>Prague diary 2


I fly into Prague in the evening – there aren’t that many people on the flight and the airport too seems strangely unhurried. One of my fellow passengers immediately gets on to his mobile and starts complaining about the crumminess of Gatwick airport and the unheard of and pointlessly draconian checks on the size of his hand luggage s kterým jsem procestoval půlsvěta.
The smaller, newer and modernized Ruzyne airport does indeed compare pretty favourably, but for some reason, I can’t get my battered old mobile to work, so I can’t tell anyone anything.


The next day I make my way the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. I had expected some kind of grand and imposing structure in keeping with the well rooted social welfare traditions, but it a large, but fairly unremarkable 19th century building tucked away a few streets away from the Rašin Embankment. For some reason, I always expect government ministries to be full of new furniture and sharp suits, but, as ever, both my interviewees are down-to-earth, business-like and friendly.


Getting off the tram by the National Theatre, I’m tempted to get out of the icy cold and write up some notes in the Slavia Cafe, the historic haunt of the Prague intelligenstia and in 1980s dissidents, which renovated and re-opened about a decade ago as a tourist trap cum upmarket coffee stop. However, as I go in, I notice the restaurant next door has halušky as dish of the day and my stomach quickly wins out over my intellectual prentensions. Halušky, coffee, mineral water set me back a modest 202 crowns. I flit between writing notes and watching the live coverage of the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Lisabon Treaty on the TV over the bar. No one else is paying any attention to it. Unsurprisingly, the judges rules unanimously that that it is entirely constitutional and parliament can go ahead and approve. A sour looking Václav Klaus appears on screen saying it was a political decision and he expected it all along. We then get cameos from Prime Minister Topolánek and foreign Minister Schwarzenberg saying it’s a good thing and can we get on and ratify it now. Klaus probably still has a few tricks up his sleeve though, not least because he will have to sign it when the two houses of parliament do ratify it and the Constitution allows him to take his time.

The Chamber of Deputies has newer décor, but less friendly receptionists. Perhaps they don’t like the political complexion of the person I’ve come to speak to. On the other hand, it is eight in the evening and the remade, updated version of the classic 1980s Czech soap Hospital on the Edge of Town is showing and they’ve probably had a long day. A few people working late drift out. Using my brand spanking new Czech mobile, I finally sort out where I am supposed to be. and meet my interviewee. The parliament is a maze of unlit, sometimes unheated, corridors but eventually we get to the right parliamentary club’s offices, where a deputy gives me some thoughtful views about social policy.

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