13-05-2006

In Magazine this week: the Czech Republic's spy chief appears at a public ceremony in an unusual "disguise"; the statistics for executions between 1918 and 1989 have been compiled in a new publication; the museum of records and curiosities in the Bohemian town of Pelhrimov has reported a rather curious theft; a new form of transport is soon to hit the streets of Prague; and what do you think are the most common Czech names?

Karel Randak with President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTKKarel Randak with President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK Everybody knows that spies are the masters of disguise. But the head of the Czech secret service, Karel Randak, "donned" a rather rudimentary disguise for a ceremony at Prague Castle on Monday: Mr Randak let his hair grow long and grew a beard ahead of the televised ceremony, at which he was promoted from colonel to general, Mlada fronta Dnes reported. The Spy Who Grew a Beard - doesn't quite have the same ring as The Spy Who Loved Me or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, does it?

 

The statistics for executions in Czechoslovakia between 1918 and 1989 have been compiled in a new publication by the Office for the Documentation of the Crimes of Communism. (The years of the Nazi occupation were excluded from the research).

Over 1,200 people were put to death in seven decades, though rates of execution vary greatly. For instance during the 17 years between the wars that Tomas Garrigue Masaryk was president 16 people were executed. Compare that to the 237 put to death - 190 for political reasons - during the five years Klement Gottwald was Communist head of state.

The highest number, 700, were executed under the post-war Benes Decrees for Nazi crimes, treason and collaboration. The last judicial killing took place in June 1989 and the death penalty was abolished after the Velvet Revoluion, in May 1990.

 

The museum of records and curiosities in the Bohemian town of Pelhrimov has reported a rather curious theft: a guitar and a mandolin made of matches were stolen from an exhibition entitled Zlate ceske rucicky, or Golden Czech Hands, last weekend.

Curator Lubos Rafaj said the thieves had not only purloined two musical instruments made of matches, they had also stolen part of the soul of their dedicated creator, the late Tomas Korda.

Korda spent over a thousand hours making the mandolin from almost 7,500 matches. The guitar took over twice as long and twice as many matches. But they weren't the only things he made: altogether he is said to have spent seven years of his life making objects from matches, of which he got through over half a million.

 

You can buy a lot of things on the internet auction site eBay, but there can't be many people who have used the site to purchase a former Czech Army fighter plane.

A Chinese businessman called Zhang Cheng bid almost 25,000 US dollars and paid a 2,000-dollar deposit for the Soviet-made MiG fighter plane, which the Czech air force stopped using earlier this year. He apparently wanted to use it to decorate his office.

But Mr Zhang is now trying to get his money back, after being informed by legal experts that it was "almost impossible to ship" from its current home, the United States.

 

Staying with old military vehicles, senior Civic Democrat Vlastimil Tlusty has bought a Russian-made BRDM armoured personnel carrier to use in his campaign for next month's elections. Mr Tlusty is touring towns in central Bohemia in the APC, which is painted blue, the colour of his right-wing party the Civic Democrats.

Military historian Ales Knizek pointed out that Warsaw Pact troops used the same vehicle during the Soviet-led 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia; indeed, then president Alexandr Dubcek was detained in one at the headquarters of the Communist Party. Mixing up the historical references, however, Mr Tlusty's blue APC is being accompanied on the campaign trail by a column of US Army jeeps.

 

Visitors to Prague can currently get around by public transport, taxi or even horse-drawn carriage. But from next month there will be an entirely new mode of transport in the Czech capital - a kind of tricycle rickshaw.

The stream-lined, futuristic looking vehicles, called Velotrixis, are pedal-powered, though they also have a small motor for going uphill. They can carry two passengers at a time and a 45-minute ride through the cobbled streets of Prague will set you back 600 crowns (around 25 dollars).

Mayor Pavel Bem was taken with the Velotrixis when he took a ride in one in Berlin and had the idea of bringing them to the Czech capital, their designer told Mlada fronta Dnes.

 

It's nice and warm in Prague these days, and it won't be long now until we're enjoying high summer. And very possibly holding our noses on trams and other packed public spaces: a survey by cosmetics maker Unilever has found that Czechs use less deodorant and anti-perspirant than almost any other nation in Europe. Only the Romanians and the Russians use less.

While the average Briton uses almost five containers of deodorant a year, the average Czech gets through just one and a half. Fifty-one percent of men in this country don't buy any at all.

Jaroslav Cira, who was in charge of the Czech part of the survey, said almost half of Czech consumers only use deodorant for special occasions, unlike in the UK, where 90 percent use it every day. Mr Cira said this was borne out by the fact that some Czechs don't keep deodorant in the bathroom but "on a shelf in the living room, or in some other room".

 

What would you imagine is the most common Czech surname? The answer is Novak, according to statistics just released by the Ministry of the Interior. It's followed by Svoboda, Novotny, Dvorak and Cerny. When it comes to first names the most frequently used man's name is Jiri. So the well-known Czech tennis player Jiri Novak couldn't have a more Czech moniker.

The second most man's common name is Jan, followed by Petr, Josef and Jaroslav. For women the most popular names are Marie, Jana, Eva, Anna and Hana, in that order.

13-05-2006