Letter from Prague

Well, here we are. Having finally crossed the threshold into the third millennium.

When I was ten the year 2000 seemed light years away, not to mention the third millennium. If, mind you IF, I lived to see it, the world would be an unrecognizable place. We'd be flying to the moon with the ease of taking a bus ride, eating pills instead of food and talking to robots. Everything would be chrome and glass with lots of control panels. There would be no illnesses because medicine would have found a cure for everything.

OK, it might not be a perfectly accurate picture, but I was right about some of it. They say that in 15 years' time I'll be able to take a holiday flight into space. Medical experts have not only presented the world with an artificial electronic eye but with a realistic and scary vision of cloning. And, although I'm not exactly crazy about it, the Japanese have given us a robot dog and promise a robot companion in the not so distant future.

All this would be fairly mind-boggling if it weren't for the daily reassurances that the familiar world I was born into is not likely to change for a long while yet. Given the fact that Czech travel agencies are notorious for going bankrupt as soon as they have transported a large number of tourists to a far off destination few Czechs are likely to risk a trip into space any time soon. Although my next-door neighbour has been going about in a daze envisaging clones of Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford, his wife is still a cheerful, corpulent spirit in pink hair curlers. As for talking to robots, our main problem in life still appears to be communicating with one another.

No doubt a robot's worst nightmare is having to communicate with an irrational human being. My own computer has certain given me plenty of indications of this.

So, what would you say is our main concern at the start of the new millennium?

We are being asked to learn one of the most difficult lessons of all for mankind - to embrace an idea that goes against the grain of man's basic instinct. We are being asked to forget the laws of the jungle, where only the strongest survive. Out in the street to begin with, later on maybe inside as well....

Taking into account the fact that Czech drivers top the European ladder in the number of people they manage to kill every year, our MPs effected what is a monumental reform of the Czech legal system. They gave pedestrians right of way on zebra crossings. While the introduction of other laws is implemented fairly smoothly, this particular law has thrown the country into pandemonium.

Some analysts are even predicting it will result in many more deaths that in previous years. Pedestrians who in the past were perfectly aware of the dangers of crossing a street, and who would skip, dodge and scramble to safety in a most undignified manner, are now determined to implement their rights.

They may be shuffling along, stooping under the weight of several shopping bags, but once they see a zebra crossing their whole demeanor instantly changes. They straighten their backs, put their chins up and right foot forward. Slowly does it...the bastard can wait. At this point you hear a horrible screeching of brakes and a fast and furious exchange of insults. Accustomed to being "king of the road" drivers go blue in the face at the thought of having to stop for a pedestrian. Many Czech officials are now seriously concerned about the possible consequences of this well-intended change of legislation. The chief of police in the town of Zlin went so far as to try to modify the law in his area suggesting that pedestrians should not try to implement their new found right of way individually, but should cross the road in larger, organized groups. Although this would increase pedestrians' chances in the ensuing free-for-all, the idea has met with open ridicule. Pedestrians finally have their rights and they intend to use them. On the other hand drivers have less to lose in a head on clash.

I myself have made several brave attempts to implement my newly acquired right but somehow I always lose my nerve when push comes to shove. And, in an effort to reward the few civilized drivers in our midst, whenever a car stops to give me right of way I stop to give the driver my most dazzling smile. Hard as it may seem right now, the third millennium seems like a good time to acquire some good manners. If we fail in this crucial test we may need to avail ourselves of the wonders of cloning much sooner than the rest of the world.