• Monument Wars Part Infinity

    Guest Post by Vincent Post, originally Posted at http://vinpost.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/monument-wars-part-infinity/ on March 27, 2014
    For many Czechs, Russia’s Crimean land-grab is strongly reminiscent of the two pivotal times in their own 20th century history during which Czechoslovakian territorial integrity was trampled upon. Although defacing Soviet era monuments (the ones that have not been removed) is fairly common practice in the Czech Republic, the defacers have been extra active this year. And they’ve gotten something fresh and new to have a go at: apparently an organization of Russian veterans from the Afghan war, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the start of that war, has erected a monument in Prague’s Olšany cemetery honoring ‘Russian Internationalists’ – soldiers that offered ‘brotherly help’ in countries neighboring the Soviet Union.

    As could have been expected, this gesture was not widely appreciated, especially not against the backdrop of the invasion of Crimea. So first someone made the monument into a diorama, with little toy tanks and toy soldiers. Someone also spray painted ‘CZ’ on the monument.

    Image(c) Lidové Noviny. See how the little soldiers were painted red?

    Only a few days later, a new addition was made to the monument when a person or persons unknown spray painted ‘Jan Palach’ on the monument, adding a cross (link to LN story).

    Image(c) Lidové Noviny. Note how the CH in Palach is written on one line – not because they ran out of space but because CH is its own letter in the Czech alfabet (it comes between H and I).

    Apparently the officials that authorized this monuments only looked at the ‘technical parameters’ of the monument and not at the text which refers to the soldiers as ‘peacemakers’ (in Russian, the Czech on the sign is more neutral about the soldiers). The second Lidové Noviny article notes that although official Russian sources claim 12 ‘peacemakers’ died during the 1968 invasion at the hands of ‘counterrevolutionaries’, domestic historians dispute this…

  • Guest Blog: Vincent Post on the Purple Finger

    • October 24, 2013 - 4:57 pm
    • Czech Republic
    • Comments Off on Guest Blog: Vincent Post on the Purple Finger
    Reposted with permission from http://vinpost.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/a-giant-purple-middle-finger/

    A Giant Purple Middle Finger

    With the parliamentary elections coming up (this Friday and Saturday), for the longest time it’s looked as though there will be a left-wing majority and as though the nightmare of many Czechs is actually going to come true: communists in the government. Or, more likely, a minority government of social democrats supported by communists. Although the Czech communists sit snugly behind a cordon sanitaire and have been solidly reviled by other parties in the Czech party system, there’s been many times when parties (both on the left and on the right) have had to rely on them for votes. As an example, when Klaus was elected president in 2003, he needed communist votes for it (this was when it was still the houses of parliament that elected the president). So in a way, for the communists to enter the government at a time when parties on the right are suffering the wrath of the voters seems like something that’s been a long time coming. Then again, the hatred that people feel for this party is powerful, and for communists to even be an unofficial government partner without cabinet seats would be a major thing.

    An arresting testimony to that hatred floated down the Vltava in the middle of Prague this week: a giant extended purple middle finger, defiantly facing the heart of the Czech political world. The one giving politicians the finger is David Černý, celebrated and infamous artist known (amongst many other things, such as the time in 1991 when he painted a tank pink) for his controversial piece that he created for the occasion of the Czech EU presidency. A large set-piece, it contained stylized depictions of all the EU member states that made zero effort to avoid insulting people or touching on sensitive issues. Bulgaria was depicted as a toilet, for instance; The Netherlands was a flooded landscape with only minarets sticking out above the water.

    A photo of the purple finger (c) Tomáš Krist, LNA photo of the purple finger (c) Tomáš Krist, LN

    Černý and his supporters organized a concert under the (Russian) slogan ‘nikagda nezabudem’ – we will never forget, a slogan pointing back to the 1968 invasion. With the concert, the organizers are trying to warn voters against the ‘bolshevization’ that the Czechs might face if the communists actually do really well. Although not directly involved in the elections, president Zeman is also being held responsible for this perceived trend of increased communist influence in politics. Many of Zeman’s advisors are associated with the former regime and the president has long advocated left-wing collaboration with the communists.

    While politicians on the right (as well as these artists) struggle to give voice to their worries about the communists, many voters don’t seem to really care. The communists already hold office in a number of regions after doing well there in elections in the Fall of 2012, and none of what you might ungenerously classify as fear mongering seems to have put a dent in the communists’ predicted vote share (although Lidové Noviny did report that for the first time in a long time, communists and social democrats no longer have a majority – but so many votes are likely to be cast for parties that will not clear the 5 per cent threshold, that it is not really possible to say such a thing with any certainty).

