>Prague diary


I’m in Prague – doing more interviews with age-oriented NGOs and pensioners’ interest groups. After Brno and Hradec Kralové, Prague at first seems to be terribly crowded and hurried, but after travelling around a bit on bus and metro a bit and making a few arrangements, I quickly realise, that compared to London, the Czech capital and its pace of life is all still on very human scale. Contrasting organizations have contrasting locales: the Život ’90 NGO is headquartered in a cobbled streeton the outskirts of the Old Town, a few metres from a postcard view of Prague Castle across the Vltava. The slightly unreal air is added to when walking a little further down the street after the interview, my wish for an internet café and somewhere to buy groceries are instantly granted. I stand in a queue with some Ukrainian building workers in a oddly old fashioned grocers with all the good behind the counter, then have a cup of coffee, wriite up some notes and check my email in the café. It’s approaching lunchtime, but I’m the only customer.
The office of the retired trade unionist’ organization also has a fantastic panoramic view across Prague from its ninth floor office in the massive communist-ara House of Trade Union. But there any similarities end. The trade union HQ is situated on the historically working class, traditionally bohemian, but now rather down run-down Žižkov district. Ugly on the outside, it size and scale inside are imposing despite its rather faded and worn appearance. More palpable perhaps are the sense of emptiness and inactivity in the wide, dimly lit corridors. The Czech trade union movement is still a force to be reckoned with, but, as my hosts explain over coffee and chlebičky, is in slow decline, meaning the pensioners’ movement needs to hedge its bets and be more than just organiying as the retired wing of the labour movement.

The Economic University is just up the road and, perhaps because of this, there are various cheap shops and cafes nearby. I pop into one for another coffee and a few minutes to collect my thoughts and go over my notes away from the icy rain outside, but succumb to the cheap pizza on special offer (two slices for 80 crowns). I go upstairs to get away from the blaring radio. Ithe upstairs is empty apart from an old lady sitting in the reading Literární noviny, who has also taken advantage of the same special offer. The pizza is excellent.

I head back to my hotel. In the metro some some of the passengers are amused by a bit od neatly written political graffiti

“Co to je za svět?
… komunisté zpět”

They agree, as Czechs always do, that things are indeed going to the dogs. Slightly odd , as Prague is still very much controlled by the right and the Communists are zpět only in five of the country’s 14 regional authorities and only have direct represention in the regional executive in two.

I flop down in front of the a generously sized hotel television, but quickly tire of Euronews and instead watch a historical docu-drama called Kdyby (‘What If’) on ČT2. This week’s counterfactual is what if Czechs had resisted the Munich Agreement in 1938 and fought the Nazi invasion. The programme’s answer is plausible if obvious: they would have lost in a few weeks or months, but gone down albeit fighting with Prague in ruins. Less convincing, is the fact that the main dramatis personnae are a serious of obscure generals: we never see Beneš or the other politicians, who really made the real decisions in 1938 and might – perhaps? – have decided otherwise. It would, for once, also be useful to have some historians’ views interspersing the rather wooden acting and cod 1930s radio annoucements.

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