From the Weeklies

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This week's Respekt reminds Czechs and Slovaks that elements of their communist past are not behind them. On the 28th of June the former general of the Czechoslovak State Security Service, or StB, Alojz Lorenc, found himself once again facing a possible 3- to 10-year jail term. Charges of abuse of office during the years 1988-89 have been laid against Lorenc in a Bratislava court. He is accused of having ordered the detentions of over 300 opponents of the communist regime during this time.

Lorenc has already been convicted of identical charges, in 1992, but by the time the high court in Prague confirmed the verdict in May 1993, Czechoslovakia was no more. In 1993 Lorenc was living in the Slovak Republic, and as the citizen of another country, he refused to serve the term handed down by a Prague court. Respekt notes that during the reign of Vladimir Meciar's government from 1992-98, Slovak justice organs did not exhibit much interest in seeing Lorenc punished. However, after the parliamentary elections in autumn of 1998, the will to bring Lorenc to trial was renewed. Lorenc is pleading not guilty on the basis that detaining citizens during the years 1988-89 was perfectly legal according to Czechoslovak law.


As Lidove noviny's weekly magazine reports, modern technology is reaching Czechs of all generations. The headline, "Pensioners on-line" shows 81-year-old Jaroslav Sekyrka squinting at the computer screen, sending an email. Long retired, five years ago Mr. Sekyrka decided to return to university as a senior student. Attending lectures in medicine, nutrition, and accounting, Sekyrka finally decided on studying computers. Asked what computers have brought to his life at such an advanced age, he said, "An inner satisfaction that I know how they work, and that I understand what is happening in the present." Other pensioners like Mr. Sekyrka have also signed on to take computer classes, many of them simply out of curiosity. However, as these aging students let on, classes for seniors are not yet a generally approved-of activity in the Czech Republic--one woman did not want to be named because her husband and son already poke fun of her at home! Those pensioners learning to surf the net all agree that their newly acquired skills keep them in touch with the world, and keep them younger.


During the course of her entire life, the most famous Czech woman painter tried to forget that she was a woman--or so claims a headline in Lidove noviny magazine, which features a story about the life of this unconventional artist. Few women have achieved what Toyen did in a man's world, but to do so, she had to forget that she was a woman. Born Marie Cerminova in 1902, by 1923 she had become simply known as Toyen. Toyen dressed like a man, in trousers and suit jackets, and spoke and wrote in the male form--something unheard of in the Czech language to this day, and even more unusual in the early 20th century. This peculiar behavior exiled her from the female world, but paradoxically, she became the most liberated and famous Czech female painter of the 20th century.

Little is known about Toyen's personal life, but fragments of encounters exist in the writings of Jaroslav Seifert and Vitezslav Nezval, who both encountered her in Prague. The Lidove noviny magazine quotes Seifert as saying, "Quite often I would meet this peculiar and interesting woman." Toyen was a member of Prague's first communist group, and Nezval said that Toyen once swallowed a communist document rather than have the authorities discover it in her possession.

She began devoting herself to painting in about 1922, and in 1923 Toyen became a member of the avant-garde group, DEVETSIL. In 1934 she helped found the Czechoslovak surrealist group which maintained close contacts with the Paris scene, and in 1947 Toyen herself emigrated to France where she became part of Andre Breton's surrealist circle in Paris. Her work was exhibited in France regularly, and is known throughout the world. Toyen died in November 1980. For the first time in more than half a century, Toyen's work is being exhibited in Prague this summer--for those of you interested, the exhibit is housed at the Dum U Kameneho zvonu, Old Town Hall, and runs until August 6th.


In recent days ten foreign titles have appeared in Czech bookstores Tyden reports, and all of them in Slovak. Since the Velvet Divorce in 1993, Slovak books have been appearing only sporadically on the Czech market. In fact, there has even been a demand for translations from Slovak to Czech, the weekly says.

Behind the new market breakthrough is SLOVART, a publishing house based in Bratislava which continued functioning after the break-up of Czechoslovakia. Formally, SLOVART focussed on publishing popular do-it-yourself literature, but a few years ago they branched out into prose. For a number of years a series called Millenium appeared in Czech and Slovak, publishing well-known authors from around the world, such as Isabelle Allende. But then the Czech branch of SLOVART stopped publishing the books. When Juraj Heger, the owner of SLOVART, discovered that the Millenium series was no longer appearing in Czech, he arranged an agreement with Kosmas, a book distributor, and with some large bookstores, such as Fiser in Prague. Thus, Heger brought the Millenium series back to the Czech Republic, but the books are in Slovak.

Heger said that the entire process was largely a happy coincidence. Tyden comments that "maybe in the end Slovak books in Czech bookstores may become just as common as the Czech ones in Slovak bookstores." It seems as though Czech and Slovak readers will once again be on the same page.


And lastly, in Respekt, a professor of medicine, Vladimir Student, wrote a letter in response to an article called Marijuana Among Us, which appeared in Respekt a few weeks ago. Student writes that the effects of smoking marijuana are four times as strong as smoking cigarettes. However, because no one is likely to smoke as many marijuana cigarettes as regular tobacco cigarettes, the effects seem to be about the same, says Dr. Student. For those who argue that alcoholism is just as dangerous as marijuana, and therefore drugs should be legalized, Student writes that if we already have such widespread problems with alcoholism, we shouldn't encourage other bad habits to become commonplace in Czech society, because then we'll never get rid of them. So, the debate over legalizing marijuana continues.