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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Of Gloom, Expensive Hotels, and Transport Problems

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2003

We’re back to Euro 2004 Group D: “Group of Death” analysis today, and it’s the turn of the Czech press, featuring an interview with Czech national team coach Karel Brückner, plus one with Czech team captain Pavel Nedved – plus more individual quotes from various figures. But the thing that I really wanted to show you I can’t, because it’s a copyrighted picture, capturing Brückner at the moment of last Sunday’s drawing, which appeared on the front page of Monday’s Mladá fronta dnes: He is shown there in Lisbon in his suit, with his FIFA badge around his neck, clutching his head in disbelief and amazement (although still smiling), and the caption reads “Ajajaj!” – which is Czech for Mexican, if you get what I’m saying. (more…)

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“Good-Bye, Lenin” – Hello, Communism?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2003

Today we return after a long absence to the Czech press and, once again, the timing is propitious. For yesterday was the last day of a three-day weekend in the Czech Republic, since each year 17 November is celebrated as the day, in 1989, of the brutally-suppressed student demonstration against the Czechoslovak Communist regime that set off the “Velvet Revolution.” This would topple that regime in short order, and replace it with a new government, most of whose key functionaries (including foreign minister – Jiri Dienstbier, formerly your friendly neighborhood window-washer – but of course topped of by President Václav Havel) were plucked either from jail or demeaning manual occupations.

(Actually, 17 November was an important day of commemoration even before 1989. That was the day in 1939 when the Nazi occupiers moved against university student agitators by executing nine of them, sending a further 1,200 to concentration camps, and closing down all Czech universities. The students of 1989 therefore had for 17 November a ready-made, “50th anniversary” pretext to gain from the Communist authorities license to hold demonstrations – except that it soon turned out that they were against the then-government, and the riot police moved in.)

The thing is, this year 17 November has for many a sad and ironic tinge to it, and that is because that same Communist Party is now the second most-popular political party in national opinion polls, and is openly planning its path into government again by means of elections that have to occur by 2006. But is it really “that same Communist Party”? That’s the Kc 64,000 question. For now, let it suffice to say that the KSCM (Czech initials for the “Communist Party of the Czech Lands and Moravia”) has never renounced the policies or the behavior of its totalitarian predecessor, the KSC (“Communist Party of Czechoslovakia”), beyond some grudging admissions that “it’s true certain mistakes were made.” This sets it apart from almost all of what used to be its “fraternal socialist” ruling-party counterparts elsewhere in the East Bloc – with the exception, of course, of the Russian Communist Party. (There’s also a similarly-unreformed Communist Party of Slovakia.) On the other hand, the Communist parties in Poland and Hungary, to cite but two prominent examples, have gone down another path since 1989: they have transformed themselves into true social democratic parties and are in fact both currently the party of government in their respective countries! (Not that either is having a very easy time of it, but that’s another story . . .)

It’s no surprise, then, that although the growing political power of the KSCM should be something of note regardless of the time of year, the November 17 holiday, a holiday of liberation from Communism, naturally helps to focus public attention on the issue. (That should probably also have been true of a recent incident in which the new memorial to the victims of Communism in Prague – dedicated only last year – was vandalized, but I didn’t pick up any mention of this in the articles that follow.)

The leading Czech business newspaper Hospodarske noviny was on top of all this as early as last Friday with a series of articles on the Czech Communists. (more…)

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Has the Stanley Cup gone missing?

Friday, August 1st, 2003

Summertime is here – and that’s not ice hockey-time anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, of course. (Its winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but there they simply don’t play ice hockey.) Instead, summertime is “Stanley Cup Tour” time, i.e. when each player on the NHL Stanley Cup-winning team (plus, apparently, “franchise staff”) gets to “take possession” of the Cup for 24 hours in his hometown, wherever that may happen to be. This year you can keep track of the Stanley Cup Tour (on a rather delayed and incomplete basis, I have to say) on the website of the Hockey Hall of Fame. For example, the Cup made the trek up to Anchorage, Alaska, on July 15, because New Jersey Devil center Scott Gomez hails from there. (This was not for the first time; Gomez was also on the Devils team that won the NHL championship back in 2000. You can read all about this year’s festivities here.)

