Monday, April 02, 2012

A Tale of Two Romans

Disillusionment with Czech politics is far from a new phenomenon. It (re)took root here relatively quickly, replacing the brief burst of optimism which followed the Velvet Revolution, and by the time I arrived in the country was already well established. However, recently it has reached hitherto unseen levels, at least in the period since 1989, and this is hardly any surprise. In the index of corruption the country has fallen beneath the standard of several developing countries, and though there is widespread anger and protests are springing up, including Olomouc’s very own Occupy movement, now in the sixth month of its existence, the predominant response is apathy and fatalism.

The rotten state of the political scene here is well illustrated by two recent news stories. The first relates to Olomouc bus driver Roman Smetana, who stands on the brink of becoming the first political prisoner this country has had since the collapse of communism. Mr Smetana’s crime was to deface fliers of the main political parties which were on display in his bus. For this offence he was sentenced to 100 days of community service by a judge who just happens to be the wife of Ivan Langer, one of the local politicians whose smug face appeared on these fliers. Judge Langerová stated that this matter in no way made her unsuitable to preside over the case, since she would not allow it to influence her professional conduct as a judge, and naturally, what reasonable person would doubt such assurances?

Incidentally, Langer’s political career has been cut short since the appearance of the defaced election fliers in question, though Mr Smetana cannot realistically take the credit for this. Langer was once a rising star in the right wing ODS (known in the English speaking community as the odious) party, having previously made his name as one of the student revolutionary leaders in Olomouc. A close ally of president Václav Klaus, he once even seemed a potential future party leader, but this was not to be, in no small part thanks to his suspected links to organised crime. Voters of his own party registered their disapproval of him at the last election, ensuring that he was not returned to parliament.

Mr Smetana has refused to accept his punishment, with the result that instead of 100 days community service, he is now faced with 100 days in prison. His fate contrasts starkly with that of Roman Janoušek, a Prague businessman who doesn’t drive a bus, rather an expensive but now somewhat damaged Porsche. Recordings have recently emerged of phone conversations between Janoušek and Pavel Bém, former mayor of Prague and challenger for leadership of the same party as Ivan Langer, indicating large scale corruption in the running of the city’s finances. Bém’s party membership has now been suspended. Meanwhile Janoušek has become involved in further controversy, having been arrested following a traffic accident in which he crashed into another car and then attempted to drive off. Unfortunately for him, the driver of the other car, a middle aged woman, caught up with him at the next traffic lights and stood in front of his car in order to prevent him from attempting to escape. His response was to drive into her, hospitalising her, and again attempting to escape. When caught soon after, at some time after 10 am, he was found to be pissed as a cunt and under the influence of other drugs. He was quickly released through the back door of the police station.

As in the UK, where Murdoch and his employees are still unpunished whilst teenagers who attempt to organise riots on Twitter are sentenced to several years in prison, there’s one law here for the well connected and another for the rest of us. Maybe I should be grateful we’re not in Florida, where it’s apparently legal to shoot unarmed black people. As the situation stands Ivan Langer and Pavel Bém are not facing any criminal proceedings. Roman Smetana is due to begin his incarceration, Roman Janoušek has not yet been charged with any offence.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Thin White Rope - Wet Heart


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Christ on a fucking bike. First Sean Penn, the man who objected to his portrayal by the makers of South Park on the grounds that it would "encourage irresponsibility that will ultimately lead to the disembowelment, mutilation, exploitation, and death of innocent people throughout the world". Not a pompous, humourless twat by any stretch of the imagination. Used to be an actor once, apparently.

Next Roger Waters, the brain behind that farcically whiny, inflated sack of wank "The Wall". Used to be in a half decent band once, back before Syd Barrett left. Now the ludicrous panto queen Morrissey. Words fail me here, they're all too painfully obvious. After all, it's difficult write about a cliché without writing in cliché.

Just so we're clear on this:

British imperialism = greed, exploitation, slavery, Amritsar massacre, Bloody Sunday, Thatcher, war crimes, lust for oil, Prince Harry is a Nazi, Prince William is Satan = BAD, VERY BAD.

Argentine imperialism = General Galtieri, torture, mass murder, dropping dissidents into the sea, funding the Contras, ultra nationalist populism, lust for oil, grab for land = GOOD, obviously.

Self-determination for the Falklanders? Fuck that, imperialist scum.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Ian Paisley: an obituary

I’ve just heard the joyous news that Ian Paisley has been taken to hospital after a suspected heart attack, and sincerely hope that it marks the prelude to his imminent and painful death. Politicians are difficult people to like at the best of times, as are clerics, so he’s in a difficult position from the start as far as I’m concerned. But Paisley hasn’t rested on these laurels, and has really done his utmost to achieve a quite astonishing feat of loathsomeness, beating off stiff competition to become easily the most poisonous figure in UK politics in my lifetime – Cameron, Blair, even Thatcher cannot rival him in terms of naked evil.

This is a man who is almost singlehandedly responsible for the bloodshed in Northern Ireland since the mid 1960s. This isn’t to say that he hasn’t been helped in this by the paramilitaries on both sides and by the British government, but the fact is that none of it could have happened without him. When he appeared on the political scene the IRA was virtually dead and Northern Ireland, despite the appalling injustice suffered by the nationalist community ever since the partition of Ireland, was relatively peaceful.

Indeed to use the phrase “nationalist community” may be inaccurate – though quite rightly disgruntled, the Civil Rights marchers who began their campaign in the 1960s were not calling for a united Ireland, merely peacefully demanding to be treated as equal citizens within the United Kingdom. That they were doing so perhaps even indicates that many of them had, if somewhat reluctantly, accepted the legitimacy of the British crown. At no time was the union remotely under threat, in fact until Paisley came along it was barely challenged. The response of Paisley was to do everything within his power to thwart the entirely reasonable and humane demands of the Civil Rights movement, by any means necessary. This meant, above all else, stoking up sectarian violence on the part of both the unionist community and the police.

