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Post In Praise of the Czechs
Created by John Eipper on 07/28/18 4:35 PM

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In Praise of the Czechs (Istvan Simon, USA, 07/28/18 4:35 pm)

Many thanks to Paul Pitlick (July 27th) for his interesting observations on visiting the Czech Republic. I would like to add a few thoughts to his excellent post.

For as long as I can remember I have been an admirer of this wonderful little country, whose people have customs and culture so close to my heart. I see the Czechs as amazing freedom-loving people, so deserving of admiration, high-achieving in every field of human activity, politically so "just right," who peacefully but forcefully resisted all the despots who oppressed them, from Hitler to the communists. A country of culture, the Czechs love freedom and music. They have always produced first-rate musicians and composers Dvorak, Smetana, Janacek. Their love of music goes back hundreds of years.

No country treated Mozart better than the Czechs did. Shamefully, Mozart's own country Austria treated him much worse. His operas were huge successes in Prague, while often being sabotaged by the Italian mafia that controlled the Vienna Opera House at the time. Don Giovanni was premiered in Prague and was an immediate huge success. In Vienna it was received with less enthusiasm. His Prague symphony was first performed in Prague on Mozart's first visit to the city.

There is no doubt that Prague is one of the loveliest cities of Europe, beautiful and charming, with its distinctive characteristic and very picturesque architecture, on the Vtlava river, with the beautiful views of the Prague Castle, the Charles bridge, and multiple lovely landmarks the Astronomical Clock, great Museums, the monument to the victims of the Nazi occupation and many others.

The Czech are tolerant, democratic, cultured, fun-loving wonderful people. It is always a great pleasure to visit this admirable country.

So we must ask how is it that a freedom-loving country, normally so tolerant of diversity, respectful of all minorities, that has always welcomed Jews, who had the extraordinary moral giant and statesman Vaclav Havel its president for so long, who was an example for the whole world of what a politician should look like, how is it that a country like that elected an intolerant Prime Minister like Babis? The distance between Havel and Babis is like the distance between the Earth and the moon.

I of course do not have an answer to my own question, but we can try some educated speculation. The anti-immigrant frenzy in the Czech Republic was fomented by President Milos Zeman, himself light years away from the greatness of Vaclav Havel. Though Zeman did his utmost best (or worst) to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment, we still must ask why such intolerance found resonance in the country?

I think that part of the answer may be the sheer number of Muslim immigrants that shocked the people of the Czech Republic and Hungary. The sudden arrival of tens thousands of such refugees disrupted normal life in these small countries. Both Hungary and the Czech Republic have a total population of about 10 million people. The residents of Prague are a mere 1.3 million people. While this does not justify their reaction, still one can at least try to understand that the arrival of thousands of foreigners with strange customs felt to them like an invasion of unwanted foreigners. Had their number been much smaller, I feel that they would have been welcomed. After all this is the country that gave an example to the world on how to handle "divorce" in a civilized way in the violence-free breakup of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

JE comments:  A glowing Czech-up from Istvan Simon!  (No more puns today, I promise.)  Can Babis be compared to the ultra-Right firebrand Orban, or to Poland's PiS, or is he more of a "Velvet" demagogue?  I know very little about him other than his wealth ($4 billion).

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