Kundera Accused of Getting a Spy to Jail

Nov 5, 14:39 Filed under news

There is a lot of talk about Milan Kundera these days. Not that his books would suddenly become so very popular. He´s in the news, supposedly disclosed as a snitch. In 1950 he assisted the Secret police in arresting Miroslav Dvořáček, a returned émigré, a CIC operative at the time. The man Kundera supposedly informed on spent next 14 years in jail.

No matter how tragic the case is, it’s not as simple as it may seem. Kundera did not give in a “politically unreliable” schoolmate or someone making anti- Communist leaflets, the motive was not political affiliation. The man whom he informed on was a spy, he was decidedly working against the state that Kundera, as a Communist, was at the time loyal to. Today we view Dvořáček as a freedom fighter, a man of courage, who sacrificed his safety for what he believed in. But in 1950 Kundera was one of hundreds of thousands, who saw him as an enemy, because he believed in the system. CIC, or Counter Intelligence Corps, was a US Army intelligence agency. In the eyes of those who believed in Communism, a CIC operative was something similar to a Russian FSB agent today. Most people would inform authorities, had they found out they have a foreign power’s secret agent next door.

Yes, there is a major difference: the then system was unlawful. But it was declared unlawful more than forty years later. And it proved unlawful clearly enough when the executions took place and when the Soviet forces were allowed to stay. At the time this case took place it was not as clear. Kundera rejected the system only several years later. His fault was that he did not foresee the unlawfulness of the regime before it started the executions, before the death of Stalin, before the invasion. Yes, it probably was a failure, but he always admitted it. Also, we have no problem with people who were loyal to the regime in the 1980s, when nearly all knew the system was sick right from the start- they are among our political elite. What does the new information, provided by the relatively new The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, really say? No matter how I look at it, it basically says that Kundera was red as a cherry in 1950. Everyone knew that. Now we just have it on paper.

However, I agree that if the facts are right, Kundera probably should have revealed his deed. It is difficult to accept that he did not specifically address the case, he never apologized for it, he obviously didn’t contact Dvořáček or his family. I agree that’s not admirable, if he really id what he was accused of.

The truth is he did reflect his red years in his art, more than many other artists with a skeleton in the closet. He regretted his past and separated himself from politics for decades.

Anyway, opinions differ at this point. Some people will label Kundera as a traitor, a man not worthy of respect. It’s their opinion. What I see as the main truble here is the way it was presented. It was released by an Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes employee and with the institute’s support. But it’s more of a journalist scoop than work of a historian.
The institute has quite a pompous name, considering what it managed so far. Not only oes it pay no attention to theory of totalitarianism and „studies“ only the Czechoslovak case (though the name implies general scope), it seems to concentrate on merely picking up docments from the Secret Police archives. It has, maybe unknowingly, already served political purposes during the last presidential election. Now is it going to contribute to our understanding of the past by releasing single documents proving that a celebrity’s name is in some police file? That’s not much of a contribution.

The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic has recently criticized the institute for the manner in which it approached the information. It was published as a magazine article, with little verification and no reaction from Kundera himself. He denies any wrongdoing and seems to be determined to go to court.

Regional Elections in Orange

Nov 4, 16:44 Filed under news

„An orange Tsunami” has swept through the Czech lands, the centre- left/”socialist” Social Democrats (CSSD) scoring a sweeping victory over the governing Civic Democrats (ODS). Voters were selecting their regional administration and a third of the Senate. Both grounds were traditionally favourable to the Civic Democrats, but this time, with the exception of Prague, they were overwhelmingly beaten. Also, local elections often help smaller parties, but this time it was almost completely a two- party contest. Even the two smaller parties from the governmental coalition had depressing results.
Jiří Paroubek suffered a heavy blow recently as one of his friends (or, at least, acquaintances) shot dead another. The killing took place on Paroubek’s party, when he was already gone. It is reported that the incident was preceded by a betting game: our socialist leader´s buddies were competing about the amount of money (meaning tens to hundreds of thousands CZK) they have in their purses at the moment. Anyway, the fact that the top left- wing politician throws ultra- posh parties with guys who go to a pub with a loaded gun behind the belt, did not prevent his party from winning. The reasons are obvious: The Civic Democrats are related to massive losses of money during the 1990s, the Communist Party are a league on their own (not meant as a compliment), the Greens are lost in space and the Christian Democrats have confused and incompetent elites. That is how many people see it.

