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Vol 3, No 5
5 February 2001
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Jan Culik Mythmaking and Czech Politics
Jan Čulík

"It is not important in politics, how things really are, but it is important what they seem to be to the public—and that is controlled by the media," said Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross. Mr Gross was speaking at a secret discussion between Social Democratic (ČSSD) MPs during a meeting of Parliament on 5 January 2001 held on account of the Czech Television crisis.

The Minister and some other ČSSD MPs demonstrated that they know very well that the rebellion of the Czech public service TV journalists is not a "struggle for freedom of speech," as it was interpreted, for instance, by the more naive members of the Western journalistic community. It was rather a political party struggle for influence within Czech public service television and in Czech politics as a whole.

The Social Democratic MPs were fully aware of the fact that the so-called 4Coalition, a small opposition political grouping, had staged a highly successful coup, turning an internal labour dispute within Czech Television into a political "struggle for freedom of speech," playing on the Czech public's strong disenchantment with politics.

Although the MPs knew that the Czech Television crisis had nothing to do with the issue of freedom of speech, they were afraid of saying this aloud for fear of making themselves unpopular in their own country. In fact, a number of members of the ČSSD parliamentary group proposed that the Social Democratic Party should support the demands of the rebelling TV journalists (regardless of the real reasons of the virtual "crisis") and use the political support for their own party political purposes. This seems to explain why the Social Democratic government of the Czech Republic has failed to take a firm stand against the rebelling journalists.

Politics in the Czech Republic seem to be motivated almost exclusively by shrill, emotional virtual reality campaigns, conducted by the media in support of various vested interests. Fortunately, perhaps, unlike in the West, the machinery of deception is not exactly subtle and occasionally it spectacularly breaks down.

This was the case on Thursday 2 February 2001.

No foreign marauder—the case of Mads Traerup

Regular readers of this column may remember that in the autumn of 2000, the Czech media ran a ferocious campaign against the "foreign marauders who destroyed Prague," the anti-globalisation demonstrators who had come to Prague to speak out against the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which took place in the capital in September 2000.

While some limited violence (throwing paving stones and a few Molotov cocktails) was committed by a few dozen demonstrators, thousands of the demonstrators were peaceful. The Czech media created the image of Czech policemen as chivalrous, heroic "local lads," who firmly, but fairly, prevented the foreign "left-wing weirdos," criminals and drug addicts from spreading violence in Prague—"our beautiful capital city." Most of the media supressed the information that acts of police brutality were perpetrated on peaceful demonstrators and even on accidental passers-by.

Several foreign participants of the demonstrations were charged with disturbing the public order. Britské listy predicted as early as October 2000 that most of these charges would not stick and that the Czech Republic would only show to the world that the work of its police and judiciary leaves much to be desired.

Danish student Mads Traerup was one of those demonstrators charged with assaulting Czech policemen. He was detained in a Prague prison for as long as 53 days under rather brutal and primitive conditions.

His case provoked considerable interest in the Danish media and a number of protests on his behlaf soon followed. A public collection was taken up in Denmark in order to raise funds to help Traerup make bail. Considering that the Czech authorities regarded Traerup's case as one of the strongest cases against the "foreign marauders," bail was set rather high by Czech standards: CSK 800,000 (some USD 20,000; the average monthly pay in the Czech Republic is about USD 350).

A significant verdict

On 2 February, Treaerup's case came before a Prague court. He was found not guilty on all counts. Britské listy reporter Tomáš Pecina was on the spot:

This is a very significant verdict, considering that the case was closely watched by the world media as well as by official representatives of the Kingdom of Denmark. This was also the first public court case in which a person, detained in connection with last September's Prague demonstrations was tried. It was obvious that the result of Traerup's case would determine the attitude of the media and of public opinion towards the cases of the charged activists.
Since Traerup had been held in detention for a very long time and the accused student was only released on a rather high bail, it was to be expected that the evidence against Traerup must be really strong. It, however, turned out that the opposite was the case. Within the first 15 minutes of the eight-hour proceedings, the prosecution's case collapsed.
According to the Czech police, the Danish demonstrator had committed an assault on a public official, in two instances and in two different places. On 26 September 2000, near McDonald's at Wenceslas Square he was supposed to have hit a policement with a wooden club, hurting his earlobe slightly. 30 minutes later, when Traerup was allegedly recognised by this policeman, he was supposed to have attempted to hurt another policemen by hitting him with a paving stone.

No paving stones here, Your Honour

The (incriminating) evidence of Traerup's violent action was supposed to have been, apart from the testimony to police, three paving stones which were found in Traerup's rucksack. Traerup maintained that it was the police themselves who had put these paving stones into his bag at the time of his detention. The counsel for the prosecution unconvincingly argued that this was not possible because there were no loose paving stones in the area and the policemen could not have had any on their bodies. Unlike the prosecuting authorities, Britské listy checked the place where Traerup was arrested and found that paving stones, identical to those presented at court as evidence, are amply available at the Růžová and Olivová Street crosssroads.
But the case for the prosecution failed mostly because none of the policemen were able to identify Traerup. The first policeman told the court that
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he had remembered Traerup by his blue leather jacket (he did not remember his face). He had allegedly identified him "according to his height" and according to a kerchief, hiding Traerup's face (no kerchief was found in Traerup's possession). The second policeman was unable to describe Traerup's clothes or his appearance, and the third policeman got entangled in his descriptions of what Traerup was wearing, so that his evidence was unusable.
The policemen also contradicted one another in many other details. For instance, they were unable to explain how exactly the demonstrators' rucksacks were checked and also contradicted one another in their testimony of what happened in front of McDonald's.
Traerup's version, although slightly incredible, was proven to be consistent with all the submitted evidence. Traerup testified that he had been detained by a group of about five policemen without any reason, was knocked to the ground and tied up. Then one policemen placed paving stones in his rucksack and all the detained persons were taken to a police station.

Sickeningly pale imitation of democracy

Tomáš Pecina further comments:

The political consequences of the Thursday verdict will be immediate and catastrophic. The Czech Republic has shown that the police and other organs of the judicial process function only as a pale imitation of democratic institutions. Much less has changed in the Czech Republic since the fall of Communism than the responsible persons admit. If Traerup was not a Dane but a "mere" Czech, or even a "lying Gypsy," he would obviously not stand a chance of a fair trial.
Let us say this plainly: the Danish citizen Mads Traerup was held in detention in the Czech Republic for almost two months for political reasons, so that the Czech police could say that they had caught a criminal foreign demonstrator. The long detention of Mads Traeurup without reason is inexcusable.

One of the advantages of the freeing of Mads Traerup might be that one of the myths of Czech politics—that of the heroic Czech police and the viciously destructive foreign hordes—might have been somewhat paralysed. Is it too much to hope that a proper re-examination of the whole "scandal" of the Prague anti-globalisation demonstrations might now be in the cards in the Czech Republic?

Jan Čulík, 4 February 2001

Moving on:


Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Anatomy of a Disaster

Mel Huang
Privatising the Baltics

Jan Čulík
Myths and Politics

Bernhard Seliger
Unemployment in East Germany

Sam Vaknin
The Scourge of Transition

Eva Sobotka
Dzurinda's Mission

Slavko Živanov
Going Down Together

Andrew James Horton
Balabanov's Nationalism

Juras T Ryfa
Forms of Hope

Mel Huang
Vytautas Landsbergis's autobiography

Štěpán Kotrba NEW!
Sow and Reap

Brian J Požun
Shedding the Balkan Skin

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Andrea Mrozek
Gain and Loss

Oliver Craske
UK: Not Such a Soft Touch, Sadly


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