Czech the News
on Human Rights in Cuba Adopted
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva passed on April
18 a resolution on the human rights situation in Cuba sponsored by the
Czech Republic and Poland. The resolution was supported by 21 countries,
with 18 votes against it and 14 abstentions.
The Czech Republic acted out of the recognition that the status of human
rights in Cuba has not improved since the adoption of last year's resolution.
No political prisoners were released last year, and to the contrary, the
number of sentenced, indicted, detained and harassed critics of the Cuban
regime and peace activists has actually increased. The Czech Republic therefore
deemed it necessary, in the spirit of the continuity of its policies, to
revisit the human rights situation in Cuba.
The statement issued by the Czech Foreign Ministry on April 19 stresses
that "the Czech Republic was not motivated in its effort by enmity towards
the Cuban people. To the contrary, we see the resolution as an offer of
a dialogue with Cuban authorities that would be conducive to the improvement
in the human rights situation there. We are convinced that the Czech Republic's
experience from the democratization of its political system can provide
an inspiration for the search of a suitable model for Cuba."
The Czech Republic also welcomes the efforts of numerous countries to
engage in a dialogue with Cuba, to lead the island nation from its isolation
and to take concrete steps aimed at alleviating the economic hardship suffered
by the Cuban people.
President Vaclav Havel said in a statement that "the aim of the resolution
is not to strengthen the spirit of confrontation and intolerance. Rather
we want to make clear that the problem of human rights in Cuba can only
be solved by a cooperative attitude based on dialogue and the cooperation
of democratic countries."
The United States welcomed the vote. "The Czech Republic and Poland
deserve the thanks of all free individuals for drawing attention to the
growing seriousness of the human rights situation in Cuba. Their tireless
efforts to secure passage of this important resolution once again demonstrate
their profound commitment to democracy and their deep conviction that human
rights are inalienable and universal," Assistant Secretary of State Harold
Hongju Koh and Nancy Rubin, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human
Rights, said in a statement.
In front of the Czech Embassy in Havana, over 100,000 people took part
in a protest march organized by the Cuban government. In a five-hour television
discussion staged by the Castro regime and attended by the Cuban President,
Czech diplomats in Havana were accused of fomenting "subversive activities"
and of plotting and encouraging internal counter-revolution in the country.
These accusations were dismissed by the Czech Foreign Ministry.
In contrast with official representatives, Cuban dissidents welcomed
the Czech initiative with gratitude, as the "situation in Cuba in the area
of civic and political rights justifies this type of international control,"
leading Cuban dissident and Chairman of the Cuban Commission for the Protection
of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Elizardo Sanchez, said.
from the Ambassador
On April 18, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva voted to
condemn violations of basic human rights and freedoms in Cuba. In a move
similar to last year's, the Commission acted on a resolution submitted
jointly by representatives of the Czech Republic and Poland.
I believe that it is obvious why Czech diplomacy has been engaged in
the active defense of human rights around the world: we remember that the
democratic revolutions of 1989 would not have been possible without the
support and solidarity our dissidents and activists received from the governments
of the United States and other countries. We likewise remember that repressive
regimes are prone to change only under sustained pressure from both within
It is for this reason that Czech diplomacy has maintained communication
with Cuban human rights activists, just as U.S. and other Western diplomats
in Prague did with us during the Communist era. The Cuban regime understands
this all too well, judging from the mass protest rally it organized in
front of our embassy in Havana, and from the furious denunciations on their
television of the Czech Republic in general and the staff of our embassy
in Havana in particular.
The emotionally charged cause of Elián Gonzalez has added to the exceptional
difficulty of diplomatic maneuvering in Geneva. Castro's regime propagandistically
exploited this tragic situation, ignoring Elián's mother's motivation for
taking him to the U.S. in the first place, an act which ended in her own
untimely death. However, I believe that now, with Elián's father having
arrived in the U.S., it is time to let the child return home, provided
this is where his father truly wants his family to live. A person's decision
concerning whether or not to emigrate should certainly be respected - that
is a part of freedom, too. Let us hope that Elián will not live his whole
life under a dictatorship. From our experience, the best way to help lies
in encouraging contacts and dialogue. Isolation only shields dictatorships
from necessary changes, while openness eventually erodes them.
