Černý Causes Havoc by an Ironic Euro-Mosaic

Jan 21, 15:04 Filed under news

Entropa: an installation by David Černý at the European Council building, is yet about to be set in motion, but it’s filling headlines already. Černý based his work on stereotypes about European states. Romania is “defined” by Dracula, France seems to be on strike and so on. The CR’s frame is a display of quotes of Vaclav Klaus. So far so acceptable.

Denmark is made of Lego and resembles the Prophet Muhammad caricature, which led to massive protests a few years ago. In this case he is sort of reviving a wound not yet healed. But it’s not demeaning.

The Germans are criss-crossed by highways, which seem to form a kind of Swastika. That’s cruel, but it’s also witty enough and, well, the Germans are used to it. During previous decades they grew very patient and humble about their history and the constant (and rightful) reminding of the Nazi period is a part of their contemporary European experience. So, in fact this fulfills the concept perfectly.

The frame of Bulgaria is filled with a Turkish toilet. Little wonder the Bulgarian officials are infuriated: are we supposed to be represented by a toilet? Is that all we are to be known for?
Definitely not- and that’s the point. It’s all stupid stereotypes, that’s exactly what the installation is about. The question remains whether this is really the best way to express this thought- which is, after all, quite banal.

Černý is well known here for rejecting the notion of Czech patriotism and “national identity”- he describes a typical Czech as a fat, brute, beer-loving coward who spends his free time watching other people playing football. He doesn’t have strong sentiments about our glorious past either: one of his famous works in the statue of St Wenceslas in the Lucerna passage. The statue is a copy of the one on Wenceslas square, only here the horse is turned upside down. The horse looks like dead meat and the Czech patron looks ridiculous as he maintains the same heroic pose while sitting on a corpse.

Among many other works, Černý also made the black babies crawling the Zizkov TV tower. Less provocative, quite nice I’d say. His third (the earliest, actually) most well-known work was the tank on Klárov. For many years it was a memorial of the Russian army on the square by the Malostranská Metro station. Černý, a student at the time, gave it a pink coating.

The tank was an answer to 20 years of Soviet propaganda. On the other hand, it was a memorial for the dead Russian soldiers who liberated most of the Czechoslovakia in 1945. We all know what followed and the memorial was part of the post- 1968 propaganda, but the soldiers really died here, thousands of them. For many Czechs this was too much: it seemed not only to reject the occupation and the Sovietization of our past, but also to ignore, or ridicule, the sacrifice of the individual Russian soldiers.

This sort of brings us back to Entropa. It is, again, a concept that is both understandable and questionable. Sometimes it is necessary to be annoying, but sometimes it can just be counter- productive, self- conscious and elitist. The dividing line is almost invisible.
What we should not forget, while forming an opinion on the mosaic, is whether it’s really good- it should not be made a 100% political case.

All reservations aside, it seems almost redundant to add that it, of course, should NOT be taken down or changed. If Černý now bowed down and gave the Bulgarians some “nicer” stereotype, he would completely ruin the concept- there are no “good” stereotypes, we should, as we’re in the Union, try to liberate ourselves from all of them.

Prague TV Going Digital

Dec 10, 14:09 Filed under news

The Zizkov Television Tower has, in many ways, become a symbol of the whole quarter. Not that it would fit in with its architecture, it does fit in with its essence: it’s very high (216 meters) and plain, somewhat arrogant and reckless. And it’s also humorous, since David Černý placed those bizarre crawling babies on its body. As such it is not completely out of place in Žižkov, which is known for its very high density of pubs, old houses and slightly hazardous atmosphere, a bit harder than other parts of Prague (if we don´t count Karlín).

This summer, there was a festival called Žižkov sobě, a series of cultural events with the purpose of promoting the city quarter’s qualities. It’s no coincidence that it began and ended with two events taking place under the Žižkov TV Tower.

And on 6th of October, as the Czech TV networks took further steps towards digitization of the television signal. The antenna on the tower had to be replaced by a more up- to –date model. The new antenna weighs about nine tons, so in order to move it safely, it had to be separated into two parts and a special helicopter had was used. The Russian Kamov Ka-32 is a double-motor, heavyweight machine, able to maintain a position in the air and to carry as much as five tons of weight at once. This power gave it its „flying crane“ call sign.

The park under the tower was temporarily declared a no- go area. Since Prague parks are not separated by walls from their surroundings, this was mostly up to the police. People in nearby streets were able to enjoy the unusual sight and some say they enjoyed the minor spectacle.

The most difficult part was finished in three hours. The operation was a success, though it wasn’t cheap: it cost many millions of crowns. The organizers praised fair weather and reliable equipment. A similar operation, using similar equipment, will soon take place in Pilsen.

The digitalising of Czech TV networks is a long- running process. It was halted once, as some commercial subjects, mainly TV Nova, objected to the way licenses were given to contenders. A license- related dispute is somewhat piquant in relation to this particular TV station, the most popular one in the republic. When Nova acquired its license in 1993 it did so under conditions it didn’t really follow: promising a program concerned with education and feature films, including the European ones, it quickly moved to endless American series and soaps, which were later replaced by the very fruitful South American soap production. Anyway that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been right in this case.
Now it goes on quite slowly, as people need to get accustomed to the changes and, mainly, to be thoroughly informed.

Not everyone welcomes the process. Yes, there will be more channels and better picture quality, but many people don’t need that. Czech TV viewers are thought to be quite conservative, content with Czech soap operas and sitcoms, weather old or new. And as the signal goes digital, the analogue one has to be terminated. Which means everyone has to get a receiver, whether they like it or not.

The Treaty of Lisbon Verdict

Dec 2, 13:50 Filed under news

The Czech Constitutional Court has just decided that the Treaty of Lisbon does not collide with the Czech constitution. That means it can be ratified either by parliament, or by referendum. The latter option is not very likely at this moment, since all the major political actors, except the Communists, are in favour of the parliamentary way.

The court is seated in Brno. The justices are appointed by the president with consent of the Senate, for a minimum ten-year term. That means the current Court is not full of Klaus’s people, although he nominated quite a few of today’s justices. Actually it’s not the point, the justices are not to be chosen for their political affiliation and President Klaus knows that well enough. It’s supposed to be independent, and it can be said it is. The truth is the court gives verdicts that contradict the president’s opinions, notably in the case of Judr. Brozova, head of the Supreme Court. She was in a dispute with the president over his interventions into the Supreme Court and she won the case, which led Klaus into statements about “judiciocracy”. No surprise for those of us who know our president long enough: many of his opponents, critical journalists or activists were already labelled as a “danger to democracy”.

The court was asked by some ODS senators to examine the Treaty of Lisbon. The senators expressed their doubts about some of the treaty´s features, yet some of them are simply known to be anti- EU. Some suspect the senators of merely delaying the process of ratification. Unlike the government, they are more bound to the president than a wish for efficient cooperation with the EU member states. President Klaus seems increasingly unhappy with Czech EU membership and has recently called himself a dissident in the Union. It seems a bit awkward to call yourself a dissident while being a president of a republic, unrestricted in any way and with daily possibility to fill the media with your comments.

At the court the president and the government were on opposite sides. No wonder. The government needs to get things done. The CR will chair the European Council next year and it would be nice if it would ratify the treaty until the end of the chairmanship. The president, it seems, has a different agenda. He doesn´t like the union and so acts like anyone else: he keeps saying what he thinks. There is a minor problem: his presidency is not about saying anything he thinks or feels, he is supposed to be a statesman. He should take the government (led by his party) and the Czech interests within the EU into account before sending the whole Union to hell.

His views will not do him harm in the CR, where the population is not too excited about the Union, but they do harm him abroad and they probably do harm us. Many of the views are not shared even by the right-wing parties or journalists. Last month he endorsed the Irish anti- EU campaigner Declan Ganley, while on a state visit, invited by the government he thus turned his back on. This event was not far from a diplomatic scandal.

The Czech EU presidency is just around the corner. Who knows what will happen next, with such unpredictable actors involved.

November 17, 2008, Neo-Nazi demonstration

Nov 26, 15:12 Filed under news

The memorial day is a symbol of two events: Nazi violence and repression against students in 1939 and the Velvet Revolution, the second usually getting more attention than the first.
November 17, 1989, saw a crucial demonstration. A large group of students was cruelly beaten by security forces, an act which appalled the public. Not only because the crackdown was unprovoked, also as the protesters were sealed off by the police, given no chance to escape.

The following events are quite familiar. Every year politicians and various demonstrators gather in Prague and elsewhere. Apart from the official act, this year we see an anti- radar base demonstration and a demonstration for some corrections of the Czech political scene: notably decrease in the influence of lobbyists, an end to the MPs’ legal immunity and some other points. There are also some smaller actions taking place around the November 17. Last week it was a series of documentaries and debates, depicting the economic transformation and emergence of today’s political situation mostly in dark colors. The event was co- organized by the same organizations that participate on the mention demo for corrections in the Czech political system.

The day also attracts extremists, mainly nationalists, who like to point out that the post- 1989 development brought a loss in power of the nation. Our elites betrayed us, they say, as they opened door to the multi-culturalist tidal wave of dirty foreigners and their integration, which will soon make us perish. Of course it’s rubbish, but it also shows an aspect of the memorial day. Most people associate it with hope, mainly former hope, and often with unfulfilled expectations. In a way it is a bitter celebration.

This time tensions were unusually high. Neo-Nazis (they prefer to be called “nationalists”) staged a demonstration in Litvínov, where they gathered to siege the local Roma ghetto of Janov. Usually these actions have been covered or whitewashed by some neutral cause: a demonstration against drugs or crime. There were no pretensions this time: the neo-Nazis were quite clearly going for a battle. The police prevented a confrontation between the two groups, for a price of a violent crackdown. The Czech news networks have shown images of confiscated material: knives, axes, machetes. The neo- Nazis, and some of the Roma, weren’t preparing for a fist fight, they were lethally armed.

We know there is an extreme right movement, bands of bloodthirsty primitives actually, but there is another alarming point. There was some support of the local people, who claim the municipality is deaf to their complaints about the behavior of the Janov Roma. They may not have racist beliefs, rather they were failed by their local administration. As a ghetto, Janov is said to be isolated, dirty and dangerous, its inhabitants mostly unemployed and often criminal. Noise, waste and petty crime are spreading beyond its boundaries, infuriating the locals who live nearby. It’s the municipality’s job to do something about it. But it’s a lot of work. It’s well known that of all the answers to the Roma questions, ghetto is the worst: there the nihilism, neglect and crime can spread freely, its inhabitants deprived of any chance of breaking out. Among the public, unconcerned with ideologies, racism is not the cause of their anger. It’s the other way around: ignored problems and socio- ethnic tensions are a breeding ground for racism.

Cities, regions and the state must do all to solve these problems before they evolve. The date is supposed to celebrate revolt against aggressive ideologies, both Nazi and Communist. We don’t want to see the next year’s 20th Anniversary shattered by an anti-Roma pogrom.

Flames Lighting the Prague Night Sky

Nov 14, 14:50 Filed under news

Two major fires scared and excited the Prague public during the recent days. Luckily, none of them claimed any casualties. The first claimed a major historical building and the second may have an unwelcome impact on the attitude off the majority towards the Vietnamese minority in Czech Republic.

On 16th of October, the Industrial Palace at the Prague Exhibition Ground (Výstaviště) almost burned down. One of the reasons of its partial collapse was its construction: the steel skeleton of the building probably cracked after it was heated by the flames and then abruptly cooled down by water from fire extinguishing machines.

