January 2002   česky

The month, and year, started off on a sour note. With elections on the horizon, President Havel used his New Year's address to urge his fellow citizens to turn out what he called the tightly-knit brotherhood now running the country. Havel, the only president this country has known since returning to democracy, abhors the idea that his successor will be either current premier Milos Zeman of the Social Democrats or, even worse, the leader of the Civic Democrats, Václav Klaus. Zeman, who has alienated the Castle with his all-too cozy relationship with Klaus, would be even less welcomed as president in neighboring Austria and Germany. The Austrian far-right party under Jorg Haider organized a petition this month against the nuclear power plant in Temelin. The petition got a weak show of support and Prague and Vienna had already worked out a compromise involving safety upgrades for the plant. But it managed to goad the uncouth Zeman into saying some nasty things. After calling Haider a Fascist (who in turn called Zeman a Communist), the premier launched into a tirade against the Sudeten minority that was expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of the war and which now gives substantial support to Haider. He labeled them traitors, adding that their expulsion was the minimum punishment which they deserved. And for good measure, he called anyone who signed the petition, Sudeten or otherwise, an idiot. Imagine an honor guard welcoming this man as president in Vienna. Klaus might find more of a reception, if only because he has proved himself to be as big a Euro-skeptic as Haider is. He is also a fanatical sportsman and sees nothing wrong with lending his face to an advertising billboard for a German ski company. The rest of the political establishment denounced it as a cynical ploy by Klaus to divorce himself from the fat, chain-smoking Zeman before the elections. Ethics have never been Klaus' strong suit, as evident in his relationship with Vladimir ®elezný, the TV magnate accused of swindling his former partners. The police no sooner let ®elezný out of jail than Klaus welcomes him on the floor of parliament. In response, 66 artists have written an open letter to Klaus demanding that he come clean about himself and ®elezný. The letter was political in its scope, numbering among its "artists" several of Klaus' opponents from the strike at Czech TV, but it too goaded him into making some ludicrous comments. Such a letter, he insists, endangers his freedom and the freedom of the whole country. People's courts are a thing of the past, he added, and so long as ®elezný is an innocent man, he will welcome him wherever he pleases. Fair enough. But Klaus should take a leaf from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, when the citizens of Rome come across a man they believe is one of the senators who took part in assassinating Caesar. "No, no," he pleads, "I'm not Cinna the senator, I'm Cinna the poet." No matter, tear him apart for his bad poetry, they reply. And that was the end of Cinna. Even if ®elezný is just an honest intellectual who struck it rich, as Klaus insists he is, he should still be torn apart for his bourgeois television. His station actually holds an awards show for itself and elevates its anchor girls and investigative journalists to rock star status. As for the real stars, who plug one kitschy variety show after another for TV Nova, they haven't changed faces since the station started. The majority of them started their careers under the old regime and one of them, Helena Vondrackova, has just lost her suit against a reporter who claimed she had been a party girl for the Communists. She was demanding an apology, which is pretty cocky coming from a woman who once recorded a duet with David Hasselhof. She declined to make an appearance in court, perhaps as a guarantee against crossing paths with ex-premier Lubomir Strougal, whom she was linked to for many years. Strougal stands accused of covering up three murders carried out in the 1950s by the secret police. This was the era of the people's courts that Klaus was alluding to, when honest intellectuals like Milada Horakova were summarily tried and executed by the government. Another of those executed was General Pika, who helped free Czechoslovakia from the Nazis. The man who prosecuted Pika was recently set free by the courts. Although he had submitted forged documents to ensure the execution of Pika, the court ruled that he was covered by a statute of limitations that dates back to the Hapsburg Dynasty. The old man emerged from court and, with his trademark sour mien on his face, declared total victory for himself. If only he were a poet. The real poet himself, President Havel, hasn't had much to say about old political enemies getting away with murder. The end of the month closed with a celebration honoring the 25th anniversary of Charter 77. The charter, signed by Havel and others during the rule of Mr. Strougal, amounted to a declaration of free thought and expression. The Communist government reacted by throwing a number of them in jail and issuing its own "Anti-Charter" to rally the artistic and academic community behind it. Most signed because their careers depended on it and Mr. Havel showed no bitterness towards them in a speech that got less attention that the buffet table. They came around later, he claimed. One of them was at his side no less, the First Lady, who was a working artist at the time the government went around collecting signatures.