“Today You Can Be What You Want to Be”

CzechDemonstrator1989-11-25.jpg“In this Nov. 25, 1989, file photo a Czech demonstrator overcome by emotion after hearing about the resignation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Prague.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A16) . . . Mirek Kodym, 56, a ponytailed former security guard who published illegal political and literary tracts before 1989 and marched on Tuesday as he had 20 years ago, said the Velvet Revolution had been a seminal moment in which a beleaguered nation had finally tasted freedom.

“Today you can be what you want to be and do what you want to do, and no one will interfere,” he said. “The nostalgia for the past is a stupid thing.”

For the full story, see:
DAN BILEFSKY. “Celebrating Revolution With Roots in a Rumor.” The New York Times (Weds., November 18, 2009): A16.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 17, 2009.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

CzechVelvetRevolutionCandles2009-12-20.jpg“The former Czech Republic’s president Vaclav Havel, background center, with a red scarf, placed a candle at a commemoration of the so-called Velvet Revolution, in Prague on Tuesday.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

“When the Sons of the Communists Themselves Wanted to Become Capitalists and Entrepreneurs”

JanicekJosefPlasticPeople2009-12-19.jpg“Josef Janicek, 61, was on the keyboard for a concert in Prague last week by the band Plastic People of the Universe.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A10) PRAGUE — It has been called the Velvet Revolution, a revolution so velvety that not a single bullet was fired.

But the largely peaceful overthrow of four decades of Communism in Czechoslovakia that kicked off on Nov. 17, 1989, can also be linked decades earlier to a Velvet Underground-inspired rock band called the Plastic People of the Universe. Band members donned satin togas, painted their faces with lurid colors and wrote wild, sometimes angry, incendiary songs.
It was their refusal to cut their long, dank hair; their willingness to brave prison cells rather than alter their darkly subversive lyrics (“peace, peace, peace, just like toilet paper!”); and their talent for tapping into a generation’s collective despair that helped change the future direction of a nation.
“We were unwilling heroes who just wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll,” said Josef Janicek, 61, the band’s doughy-faced keyboard player, who bears a striking resemblance to John Lennon and still sports the grungy look that once helped get him arrested. “The Bolsheviks understood that culture and music has a strong influence on people, and our refusal to compromise drove them insane.”
. . .
In 1970, the Communist government revoked the license for the Plastics to perform in public, forcing the band to go underground. In February 1976, the Plastic People organized a music festival in the small town of Bojanovice — dubbed “Magor’s Wedding” — featuring 13 other bands. One month later, the police set out to silence the musical rebels, arresting dozens. Mr. Janicek was jailed for six months; Mr. Jirous and other band members got longer sentences.
Mr. Havel, already a leading dissident, was irate. The trial of the Plastic People that soon followed became a cause célèbre.
Looking back on the Velvet Revolution they helped inspire, however indirectly, Mr. Janicek recalled that on Nov. 17, 1989, the day of mass demonstrations, he was in a pub nursing a beer. He argued that the revolution had been an evolution, fomented by the loosening of Communism’s grip under Mikhail Gorbachev and the overwhelming frustration of ordinary people with their grim, everyday lives. “The Bolsheviks knew the game was up,” he said, “when the sons of the Communists themselves wanted to become capitalists and entrepreneurs.”

For the full story, see:
DAN BILEFSKY. “Czechs’ Velvet Revolution Paved by Plastic People.” The New York Times (Mon., November 16, 2009): A10.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 15, 2009.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Vaclav Havel Criticizes Obama for Failing to Meet Dalai Lama

It is interesting that President Obama is open to meeting with authoritarian dictators of terrorist nations, such as Iran, but is reluctant to meet with the peace-loving Dalai Lama.

(p. A12) PRAGUE — It was supposed to be an interview about the revolutions that overturned communism 20 years ago in Europe. But first, Vaclav Havel had a question.

Was it true that President Obama had refused to meet the Dalai Lama in Washington?
Mr. Havel is a fan of the Dalai Lama, who was among the first visitors to Prague’s storied castle after Mr. Havel moved in there as president, the final act in the swift, smooth revolution of 1989. A picture of the Dalai Lama is displayed prominently in Mr. Havel’s current office in central Prague.
Told that Mr. Obama had made clear he would receive the Dalai Lama after his first presidential visit to China in November, Mr. Havel reached out to touch a magnificent glass dish, inscribed with the preamble to the United States Constitution — a gift from Mr. Obama, who visited in April.
“It is only a minor compromise,” Mr. Havel said of the nonreception of the Tibetan leader. “But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems.”

For the full story, see:
ALISON SMALE. “Former Czech Leader Assails Moral Compromises.” The New York Times (Thurs., October 15, 2009): A12.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated Oct. 13th, and has the title “Havel, Still a Man of Morals and Mischief.”)
(Note: I have added a missing quotation mark at the end of the quote after the word “problems.”)

Vaclav Klaus: The Czech Republic’s Free Market Crusader

KlausVaclav2009-02-15.jpg “President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic is known for his economic liberalism.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) To supporters, Mr. Klaus is a brave, lone crusader, a defender of liberty, the only European leader in the mold of the formidable Margaret Thatcher. (Aides say Mr. Klaus has a photo of the former British prime minister in his office near his desk.)
. . .
As a former finance minister and prime minister, he is credited with presiding over the peaceful 1993 split of Czechoslovakia into two states and helping to transform the Czech Republic into one of the former Soviet bloc’s most successful economies.
But his ideas about governance are out of step with many of the European Union nations that his country will lead starting Jan. 1.
While even many of the world’s most ardent free marketeers acknowledged the need for the recent coordinated bailout of European banks, Mr. Klaus lambasted it as irresponsible protectionism. He blamed too much — rather than too little — regulation for the crisis.
A fervent critic of the environmental movement, he has called global warming a dangerous “myth,” arguing that the fight against climate change threatens economic growth.
. . .
Those who know Mr. Klaus say his economic liberalism is an outgrowth of his upbringing. Born in 1941, he obtained an economics degree in 1963 and was deeply influenced by free market economists like Milton Friedman.
Mr. Klaus’s son and namesake, Vaclav, recalled in an interview that when he was 13, his father told him to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to better understand Communism’s oppressiveness.
“If you lived under communism, then you are very sensitive to forces that try to control or limit human liberty,” he said in an interview.

