Can I say 'sod off'?

What the hell is Ben Yagoda going on about? And how badly does he need a slapping?


Troops put down insurgents

I want to know more about the revolution of 1848 and Fürst Alfred zu Windischgrätz.


Není vlajka jako vlajka

From today's Týden

Village didn't have an EU flag, so they found a different one

In Vikantice in the Jesenik mountains, they didn't get a European flag. Instead, they flew the banner of Alaska, which is very similar to the EU standard. Immediately before the start of the elections, the Interior Ministry learned of the situation; what followed looked like a comedy of errors.

There is a shortage of blue flags with twelve stars in the Czech Republic. Nonetheless, the election law says that polling places must be marked by an EU flag. The mayor of the small town of Vikantice in the Olomouc region found his own solution. 'At the company where we wanted to order [the flag], there was a two-month waiting period and I really didn't have time to drive around the country looking for a flag,' said Mayor Miroslav Kročil. He first considered calling off the elections entirely, but then came up with an idea worthy of King Solomon. He hung an Alaskan flag at the polling place.

The difference isn't great. The Alaskan flag has yellow stars on a blue field, but twelve instead of eight, arranged not in a European ring but in the shape of the Big Dipper and the North Star.

'They've had this flag in Alaska since the 1920s. European heraldists weren't doing much in the '50s except plagiarism. If I can't fulfil the law, I'll at least approximate it,' the mayor said.

His decision last Friday drew in one state, one regional and two municipal offices. Word got around that polling places in Vikantice were flying the Alaskan flag instead of the EU flag got around Friday afternoon. When Interior Ministry official Václav Henych learned of the situation, he said 'Jesus Christ, they can't hang that there! I'm calling the the region immediately to get them to do something. Surely they've got one somewhere, or can borrow or rent one.'

Just before two o'clock when the polls were to open, Týden called the regional office in Olomouc, which is responsible for the village. 'The European flag should be hanging there [now]. The municipal office in nearby Jindrichov helped us find one,' said municipal clerk Lubica Koláčková.

Ultimately the EU flag flew at the Vikantice polling place. The flag's older Alaskan sister remained, at the mayor's request.

When asked exactly what would happen if the building hadn't flown the EU flag, Henych said 'It would have no affect on the outcome of the election, but it would be a disgrace.'

In any event, it looks like our [Czech] lawmakers are more Catholic than the Pope [as it were]. In Germany, the EU flag wasn't hung before polling stations. The German election law doesn't require polling stations to display the EU flag; it can fly there, but it isn't required.


Not going gently

Went with some friends to Lidice last Saturday. After a 20-minute trip, the bus stopped in a wide spot in the road. The bus LED display said 'Lidice' but there was nothing in sight. Then again, what did I expect?

But about 50 metres behind us, I could see something that was plainly a monument. We crossed the road and a path led us to a plaza of sorts that overlooks the valley where the village of Lidice once stood.

What's there now is a well-maintained and exquisitely peaceful park dotted with reminders of the tragedies of 1942. Peaceful except for the roar of jets taking off from nearby Ruzyně airport. Memorials stand on the sites of the village church and school. The foundations of the buildings of the Horak farm have been excavated. Largely obscured by a row of evergreens is a low wall that marks where the men of Lidice were shot by a firing squad in groups of five and ten.

Just up the hill from the wall is a memorial where the men's bodies were buried in a mass grave. The memorial was covered with wreaths from the 10 June anniversary of the massacre. Many of these were from Czech and German cities. There was one from President Klaus. Her Britanic Majesty's Ambassador had brought a wreath, as had representatives of France, Germany, Japan and Russia. But not the U.S. I'm not sure why not. Hell, even Belarus brought a wreath, so you would think Washington could pony up for some flowers. I'm going to put in a call to the U.S. Embassy and ask about it. If I'm mistaken, I'll let you know.

The memorial museum is small but very well put together with lots of artefacts. I hadn't known before that villages in Illinois and Mexico were named for Lidice, as is a square in Montevideo.

A new Lidice was built soon after the war. One of the children who survived the war is the current mayor.

