By Daniela Lazarova
This week Czechs have been looking back - the T.G. Masaryk anniversary is prominently
featured in most periodicals, historians have met for a conference on the T.G. Masaryk legacy
and television channels have featured documentaries on the first Czechoslovak president. The
man whom Czechs called "Daddy Masaryk" and whose picture the bolder of Czech citizens
put up in their windows in the heady days of the 1989 revolution. Both Tyden and Respekt,
two prominent weeklies into political analysis, feature profiles of TGM and draw paralels to
President Vaclav Havel.
Historian Antonin Klimek, whom Respekt has interviewed, recalls
Masaryk's often saying his head was in the clouds but his feet were firmly planted on the
ground. He knew that a politician could not be an idealist, Klimek says. It helps to have a
philosopher in the presidential post but in political decision making he must necessarily be
practical. This is one of his many principles which remain true today. Both Masaryk and
Havel have this philosopher-king image and there is good reason for it, the weekly notes.
After the break up of the Austro-Hungarian empire each of the newly emerged states needed
an authority to look up to -in Poland it was a marshal, in Yugoslavia the future King
Alexander, the Czechoslovak mentality required a man of letters - a philosopher. Similarly
after the fall of communism in 1989, when the nation needed to re-build, and re-embrace the
democratic tradition, they chose someone who was not only totally trustworthy - but a writer
and philosopher in the bargain, someone who has upheld moral values through thick and
thin, regardless of whether it was politically appropriate. Both Masaryk and Havel's power
stemmed more from their moral authority than their position as head of state. Ten years after
the Velvet Revolution is the Czech nation learning to overcome this need for a strong leader
who is expected to serve as the highest moral authority in the land and resolve most of the
A question there for Professor Klimek - and his answer is that yes,
slowly Czechs are learning to overcome their need for a father-figure at Prague Castle.
There's nothing wrong with needing that kind of moral authority, as long as it does not
interfere with the authority of the government and Parliament, Professor Klimek notes. And
Tyden adds, a moral figure casts a long shadow, far more effective than changes ordained by
law, which can be amended or scrapped. T.G. Masaryk's teachings were so powerful they
gave the Communists some sleepless nights. For instance, in the four decades of their rule the Communist Party never seriously challenged the post of president and at the outset Communist
President Klement Gotwald enraged the politburo by insisting that if the Communists wanted
to acquire absolute power in the country they had to do it democratically.
Tyden magazine carries an article entitled "Call in the EU team", reporting that two parallel
campaigns are now underway to inform Czechs about the various privilages and duties
stemming from EU membership. One is financed by the EU Commission through the PHARE
programme, the other by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The two are meant to be
complemenary and should be well coordinated, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales
Pospisil. Pospisil makes it quite clear that this is no brainwashing campaign to increase the
number of EU supporters in this country, but an attempt to answer some of the questions
people really want answered about how EU membership would affect their lives - such as
what will happen to my apple orchid, will it mean the end of my present livelihood and will I
be able to afford my present way of life. A team of Czech experts on EU matters, which holds
debates with the public at the Prague EU information centre is available to present seminars in
the smallest towns and the most obscure parts of the Czech Republic if invited to do so.
Schoolchildren who are unlikely to reach 18 years of age before the EU referendum happens
have not been left out either. EU media and communications experts have launched a full-blown campaign aimed at primary and secondary schools using tactics that kids respond to,
from comic books to competitions. Instead of stating the current top brand of soft drink or
chewing gum, kids are asked to list the names of EU top officials or answer questions about
the current EU member states. So far both the government and EU officials in Brussels are
said to be happy about the way the parallel campaigns are going. They are far less happy with
the Czech media - newspapers, radio and television - whom they accuse of not giving EU
matters sufficient attention. Most recently the Foreign Ministry clashed with TV journalists
over the contents of a cycle of EU documentaries it had commissioned. The cycle was called
"Can we catch the EU train" and in one of the series its makers mentioned that Czech Prime
Minister Zeman cold-shouldered modern information technology. This aroused such anger at the Foreign Ministry that the series was immediately cut short and the contract annulled. In
coming days it should be replaced by an EU TV ad made up of a fast-paced series of events
documenting the changing face of Europe these past ten years. What effect all this will have
on the public's stand regarding EU membership remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Reflex magazine is still wondering if there is a political power in the land capable
of breaking up the existing Opposition Agreement between the Social and Civic Democrats.
In Austria, the long-term power-sharing pact of two left- and right-wing parties helped Jorg
Haider's party to power. In the Czech Republic the much shorter-lived power-sharing pact
between the left-of-centre Social Democrats and right-of-centre Civic Democrats is already
raising the popularity of the four-party coalition on the right and the Communist Party on the
left, the weekly notes. Unlike the Communists, the coalition of four smaller right-wing parties
does present a political alternative and opinion surveys give it an estimated 30% of the vote -
but is it ready to handle that responsibility? In order to beat its rivals in the elections the four-party coalition would have to mesh, produce a viable programe, a shadow cabinet and settle
on a single leader - in other words do what the Slovak Democratic Coalition did to beat
authoritarian leader Vladimir Meciar. Indeed it would have to be much stronger, Reflex notes, for already the Slovak Democratic Coalition is riddled with conflicts and Meciar, whose
popularity has been steadily rising, is now pushing for premature elections. What our own four-party coalition has shown us so far is woefully inadequate, Reflex notes. They are unable to
agree on a leader, much less a shadow cabinet.
As for a common policy programme - all we
are getting is improvisation. Not even the four parties activities in Parliament would point to a
common programme. The only thing they have at present is a firm belief in their future
success - which may well come thanks to the unpopular opposition deal. The question is what
would happen after their dubious victory - and come to think of it which alternative is
actually the worst? Reflex concludes.
And finally, the Profit business weekly features a report on training courses for top business
managers which are gaining popularity in the United States and which some really well-off
Czech firms might like to send their managers to. The idea is to stretch their abilities to the
limit at a camp similar to that for a rapid strike force unit, or else send them to a monastery in
the mountains. What they get in both is sleep deprivation: 4 hours of sleep a night, a low
food intake and seemingly endless hurdles for the mind and body throughout the day. Physical
activity takes place in the mountains, in the woods and swampland. Oh, and no privacy - 60
to a room for a three-month period. Only the fittest of the fit survive - and you'll know you
picked the right man for your managerial post if they come back and still want to work for you, says psychologist Miroslav Musil. Even if all goes well, you should expect your manager to
return severely underweight and experience health problems for a certain period of time. For
all that you pay the princely sum of twenty to thirty thousand dollars.
There is the monastery version in the Alps - closer to home and more acceptable to our
Central European mind, Musil adds. A prison-like cell, a bible and cross, four hours of sleep
and the rest of one's time divided between prayers and work. In total isolation one learns to
recognize priorities and work effectively, Musil admits. Mercifully it only lasts a fortnight.
Does that idea sound insane? 8,000 German managers underwent this training course last
year alone - to their employers satisfaction. Musil suggests that something financially more
acceptable could be done on home ground in the Sumava mountains . Well, after all, how much
money do you need to make a few managers' lives hell for a fortnight? I'm sure that there are
plenty of employees who'd volunteer to do their bit for free.
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