It’s not the whole building, only its left wing, but the loss is enormous. It will be a conflicting question whether the previous form should be copied, or a completely new architecture developed out of the rubble.

The Exhibition Ground was built to host an exhibition of great importance, the 1891 celebration of the 1781 exhibition that took place in Klementinum. The preparations took three years and it seemed the whole business will have to be postponed, as Prague was damaged by major floods in 1890. The organizers managed to keep with the timetable. The palace was opened at the same day as the exhibition: on March 15, 1891. Technically speaking, it did not, and does not lie in Holešovice, but in Bubeneč, on the area taken out of the Stromovka park. The palace was the first major building with steel construction in the area of today’s Czech Republic. The design carried modern features, but generally it was built in historicist style, not the then- dominant art noveau.
During the five months it was open, the exhibition was visited by approx. 2,5 million people. Many large exhibitions and international fairs took place at the site since then. In 1948 its status was changed, the Industrial Palace was renamed as Congressional and it hosted the Czech Communist Party conventions. It remained so until 1991, when a jubilee exhibition marking its hundred years of existence was opened. Unfortunately it was not very successful.

Then, on November 6, a large Vietnamese marketplace was up in flames. It took fifty- three firefighter units (more than 400 firefighters) sixteen hours to defeat the fire. There was a huge cloud of waste, people living nearby were told to stay at home, traffic was complicated.

It took place in Libuš, in the commercial area called Sapa, or Little Hanoi. The fire was not that terribly large, the main problem was that the marketplace/storage was stuffed with various goods. The firefighters didn’t know what was inside, whether there won’t be an explosion, or when the roof would collapse. For safety reasons, they decided to extinguish the fire from the outside.
It’s possible that safety standards inside the building were not met. Little Hanoi is said to have been quite isolated and the suspicion is there. Also, the fire bothered many people nearby, the operation cost millions and it was potentially dangerous to other objects. These points are likely to add to the reserved attitude of Czechs towards the Vietnamese minority in CR. The relationship is not actually bad, Czechs often admire the Vietnamese shopkeepers’ determination and ability, after all, they’re working hard, but the Czech attitude is still quite patronizing and often suspicious. There is a stereotype of every Vietnamese being an uneducated shopkeeper and of their goods being faulty and often fraudulent. Any case like this one may add to the suspicions and latent xenophobia that may sometimes be seen in the Czech public. While stereotype- breaking examples are scarce and little accented by the media, images of a Vietnamese market covering its neighborhood in smoke, is not welcome.

So far it seems both cases were accidental, although the second is yet to be investigated.

Ground Collapsing for Blanka

Nov 14, 14:39 Filed under news

Stromovka is a 740 years old park, originally a hunting game-park for Czech monarchs. It’s a large area with various plants (trees mainly), several buildings and ponds. The latter were, and still are, watered by the famous Rudolph’s tunnel. The park has been opened for the public since1804 and during the century many new trees, including kinds from abroad, were planted. Until 1891 that is, as the construction of Výstaviště Prague Exhibition Ground began and a substantial part of Stromovka was swallowed by the new project.

It survived various misfortunes, echoes of war or natural disasters. The last blow was the damage done by the 2002 floods.
It’s still large and beautiful enough to attract Prague residents. Especially in the middle of a big, polluted city, it’s quite a valuable place.

Now there’s a bit of a nuisance. A tunnel, Blanka, is being dug under the park. Blanka is part of the famous Prague by-pass highway, an enormously expensive project that is said to take up to seven years from now to be completed. While there is probably no better choice than to build it, in case of Stromovka and Letná, the pill becomes pretty hard to swallow.

In June, a 10- m diameter hole appeared on a peaceful Stromovka meadow. The soil collapsed because of the digging that was taking place below. Luckily, no one was strolling or resting in the grass on that exact spot, the person would have quite possibly been buried alive.