The Nazis flattened the old village graveyard, but the locations of the old family plots are marked. Next to these is the new cemetary where villages are buried nowadays. Not a few of the graves bear the words 'Lidická žena' -- Lidice woman, indicating the grave of a woman who had survived the massacre, deportation and the war.

Several tombstones bear identical inscriptions, which I translate:

There were millions of us ...
But even the cruelest death will have meaning
if like millions of stars
our fate tells you the way to humanity

Other epitaphs are bleak nearly to the point of absurdity. One had to be there to appreciate it, I suppose. But still:

Why was fate so evil
and did not let me live
Why did I have to leave so early


My life was only suffering,
my life was only full of tribulation

Scott recently asked a very good question: What effect did Heydrich's assassination have on the war? I've been over the political reasons Beneš wanted it to happen, and we've seen the adverse effects it had on Bohemia and Moravia. And of course it removed an extremely unpleasant Nazi from the picture. But did it help defeat the Nazis? I'll get back to you on that.

Meanwhile, back in Prague, voters were staying away from the polls in droves. Early exit polls put voter turnout very low -- under 30% -- with most voters supporting the centre-right Civic Democrats (President Klaus' party) or the not-so-centre-left Communists. PM Špidla ruling Social Democrats seem to have received a proper spanking, finishing third behind the Communists. Behind the Communists is historically not a good place to be.

Last week I was interviewed by Greek public broadcaster ERT3 about the then-upcoming elections. Main question was: Would a poor showing by the Social Democrats have repercussions for Špidla and his government? I told the reporter then that SocDems had been suffering in the polls almost since the gained power, but that the low numbers at the polls wouldn't be a death knell for this government. Now I'm not so sure. It depends on what the media does with it, I think. If the press and pundits play into the CivDems hands, we could see a shake up before Senate elections in November. I expect that in the normal course of events, Špidla will step down as head of the party. Heir apparent: Stanislav Gross, the 'baby-faced Minister of Fear'. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back in Lidice, the Czechs and Germans are snatching enmity from the jaws of reconciliation again. As ČTK reports, Klaus and Špidla oppose efforts to rewrite history (like you do). (See also this AP backgrounder.)

Colour me a sentimentalist, but why can't we all just get along? I don't think anyone considers the destruction of Lidice anything other than heinous and barbaric. The Beneš decrees, while understandable to an extent considering what the Czechs had suffered, were a failure of humanity. Germany's efforts to irrigate the wounds of the war are noted; the world made a significant step in its continuing recovery when Germany was invited to the recent D-Day anniversary observation at Normandy.

But the Czech Republic refuses to engage in constructive communication on the Beneš decrees. There are some, notably exiled Sudetens and the survivors, who want the decrees repealed -- as well they should. I'm not saying that the decrees actually should be repealed, but the Czechs should commit to dialogue on the issue for as long as it takes, which is probably a generation or so. Burying the issue, as both countries agreed to do in 1997, only poisons feelings on both sides.


Lidice and the Reprisals

No, it's not the name of a band. I'm back on the Heydrich thing again. When we left our story, Heydrich had just died of shrapnel wounds from Kubiš's hand grenade. (Everyone, including Scott, loves the bit about the horsehair in the spleen. Horsehair in the Spleen. Now that's a great name for a band.)

Needless to say, the Nazis were pissed that Heydrich was assassinated. Many were pissed at Heydrich for getting himself killed. The Reichsprotektor had ignored Berlin's insistence that he have an armed escort at all times and that his car (a convertible, not a Humvee) be outfitted with armor (which probably would have saved his life).

Hitler said of Heydrich 'That a man as irreplaceable as Heydrich should expose himself to unnecessary danger, I can only condemn as stupid and idiotic.' The Fuehrer fairly flew off the handle and ordered the immediate ('this very night') arrest of 10,000 intelligentsia and the execution of the 100 most important.

On hearing of the attack on Heydrich, Himmler cried. Tears. Himmler. He told other high-ranking SS officers that, if they were as cavalier about their own security as Heydrich had been, 'you are a sitting target for the lunatic who is lying in wait for you...' Not only was Himmler a sensitive Nazi capable of weeping, he also believed in Divine Providence: 'We cannot leave everything to the Good Lord and make him our personal security guard.' Huh.

