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I’m always thrilled when Czech stuff makes it on to Boing Boing. The latest item is the excellent media prank that took place yesterday, in which pranksters from zhotoven inserted footage of a nuclear blast explosion into the regular broadcast of Panorama, where they usually run usual live camera footage from ski areas and other points of interest.

I’m almost sure the hack happened at the cameras physical location. My theory is this: While the Panorama broadcast looks like webcams, I know for a fact that at least as late as 2001 they were analog, and I have no reason to believe they have changed to a digital transmission system. Getting a system in place with enough bandwidth to allow for full-screen broadcast-quality video from remote mountain locations would cost an awful lot of money.
The portal I used to run in the Czech Republic wanted to do a deal with Panorama’s producers to run live content from the Panorama cameras all day, but we were floored to find out that the system is analog, and has to run from 8 to 8:30 am because that is the only time when Ceské Radiokomunikace (the company with a virtual monopoly on radio/tv transmissions in the Czech Republic) has enough analog bandwidth to enable the transmissions. Needless to say we didn’t do a deal.

I only wish the media pranksters at Zhotoven would do something about the gawdawful music Panorama plays to accompany the strangely hypnotic pictures. I am deeply convinced that it Panorama’s music is what they play in the seventh circle of hell.

Sabina Slonková has another scoop today, and a pretty big one. First, a bit of backstory: The Czech parliament is in deadlock, with both leftist and right-of-center coalitions even with 100 votes each. But yesterday one MP, Michal Pohanka, decided to leave the Social Democrats, which leave them one vote short of 50 %.

The question is, though, whether this MP is caught up in what is being called the BudiÅ¡ov scandal, which involves the misappropriation of EU funds by a gang of well-connected political insiders from the top echelons of the Social Democrats. In the interview he says it’s all being made up.
Last week I translated another of Sabina Slonková’s stories on the topic, and this one was too big to ignore too. As usual, the translation is mine. It’s a pretty quick translation, so feel free to leave any corrections in the comments.


Pohanka: I will request police protection

17:45 | 25.10.2006

Sabina Slonková

Prague – MP Michal Pohanka, who today left ČSSD, argues that he was under strong pressure to do so. In an exclusive interview for Aktuálně.cz, he also said that he is considering a request for police protection.

Michal Pohanka is insisting that the Social Democrats themselves wanted to get rid of him, and that the request was translated by the head of the ČSSD parliamentary club, Michal Hašek.

Pohanka is now hiding in an unknown location. He has shut off mobile telephones and not even his former party colleagues are in touch with him. Despite this, the Aktuálně.cz newsroom managed to connect with him with the help of an intermediary. After the interview was over, Pohanka called back: While he at first considered requesting police protection in the afternoon, by the evening he pulled back from doing so.

We now bring you a unique interview.

“It started even before Nova broadcast the report where they talked about me. We had some meeting in the zoo, where Michal Hašek spoke with me and told me I should give up my [parliamentary] mandate. When I told him I would not do it, he started talking like: Do what you want. The police will now be after you and you’re going to have a very hard time. As if some kind of war was going on,” Pohanka said.

Aktualně.cz: But Michal Hašek denies your version and argues that nobody called on you to leave?

He’s not telling the truth.

There were a total of two conversations on the same day. At the second, even chairman Paroubek was there. Hašek told him that I don’t want to give up my mandate and Paroubek only shrugged his shoulders. He more or less didn’t comment any more. Then I remained alone with this problem and waited for what would come.

AKTUALNE.CZ: And that’s all that led to your leaving the party?

Then a lot of strange things started happening around me. It was recommended that I not speak to anyone because my telephone would be tapped.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Who recommended this to you?

It was all from the side of my colleague, Hašek. I had the feeling that he was the moving force. Or someone entrusted him to do it. When you have communicated with these people as long as I have with Hašek, who I know several years, his behavior seems absurd. It seemed to me that they wanted to apply a presumption of guilt, even if elsewhere they would have acted differently.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Your friends argue that someone has followed your coworkers and destroyed your office. Is that true?

That’s what I’m talking about when I say that strange things have started to happen. Maybe I’m paranoid, but to be sure I’m going to request police protection. When the same people keep moving around you, it’s probably not completely normal. And when they start to appear around those close to you, it logically unnerves you.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Are you afraid?

To a certain extent yes, because you don’t go through this kind of situation every day.

AKTUALNE.CZ: At Lidový dům (the Social Democrats’ headquarters), voices can be heard saying you’re under pressure from the police. Isn‘t it the police who are following you?

I’ve also heard that too, but it’s absolute nonsense. If I’m under any pressure, I feel it from ČSSD, not from the police. Nothing like that is true.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Thanks to you, the leftists have lost their parity in parliament. Do you now know how you will vote if ODS forms another government – or a cabinet leading the country to early elections were to emerge?

I’m going to consider my position further. Now that I’ve left ČSSD, I’m going to consider my own opinion and not be led by opinions that are given to me by some party. Now I’m in the position of an independent MP.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Has any politician contacted you with an offer to switch sides?

No, I’ve shut off all my telephones.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Your move, which evidently surprised ÄŒSSD, comes at a time when you can seriously influence the form of a future government. Did you consult with someone in ODS or another party about your approach?

No. With noone. It was my personal decision, which was ripening inside me for a long time. I considered it even before the local elections, but I didn’t want to harm my colleagues’ campaign.

AKTUALNE.CZ: So in the end you decided to leave between the first and second rounds of senate elections…

I originally wanted to wait more, but these strange things started to shift somewhere and I couldn’t wait any more. The situation simply became ripe.

AKTUALNE.CZ: If what you describe didn’t happen, would you have left the party?

No. I didn’t have any strong disputes with anyone from ČSSD. I’ve let it be know n that I don’t like this confrontational style of politics, but it wasn’t acute.

AKTUALNE.CZ: So it’s not that the ČSSD leadership knew you were the weak link that could “switch sides” and wanted to prevent you from doing so by forcing you to give up your mandate?

That’s definitely not it. I see this instead as an internal struggle inside ČSSD.

AKTUALNE.CZ: You’re hiding in seclusion and considering protection… How do you want to continue like this?

We’ll see how long it will last. I believe that after senate elections I will normally return to my work.

Regular readers of this blog know I’m a big fan of the Czech investigative journalist Sabina Slonková of the website AktualnÄ›.cz. She herself was the target of a murder plot a few years back by the then-assistant to Foreign Minister Jan Kavan over her reporting on a corruption affair involving the Å tířín castle.

Today’s article is significant for a number of reasons, but perhaps most important is that she has managed to tie together two of the most significant scandals of recent months in the Czech Republic – the corruption scandal over the Unipetrol privatization, where ZdenÄ›k Doležel, the former chief of staff to two prime ministers (Gross and Paroubek) was recorded by a hidden camera asking for a CZK 5 million bribe. In fact, the way he put it, “five on the table in Czech [currency]” has now entered the language.

The second scandal involves the head of the police’s Organized Crime Unit and the subsequent wide-ranging wiretaps, in which a number of figures – including the opposition – were wiretapped.

But now Slonková is beginning to tie the two stories together, and that could prove to be explosive. The translation below is my own.

The Doležel scandal: Was Kubice supposed to die?

Sabina Slonková

Prague – A special team of the police presidium has been investigating for more than four months suspicions that the murder of the head of the Organized Crime Unit, Jan Kubice, was being planned.

The information was gained by security units in the investigation of the activities of a group around Zdeněk Doležel, the former chief of staff of two Social Democrat prime ministers.

Doležel was arrested on Tuesday night by police with the mayor of BudiÅ¡ov, Ladislav Péťa, and an official of the agriculture ministry, Miloslav Řehulka, on suspicions of machinations with EU subsidies and blackmail. During several months of wiretaps of the figures in the case, it came out that a plan exists for Kubice’s liquidation.

Who are the accused?

AktuálnÄ›.cz has found that the plan was hatched at a time when Kubice – just before parliamentary elections – announced in the parliament that politicians were trying to manipulate sensitive cases.

“Information on the planned murder was available at the end of May and beginning of June. And that is from both police and the secret services. The police president then allowed a special team to be created that looked into the information under state prosecutors’ supervision. “Nobody has been charged so far,” a source familiar with details of the investigation told Aktuálně.cz.

