In Panorama this week: mistletoe is associated with Christmas good cheer –in the Czech lands it is believed to bring good health, good luck and prosperity –but what happens when it turns into a killer? A Czech hospital discovers the magical properties of Kiwanis dolls in treating children and, the country’s new hero Super Václav is unmasked.

Illustrative photo: Andrew Dunn, CC 2.0 licenseIllustrative photo: Andrew Dunn, CC 2.0 license Mistletoe – a widespread symbol of good-health and happiness under which people exchange Christmas kisses has turned into a major pest in southern Moravia. The parasitic plant that fills Christmas markets in the Czech Republic every year has gotten so out of control in the eastern part of the country that it is killing trees and devaluating natural habitats. The curator of Lednice Chateau Otto Bernard says that the situation in the chateaus parkland is now critical. The park’s age-old lime, walnut and maple trees are said to be particularly at risk.

“These particular species are at extreme risk, particularly the older trees in the park because mistletoe cuts their life expectancy in half. In fact, unless something is done we cannot count on any of the trees in the park reaching an older age.“

Although many animals depend on mistletoe for food the plant’s rapid expansion needs to be curbed. Even though the coming Christmas season is expected to deplete its ranks local gardeners say this brings only temporary relief. New clumps of mistletoe soon reappear and the growing infestation is assisted by birds which spread its seeds. Scientists from Brno’s Mendel University have been called in to deal with the problem. Miloš Pejchal says a team of scientists is now working on a natural solution to the problem.

“We are currently working on a number of substances containing micro-organisms which would not threaten the bio-system in any way, but would damage and gradually destroy the mistletoe alone.”

The project is being undertaken in cooperation with Hungarian scientists and if successful would present a breakthrough in this area. However research is in its initial stage and even if all goes well it will not be available for practical application for another three to five years. In the meantime Czechs will simply have to buy up as much mistletoe as they can for Christmas.


Kiwanis dollsKiwanis dolls An army of blank-faced, anonymous white rag dolls known as Kiwanis dolls has arrived in a hospital in Tabor within a project that is to help improve communication with child patients. The Kiwanis dolls – a project which originated in Australia - are now used by medical institutions in many European states to ease anxiety and get children to communicate their fears and hurts. Since the year 2,000 they have slowly found their way into hospitals around the Czech Republic. Tibor Levai represents one of the Czech branches of Kiwanis International.

“We have had an excellent response from medical institutions. The Kiwanis rag doll is a toy, friend and mediator rolled into one. It eases children’s fears and homesickness. Doctors and nurses use the rag doll as a model on which they explain what treatment awaits the little patient and children can explain better where it hurts.”

The Kiwanis dolls are given to child patients shortly after admission and they are encouraged to paint a face on the doll and personalize it in any way they want, making it their very own. Children have latched on to the idea and the presence of the rag mediator has quickly broken down existing barriers between patients and nursing staff. The doll stays with a child patient throughout its stay in hospital and they eventually take it home as a trusted friend who helped them through hard times. So where do the faceless Kiwanis dolls come from? Tibor Levai again:

“They are made for us by elderly women who are good at handiwork and we also get them from the inmates of a female prison house. We have charity events to raise money and then buy the dolls for various hospitals and medical institutions. Kiwanis branches have so far delivered these dolls to around 10 hospitals in the country. We think it is a great idea, a very worthwhile venture and we want to increase supplies as far as supporters and sponsors allow.”


Super VáclavSuper Václav For a few weeks the Czech superhero – known as Super Václav – was the talk of the town. A superman dressed in a red cape and tights waged a tireless war on evildoers –smearing dog poo on the back of unsuspecting dog walkers who failed to clean up after their pets and pouring a buckets of cold water over people who smoked at bus stops. Clips of these incidents spread like wildfire on Youtube and Super Václav even gave the media an interview –saying he was sick of the general apathy towards transgressors and thought it right to take matters into his own hands. While the new Czech superhero imposed his own brand of justice fans on You Tube and Facebook discussed how it was possible that Václav, who’d clearly enjoyed his share of pork and dumplings, could still outrun the enraged people he’d just taught a lesson. After a few weeks of speculation Super Václav was unmasked. In reality he cared very little about the piles of dog poo on Prague’s pavements or how many people broke the no-smoking rule at bus stops. The Super Václav video clips were a sales campaign to promote sports camcorders. Super Václav is gone and the Czech Republic will have to do with the Václavs it has – or put its faith in the nations’ patron saint who -legend has it – will wake an army of sleeping knights in Blanik mountain and come to the country’s aid in its hour of need. Clearly dog poo and inconsiderate smokers are not good enough reason to rouse them.