    In addition to the communists doing well, Andrej Babiš’s ANO (it means ‘yes’) party is also doing well in the polls, surpassing all parties other than the social democrats (ČSSD) now. Here’s another example of people not really caring about how politicians treat the communist past: Babiš was allegedly an informer for the communist secret service – his file has been published by the Slovakian Institute for National Memory (Ústav Pamäti Národa, ÚPN) and although he has started legal proceedings against them, many people take their word for it. Politicians on the right have emphasized Babiš’s past (most recently former finance minister Kalousek, who is now being sued for slander by Babiš) but this, too, does not seem to affect Babiš’s prospects a whole lot. This is remarkable, because informers are despised far more than rank-and-file party members, and a political career for an StB informer has been described to me by many as completely unthinkable, only a few months ago.

    It’ll be interesting to see what will happen after this weekend. The outcome of the elections is likely to enrage a lot of people, but it also reflects that a lot of people have already been enraged to the point where they don’t even care about voting communist anymore. Incorporating the communists into the system might have an upside, though: Czech voters have had a way of saddling their leaders with uncomfortable situations, like in 2006 when the left and the right were divided right down the middle, both getting 100 seats in the 200 seat parliament. The fact that the communist seats in parliament have been blocked off for coalition formation made matters even more difficult. Although it comes at the cost of a lot of angry people especially on the right, potentially breaking the taboo on communist government support might make coalition building a bit easier.

  • David Černy Strikes Again!

    • October 23, 2013 - 8:49 pm
    • Czech Republic
    • Comments Off on David Černy Strikes Again!
    File:Gesto, David Černý(sochař), 21.10.2013, Praha.jpg
    Photo by Jindřich Nosek via Wikimedia Commons: Gesture, by Czech sculptor David Černý. October 21, 2013, Prague
    David Černý, the Czech artist perhaps best known for the Pink Tank and for Entropa, has struck again!
    Here's some detail from the NYT . . .
    New York Times
    October 21, 2013

    Angry at Prague, Artist Ensures He’s Understood


    PARIS — “The finger,” said the Czech sculptor David Cerny, “speaks for itself.” On that point, at least, everyone could agree.

    Mr. Cerny is not known for understatement or diplomacy, from depicting Germany as a network of motorways resembling a swastika to displaying a caricature of a former Czech president inside an enormous fiberglass rear end.

    But on Monday, Mr. Cerny, 45, took his political satire to new heights — or depths, depending on your perspective — when, on the eve of Czech general elections this weekend, he installed on the Vltava River a 30-foot-high plastic purple hand with a raised middle finger. It is a symbol, he said, that points directly at the Prague Castle, the seat of the current Czech president, Milos Zeman.

    Mr. Cerny said the monumental hand with its 16-foot-long outstretched middle finger, placed on a float facing the castle, was a “scream of alarm” against the state of politics in the Czech Republic, endemic corruption and Mr. Zeman, a former leftist prime minister, whom he accused of becoming intoxicated with power.

    He said the sculpture, which he gave an unprintable title, was also aimed at the country’s Communist Party, which could gain a share of power in the coming elections for the first time since the revolution that overthrew communism more than two decades ago.

    “This finger is aimed straight at the castle politics,” Mr. Cerny said by phone from Prague, the Czech capital. “After 23 years, I am horrified at the prospect of the Communists returning to power and of Mr. Zeman helping them to do so.”

    Mr. Zeman, who was visiting Ukraine on Monday, declined to comment through a spokeswoman, who told the Czech news media that he had not yet seen the sculpture.

    The sculpture is part of a Czech tradition of cultural rebellion dating to communist times, when artists, writers and musicians like the Plastic People of the Universe used subversive lyrics or gestures to revolt against authority.

    But while challenging the government could land you in a prison cell during the communist era, Mr. Cerny’s floating installation was authorized by the local nautical authority. Even so, he came under criticism, with some accusing him of turning the country and its famously pristine capital into an international laughingstock.

    “First we are made to look like thieves before the world,” said a reader in the discussion forum on the online version of Hospodarske Noviny, a leading newspaper. “And now we look like idiots at the center of Europe. It is not funny at all.”

    But analysts said the subversive hand gesture accurately reflected the intensifying frustration of many Czechs and a growing feeling that the 1989 revolution has failed to deliver on its promises.

    In August, the Czech Parliament voted to dissolve itself, setting off early elections after an anticorruption investigation uncovered safes stuffed with millions of dollars in cash and stashes of gold that prosecutors suspect may have been used in an elaborate influence-peddling scheme.

    A former prime minister, Petr Necas, was forced to resign amid accusations that his chief of staff, Jana Nagyova, who was also his girlfriend at the time, had used the country’s security services to spy on the prime minister’s wife, whom Mr. Necas subsequently divorced. He and Ms. Nagyova have since married in a secret ceremony.

    Mr. Cerny first came to prominence in May 1991 when, at the age of 23, he was arrested after painting a giant Soviet tank pink, turning a work meant to commemorate the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army in 1945 into something that looked like a giant child’s toy.

    Mr. Cerny said Monday that he feared the finger risked being defaced or even removed by vandals. He said he had been barraged by criticism on Facebook by communist and Zeman supporters calling him “a capitalist pig.”

    Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague.