December 2002   česky

Poor neighbors. They were apparently the best bargain to be had this Christmas season, at least from the standpoint of the European Union. At its summit in Copenhagen, the EU confirmed that those members scheduled to come aboard in 2004 would receive much less money than had been hoping for. The Czech Republic will get the least of all - less than half the amount that will go to fellow poor neighbors Poland and Slovakia. The government's reaction was to high-tail it to Copenhagen and beg for some more. Sure, the Czechs have come a lot further than the rest of the poor lot, but try selling that back home. Fortunately, chief Euro-sceptic Václav Klaus was too busy losing control of his party to make much of an issue out of it. At the ODS party congress, the Civic Democrats chose Mirek Topolánek, a relatively unknown senator from North Moravia, to be their new chairman. The favored candidate, Petr Nečas, ended up losing because he struck many as too wimpy and too close to Klaus. It was time for a fresh face and there was no better indication of that than the long look on Klaus' face afterwards. Klaus still has his sights set on the Castle, but Topolánek might now want to finish him off as a way to assume full control of the party. Premier ©pidla would also like to undercut his predecessor, Miloą Zeman, who has been whipping up support among the Social Democrats for his own presidential bid. It's bad enough the thought of the greasy Zeman installing his corrupt band of cronies in the Castle, but the president has the power to dismiss governments, and Zeman has shown no love for ©pidla's. Taking no chances, the government announced that it was investigating a highway contract Zeman authorized just before leaving office. The Zemanites simply laughed off the allegations. Has ©pidla forgotten he was a member of Zeman's government at the time? Another member, former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bureą, will go on the ballot as the official candidate for the Social Democrats. It would seem that ©pidla chose the bookish Bureą, who served as a judge under Communsit regime, for the sole purpose of horsetrading. Perhaps he intends to offer his real support to Petr Pithart, the president of the Senate and the candidate for ©pidla's unruly coalition partners, the Populists and Unionists. They, in turn, would quit causing him trouble over little things like the budget and finance reform. The former Communist-turned-dissident Pithart is also the only acceptable candidate for Václav Havel, which might go a long way in a country that still likes to moan, "If not Havel, who?" The coalition partners have even devised a plan to jointly support Bureą in Parliament and Pithart in the Senate as a way of cutting out Klaus as well. When word of that got out, some leading Civic Democrats let it be known that if Klaus doesn't make it through the first round of voting, they were prepared to support Zeman. But that was before Topolánek was elected their new leader. He quickly announced that his party would support Klaus and only Klaus. It was an ingenious way of showing loyalty to the man while at the same time asking the other parties, "Now, what are you going to do for us?" With Klaus, Zeman and Havel all gone in one sweep, the Czech political scene could well enter an era of optimism not seen since the fall of Communism in 1989. And yet the Czechs are nothing if not consistent. This is clearly evident by the annual Zlaté slavíky (Golden Nightingales), the pop music awards in this country. For the past three years the award for best male vocalist has gone to Karel Gott, best female vocalist to Lucie Bílá and best group to Lucie. Same people, same acceptance speech, same boycott by Lucie (the group). The organizers admitted that the hardcore fans had gained a lock on the event by sending in multiple ballots. This year, things would be different. This year, all votes would be cast via cell phone only. One phone, one vote, once. They would thus eliminate duplicate voting and maybe, just maybe, add a fresh face to the awards. And the winners this year? Karel Gott, Lucie Bílá and Lucie. Same people, same acceptance speech, same boycott, meaning the only difference this time around is the cell phone companies finally got a piece of the action. For the fans of the also-rans, there was always New Year's Eve and the variety show - the same variety show - put on every year by the cream of Czech entertainment. They sing, they dance, do parodies of politicians and each other. And when the commercials come on, simply flip the channel and you can catch them doing the same thing on another station.