June 2003   česky

Nobody had ever heard of a Czech Dream until it was advertised as a hypermarket about to open in the Letná section of Prague. The prices it was offering certainly made it sound like a dream: TVs for less than $20, beer for a dime. The thousand people who gathered on a Saturday morning for the grand opening knew something was amiss when they found themselves standing in a grassy lot. The hypermarket was there, but upon closer inspection, it turned out to be just a huge prop. The crowd wasn't sure what to make of it all. Finally someone stepped forward and reassured them that this was no joke. They had unwittingly walked into a research project being conducted by two student filmmakers. Their premise was to see if advertising has the ability to make people look like fools, as in this case. Some of the duped shoppers, cheated out of one American dream (shop-till-you-drop), swore they would now pursue another (sue-till-your-blue). They're especially angry that the project was funded by a government grant at a time when a new austerity package is winding its way through parliament. The government also came in for heavy criticism for the media campaign it ran in the run up to the referendum on the European Union. It spent 200 million crowns for a series of silly infomercials that were panned by just about everybody. The print media, which was solidly behind the Yes vote, was suddenly full of gloom about the outcome and began numbering the coalition government's days. In the end, only the pollsters got it right (for once). Turnout was 55%, with 77% casting their votes for the Union. The premier was ecstatic and sent out invitations to join him for a victory celebration. The Communists, who love nothing better than a free buffet, showed up despite telling their members to vote No. Leading Euro-skeptics insisted they were never invited, although the president got his. Klaus declined to attend, however, saying he was too busy packing for his trip to America. Many people took it as a sign that the president was still sulking. Klaus had based his comeback on Euro-skepticism and now, with the referendum at hand, it was time to put up or shut up. Naturally, he opted for both, urging the people to vote, but not one way or the other. Once it was clear that the referendum had passed, Klaus holed up at his weekend cottage and made no public statement. The backlash was swift, forcing his spokesman to lay all the blame on the staff of Czech TV. He claimed they offered the president no decent time slot to make a few comments about the results. But Klaus was quick to respond when the German Bundestag welcomed the Czech Republic into the Union while at the same time recommending that it rescind the decrees that expelled the German minority after World War II. It's too bad the recommendation wasn't made before the referendum, the president said while in the US, as if suggesting it would have strengthened the No vote. He and his followers have gone so far as to conjure up images of George Orwell in the European Union. Some countries are more equal than others, stuff like that. The chairman of his old party, Mirek Topolánek, hoped the referendum would pass but only by a 51-49 margin. He and the other Civic Democrats are no doubt smarting over US ambassador Stapleton, a conservative businessman, praising the current leftist government for fighting corruption, which is news to almost everyone else. Klaus clashed with Stapleton back in March over Iraq and as a result found himself having to settle for an audience with only the vice-president during his visit to America. His predecessor, Havel, would have never been so snubbed (or so keen to oppose the US on foreign policy grounds). Havel was recently named goodwill ambassador for the Czech Republic but used his first major speech in the post to lash out at the racketeers and mafiosos he says are running things on the Czech political scene. He provided no names, but former premier Miloą Zeman, whose administration was legendary for the shady deals it signed, came out of retirement to warn the Social Democrats that they will lose the next election because current premier Vladimír ©pidla, who thwarted his presidential ambitions, is still head of the party. Showing that he's lost none of his tact, Zeman advises that ©pidla and his deputies be put to sleep. The premier is all for using humane methods with troublesome politicians. He even made the dubious claim of having invented the concept. Otherwise, he dismissed Zeman's attack and pressed ahead with public finance reform. The unions have threatened to walk out on all sides and declared that 5000 people would gather on a Saturday morning in Letna to register their protest. The turnout was dismal, however. Barely 2000 showed up and rumor had it that most of them were looking for a Czech dream.