I have no romantic illusions about the paramilitaries on either side and no intention of defending how they have terrorised each others’ and their own communities, but Paisley’s actions left no alternative to the formation of the Provisional IRA, who for a while became the sole effective defenders of catholics at a time when those who had chosen the peaceful route were being beaten senseless or worse by police or loyalists. It cannot be forgotten that the first terrorist murders of the modern troubles were of catholic men, years before the Provisionals existed. The rest is familiar history – thanks to the sectarianism that Paisley had stirred up, the IRA was brought back from the dead and thousands of people were killed in decades of pointless, tit-for-tat murders.

The fact that this has now pretty much stopped is no thanks to him. Despite his paramilitary links he has always kept the loyalists at a cowardly and hypocritical distance, feeding their idiotic paranoia whilst taking no responsibility for the consequences. When even these organisations tired of their senseless war of attrition and pledged support for the Belfast agreement, Paisley attacked them for selling out. At an anti-agreement meeting he turned his lynch mob on Gary McMichael, the son of a UDA commander who had been murdered by the IRA, for attempting to challenge Paisley’s argument. It may stick in the throat a little to say it, but at a stretch it might be possible to describe the IRA, UDA and UVF, in their support for the Belfast agreement, as peacemakers. In Paisley’s case on the other hand, to use his favourite word, never.

Eventually of course Paisley did accept a form of power sharing, famously or rather infamously developing a smug rapport with former IRA chief Martin McGuinness, but this is hardly anything to be applauded. Power sharing, after all, was what the Civil Rights marchers had been demanding, and without his poisonous intervention would have been possible decades previously. Then he had bitterly opposed it, and in doing so ensured decades of bloodshed. The only way he would accept power sharing was in the form of a sick coalition of his own thugs and the IRA gangsters he had always claimed to despise. Thousands of people in Northern Ireland died for no other reason than to secure Paisley’s coronation as First Minister, with a terrorist as his deputy.

I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface here in terms of cataloguing his crimes. I could also mention his vicious, bullying homophobia, though without wishing to disrespect gay people, I can’t help viewing this as a secondary issue in the light of the sectarian murders he’s been responsible for. His lifetime achievement has been to fuel hatred and frustrate peace. His death cannot come soon enough.

Friday, January 06, 2012

The 2012 New Year's message from TONA: No more Mr Nice Guys

Friday, December 23, 2011

It’s been quite a few days for deaths – Hitchens, the Dear Leader of North Korea, and most significantly for the Czechs of course, Václav Havel. Havel is clearly a revered figure in the Czech Republic, even so I’ve been slightly taken aback by the strength of feeling his death has generated. I don’t really want to join in too much here, from what I knew of Havel I basically liked and respected him but I’m certainly no expert, and more than enough has been written about him this week already.

The reaction to his death has left me with some mixed feelings. There’s evidently no lack of glutinous sentimentality, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that it’s Christmas – aaahh – and this is the time of year when he first became president of Czechoslovakia. There’s also no lack of hypocrisy, since he was often the object of ridicule as president among certain parts of the population. Not only hypocrisy, but in the case of current president Klaus, typically vicious opportunism: no doubt keen to avoid negative comparisons with the much-loved predecessor for whom he had utter contempt (which was quite rightly reciprocated), the incumbent grasps at the chance to bask in reflected glory.

In the midst of all this, it’s maybe not so surprising that a few dissenting voices have been raised, largely from the left. These have ranged from downright poisonous bad taste on the part of oafish, bloodthirsty Stalinists exhorting the nation to celebrate, to the more cerebral, which point out that he was no saint, who at the very least quickly reneged on his promise to serve only a single term as president. There is indeed a danger of Havel becoming the Czech equivalent of Princess Diana, and I have to hope that with Christmas Day immediately following the day of Havel’s funeral, the Czechs will (at least in this respect) return to their generally restrained, moderate selves.

Nevertheless, some of the criticisms of him strike me as somewhat mean-spirited. Although I was disappointed by his eagerness to join NATO and his slavish support for Bush’s foreign policy, I can’t agree that this entirely discredited him as a humanitarian, and have no reason to doubt the sincerity of his belief. The fact is I simply don’t agree with him on this and probably many more issues. So much for his opinions. In terms of his personality, however, I don’t find it so difficult to admire the man, and the contrast with Klaus could not be greater. Klaus, an egomaniac and slave to dogma very similar in spirit to the communists, kept his head down and worked in a bank during the years of normalisation. He subsequently dismissed Havel as a “half-socialist” and never tires of posing as the scourge of the totalitarian left, though this naturally didn’t stop him twice being elected president with the help of the communist party. Havel on the other hand, whilst evidently a flawed man, could have had quite a comfortable life had he kept his mouth shut, but was prepared to put his head on the block and suffer the consequences. RIP.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

“...I blame their parents...”

“...failing on the part of our schools...”

“ lack of discipline...”

“...there can be no excuses whatsoever...”

“...opportunistic, copycat looting...”

“...mindless, recreational violence...”

“...thoroughly organised, cynical attacks...”

“...feral youth...”

“...shallow, greedy individuals...”

“...trashing their own communities...”

“...intent on causing misery...”

“...this is criminality, pure and simple, and it has to be confronted and defeated...”

“...huge sympathy for the families who have suffered...”

“ abiding people are appalled...”

“...need for a swift, robust response...”

“...police working with the full support of the local communities...”

“...impose martial law...”

“...I see it’s mostly blacks that are at it...”

Aaaah, fuck off you bastards!!!