In the News 22.12.08

Communist past, Roma stereotypes, and more...

Written by Naďa Straková
Aktuálně.cz CzechNews


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FACING THE COMMUNIST PAST. How to come to terms with modern history seems to be an ever-puzzling question for Czechs, especially for teachers. Textbooks are not exactly “eloquent” on this topic and teachers can get easily lost when trying to tell their students about the Iron Curtain regime.

Now, unreformed communists who refused to label Stalin a mass murderer not long ago have been sneaking back to power and in last regional elections, held in October 2008, they have been invited to form coalition governments in some regions. It is the first time since 1989 that the Communists have received a share of the executive power.

“Students are confronted with a legal political party that behaves as if it had nothing to do with the crimes of communism,” says Petr Šimíček, another secondary-school teacher from Ostrava. He thinks the rise of the unreformed Communists into the regional executive represents yet another reason why Czech post-war history should be discussed and taught at schools.

Now, a newly formed association called Pant launched a web site that should be instrumental in teaching the Czech society about the communist past and present.


BREAKING THE STEREOTYPES. They are lazy and they abuse the social benefit system. This is a common stereotype about Roma prevailing among numerous Czechs.

Pavel Kubas, 38-old entrepreneur from Brno, has set himself an uneasy task – he wants to change this generalized perception of Czech Roma, giving the long-term unemployed a chance to work and prove themselves. Kubas’s firm Bauherr comp employs some 35 previously unemployed people in north Bohemia.

Besides paying CZK 42 per hour, Kubas helps his staff sort out their debts, lawsuits and housing issues.

Most of them would choose a different job if they could find some. 

“I was trained as a cook and waitress. I call somewhere and they tell me they have, say, two vacancies, come to see us. But as soon as I show up, they tell me the jobs have been taken,” says Jana Facunová (31). “I have a Czech name – but when they see I am Romani, that’s the end.”

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See also the photogallery Aktuálně.cz has prepared for you.


EQUAL TO CZECHS. The Constitutional Court ruled last week that foreigners facing deportation have a right to appeal to court.

So far, foreigners staying in the Czech Republic illegally were facing immediate deportation. A clause in the immigration law explicitly stated that deportees could not sue.

The Constitutional Court now has abolished this clause, saying that foreigners have the same right as Czechs to have their case heard by a court.


CZECH MELTING POT. A group of high school students in Hlinsko put on a play that deals with the Czech „melting pot”. In other words with ethnic minorities living in the country and the stereotypes Czechs hold against them.

For the play’s American audience, visiting students from New York University in Prague, the xenophobia paraded on stage wasn’t that new. American nation, writes the reporter, has a long experience with government sanctioned racism and discrimination – slavery, segregation of Blacks and other minorities, and exploitation of minority workers such as Mexicans – so it was easy to relate to the Hlinsko performance. See the details why.


HAVEL AND CHINESE DISSIDENTS. In an opinion piece run by the Wall Street Journal, former Czech president Václav Havel writes that Chinese government should learn from Charter 77, a manifesto signed in 1977 by Havel and other Czechoslovak dissidents, and realize that repression and silencing of its critics are pointless.

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Havel calls for an immediate release from custody of Liu Xiaobo, one of the two main actors of Charter 08, a new dissident movement and a manifesto criticising Chinese government for violating human rights and freedom of speech, policies that damage the environment, and for deepening social differences between urban and rural areas.

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“China in 2008 is not Czechoslovakia in 1977. In many ways, China today is freer and more open than my own country of 30 years ago,” Havel wrote in WSJ. “And yet, the response of the Chinese authorities to Charter 08 in many ways parallels the Czechoslovak government’s response to Charter 77.”

See the entire article by Havel in the Wall Street Journal here.


EU CITIZEN’S PRIZE FOR A CZECH? Every year the European Parliament awards a number of prizes. Among the most prestigious is the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought that has just been granted this week to a Chinese dissident.

There is also an award for journalism and for literature and now, the EU came up with a new award – European citizen’s prize. It is expected to be awarded in the spring 2009.

The existence of the prize has not been properly announced yet and the Czech Republic has its first candidate. In your wildest dreams I bet you would not guess who that can be. Test your tip here.


THE UNBEARBLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING IMMORTAL. If you get bored in the post-Christmas time, have enough of the consumerist culture that hits us around the Xmas time and are dying for some high culture, here is a tip:

Karel Čapek philosophical play Věc Makropulos (The Makropulos Affair) about the desire to be immortal and all the fears related to it inspired Czech composer Leoš Janáček to stage it as an opera of the same name.

The question that has bugged numerous philosophers for centuries whether there is a reason why to live forever gets a clear answer in the opera. Don’t have any illusions, though.

In cooperation with the English National Opera headed by US director Christopher Alden, the Czech National Theatre has put on the not so-much-known-opera in the Czech Republic and premiered it last Thursday December 18. The National Theatre’s monthly magazine describes Alden this way: “His use of overt sexuality, brutal violence and over-the-top, satirical humor has soured his relationship with conservative patrons.”

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It is hard to say if to blame the Makropulos Affair for being overtly sexual, since the story is based on an astonishingly beautiful diva Emilia Marty that conquers any man she desires regardless her advanced age – 337 years. But the biggest desire Emilia has is to die. Just like Woolf’s Orlando. No wonder when she has been around for so long.

The young German soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin has won great acclaim for her roles ranging from Mozart, Puccini and Britten. In the role of Emilia Marty she proved her ability to surprise the audience with the unexpected power of her otherwise light and soft soprano.

The Makropulos Affair will please those who love Janáček and do not get to see this opera staged in Czech theatres very often. And those who do not much about Janáček but always wanted to, this is a perfect piece to get introduced to one of the most acclaimed Czech composers. So don’t miss out.

There are only three more dates when you can see it – January 17, and February 1 and 21.

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