Minister Visits California
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan visited Los Angeles and San Francisco on April
10 - 15. Visits of European politicians are less frequent on the West Coast,
and Minister Kavan used this opportunity in full to inform about the current
developments in the Czech Republic and to present the investment opportunities
that are currently available. Minister Kavan addressed a forum organized
by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and spoke about the Czech foreign
policy and the EU enlargement at UCLA. He met with the editorial board
of Los Angeles Times. Minister Kavan also visited The Getty Museum, which
cooperates on some projects in the Czech Republic, notably the renovation
of a fresco on the souther facade of the St. Vitus cathedral at the Prague
In San Francisco Minister Kavan spoke at Hoover Institution, where he
was introduced by the noted historian Timothy Garton Ash. Then he had a
lunch with selected Hoover and Stanford University scholars including former
Secretary of State George Schulz and Stanford provost Condoleezza Rice,
adviser to presidential candidate George W. Bush. Minister Kavan, accompanied
by the director of the Czechinvest, the government agency promoting investment
opportunities in the Czech Republic, proceeded to Silicon Valley, where
he visited the headquarters of Intel and talked with the company's top
Minister Kavan also met with other business leaders, representatives
of the Czech community, and other personalities of the Bay area, including
the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whom he visited in his famed City Lights
bookstore. This successful visit undoubtedly raised the profile of the
Czech Republic among the important players in California's largest cities.
Alexandr Vondra in Texas
Ambassador Alexandr Vondra visited Texas on April 5 - 7. During his meetings
in Houston and San Antonio he promoted business opportunities in the Czech
Republic. He had productive meetings with the representatives of the companies
El Paso Energy, Reliant Energy, and SBC International, among others. Among
the social highlights of the Ambassador's visit was the reception given
by Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown, where Ambassador was joined by Captain Eugene
Cernan, U.S. astronaut who is of Czech origin. Pictured here is Ambassador
Vondra with Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown (right) and Ray Snokhous, Czech
Honorary Consul in Houston.
April 5: The Senate approved the anti-corruption convention aimed at improving
international cooperation in countering both domestic and international
corruption. By signing it, the Czech Republic obliges itself to adopt necessary
anti-corruption laws and adhere to the anti-corruption activities of the
Council of Europe. The convention, which was already ratified by most Council
of Europe members, is of great importance for the country's future membership
in the EU.
April 6: According to the report submitted by the U.N. Special Rapporteur
on Contemporary Forms of Racism to the current session of the U.N. Commission
on Human Rights in Geneva, the Czech government is trying to implement
reforms for the benefit of the Romani minority. The reforms, if successfully
completed, should bring good results in both the short and long term.
April 6: The Chamber of Deputies passed, as expected, the government draft
agreement between the Czech and Slovak Republics on outstanding issues
related to the division of former Czechoslovak federal property. The agreement
was signed on November 24, 1999, after seven years of talks by Czech Prime
Minister Milos Zeman and his Slovak counterpart Mikulas Dzurinda. The Slovak
Parliament ratified the document on February 1, 2000.
April 9: New Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and Chairwoman of the Chamber
of Deputies' Constitutional and Legal Committee Jitka Kupcova became the
new Deputy Chairpersons of the ruling Social Democrats. They replaced Petra
Buzkova and Zdenek Skromach, who resigned from their posts shortly before
the elections at the annual Social Democratic Congress. In his speech to
the delegates, Prime Minister Milos Zeman, Chairman of the CSSD, said that
his Cabinet had fulfilled 60 percent of its policy statement. He announced
that the Cabinet would submit an annual report on its work to the Chamber
of Deputies in June.
April 11: Thirty teenagers from Northern Ireland, both Protestants and
Catholics, are to spend a week in the Czech town of Litomysl in July, according
to the office of the Litomysl Mayor. The idea of bringing together young
people from Northern Ireland was first raised during President Havel's
visit to Great Britain in the fall of 1998. The project is jointly organized
by the Czech Embassy in London and several towns in the Czech Republic.
April 13: The Senate recommended that the Czech unit should continue to
serve in Kosovo as part of the KFOR international force, Deputy Chairman
of the Senate Foreign Committee Jan Kramek (Civic Democratic Party, ODS)
said after a closed Senate meeting. Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy said on
April 3 that the Czech reconnaissance unit of 200 soldiers should serve
in KFOR at least until the end of this year. Initially, the Czech Army
planned to withdraw its soldiers from Kosovo in summer 2000 and concentrate
on the activities of the mechanized battalion deployed as part of the SFOR
force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Having taken into account the tense situation
in Kosovo and continuing clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, the
Czech Republic reassessed its aims and decided to keep the Czech unit in
Kosovo. In addition to the military contingent, a group of six Czech policemen
operates in Kosovo. The group is to be expanded by another 14 men later
this year. The Czech government has provided humanitarian assistance to
Kosovo in the value of 12 million USD.
