August 2000  

August 26, 2000
The Bamberg Affair. An incredibly ridiculous scandal bearing the name of an incredibly beautiful Bavarian city. It involves allegations that Prime Minister Zeman, while still leading the opposition, met a Swiss businessman there in order to peddle influence for money. President Havel, eager to have any one other than then Prime Minister Klaus in power, threw his weight behind Zeman, declaring that "dark forces" were behind the allegations. The businessman was eventually committed to an insane asylum and Zeman was exonerated, but not before accusing the Freedom Union Party of fabricating the whole affair. Do the math and that means he also thinks the Freedom Union is behind the Olovo campaign. But wait, now he's saying that the newspaper which broke the story actually broke into his office and planted Olovo in one of the computers. He's even filed a criminal complaint against the newspaper to prove it. All of which sounds like the wrong man got committed.

August 19, 2000
The code name was Olovo. It's the Czech word for lead, as in to pump someone full of lead. In this case, it more refers to the chemical symbol for lead, Pb, which happens to be the initials of the most popular politician in the country, Petra Buzkova. She was the rising star of the Social Democrats until she fell out with her boss, Prime Minister Zeman, over policy issues. A gruff ex-communist given to smoking and sweating in public, Mr. Zeman is surrounded by advisors who decided it was time to do something about Mrs. Buzkova. They came up with Operation Olovo, a smear campaign which they hoped would take her down a notch or two before elections in November. Word about it got out before it got off the ground, leaving the advisors pointing the finger at one another. "He did it...no, he did it...no, he did it." The Prime Minister chimed in with his own he-did-it, now is hinting that it wasn't his people, rather the same ones behind the Bamberg Affair. The Bamberg Affair? Stay tuned.

August 12, 2000
Ah, fresh air! So said the president as he returned from his villa in Portugal. He was, of course, referring to the air in Portugal. After being a chain smoker most of his life, Havel needs lots of fresh air and the Czech Republic, with its smokestack in every picture, just doesn't cut it. One company with lots of these smokestacks is Chemapol. A few years ago it bought a choice piece of property in Prague from Havel for several million dollars. Havel and his wife used the proceeds to buy this villa and plan to spend a lot of time there. Lest anyone thinks wealth and power have gone to their heads, the Havels flew back on a normal passenger airline with other Czech tourists. But they managed to screw even that up by insisting that their dogs sit with them in first class. Such liberty could be forgiven by a people obsessed with dogs, but their refusal to sign autographs for the passengers didn't sit well at all. The First Lady later explained that the problem was the passengers wanted the president to affix his signature to their tickets instead of to a picture of him. Not dignified enough. It must have been a shock for her to learn that Czech tourists don't normally carry a picture of her husband with them on vacation.

August 5, 2000
The hot water is back on again. Every summer it goes off for at least a week so the water company can purge the pipes. That doesn't mean the residents of Frydek-Mistek save any money on their water bill for the time it's off. In fact, they can end up paying more because the purge, which turns the water tangy orange, takes place through the cold tap. If you want any water at all, you have to use the hot tap. The water is just as cold as the orange stuff, but as far as the water company is concerned, your meter looks like somebody has been taking a lot of steamy showers that week. The reality is you cook water on the stove and take a sponge bath in good Amish fashion. Reality doesn't come cheap in this country.