Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This nation's saving grace?

The Czech Republic is a small nation in the middle of Europe, with a history of being pushed around and occupied by bigger, more powerful nations in the region. As well as that wages, but also living costs are still, despite the strong Czech crown, considerably lower than in Western Europe, which naturally results in Western tourists coming here and suddenly feeling very rich, and frequently behaving with corresponding arrogance. Nothing you didn’t already know so far then. But these are two of the reasons often given for the huge inferiority complex many Czechs seem to suffer from. Way, way too many times I’ve been asked “why on earth did you come to live in this hole?” by the locals, which puts me in the absurd position of defending the Czech Republic to the Czechs themselves. This place may have its faults, but during my years here I’ve generally found it to be a pleasant and civilised place to live, in addition to which it’s far from poor, something most people here don’t seem to appreciate. For example, whilst most British home owners are paying off their mortgages right up until, or even after they start drawing their pensions, a great many people here own their homes outright, and in some cases also own a (usually more modest) country cottage.

In addition to all this, as well as being convinced that they’re impoverished and downtrodden, the Czechs are equally adamant that they are a miserable, unfriendly and untrustworthy bunch, consumed by spite and envy, sometimes adding stupid for good measure. Let me make it clear that I don’t hold this view, and in fact for me one of the most exasperating traits manifested by people here is their constant self-flagellation. The counterpart to all this is an immense urge to prove or make claims for themselves, for example you might be told how ignorant the Czechs are and in the next sentence that they have “golden hands” and invented the soft contact lens. Their apparent lack of national pride can even paradoxically but perhaps inevitably result in a kind of resentful xenophobia, brought on by an imaginary notion that the entire world looks down on them.

I was reminded of all this last night when watching football of all things. What could a European cup tie between Liverpool and Chelsea have to do with the Czech inferiority complex? The answer is Petr Čech, Chelsea goalkeeper, who in all fairness has a reasonable claim to be the best goalkeeper in the world, and who had a pretty good game last night. Nevertheless, this hardly justified the almost surreal, fawning commentary on Czech TV - whenever Čech was mentioned, or as was often the case, awkwardly shoe-horned into a sentence it was invariably as “Czech international Petr Čech”, or “magnificent Petr Čech”, “superb performance by Petr Čech” ad nauseam. By the end of the game it had descended into a farce, with half the pub joining in to guess which superlative would be hurled next.

I don’t want to sound patronising here, but to all you Czechs – lighten up! You’re not Americans. You might have a dickhead for a president but in general people like you and your country. And come the European championships, a lot of people whose country won’t be represented there will be supporting you.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On the subject of ill-advised logos, here’s one that’s been around for a while and never fails to impress foreigners visiting here, whilst most Czechs seem blithely unruffled by its presence in their kitchen. This dapper fellow has been used to promote quality meat products (what else?) since 1917. Look at the cock-gorging fool! Given the potential messiness of the operation he seems rather too well dressed to be performing fellatio with such terrifying relish, but those were the heady days of anticipation of Czechoslovak independence and perhaps his creators thought he should be afforded such luxuries. Almost a century old now and still going strong. Will the mullet also survive to mark its centenary in these parts?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

April fool? Apparently not.

Recovering from the mother of all flu bugs, my suspicions were raised somewhat upon seeing this story appear on April the 1st, but by all accounts this is not a hoax. Above is the winning design for the new police vans and cars of the Czech Republic, in dashing new modernised colours, bearing a slogan which translates roughly as “to protect and serve”. So far so good, but certain mean-spirited individuals have poured cold water on the award-winning design before it’s even got off the ground by raising eyebrows at its similarity to the insignia of another well known Central European law enforcement service from times past.

Plagiarism? Naaahh!

And now more bad news for our boys in blue – apparently the design’s also plagiarised, merely a mirror image of a design proposed a few months back by the Military History Institute – some opportunistic “unknown firm”, for whom the Ministry of the Interior takes absolutely no responsibility, was evidently inspired by the original, but not having quite such a keen sense of history (or perhaps eyes in their fucking head) somehow managed to overlook the fact that when the design was reversed it may have less salubrious connotations.

Of course, this is all strenuously denied. The similarity of the two designs is “pure coincidence”. And when the going gets tough, the tough get going: when under fire, the mighty machinery of Czech officialdom, remembering that attack is the best form of defence, springs into action with a swift admonition. After all, never forget that way back even before the days of the commies and the Nazis, this was the country of Franz Kafka. No official complaint from the public concerning the design has reached either the Ministry of the Interior or the police presidium, according to whose spokesman David Kubalák the very idea it may bear similarity to the SS logo of old “is so aberrant that we refuse to take any interest in the matter or issue any comment thereon”.

Well, the images are here, so judge for yourselves. Just remember that if you can see any similarity to the SS logo it’s all in your mind, and hence your fault, not theirs. Presumably then, these vehicles will be on the streets in a few months’ time. Watch this space.

3.4.2008 – UPDATE!!

According to new reports, the flashy new makeover came at the price of almost quarter of a million Czech crowns, which at the present, quite phenomenal, exchange rate, is a considerable amount of money by anybody’s standards, about enough to purchase… a small police car for example. Not a bad loot for simply reversing an image published on the internet in February, the designer of which will presumably see nothing of that amount. Police spokesman Tomáš Kužel sees no problem. “If you publish an image on your server and we decide to use your design, you can count yourself lucky that your design was successful. I’ve got nothing more to say on the matter”. He was equally if not more brusque on the subject of the SS controversy: “That’s beneath my level and my powers of discernment” – which makes one wonder just how elevated, or perhaps oblique, these powers are. Are they not rather wasted on the police?

Whether these pigshit-thick coppers are bluffing their way out of a pretty stinking mess, or digging themselves deeper into it remains to be seen. As it stands reportedly no change to the design is being considered and the first Tschechische Reichspolizei vehicles are due to hit the streets as early as 15 April.