The right- wing ODS paid not only for some unpopular reforms, or adjustments, but also for weak communication, inter-party and inter-governmental disputes and, in many cases, suspicious policies. And, chiefly, for their opponent´s ability to shift the emphasis from local issues to the issues concerning the whole republic. The election is more about technical, smaller- scale and ideology- free decisions, but the CSSD managed to persuade the voters that this is a referendum on the current government.

So, the current government, and mainly its leader have reasons to be nervous. It now seems almost certain that Topolánek will soon cease being the party chairman.
Anyway let´s, at least, have a quick look at the new Prague senators. The only three right-wing oriented senators who succeeded in this election were elected in Prague.

Zdeněk Schwarz is probably the best known of the three. He is the leader of Prague ambulance service since 1998. He was an independent candidate on the ODS list and so far it seems he won’t support everything the party stands for. He does not favour, for example, privatization of hospitals, which is something the current Minister of Healthcare is getting quite close to. Tomáš Kladívko was already an MP. He decided to focus on several recently discussed themes: for example a smoking ban in all restaurants (he’s against), the US radar base (he supports it) and the new National Library by Jan Kaplický (yes, but not on Letná). Miroslav Škaloud is a newcomer in top- level politics, one of many local politicians, who, after gaining a secure position, goes higher. That’s a must for any party, to have new elites coming from the lower levels of politics and it is something that the Social Democrats will have to face as their new regional leaders will, in time, challenge the centre.

Fire at Vystaviste - Prague exhibition ground

Nov 4, 16:43 Filed under dark-side-of-prague

On Thursday 16th of October, a catastrophe happened in Prague. There was a big fire in a precious historical building of Industrial Palace (Prumyslovy palac) in Vystaviste area in Prague 7. The fire completely destroyed the left (west) wing of the palace.

The fire was the most probably caused by an explosion at one of the stalls which were at the building because there was held dentist fair trade called Pragodent. But how and why explosion happened is quite unclear. Was it just an accident? There were also some speculations, that the fire was somehow connected with the Kockas family, who hires offices in Vystaviste and organizes here “Matejska pout”, popular event with various attractions. Vaclav Kocka, the younger, was shot a week before the fire, during the baptism of the book written by Jiri Paroubek, the leader of the political party CSSD. So are those just a speculations and the fire was only a very bad accident or there are really some connections with the events of the week before?

However it was, there is now hard work to be done, because the Palace should be renovated, and the burn wing should look exactly how it looked before, it is going to be difficult and expensive. But the palace is a heritage site of high importance.

The palace was built for the big exhibition in 1891 by the architect Bedrich Munzberger. For the same exhibition was also built such famous things as Petrin tower, Petrin funicular or Krizik’s fountain. The industrial palace was since then used mainly for exhibitions and fair trades. It was quite magnificent building, so lets hope that the renovation is going to be successful.

Chinese painting exhibition

Nov 3, 16:45 Filed under culture

Exhibition called simply Chinese Painting can be seen until 28th of November in Prague Rudolfinum Gallery. The exhibition, curated by Czech curator Petr Nedoma and his collegue from Hongkong, Chang Tshong-zung, presents three Chinese painters of middle generation, who today are probably the most famous, recognized and important painters of this country. They are Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun and Feng Mengbo. Old European painting techniques of oil or tempera on canvases are quite new in China, so it is interesting to see, how those authors deal with this medium.

Zhang Xiaogang (1956) is mostly occupied with a topic of contemporary Chinese family in his work. His anxious big canvases are done mostly in shades of gray, with a specific use of red color for particular important parts of the pictures.

Fang Lijun (1963) is one of the leading representatives of something, which is called “cynical realism”. His big canvases are full of vibrant colors.

The most interesting painter of the three is Feng Mengbo (1966) who makes his work not only on canvases but also makes computer-generated video sequences, and an example of this part of his work is also shown in the exhibition. But he is interesting mainly for his huge and monumental canvases, either with flying birds and insect depicted on them or the newest series of landscapes, in a way continuing in a long tradition of Chinese landscape painting.

