A Czech woman yells at soldiers sitting on tanks in the streets of Prague in August, 19

In the early hours of an August day in 1968, I was awakened by the continuous thunder of heavy planes flying low overhead -- we lived relatively close to Prague's largest airport.

It was about 3:00 a.m., and a few hours later came the explanation. The radio, instead of the usual morning music, had only one topic -- the Czech government's announcement that we were being occupied by the armies of the Warsaw Pact and should not resist in any way.

Two hours later, in the city center I saw the real thing: hundreds of tanks rolling around the streets, many destroying parked cars where it was too narrow to pass.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘It was clear to me Lenka wasn’t just choosing to stay on meth because it was a comfort in a lonely and isolated life, but because it was central to it.’ Photograph: Barbora Benesov

I was researching ideas for a documentary when a friend told me about a village in a rural region of the Czech Republic. He half-joked that when people in this place visited their family, the grandma wouldn’t bake fresh cakes to serve with coffee, as is the custom, but fresh meth. Most people in the village were on meth, he said, even those with children.

I grew up in 1980s Czechoslovakia when it was still part of the Soviet bloc. As a teenager I read Memento by Radek John and Zoo Station by Christiane F, both about meth and heroin addicts.…  Seguir leyendo »

Europa Central, del poscomunismo a la democracia

Hace unos días, una anciana de 94 años sostenía una pequeña bandera europea en la mano mientras avanzaba en su silla de ruedas a través de Varsovia entre miles de manifestantes que protestaban contra la reforma del poder judicial polaco y contra el enfrentamiento de su Gobierno con la Unión Europea. Esa señora, que en 1944 fue una joven combatiente en el levantamiento de Varsovia contra el nazismo, hoy es todo un símbolo de la insatisfacción de una gran parte de polacos que observan cómo su Gobierno se acerca cada vez más al populismo antidemocrático de Viktor Orbán en Hungría y se rebela contra los valores democráticos que caracterizan la Unión Europea.…  Seguir leyendo »

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the leader of ANO party, reacts during a news conference at the party's election headquarters after the country's parliamentary elections in Prague on Oct. 9. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Last week’s elections may have been the end of an era in the Czech Republic. A populist incumbent billionaire prime minister was defeated, and moderate center-right parties have a clear parliamentary majority, but the handover of power may be stretched out by a president who is doing everything he can to help the outgoing government parties. Here is what happened, and what comes next.

A small swing had big consequences

Czech voting patterns changed only by a few percentage points in last weekend’s election. That was still enough to oust Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the billionaire-turned-politician who founded the ANO (“Yes”) party, which he keeps under tight personal control.…  Seguir leyendo »

El explosivo reinicio de las relaciones entre Chequia y Rusia

La República Checa una vivido una de sus jornadas más dramáticas desde la Revolución de Terciopelo de 1989 tras el anuncio del gobierno de que dos agentes rusos fueron responsables de las explosiones en un depósito de municiones en el pueblo moravo de Vrbetice en 2014, en la que murieron dos personas. El ex Primer Ministro Bohuslav Sobotka expresó a la perfección el shock de la gente: “Diría que este es el mayor ataque ruso en suelo checo desde la invasión de 1968. Es un momento histórico y debemos reaccionar”.

Y lo hemos hecho. El gobierno checo expulsó a 18 espías rusos que trabajaban en la embajada de Rusia en Praga, provocando una predecible expulsión en represalia de diplomáticos checos en Moscú.…  Seguir leyendo »

This week, a senior Czech politician, Milos Vystrcil, visited Taiwan and delivered a powerful speech to the parliament in Taipei, echoing John F. Kennedy‘s “Ich bin ein Berliner” — or, as Vystrcil put it, “I am Taiwanese.”

The reaction of Chinese state media and the government was instant. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on a visit to Germany, threatened to make Vystrcil, the speaker of the upper house of the Czech parliament, “pay a heavy price for his short-sighted behavior and political opportunism.” Wang’s outburst triggered immediate pushback not only from the Czech foreign ministry but also from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French.…  Seguir leyendo »