Anyway, accidents happen, this was not a tragic one, so let’s just hope it won’t happen again. Well, it did happen again. In October, a 30 m diameter crater developed on the park green. Again, nobody was hurt, and it didn’t happen instantly, it was rather a process. But it caused quite a sensation- Now, for the rest of the digging, the whole endangered area on the surface is to be encircled by a fence, so the security problem seems to be solved.
The question is at what price. The price is that the park will lose its function for a time. A large part will be sealed off by an opaque fence, which could give the park a touch of a construction yard atmosphere. That doesn’t seem very desirable.

Better not to get hysterical, it’s more of a minor problem, currently entertaining the Prague media. But it reminds us, yet again, how difficult it is for a big city to solve major rise in traffic. Letná is now a construction site altogether, in relation to the same Blanka digging. It’s nice to get the main line of traffic underground, though it’s not really much more ecological: the emissions don’t get absorbed by soil, the waste will have to get to the surface through ventilation. At least it reduces the noise levels. But the future of the Letná park is as uncertain as ever and its current – though temporary – state is depressing.

It will also need at least one more bridge across Vltava, one that would serve exclusively the transit traffic. The criticism of the project is heard and it probably will be for some time. I wonder what the evaluation will be in the end, right now it’s quite a test of patience.

Kundera Accused of Getting a Spy to Jail

Nov 5, 13:39 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, 15:44 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.

Czechs at Olympic Games 2008

Aug 13, 13:27 Filed under news

What do you think? How high are chances of Czech sportsmen and sportswomen at this year controversial Olympic Games in chinesse Peging? Well, they already got two gold medals. First one won Katerina Emmos, the shoterl. And shortly after her, another Czech – David Kostelecky won gold medal at shotting. It is pretty good score for the Czech Republic so far. But will the country be so succesful also in another Olympic competitions which will take place next days?

What about Roman Sebrle, the athlet, who won the gold medal at last Olympic Games in 2004 in Greek Athens? He flew to the Peging not in the best condition. But he might get better. In Athens, he was the only Czech, who got the gold medal. So this time, Czech Republic already has better score then four years ago. And the games just started. So maybe the country is going to be lucky this year.

But this year, taking place in communist China, where human rights are not really respected, Olympic games are not only about sports, but also about politics. Are some of Czechs going to protest agains the politics of China?

The Old Town City Hall Completed?

May 9, 14:38 Filed under news

this is how it looks like The original Old Town City Hall was severely damaged at the end of WWII, after it became a target of the German occupation army during the Prague Uprising in May 1945. It was set on fire and had to be taken down. Since then, plans for a new building were in motion.

They were in motion even before the event, to be precise. The original building was not considered terribly interesting and it was not convenient enough to contain the offices of the Prague bureaucracy. At the beginning of the century several competitions have taken place and more were to follow.

this is how it lookd like One of the most remembered projects is the one by Josef Gočár form the 1909 competition. The modernist seems to have allowed his fantasy a free way and suggested a pyramid- like monument inspired by cubism, in a style that might have inspired some later art deco architecture. The project is interesting to have a look at and it is likely it was meant rather as an intriguing idea than something likely to be constructed. It would be enormously expensive and it just couldn’t fit the surroundings- it might look appropriate somewhere near The Chrysler Building, not on the Old Town Square.

The later projects offered many options. There were somber, neo- whatever and conservative. There were some very bizarre ones, like one 1988 project of building a cable railway from a newly built station at the square and leading it as far as to Letná. One can hardly imagine how costly and how ugly would that be.

the famous celebrated gocar's design Since the fifties, there were several very ugly propagandist projects, for example a wall, which would serve for film projections during major manifestations and some undignified attempts for something resembling the Kotva mall on Náměstí Republiky.

Now the city has decided the case should be solved at last. The reasons are obvious. The City Hall is apparently a torso and the park that covers the space today doesn’t make much sense, it creates sort of a square- within- a square. A new, tenth competition is supposed to take place this year and it is likely it will be international. Personally I’m curious how an international architectonic competition will go after all the confusions and endless delays of the National Library project, but one never knows.


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