March 2003   česky

Bombs, helicopters, people gripped with fear. That was the situation in Olomouc after explosives were discovered on a nearby railroad bridge. Whoever planted the device warned the police that other bombs would start going off in the area unless the government forked over 10,000,000 crowns. According to his instructions, the money was to be placed in 25 packages and dropped from a helicopter in locations scattered throughout central Moravia. When the extortionist failed to show up for the cash, the authorities panicked and put the city on high alert. In the end, the only explosions that went off were in a far away land, but it was just another day in the life for Premier ©pidla. He had just narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament due in part to his image as a bungler. He had bungled the budget vote, bungled the presidential election, and now here his government was tossing packages of money out of a helicopter. As expected, the mood was nasty at his party's annual congress, with several delegates working behind the scenes to replace him with Interior Minister Gross, another, more dangerous, bungler. Gross' love for the media spotlight has led him into one indiscretion after another, chief among them his contention that there was a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq before the 9-11 attack. His intelligence turned out to be so weak that the Bush administration didn't bother to include it in its own shoddy claims of links between the two. Gross has expressed his support for the war in Iraq with all the confidence of a child. "It's good that we're on the side of the United States, because they're going to win," he brags. ©pidla is not so sure and can't quite bring himself to take a firm stand. Other leading members of his party remain adamant that all wars must be approved by the UN first. Their coalition partners in the government have no such reservations and are strongly behind it, as are Havel and the Civic Democrats. Opposing them are the Communists and the man they put in the Castle last month. President Klaus has insisted that the position of the Czech Republic must conform to the will of the people. And so, with both premier and president refusing to show any real leadership on this issue, the Czechs are again mumbling that they look like a bunch of ©vejks in front of the world. The Good Soldier ©vejk tells the story of a ne'er-do-well from Prague who survives World War I simply because he is a ne'er-do-well from Prague. Down in the war zone, Kuwait is certainly now familiar with ©vejk. The country had ordered several thousand gas masks from a Czech firm, no doubt based on the expertise the Czechs have in chemical warfare. But the masks, it turned out, weren't even the right ones. The Kuwaitis weren't amused, leaving the government to rant about one firm ruining the business reputation of the country as a whole. And it should know. An arbitration court in London has recently ruled against the Czech government in a case involving an American investor in TV Nova and Senator Vladimír ®elezný, the director of the station. The court declared that the state-appointed Broadcasting Council had conspired to permit ®elezný to take control of the station and leave his investor high and dry. As a result Czech taxpayers must now fork over 10,000,000,000 crowns in damages. The official comment of TV Nova, which got rich by aping low-life American TV, was, "Ain't our problem." ®elezný was a bit more subtle. "I love dumplings," he told viewers. His ludicrous remark underscores how important he considers this case to be for Czech nationalism. Knedlíky, or dumplings are as close to Czech as you can get, with the exception of beer. Lose this case, he warns, and we'll eventually lose our dumplings to those American imperialists. So far he has found little sympathy among the mainstream Czech media, but they too have begun to jump on the bash-America bandwagon. MF DNES, the largest Czech daily, has been offering up a steady fare about America's arrogance, its fundamentalism and designs on the world's oil supply. And then there are the bizarre op-ed pieces that have lately put the newspaper in the same league as TV Nova. One, reportedly by a nuclear physicist, tells the story of how his father came home from a concentration camp after World War II wearing a Swiss watch. He gives it to his son but some bad American soldier comes along and steals it. The soldier is forced to give the watch back and say he's sorry. Now our nuclear physicist yearns for someone who can make George Bush say he's sorry to the world for all the bad things he's doing. He neglects to mention why he doesn't have a go at it himself, like writing a nice little letter and sending it to the White House.

                                    Dear Mr. Bush,

                                    Stop this war and say you're sorry.

                                    Yours truly,
                                    Nuclear Physicist

He should take the added expense of sending it airmail, that way the war will be over sooner.