article’s lead-in. (more…)

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Countdown to the Brussels Summit III: Unborn EU Constitution Already Has First Prominent Rejector

Wednesday, December 10th, 2003

As we’re all painfully aware, the Constitution (or, properly, “Constitutional Treaty”) for the European Union is still only in draft form. It awaits final approval (in whichever mutually-agreed altered form) from the governments of twenty-five member-states (present, and the ten of the immediate future) which is supposed to come out of the summit of heads-of-government starting this Friday in Brussels – “supposed to.” There will then follow ratification processes in all those twenty-five states, lasting through the first half of 2004, and themselves by no means assured of resulting in approval in all cases.

There’s a long road yet to go for the Constitution, then. Nonetheless, one EU head-of-state has already come out against it – or perhaps “future EU head-of-state” would be more accurate, since that was Czech President Václav Klaus, who on Monday declared Byl bych radsí, kdyby zadná taková ústava nebyla prijata, or “I would rather that no constitution of this sort be accepted.” (Sorry, Czech purists: as usual, some diacritics have had to be omitted.) He uttered this after a meeting at which Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla briefed him on the negotiating mandate the Czech delegation (headed by Spidla) will take into this weekend’s EU summit.

On the subject of Czech press coverage of this, I would like to start off with where there isn’t any, namely in Lidové noviny, which skipped Klaus’ declaration entirely. (Could this have to do with the fact that LN is the paper closest to Klaus – he wrote a regular column for it in his pre-presidential days – and that this anti-Constitution declaration might be viewed by some as embarrassing?) (more…)

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