For the full story, see:
DAN BILEFSKY. “A Fiery Czech Is Poised to Be the Face of Europe.” The New York Times (Tues., November 25, 2008): A6.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Czech Republic’s Sly Cerny Humorously Skewers European Foibles

EntropaMosaic.jpg “David Cerny’s artwork “Entropa” is a symbolic map of Europe depicting stereotypes attributed to the individual member countries.” Source of the caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) . . . , an enormous mosaic installed in the European Council building over the weekend, was meant to symbolize the glory of a unified Europe by reflecting something special about each country in the European Union.

But wait. Here is Bulgaria, represented as a series of crude, hole-in-the-floor toilets. Here is the Netherlands, subsumed by floods, with only a few minarets peeping out from the water. Luxembourg is depicted as a tiny lump of gold marked by a “for sale” sign, while five Lithuanian soldiers are apparently urinating on Russia.
France? On strike.
The 172-square-foot, eight-ton installation, titled “Entropa,” consists of a sort of puzzle formed by the geographical shapes of European countries. It was proudly commissioned by the Czech Republic to mark the start of its six-month presidency of the European Union. But the Czechs made the mistake of hiring the artist David Cerny to put together the project.
Mr. Cerny is notorious for thumbing his nose at the establishment. . . .
. . .
Before the hoax was discovered, the Czech deputy prime minister, Alexandr Vondra, said “Entropa” — whose name alone should perhaps have been a sign that all was not as it seemed — epitomized the motto for the Czech presidency in Europe, “A Europe Without Borders.”
“Sculpture, and art more generally, can speak where words fail,” he said in a statement on Monday. “I am confident in Europe’s open mind and capacity to appreciate such a project.”
But he does not feel that way now.

For the full story, see:

SARAH LYALL. “Art Hoax Unites Europe in Displeasure.” The New York Times (Thurs., January 14, 2009): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Global Warming Alarmists “Want Us to Sacrifice Liberty”

KlausVaclavCzechPresident.jpg

President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

In addition to his insights into global warming, Vaclav Klaus is an advocate of the work of Joseph Schumpeter.

(p. A9) Mr. Klaus is . . . interested in the politics of global warming. He has written a book, tentatively titled “Blue, Not Green Planet,” published in Czech last year and due out in English translation in the U.S. this May. The main question of the book is in its subtitle: “What is in danger: climate or freedom?”
He likens global-warming alarmism to communism, which he experienced first-hand in Cold War Czechoslovakia, then a Soviet satellite. While the communists argued that we must all sacrifice some freedom in pursuit of “equality,” the “warmists,” as Mr. Klaus calls them, want us to sacrifice liberty — especially economic liberty — to prevent a change in climate. In both cases, in Mr. Klaus’s view, the costs of achieving the goal, and the impossibility of truly doing so, argue strongly against paying a price of freedom.
. . .
In Europe, Mr. Klaus has the reputation of a firebrand, if not a loose cannon. This is a president, after all, who calls global warming “alarmism” a “radical political project” based in a form of “Malthusianism” that is itself grounded on a “cynical approach [by] those who themselves are sufficiently well-off.”
“It is not about climatology,” he insists. “It is about freedom.”

For the full article, see:
BRIAN M. CARNEY. “The Weekend Interview with Vaclav Klaus; The Contrarian of Prague.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 8, 2008): A9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

“Musing on the Sameness of Princes and Paupers”

 

   King Edward’s suite is enjoyed by Münster, Germany resident Henriette Heussner.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A4) MARIANSKE LAZNE, Czech Republic — Anybody with a little cash in this quaint and quiet spa town can take a bath fit for a king.

Edward VII of Britain visited this bucolic corner of Bohemia six times during his short reign and each time took a bath in the Royal Cabin, as his private bathroom at the Nove Lazne hotel is still called. For about $45, you can, too.

. . .

King Edward’s Royal Cabin, a spacious Turkish-bath-style suite, is outfitted with a metal alloy tub and a medieval-looking oaken chair that serves as a toilet and a scale.

. . .

The windows are as delicately painted as a church’s stained glass, and the walls richly decorated with a tropical mural, just as they were in Edwardian days. Angels wearing miters look down from the ceiling.

Lying in the bath, staring up at the same blue parrot that King Edward surely contemplated on the opposite wall, one cannot help musing on the sameness of princes and paupers and those who are somewhere in between.

Tiny bubbles like the carbonation on a soda straw collect on the skin, and larger bubbles percolate around the bather, producing a peculiarly pleasant sensation.

An archaic water heater in a corner of the room clanks contentedly, keeping the bath at what the hotel staff call an “optimal” 97 degrees. The smell of the water is sulfuric and slightly metallic.

Much history and many baths have passed since the king bathed here. In the end, everyone grabs the same metal handle that he did to hoist himself up and out of the tub.

 

For the full story, see: 

CRAIG S. SMITH.  "MARIANSKE LAZNE JOURNAL; This Year at Marienbad, They’re Still Taking the Waters."  The New York Times  (Tues., July 3, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

CzechMap.jpg   Source of maps:  online version of the NYT article cited above.