Introducing the CZECH Dashboard

There’s a new button on this blog that leads to a new page with graphs of all major Czech political parties in all major polls.  This took longer than I had hoped, but I introduce it today with delight because it allows me to return to something I have always loved.

I started my life in Eastern Europe in Bohemia (in Plzen) and the Czech Republic was central to my dissertation and book research.  My interest waned a bit in the early 2000’s, however, as the country’s politics seemed to be settling into a rather dull alternation between left and right governments.  But the emergence of the Greens in 2006 sparked my curiosity and the developments in the last several years have brought me back to the Czech Republic with great interest.  This is not necessarily good news for the Czech Republic: “May you live in interesting times” is not really a Chinese curse, but there should still be some sort of travel advisory for countries frequented by political scientists.

So what is new about the Czech dashboard.  Those who read this blog’s posts on Slovakia may already have seen the Slovakia dashboard.  The Czech version is both more and less functional.  Here’s what you get:

First, the long term view showing the development of party preferences over the last eight years:

The second feature of the dashboard is a shorter term view for each party showing the level and trend of each public opinion poll as well as an overall monthly average.  The use of multiple polls is a far better approach than approaching each poll tabula rasa and drawing conclusions that change dramatically from day to day.  Several sites including Lidove Noviny and MFDnes and the idiosyncratic but excellent Volebni Preference have begun to aggregate surveys, but they do only for individual polls or, at best, trends found by individual polling firms over time.  The following graph, for example, shows development of preferences for the last 18 months for ODS for all major firms.

This dashboard is not the final word–it lacks an estimate of the overall number of seats (more complicated in the multiple-district Czech Republic than in single-district Slovakia) and a more contextual analysis.  The first of these tasks will have to wait until the coming election provides me with a baseline.  The second is much easier and in coming days I will provide much more detailed analysis of Czech public opinion dynamics and, with a bit of luck, more extensive election-eve coverage.

One last note: unfortunately these graphs don’t work on older versions of Internet Explorer (and for all I know, new ones too).  I hate it when websites say “best viewed with…” but in this case there simply is no analog that I can use for these graphs that works with IE.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Obituary for the Communist Party

Obituary for the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 29 December 2009

Obituary for the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 29 December 2009

A quick entry today which I should have posted a month ago.  Czechs and Slovaks had fun with the collapse of Communist Party and one of the best relics preserved for me by my students was this obituary (in the style of Eastern European obituaries pasted on the wall).  Interestingly the parodist was astute enough to bury the “leading role” of the party rather than the party itself which, in the form of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, still attracts a stable 1/6 of the popular vote but today has a leading role only in preventing coalitions and attracting disgruntled voters.

(Rough English translation)

Who sets traps for others
Falls into them himself

With pain in our hearts we announce to everyone the sad news that forever from us departed is the leading role of the

Communist Party of Czechoslovakia

After 41 years of dissimulation, 29 December 1989

We part from our dearly departed “after free elections”
In 1990

In the name of the survivors

And others closely related

Milos Jakes
Miroslav Stepan
Alois Indra
Miroslav Zavadil
Vasil Bilak
Josef Lenart

(Original Czech-text form but without without diacritics)

Kdo jinemu jamu kopa
Sam do ni pada

S bolesti v srdci oznamujeme vsem smutnou zpravu, ze nas navzdy opustila nase vedouci uloha


Odesila po 41 letech disimulace 29. prosince 1989.

S nasi drahou zesnulou se rozloucime po svobodnych volbach
V roce 1990.

Jemenem pozustalych
Milos Jakes
Miroslav Stepan
Alois Indra
Miroslav Zavadil
Vasil Bilak
Josef Lenart

Twenty years ago today: At the feeding trough

At the Feeding Trough

At the Feeding Trough: Communist Party Headquarters of West Bohemia, November 1989

Twenty years (and about a month) ago, the students of the Vysoka Skola Strojni a Elektrotechnicka v Plzne (VSSE, the College of Machines and Electrotechnics in Plzen) participated in the demonstrations against Communist Party rule by creating a huge banner that read “U krmlecu” and affixing over the front door of the West Bohemian headquarters of the Communist Party on Moskevska Street in Plzen.   As I understand it ( and I would appreciate any further insight) “U krmlecu” translates roughly as “At the feeding trough,” a criticism of the crudness and corruption of the party, phrased in reference to the Czech habit of naming pubs with “U” i.e. “at” something or other: “At the Three Fishermen” or “At the Golden Tiger.”  This was a time of posters on walls–and from the picture it looks like the headquarters had already been a target–but the sheer scale and cleverness of this one is worth remembering.  The best part of the story, as I remember having it told to me, is that in order to affix the banner the students enlisted the help of municipal workers in a lamp-post fixing truck who were happy to oblige.

This is far from the only example of courage and wit from 1989 but for me it is one of the most memorable, because I received the picture from my then-student Ales Vlk (a force of nature in his own right and expert on EU higher education policy) and because when I first arrived in Plzen in 1990 to teach English, this building was my first destination: in a supremely ironic turnaround that seemed entirely appropriate in a country where a dissident playwright had become president, the regional party headquarters had by then become the main administration building of the VSSE and its fifth and sixth floors (hammer and sickle stained glass window still intact) had been turned over to teachers of English, mostly young Americans and Canadians.

Two minor footnotes.

  • First, in a transformation that is perhaps just as appropriate, the storefront next to this building became the location of Plzen’s first McDonalds (the family of McDonald’s pioneer Ray Kroc came from the Plzen area and the Plzen McDonalds boasts a bronze bust of Kroc himself).  It is also an entirely appropriate symbol of the Czech Republic’s changes that the former communist party headquarters and university headquarters has now reverted (in my understanding) to its original function: a bank.   But, perhaps because history tends to repeat itself or because doing so would be just too expensive, or because they don’t even know it’s there, the new owners have yet to remove the 4 meter Red Communist party star which stood on the roof of the building in the 1980’s and is still visible in the most recent Google Maps image:

    Star on the roof of the /former/ West Bohemian Communist Party HQ

    Star on the roof of the /former/ West Bohemian Communist Party HQ

  • Second, and relevant in almost no possible way, I need to relay my constant delight at the “U”/”At the” mode for naming bars.  Of all of them in Prague, my favorite was a bar across from the restaurant  U Zpěváčkůsouth of the National Theatre in Prague.  It’s become the Kavarna Paleta now but it used to be a dive with good, cheap beer you could bring out side and drink while sitting on the sidewalk (no fancy chairs or tables).  It was at this particular establishment that my friend John Gridley and I watched as a young guy holding a dachshund or beagle heaved it to his girlfriend so that he could go in and buy himself a beer.  From then on it became, for us, the Dog-Toss Pub or, even better, U vyhozeneho psa.

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Slovaks, Czechs and the New York Times

A number of people forwarded me the most recent New York Times article on Slovakia while I was on vacation, and I found it problematic enough to think about breaking silence and writing something, if only to comment on the lovely horse-drawn wagon, apparently the mascot of all journalists visiting Slovakia.  I didn’t but fortunately Scott Brown did, with his usual humor and sense of perspective.

The thing I found most surprising about the article was not the tired “rural” image, but the fact that anybody bothers to write about Slovak-Czech rivalry.  When I read the headline, “Neighbor’s Shadow Still Large in Slovakia” I assumed it was about Hungary, a neighbor that actually does cast a shadow on political debate in Slovakia on a daily basis.

Articles like this create for me a big problem:  having seen how a good newspaper’s coverage of a country I occasionally visit contains basic errors of interpretation and asks the wrong questions, what can I make of that same paper’s coverage of countries I know nothing about?  Is the stuff on Indonesia and Ghana just as limited?  I hope not but I fear so.

Life imitates Onion (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love AC/DC)

First there was the monument to Bon Scott (among other ‘died young’ rockers) in Samorin, Slovakia (  Now we find an even more astounding tribute: “AC/DC Inspired Czech Leader’s “Road to Hell” Riff” (  It is hard to say which part of this story would have been more astounding in, say, March 1989: that the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic attended an AC/DC concert or that AC/DC was still touring.

Regardless, it is tempting to follow the lead of Scott Brown of “Springtime for Dubcek” ( and speculate about other songs that Topolanek might have used with regard to administration policies:

  • Money Talks
  • Nervous Shakedown
  • Back in [the] Black

In general the list applies better to the Clinton adminstration.  Alas, Vaclav Klaus does not appear to have attended any in the mid-1990’s AC/DC concerts.

Elected Affinities in the Cloud

The first blog I ever read on a regular basis was BldgBlog and I still read every word, so when it posted a word cloud of the upcoming BldgBlog book made on , I felt obliged to try it with my own book. The results are gratifying:

Elected Affinities

Not only does it look a bit like Slovakia and/or the Czech Republic, but it really does contain all the ideas I cared about when I was writing it (and care about still).  And it helps me think about the idea of machine-based content analysis.  While this counting words does not say much about what I think, it does accurately capture what I am thinking about.  (See here for other ways to determine what I am thinking about; see below for wordles with different font and color schemes).

Elected AffinitiesElected Affinities

Audacity of Hoax Update II: Riffing on Entropa

Riffing on Entropa

Springtime for Dubcek–whose author, Scott Brown, does nice work on Slovak and Czech political cartoons–offers a nice roundup of Entropa related images here.

A Fistful of Euros–which does extraordinary work on European economies–offers another summary and links here.  And if that weren’t enough, there’s a link to its entry on European stereotype jokes here (some of them particularly stereotypical).

The Audacity of Hoax

EntropaDavid Cerny’s exhibition catalog for “Entropa” is the only thing connected to the EU that has ever caused me to laugh out loud.

There is such remarkable cleverness here that I want to think about it out loud as well, but it is hard to do it without drifting into pretentious art criticism.  So I will be try to brief.

At face value Cerny’s proposal for the artwork claims to want to force Europeans to confront the offensive stereotypes they have about those from other member states and calls for “self-reflection” and “critical thinking”?  In other words, stereotypes are a joke.

But since the artwork seems to reinforce those stereotypes (ask Bulgarians about Turkish toilets), the artist claims (obliquely in the artwork’s catalog and explicitly in his apology) to want Europeans to ask whether they can tolerate the stereotypes that other Europeans have about their own respective countries, since the “capacity to perceive oneself as well as the outside world with a sense of irony are the hallmarks of European thinking.”  In other words, maybe the real joke is that people don’t get the joke.

This will keep people talking for a week or so, and an artist whose goal was to get people thinking about their stereotypes and their reaction to being stereotyped could be marginally satisfied at having provoked a discussion (something that does not seem to have happened with any previous rotating-EU-presidency art installation).  But while I don’t doubt that Cerny was aware of the possibility (and might even be happy with the result), I rather doubt that this was his goal.  If I were to guess the main “artist’s question” that was going through his hard when he made this, I would guess this one:

Can I get away with this?

Amid all of the (not uninteresting) arguments about stereotypes, offense and irony obscure the most remarkable thing about this work: that it is there at all.  He has succeeded in placing an artwork that many find deeply offensive into the middle of an EU building, and forcing Czech Republic to start its EU presidency with an apology.  Mission accomplished.

Without trying to pursue analysis for which I am not trained, the main point for me is the weakness of official power.  The point is that Cerny managed to get this past everybody, managed to invent artists from 26 other countries without anybody noticing, managed to insert the potentially offensive bits in full public view (the Bulgarian toilet is part of the catalog, couched in artspeak–” intentionally primitive and vulgar, faecally pubertal”) and–shielded by the debate (which he framed himself) over stereotype against “sense of humor” (and who wants to be accused of lacking one of those)–he may well manage to keep the thing hanging in Brussels for the next six months.  That is some remarkable art.

Pink TankI may see this only because this is what I saw in the two other Cerny pieces that I encountered in public in the last two decades.  In spring of 1991 when I was teaching in Plzen I got a call from a friend to tell me to come to Prague and see “this amazing pink tank.”

HorseIn 2000, I was cutting through the Lucerna pasaz in Prague when I came upon Cerny’s “Horse” and nearly fell down laughing.  Again, the amazing thing was that he had punctured–actually obliterated–a core national myth within a few hundred feet of the real statue (see and Cerny’s own webpage:, especially his commentary).

To overthink this for a moment (because the real point is that it is really funny), I think Cerny’s art is funny to me because it says that the powers that be are not as powerful as they think.  I’m sold on the theory (thanks to Mark Lutz) that one of the reasons we laugh is that we are relieved to find out things we were afraid of are actually not that fearsome.  If Cerny could manage to paint a tank pink or mock a national hero, then maybe there were a lot of things that the rest of us could get away with.  So in this sense Cerny’s exhibits follow in the tradition of resistance through humor from the Good Soldier Svejk to the Theater of Jara Cimrman and the staged actions of the Committee for a Merrier Present (Spolecnost za veselejsi soucasnost), except that Cerny’s work came after the fall of Communism.  (Havel’s Power of the Powerless suggests something like this, suggests that western governments have their own kind of anonymous bureaucracy; Terry Gilliam’s Brazil makes the same point).  The fact that such guerilla art was still funny said something about our continued fear of the powers that be–from the continued influence of Russia (and those too afraid to fight it) connected to the Pink Tank, to the turn toward national reverence questioned by “Horse.”  Now the target is the European Union and for better or worse, the joke is still funny.

Three final last things that I can’t resist mentioning:

First, Cerny’s “apology” is itself a work of art, a beautifully designed document designed to admit just enough to keep the conversation going.  It is delightfully multilayered including the final sentence:”the piece thus also lampoons the socially activist art that balances on  the verge between would-be controversial attacks on national character and undisturbing decoration of an official space.”  It is yet another beautiful irony that the presumed goal of the apology–keeping the artwork hanging–makes it yet another example of the kind of art that Entropa is supposed to be criticizing.

Second, it is amusing to me that a piece of art allegedly about national stereotypes plays directly to my own stereotypes.  When I think about what I love most about Czechs, I think about their penchant for subversive humor.  This is itself a stereotype, I think.  There’s no reason that Czechs are any more likely to do this kind of thing than those of any other national group.  At the same time Czechs do seem more likely to embrace this kind of humor as part of their national heritage than do other European countries.  In that sense, Cerny’s Entropa itself is just as much an example of stereotype as the alleged pieces in his artwork.

Finally, Cerny’s exhibition catalog really repays careful reading, ranging from parody of artspeak to gems worthy of Douglas Adams.

  • The Hungary entry: “National stereotypes? For Brussels it is the Atomium, for Hungary the spicy Csabai sausage and ripe melons. Stereotypes in contemporary art? A busty Hungarian artist who smokes and uses flthy language.”
  • The Netherlands entry: “If only the Netherlands were in Hell! At least it is warm and generally dry there. I would like to survive; I’d like at least something from this country to survive. Salt water will noiselessly inundate felds, towns and villages. Fish will swim through our squares and seaweed will cling to our towers. Perhaps a few lucky individuals will be rescued in small boats.”
  • The Czech entry includes “A constant stream of brilliant Václav Klaus quotes. Words of wisdom that deserve to be etched in stone” but which must settle for being flashed on an LED.
  • The Slovenian entry (with shades of Arthur Dent): “I have chosen a text by the official Slovenian national tourism agency as a departure point for examination of our national identity. According to this text, the first tourists appeared in Slovenia back in 1213 and left a message documenting their visit in one of the caves in the Postojna complex. The discovery that we ourselves are unquestionably the descendants of these tourists is telling…”

There are also lovely gems snuck into the artists’ biographies including:

  • Sirje Sukmit (Estonia), Selected Performances, “Happy Birthday,” PC Department Store, Talinn Estonia
  • Boris Spernoga, (Slovakia), “Vernisaz,” Artforum Kozia, Bratislava (funny to me alone, because this is across the street from our apartment in Bratislava).
  • Khalid Asadi (UK) “The Beer Mat Show,” Alicante and (my favorite) “DO NOT REMOVE,” Atkinson Gallery, Southport