Police: We’re looking into it and can’t say more

The police presidium has confirmed that it has taken up the investigation of murder. It refused to comment on details of the case. “We are examining the case, but we cannot say anything else in public,” said Deputy Police President for Criminal Procedures FrantiÅ¡ek Snopek.

Jan Kubice himself was brief: “I will not say anything about that.”

From the wiretaps and other evidence from the team, according to Aktuálně.cz information, it has come out that the plan to take out Kubice counted on several phases: First the policeman would be discredited in the media, then charges from the Interior Ministry were to follow over the content of his report for MPs; later he was to be taken out of service.

Then he was supposed to be killed, but to the outside it was supposed to look like a suicide, because he ‘couldn’t take the pressure of the circumstances.’”

The police suspect that the first part – scandalizing him – has already begun. Some journalists in recent days received a 100-page document with the title ‘Business and property relations of the family of Lt. Jan Kubice.’ The daily Šíp reported on its contents on 3 October.

“The file contains a number of suspicions that would Kubice should believably explain,” the daily wrote, while at the same time pointing out that the document was supposed to discredit Kubice.

Who is the author of the plan?

The police presidium team is now collecting evidence that should elucidate the role of individual members of Doležel’s group. From their questioning, it has come out that the attack on Kubice was discussed in coded terms:

At the same time Doležel and two other arrested men were questioned all day today. All are being investigated on suspicions that they wanted to wrongly gain more than CZK 30 million (USD $1.33 million) in EU subsidies earmarked for landmarks renovation.

In addition, they are suspected of blackmail over pressure on the architect who prepared a project for the reconstruction of a castle in Budišov and who later stopped “cooperating” with the group.

Former Local Development Minister Radko Martínek today announced that the architect informed him of the entire case in the spring. “The architect visited me and shared with me certain suspicions. I called on him to inform the police and offered him cooperation and said I don’t care who is involved,” Martínek said.

The architect was later in contact with a reporter from the TV Nova program ‘Na vlastní oči’ [Eyewitness], who then made recordings available from several meetings of Doležel’s group.

Nova today broadcast shots from a meeting of Doležel, Řehulka and Péta, which were made by their reporter Aleš Vébr with a hidden camera. The TV station claims that it managed to gain the trust of this trio and managed to work its way into the transaction. In the Nova shots the men can be seen handing over money and speaking about how it is necessary to bribe a certain official. They also talk about possible violence, and according to Nova the victim was supposed to be the architect who worked with Doležel and Péťa on the reconstruction of the castle in Budišov.

Social Democrats apologize for Doležel

The Social Democrats, led by Jiří Paroubek, have repeatedly strongly distanced themselves from Doležel in recent hours and have apologized to the public for his behavior.

At the same time, at a special press conference today Paroubek pointed out that the Doležel case was about more than the previously-known EU money and blackmail.

“If I spoke 13 months ago about how he (Doležel, editor’s note) considers himself a new James Bond, his behavior now seems to me like the behavior of a heavy psychotic. And that’s not because of the corrupt behavior, but also from the reasons I know from hearsay. This was not about ordinary corrupt behavior,” Paroubek said without further details.

I wanted to start off by saying that Monday’s World Cup match between the US and the Czech Republic left me with a deep ambivalence that I’m just getting over. The kind of ambivalence you get when your worst enemy goes driving off a cliff in your new sportscar. In a way, I’m glad that the result was so clear, because it means there really _was_ a better team.

I’ve managed to watch quite a few of the World Cup matches now, and have to say: I hate “homers” in any sport. You know the kind: the commentators who refer to the local team as “us,” using the first person plural: “We almost scored!”

As if!

The Czech commentator Jaroslav Bosák is a huge “homer.” But he has his own library of similes that would give the US newsman Dan Rather a run for his money. And that’s why I like him.

I’m a connossieur of colorful phrases, and as an amateur translator I savor opportunities to translate an interestingly-turned phrase. So, with great pleasure, I will attempt to translate this article from today’s Aktualne.cz:

Bosák’s famous comments

How can one understand the phrases of commentator Jaroslav Bosák? Take a look at this explanatory dictionary:

Phrases used by Bosák and attempts at their meaning:

Å evčenko didn’t break through. His father, the tank driver, would’ve had to be there to do that.”
The Ukrainian forward attempted in vain to go through two defenders.