MacDonald has Goebbels on record as saying he would arrest '500 Berlin Jews, and I will warn the leaders of the Jewish community that, for every Jewish plot and every Jewish attempt at rebellion, 100 to 150 Jews who are in our hands will be shot.' Shortly after the attack, the Nazis killed several hundred Jews in Sachsenhausen.

The Nazis feared that the absence of a firm response to the assassination would encourage more such attacks. Prague was put under curfew at 9 p.m. on 27 May. German and Czech troops conducted house-to-house searches, arresting 541 people. Of these, 430 were later released. (Does this sound familiar to anyone? -ed.) I'll follow up on the search for the assassins in another entry.

But the Nazis wanted blood, and lots of it. MacDonald writes:

On 9 June a special train left Prague marked 'AaH' (Attentat auf Heydrich or Assassination of Heydrich) carrying 1000 Czech Jews to their deaths in the SS extermination factories. It was followed by two more transports from the ghetto at Terezin. ... For the Nazis, however, the murder of Jews was almost routine. Something more was required ...

That something was Lidice, a small village near Kladno. MacDonald's research turns up several possible indications why Lidice was chosen, but the ultimate reason for the decision remains murky. Then again, this is barbarism we're talking about.

Anyway, the Gestapo concluded the assassins were hiding in Lidice. Although two searches failed to turn up any, shall we say, agents of Nazi destruction, that didn't prevent the Nazis from staying the course. Hitler wanted Lidice destroyed.

On 10 June, the village men were shot. The women and children (except a few particularly blond ones) were shipped to concentration camps. Gestapo figures were: 199 men, 195 women and 95 children. The houses were set on fire and the remaining wall bulldozed. (The exhibition at the army museum has a film of Nazis strolling through the burning village. It looks for all the world like a Laibach video.)

The Lidice Memorial has a good website where you can learn more about the massacre. You might also want to read this recent Radio Prague report.

And then there's this op-ed piece, published in the Scotsman: 'Czech heroes unleashed Hitler's terrible revenge'. The dek muses 'Would they have gone through with this mission if they had known the sequel?'

The author, Lord Douglas-Hamilton, a Conservative MSP for Lothians, says they would have. He's probably right. Records indicate that Gabčík and Kubiš had their mission blinders on, and nothing short of Beneš calling off the mission would have stopped them. As noted below, the Czech resistance didn't want the assassination to go forward. If the people of Lidice had known ... but of course they couldn't have.

On the other hand, Heydrich's victim would doubtless have taken certain satisfaction in seeing him writhe in pain, or at least in his grave. The assassination was a psychological and strategic blow to the Nazis. There is some debate over whether it actually shortened the war and reduced the overall suffering.

As Douglas-Hamilton notes, Havel said of the assassination in 1992:

It was one of the most significant acts of resistance on a pan-European scale. It was an act which had a significant influence on the decision to recognise our government in exile. It was an act which had much to do with the fact that we finished the war as a victorious state and not as a defeated one.

He's right about the significance, but he's got it backwards on the government in exile, as we've already seen. The last sentence is loaded: Beneš was aware that anything short of total Nazi capitulation would result in the end of an independent Czechoslovakia. After what happened in Munich in 1938, he knew that Bohemia, Moravia and the rest would most likely become part of Germany in a negotiated settlement. Unless he could prove that the Czechs really, really, really didn't like the Nazis. The assassination did that, sorta. But it did prove that the Nazis really didn't like the Czechs, and the massacre at Lidice didn't help the Nazis' approval ratings in the Protectorate.

Is 'victorious' an odd word? Discuss.



Jorn Ake is a photographer and poet living in Prague who sends email to me and a small army of followers when he updates his website with new photos. He just posted new photos from Terezín and Freud's neighborhood in Vienna, among others. Check it out.


There but for the grace of god

According to the Sofia Echo, Bulgaria is considering requiring applicants for permanent residence to produce certificates of proficiency in Bulgarian.

UK citizen Matt Willis said: "I would predict that the outrageous amendment will simply open up a new black market opportunity for false language course certificates".
Can you say ty vole?