Letter from Prague

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Klaus, Gross, Kuehnl, Klestil, Daublebsky, Sichrovski - names that are no doubt familiar to Radio Prague listeners. The first three are surnames of current Czech politicians and the rest belong respectively to the Austrian President, Austrian ambassador to the Czech Republic and the general secretary of the Austrian Freedom Party. The point I'm trying to make here is that the first three are typical German names while the rest sound distinctly Slavic...

Klaus, Gross, Kuehnl, Klestil, Daublebsky, Sichrovski - names that are no doubt familiar to Radio Prague listeners. The first three are surnames of current Czech politicians and the rest belong respectively to the Austrian President, Austrian ambassador to the Czech Republic and the general secretary of the Austrian Freedom Party. The point I'm trying to make here is that the first three are typical German names while the rest sound distinctly Slavic. Leafing through the Yellow Pages in Prague and Vienna, one comes across the same names; a mix of German and Czech, possibly with the spelling occasionally adjusted. Austrians and Czechs have lived side by side for centuries, quarrelled and fought like all neighbours do but also mingled and learnt from each other. Art, architecture, cuisine - these are but a few fields of life which the two nations shared to a great extent in history.

At a time when politicians are waging wars of words from the summits of high politics: targeting the Temelin nuclear power station, the Benes decrees or one another, Prague's historic Clam-Gallas Palace is hosting an exhibition dedicated to the everyday side of the two nations' neighbourly relations. The exhibition, entitled "At Home, Abroad" looks at the ups and downs of the life of Viennese Czechs over the past couple of centuries. It does not hide the fact that the coexistence of the two nations was difficult at times, just as it is now.

The exhibition suggests that the highlights of Czech-Austrian relations in recent history were connected with sport. Between the world wars the legendary Czech football player Josef "Pepi" Bican started his career in Rapid Vienna, and in the second half of the 1980's, Antonin Panenka, another famous Czech player spent the last years of his career in the same team. Panenka was very popular with Austrian fans in the days when hundreds of Czechoslovak asylum seekers were entering the country.

Recently, Martin Hasek, the brother of the famous Czech ice-hockey goalkeeper Dominik, joined the Viennese club Austria. It's perhaps worth mentioning that he is a namesake of Jaroslav Hasek, the author of the Good Soldier Svejk, the epitome of the Czech-Austrian stereotype.

Serious as all the political problems seem now, with time they will probably lose much of their weight. At a similar exhibition a hundred years on, the over-politicised topic of Temelin might well be overshadowed by an outstanding work of art, the results of close cross-border cooperation of Austrian and Czech regions or perhaps, as this month's exhibition suggests, good teamwork on the football pitch.