In the News 19.01.09

In the News 19.01.09

Written by Naďa Straková
Aktuálně.cz CzechNews



SADDEST NEWS. Let’s start with the saddest news of the past week. The whole country found itself in a state of shock when they learned that Czech-born and British-based architect Jan Kaplický died suddenly in one of the streets of Prague.

71-year old Kaplický fought bravely for the past two years to see his design for the National Library realised in Prague’s Letná Park which won in an international architect competition.

“Sadly, Jan Kaplický became yet another Czech cultural figure that was done in by Czech narrow-mindedness,” National Library’s former director Vlastimil Ježek said for Czech TV as his first reaction.

A chain of lawsuits from the unsuccessful tender participants and architects, who mostly asked for a new tender, began.

Statement of President Klaus was the key factor, however. Klaus wanted to chain himself to a digger to prevent the construction of the library.

It was mostly the Prague ODS politicians who did all they could to complicate the process. They partly succeeded. The possibility of building the National Library on Letná, just like Kaplický wanted it, was frustrated. City representatives decided that the park will remain there with new benches and ponds.

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COLLECTION FOR BLOB. Even after Kaplický’s death, some Czechs have not given up on the possibility of having a National Library based on his design built in Prague.

A foundation, now awaiting the approval of public collection, was established in December.

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The foundation founders admit that it will be difficult to launch the collection without Jan Kaplický.

But there is hope – more than a hundred years ago the Czechs collected money for the burnt-down National Theatre. The collection organisers put together one million golden coins in 47 days.

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HAVEL HOSPITALIZED. As if that was not enough, more disconcerting news appeared last week. Václav Havel was hospitalized because of an unspecified “inflammatory illness.” He underwent a minor surgery and his condition is stable, yet grave at the moment. The doctors say former head of state will have to stay in the hospital of Motol for some time.

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JAN PALACH´S LEGACY. Last week saw a commemoration of the death of Jan Palach, a 20-year old student of philosophy.

Jan Palach did something which utterly shocked his unsuspecting compatriots and sent shockwaves far beyond the freshly sealed borders of his own country.

In the upper part of Wenceslas Square in the very center of Prague, he used combustible and matches to set himself on fire. Quickly engulfed by flames, he started running down the square.

The act of self-immolation was meant as a protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August of the previous year and Palach’s aim was to urge people not to grow passive and indifferent against the totalitarian communist regime which only months before was on the defensive during the peak of the Prague Spring reform movement.  

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This year marks the 40th anniversary of Jan Palach´s self-immolation act. On the occassion a number of activities will take place to remember Palach’s legacy.

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BORING TOPIC? Many people across Europe cannot imagine a more boring topic for a conversation than the EU. They associate it with curbed cucumbers, the size of strawberries or how many wolves can be shot this year.

Vice-president of the European Commission Margot Wallström holds a different opinion. An author of a book Why is it so hard to love EU speaks to Aktuálně.cz about her appreciation of the Czech EU presidency sugar cube slogan, Swedish sharing the same kind of disrespect for symbols with Czechs and the lack of women in Czech politics.

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CZECH MAESTRO-MOLESTER. He was not satisfied with a 5 years´ probation sentence for abusing young girls, some underage, and filed an appeal. 

The Court of Appeals was not satisfied with the the probation either and ruled a much harscher sentence.

Conductor of famous choir Bambini di Praga Bohumil Kulínský is likely to spend next five years in prison for abusing 19 girls.

Defendant´s lawyer Tomáš Sokol argued that Kulínský did a lot for his country, which should be taken into account but that fell on deaf ears of the judges.

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PROVOCATEUR IN BRUSSELS. As soon as Czech artist David Černý confessed that he was behind the artwork that is displayed in Brussels, here is another controversial revelation.

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The mosaic formed as a map of Europe uses stereotypes of EU member states and the design of Denmark´s legoland bears a striking similarity to the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.

Karin Larsen from Danish public service radio says that Černý’s piece tells something about the way Europe looks at Denmark these days.

“The image of Denmark today has certainly challenged the freedom of speech,” says Karin Larsen.

In an interview for Aktuálně.cz David Černý declined to speculate it is a carricature of Prophet Mohammed. But Danish journalists from Ritzau press agency saw the artwork and wrote that “it bears a similarity to Mohammed to say the least”.

At the Brussels’s opening ceremony David Černý apologised to all the countries that could feel offended by Entropa.

Lots of has been written and said about David Černý in the past week but one thing becomes clear – ordinary people show much more tolerance and understanding of freedom of speech, in particular in the field of art, than politicians.

If you browse through internet discussion forums, if you ask around, if you talk to your friends, you will soon find out people generally like the piece and some even do not hesitate to call it great, stupendous, extraordinary etc.

But politicians in Bulgaria and now even Slovakia seem to hold a different view. Why don’t they ask their citizens for once?


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