April 16 - 18: During his visit to Sweden, Defense Minister Vetchy reviewed
Czech-Swedish security and defense cooperation and signed an agreement
on the protection of classified information with his Swedish counterpart,
Bjoern von Sydow. According to Mr. Vetchy, the agreement provides for the
strengthening of cooperation in the armaments industry, including radars
and ammunition. At the Satenaes Air Force Base, Minister Vetchy inspected
Jas-39 Gripen supersonic fighters produced by the British-Swedish BAe/SAAB
consortium; the Czech Republic signed a memorandum of understanding with
the consortium last month. Besides Bae/SAAB, U.S. companies McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing
with F/A-18 planes and Lockheed Martin with F-16s, France's Dassault Aviation
with Mirage 2000-5 and Germany's DASA with Eurofighters have been interested
in selling their supersonic fighters to the Czech Air Force.
April 14: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. now has
the complete archive of the concentration camp for Romanies in Lety, near
the south Bohemian town of Pisek. The documents are publicly accessible
for study purposes. The handing over of the archives began in 1994 and
the last part of the archive on microfilm was obtained by the Museum in
early April. The Helsinki Committee of the U.S. Congress issued a statement
welcoming the transfer of the archive.
April 17: According to Michael Leigh, the European Union's chief negotiator
for Czech admission to the EU, the European Commission's annual progress
report on the Czech Republic is to be much more positive than the previous
two reports. At a meeting with Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, Mr. Leigh said
that the Czech Republic has made a considerable move ahead since the last
progress report. He also denied speculations about a slow-down in the EU
April 17: President Vaclav Havel, currently on a two-week holiday in Italy,
signed the law banning the provision of supplies to the Iranian nuclear
power plant in Bushehr. The law, which was passed by the Chamber of Deputies
on April 4, prevents Czech producers from exporting goods, providing services,
blueprints or information in connection with the Bushehr plant. A breach
of the law may be fined by up to 20 million CZK and the confiscation of
supplies. The government proposed the law out of fear that the technology
could be diverted to develop nuclear weapons.
April 18: Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Lubomir Fogas and his Czech counterpart
Pavel Rychetsky signed an agreement on cooperation in harmonizing their
countries' laws with the EU's. According to the agreement, the two countries
are to exchange their working translations of EU "acquis communautaire,"
which is expected to accelerate the harmonization process.
April 26: The reshuffling of the Czech Cabinet was completed after President
Vaclav Havel appointed Jaromir Schling, an economist and member of the
Parliament, and Petr Lachnit, Deputy Mayor of the city of Ostrava (both
CSSD), as, respectively, the new Ministers of Transport and Regional Development.
As a part of the appointment ceremony, the President met the outgoing Ministers,
Antonin Peltram and Jaromir Cisar, as well as the new Ministers.
had cars in Czechoslovakia - Czech Technology on Display
and Slovak National Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, opened a new exhibition
on April 29 titled Czech Technology in Motion. It features Tatra and Skoda
cars, motorcycles, bicycles trains and other exhibits that attest to the
high level of technological prowess that Czechs reached during the first
half of the last century. Among the leading attractions are the pictured
1947 Tatra T 87, from the product line of one of the first mass-produced
aerodynamic cars ever, and a 1929 Cechie - a 10-foot long, single cylinder
motorcycle that seats four. The exhibition runs through October 1.
Charles A. Vanik
In 1973, a serious discussion started in the U.S. Congress on what would
be an effective way to push the Soviet Union into allowing more freedom
of emigration for persecuted people. The crucial role in the final decision-making
had to be played by Charles A. Vanik, a congressman of Czech origin.
Vanik was born on April 7, 1913 in Cleveland, Ohio's east side community.
His grandparents emigrated from Rokycany near Pilsen at the end of the
19th century, and established a butcher shop in Cleveland. He studied law;
his first political involvement began when he was elected to the Cleveland
City Council. During WW II Vanik served in the U.S. Navy in both the European
and Pacific theaters.
After serving in the Cleveland Municipal Court from 1947 to 1954, Vanik
became interested in seeking election to the U.S. Congress. In his people-oriented
campaign, he defeated Robert Crosser, one of the highest ranking members
of Congress. Consumer-oriented questions as well as decent and affordable
housing were key issues throughout Vanik's Congressional career. However,
he soon also focused on international financial questions.
Vanik became deeply involved in the election of President John F. Kennedy
and served in the House as one of his closest legislative friends. As a
member of the Ways and Means Committee, his vote provided the majority
to pass the historic Medicare Law, the backbone of all health care insurance
for the elderly and disabled population of the country.
