March 2001  

March 30, 2001
On the money after all. When political scientist and American apologist Jiri Pehe accused Foreign Minister Jan Kavan of having financial motives for condemning U.S. sanctions against Cuba, the only proof he offered was his status as the sole authority on Czech affairs. Now, to the frustration of his enemies in Prague, it would seem that Pehe might be on to something. It has nothing to do with Cuba, but everything to do with Kavan. This month the foreign ministry approved the lease of a state-owned building in Moscow to a Czech company. Nothing wrong there, except that the conditions were much more favorable to the company than to the state. In addition, the company has no license to conduct business in Russia, making the contract illegal anyway. Although Kavan signed off on the deal, he went on television to basically lie about the extent of his role in the case. He did admit that the contract violated several rules within the ministry, but put the blame on poor legal advice. He refused to resign over the matter, allowing one of his closest aids to take the fall instead. This should come as no surprise for a man who once got behind the wheel of his car drunk, plowed into several parked cars, then tried to flee the scene. The crash woke up the people in nearby houses and they gathered on the street to block his escape. When the police arrived, Kavan exerted his right to immunity and was released. One is tempted to think diplomatic immunity, given that Kavan is the foreign minister and is probably not above exerting it in his own country. But this happened three years ago while he was a senator. In the Czech Republic, members of parliament and the senate enjoy blanket immunity for life for any trespasses of the law. In the end, only a committee of their peers stands in judgment of them. Kavan got away with paying a meager fine, but this case prompts a question concerning the one now at hand: Was Kavan drunk when he signed that contract?

March 23, 2001
You better get with the program. That's the tune coming out of Washington in wake of the Czech Republic's resolution criticizing American sanctions against Cuba. If not, the NATO summit that was scheduled to take place in Prague later this year might be moved elsewhere. It's not blackmail, so goes the assurance, just a way of maintaining cohesion within the alliance. Try explaining that to other NATO allies who have long condemned these sanctions as sheer lunacy and hypocrisy on the part of American foreign policy. But the Czech Republic is being forced to walk the plank because America went out of its way to secure membership for it. Since then, the little country has shown little more than ingratitude. Take Kosovo. NATO, led by America, went to war against Serbia one week after formally admitting the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary into the alliance. The war was unpopular on almost every front except the Castle (where the chief architect of the war, former Secretary of State Albright, was always a welcomed guest.) Although Václav Havel was the first foreign president to visit Kosovo after the bombing, the Czech government never tried to hide its displeasure over being dragged into this mess. Then came the problem with upgrading the Czech military to NATO standards. Boeing had hoped to score big by selling supersonic jets to the Czech air force, but finally pulled out when Prague refused to accept the documentation in English or the amount in dollars. American officials saw this as another high-handed attempt to curry favor with the European Union, but the reality is much simpler: The government has no money for roads or schools, let alone for supersonic fighters. A big NATO conference in Prague might bring in some extra change, but only if the government puts its experience in the Warsaw Pact to good use and toes the line.

March 16, 2001
The Castle is on line. Václav Havel conducted his first question-and-answer session via the Internet and the overwhelming response from the public sent the system crashing. Havel's Czech, as most of his fellow citizens would agree, is very literary in its style, so a translation will accompany his answers in the following excerpts:

Mr. President, what is your favorite book?
I think that I have had the deepest relationship since my youth with the novels of Franz Kafka.
Translation: The Castle is a great book.

Mr. President, you were a heavy smoker. Do you have any advice on how to stop this bad habit?
It is simply a matter of willpower. I took the doctors' appeal for me to quit smoking as a chance to undergo a test of my willpower. I am glad that I acquitted myself well in this test.
Translation: Just say no. Interestingly enough, Havel had one last cigarette before going in for his lung operation several years ago. Joining him for the cigarette was the Minister of Health.

Mr. President, is there anything you don't agree on about US policy? What don't you like about the USA?
My dear Sir, I have spent many hours in debate with American presidents, secretaries of state, congressmen…and I dare say that I have had a positive influence on their decisions. For example, I cannot imagine how we would have the strongest sense of security we have ever had in our history without the will of the American administration, and the idea of expanding NATO wasn't popular at all in America in the beginning… I consider this a thousand times more important than some cheeky public criticism of the US. I call your attention to the dozens of speeches I have given in the US. You will find no instance of servility in any of them, nor will you find the above cheekiness which, unfortunately, is popular in Czech policy and which bothers me a lot. And to those who want to hear some kind of repentance out of me, I shall say that I resent myself for not having stood up to this invasion of impudence, which at times can be very vulgar.
Translation: Leave America alone and clean up your act while you're at it.

