Vaclav Sigmund

In this week's edition: Radio Prague celebrates 10 years online; Radio Prague English broadcasts on Saturday, November 6; the end of compulsory military service in the Czech Republic. Listeners quoted: David Eldridge, Robert East, Karen Huelson.

Vaclav Sigmund
Hello and welcome to Mailbox. Thank you very much for all those letters and emails you keep sending us with comments and questions for our team - we'll have some of those later. Thank you also for your reception reports you send us from all around the world informing us about the quality of shortwave reception in your part of the world.

We have been noticing that an ever greater number of those are reaching us in the form of emails rather than good old-fashioned letters. That suggests that more and more of Radio Prague listeners have access to the internet and can visit our website if they like. Those of you who have done so in the past week will have noticed a dramatic change in the colour of Radio Prague's website - from blue to red. If you have been wondering what is going on, here's the answer. I spoke to Vaclav Sigmund from Radio Prague's internet department.

"The colour has changed because we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of our website. The website first appeared as a rather small website in 1994. It was one of the first web pages on the Czech internet then. It was because the then director of Radio Prague believed that the internet has a potential to reach people who weren't able to listen to us. We were on of the first - or probably the first - website in the Czech Republic which offered broadcasting in audio, in sound.

"All the broadcasts are now offered in text and also in audio. So if the listener has for some missed some information or wants to get back to some information, he can quite easily find it on our website. We are offering an archive of all the information which appeared in our broadcasts for about four or five years back and you can find there some special features. So we hope that you will visit our website soon!"

Ten years online, isn't that amazing? I have to admit that I had no idea ten years ago that there was such a thing as the internet. If you are interested to see what the special website looks like, you can go to where you'll find the history of Radio Prague on the internet and also a special competition.

Even though we have so much advanced technology at our disposal, the human factor is always the weakest link. Our listener, Mr David Eldridge from the county of Essex in England sent us this complaint referring to our broadcasts last Saturday.

"I know Insight Central Europe has its own page but your station has repeated a mistake that it often makes of not splitting the choice of programmes at different times on Saturdays. Sometimes you broadcast your in-house Radio Prague programmes on all of your 1700, 1800 and 2100 transmissions to NW Europe, today you broadcast Insight Central Europe on all three, instead of just at 1800 hours."

We do apologise for that to Mr Eldridge and all of you who were waiting for our regular programme last Saturday, with Daniela Lazarova's Magazine, our interview programme One on One, and Letter from Prague. That mistake was caused by our technical staff and we do hope it won't happen again.

Moving on, and we've had some responses to a story we broadcast on November 5th about the Czech Army going fully professional as of the beginning of next year. Robert East from the United Kingdom sent us this comment:

"With reference to the removal of conscription, are your contributors sure this a good thing? Now take a look at the crime rate in the young, see if it goes up, as people lose a sense of purpose and ability to carry out skills. This is what happened in the UK after national service ended. Also really hard to bring it back. Sorry to see you delete it from your national life."

And Karen Huelson from the United States wrote:

"This article on the end of compulsory military service in the Czech Republic was interesting to me because, by comparison, we have an all-volunteer force in the U.S., although there are constantly rumours of possible changes. One of the comments in the Radio Prague article was that the required service was too long. I was wondering how long the service was for and how it worked, i.e., did everyone have to go at a certain age? Also, were there any exemptions from service, such as for university students?"

Let's go some years back. In 1949 a new military law was approved which has been amended several times since. Under the law men between 17 and 60 years of age were required to serve in the army for 24 months. The 1990 amendment, the first after the fall of communism, shortened compulsory military service to 18 months and enabled young men to serve civil duty instead. An amendment from 1993 shortened it even more, to 12 months. In 2003 the Czech Defence Minister submitted a draft proposal abolishing compulsory military service as of 2005.

For university students, the situation changed several times, too. Until the mid-1960 they were given no exemption and had to serve their two years after university. In later years they had more prominent status, getting higher ranks and serving only for one year. After 1989, the length of military service for university students was shortened in proportion to the length of service for the rest of young men.

We're almost out of time so I'd better repeat Radio Prague's competition question for November, the 11th in a row of questions about Czech music.

"One of the most famous polkas, a big hit during the Second World War, which is to this day played and sung in many countries of the world under different names, was composed by a Czech. We'd like to know the name of the composer and the name of the famous polka in whichever language you prefer."

You still have more than two weeks to send your answers to Radio Prague, English Section, 12099 Prague, Czech Republic, or much quicker by e-mail to [email protected].