December 2000   česky

December 30, 2000
November 1989, thousands of demonstrators mass in Prague to protest against the Communist-led government. Their action proved successful. January 2001, thousand of demonstrators repeat the process to protest against the new general manager of Czech Television. They are partly successful in that the manager ends up in the hospital after collapsing under strain. But the struggle for Czech TV goes on and a special session of Parliament was called to address the situation. After 14 hours of debate, in which the prime minister lashed out at everyone, its resolution was clear: The general manager need not leave the hospital too early. So who is Jiri Hodac and why do so many people despise him? His opponents charge that in the 1970s, he collaborated with the Communist government on a normalization program for news broadcasts. They see him as an apparatchik who will simply do the bidding of the government as the general manager of the station. His actions to combat the strike would suggest, in fact, that he has the mentality of an apparatchik. Instead of blocking out the station's programming, he would have done better to let the strikers play their game and weed them out later. He would be more than justified to dismiss them for the comical way that have been conducting the strike. They decry the role of politics in television, yet are seeking the support of the Coalition parties and the likes of Mr. Kühnl. (To get an idea of what this man is like, try pronouncing his name.) The strikers stand in the background of every unauthorized newscast, looking stern and wearing little red and white ribbons, perhaps to remind those not wearing them that scores will be settled with this thing is over. But by acting like expected to, Hodac has all but lost public support. The major dailies have helped by going out of their way to vilify Hodac and his team. Since the core issue is, supposedly, the law, Dnes printed a list of all violations of the law thus far and made sure that 99% of them were committed by Hodac. Dnes has often been viewed as Havel's newspaper, particularly in his fight against the reigning Democrats. Havel still commands respect to such a degree that if he says this issue is about freedom of the press, foreign news services will readily concur, as they have done in this case. Luckily for freedom of speech, Havel isn't completely immune from the Czech dailies. It's just that the leaders of the Democrats and the Coalition are so easy to hate that Havel, the hero of November 1989 who is now a sick and irrational president, is still all that's left in January 2001.

December 23, 2000
Mrazik, or Grandfather Frost, is a Russian fairy tale that was the Wizard of Oz of the Eastern Bloc. Still a favorite among Czech viewers, it's scheduled to air New Year's Eve afternoon. Whether it will or not depends on the latest crisis unfolding in this country. A couple weeks ago, the Czech Broadcast Council installed a new general manager of Czech Television. The action led to a takeover of the station, led by a rebellious news division. Their contention was the new managing editor of the news, who once worked for the leader of the Civic Democrats, wasn't independent enough. What's more, they claimed, freedom of the press was at stake here because the Council is named by Parliament, which is controlled by an opposition agreement between the Civic and Social Democrats. The smaller parties, which have formed a coalition to challenge the reigning Democrats, quickly joined the rebels in protest. The leaders of one of the coalition parties not only spent the night in the station with the rebels, but even brought their pajamas for the occasion. The only thing missing was an appearance by the president, who has made no secret of his collaboration with the Coalition against the Democrats. Havel didn't show up, but couldn't resist making another ludicrous comment. What the Council did, he claimed, reminded him of February 1948. The reference was to the rise of the Communists, which, although legal, violated the spirit of the law. Havel should check the history archives. The Communists came to power with mass protests in the street on their behalf. In any event, a party leader in is pajamas is at liberty to make comparisons between the Council and the Communists, but one might expect a bit more decorum from the president. As for violating the spirit of the law, if the new leadership of Czech Television manages to get Mrazik on in time for New Year's, then it's doing all right by the people.