His first visit to Czechoslovakia was in 1956, after which time he visited
the country almost every year, including 1968, the year of the Russian
invasion. During his visits he always met a small group of dissidents,
and tried to stop the Czechoslovak government from mistreating the freedom-loving
The same commitment for freedom and democracy led him to the most important
legislation of his career, the Jackson - Vanik amendment to the Trade Act
of 1974. Vanik prepared the first draft in the House of Representatives,
while the Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Senator Henry "Scoop"
Jackson. These amendments were used to keep the trade opportunities of
the Soviet Union open under certain conditions. The law became a firm section
of world trade legislation, extremely significant in Eastern Europe, Israel,
the Middle East, and more recently in China.
In the mid 1980s, after spending 32 years in Congress, Charles Vanik
decided to retire from public service. In 1995 President Havel awarded
Charles Vanik with the T.G. Masaryk Order, an award named after the man
who served as a model for Vanik's productive progressive political career
committed to justice for all, decency in policy making, and the durability
of the laws he created.
We wish to thank Mr. Mark Talisman for providing materials
for this article
On a sunny day in 1996 in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, Robert Neuner
sat on the beach with his Czech friend from Fordham Business School in
New York, Petr Bohacek, and considered the possibilities of importing from
the Czech Republic. They considered the American market and decided they
were looking for a product with a competitive price and within the financial
reach of the two young businessmen. But above all they wanted a product
the Czechs have perfected. Their answer - beer.
Anyone who knows anything about beer knows that some of the best comes
from the Czech Republic. But in 1996, the only Czech beer recognized on
the American market was Pilsner Urquell. Neuner and Bohacek started researching
American beer distributors and Czech breweries and in the end their company,
Czech Beer Importers, Inc., agreed to import from Lobkowicz Brewery in
Vysoky Chlumec. Neuner then started the six-month process of applying for
an importer's license that included an interview with the Bureau of Alcohol
Tobacco Firearms (BATF) in Washington DC. Once the license was approved,
it was another six months before the first bottle of Lobkowicz rolled into
the United States.
Neuner initially started by introducing the beer in small shops and
supermarkets, but the sales never reached the levels he had expected. Most
consumers found the taste too sweet and the price too high. In the meantime,
Neuner and Bohacek kept their eyes open for other Czech beers that had
potential for American distributors. In March of 1998 at the Pivex trade
fair in Brno, Bohacek met with representatives from Mestansky Brewery of
Havlickuv Brod, the producers of Rebel beer. This was the beginning of
a very prosperous relationship. "Right away we had a very different feeling,"
recalls Neuner. In his experience, many Czech companies harbored a mistrust
of foreign businessmen, an outlook that made cooperation difficult, but
with Rebel he found himself dealing with a company that was much more open,
forward-looking, and most importantly, a company that wanted the business.
This attitude made all the difference. US sales of Rebel in the first
quarter of this year have already seen an increase of 150% over the first
quarter of last year. Neuner hopes that by the end of this year they will
be importing 12,000 hectoliters into eleven states of the US, a significant
increase from the 5,570 hectoliters that were brought to the US in 1999.
Another factor that has been critical for the beer's growth in the US has
been Bohacek's position in the Czech Republic. With his partner based in
Prague, Neuner can focus his energies on developing the US market, without
worrying about ordering, marketing, packaging and product research in the
Rebel's good fortune will not stop Neuner and Bohacek from bringing
other Czech beers to the US as well. This May, Rebel-Garnet, an amber beer,
will be hitting the American market, and the company hopes to be importing
Hostan from Znojmo by this summer. There are also plans to import draft
beer. Neuner and Rebel may just be at the beginning, but so far they are
on the right path.
Introduces VAT Reimbursement
Beginning April 1, the Czech Republic permits Value Added Tax (VAT) reimbursement
to all foreign visitors who export goods outside the country. The refund
applies to every purchased item valued at over 1,000 CZK. The goods must
be exported within 30 days of the date of purchase. All exports must be
certified by customs officials upon departure from the country on special
forms, which may be obtained at retail shops, customs offices, and travel
agents. The reimbursement must be claimed at the same retailer which sold
the goods, in person or using specialized agencies, within 6 months of
the date of purchase. For more information, our Embassy suggests that all
interested parties contact their travel agents in sufficient time before
their departure for the Czech Republic.
Telecom Sales Raise Expectations
The sales of 51 percent stakes in the telecommunication companies Cesky
Telecom and Ceske radiokomunikace are generally expected to bring increased
revenues to the state treasury. Prime Minister Milos Zeman predicted in
his late-March state of the economy speech that total income from remaining
privatization should reach 500 billion CZK (13.2 billion USD). That amount
represents nearly the entire state budget for the year 2000.
The government originally expected to get 93 billion CZK for the 51
percent stake in Cesky Telecom, but now it estimates that the amount will
increase to twice as much. An extra bonus for the telecom companies' privatization
is expected, as the government changed the privatization project of Ceske
radiokomunikace and decided to sell the majority stake as a whole.
The Prime Minister's declaration inspired mixed reactions among Czech
securities market specialists. However, according to some of them, the
privatization gains could amount to between 300 billion and 500 billion
CZK, with energy and gas distribution companies, and some 10 percent to
30 percent majority bonuses as well.
The telecom and broadcasting company Ceske radiokomunikace in 1999 made
a net profit of 607 million CZK, the major part of which came from its
subsidiary, mobile-phone operator RadioMobil. Ceske radiokomunikace accepted
an offer from Deutsche Telekom on March 30 to increase the company's share
in RadioMobil to up to 60.8 percent next year. Deutsche Telekom agreed
to pay 765 million USD (29 billion CZK) for this increase. Deutsche Telekom
has also expressed an interest in a stake in Ceske radiokomunikace. Cesky
Telecom made a 6 billion CZK profit in 1999, a 13 percent increase from
the previous year. It owns a majority of Eurotel, the biggest Czech mobile
operator, and monopolizes fixed-line services. The decision about a majority
owner should be made by the end of this year. The National Property Fund
has appointed J.P. Morgan as the consultant for the Cesky Telecom privatization.
A Makeover And A New CEO
Several weeks ago, before naming a new CEO last week, the Czech Republic's
largest banking institution Komercni Banka (KB) committed itself to a 55
million CZK internal restructuring project. The plan, engineered by longtime
consultant McKinsey & Co. is, however, likely to meet with close scrutiny
from incoming chairman Radovan Vavra, whose mandate involves preparing
the last major state-owned banking institution for privatization as early
as this year. Mr. Vavra is a former Citibank manager. The project should
turn the bank around in the sense that it was losing clients and market
share due to scandals reported in the media. KB would not disclose the
methods that the bank expects to use during the three-month project, but
according to industry experts, it can go only in two directions: cutting
costs, such as personnel, and increasing earnings. Critics also attack
the bank for commissioning such a costly consulting job just when any prospective
investor should be approving projects of this kind. The second-largest
Czech bank, Ceska Sporitelna, which was sold to Austrian Erste Bank earlier
this year, paid significantly less for a similar restructuring project
carried out by Deloitte & Touche, media pointed out.
Seen As Leading Czech ISP
Czech OnLine, acquired by the soon-to-be privatized Telekom Austria, is
the largest Czech Internet Service Provider (ISP), a survey showed. The
poll, conducted by Sofres Factum, said 33 percent of the surveyed Internet
users were connected through Czech OnLine, which runs Video OnLine, the
first free Czech ISP launched last year. Fixed-line monopoly Cesky Telecom's
ISP Internet Online ranked second most popular with 27 percent of the market,
the poll showed. In third position was Dutch World OnLine with 10 percent.
The agency said the survey, the first in what should develop into a regular
quarterly Internet market watch, also showed that the local site www.seznam.cz
was the best known portal among Czech users. Three-fifths of users have
also shopped online, it said.
April 1: The unemployment rate in the Czech Republic fell to 9.5 percent
in March. This comes as a surprise because analysts expected an increase.
The number of people without a job now stands at just under half a million.
The lowest unemployment rate - around 3 percent - is in the capital Prague
and the surrounding region, while several heavily industrialized northern
regions report figures as high as 20 percent.
April 7: A Reuters poll showed average market forecasts of 0.2 percent
month-on-month consumer price growth in March, the same as in February,
and an annual rate of 4.0 percent. Analysts saw high crude oil prices continuing
to push transport costs higher, but the rise was expected to be tamed by
steady or falling food prices and a drop in leisure costs. Net inflation,
the central bank's key indicator which excludes the impact of government-regulated
prices, was seen rising 0.3 percent month-on-month after February's 0.2
percent, and 2.3 percent year-on-year from 1.9 percent.
April 10: A report published in the Czech weekly Euro claimed that Allianz
is the likely suitor for Nomura's controlling stake in IPB. IPB spokeswoman
said negotiations have been underway for the last several months with several
potential buyers. Nomura's London office refused to comment. IPB has seen
deposits soar in the two years since Nomura took control, but it has also
found itself burdened with reams of bad loans. And, thanks to a lawsuit
filed by a minority shareholder, IPB is barred -- for the time being --
from raising much-needed capital. Meanwhile, rumors that Czech National
Bank (CNB) regulators might impose sanctions on IPB have made many depositors
wary. IPB, which currently boasts 244 billion CZK (6.8 billion USD) in
deposits, was the first large Czech bank privatized after the collapse
of communism. Nomura International paid 3 billion CZK for a controlling
interest in IPB in 1998.