One reason I have to add “delayed” to my description of the Devils’ Stanley Cup Tour site is that it is not on that site (nor, indeed, from any American on-line media I can find; no mention was made even on Google News) that one can read that the Cup has apparently gone missing – not in Alaska, granted, but on a trip it was supposed to make to the eastern Czech Republic/Slovakia. Instead, we’re tipped off about this in the Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes; they take hockey – and I mean NHL hockey – very seriously in that part of the world, too. (more…)

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Václav Sphinx

Monday, June 16th, 2003

Indulge me just a little, as I leave the Czech referendum story with a bit of tidying-up: you know, the results, the reaction. Once again, Mlada Fronta Dnes splashes an over-sized headline on its front page: “ANO EU: 77,33%.” (That’s 77,33% “Yes” on a turn-out of 55,21%, so once again anti-EU spoil-sports can point out that an actual majority of eligible voters did not approve EU accession.) To which the headline adds: “Spidla rejoices; Klaus stays silent.” (more…)

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It’s Czech Referendum Day!

Friday, June 13th, 2003

The Czech EU referendum is very, very near. Sure, we know that already, but even if we didn’t, we’d know something was up from today’s front page of the leading Czech daily, Mlada Fronta Dnes. Check it out for yourself (you can download the PDF here): the whole above-the-fold area is dominated by a huge “ANO” – which, it won’t surprise you to learn, means “Yes” in Czech. Directly underneath is the caption “Historical referendum: the accession of the Czech Republic into the EU is to be decided.” For those newspaper-buyers who, nonetheless, are not so much into reading text, up above there’s a whole gallery of famous Europeans. Take your pick (now, who wouldn’t want to join their company?): Günter Grass, Luis Figo (the football player for Real Madrid, but he’s Portuguese), Antonio Banderas, Margarethe II (present occupation: Queen of Denmark), and Ornella Mutti – from Italy; anybody ever heard of her? Wow: Guess who the MFDnes editors chose in the inside article (click on “15 tvárí Unii”) to represent Britain: Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean/Johnny English! Below, you can see for youself how serious premier Vladimir Spidla is about accession: he’s shown huffing and puffing (and wearing black business socks with his shorts and sneakers!) and racing EU ambassador Ramiro Cibrian in a “Eurorun.” (more…)

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Václav Klaus: Which Way Will He Vote?

Tuesday, June 10th, 2003

The countdown is on for the referendum in the Czech Republic on EU accession, to take place over next Friday and Saturday (13 and 14 June). As most of the other candidate countries have done, Czech authorities are also making use of the tactic of opening the voting centers over two days to encourage as large a turn-out as possible (although referenda in the Czech Republic do not have any legally-mandated level of participation, below which they become invalid). And the Prague authorities enjoy a further advantage: their referendum is towards the end in the series of candidate country referenda (only a couple of the Baltic countries remain), and the script has gone according to plan – all of the other countries voting before have voted “Yes” (if in some cases with distressingly-low levels of voter turn-out), so that puts further pressure on Czech voters not to show themselves to be the odd man out. (more…)

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UN General Assembly President Caught Up in Security Scandal

Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

The referendum dates for EU accession for Poland (7-9 June) and the Czech Republic (13-14 June) are drawing near, and will surely provide ample grist for the EuroSavant mill – soon, if not right now.

Right now, I’d like to discuss an interesting scandal raging in the Czech Republic. Interesting, because it reflects an ongoing problem for former Soviet block countries which have joined the NATO alliance, or which have been invited to or otherwise would like to, and also because it happens to implicate the current President of the United Nations General Assembly, the former Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan. (more…)

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