February 2001   česky

February 23, 2001
One month before Bill Clinton's late-night flurry of pardons for racketeers, cocaine dealers and carnival scam artists, President Havel's Christmas package of pardons included one for a man convicted of beating a married couple to death with a shovel. As with Clinton, the Justice Ministry and law enforcement officials were totally against it, but the Castle felt that there had been mistakes made in the case against the man and set him free. The pardon created some bad press in the local media, normally sympathetic to Havel, but was quickly upstaged by the turmoil unfolding at Czech TV. It could also be that the Czech people have simply grown used to the fact that their president will always be a dissident at heart. In one case last year, the government brought charges against two reporters concerning the seedy Olovo affair. Havel, no friend of the prime minister and perhaps mindful that the newspaper in question usually backs him, pardoned the reporters before a police investigation could begin. He regularly grants pardons to the Roma, like the two who beat up on the leader of the neo-fascist party a few year ago. The president probably feels this is one way to even the score for a people who still remain outcasts in this society (and who, incidentally, figure very little in other decisions made by the Castle). Unlike his friend Bill, the Czech president belongs to no political party and is wealthy enough to build his own library. Moreover, he has no relatives representing racketeers and cocaine dealers. Does this mean that Clinton would have acted more prudently had he been in Havel's shoes? The smart money says no--once a money-grubber, always a money-grubber--but the dissident would have us bet the other way.

February 16, 2001
The prime minister did not show up for his pig. Or pig's head, to be exact. Famous for putting his foot in his mouth, Milos Zeman handily won this year's Rypak ("Snout") award, a pig's head with a lemon stuffed in its mouth. The award, unimaginable during the former Communist regime, is presented to the politician who demonstrates, through some remark, that he's a real horse's ass. The remarks generally reflect bad taste or judgment, not Clintonesque ("that depends on what is is") goofiness. Zeman got the pig for telling the owner of a Czech firm, whose company was seeking compensation after being banned from doing business with a nuclear power facility in Iran, words to this effect: "I feel like telling Mr. Šmejc that the last letter in his name can be slightly altered." Change the c to a d and you get the Czech word šmejd ("sh-made"), which means something like junk. Products that are Czech-made are derided as Czech-šmejd if they're not up to snuff. Zeman had no evidence that Mr. Šmejc makes šmejd, but wasn't about to offer apologies for cowering under American pressure to enforce the ban. The prime minister did try to put on his best face after being told about the pig. He loves pork, he claimed, because mad cow disease is everywhere. Yep, he's already in the running for next year's award.

February 9, 2001
You are invited to call the director himself with any questions you might have regarding TV Nova or otherwise. Vladimir ®elezný will then answer them on a show he hosts called, quite aptly, Call the Director. Having stoked the Czech curiosity for who shot JR, it was only fair for Dr. ®elezný to provide a few clues. The question in the air this week is will the director finally get his as well. As expected, an international arbitration panel has just ordered ®elezný to pay his former American partners $23 million for his share of their now worthless joint venture. Knowing this day would approach, ®elezný has already transferred much of his wealth to other people and companies. The Czech government is obliged by treating to enforce the ruling, but don't count on it any time soon. For one thing, the Americans are suing it too, claiming that it failed to protect their investment. For another, ®elezný has many friends in government, which would explain why he has been able to keep his broadcasting license in spite of having secured it illegally. But the heat is on in the wake of the parliament firing the entire Broadcasting Council as part of the clean up at Czech TV. Although the new law gives the government even more control over the Council than before, the former members, some of whom were reportedly bought off by ®elezný, are yesterday's news. The question for the government now is how to strike a balance between the foreign investors it needs for job growth and Czech businessmen like ®elezný, who it needs for money and political muscle. You can bet the director will be happy to field that question on his show.

February 2, 2001
Surprise, surprise, there's a new name on the roster of potential candidates to succeed President Havel in 2003. Senate President Petr Pithart is being touted for the job in the wake of his mission to bring home the two Czech prisoners from Cuba. As a former dissident, Pithart is not exactly the ideal envoy to send to a dictator with no love for dissidents. But he has insisted all along that the Czech government didn't send him, rather simply paid his way. In the capacity of a private citizen, he was not at liberty to offer the apology Havana was demanding from Prague for their release. In the end, the two prisoners had to issue the apology for themselves. If the whole charade had been masterminded by the Castle to produce a hero for the next election, Pithart got the honors. Havel said as much, leaving Ivan Pilip out in the cold. Of course, there are doubts as to just how big a role Pithart played in the final decision. One report suggests that the official delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union won their release, leading some people to ask: What the hell is the Inter-Parliamentary Union? Another report said that Václav Klaus had the most influence on Castro. When Pithart returned home empty-handed, Klaus observed that the trip had accomplished nothing. Supposedly that infuriated Castro so much that he ordered the two men set free immediately. That would mean that Pilip owes his freedom to the man he tried and failed to oust as prime minister a few years ago. The man who Havel and a host of others will do anything to keep from becoming president. Will this happy ending lead a new beginning for all of them? Not likely, but it gives Czech TV and Hranice some competition for the next Svejk awards.

Svejk - Popular character from the novel by Jaroslav Hasek. The word has come to represent a situation that is ridiculous beyond comparison.