May 2002   česky

It was supposed to be four in a row. With some of the finest players in the NHL, the Czech hockey team was poised to take home its fourth consecutive world championship. But Russia made short work of it before the medal round even got under way. Instead, neighboring Slovakia walked away with the gold. It's been that kind of a month, and the mood hasn't got much better now that the elections are approaching. President Havel hasn't hid the fact that he's hoping the Social Democrats will come out on top again, only this time they will get it right when they go to form a government. That means ruling party on one side, opposition party on the other. No more of this co-habitation with the hated Václav Klaus and his Civic Democrats. Havel has been rankled by the lack of any real opposition in the government over the last four years. Naturally he blames Klaus, whom he thought he had cornered in the last election, for selling out his party just so he could keep his own personal tabs on power. Premier Zeman also figures highly in the sellout, especially now that he's been trashing the new leader of his own party, Vladimir Spidla. If Klaus wins the premiership, Zeman figures he has the best shot at succeeding Havel next year. The president has no more use for Zeman than he does for Klaus and would prefer that his job go to someone more sensible, like his good friend Michael Zantovsky. But Zantovsky was kicked out of the Coalition Party just as the campaign was getting underway and has had to settle for plugging Henry Kissinger's new book at the incredibly commercial World of Books exhibition in Prague. Zantovsky, who the premier once called "a f...ing midget", really is a midget and could never get his hair right. The remaining leaders of the Coalition have better hair, but otherwise look and act too goofy to take seriously. The best they're offering for a platform is something along the lines of "We're not them." The Socials have been saying the same thing these days in regards to their party's old guard. Spidla, long seen as too deferential to the vulgar Zeman, has come into his own lately. He has publicly declared that none of Zeman's cronies and ex-Communists will have a place in his cabinet. As for the current Communists, who are hard on the heels of the Coalition for third place, they are still insisting they didn't stand in line for toilet paper back when they were running things. Meanwhile, Klaus' Civics have been shoring up their dubious flat-tax program with a promise to protect Czech national interests. These interests are spelled out in a little booklet that calls for curbing immigration, standing up to the EU and daring Germany to pick a fight over war restitution. In other words, being confrontational as usual. And Klaus is more combative than ever now that the mayor of Prague, Jan Kasl, has resigned from his position just before the election. He couldn't take any more of Klaus' high-handed tactics, he declared. Klaus shot back that Kasl, whom he had handpicked for the job, had fallen under the control of several "whisperers" who were out to get him. He had Havel and his people in mind, and they decided to humor Klaus by inviting Kasl to Castle and whispering to him for the press. Eager to stay on the front page, Klaus declared that he was the victim of another Sarajevo. He was referring to the attempt by several unhappy members of his party to oust him while he was on a visit to Bosnia in 1997. The coup failed, but precipitated the fall of his government and the victory of the Social Democrats in the election that followed. Through all the petty bickering the parties did manage to pull together to honor the Czech version of the real Sarajevo, the assassination that set off World War I. An exhibition got underway in Prague to mark the 60th anniversary of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi henchman who apparently thought he was so loved by the Czech people that he would ride around in an open car with no escort. Two-British trained Czech commandos tossed a bomb in his car that May morning and that was the end of Heydrich, who had chaired the infamous Wannsee Conference before coming to Prague. The event was hailed as an act of courage, but a questionable one to say the least. The assassins were tracked down, their family, friends, two whole villages, some 5000 people in all liquidated as the price of retribution. The outcome of the war was changed only in that Heydrich was given a grand funeral across stately Charles' Bridge in Prague instead of swinging from the gallows in Nuremberg. It can be seen on film today.