Pick of the Month

Alois Musil

In this edition of Pick of the Month; a former US soldier argues that allowing his country to build a radar base in the Czech Republic could threaten Czech security; the "Czech Lawrence of Arabia" Alois Musil remembered; how Prague has become more expensive than some US cities; and leading poet, literary critic and saxophonist Jan Stolba discusses some of the people who inspired him.

Tom Cassidy,  photo: Rob Cameron
The biggest news event here in June was the visit of George Bush to the Czech capital. The American president was in Prague trying to win support for US plans to station a radar base in central Bohemia, part of a controversial anti-missile defence shield. Opponents of that system include the 24-year-old American Iraq veteran Tom Cassidy, who spoke to my colleague Rob Cameron in One on One. Rob asked him: wasn't protecting Europe from attack a good thing?

"Well, there's really no guarantee they're going to protect Europe. General Obering, from the missile defence command, even said - this is to defend America. He didn't say this is to defend America and Europe.

"He said - this is the line of first defence for America. And frankly, from the actions of the American government and the American military over the past thirty-forty years, what's to make anybody think that they care about anything other than themselves?

"Putting a radar base here in the Czech Republic is going to first of all make the Czech Republic a target. It will escalate the Czech Republic's role in everything that the American military does abroad, everything that's currently going on and everything that's going to go on in the future."

But the Czech Republic is already a target. It had military police in Iraq, it has troops in Afghanistan, it's a member of NATO and a loyal ally of the U.S. How is a radar base going to make things different?

"Essentially this radar is a bit of a standoff with Russia. The radar has a range of 5,000 kilometres, and a large portion of Russia is in that, including one of Russia's main missile concentrations. So it seems like we're gearing up for the second Cold War right now, and putting a radar base in the Czech Republic to monitor that Cold War makes the Czech Republic the frontline for that.

"Yes, the Czech Republic is already an ally, but you don't need to pour salt in the wound of these people that already don't like America. Getting closer and closer to America just makes you closer and closer to the problem."

That interview with former US soldier Tom Cassidy provoked an unusual amount of listener and reader reaction, something reflected in a recent edition of Mailbox.

Full article: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/92024

George Bush's presidency has been greatly tarnished by the conflict in Iraq, with some accusing his administration of underestimating the task ahead of them when they invaded the country. One man who did have a good understanding of that part of the world was Alois Musil, who has been described as the Czech Lawrence of Arabia.

Musil was a Roman Catholic priest who made a great contribution to the West's understanding of Islam in the early 20th century, when the study of the Arab world was in its infancy.

Charles University's Professor Lubos Kropacek was interviewed by Coilin O'Connor for an edition of Czechs in History dedicated to Alois Musil.

"Now, in the light of our modern experiences and our modern endeavours, we really have to feel some sympathy for Musil's attempt to widen the scope of our understanding of Islam and to point to common features [between religions] and to also work for better Christian-Muslim relations.

"He was a Catholic priest who read mass every morning up to his death. He was a very sincere Christian, who at the same time worked for an appreciation of the good, positive qualities of the Arabs, whom he came to know during his travels."

During the First World War, Musil was sent to the Middle East to counteract the efforts of the great English Arabist TE Lawrence - or Lawrence of Arabia as he is known to many - to instigate an Arab rising against the Ottoman Turks, who were the Habsburgs' allies during the conflict.

Although much has been made of this rivalry, Professor Lubos Kropacek says that both Arabists were ultimately unhappy with the settlement that was made by Britain in the Middle East after the War, whose repercussions are still being felt to this day. He says that the two men actually had quite a lot in common:

"Although they were adversaries during the First World War, they shared the same feelings vis-à-vis the Arabs and on the necessity of building good relations with them in human terms without any superstition or false prejudices, which sometimes still exist today unfortunately. They tried to do away with such prejudices. I don't think the two of them ever met face to face, but I am sure they would have understood each other quite well if they had."

Full article: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/92101

When I first came to Prague in the early 1990s it was full of young Americans having the time of their lives - on the cheap. In those days rents, food and drink were very cheap here. That has changed somewhat since then. In fact today the Czech capital is more expensive than many cities in the US, according to this year's World Cost of Living Survey. It was commissioned by Mercer, and Dita Asiedu spoke to Jana Kurtinova of the company's Prague office.

"This year, Prague is in 49th place and last year it was in 50th place. When we take the major elements or items then the rent of a luxury 2-bedroom unfurnished apartment for example costs 1,100 euros. It is usually in the centre of Prague and that is why the price is a little bit higher.

"As far as the bus ticket is concerned, it costs 60 cents. A music CD is quite expensive compared to other cities and countries and costs 21 euros. A cup of coffee - probably the most favourite in Prague - costs 2.80 euros."

Compared to other cities like London or Rome, for example, how much would the luxurious apartment that costs 1,100 euros here cost there?

"In London, it's nearly 3,000 euros and in Rome 1,500 euros. I think that Prague is still one of the least expensive cities in Europe. London ranked number two this year."

And yet, Prague is more expensive than many cities in the United States - for example, Washington DC, Chicago, or LA...

"Well, with the appreciation of the Czech crown and also the euro and the weakening of the US dollar, the exchange rate primarily caused the change in the ranking."

Full article: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/92585

Jan Stolba really is a man of many talents. He is a well known jazz saxophonist, as well as being a poet and one of the Czech Republic's most respected literary critics. In Czech Books, David Vaughan asked Mr Stolba who the writers that had most inspired him were.

"I would like to mention a man who was a prose writer. That was Bohumil Hrabal. Mostly he wrote short stories and novels. I was inspired by his enchantment with real people with the poetry of the everyday of ordinary work, and finding something unusual and very special and magical in very ordinary things."

And we are here in the part of Prague, Holesovice, where you live. This is also where you grew up.

"Yes, I grew up in Holesovice, a part of town where there is a big rail yard..."

... and this is very much Hrabal territory. It's inner city, a lot of people living on top of one another, everything's a little bit grey, a little bit crumbling. It's the sort of place where Bohumil Hrabal would have felt at home, isn't it.

"Yes, exactly. As a matter of fact he lived just across the river in Liben, and at the very beginning I actually wanted, when I was 18 or 19 years old, to follow the path he had gone down, and I started to work at those yards at the railroad station. Then it just clashed with my interest in music. Playing the saxophone just didn't agree with working hard in the yards, so I had to follow a different path eventually."

And so how did your musical career start?

"I think it was probably purely as an accident. We had a trio at high school. I used to play guitar and banjo. I was very keen on the music of Voskovec and Werich..."

They were the great musical comic duo of the 1930s.

"Their music was based on Jazz, and then through them I got first to old jazz and then to more modern Bebop and Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane."

Full article: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/92188