In The News

COVID Spikes In EU, Bulgaria Bus Crash, Uber Weed

👋 Tere!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where EU countries face a sharp rise in COVID cases and conflict, at least 25 die in a Bulgarian bus crash, and Uber starts delivering weed. Bogota-based daily El Espectador takes us through the return of gang violence taking over the streets of Medellín, Colombia, which became notorious during the 1970s thanks to drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.

[*Estonian]

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A Czech Exception? LGBTI Push For Progress In Central Europe

Attitudes are shifting in countries with both a communist past and strong Christian roots.

PRAGUE — It's no secret that Central Europe isn't the world's best place for LGBTI people. The odious anti-gay rhetoric of Polish President Andrzej Duda recently made international headlines, along with the country's introduction of "LGBT-free zones." In Hungary, Viktor Orbán's government used its power of decree during the coronavirus pandemic to make it impossible for people to change their legal gender, passing a bill replacing "gender" in the civil registry with "sex at birth." Meanwhile, Slovakia's Constitution explicitly limits marriage to opposite-sex couples, while a Eurobarometer survey five years ago found that only 24% of Slovaks support same-sex marriage.

Still, the region is not a monolith and times continue to evolve, which makes the situation for LGBTI in the Czech Republic worth particular attention.

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Paris To Prague: A Czech Homecoming And Quarantine Au Revoir

PRAGUE — As I walked down Avenue René Coty on a sunny day in late May, everything was like a Paris postcard — except that my glasses were fogging up over my facemask. But I knew the scenery by heart by then, as I had never left a one-kilometer radius around my student residence during the two-month French national lockdown.

By the end of May, we were two weeks into the "de-confinement" and Parisians could move freely without a piece of paper certifying the purpose, date and time of their outing. But the streets were far quieter than normal as I walked down the stairs into the virtual empty metro station for the first time in three months. A guard at the entrance checked my (homemade) mask and stopped others who didn't have one. Another guard, who helped me get my large suitcase through the turnstile, wished me bon voyage. He guessed right: I was on my way to Charles de Gaulle airport ... and a flight back to my hometown of Prague.

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Pandemic Blues, The Disconcerting New Concert Experience

Rock hero Dave Grohl, of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame, has described live music performances during the COVID-19 lockdowns as: "unflattering little windows that look like doorbell security footage and sound like Neil Armstrong's distorted transmissions from the moon."

One month later, in some corners of the world, authentic, in-person live music is ready to take the stage again — though with some caveats.

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Geopolitics
Jiří Pehe

Coronavirus And The Czech Republic's Geopolitical Crossroads

-Analysis-

PRAGUE — From a geopolitical perspective, the Czech Republic is a case apart. After four decades of being "abducted" to the East (as writer Milan Kundera, for one, described the era of Soviet communism), it has spent 30 years as part of the West, first as part of Czechoslovakia, with its Velvet Revolution, and later as an independent state and member of both NATO and the European Union. But in recent years, part of the country's political elite and a large part of society have repeatedly questioned our affiliation with the West.

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food / travel
Alex Correa*

A Brazilian Superman, Lost And Homeless In Prague

PRAGUE Czech Republic was the first country I visited that wasn't either Latin or Germanic. Czech, as I found out the hard way, is a very tricky Slavic language, one of those that rarely lets you deduce the meaning of a word and in which entire sentences seem to have been written by somebody with severe cognitive issues.


If you don't believe me, here are a few examples:


— No, I've never heard of the deep web.

— Ne, já jsem nikdy neslyšel o hlubokého webu.


— What did you put in my drink?

— Co jste dal do pití?


— Please, do not take my liver, sir.

— Prosím, neberte mé játra však, pane.


I started in Berlin, Germany. The train journey to Prague's central station is enough to make anybody exhilarated or a little scared. The script changes little by little until you start realizing that either you dropped acid that somehow confused all the letters on the signs, or you've entered the Czech Republic.

When everything goes according to plan, it's actually rather easy to become enthralled with such a different language. There are an infinite number of possibilities, and it's a lot easier to meet new people in bars, for example with the always efficient, "How do you say cheers in your language?" But if things start going off the tracks, the interest in exoticism devolves into an abyss of despair, and with one magical step, you find yourself unable to find a living soul who speaks English.

That's what happened to me after I dedicated a reasonable amount time to figuring out the city's public transport system. (Trying to memorize the names of the surrounding metro stations when your phone's battery is giving up isn't the best idea.) I reached my Airbnb rental and discovered that the hosts had forgotten about my arrival and were unreachable. I waited for two hours, entering and exiting the building thanks to considerate neighbors, and I found a café with Wi-Fi to allow me to pursue a plan B.

Tossed out

I was thrown out of the café at 10 p.m., when it was already very dark outside and the employees wanted to go home. I ended up staying in a remote neighborhood with a guy who would later send me Whatsapp messages on a daily basis to ask if I'd "already picked up a Czech chick." After an exhausting day, I had what every traveler needs: somewhere to sleep and a stranger to ask me inappropriate questions. What more could I wish for?

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Is that clear? — Photo — Infinite Ache

The next day, showered and ready to explore the city, I started meeting other tourists who were also desperately confused by the language. I reached deep inside to embrace my best altruism and swore that whenever I'd see somebody lost or looking for information, I'd offer to help.

The project started well: I met an errant explorer on the tram and directed him toward his hotel across the city. In a restaurant, I helped a couple decipher the menu using Google Translate. In just a few hours, I became Prague's Superman, without the six pack and super powers.