Chinese painting is still not that well-known here in the Czech Republic, so it may be interesting to see at least its most famous representatives, although it might have been better and more educative if there would be presented more authors on the exhibition, not just those three. But if you are into Art, you should not miss this exhibition. It is interesting to see how Chinese painting varies from the European or Americans ones, on which we are used to here.

Rudolfinum Gallery is situated in representative 19th century Rudolfinum building, situated on Jana Palacha Square, but the entrance to the gallery is from Alsovo Nabrezi Street, number 12. Opening hours are from 10 am to 6 pm daily, except Mondays.

Munich Agreement 1938 (Part Two)

Oct 23, 16:28 Filed under history

The Munich Agreement was signed early morning on the 30th of September by France, Britain, Italy and Germany. Hitler gained exactly what he wanted. The Czechoslovak government was informed about the results of the meeting and was strongly recommended to fulfill the agreement. As it was clear that the Czechoslovak army would not withstand the Nazi “Wehrmacht” on its own, the Czechoslovak government capitulated. The Sudetenland was soon legally occupied by Nazi Germany.

The results of Munich Agreement for Czechoslovakia were desolating. The Czechoslovakia not only had to give up 30 per cent of its territory and 34 per cent of its citizens to Nazi Germany, but by doing so it lost 70 per cent of its iron and steel and 70 per cent of its electrical power. Moreover, the Czechoslovakia without Sudetenland was left without any defensible borders with Germany and with no fortresses. Another aspect was the feeling of being betrayed by its allies France and Britain.

The Munich Agreement was just another step towards the Second World War. First was the annexation of Austria in March 1938, then the seizure of Sudetenland in September 1938, followed by the Nazi occupation of the remaining parts Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. Next step was Poland.

You have now a great chance to see all four original documents of Munich Agreement in the National Museum. The exhibition will take place until the end of March 2009.

Munich Agreement 1938 (Part One)

Oct 22, 15:54 Filed under history

On the 30th of September, the Czech Republic commemorates a very sad event in the Czech history and that is the signing of Munich Agreement in 1938. Seventy years have passed already since this dreadful moment. It may seem as a century already but people in the Czech Republic will probably never forget this moment. In fact, this Munich “Agreement” is rather called Munich Dictate or Munich Betrayal by many Czechs. Why? And what was this agreement about?

On the 29th of September, 1938, the representatives of four major European powers at that time met in Munich, Germany. Present were French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Those guys came all the way to Munich to discuss and solve the territorial demands the Nazi Germany wanted from Czechoslovakia. Surprisingly enough, no one from the Czechoslovak government was invited to this meeting.

Hitler required the so called Sudetenland, which was a Czechoslovak territory all along its borders where Germans had lived peacefully for centuries together with Czechs and Slovaks. Czechoslovak government naturally did not want to give up the Czechoslovak territory. Actually, Czechoslovak people were ready to fight for its territorial sovereignty. However, Czechoslovak army was too small to face Nazi Germany by its own. That is why Czechoslovak leaders counted with the help from France, with which they had an alliance. Unfortunately for the Czechs, appeasement was the policy number one at that time.

Both Daladier and Chamberlain wanted to avoid another war at any costs. They believed that Sudetenland was the last Hitler’s territorial demand and that by agreeing to Hitler’s proposal, there will be peace in the whole Europe. This was, of course, a very false assumption. The war came in just a few months afterwards.

Munich Agreement Part Two

The Czech EU Presidency is Coming: The Government Starts a Media Campaign

Oct 18, 15:07 Filed under

The CR is going to take over the EU presidency for the first six months of next year. The preparations are under way, of course. It costs some money: a 3 billion crowns estimate. There are reasons for optimism: we will have a chance to show off a bit, to make our name heard in the world, and maybe John McCain will stop calling us “Czechoslovakia”. But with the unstable government coalition, the inter-party struggles and a still unclear agenda, it may also be a failure. Not that it should bring some disgraceful deeds, no, I mean it can result in a mediocre administrative sleeper. Or worse, should our president find it appropriate to voice some of his ideas concerning the EU during a summit, however unlikely it may seem, there could be even some fun. The EU delegates would, for example, surely welcome his comparison of the Union to the RVHP. That was an economic union between East European Communist states during the Cold War, established in order to take resources from the stronger communist states and place them to the weak ones so that the whole bloc wouldn´t fall apart.

