Krakowska, krakowska, krakowska

Photo: Peter Župník People say that ever since the good old days of communism ended the quality of our food has gone to the dogs. It’’s now full of chemicals, additives and taste enhancers… Those who claim this usually cite Wedel’’s chocolate with whole hazelnuts as a prime example. The post-communist variety is apparently made with Chinese nuts and the chocolate allegedly contains more sugar than it used to. I don’’t know if this claim is fuelled by nostalgia for the old days that are now gone forever or if it’’s based on an objective assessment of consumer data. In […]

You Hungarian! Me German! Basta!

Photo: Victoria Bonn-Meuser/AFP/Getty Images In March 2011 I was invited to a book presentation in Portugal. Many people attended the evening event with the reading and the following discussion, the audience was patient. However, the question of a young man changed the friendly and open-minded climate of the interested public from one moment to the next. All of a sudden, we were reduced to being Germans and Portuguese who looked at each other in a hostile manner. The question was not nice. The young man asked whether we, and he referred to me as a German, were not currently achieving […]

A suicidal novel

Photo: Peter Župník This book, mercilessly critical of contemporary Russia, has been written by someone who knows the country well – indeed thoroughly. It is a daring book that spares neither those in power nor the people. It doesn’t spare the Russian intelligentsia either. It is a book that speaks of the degradation of the country and the state. I read it with growing amazement. It is written passionately, in the spirit of the famous 19th century Russian writer Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The History of a Town, a sharply satirical novel published in 1870 that presented a scathing portrait of Russia. […]

Truth and Love

Photo: Peter Župník The more the communist regime becomes a distant memory, the more obvious it seems to me that the essence of this world is located in a different dimension than that defined by political regimes. Admittedly, from the factual point of view, dictatorship and democracy are worlds apart, since democracy enables me to freely voice my outrage at the state of affairs and under certain circumstances – provided I am willing to expend the necessary will, time and energy – to try and do something about it. However, if I compare the horror at the rule of lies […]

Destructive Forces

Photo: Peter Župník While the Senate elections have somewhat dampened the fears that the Communist Party is on the rise, we must nevertheless come to terms with the fact that the time when they will be in government is fast approaching. The problem with the Communists isn’’t so much the threat they pose to democracy (provided, of course, they don’’t garner an overwhelming majority of seats) but rather the fact that they arouse a profound sense of shame and shatter our normal trust in the rational world. The shock of being in the immediate presence of evil – which is […]

The Fall of Europe?

Photo: Emilio Morenatti / Associated Press When Nicolas Sarkozy claims that Europe will explode if the euro explodes, adding that defending the euro means defending Europe, well, his claims can be taken with a pinch of salt: the French politician’s rhetoric can withstand quite a bit and so can our European ears in our increasingly baffled European heads that have lately become accustomed to quite a lot. If, however, the pragmatic and rational Angela Merkel makes an even more dramatic statement, namely: If the euro breaks up Europe will break up, it gives cause for concern even to those of […]

Four Postcards from NYC

Photo: Peter Župník Reading books is not an innocent occupation you can indulge in with impunity. The more and the longer you read, the more you filter everything you see through everything other people have seen and said. This is most likely to occur while you’’re visiting foreign parts because that’’s when the eye has the greatest tendency to detect what is and to seek in it patterns of things previously learned. Jogging along the Hudson River in the evening I seem to hear the following words in my ears: Dehnel makes me go jogging in the evenings but jogging […]

St Wenceslas, Drive Out the Fascists!

It is a peculiar national holiday: even though the parliament had to work very hard to institute it, most people see it just as an opportunity to turn on the lawnmowers at their weekend cottages; and yet, over the past few years, Václav Klaus has been as happy to use it as a pretext for nationalistic sermonizing as he is to exploit rallies by DOST [an ultra-rightwing political initiative -tr.] or to have the skull of the saint, whose worship had until recently been limited to the most nostalgic admirers of pre-modern Catholic culture, ceremonially driven to Stará Boleslav [where […]

Svätopluk’’s Horse

To talk, let alone write, about genitalia, and, particularly those of horses, is a rather tricky undertaking but since what I have in mind are matters of national – indeed: international – import, as well as matters of literature, I have perpetrated this text in the hope of offending neither human nor equine feelings. 2008, if I remember right, saw the collapse of a highly influential Polish literary magazine. It was called Studium. This journal occupies a place particularly close to the heart of the writer of these lines. It is exactly ten years since I made my literary debut […]

The Reformist Plague

Going against the flow, Krzysztof Kieślowski used to say that the first step toward making the world a better place is to clean one’’s shoes in the morning. How un-Polish! In Poland improvements have to start with a big bang. Then we’’ll see what’s next. Clean shoes are just a metaphor. However, a medical conglomerate in the US took it quite literally. They have launched a reform that made doctors and nurses wash their hands. Everyone entering a ward has to spend a minute by the sink first. If they don’’t, they set off an alarm operated by a computer […]