Prague – Not for long years did the Czech Republic make headlines in international media as it did in 2009. There were some highlights but there were also plenty of shortcomings and disappointments, in particular for the European Union leaders.
Several events made the headlines by themselves, such as the visit of the US president Barack Obama and the Pope but some events attracted undesired global attention just because of the way the country political leadership acted – toppling the government halfway through its EU presidency, Entropa scandal and finally and most importantly, delayed approval of the Lisbon Treaty.
But let’s start from the very beginning.
On January 1st, 2009 the Czech government took over the EU presidency. The whole Europe was watching, since the small nation of 10 million was expected to prove it can handle the doings of the EU elite club.
First came Entropa, the provocative artwork of david Černý that was parodying the national stereotypes and caused furor in some of the EU member states. Some liked it, some did not; just as it happens with art all over the world. Some said never ever the European Council building attracted such a crowd as it did with Entropa hanging on one of the walls there. The others argued that it was a piece of pseudo-art ruthlessly poking fun of the European nations. We will leave the judgment up to you.
Černý’s mosaic in Brussels causes diplomatic row
Then there was the “road to hell“, former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s description of Barack Obama’s economic policy. The Czech Republic being still at the helm of the EU, many pointed out the misconception of his role as the head of the EU.
Then there was the gas crisis and war in Gaza, which drew only lukewarm praise from the EU leaders.
Following the few winter lows there were some spring highlights. The visit of the US president Barack Obama was an attention-grabbing event.
Obama in Prague
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The well-organized security measures earned some words of praise for the country, since there was no incident reported, except for a couple of peaceful anti-US-radar demonstrations.
But should have the protesters known that Obama would scrap the Brdy radar months later, they would not have come at all.
Another world-wide known celebrity paid a visit to the Czech lands in September to honor Czech Saint Wenceslas. For the first time Pope Benedict XVI visited the Czech Republic, a country of non-believers, as the statistics indicate. The pontiff’s three-day stay attracted not only the international media but tens of thousands of believers from around the world.
They flocked to Prague, Brno and Stará Boleslav to hear the Pope’s masses, during which he spoke of the wounds the communist regime inflicted on the once Christian nation by arresting priests and believers, closing down churches and promoting God-free creed.
Pope in ČR
Pope ends Czech trip with appeal to youth
“We must take care that man does not shelve the question of God: the essential question of his existence,” said the Pope when surveying the most memorable events of 2009 with the leaders of the Roman Curia.
Then there were events that were less covered in foreign media but just as important as any other news crossing the Czech border.
Among those was a highly publicized scandal involving express diplomas, plagiarism and corruption at the Plzeň’s law faculty. The most shocking news was the discovery that many of those who received a fast-track diploma were Czech prominent politicians, such as Civic Democratic MP Marek Benda and Civic Democratic mayor of Chomutov Ivana Řápková.
Holiday in Tuscany is not a title of a new Czech comedy by Jan Hřebejk but another scandal that burst out this year involving photographs of ex-PM Mirek Topolánek vacationing in Tuscany, Italy alongside business officials and lobbyists.
Holiday in Tuscany
Topolánek says ČSSD spied on him in Italy
The pictures of smiling suntanned faces of Czech politicians and lobbyists on a yacht raised a number of crucial questions. Some already have a clear answer – the Czech politics is undeniably linked to influential lobbyists and business tycoons.
British investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre went even further by claiming it is linked to a underworld mafia.
In his documentary film shot in Prague MacIntyre challenges Czech voters to question their lawmakers’ connections and funds.
Political analyst Jiří Pehe shares a similar view: “Czech politics more and more resembles the Italian version rather than Austrian one, which would be more logical because of the two countries historical heritage”, he wrote in his Aktuálně.cz blog.
“Topolánek’s blatant scorn of the public’s view of his meetings in the Tuscan villa, rented out under strange circumstances – as well as cruises on luxurious yachts with business officials and lobbyists – strongly resembles the conduct of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi”, Pehe says.
All European eyes were on the Czech Republic once again in November when the Czech president Václav Klaus, a noted eurosceptic, delayed the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty despite its earlier approval of the Czech Constitutional Court.