April 12: A decision to consolidate ownership at data-services provider
Aliatel will soon present international telecom players with a tempting
expansion target on the Czech market. With time running out on state-owned
Cesky Telecom's fixed-line monopoly and potential competitors using the
months remaining to bolster their positions, Aliatel's experience and considerable
presence could make it irresistible for a multinational looking for a route
into the Czech telecommunications field. Aliatel confirmed that regional
heavy hitters such as British Telecom and Deutsche Telekom already have
expressed interest in buying a majority in the company. Aliatel has a good
infrastructure and is the third-largest company in the data-services segment.
Aliatel launched operations in 1996 and now supplies data services over
its fixed-line network in 30 cities throughout the Czech Republic. The
company introduced Internet telephony this year. Once Cesky Telecom's legal
monopoly ends at the beginning of 2001, Aliatel's network will be able
to carry voice traffic, which will put it in a prime position.
April 14: Trade between the Czech Republic and Balkan states has improved
in recent years. This is not only because of investment needed to reconstruct
war-torn areas, but also because investors are putting money into the Balkans
and betting the region will become a lucrative place to buy and sell goods.
Financial incentives - the state has promised to support projects worth
900 million CZK (24.3 million USD) in Balkan states, most of them in the
energy and construction sector - also help. A fund approved by the Czech
government last year totals 350 million CZK. By the end of March, about
800 Czech companies had registered their projects at the Ministry of Industry
and Trade. The ministry will pass the projects worth fewer than 5 million
CZK to the Czech Chamber of Commerce for selection.
April 17: The lower house of the Czech parliament approved a draft law
tightening conditions on provisional budgets, the parliament's press department
said. The draft must still be approved by the Senate and signed by the
President. If approved, it will come into effect in January 2001. The new
law will restrict government spending until a new budget is passed and
bind it to spending amounts that have been approved in the prior year's
budget. Current rules allow the government to spend in terms of a draft
budget regardless of whether or not it has been approved.
April 18: Parliament approved a controversial amendment to the labor code,
which stipulates the same minimum four-week vacation period, regardless
of age. Men will be able to take paternity leave, fixed-term employment
contracts will be subject to some restrictions, overtime will be limited,
and strategic decisions and other sensitive information will have to be
shared with employees. The Parliament also approved a revision to wage
scales for civil service employees. Labor Minister Vladimir Spidla said
the amendment brings labor conditions up to the new millennium standards,
although some critics argue it will hurt the nation's ability to compete
and worsen unemployment.
April 20: The Czech government investment agency CzechInvest said it had
finalized projects in the first quarter which should bring 481.6 million
USD in new foreign investment over the next five years. Philips' decision
to build a 200 million euro (188 million USD) television screen factory
was the biggest single plan inked in the period. Net foreign direct investment
into the Czech Republic jumped to 4.91 billion USD last year from 2.64
billion USD in 1998 due to privatization, acquisitions and new projects,
and further growth is expected this year and the next.
April 24 : Up to 176 billion CZK is expected to be the total income of
privatization of state-owned shares of energy companies. The Ministry of
Finance estimates that it will receive 54 to 82 billion CZK for a 67% block
of shares in CEZ (the country's largest producer of energy) and 44 billion
CZK for the sale of 8 regional energy distributors. A 49% block of shares
in Transgas ( the state-run single national importer of oil and natural
gas) is expected to be sold for 30 billion CZK, while the regional natural
gas distributors should bring to the state budget at least 20 billion CZK.
April 25: The number of young Czech web-surfers is set to increase dramatically,
as the government has launched plans for all Czech schools to have access
to the Internet by the end of 2001. It also plans to spend over 4 billion
CZK (100 million USD) between 2001 and 2005 to increase Internet use in
schools. Education Minister Eduard Zeman said that most Czech schools already
have World Wide Web access, but need faster connections and multi-media
computers. According to organizers of the Prague Internet World 2000 conference
and exhibition, which opened in the nation's capital, 1.3 million Czechs
are now connected to the Internet. The figure exceeds expectations by one-third.
Internet penetration rates are, therefore, pushing an optimistic 7% in
the Czech Republic.
The Coasts of Bohemia
The Coasts of Bohemia, by Derek Sayer, Professor of Sociology at the University
of Alberta in Edmonton, offers an unusual and refreshing perspective on
Czech history. It focuses not on the political history, but rather on the
history of culture and also on what might be dubbed the history of history
- how Czechs viewed their history and to what uses they put it. Sayer provides
a unique perspective benefitting from distance, as well as familiarity
with contemporary theory. His book can be recommended not just to readers
interested in all things Czech, but also to students of nationalism.
