February 2002   česky

A period makes all the difference in the world. Just ask Milos Zeman. While on a trip to Israel, he was asked if Arafat could be compared to Hitler. It was a stupid question to be sure, but the premier never misses an opportunity to insult somebody. "Of course. It isn't my place to judge Arafat, but..." Zeman doesn't like to second-guess his own remarks, but this time the resulting furor forced him to insist he had been misquoted due to a period being erroneously inserted into the text. What he really said was, "Of course it isn't my place to judge Arafat, but..." He had a harder time explaining away his advice to Israel to simply expel the Palestinians from the West Bank the way Czechoslovakia had done with her German minority after the war. It was the second time in less than a month that the Czech premier had gone on record in defense of ethnic cleansing. At home, opposition partner Klaus called Zeman's statements "madness", but then declared that the Benes Decrees ought to stay whether Europe likes them or not. He has been working hard to build up his nationalist base over the past few years and wasn't about to let Zeman undermine it with the election just around the corner. But Klaus is definitely feeling good these days now that the Coalition Party is bent on self-destruction. The Christian Democrats, long the bullies of the Coalition, told one of the junior partners, ODA, to take a hike after its loans were called in. We ain't paying, declared the leader of the Christians, Cyril Svoboda, who talks like a madman when stirred up and simply looks like one at other times. When the other junior partner, the Freedom Union, trudged along, ODA leader and eternal Havel friend, Michal Zantovsky, started saying some nasty things about his former partners. The falling out proved a real blow to President Havel, who had put his hopes in the Coalition to keep the likes of Klaus in check. With that hope dashed, he is now determined to let the judiciary do it by filling key posts with people the government finds objectionable. He would do better, however, by organizing an entire sweep of the judicial system. This month a court in Prague upheld the conviction of Michal Zitko for publishing Mein Kampf. Under Czech law, a person can be imprisoned for spreading hateful messages if they have the potential to incite violence. Of course, it's up to the courts to decide what work has what potential. In this case, they continue to claim that Zitko's right to publish what he wants is not being censored, he is being punished for profiting off such a controversial work. He has gotten little sympathy from the president, whose own work was censored during the Communist period. Meanwhile, one of the leaders of that period, former premier Strougal, was acquitted of the charge that he covered up three murders during his time in government. There wasn't enough evidence, said the judge, who probably wasn't looking very hard for it. This is, after all, a system where former Communists sit in judgment of former Communists. Some crimes committed during the previous regime have resulted in prison terms, as was the case this month with two members of the former secret police. They were sentenced for forcing a signer of the Charter 77 document to leave the country. They didn't act on their own orders, and the court recognized this fact by sentencing their superiors to...probation. And so Strougal emerges from court pretending the whole process was beneath him. The only thing on his mind, he claimed, was the hockey game that night at the Olympics in Salt Lake City. Thanks a lot, Lubo, because you jinxed a team that otherwise should have won the gold medal. Or any medal for that matter. Instead it crashed out in the quarterfinals against Russia. Team captain and NHL star Jaromir Jagr insists they played superbly, even better than their gold-medal performance in Nagano four years earlier. Apparently he forgot to do the math. No goals, no medals, period. Right, Milos? Another hopeful skier, Katerina Neumannova, also turned in a disappointing performance. It was left up to Ales Valenta to rescue the national psyche by making an incredible jump in acrobatic skiing, thereby winning the gold and beating the Americans at their own sport. An admitted loafer by profession, the only thing that disqualifies him at the moment from succeeding Havel as president is his youth.