March 2002  

It used to be called the Gramy, but that was considered too close to the real Grammy. So the award for the best in Czech music was changed to the Angel and a statuette with an enormous wingspan was forged for the occasion. There were no real surprises this year - the same entertainers win every year - until the award for best folk group was given to the wrong group. A good group to be sure, but not the one the judges had voted for. Thankfully other awards shows went smoother. The Lion award for best film went to a movie about a carved piece of wood that devours people. The awards show itself included a belly dancer who was a bit on the porky side and a human flame-thrower that set the arm sleeve of one presenter on fire. Now that's entertainment. There were no such antics for the Mrs. Contest, not with so many small children on the stage. Setting one of them alight would not have gone over well with the four cabinet members sitting in the audience. The government came out in force for the contest because there's an election in June and smiling mothers and children always make a great photo op. The one minister who could claim he was there on official business was Pavel Dostal, the minister of culture. He's been under fire himself lately for his unwavering support for Milan Knizak, the head of the National Gallery. Knizak insists that the works of Roma artists aren't good enough for his gallery, but he's not a racist because he once confronted some neo-Nazis on the street. And his good friend Dostal is his witness. Too bad Knizak wasn't on hand when another skinhead stabbed a young Gypsy boy to death last year. The judge concluded that the crime was racially motivated and therefore gave him a sentence so stiff that it took even the prosecution by surprise. Fourteen years, just four shy of the victim's age. The one minister who never fails to show at a Mrs. Contest is Stanislav Gross. The minister of interior has been having family problems since it was discovered that he owned a condo worth far more than he can afford. At first he claimed his wife made all the money by selling Amway (yes, Amway), only later did he admit that what she does is promotion work for a company very much interested in his office. And yet he remains the most popular politician in the country because, well, he was the most popular politician last year, and the year before… If he were a singer, he would definitely have a whole role of Angels on his shelf by now. At least his ministry isn't actually being accused of corruption, not like what's going on over at Health. The ministry recently awarded a six million dollar contract to an institute run by one of its own deputy ministers. When asked why one of his deputies was chosen to run the institute in the first place, the cadaverous-looking minister of health replied simply that somebody's got to do it (more Amway logic). Up on the hill, the Castle couldn't as easily dismiss the scandal involving the presidential guard. The leader of the guard, who fancied himself a ladies man in the company of supermodels and the First Lady, had been abruptly dismissed last year. And now, just days after president Havel signed a bill ordering the archives to release the names of former agents of the secret police, it was revealed that the ladies man had been one of them, with the absurd code name of Dostoyevsky. Not that nobody knew about the former Agent Dostoyevsky. He and over 100 other former agents had failed their security checks way back when and only last year did the bureaucracy finally catch up with them. The USA has expressed its displeasure about the inept security checks being conducted by the Czech government. One especially frustrating case concerns the second-in-command of the National Police Force, whose security check was reportedly rubber-stamped. This coming on top of the police force being accused of muscling its way into parliament in violation of the law. Thirty uniformed officers, some of them armed, had barged in to hear the proceedings on a law aimed at them. The president of the force tried to talk his way out of the affair with his own Amway logic, but the head of security for Parliament insists it was he who gave the green light. And still all of these scandals were nothing compared to all the attention still being given to the Benes Decrees. Every time a column appears hinting that the Czechs must come to terms with this uncomfortable chapter in their history, a flood of letters overtake the editors. The gist of most of them is, like hell we will! The argument has become more heated now that Hungary too has demanded that the decrees be nullified. The biggest fear is not having to say, "We did a terrible thing", rather having to pay for doing a terrible thing. The irony is that the Germans who were expelled ended up much better off economically and politically than the few who were allowed to stay behind. To make matters worse, the government has begun returning the lands and castles that once belonged to the former nobility. The nobility insists all this property rightfully belongs to them because it was stolen from them in turn by the First Republic, the Nazis and the Communists. What they neglected to mention is who they stole it from in the first place.