Bohuslav Balbin

Today's Mailbox includes Topics: Parliamentary elections Bohuslav Balbin - 17th Century patriot. Kmoch brass band festival in Kolin. Listeners mentioned and quoted: David L.Blatt, Thomas Kriha, Joan Bergman

Welcome to Mailbox, on a Sunday night that marks the end of a very special weekend here in the Czech Republic.

Yes, it has been election weekend, with Czechs choosing their deputies to the Lower House of Parliament. We have been reporting on the event in our programs. And, of course, on our web-site, which even gave listeners a chance to express their political preferences, in Radio Prague's virtual elections.

A number of people have written they liked the idea. David L.Blatt from Chicago, Ill., USA, for example:

"The Czech election coverage on RP and your web-site is terrific. I hope the Coalition wins. I noticed there is a party called the Balbin Poetic in the election. Who are they? What is their platform? Do they have any MP's in Parliament?"

No, David, the Balbin Poetic Party does not have any representation in Parliament and it obviously won't have any in the new Parliament, either. In order to be represented a party has to get at least 5 percent of the vote.

In Radio Prague's virtual elections the Balbin Poetic Party did get over 5 percent.

But not in the real elections, it was obvious throughout the campaign that only five parties had a chance to pass that 5 percent threshold, the same as in the past elections.

The Balbin Poetic Party is one of the 29 that stood for election mainly because they wanted to express their criticism of the situation in the country, or voice some specific demands or interests. Taking part in the pre-election campaign gave them a chance to appear on radio and television and voice their views to a wide audience.

For me the Balbin Poetic Party is special among those 24 without a real chance to be elected. It was created just a couple of months before the election and the idea originated in the Balbin Cafe on Balbin Street right around the corner from Radio Prague.

It's named after Bohuslav Balbin, a Jesuite monk who lived in the 17th Century. He studied and wrote about Czech history - in Latin, but his work was very patriotic and his defence of the Czech language, also written in Latin, was so strong that it even got him into trouble with the Jesuite order.

The Balbin poetic party wants to be as outspoken as Bohuslav Balbin was and they have a wonderful sense of humour with which they express their beliefs and their criticism of shortcomings on the contemporary Czech scene. Their representatives were a pleasant, refreshing note in the otherwise over-serious campaign. It was a nice change.

Another change in this year's election is the fact that for the first time Czech citizens living abroad had a chance to vote.

But, as often happens when things are done for the first time ever, there were shortcomings in the organisation of voting abroad, not all those who would have liked to take part really had a chance to do so. In one of our previous programs we talked about the lack of information - many Czechs living abroad did not know they had to register in order to vote, and found out about it only when it was too late. Thomas Kriha. reacted to that news item:

"It's even worse than your story tells it. I live in New Zealand along with my parents. We all have Czech citizenship (even though I was born here) and would like to be entitled to vote, but would have to travel to Sydney, Australia to do so, because there is no Czech embassy in New Zealand."

There were other problems as well, so only a fraction of the 70 000 or so Czechs living abroad actually voted. The authorities will have to evaluate the reasons and I'm sure it'll be better when the next elections come around.

I wonder whether in those next elections there will also be more women candidates. It's shameful how few women there are in politics in this country.

And even more shameful is the way it's taken for granted and the attitude taken by so many men in politics. Did you read the big interview with Cyril Svoboda published in the pre-election campaign? He actually said that to talk about women being equal was a mistake, that the relationship between man and woman is never equal, that the only aspect where equality comes in is dignity. Women should be in a subordinate position towards men, but men should have a deep respect for them and protect them. That boosts women's dignity, according to Cyril Svoboda.

Well, he is chairman of the Christian Democrats, and the Catholic Church has a big influence there. But still, the statement didn't bring any protests from others, and as far as I know, nobody even used it as an argument against Svoboda and his party in the election campaign.

It certainly wasn't any major issue. Life went on as usual, and this weekend saw another important event, besides the elections. It was a very special event for people who love this kind of music...

That's typical Czech brass band music, and we're mentioning it in connection with a letter from Joan Bergman, Montreal, Canada:

"My mother came from Bohemia and she always played some recordings of brass band music, which she loved. She used to say it was the most popular music back home. But listening to Radio Prague, I've never heard you play that kind of music. Why?"

We do play brass band music once in a while, but very rarely. Brass bands used to be very, very popular some time around the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, but not so much nowadays and composers like Frantisek Kmoch, whose music we've just heard is practically forgotten, especially among the younger generation.

But this weekend there was lots of brass band music in the town of Kolin, which hosted a special brass band festival, called Kmoch's Kolin, in honour of the composer who lived there and founded his brass band there in 1871. That band continued after Kmoch's death in 1912, under a number of conductors, but its popularity and the popularity of that kind of music has been diminishing, especially after the Second World War.

Maybe even more here, than abroad. Just think of the world-wide fame of the Beer Barrel Polka by Jaromir Vejvoda. In fact, it seems that brass band music is more popular abroad than in the Czech Republic. For example, we know about an internet polka show in Texas, and there are similar programs in Australia, and other parts of the world, but I guess that's connected with the older generation and their nostalgic reminiscence of their old homeland.

Anyway, the annual festival in Kolin was started in 1962 in an attempt to revive interest in brass band music, all those marches, polkas, and mazurkas and this year's festival was proof, that there still are many who enjoy this kind of music.

And so, let's end today's Mailbox with a typical march by Frantisek Kmoch, the one dedicated to the town of Kolin.

But before signing off, I'd like to remind listeners that we're looking forward to hearing from them, in spite of the fact that this year's listeners' competition is over.

That's right, today is the 16th, the deadline for competition entries. So, we'll be sitting down to read through the ones we have received, and the special committee will have to choose the winner who gets to visit Prague. We'll know by the end of June and we'll be announcing the competition results in Mailbox on June 30th.

In any case, there will be a number of runners-up prizes, and all of you who took part in the competition will receive souvenirs.

And for the rest - there's always the next competition where they can try, we certainly intend to continue in the tradition of listeners' competitions which has been going on for years.

But even though this year's competition is over do write before the next one is announced to let us know what you think of our programs and to ask the questions you'd like answered in Mailbox,. The address: Radio Prague, 120 99, Prague 2, Czech Republic, or if you prefer the Internet - [email protected].

But here now, is the promised Kolin march by Frantisek Kmoch

Authors: Dita Asiedu , Olga Szantová
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