“They’re playing on only one half of the pitch. The caretakers must be happy.”
One of the teams has clear dominance.

“And that had as much in common with football as čabajka [a Hungarian sausage] has with health food.”
The performance of both teams isn’t pretty to watch.

“The organizing service as well as the police acted as if this was a friendly match on the first of May and not as if it was the derby.”
Police and organizers underestimated hardcore fans, so-called hooligans.

“Brazilian samba could be heard in the stadium, while a Prussian march was lost somewhere in the distance.”
Developments in the Brazil-Germany match were fully in control of the Brazilian footballers.

“Yeah, and when I look at Schmeichel, I wouldn’t want to fight with him over who’s going to wash the dishes.”
The then-goalie for Denmark was angry.

“The Belarus defense was hanging on BaroÅ¡ like Christmas ornaments on the tree.”
A mildly critical comment addressed at the tight defense played by opponents on the Czech forward.

“He pulled through the two defenders as if they were painted there.”
A mildly admiring comment addressed at the technically-skilled forward.

“The kidneys of Igor Gluščevič sent out a dangerous shot.”
The former Sparta player shot without knowing how.

“Ooooooh! That, sir, was a foul! I wouldn’t wish that on my wife’s favorite boyfriend.”
An especially tough foul, probably on a sensitive place.

“And in the air, the plaster cast sounded after Zagarokis’ foul”
An even tougher foul, on any part of the body.

“Poborský sped up like Stanislav Gross’ driver.”
Special admiration for the Czech back’s speed.

“I’d like to recall my colleague, Shakespeare: ‘Much ado about nothing.'”
The game isn’t worth anything.

“That was a slice like from a First Republic farmer.”
A red-card foul.

“The coach, Rehhagel, honors the famous adage that the best defense is … defense.”
The tactics of the Greek team, which led to a historic gold at the European Championship, weren’t liked by anyone but the Greeks.

For a few weeks now, there have been odd purple posters put up all over town with slogans like “It’s legal to die,” “It’s legal to vote,” or my personal favorite, “It’s legal to be a loser.” On one over near Letna, someone wrote, “yeah, but it isn’t very nice.”

But it turns out that these were the first moves in the relaunch of the Unie Svobody (Freedom Union), the right of center party that is still in the governing coalition along with the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats.

With a campaign that looks like it was put together maybe by anarchists, maybe by people who went to CzechTek, but certainly not by a member of the governing coalition, the party has launched its new website today, at www.its-legal.us.

The party has sought to relaunch itself along the lines of the Libertarian party in the US, or maybe one of the continent’s “liberal” parties. One of the odder things about the site is that its slogans are all in English. Granted, it’s English that most of the people they’re trying to reach can speak, but it’s still English.

As an aside, the term “liberal” in Europe tends to mean almost the exact opposite of what it does in the US – low (or lower) taxes, small (or smaller) government, for privatization of state industries, and generally for the state to get out of peoples’ lives.

If I recall correctly, Unie Svobody currently hold three two ministerial seats (Justice, Foreign and IT), and they’re not doing very well in the polls. So their gambit is to bet on a relatively unknown and untested demographic: Let’s call them, for lack of a better name, the Roxycrats. They smoke dope every now and then, they support gay rights, they’re mad as hell about CzechTek, and they might even support larger reforms.

UPDATED 29 April 2006: Petr B. of the Daily Czech points out that the Foreign Ministry is held by the Christian Democrats, and is occupied by Cyril Svoboda.

Tonight at the gym I go to, I heard a couple of people talking about the new site. One woman who was maybe 20 thought it was a cynical attempt to restart a failed party. But one man who was around 25 thought it was pretty cool, and said he’d vote for Unie Svobody.

Earlier today, Justice Minister Pavel NÄ›mec (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Saturday Night Live’s Jimmy Fallon), said of his party’s stand in support of the decriminalization of marijuana that if they can find 250,000 voters who feel the same about legalization, the party will do fine.

