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Mad Men in the Castle

Visitors to Prague are told tales of the Castle’s strange and mysterious past. Czechs don’t need to be told of the weird things that go on there now.

One of the advantages of living in a young democracy is its unpredictability. This can be frustrating when you want to do business, but from a neutral observer’s point of view, and even more so a journalist’s, it’s great fun.

Only in a transforming country like the Czech Republic could a city hall award a huge contract for public transit chip cards to the lone bidder in a tender and then run costly ad campaigns paid for from the public coffers boasting of “the cheapest travel card in Prague.” Only in a country like this could a glass of alcohol, beer in this case, be cheaper than a glass of water, and last but not least, only in such a country could the official advisers to the president be loonies.

Ladislav Jakl and Petr Hajek are both longtime aides to the Czech head of state, Vaclav Klaus, and both hold extraordinary views on a number of subjects.

Jakl, the head of the political section of the president’s office, is a rocker and former journalist and often is the staffer who explains the president’s words and thoughts in the media. He can be anything but cautious in this role.

Like his boss, Jakl appears to be extremely skeptical about anything smacking of environmentalism. He recently wrote on his blog of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as the “media bubble of 2010.” “Oil was leaking for months and nothing happened,” he opined. “No kid caught an allergy or got a runny nose because of the spill. You say there were millions of dead fish? If that had been the case we would have seen the poor fishies from head to tail in the media all day long. It took three weeks for the many media crews on the ground to spot the first oily bird and the pictures of it then took it to the world.”

Deputy Head of the Office of the President Petr Hajek is an ex-journalist as well, which probably explains his own brand of outspokenness when he talks to the world outside Prague Castle, the enormous fortress from where the president looks down over the city. He’s known for his provocative statements, including, “I don’t know about you, but I don’t descend from monkeys, that’s for sure” or when he called 17 November 1989, the day that touched off the Velvet Revolution, “quite an unimportant incident.” But most of all he’s known as a fervent critic of the modern media and their power.

He published a book recently, A Death on Wednesday, in which he questions the reality we live in on the basis that in many cases what we see and “witness” is fabricated by the media, whereas the real “truth” of what happened is unknown. Hajek takes 9/11 as an example. “There is a pretty realistic possibility that September 11th was orchestrated by the intelligence services of the United States,” the book states. Later on Hajek says, “I share the view that Osama bin Laden has never existed, in the way the world knows him from his comic TV discourses.”

Hajek’s views are hardly unique. Many groups and individuals around the world would agree with him a hundred percent. But there is a difference.

First, Hajek and Jakl, aren’t nobodies. They’re employees of the presidential office, paid from the state budget, and their job is to represent the state to the outside world. When they say that 9/11 was orchestrated by the CIA or that the Gulf oil spill was nothing but media hysteria, they – unlike the average person on the street – have a responsibility to take good care to cite hard evidence in order not to make themselves and, more importantly, the Czech people and their representatives look ridiculous.

Second, both men can turn dangerous. They know how to cleverly mix truth with suppositions and unsubstantiated opinion so that no one can accuse them of pure lies. It is indeed quite strange that the world’s most powerful country hasn’t been able to catch one named individual for more than nine years – so who can say whose face and voice we know from the fuzzy images on TV?

Going further down that road, it may come to the point when Czechs will be calling for a strike on the United States since the Americans led us into two wars and spilled the blood of our boys on the basis of made-up arguments. These angry people could seize on Hajek’s views as a guide, a stream of arguments – above all, he’s the president’s man, right?

The conclusion of all this is clear, that there is a pretty realistic possibility that both Hajek and Jakl aren’t merely paper-pushers for the president. Their jobs must have been orchestrated by the intelligence services. And since they continually question the deeds of the West, I share the view that they are on the payroll of the powers in the East. Who can claim to have seen the private face of either man?

Or maybe not. These men’s comic TV discourses are too ludicrous not to be the truth.

  • Autor: Respekt
• Autor: Respekt

This column was originally published on the Transitions Online website (www.tol.org) on 13 October, 2010 . Transitions Online covers political, economic and social developments in Central & Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia.

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