Sunday, January 20, 2008

On a positive note….

Almost unbelievably, a total ban on smoking in all Czech pubs and restaurants may be less than a year away. Some politicians are pressing for an introduction of the ban from 1 January next year, and there is a real chance they may succeed, in which case I shall lose a bet and have to buy Matthew Sweney a crate of beer (three years ago he said it would be introduced within five years, I said within ten – damn my doleful pessimism). But is this really so unbelievable, given that so many European countries have already introduced the ban smoothly and successfully? Actually yes it is. And it’s still a case that I’ll believe it when I see it, but I’m convinced that it’s merely a matter of time.

Why is this so miraculous then? Well, even in the countries where it has been introduced, if you’d raised the possibility of a smoking ban 10 or 15 years before it came into force most people would have looked at you as if you were mad. And it’s about time I belatedly apologised to anti-smoking martyr Roy Castle. I always used to think he was a wanker on Record Breakers (actually let’s face it, he was), and whilst I sympathised when he began his campaign after learning that he had terminal lung cancer as a result of passive smoking, it was undoubtedly a case of sympathy for than sympathy with, rather like one might respond to the parents of a murdered child campaigning for the return of capital punishment. At the time I was probably in quite a large majority in thinking his campaign was not only doomed but misguided, having unthinkingly swallowed a load of mendacious libertarian bullshit about some kind of “right” to smoke in public and potentially kill – yes kill – other people. Sorry Roy, you were absolutely right and I was absolutely wrong on both counts.

If public opinion has changed fast in Western Europe, it’s changing even faster here, which means yet another hefty slice of humble pie for me. Because in the past I have grouched to some of my non-Czech friends about how the Czechs can be frustratingly pig-headed and conservative in certain respects when it comes to “how things are done here”. I don’t entirely take this back, but on this particular issue I have to take off my hat to their open-mindedness and spectacular ability to perform U-turns. Only four or five years ago almost everyone I know here was utterly incredulous when I proposed banning smoking in pubs, and I knew that every time I brought the issue up I’d inevitably get called a fascist before the debate was over – which naturally provoked me all the more. Plus in addition to all the predictable knee-jerk libertarian bollocks I’d get a lot of specifically Czech dewy-eyed, nationalistic, whiny puke about how inconceivable and impracticable my vision was, how smoking was an integral part of their beguiling pub culture, just as with French café culture (and look what happened there – another one bites the dust!). As recently as 2006, the Czech Republic came lowest out of all EU countries in terms of support for a smoking ban. These days however, according to opinion polls, a good sized majority of people are now in favour. Perhaps it has been made easier for them by seeing how well it works elsewhere, but still, credit where credit’s due. Now of course the hurdle lies in getting the politicians to shift their lazy, corrupt arses, which is no mean feat in this country, illustrated by the fact that the only progress that has been made in recent years is the genius move of banning smoking at open air bus stops whilst, incredibly, repealing the previously existing lunchtime smoking ban in restaurants. One step sideways, two steps back is the traditional way of Czech politics, so there is still room for a degree of healthy scepticism. Nevertheless, shift they will, sooner or later.

Scary eh? Bloody hell, who am I going to go after now? Well, the car lobby could certainly do with a bit of righteous persecution. Or maybe people who walk their dogs on those kind of stupid elasticated leads which allow them to run all over the fucking pavement and trip you up. Authoritarian, me?


Anonymous jitka said...

It won't be next year, or the year after, or the year after....somebody will get bribed somewhere and it won't happen for a long time still, so I wouldn't be buying that crate of beer as yet if I were you.

Anyway, good to see that Frothing Spleen is back and as jolly as ever. Happy 2008!

12:04 PM  
Blogger ASHDAV said...

Perhaps I should bet you a crate of beer that it will come in next year. That way if I lose my bet with Mr Sweney I break even by winning my bet with you, and vice versa. What do you say?

2008, a time for optimism. The revolution is just around the corner!

5:12 PM  
Anonymous jitka said...

OK, fine, I bet you a crate of German non-alcoholic beer called Moussy and you can choose between the strawberry and mango flavour. And I am not kidding! Or perhaps I can offer a pink plastic alarm clock in the shape of a mosque which wakes you up with a prayer call.

Ahoj J.

7:09 AM  
Blogger ASHDAV said...

If it's non-alcoholic and tastes of strawberry or mango, in what way is it beer? The alarm clock sounds grotesque enough to be interesting, but if you're not prepared to bet real beer, forget it.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Sweney should win the bet cause he is a great man:)

8:44 PM  

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