A former minister walks the entire stretch of a highway after losing a bet it would be completed on time, Czechs poke fun of the government’s sugar cube campaign ahead of the country’s EU presidency and, a restaurant owner kills his business by going on a reality show. Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

Czech politicians like to make outrageous bets – and very often lose them. The former transport minister Milan Šimonovský had to pay his dues this week after losing a bet made during his time in office that the D47 highway cutting across north Moravia would be finished by the end of 2008.

Photo: www.moravskoslezsky.
Challenged by a political rival who criticized delays in construction Mr. Šimonovský bet that he himself would walk the entire length of the highway – 82 kilometers - if it was not completed on time. Although the highway is close to completion it will not be open before mid-2009 and Mr. Šimonovský this week accepted defeat –donning a pair of comfortable walking shoes and setting out in the company of several party members who joined him out of solidarity. Wrapped up against the cold wind and equipped with pills for his stiff joints and plasters for his blisters the former minister walked the entire stretch of the highway covering 20 kilometers a day and calling it “a final inspection of the highway”. Other highly publicized bets in Czech politics include a party leader who had to eat a live beetle after losing the elections and an mp who ended up delivering the post in her home town for a day.

The Czech government’s sugar cube campaign for the country’s upcoming EU presidency has come under fire from many sides. In the video clip Czech celebrities, including ice-hockey star Jaromír Jagr, goalkeeper Petr Čech and top model Tereza Maxová do amusing things with sugar cubes and the slogan is: Evropě to osladíme– we’ll make life sweeter for Europe. Now, the sugar cube was chosen because of its Czech roots - it was invented by Jakub Kryštof Rad, the director of the Dačice sugar refinery, in 1843. However a closer look reveals that Rad was actually a native of Switzerland, and back then Dačice was part of the Austrian Empire, so there’s some dispute over whether the sugar cube is really Czech. Moreover, critics say that Czechs have no reason to promote the sugar cube as their invention after EU agricultural policies killed the Czech sugar refining industry.

Olomoucke syrecky
And, last but not least, critics point out that the Czech phrase Evropě to osladíme has a second far more aggressive meaning – which is –we’ll make Europe’s life hell. One of the coalition parties, the Christian Democrats, have publicly distanced themselves from the government’s campaign and one MP went so far as to suggest that the Cabinet might as well have used a type of smelly cheese made exclusively in the town of Olomouc to promote the Czech Republic’s EU presidency – with the slogan – Europe will definitely smell us – an idea that has many Czechs cracking jokes on the subject.

Phone boxes are disappearing from towns and cities across the Czech Republic and in a few years’ time children may have no idea what they looked like. Phone operator Telephonica 02 which runs the network of 24,000 phone boxes scattered around the country says that they are simply not being used anymore and only attract vandals. One fifth of all phone boxes are used less than five times a year and some remain virtually untouched. Telephonica says the network will gradually be abolished in the course of the next few years. Although the number of mobile phones per head in the Czech Republic is the highest in Europe some out-of-the way towns are not happy with the decision arguing that not all elderly people own a mobile or know how to use one and that the public phone boxes should stay as long as they are needed –even by a handful of people a few times a year.

Early morning drivers in the town of Hradec Králové were treated to a most unusual sight – twenty large pigs were wondering around near a busy crossroads sheparded by a number of police officers. The police were called to an early morning accident involving a truck carrying pigs to the slaughterhouse and instead of investigating the accident they had their hands full trying to keep the two dozen escapees out of the way of passing cars. Soon the pigs were peacefully foraging for food on a nearby strip of grass. But it was two hours before the police were able to herd them back into the truck. And many of the bystanders watching were secretly rooting for the pigs. Having once escaped the death sentence, maybe they should have been amnestied.

It’s not often you get to see a steam engine in the city centre and the one that stops visitors to Brno in their tracks is fully functional, carrying passengers from Prague to the fairgrounds of the Brno Engineering Fair. For locals the sight of a steam engine waiting at a red light is not so unusual – trains are able to run through the city on special occasions thanks to an industrial branch line established fifty years ago on the occasion of the very first Brno Engineering Fair. However, the locals may not enjoy this special sight for very much longer – the branch line is likely to be abolished within a planned reconstruction of the city’s infrastructure.

The latest reality show launched by commercial television Prima this month has left many Czechs hoping to make a quick buck rather disappointed. “Nothing but the Truth” is a question-and-answer session in which the participant takes a lie detector test. In the first few weeks since it was launched none of the participants have won any money – instead their lives were turned upside down after the lie detector indicated they were not telling the truth. One man lost his job, another admitted before his stunned girlfriend that he had had better and did not plan on marrying her while a third said that he often used products in his restaurant whose use-by-date had expired and had on one occasion spat on a steak being prepared for a difficult customer. Having spoken the truth so far he lost his chance of big bucks when asked whether he would be prepared to eat anything produced in his restaurant kitchen. According to the lie detector he would not. Now, it’s very likely nobody else will either.