The image of Bohemia in Western imagination went through many mutations,
from the Bohemia of Shakespeare to which the book's title alludes, to Neville
Chamberlain's infamous "faraway country" inhabited by peoples "of whom
we know nothing." But Czechs themselves have dreamed or created various
contours of their country. Sayer notes that the crown jewels of Czech kings
are described in exhibition catalogues as a "national cultural memorial
symbolizing the centuries-old tradition of the Czech state," or as belonging
"to the most precious historical and artistic artifacts of our nation."
Which state, and whose nation, Sayer asks, as he explores the grounding
of modern Czech identity in the recaptured past.
Often there have been several incongruous Bohemias living alongside
one another, notable among them the Bohemia of Czechs and the Bohemia of
Germans, proceeding in increasing mutual exclusion until the cataclysmic
resolution of the Second World War. Sayer is exceptionally good at describing
the role of artists and intellectuals in creating the image of the Czech
nation that eventually became the official mythology of the interwar Czechoslovakia.
But that time saw also the emergence of another Bohemia - forward-looking,
modern and cosmopolitan, enamored of everything avant-garde. It was well
connected to modern movements from Bauhaus to surrealism, and considered
itself to be decisively part of the West, although it remains largely unknown
in the West today - a nice proposal for an exhibition lurks under the surface
of his text. This modern Bohemia was also pervasively left-wing, which
many of its protagonists came to regret bitterly after the Communist takeover
of 1948. Just like the Soviets, Czech Communists were not interested in
avant-garde. The mythology of the National Awakening with its parochial
stress on "the people" proved to be a more pliant material for them.
Sayer treats Czechs critically. He describes all their foibles and delusions,
not sparing even the most revered personalities. Yet he remains sympathetic
even as he opens some of the more controversial chapters of Czech history,
hot topics of debate among Czechs. The Coasts of Bohemia is a valuable
contribution to this debate.
Originally published in 1998, The Coasts of Bohemia has just been reissued
in paperback by Princeton University Press.
On cold, rainy nights, there is surely nothing better than to find a good
friend -- someone who will not only understand you, but make you laugh
at your problems and give you the courage to continue. And that's what
the audience found during Jan Burian's presentation at the Czech embassy
on April 18, 2000.
Burian belongs to an illustrious family of Czech entertainers. He is
the grand-nephew of Emil Frantisek Burian, founder of the avant-garde theater
D 34, playwright, composer and author. Thus it is not surprising that he
is completely at ease on stage; he welcomed latecomers as naturally as
if inviting them into his own home. And soon the audience did feel at home,
in a comfortable mood, completely receptive to Burian's witty songs and
wry jokes. One began to understand why jesters were valued by kings. Burian's
imaginative, acute sense of humor has a marvelous effect even in print
or in recordings. However, its impact is much stronger in a personal appearance,
because his disarming grin and cherubic appearance throw one off one's
guard, and the punch line comes as unexpectedly as a cream pie in the face
in slapstick comedy.
As the show went on, one gradually became aware of Burian's adroitness
and theatrical skill. Although he seemed to be improvising the entire show,
there was no wasted motion. Every gesture evoked a response; every word
was perfectly timed and conveyed for maximum effect. As he accompanied
himself on the piano, he effortlessly slipped in sophisticated rhythmic
patterns and complex jazz nuances, not for their own sake, but to provide
subtle support for the mood which he was projecting. The cliche "art which
conceals art" took on fresh significance here.
He jokingly described his material as belonging to the Prague folk tradition.
With puckish gravity, he then compared Prague folklore to New York City
folklore, and Moravian folklore to Washington folklore. But he did actually
demonstrate a fact which surely is part of the tradition of his own family:
the vigorous folk spirit of the Czech lands engenders art forms which persevere,
even thrive in adversity. By mutating to fit time and circumstance, these
art forms continue to give heart to artists as well as audiences.
of the Month
by Projekt Praha 2000 by Chad Wyatt
PETR NIKL (1960) is an all-round artist who alternates between painting
and installation, poetry, art theater, and experimentation of every kind.