But the trouble is that if the US is any example, campaigns that bet on the youth vote – from Eugene McCarthy in the 1970s to Howard Dean in 2004 – inevitably fizzle because young people don’t vote. They’ve got other things to do, whereas grumpy old pensioners show up consistently.

Out here, the grumpy old pensioners vote either Communist or Christian Democrat, depending on how they feel about the Man Upstairs. But they will turn out, as sure as Karel Gott will win the Slavík award for the umpteenth time.

One of the big drawbacks of having an election in June in the Czech Republic is that the weather is usually good, and most young people – the voters Unie Svobody desperately needs to stay alive – will probably just blow it off. And then they’ll light up a joint and bitch about how none of the politicians that get elected actually stand for what they want.

I haven’t posted much about Czech politics because it seems to be more of the same; corruption scandals and fights to be in the position to take huge bribes, which leads to more corruption scandals.

But the elections are coming up in June, so here are a few things I’ll be looking for:

  • The Greens have been polling strongly – I think I saw a poll that put them at around 10 percent – but the question is whether that will actually translate into votes or not. I seem to recall in the ’96 elections that a group called the Pensioners for a Secure Life (DŽJ), which was led by a guy who promised on TV that if his party didn’t make it into parliament, he would eat a bug. They didn’t and he ate the bug on camera. The point being that the pensioners were looking strong going into the elections, but then it all faded fast.
  • PM Paroubek said today that he may cut a deal with the Communists if they do a few things first, like apologizing for previous crimes, acknowledging the country’s Euro-Atlantic orientation, and supporting the principles of a balanced budget. If the Communists actually do decide to ‘reform’, Paroubek won’t need much help – either from the Greens or from the Christian Democrats – to stay in power.
  • Don’t count the Christian Democrats out. Their electorate has consistently delivered 8-10 percent every time out. They may not be polling well, but along with the Communists, their voters tend to actually turn out.
  • ODS is polling well now, and they’re experienced players. I’d expect to see them pull out their real trump cards – various dirt on their opponents – in the next couple of weeks. They’ve already had their ‘Mr. Clean’, Prague Mayor Pavel Bem, dish the dirt against Greens leader Martin Bursík and how he financed the renovation of his historic building.

Anyway, it’s going to be heating up, so I’ll try to chime in from time to time with a few of my own observations.

ÄŒTK is reporting that the flood situation could worsen on Wednesday and Thursday due to predicted warming in mountain areas.

This would worsen the flood situation, Interior Minister FrantiÅ¡ek Bublan said after today’s meeting of the Central Crisis Group.
While today and Tuesday the forecast is for cloud cover and snow showers in the mountains, this should turn to rain by Wednesday, which would influence thaws in the Beskydy and Jeseniky mountains, according to Ivan Obrusník, the director of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute.

The Institute will provide more accurate information on Tuesday. According to findings so far, temperatures in Moravia should be above zero degrees on Wednesday, while in Bohemia temperatures would be around freezing. Possible further rains accompanied by warming could raise the levels of both the Vltava and Labe rivers, which would complicate an already tense situation in Ústí nad Labe and could again affect Prague.
In the event the water rises, a mild threat for Prague could occur that would mean stopping the metro, for example,” the interior minister said today.
Levels of Czech and Moravian rivers except for the lower Labe and Dyje are now falling or stagnating. High water of the Labe in Ústí nad Labem should occur tonight around midnight. Drainage of flooded areas will be slow.
Up-to-date information can be found at the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute’s web page at http://www.chmu.cz.
Three border crossings, at  HÅ™ensko, Hevlína a Lanžhota are flooded. Several police buildings are underwater as well, with a total of 10 affected countrywide. Police President Vladislav Husák, at a press conference after the Crisis Group’s meeting confirmed that police are guarding evacuated persons’ property. There has been only one case of illegal activity related to the flood, an attempt to dismantle an anti-flood barrier in Prague.  The perpetrator was arrested.

The Labe in Ústí nad Labem is at 870 cm and still rising slowly. It is expected to reach high water on Monday some time, but much will depend on the weather in Bohemia; showers are forecast for the next few days.