December 16, 2000
And now, a few words from the Prime Minister. "I would like to address those of us gathering around their Christmas trees with the most anticipation: Our children and our youth. You who are growing up do not realize how many changes have taken place here lately. The trees are still alight, presents are eagerly awaited, but this idea of Jesus lying in the manger next to a donkey is a symbol of the old Christmas. Why? If Jesus can live in a barn, then it's good enough for the working class, too. That's how the rich and powerful used to speak to the poor and the workers. When capitalism ruled, many poor people lived in barns and gave birth to their children there. But the times have changed. Little Jesus has grown up, grown a beard, and has turned into Grandfather Frost. He no longer walks about naked and scruffy, as neither do our workers and their children. Grandfather Frost comes to us from the East, and many stars light up his way, not just the lone star of Bethlehem. A whole line of red stars in our mines, steel mills, factories and construction sites. These red stars bring with them the joyous news that your Mommies and your Daddies have completed the fourth year of our first Five-year Plan. The more these stars shine forth, the more joyous will be our holiday. The more productive their work, the more presents we will receive from Grandfather Frost. Therefore, let all of us, big and small, promise our liberator, friend and teacher, Comrade Stalin, that we will apply all our power, in schools, factories and offices, so that the tasks of the final year of the Plan are fulfilled before next Christmas. So that bright red stars of fulfilled obligations hang over all factories, farms, cities and villages. So that our beautiful country blooms forth with new flowers of fulfilled plans. In this way, we shall block the criminal ideas of those who would subvert productive work in favor of a new world war, so they can again enslave our people and exploit the workers. We promise to defend peace and tranquility for all people of good will!" Thus spoke Prime Minister Antonin Zapotocky to Czechoslovakia just before Christmas of 1952. He would become president the following year and lord over one of the most oppressive periods in this country's history.

December 9, 2000
Thank God that's finally over with and America can go back to pretending it has the greatest democracy in the world. What a spectacle that was, watching all these cross-eyed bureaucrats holding the balance of power in their magnifying glasses. The only thing halfway decent to come out of it was the humor, like David Letterman's observance that, with all the top lawyers coagulating in Florida, a hurricane could well give this drama a happy ending after all. But the rest of it was pathetic, especially where the media was concerned. Take the New York Times, still a reputable force in politics despite having endorsed such a shady figure as Madame Clinton for the Senate. The Times made a last-ditch, mealy-mouthed appeal to the US Supreme Court not to base its decision concerning the election outcome on politics, as if it really didn't know that law and politics are one and the same. Granted, its columnists did a first-rate job whining about the whole process, but at least they could have toned the arrogance down a bit. There was, for instance, a column from one Thomas Friedman admonishing a potential Bush administration to play democracy by the books for the sake of the world. He then went on to list several places in the world where democracy is in trouble, places like Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and...the Czech Republic. Excuse me? The Czechs also held a national election in November and the smooth operation of it made the US look like it was the democracy that was in trouble. And mostly because media outfits like the Times were cheering the cross-eyed bureaucrats on.

December 2, 2000
If crazy ain't the word, it's one often heard to describe President Havel's bizarre choice of words these days. In the latest twist to his struggle with government over his appointment of the new Governor of Czech National Bank, Havel claims that the prime minister and the former governor of the bank tried to use extortion to get him to change his decision. His remark led several members of parliament to wonder aloud whether the president has done anything that could make him susceptible to extortion in the first place. That put the Castle spokesman in the position of explaining yet again what the president had meant to say. Apparently, he was referring to political extortion, perhaps on the part of ex-Governor Tosovsky. Havel had named him as interim prime minister a few years back, mostly on the presumption of his independence, and it must gall him now to see Tosovsky joining the politicians against him. If anyone had achieved a reputation more stellar than Havel's for rising above politics, it was Tosovsky. But now there are rumors that it was all a myth to begin with, that Tosovsky entered the fray with two goals in mind: To succeed Havel as president and to make sure that whoever succeeded him at the bank did not reveal any unpleasant secrets about the bank's lax oversight during the years of plenty. How much the Castle is behind these rumors is anyone's guess. The only thing we can take to the bank concerning this mess is an end to that other myth. Namely, that Havel is and always was above politics.