Written by Pavel Vondra
ONE VOTE SHORT OF RE-ELECTION. That’s what the Czech president Václav Klaus was last Saturday, when the two-day marathon of electing the new head of state came to its inconclusive end. The new vote is to be held this coming Friday.
Both Václav Klaus and his challenger, economist and political newcomer Jan Švejnar, confirmed they are ready to run again, but there are a lot of uncertainties at the moment. After the heated atmosphere of the public vote (as opposed to the traditional secret ballot), which sent no less than three lawmakers to hospital between the second and third round, another battle over the mode of the ballot can be expected.
Besides, the communist faction in the parliament, which backed Jan Švejnar in the first two rounds before abstaining in the third, now wants to put forward a different candidate who would be widely acceptable. A few names have been mentioned from their list including those of the previously considered candidates Václav Pačes and Jiří Dienstbier or that of the Czech Republic’s first Ombudsman Otakar Motejl.
All of them said they would run only if Mr. Švejnar decided not to pursue his own presidential bid. The nominations (requiring a written support of at least ten lawmakers) have to be officially announced by Tuesday.
One positive outcome of the televised political theatre of the presidential election, which had most people shaking their heads in disbelief, is the realization how urgent the need is to switch the ballot from its present parliamentary form to a direct vote, where public will get to make the decision. Surveys indicate that 70 percent of those asked are ready to take that responsibility (away from their elected representatives).
It wasn’t only the stressed lawmakers who had to seek medical help last week. The new director of the first channel of public radio Barbora Tachecí – who took over the increasingly troubled Radiožurnál late last year only to drive it further to the ground with her innovations suited more to a commercial radio – was sacked by the Czech Radio leadership (“because of the communication problems”) and next found herself at Prague’s famous psychiatric clinic in Bohnice.
By the way, make sure you memorize that word. It is the most common synonym for madhouse in (and around) the Czech capital and thus comes very handy in your daily life in this country.
The somewhat controversial plan to host a US military radar base on Czech soil (the government is very eager to, unlike nearly two-thirds of the population) just got a little less controversial last week. The chief negotiators of both governments announced the inclusion of a provision into the agreement which will make the installation part of the wider defense architecture of NATO.
Critics, including those from the main opposition Social Democratic Party, are not impressed, though they point out the alleged clause in the still-to-be finished US-Czech agreement means very little until NATO itself decides to embrace the American anti-missile defense system, something which is far from certain at this moment.
After the years of one-sided hassle and humiliation, Czechs may be finally free in the near future to visit the United States without a need to obtain visa. Such was the message brought to Prague by the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Policy Development at the US Department of Homeland Security Richard Barth last week. The first visa-free travellers from the land of milk and honey AKA Earthly Paradise at sight could go visit the land of the free and the home of the brave before the end of this year.
By the way, does anybody see what might look like a connection between the Czech readiness to host the US radar and the American readiness to welcome Czech tourists with open arms? I’m not saying I do, it just crossed my mind.
In what could go down in (Czech bookselling) history as Harry Potter Wars, the Czech publisher of JK Rowling’s stories about the young bespectacled wizard, Albatros publishing house, filed a criminal case last week against an unknown perpetrator whom it suspects of producing illegal copies of the last book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Albatros, who is the sole certified publisher of Harry Potter books in the Czech Republic, made the move after the supermarket chain Tesco announced plans to start selling the latest Potter book, although Albatros had made it clear before it favored distribution through regular bookshops over big malls.
But Albatros itself is now a subject of investigation by the highest anti-monopoly authority in the country because the publisher’s decision to delay stocking of some distributors could amount to a violation of the company’s dominant position on the market.
Speaking of dominant position on the market, Czech car-maker Škoda unveiled the look of the new version of its flagship model Superb last week. If you haven’t seen the pictures, here is your chance.
If you haven’t heard of Martin Fenin yet, better catch up on the recent exploits of this football wonder-kid, because he is bound to be a household name soon. It doesn’t happen every day that a 20-year old striker debuts with a hat-trick in a league as tough as Bundesliga.
And he just keeps on rolling, having scored another goal last Saturday in his second Bundesliga start for Eintracht Frankfurt, helping his team win over Arminia Bielefeld in front of the roaring Frankfurt fans, who quickly turned to radical “feninists”, as a colleague of mine cleverly put it the other day.
The Czech Republic’s national tennis team embarks on what could be described as Davis Cup 2008: Mission Impossible. After winning the first round tie against Belgium over the weekend, the Czechs advanced to the quarter-finals for the first time in six years only to find out they will have Russians to beat if the want to keep their dream of winning the coveted cup alive.
Russia won the 2006 Davis Cup but failed to defend it last year against the US team. They will have the advantage of the home turf in the quarter-final match, scheduled for April 11 to April 13.
The Czech (well, Czechoslovak, really) team won its only Davis Cup title in 1980 defeating Italy in the final. It also reached the final in 1975 but lost to Sweden, led by Bjorn Borg at the time.
Together with Swedes and Americans Czechs belong to the unique group of nations that appeared in the World Group of Davis Cup in all but one year. True, the Americans have thirty more titles, but we’re basically in the same league, see?