November 2002   česky

Hana has left the chamber. That was the signal for the government to call a vote on its deficit-ridden budget and this time it squeaked by 100-99. Hana Marvanová, who had sunk the last vote in September, excused herself long enough for the bill to pass and her conscience to remain intact. The Social Democrats needed the win after coming up way short in local elections. They didn't do so hot in senate elections, either, but the upper chamber has become a joke now that people like Vladimír ®elezný are winning seats in it. He will be joined there by scruffy Martin Mejstrík, a former student activist who campaigned as a former student activist. He gave up his day job as a gardener because he couldn't bear to stand by and let the world suffer anymore. The poor showing by the Social Democrats had some of them reconsidering their ban on working with Communists. But that was before Communist leader Grebenícek got edgy during the NATO summit in Prague and called Premier ©pidla a toady, George Bush a moron and sent one of his deputies on a friendship tour of Iraq. No word about who sent his other deputy to the Castle to dine with officials of the alliance, however, or what they ate. On the menu for the big state dinner was crawdad, which was chosen to give the guests a taste of Czech cuisine. More like medieval Czech cuisine. In any event, when it was discovered that this particular crawdad was an endangered species in this country, the Castle quickly announced that it had been imported from France. And that was about the biggest stir to come out of the summit. The 12,000 police and security forces that had been deployed around the city were left wondering where all the anarchists were. The dire predictions about the city coming under seige came down to just a few tomatoes being tossed at secretary-general Robertson. President Havel, who single-handedly brought the summit to Prague, was noticeably unhappy with the tanks parked in the streets. Here there were 18 presidents and prime ministers coming to toast his career as a crusader for freedom and the joint looks like a police state. He needn't have worried, though. French President Chirac for one gushed that "dear Václav" radiated "the light of a humble and kind person with an iron will." He talked about him being a dissident and the time he spent in prison, perhaps not realizing that the last Communist president of this country was also a dissident who spent time in prison. He was also unaware, or simply didn't care, about ominous signs of this country going back to the bad old days, and with Havel's consent no less. One case involves two men being tried for registering the internet domain dagmarhavlova.cz and then filling its pages with porno. Since the president's wife is named Dagmar Havlová, the other star of the summit, the prosecutor is seeking to imprison the men for up to two years for sullying her name. Most legal analysts don't give the case much chance, which begs the question as to why the president's office would file charges in the first place. Because, the spokesman declared, "a lot of criminal charges are filed every day in this country." And that's that. Freedom of the press had gotten a boost last month when the high court finally overturned the verdict of Michal Zitko, who was convicted for publishing Mein Kampf in Czech. Havel has shown a conspicuous lack of sympathy for Zitko and so far hasn't shown any interest in another case involving the recent conviction of a man and his sister-in-law for libel. Theirs is all the more disturbing because they received suspended prison sentences for spreading a rumor that Libuąe ©afránková, the wide-eyed waif in the Christmas classic Popelka (Cinderella), was an alcoholic and that her actor-husband Josef Abrhám was a bully. Although such cases are normally settled in civil court, the government decided that criminal charges were necessary to protect the honor and dignity of Cinderella. The reason the government didn't prosecute the people who actually put the rumor into print was because prosecutor Zoya Bayerová couldn't be bothered. "We chose the path of least resistance," she claimed. But such cases are still small potatoes. What is important is that the world loves Havel and because of that, the Czech Republic has gathered more respect and attention than any of the other post-communist countries. And as a symbol of this love, the president has personally lit a gigantic heart that now adorns the top of the Castle. It's a red Valentine's heart, measuring 15 meters by 15 meters, which the artist, Jirí David, calls Záre (Splendour). Splendid it certainly isn't and jokes have already cropped up that the NATO delegations invited to meet with Havel might be under the impression they were on their way to a whorehouse. The artist himself calls the heart profane, dull and pure kitsch. But, he added, in its proper place, it displays an unmistakable character. Exactly. Whorehouse.