Living up to my new, Good Samaritan status, I became the hero of two helpless Japanese girls standing in the middle of the sidewalk with gigantic suitcases. Or at least I tried to. They were trying to make sense of their city map. But when people don't even know they're holding the map upside down, you know it's going to be a slog for them.

I came closer, but they completely ignored me. When I finally offered to help, I was sprayed with a series of piercing "no no no no no no no no no nos." They moved away from me, leaving their luggage where it was, as if I'd been holding a gun to their heads. They made all sorts of hand gestures to tell me to go away, saying stuff in Japanese. I tried to explain myself: "I'm just trying to help some strangers in the street because when I first arrived in Prague myself ... " but I failed miserably. They were only moving further away, each time a little faster, while I was trying to give my best rendition of "it's not what you're thinking." Thanks for nothing, pop culture.

About 40 minutes later, I returned to the spot, and there they were, sitting on the curbside. But they at least holding the map properly this time. I didn't stop. One moment I had been Superman, the next Godzilla. I left them behind in that alley.

And I'm fine with it. As Confucius famously said, "It's no use trying to help those who don't help themselves." Not even in Prague.

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blog

Victims Of Communism

There are several statues, monuments and informal crosses thoughout Prague that commemorate the death of 21-year-old Jan Palach and 19-year-old Jan Zajíc. The two students set themselves on fire in 1969 to protest the end of the Prague Spring, brought on by the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet-led armies.

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Opening Up

Over the years, we saw Prague transition from austere Soviet Czechoslovakia to the more tourist-friendly Czech Republic. I took this picture of my wife in the Old Town Square — one of Europe's most beautiful squares — just about eight months before the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

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Spa Past

Certain buildings in Mariánské Lázne still retain some of their Bohemian grandeur, from when the spa town then known as Marienbad was a favorite destination among the European elite early in the 20th century. But by the time we got there at century's end, a few years after the birth the Czech Republic, that golden age had long since faded.

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Eurovision 2015 Contestants: Czech Republic

The wind-swept hair, the over-dramatic singing and facial expressions, the incomprehensible video, the change of key towards the end of the song, the reflective staring into mirrors, lyrics such as “sea of pain”, “ravens calling my name” or “we can rise and fight” … You can’t really get more Eurovision than Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta, the Czech Republic’s contestants for this year’s edition, and their song “Hope Never Dies.”

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blog

The Dangers Of Iron Curtain Tourism

In 1962, the Sovietization of Eastern Europe was at its height. It was hard enough to get into Czechoslovakia (we had to wait three hours at the border), but getting out was where things got dicey. From a watchtower, a guard had seen me take pictures of the Iron Curtain, and asked me to open my camera at the border crossing. I lost the last 5 to 6 photographs on the film roll — but the guard was pretty clear that refusal to comply could mean losing way more than that.

This is one of the pictures I managed to save. The baroque houses on the main square of Telc, in southern Moravia, were miraculously spared by the wars and are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


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Stalin's Cursed Statue

It took more than five years to build Prague's gigantic Stalin Monument, which was eventually unveiled in 1955. And only seven years later: BOOM, the Soviets dynamited what they thought was an outrageous display of Stalin's cult of personality. We were lucky enough to see it in all its might when we went to then Czechoslovakia, just a couple of months before it was destroyed.

Sources
Marie-Aude Roux

The Jewish Ghetto And Its Phantom Opera

Nazis used a Czech military fortress to hold Jewish prisoners during World War II. Yet somehow  art and music flourished, including one notable opera that had gone tragically unperformed.

TEREZIN When entering Terezin, in the Czech Republic, the emptiness and vastness almost makes your blood run cold. The sun and wind seem to be pushing the clouds away, between the rectilinear buildings of the former military fortress here. This was originally an 18th century garrison town called Theresienstadt, but during World War II it was used by the Nazis as a “model ghetto.”

Today, Terezin is a small provincial town, an hour north of Prague. We went there with Louise Motay, a young stage director who was asked by the French troupe and opera workshop “Atelier de recherche et de création pour l’art lyrique” (Arcal) to produce an opera here written by Viktor Ullmann in 1943. Though Ullmann was never heard from again after a convoy left the ghetto for Auschwitz on Oct. 16, 1944, his music — an opera called Der Kaiser von Atlantis — miraculously survived.

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Geopolitics
Worldcrunch

New Iraq Government, First Europe Ebola Death, Panda Triplets

NEW IRAQ GOVERNMENT “PROMISING”
Iraqi President Fuad Masum is forming a new government to help halt the ISIS insurgency in the country’s north, replacing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a development U.S. President Barack Obama characterized as “a promising step forward.”

Masum has asked veteran Shia politician Haider al-Abadi to replace Maliki, whose political support crumbled yesterday amid the growing ISIS crisis. Maliki said the appointment of the 62-year-old Abadi was illegal, calling it a “violation of the constitution,” The Washington Post reports.

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Geopolitics
Martin Plichta

Meet The Dashing Czech Billionaire Leading The Fight Against Klaus And Corruption

Karel Janecek became a billionaire before 40. Now, as President Vaclav Klaus steps down in a cloud after a decade, Janecek is leading the fight for those who want to clean up Czech politics.

PRAGUE –Through the office windows of his baroque palace, young billionaire Karel Janecek has a perfect view of the Prague castle. But with his shaggy blond mane and sparkling blue gaze, the 39-year-old has his gaze fixed squarely on March 8th, this Friday, when the Social Democrat Milos Zeman will replace outgoing President Vaclav Klaus, who has been ruling the country for the past decade.

Klaus' wide-reaching presidential amnesty of January 1 set free hundreds of people responsible for major financial infractions, and at the same time ruined the outgoing leader's positive image.

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