January 2001   česky

January 26, 2000
Let's make things better goes the ad pitch for the Dutch electronics giant Philips. It was hoping to make things better in Hranice, a city in an economically depressed region of North Moravia, when it decided to build a huge factory there to produce television tubes. Today the factory sprawls across the landscape and everyone would be happy if it weren't for one small detail: Hranice doesn't own one small strip of the land making up the complex. The owner is a young hairdresser, who is still willing to sell the land, only for 15 times the original price. She claims, with the help of a savvy lawyer, that she upped the offer because the mayor acted like a beast to her. Outraged, the mayor and city hall turned to the courts with a petition to seize her land under the right of eminent domain. The government took the case a step further when the BIS, the Czech equivalent to the FBI, began snooping around the hairdresser. For reasons no one quite understands, the BIS doesn't fall under any judicial authority. It belongs to the Ministry of Labor, whose boss, a bigwig with the ruling Social Democrats, had declared that all means must be used to safeguard the three thousand jobs on the line at the new factory. The BIS backed off once the story appeared and the case was played down by the government and media. If freedom really is at stake in this country, both are content to leave it to the phony war being fought at Czech TV. The court, meanwhile, dealt the government another blow by refusing to force the woman to fork over her property. The ball is back in Hranice, where the town faces stiff fines from Philips if it doesn't make things better with the hairdresser soon.

January 19, 2000
It seemed a little odd for the Freedom Union's Pilip to undertake a mission of freedom to Cuba after declaring it was endangered in his own country. Perhaps he was inspired by the support the strikers at Czech Television have received from abroad (like Time's incredibly naive article on January 15). Now, as Prisoner 501 awaits his fate, sympathy for the strike has dwindled. Could it be that the Czechs no longer consider it their personal responsibility to battle tyranny, as Time proclaimed? The reason, more likely, is that boredom has set in. Pilip is the headline now and he had better hope he stays there if he wants to make it home any time soon. But the strikers also hurt their cause by revealing their true colors, which didn't turn out to be the little red and white ribbons they're always wearing. After the hated Hodac resigned as TV director, the strikers installed their own man in the position, the former Chief Financial Officer of the station. The move confirmed widespread speculation that the strikers were afraid that the new management might start poking around in the books. The CFO, who was fired at the outset of the crisis, would know best where to clean up before an audit was conducted. He says no, rather he wants to prevent the new management from doing the cleaning up. Either scenario has little to do with actual freedom in the Czech Republic. And yet it is under assault in a case that has been back page news compared to the TV and Pilip. Next week read about the case of the mayor, the hairdresser and one of the largest multinational firms in the world.

January 12, 2000
How do you say freedom in Spanish? The President and Mrs. Havel took off for their beloved Iberian peninsula shortly after they threw in their lot with the strikers at Czech Television. Ivan Pilip of the Freedom Union, the one who brought his pajamas to that first night behind the barricades at the station, left for Cuba around the same time. The Havels are back in the Castle, but Pilip is stewing in a prison in Havana. The police arrested him and Jan Bubenik, one of the student leaders of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, on charges of aiding and abetting counterrevolution on the island. The two are accused of passing along computer equipment and money to a Cuban dissident provided by the Freedom House of New York. Relations between Cuba and the Czech Republic have deteriorated since Havel began haranguing Castro about his human rights record. Cuba now considers its former Communist ally to be a tool of US foreign policy, a sentiment shared in some circles here. Pilip and Bubenik had to have known that Castro's agents would be watching their every move. So what were they doing in Cuba in the first place? The most charitable explanation has them doing exactly what they are accused of, importing democracy, which carries a 10-20 year sentence. Not so charitable, but certainly more favorable under the circumstances, has these two proponents of freedom bargain hunting for nickel mines. And then there is the grand conspiracy theory, once again courtesy of President Havel. It holds that the Castle, a shadowy group of intellectuals, financiers and politicians surrounding the Havels, have been scheming to undermine the opposition agreement between the ruling Democrats in Parliament. As they see it, the Social and Civic Democrats are led by thugs who have carved up the government much the way gangsters do in a city, say, like Prague. Indeed, an electoral law passed by the Democrats was seen as an attempt to squeeze the smaller parties out. And so the smaller parties got together to form the Coalition and, with Havel's blessing, used the crisis in Czech TV to take on the Democrats. But the Coalition lacks a strong leader to lead it to victory in the next election. So the Castle devises this scheme: Pilip, a former Civic Democrat who bolted the party when a corruption scandal unfolded, would go to Cuba with a known freedom fighter and both would wind up in prison. Castro would sooner or later let them go under pressure from the European Union and the United Nations. Since later has turned out to be the case, now it's time for Plan B: a parliamentary delegation shall be assembled and dispatched to rescue the two and led by Petra Buzkova, who has long since fallen out with her party, the Social Democrats. Her popularity has been sagging lately, one reason why she's let her hair down, and bringing home Pilip and Bubenik might do wonders for her career as well. Each stands to come home to a hero's welcome, although Pilip would have the better shot at succeeding Havel for the presidency. His experience in Cuba has fulfilled that one peculiar requirement of all Czech presidents so far: Do time first.

January 5, 2001
Chaos, in theory, has a unity factor. In the case of Czech Television--make that Czech television period--that factor is Vladimir ®elezný. As noted earlier (October 21 news column), ®elezný is the owner of TV Nova, the krupan (the meaning is indicated below) who first hooked his people on soap operas. When the crisis began unfolding at CT, ®elezný gave unqualified support to the new management and its blockade of rebel broadcasts. The law is the law, he asserted, making no mention of the fact that his station is absorbing most of the market share lost by CT. But what comes around, goes around, and by most accounts, ®elezný illegally maneuvered to wrest control of his station from his partner, who happens to be a moneybag for the Democrats in America. That case put ®elezný at odds with President Havel, who is good friends with American Democrats, much more so than he is with Czech Democrats. The Czech Social and Civic Democrats have thus far declined to press the issue of ®elezný's control over TV Nova. Does that mean they will support ®elezný when his license comes up for renewal? If Havel has his way, no way. The Civic Democrats have been contending all along that the crisis in CT was instigated by Havel as a means of drawing the Social Democrats into an agreement with the Coalition and leaving the Civic Democrats isolated. The whole thing is absurd because all these parties hate each other anyway. One can't help but imagine Havel, with numerous absurd dramas already to his credit, sitting up in the Castle and laughing at all the chaos unfolding below.

Krupan--Hick, hayseed.