There is a campaign going on. It consists chiefly of a TV spot, which features various well-known Czech faces, playing around with cubes of sugar. The cubes of sugar are supposedly a Czech invention. The climax is a slogan, which would translate something like “We´ll sweeten it for Europe”. The Czech idiom of sweetening something for somebody has a negative connotation, but it is possible that the authors are just being playful. They say the goal is to make Czech people care about the EU presidency and to take a more relaxed approach to the whole EU project.

There are good reasons for such an ambition. Czechs are generally not very happy about the Union. Czech politicians have so far been unable to make use of the large EU funds for development projects. Lots of money did, or is about to, disappear in vain. The Euro, which is eagerly awaited by Czech exporters, is not yet in sight and the current government seems reluctant to make a decisive move towards it. But some prices have been rising to the Euro level anyway- cigarettes, for example. And our representatives failed to negotiate suitable quotas for production of sugar and our sugar industry, traditionally a strong one, is now in ruins thanks to the very harsh quota we received. The producers of sugar are forbidden even to satisfy the Czech market: so instead of exporting, we must import. Is the sugar cube such a well- chosen object for a pro- EU campaign?

There is still some sense of the project´s positive aspects: people enjoy how easy it is to travel. And the closer ties between European countries are not generally seen as a bad idea. Free trade, the chief idea of the EU, is also seen as mostly positive, but there are reservations.

The EU trade is not free enough for some and too free for others. Too state- regulated for orthodox (neo)liberals, too in international for nationalists. With the financial crisis, the unsettled political climate and half- convinced public, the presidency will be a quite a job.

Designblok 2008

Oct 8, 09:41 Filed under prague-events

If you are really interested in design, you definitely should not miss out Designblok, the most important event dedicated to contemporary design, which takes place in the Czech Republic’s capital Prague. This year already for the 10th time, and this time under the subtitle “Celebration“.

Desingblock aims to present mainly Czech designers and companies, but also doesn’t forget on subjects from abroad. Opening ceremony is on Monday evening, 6th of October, and then you can enjoy the week full of design, until Sunday, 12th of October.

The most imporatnt places of this year’s Designblok are two so-called Superstudios, one of them, Superstudio Corso is in Karlin, in Krizikova Street number 38, very close to metro station Krizikova (yellow/B line), second one, Superstidio Dox is in Prague 7, in Poupetova Street, number 1a. Here are taking place opening and closing ceremonies and here are exibited things which are regarded as the most interesting. Both Superstudios are opened from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Here you can buy the entrance ticket, which costs 150 Czk or 100 Czk, for students, kids under 15 years are for free. The ticket will allow you to enter both Superstudios repeatedly.

But many other events can be also seen in another places, mainly in the city centre, there are prepared interesting showrooms, fashion shows…

More information about this year’s Designblok can be found on the official website of the project: http://www.designblok.cz/en There is program of the whole Designblock, what happens each day, where is exhibited what…

Berlin

Oct 3, 16:12 Filed under

Berlin, a capital of Germany, is a city, which is definitely worth of visit. And it is not that far from Prague, so if you are staying here for some longer time, and already know the Czech capitol quite well, you may consider taking a trip to Berlin. There is quite good transport system between those two cities, it is possible to take either direct train or bus or go by car. Finding a lodgement in Berlin is not hard, there is a wide range of both nice hotels and hostels for reasonable prices. And even if you don’t know any German, it is not really a problem, it is even easier to get there along just with English then it is in Prague.

Berlin is quite a big city, with its population almost 3,5 million of inhabitants. It is the largest German city with interesting and complicated history, especially the modern times history… during the World War II, there was a seat of evil Nazi’s Third Reich, after the war, the city was divided into West and East Berlin, while East Berlin became a capitol of socialistic East Germany, which was under political and economical influence of USSR. West Berlin stayed democratic and became a western enclave. In 1961 were both those parts, Eastern and Western, divide by the (in)famous Berlin Wall, it stayed this way until 1989. In 1990, after the fall of the communism, Berlin regained its status as a capitol of the whole Germany.