Mr. President, it would interest me to know your opinion about the court action against the publisher of Mein Kampf.
I don't mind if this book is published, especially with proper information and critical analysis. I am, however, greatly bothered to see it shrouded under the cover of alleged historical awareness when in fact it is done in the pursuit of sensation or profit.
Translation: I'm all for freedom of the press...with proper critical analysis. A few years ago, Havel posed for a picture with Larry Flint, who had just been glorified in a film made by good friend, Milos Forman. It would seem the president has no problem with publishing merely for the sake of sensation or profit, so long as it's pornography and not history.

March 9, 2001
Straight from the horse's mouth. The Czech foreign ministry has prepared its traditional UN resolution condemning human rights abuses in former Communist ally Cuba. Neighboring Poland won't be co-sponsoring the resolution this year because it takes exception to the passage that condemns US sanctions as well. Poland left it at that, but Secretary of State Powell got on the phone with President Havel to express his dismay over this about-face in Czech foreign policy. Havel toed the American line as usual, but if he's going to have any influence over the final wording, he will have to team up with his arch-enemy, Václav Klaus. The chairman of the Civic Democrats is also unhappy with a resolution he sees as toeing a different line, that of the European Union. Klaus has adopted a skeptical stance towards the EU lately, a move seen by many as an attempt to shore up his populist credentials. The ruling Social Democrats, meanwhile, are undergoing an identity crisis at the moment. The left-wing faction would like to end the internal ban on cooperating with the Communist party. It's leader, Jan Kavan, is the Foreign Minister, the man Powell should have called to register his gripe. Kavan, whose links to the former Communist secret police remain murky because his file happened to disappear, was insisting only last month that no deal was struck with Castro for the release of the two Czech counter-revolutionaries. The two are now free and touring America with their cheesy tale of imprisonment. One of them, Ivan Pilip, admits the timing makes it looks as if a deal had been struck. Political scientist Jiri Pehe offers another theory. As Havel's former point man, Pehe is still considered by most foreign journalists to be the sole authority on Czech affairs. He recently speculated that Kavan had some financial motivation for including the passage. Pehe provided absolutely nothing by way of proof, but then you don't have to when you're the sole authority.

March 2, 2001
It had to hurt. The British Helsinki Human Rights Group has issued a report of its findings on the state of democracy in the Czech Republic. The occasion was the strike at Czech Television and the charge that the ruling government was running roughshod over freedom and democracy in this country. With the carefully orchestrated protests and the support of the president, the case seemed to be a slam dunk. But in its report, the Group lambasted the strike for what it was, a sideshow for the larger political struggle going on in Prague. And its chief target was none other than Mr. Human Rights himself, Václav Havel. Whatever one might think about the ruling Democrats and their Opposition Agreement, they still have to answer for it come the next election. But Havel isn't elected by the people, therefore, he has no mandate to impose his authority on the Parliament. As a non-executive president, he has no right to, anyway. But he has a clutch of advisors in the Castle who have one thing in common with him: they hate the leaders of the ruling Democrats. Prime Minister Zeman is seen as a boozing muzhik and Parliamentary Chairman Václav Klaus as an arrogant know-it-all. Moreover, the philosophy of the Castle is to distrust big political parties on the grounds they usurp real power from the people. That is why they continue to denounce the Opposition Agreement between Social and Civic Democrats, the best that could be conjured up under the circumstances of the last election, as something akin to the farmers and swine gathering around for dinner in Animal Farm. The only way to combat the Democrats was through Havel, a sick man long past his prime, and through a coalition of smaller parties. Thus, when the Czech Broadcasting Council, staffed by the Democrats, nominated a new director of Czech Television, the Castle saw its chance to strike. It won a victory inasmuch as both the Council and new director are gone and that public opinion here, bolstered by the media's mostly one-sided coverage, threw its lot with the president and against the government. The report from the BHHRG, one of the few outside organizations not to get all its information from Havel's people, begs to differ and is available at http://www.bhhrg.org.