Mailbox

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In this week's edition of Mailbox: the winner and runner-ups in this year's Listener's Competition, which asked listeners to write who they thought was historically the most important Czech and why. Also in the programme: answers to questions from June Wintars and Pavel Miklik.

Thanks for joining us for another edition of Mailbox. I'm Jan Velinger together with Daniela Lazarova. Dita Asiedu is off on holiday. Daniela...

Thanks, Jan. Today of course we shall be announcing the winner of this year's listeners competition as well as runner-ups... we received a great many entries and it was by no means easy to decide. The winner of course will receive an expenses paid trip for two to the beautiful spa town of Podebrady.

That in just a few moment - but first let us answer some of your questions. The first is related to economics and comes from June Wintars, studying Central European relations. June writes:

"You always talk about the state budget and the state budget deficit so you'll probably know what the national debt is in the Czech Republic."

Well, June, the national debt currently lies at 429.1 billion Czech crowns, a little over fifteen billion US dollars. It has been growing steadily since 1997.

Bad news of course. Both politicians, and most importantly economists, warn that the state needs to reform the public finance system.

The reform is now being discussed and if you've been listening to our programmes you'll know that the finance reform plan is unacceptable to many.

That's right. Doctors, school teachers and many others working in state institutions have threatened to go on strike and some have even said they would resign as the plan calls for drastic cuts in the budgets of several ministries.

Now, we have a question from a listener who tunes into Radio Prague here in the Czech Republic. Pavel Miklik writes:

"I've read an article in one of our newspapers about the truck company Tatra facing financial problems in Russia. I didn't get to finish reading the article. Do you happen to have come across it in Press Review? I would be much obliged if you could tell us about it in your Mailbox programme. I remember it to have been a very interesting article."

The article you mean was in the country's leading business daily Hospodarske Noviny. The headline reads "Tatra fights for lost trust in Russia" and is about a new contract Tatra has entered in with a Siberian petroleum company to provide its cars. The contract for 200 million Czech crowns will have Tatra manufacture 35 vehicles for Siberia and guarantee the supply of spare-parts. A Tatra representative says that thanks to the contract, they have regained confidence in the quality of their vehicles and managed to compete with car makers such as Volvo, Scania, and MAN.

The article goes on to say that Tatra needs to cut spending by over half a billion Czech crowns before the end of this year. The main reason is the continuing strengthening of the Czech crown against the US dollar, as most transactions, especially those in India, China, and Russia, are made in US dollars. It therefore has to lay-off a quarter of its employees.


Well, I'm afraid that we'll have to leave the rest of your questions till next time because now it's time to announce the winner's of this year's listener's competition, which asked:

Who is the most interesting person in Czech history and why?

As we said entries were varied and many, some of them very original others well, not quite so hot... but we still thank everyone who took the time send us a paragraph or even a page or two...

Listen carefully: the runner-ups for this year's competition are:

Joshua Perry, London, England

Greg MacDonald, Nova Scotia, Canada

Mary Lou Krenek, Texas, USA

Michael J. Ryan, Ottawa, Canada

Alon Raab, Oregon, USA

Martin Gallas, Illinois, USA

Kazunori Iwaguma, Sawara ku Fukuoka, Japan

Tanya Eichoff, Quebec, Canada

Elizabeth Delgatty, Winnipeg, Canada

Jeffrey Zajac, New Jersey, USA

And the grand prize winner for 2003 winning that trip sponsored by Czech Airlines and the Bellevue Hotel is:

Christine Nuttall, Cumbria, Great Britain

Well, congratulations Christine! Jan, I understand you spoke to Mrs Nuttall earlier in the week?

That's right - just briefly... I asked her about her reaction to winning as well as what she does for a living:

"Well, I'm a teacher, I teach in a very small two-teacher village school and I live in Cumbria, which is a very beautiful part of the world on the edge of the Lake District."

Was this the first time that you decided to take part in a Radio Prague listener's competition?

"Yes it is, yes."

And what inspired that decision?

"Well, my husband tried last year, and when I saw the title of the competition I thought that intrigued me, because there are so many Czechs that you could pick. So many Czechs that you don't know about, a whole range you could choose from, and that was quite inspiring."

What did your husband say when he told you the news?

"Well, he told me, he called me at work and said 'sit down'. He never ever rings me at work, so I thought 'Something horrible has happened! So, it was a lovely surprise to find out I had won this competition."

Once again congratulations Christine, and now I'm sure everybody will be wanting to know who Christine chose as the most interesting Czech.

Yes, we're going to round out Mailbox with that, so for now, Jan Velinger...

and Daniela Lazarova...

Saying goodbye and enjoy!


Christine Nuttall's entry for the Listener's Competition 2003:

"It was difficult to choose the Czech I consider to have made an impact on the world. Eventually, I selected a playwright. No, not Vaclav Havel, the ex-Czech president and playwright! An understandable choice, given the remarkable recent history of the Czech Republic. I believe Aloys Senfelder unwittingly had more effect on peoples' lives than Mr Havel ever did, although there is a tenuous link between the two men.

Born in Prague in 1771, Senfelder was a would-be-playwright. He could not publish his work because he couldn't afford to pay for the engraving of the plates he needed to print his text! He tried to engrave the copper plates for himself. Poor Aloys should have stuck to writing, he was a bit "ham fisted" and made many a slip!

It was a happy accident when his Mum popped her head around the door and asked him to make a note of the laundry list! He used the only thing at hand, a pencil and a slab of limestone! When he tried to wash off the greasy pencil marks he noticed they resisted water.

His observation that water and oil were mutually repellent sparked Senfelder's imagination. He began experimenting with his ideas and eventually developed the printing technique of lithography. Lithography was cheap, sensitive in reproducing the original and had no limit to the number of impressions that it could make.

It was a revolution in print making! I think the importance of this development has always been overshadowed, by the reverence paid to Gutenburg's invention of movable type!

Why do I feel so strongly that Aloys Senfelder was a Czech who made an impact on the world?

In these days of virtually instant communication and multimedia it is easy for us to forget that access to books, music, education and art was limited by a shortage of inexpensive printed material.

This relatively cheap technique of lithographic printing meant books, sheet music, and pictures became more available worldwide. Many jobs were created in the lithographic printing industry, which went through a period of expansion in Europe. The works of Czech philosophers such as Komensky, musical scores from Dvorak for example became accessible to more people. Senfelder's lithographic printing had a global impact! Lithographic printing became a means of artistic expression in its own right. Much of Alphonse Mucha's work was created for the lithographic technique. This Czech artist's posters are familiar throughout the world!

On a personal note, many of my favourite childhood books bore the inscription "Printed in Czechoslovakia." From an early age I was filled with the urge to find out what this mysterious sounding country could be like!

Naturally, techniques have developed but lithography is still one of the most versatile and popular methods of printmaking today.

Senfelder is a special Czech, an unsung hero! When he died in 1834 I like to think he was no longer a frustrated playwright. Full of creativity and ingenuity, I hope he realised his invention of lithographic printing did have a significant impact on peoples' lives.

I like the way Senfelder unintentionally turned adversity into advantage.

Through his invention, perhaps Aloys Senfelder did enable Mr Havel and other playwrights and thinkers to reach a wider audience."

Christine Nuttall