Iveta Lutovská, photo: CTK

In this week’s Magazine: activists demonstrate in support of direct presidential elections; Tesco decides to rename its Czech department stores; the Czech Republic sees a drop in the number of affluent tourists; and, a leggy blonde wins Czech Miss.

Facebook seems to be a social network which provokes various actions as well as reactions. Some weeks ago its ban on pictures of breastfeeding provoked a demonstration in the capital by Czech mothers. And last Saturday, it brought together people in favor of direct presidential elections - also opposed to the country’s current president, Václav Klaus. Wearing T-shirts referring to the Czech EU presidency, the activists defenestrated a mock figure of Václav Klaus, apparent “punishment” for his critical views on the EU and further integration. The problem is, as the activists see it, that the president was elected “only” by lawmakers in Parliament (not the broader public) and that his views do not accurately represent the Czechs as a nation. Passers-by watching the event were offered bread rolls dipped in rum, a reference to a popular Czech saying, opít někoho rohlíkem, to get someone drunk on a bread roll. Basically, it means to fool someone, since it’s pretty hard to get drunk on a roll alone. In other words, a common practice among Czech politicians, the activists wanted to say.

The old days are coming back… that’s how some of the Czech media commented news that the British company Tesco has decided to re-name its department stores in the Czech Republic “My”. The English pronoun “my” is pronounced the same way as the old-fashioned Czech word for the month of May which actually used to be the name of the TESCO department store on Národní třída, in the centre of Prague. And Máj is, in fact, how many Prague citizens refer to that department store even today, so re-naming the venue makes fairly good sense. The building itself has an interesting history. In 1989 it witnessed the nearby student demonstration that grew into the Velvet Revolution, while three years ago the building was added to a list of cultural heritage sites to prevent it from being pulled down. Shopping in Tesco or My on Národní třída, a building designed in the Brutalist style, is still a favorite pastime of many in the Czech capital today.

“The Czech Republic attracts less well-off tourists” - that is the conclusion of research conducted by the website Tourism Review. It found that the number of wealthier visitors from Western Europe and the USA to the Czech Republic has been dropping. The Italians´ ardor for the Czech Republic, especially seems to have slackened as they visited the country by over 7% less in 2008 than the previous year. Brits for whom Prague was once a favorite stag night destination, also seem to have lost their interest: not even cheap beer, apparently, is enough of a draw anymore. The reasons for wealthier travelers going elsewhere may be several, including discrepancies between the standards of services and infrastructure in Prague and in other regions. The strong Czech currency used to be another hitch for the Western travelers, but that too not the case any more, I’m afraid. Still, more affluent Russians are continuing to visit: last year number of Russian tourists increased by 35%, compared to 2007 figures. Karlovy Vary, a spa town in Western Bohemia where the annual film festival is held, has already earned a reputation as being something of a Russian city, with signs, street names and restaurant menus not only in Czech but also in Russian.

Most tourists come to the Czech Republic to stroll the narrow streets of the Old Town, take a picture of Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge and possibly to see an opera in the National Theatre. Others, however, come for different reasons than sightseeing. They want to…lose fat, have a nose job, or improve their busts. More than 6,000 people came to the Czech Republic last year for cosmetic surgery, which makes 20% of all plastic surgery performed in the country, one tourism review reports. It is the Germans, Austrians, Brits and Slovaks who represent the majority of such tourists to the Czech Republic. Besides cosmetic surgery they come for dental, orthopedic or infertility treatment and stay between 3 to 10 days in the country, which is much longer than an average tourist spends on sightseeing. Not surprisingly, the majority are women; the men – a mere 13 percent are most interested in liposuction and rhinoplasty.

Mirek Topolánek
Czech politicians try hard to sound cool and brainy, embroidering their language with plenty of English words, the daily Právo has noted. Supposedly the Czech EU presidency, too, has had an impact, with politicians brushing up on their languages, including English. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and the Minister of the Environment Martin Bursík were the most often quoted examples of peppering their Czech with English expressions. The Czech Language Department of the Academy of Sciences commented on the phenomenon saying that it is the easiest but also the most primitive way to sound interesting. Using foreign words goes hand in hand with another phenomenon thriving among Czech politicians and that is using bureaucratic language to try and sound smart but saying nothing. Some would argue that’s what politicians are best at.

Iveta Lutovská,  photo: CTK
Czech women have a reputation of being good-looking and sometimes downright sexy, a reputation reinforced by the 5th annual Czech Miss beauty pageant which was held last week. Officially, the most beautiful Czech girl of the year - who got most phone text messages from TV viewers - is Iveta Lutovská, a long-legged blond of 25. Her victory in the competition means a one million crown contract, life insurance coverage, well for life, and even luxurious underwear - as if being the most beautiful was not enough! The gala night was held at Prague’s Ruzyně airport and was attended, among others, by former Czech president Václav Havel and his wife Dagmar.