Renouncing Humanity

June 4, 1989 was an important day in the history of communism. It was the first time a communist party in power, having agreed to submit to an election contest, suffered a crushing defeat and accepted the loss. Yet it was not this event that made front-page news in the world’’s newspapers. The event that did was the Tiananmen Square massacre in the centre of Beijing, where the communist regime annihilated the Chinese students’’ movement for freedom. That is why June 4 now stands for two ways communist dictatorships responded to a major crisis, choosing the path of democracy or […]

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 […]

The Czech Fall from Pride

A long white winter in most inhabited places is usually followed by crisp Easter sunshine, yet we may be come to witness quite the opposite in the development of our country: a shift from an artificial weather warming to a long-term cold depression. To put it cynically: for twenty years the Czech Republic has lived beyond its means – and I don’’t mean the state debt. For a long time the charisma of the two most colourful characters in modern Czech politics – Václav Havel a Václav Klaus – has disguised the real state of Czech society. The task of […]

Small President vs Great Chancellor

By this time next year Donald Tusk might have concentrated more power in his hands than any other Polish politician since 1989. Who cares these days what the president of, say, Germany is called?  That’’s precisely what it will be like in Poland if the leader of the ruling Civic Platform gets his way. The presidential election this coming autumn is just a stage in his plan. It is a plan Tusk has been putting into practice since 2007 when the Civic Platform won the parliamentary election. Since then the Prime Minister has repeatedly clashed with President Lech Kaczyński who, […]

Like in Vancouver

Last week the sun finally came out in Slovakia following two months of winter, snow and transport disruption. Spring is in the air. And with it the most successful Olympic Games in the era of independence (as we like to say in Slovakia). However, a deep scepticism has not disappeared. And why should it? The vanishing snow has revealed dirty ground. Dog excrement, cigarette butts, rubbish thrown out onto the lawns straight from the windows of Bratislava housing estates (inhabited by the upper middle classes), all communicate the message that euros in the wallets and border-opening European citizenry are just […]

Why Did God Give Us Three Character Traits?

The Hungarians were not too excited about the Winter Olympics: they don’’t have major winter sports heroes or a winter sport they are particularly keen on. It is elections that serve as the nation’’s adrenaline-packed national sport. On election nights people gather in front of the TV with cases of beer and stay up late watching and commenting on the course of the elections in individual electoral districts as intently as if it was the world football championship. In the middle of the Olympic Games the opposition FIDESZ party erected a billboard in front of the Hungarian parliament showing a […]

So what if he’s made it all up

1 There is a scene somewhere in Ebony in which Kapuściński and his travelling companion discover a huge poisonous snake in the shed where they have to spend the night. I don’’t have my copy handy, perhaps it was cobra or maybe another kind of snake. For some reason, they have to put the serpent to death. They use a petrol can as their weapon. They press it down on the snake trying to crush it. They both lie down on the jerry can in an attempt to mash the beast to a pulp. The snake will not give in […]

Neighbours Without Qualities

As someone born in 1976 I belong to the generation of  Gustáv Husák’’s [Communist Party Chief and later President of Czechoslovakia] children, of whom around  a million were born within a single decade.  It was hard to imagine a  greater contrast than that between these baby boomers and the aging leadership. Vasiľ Biľak [one of the Communist hardliners who had invited in the Russian tanks in 1968] was born in 1917, President Husák in 1913.  The Soviet Politburo was also extremely elderly and were the butt of jokes about which politician would be the first to die. My long-term platonic love affair […]