At Mělník (about 30km outside Prague if I recall correctly), the Labe is rising slowly, and is expected to hit high water in the next few hours. If its level rises by another 10 cm to 740cm, evacuations may have to take place. (8:40)
The situation at the Spolana chemical plant is unchanged.

A state of emergency has been proclaimed in seven regions: Southern Bohemia, Central Bohemia, Ústí, Pardubice, Southern Moravia, Olomouc and Zlín.

The area around Novosedlý, near Břeclav in southern Moravia, is flooding due to a levee break in Austria.

Elsewhere, however, many rivers’ levels continue to decline. Could it be that the danger has passed? That is, except for the big drainages – the Labe and the Danube.

Part of Olomouc was flooded Saturday night when a levee broke in Horka nad Moravou. The levee has been partially repaired, but water is still flowing.

There are about 820 residents of the flooded area, but most refused evacuation orders.

The Chomoutov and Černovír districts were the most affected, with water flowing in the streets.

In Prague, water managers have been able to keep the Vltava just under 1,500 cubic meters per second, AktualnÄ›.cz reported. 1500 m3/s is the border for a Stage 3 flood alert. (9:58)

River levels in mountain areas should decline in coming days. Levels on other rivers should fall or remain without changes. Moderate declines on the Labe and middle and lower Morava will continue. The Lužnice will remain at the same level, and may possibly rise during nights on the lower stretches, the Environment Ministry reported (23:56).

Last night I drove across the Vltava downtown, and it looked like the Vltava had a long way to go (at least a couple of meters) before it would reach the bottom of the  temporary aluminum flood walls.

In the comments, reader Thayer asks:

Please if possible in such short time to keep apprised- before sunrise Friday 30 March- how goes waters and flood stages for city of Prague? Leaving Salzburg tomorrow – should I get waders? Is city moving to higher ground?

Sorry to respond to this late. Prague is expected to have its culmination (high water) either today or tomorrow. Aside from localized flooding in low-lying suburban areas such as Zbraslav and Podbaba, we haven’t seen any damage to Prague. The city’s new aluminum flood walls are in place and it isn’t even clear if they’ll be needed.

As long as all the dams upstream hold, and as long as there are no major miscalculations on the part of Povodi Vltavy, the company charged with operating the dams and waterways on the Vltava and its tributaries, Prague should be OK.

In Moravia, Povodi Morava’s (the company responsible for management of the Morava Basin) director was fired today for failing to coordinate between water officials, local authorities and emergency teams, especially in the hard-hit Southern Moravian town of Znojmo, where some officials believe Povodi Morava’s failure to drain the Vranova dam in time to allow its reservoir to fill with floodwater compounded the city’s current situation.

Confusion, or ‘the fog of war’ in emergencies is common, as was the case in FEMA’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and it certainly seems to have made a bad situation along the Dyje worse. For example, Znojmo officials complained that they didn’t have timely and accurate information from their Austrian counterparts upstream on the Dyje. And, Znojmo officials charge, Povodi Morava representatives didn’t even attend the city’s flood team meetings.

To return to Thayer’s question on how all this affects Prague, well there are a couple of ways. There are a number of dams on the Vltava above Prague. The largest of these are Orlík and Slapy. Povodi Vltavy has said their strategy would be to use these dams to limit the impact on Prague; they have probably been letting out water from these dams for some time in anticipation of winter runoff.

Povodi Vltavy spokesman Karel Břežina said that the situation at Orlik was promising, and that if the levels of both the Sazava and Berounka continue to decline, they will not have to let more water out (which would cause flooding in Prague). He said that much will depend on the weather over the next couple of days. (9:12 today).

But the question will be whether the combination of warm weather, large flows and rain on upstream snowpack will overwhelm Povodi Vltavy’s strategy. So far, according to Povodi Vltavy’s flow map, many sites are reporting declining levels (hover your mouse over the green, yellow and red dots to see the water level trends), which is good news.

Povodi Vltavy’s director for the lower Vltava region, which includes Prague, said the Vltava in Prague is unlikely to reach 1,530 cubic meters per second, which would put it at Stage 3 (11:21 today).

On the bus to work this morning I looked out at the Vltava, and while it looked high and menacing, it still was within its banks. We’ll see how that continues, but for now it looks better for Prague.