The whole Europe was waiting, some patiently but most impatiently, since the future formation of the European Commission depended on the Czech ratification process. Klaus finally signed the reform document on the condition of having an opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights secured in Brussels.
Some said this move was only a pretext not to have to apply the Charter in the country (ČR has not passed the anti-discrimination bill yet) but others said he demanded the opt-out only not to lose his face.
Lisbon Treaty delay
EU to be reformed soon: Czech leader signs the Treaty
After Facebook community network helped Barack Obama to get his message out in his election campaign last year, Czech politicians should be more aware of the power Facebook has. Mobilizing via this community network can help citizens to conspire against the establishment.
One such resistance group mobilized via Facebook harangued the Social Democrats (ČSSD) with eggs at their pre-election campaign meetings nation-wide. The group, mostly consisting of young people, primarily aimed to punish Paroubek’s party for engineering the fall of the government during its EU presidency.
But by tireless attacking the opposition leaders soon the anti-ČSSD protesters started to attack fundamental democratic principles, some said, including Czech President Václav Klaus. Soon the group decided to stop their egg protests, appealing to Czech citizens to go to the ballot to express their discontent of the ČSSD.
On November 17 the whole country marked the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which brought down the four decades of one-party rule. Thousands of Czechs and foreign supporters of the Velvet Revolution took to the streets that day to re-act what happened twenty years ago.
Velvet Revolution anniversary
Czechs relive their Velvet Revolution
Albeit the unreformed Communist Party is still being elected in every election, a majority of Czech youth are convinced that the Velvet Revolution was a good thing, refusing to believe that communism was better, said the November poll.
It has been with us last year, this year and it may stay for some time next year. The global economic crisis has changed the world’s spinning in 2009, hitting economies of almost all the countries in some way or another.
Some of the Czech companies had to close down for good, some temporarily, such as crystal glass making Crystalex and due to a drop of tourists, a number of hotels have dissappeared.
Despite some first signs of better economic performance, experts predict no V-recovery is to be expected in 2010, jobs will continue to be scarce and the deficit will be rocketing heavenwards.
And what more, to fend off the new global competitors from India and China, the world economies need restructuring, experts add.
It came as quickly and unexpectedly as the crisis did – the swine flu swept across the world, causing 11,000 flu-related deaths by now. The pandemic did not spare the Czech Republic with at least 48 people having died from the H1N1 flu virus as of December 23.
Another blow for the Czech political leadership this year has been the unexpectedly high popularity of the caretaker cabinet that took over in April after the ruling coalition was voted down.
The approval ratings of 60 percent or thereabouts that PM Jan Fischer is enjoying must be a dissappointment for the former Czech political leadership. A majority of Czech voters want Fischer, originally a statistician, to stay even after the June 2010 elections.
Fischer is also praised by Brussels leaders for his professional approach and leadership. No other Czech PM has ever achieved that.
Statistician Fischer appointed new prime minister
Critics, readers as well as sociologists were celebrating when a book White Horse, Yellow Dragon written by Czech-Vietnamese author Lan Pham Thi won a prestigious literary prize awarded by the Book Club.
Their joy over the first author of Vietnamese background success did not last long, though. Soon it transpired that the real author is not a good-looking Vietnamese young girl currently studying in the Malaysian capital but a Czech middle-aged man living in South Bohemian České Budějovice.
And some of the critics, readers and sociologists that celebrated the book condemned Jan Cempírek for his deceit.
But using pseudonyms in the world of literature has existed since the moment man created fiction. The book spurred a debate over the co-existence of Czechs and Vietnamese, pointed to the corruption Vietnamese businessmen encounter in the country and the reserved nature of the Vietnamese community lacking the ambition to integrate into the Czech society. For some it was enough, for others it wasn’t.
Curiously, the Vietnamese community’s reaction was largely positive – they welcomed the book, regardless of the authorship. They also welcomed the 50,000 CZK that Cempírek received for winning the literary prize and dedicated to publishing a Vietnamese-Czech dictionary.