October 2000  

October 28, 2000
There's a killer on the loose. That's all anyone is talking about here, how hitman Jiri Kajinek escaped from a prison with the dubious name of Peace. He was sentenced to life several years ago for the contract killing of a businessman and his bodyguard. The bodyguard's brother, who survived the attack, is daring Kajinek to just try and finish where he left off. The rest of the country would rather he not. A new sense of fear has swept a nation that usually associates crime with white collar bandits. Even the word "tunneling" is used more to describe embezzling than breaking out of prison. Then again, Kajinek didn't have to tunnel his way out of Peace. He took some cutting wire, smuggled to him in a cake, and cut through the bars on his windows. After lowering himself down with his bedsheets, he took advantage of a prison fence under repair. Some of the searchers not only got a late start, but then went looking for him unarmed. You can almost imagine what they would have said had they found him. "Hey, Kajinek, better get back to your cell or we'll tell the warden!" The warden, of course, has had a lot of explaining to do. Like where did Kajinek get the cell phone that was discovered hidden in his Bible? The warden can't say for sure, but one thing is for certain: At no time did he use it to call a taxi.

October 21, 2000
Iron Man, as the name Železný might suggest, is something of a hero to the Czech people. Last year he pulled the plug on his American partner, the erstwhile billionaire Ron Lauder, and took TV Nova all for himself. In spite of their love for American TV, the locals stood by the home quarterback. For them, it was a case of the two businessmen going head to head and the Czech coming out on top. Lauder, a big cash cow for the Democrats, called in some IOUs and got the White House to take up his cause, so far to little effect. He may still win in the end, but he clearly got his ass whipped in the process. In making a deal with Vladimir Železný, Lauder was trusting his fortune to a man with just as many IOUs. Whatever his programming flair (if one considers it flair to market naked weather forecasters who, of course, don't talk), Železný has staved off the authorities until now mostly because of the deals he's cut in and around the government. He owes millions in back taxes and perhaps used, according to one major daily last week, illegal means to secure the loan that sent Lauder packing. Then there's the case of his son, who has yet to serve any time for his rape conviction over a year ago. Throw in the commandos that raided the bank which gave Železný the loan and you've got a movie tailor-made for his TV station.

October 14, 2000
The ugly face of capitalism. It was heard a lot during the IMF/WB meeting in Prague last month and megamarkets like Tesco paid the price for this sentiment. The protesters are gone but Tesco is back in business 24 hours a day. So why still all the griping? Ten years ago such stores didn't exist here. The stores that did often had nothing in them anyway, so the Czechs had to make do on weekends with trips to the mountains or working in the garden. Today, however, one thing is clear: If you absolutely have to go shopping on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, bear in mind that the place will probably be packed. All this goes to prove the point of one Vladimir Železný, the director of TV Nova. He is an avid believer in the proposition that all people are created equally for the purposes of, as he likes to say, mass culture. Železný has made his station number one by marketing such rich fare as Baywatch and Oprah wannabes to his audience. A few years ago he scored big with a homegrown show called Bingo, where, yes, people actually played bingo on prime time TV. Now he has a new treat. Last week saw the premier of Chcete byt milionarem? No translation necessary. The cheesy music and gimmicks aside, the most striking aspect of this show is how it goes out of its way to bring out the worst in the population. The Czechs are some of the best-educated and best-looking people in the world, yet who were these skanky men and women who couldn't answer such mundane trivia? Železný knows them. Knows them well. He also knows that a million Czech crowns comes out to less than $25,000. I wouldn't bank on the contestants knowing it.

October 7, 2000
There he goes again. When it comes to making asinine remarks, Prime Minister Zeman is nothing if not dependable. This time he actually said something smart, thanks to the man in the Castle. President Havel has been giving Zeman a run for his money lately saying things that make your eyes want to roll. The occasion at hand was the opening of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia. Havel declared that his biggest mistake as president was not coming out more forcefully against it when the government decided to fund its completion. Had he put his moral authority to good use, there would be no Temelin, no bitter protests from Austria, no huge electric bill to pay. Now that the deed is done, he can only hope that it will be safe. Few sunny words there from a man about to spend his retirement in sunny Portugal, well upwind of the plant. Zeman, who cut the ribbon in the control room, responded that the president was entitled to his opinion. Still, he wondered out loud whether Havel might not have put his moral authority to better use when the country was being ransacked by white collar criminals. When nothing in the safe was safe.