A member of the group of artists known as the Stubborns (Tvrdohlaví), since
1995 Nikl has belonged to the Mehedaha theater workshop (the name being
a command to an elephant in Swahili), and frequently takes part in improvised
performances with them, spontaneously combining visual with musical and
theatrical elements. His paintings are inspired by the techniques of the
old masters, such as Giotto, Breughel and Fra Angelico, and his consciously
infantile subject-matter seems to derive from his determination never to
grow old. Nikl deliberately situates his works in the world of the child,
the world through the looking glass, on the grounds that real experience
can only be expressed metaphorically. In 1995, Nikl received the prestigious
Jindrich Chalupecky Prize. In conjunction with that award, the Prague publisher
Divus brought out a creative book by him, in which his work is explained
to children. Nikl is one of the most important artistic figures of his
generation, not only because of his persevering search for apt visual expression,
but also on account of his deep commitment to art. Petr Nikl will appear
at the Czech Embassy with his theater project on May 31, 2000.
around the USA
Czech Center New York
1109 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10028
Tel: (212) 288-0830 Fax: (212) 288-0971
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, 9 am - 5 pm Thursday 9 am - 7 pm
For schedule of events visit Czech Center' website at www.czech.cz/new_york
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library Cedar Rapids, Iowa
May 5-7: Three-day motorcoach trip to the Festival of Nations, St. Paul,
Minn. Itinerary includes the Vesterheim Museum and the Seed Savers Exchange
in Decorah; Rochester, Minn.; the Festival of Nations, St. Paul; Fort Snelling,
St. Paul;. Rates based on single, double, triple or quad room groupings.
May 8: Kava a Knihy (Coffee and Books) Reading Discussion Series, 7-9
pm "Babicka," by Bozena Nemcova. Free.
May 17: Learn at Lunch. Bob Stone of Cedar Rapids will discuss Tomas
G. Masaryk: 1919-1937. Bring a sack lunch and learn about Masaryk, the
George Washington of Czechoslovakia. Noon. Heritage Hall. Free.
May 19: Premiere of the film, "Dvorak and America." 7 pm Wilson Middle
School, 2301 J Street SW, Cedar Rapids. The National Czech & Slovak
Museum & Library, 30 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Call (319) 362-8500
for tickets and information.
May 20 and 21: Houby Days celebration in Czech Village and at the National
Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Call (319)
362-8500 for information. May 21: Red Cedar Chamber Music. "Celebrating
Czech Heritage with Chamber Music." 4:30 pm The National Czech & Slovak
Museum & Library, 30 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Call (319) 362-8500
May 28: Sunday Lifelong Learning Series. 2 pm Free. Heritage Hall. June
21: Learn at Lunch. In conjunction with the museum's summer exhibit, "Czech
Technology in Motion," Don Pulkrab presents, "Wheels in Motion: Biking
for Fitness and Fun." Bring a sack lunch and learn about biking for recreation,
bicycle care and bike trails and events. Noon. Heritage Hall. Free.
May 6+7 During this year's Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema a recent
Czech film "Cozy Dens" will have its Philadelphia premiere. The film will
be screened at the Rity 5 Cinema located at Second and Walnut Streets in
the Society Hill section of Center City Philadelphia, 1 block West of I-95.
Show dates and times: Saturday, May 6, 2000 at 3:30 P.M., and Sunday, May
7, 2000 at 7:30 P.M.
May 9 On the occasion of the National Holiday of the Czech Republic
the Hon. Consulate of the Czech Republic in Philadelphia will present the
documentary film "The Artists' Revolution". The film will be shown at the
Blue Bell, PA branch of the Wissahickon Valley Public Library located at
650 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell, PA, on Tuesday, May 9, 2000 at noon. The
screening will be followed by a discussion with Peter A. Rafaeli, Hon.
Consul General in Philadelphia. The cooperation of Mr. David J. Roberts,
Library Director is herewith gratefully acknowledged. Admission is free.
For info call 215.646.7777 or the library at 215.643.1320.
May / June The Heller Gallery in NYC presents Czech glasmakers Stanislav
Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova. 420 W. 14th St., NY. Tel.: (212) 414-4014.
Uz Jsme Doma North American Tour
On Thursday, May 25, the avant-garde Czech rock band Uz Jsme Doma will
kick off a 39-day tour of the U.S. and Canada at the Knitting Factory in
New York City to promote its latest album.On July 6, 1985, the avant-garde
Czech rock band Uz Jsme Doma held its first concert (illegally, of course,
in communist Czechoslovakia) on a riverboat in Prague. In celebration of
this anniversary, and to promote its recent release, Ears, UJD is embarking
on a mammoth six week tour of North America. Since forming in the small
Czechoslovakian border town of Teplice in 1985, Uz Jsme Doma has weathered
the tyranny of Communism, numerous line-up changes, and relentless touring,
including performances in war-torn Bosnia. The band's music, through a
juxtaposition of the beautiful and ugly, familiar and strange, aims to
provoke the listener to feel something genuine and new; in the famous words
of one of the band's inspirations, Franz Kafka, to be "an axe for the frozen
sea inside us."
For tour dates, contact Carl Hanni at Mod Media, 520-432-4493, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For copies of Ears, please contact Patrick O'Donnell at Skoda Records,