Today, Berlin is fascinating and bustling city, with rich culture, many important and interesting museums and galleries, cool clubs and pubs, lively music scene etc. As a German capitol, it is also a seat of German parliament and there are important universities and academies. It is one of major centres of European culture, politics, science… And as such, it is definitely worth of visit.

What to see there? Just wondering around the Berlin streets at night itself is fascinating, there are amazing light works on architecture, fascinating. Great experience can also be a visit of some stylish pub or club. One of the must-be-seen is a Reichstag, the site of the German parliament, which was rebuilt in a really interesting way by the famous architect Norman Foster, if you visit it at night, you can enjoy fantastic light affect on this building.

During the day, you can visit some of churches, synagogues or some of many many museums and galleries, especially important is The Museum Island. Really interesting is the Jewish Museum, which presents German-Jewish history. Its building was designed by the very famous American architect of Polish origin Daniel Libeskind. Extremely interesting are both the building itself as well as the extensive exhibition inside.

Another must-see in Berlin are the rests of the Berlin wall with famous Check-point Charlie, which used to be the gate between the East and the West.

Berlin is a huge city and there are so many other things to do and see, so you can choose whatever you like and enjoy your time here.

Traffic regulations

Sep 24, 15:45 Filed under culture

Czech politicians have been quite tense during the recent month. There were many reasons, one of them being traffic. The Green Party pushed for a restriction of truck traffic during the weekend and, more importantly, on Fridays. The result is that throughout the whole year, Friday 15- 18 hours local time, all trucks must get off the road. The transport companies are enraged. They say there is an estimate of thirty thousand trucks moving around the republic during Friday afternoon- and around a thousand parking slots. Where is the rest supposed to go?

It’s easy to say the Green chairman Martin Bursík simply had to score some points before the party convention, which took place a week ago. But the fact remains the trucks are a soaring problem in the CR. As a participant in one Net discussion sensibly remarked: OK, we don’t know what to do with the plastic bottles and wrappings, so let’s just keep throwing them all over the planet, right?

Right, we all know something has to be done. There are many villages and small towns in the CR that are desperate because of the amount of trucks that pass through them every day. The roads are often narrow, the towns were not built for such a use, obviously, so there are dwelling all along the roads, which were supposed to be peaceful. Now that these become small highways, the people around are forced to breathe toxic air, their houses are becoming less stable, there is relentless noise. And, of course, there many more accidents, collisions and casualties. There are small towns in the country that seem completely destroyed by this tidal wave.

The problem is, to great extent, a result of the conditions, under which we joined the EU. The system was not ready, we had no restrictions regarding the traffic when we joined and we didn’t even have the toll system ready, it took many more months for the government to prepare. In consequence, the transport companies stormed the Czech infrastructure and when the toll finally did come into place, it was too late.

The capital didn’t feel that much of a change. Prague has been having problems with traffic for many years, especially on the main roads, the highway that goes through the city. Some minor problems were solved by restrictions: the riverbank under Vysehrad used to be blocked because cars and trams were struggling to get through the narrow tunnel under the rock. On such a small scale it’s easy to deal with: traffic lights were set before the tunnel. But in case of small towns, the results are often opposite: they make the traffic even slower.

Not that Prague would be perfect in comparison: many (me included) are waiting for more car- free zones in the centre and some of the major roads are almost permanently overflowing with vehicles. But it’s nowhere near a collapse and the prospects can make us optimistic.

An alternate highway is to be built around Prague, the works are actually going on. Similarly, many other towns need these by- pass operations. But they’re expensive, they take time to be built, they don’t always solve the problem- and they are often halted by the property- owners, whose land would have to be used.

The current decision may be unrealistic, but it seems some restrictions are unavoidable. It’s the tactics that makes it unpleasant. Bursík was facing a rebel group within his party and he needed something “green” to be passed, him being accused of being too “blue” (ODS-friendly, rightist). Surely, it wasn’t the main point when the votes were cast, but it’s probably did contribute to the great success he had, wiping out his opposition from the tope levels of the party.

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