Czech and Slovak Press Roundup: Forged Icons

Respekt (Czech Republic), 22.03.2010

Writer Jiří Kratochvil declares his love for the Czech ruler Rudolf II, the Emperor of Outsiders who had refined artistic taste and was blessed with an extraordinary gift unlike any other Habsburg; a patron of artists and scholars who turned Prague into a centre of European culture on a scale it has not been before or since. He did not treat his alchemists as just illegitimate sons of chemists, and his astronomers have made history. At the same time, with his black hat and overall bizarre extravagance, he must have cut quite a figure. A poor ruler, an even worse warrior and, above all, a man who disrespected time-honoured customs and refused to marry in order to safeguard the future of the Habsburg dynasty, he was despised by his relatives and eventually deprived of the crown by his own brother Matthias. It has been suggested that he had a genetic predisposition to mental illness and, while this may be true, my feeling is it that it was rather the psychosomatic effect of the pressure exerted by his relatives who resented his otherness. In this respect it is impossible to ignore Rudolf’’s monumental otherness, this genetic marker of all outsiders, a divided soul inhabited simultaneously by an eccentric obsessed with black magic and by a remarkable late Renaissance figure. For this is another mark of the outsider: their undoubted qualities are always obscured by other, bizarre traits and by their reluctance to abide by accepted rules. I regard Rudolf II as the patron saint of all outsiders, even though I realize there is no chance he will ever be beatified as the church will never accept his biunique soul. Nevertheless, I would like to add the attribute saint to his posthumous majesty, just to increase his weight and influence as a patron. And for those not keen on this idea I propose an alternative: the crown of the Emperor of Outsiders.


Orientace (Czech Republic), 20.03.2010

Spring has arrived: this is the title of legendary feuilletons the king of Czech writers, Ludvík Vaculík, has been faithfully producing since 1968 and is still expected to deliver. Orientace’’s Petr Zídek asked if this year’’s spring column is ready: My spring never fails to arrive, though it does not always do so at the same time, replies Ludvík Vaculík. Sometimes it coincides with the official beginning of spring but sometimes it does not appear until April or May.  In the spring of 1968 he wrote: I wish we had a normal regime. Then I could write something nice about the spring session of parliament. And in the spring of 1989: although I’’m quite old I haven’’t yet reached the state of purity that distinguishes normal life – a total lack of interest in politics. So what about the present? I’m fed up with things that don’’t really have a solution, such as the fact that it is always the bad and greedy who are attracted to politics. I would like to find out what would happen if someone entered politics with the purest of intentions, whether it is humanly possible to resist all this. Unlike Mrs. Vaculík I don’’t complain too much because I think the only way things will ever change is from bottom up.  Everyone makes a contribution to the state of affairs in this country and people should reject things they can’’t stand to make sure these opportunists do not find fertile soil. Mankind needs to better itself, which might sound quite religious. Sometimes people ask me at public meetings: “Mr. Vaculík, isn’’t it time for a new 2000 Words?”’ [Vaculík’s seminal Prague spring text, said to have provoked the 1968 Soviet invasion]. No, for goodness’’ sake!  In those days we had a regime in which all the evil was concentrated in one place and could be hit with a single stroke. Today, on the other hand, evil is distributed democratically, meaning everyone has to fight the evil in his or her vicinity. This may sound like empty rhetoric or moralizing but it’’s true nevertheless. The thing I most detest at present is advertising. It’’s a plague. The cheekiness of those adverts, the imposition, the bad taste, the billboards that cover entire building fronts: it’’s just disgusting.  I am aware that many people make their living this way and some noble activities would not be possible without advertising. But that doesn’’t make it any less of an eyesore.


.týždeň (Slovakia), 22.03.2010

Tomáš Gális is trying to come to terms with March 14th, a date in Slovakia’’s history that instils shame in some while being annually commemorated by others as the beginning of Slovak statehood. Even 71 years later March 14th is an icon, albeit a fake one. It has been a forgery ever since the day in 1939 when an independent Slovak state was proclaimed by shocked and scared members of the Slovak parliament who, realizing they had no other solution, decided to include in the proclamation of independence fake sentences to the effect that the Slovaks had always been fighting for an independent state. I cannot imagine what goes on in the heads of those who came to this year’’s March 14th rally, carrying with almost religious fervour portraits of Jozef Tiso (prime minister and later president of the Slovak republic and leader of the party and nation) and concluded their rally with a tribute at his graveside. What do these – mostly young – people know about him and about March 14th? What do they make of the words Tiso spoke at the funeral of Andrej Hlinka: Hlinka is dead – and although the commanding arm of our leader that had pointed to the Czechoslovak republic as the natural home of his nation, has been lowered, the Czechoslovak republic still stands upright, the republic which, God willing, will continue to provide the Slovak nation with a genuine home of its own and with opportunities for full development and exercise of its sovereignty’?  What do they make of the participation of Hlinka’’s Slovak People’’s Party in the government of Czechoslovakia?  What do they make of Tiso’’s March 13th 1939 audience with Hitler, where the German leader told him that Slovakia had to take an immediate decision? What is it that these people are celebrating? Is it statehood under German tutelage? Is it independence for a country from which the German tutor carved off a chunk of its border territories even before March 1939, turning it into a zone of protection controlled by the German army? Is it a president who, at his Salzburg meeting with Hitler, was told exactly what the composition of his government was to be? An unfree regime, participation in the war or perhaps even the deportations of the Jews? Have they learnt anything at school? Have they ever heard of Aryanizations [the confiscation of Jewish property by Aryans], the anti-Jewish laws, the death camps, the Hlinka Guard, the State Propaganda Office?

The article is accompanied by Boris Németh’’s black-and-white photographs of this year’’s rally and counter-rally outside the presidential palace in Bratislava.


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