From the Weeklies

Christmas dinner is still six weeks away and fisheries have fattened up plenty of good carp for the dinner table, but keeping it safe has been quite a job. Do Czechs lack a sense of national pride? Reflex gives some thought to why state holidays in the Czech Republic are indistinguishable from Sundays. And Outward Bound, the game that tests your limits, may not be to everyone's taste, but those who have tried it say it's a unique experience. These are just some of the interesting stories in this week's magazines.

Anyone who has ever spent Christmas in the Czech Republic knows what's for dinner on Christmas Eve. The Czech Christmas carp is the equivalent of the Christmas turkey in America or Britain. The big difference is that many Czechs like to buy it live, picked out from huge vats which appear in the streets a week or so before the big day. That way you know you are getting fresh fish and connoisseurs know precisely how fat it should be and what its scales should look like.

This year the news is good. Fisheries say there are tons of high-quality fish for the domestic market and prices are actually expected to drop. Yet fishermen have not had an easy time of it. Poachers have never been so brazen or so well equipped, and there's practically a state of open warfare between the fishermen patrolling their lakes around the clock, and poachers determined to secure a good night's catch.

Gone are the days when a poacher arrived armed with a fishing pole and left with a full bag; today's poachers use explosives or electricity and remove their loot in vans. Both poachers and fishermen are armed to the hilt--night-vision telescopes, mobile phones, special equipment. The fishermen that the magazine Kvety interviewed wouldn't discuss weapons, but Kvety says that those who are not actually armed with a shotgun would certainly be carrying tear gas and a baseball bat. Poachers certainly carry firearms and they don't take off when they are detected. In the Prostejov region, poachers attempted to hang a fisherman who interrupted their night's work, another was badly beaten and a third hit over the head with an axe.

We manage to catch about 50 poachers a month, but their numbers are far higher, one of the fishermen told Kvety magazine. If we didn't patrol the lakes night and day there would be no fish left in these lakes within three weeks. The job's not easy. For instance, the Rychvald fisheries, which deliver over 150 tons of fish to the domestic market every Christmas, have 50 lakes to patrol. Overall their lakes contain some 600 tons of fish and very often poachers completely destroy whole breeding farms.

Fisheries on the outskirts of Prague annually lose a third of their fish to poachers. Although the fisheries organize patrols, their position is in fact very weak. As one of them explains, the law is not "on their side". "If we detain a thief, we are violating his freedom of movement. If we take away his equipment, we are accused of stealing. And the police are far too understaffed to patrol our lakes around the clock," the man says, adding, "if things don't change for the better soon these men will get sick of sticking out their necks to protect the results of an honest year's work, and then you can use the lakes for water-lilies for all we care."

Well, water lilies in bread-crumbs are not my idea of Christmas dinner, so let's hope we see some positive action soon. In any case, the fight is over for this year, since the annual process of "netting" and draining lakes for the winter is now well underway.

There is no doubt that nationalism has become a dirty word in the Czech language; look at what nationalism did in the Balkans, and many other places around the world, for that matter. But how about an acceptable degree of national pride? Do Czech have it--and if not, why not? Reflex magazine notes that for some reason most Czechs do not nurture a sense of national pride in their offspring, focussing instead on general values. As a result, state holidays have become indistinguishable from Sundays.

During the communist years, good cheer on state holidays was forced and organized, which is one reason why Czechs today still shy away from any kind of organized activities on state holidays. But there's got to be more to it Reflex says. The Czechs' deeply ingrained distrust of official ceremonies, state symbols and holidays is rooted in the country's turbulent history.

The Czechs have lived through too many radical changes for national pride to take root and be nurtured: they were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, then briefly Czechoslovakia, they survived the Nazi invasion, then four decades of communism, and shortly after that the Czechoslovak Federation broke up.

The Czech Republic as a sovereign state is just 7 years old. It is difficult to respect the symbols of a state when they are continually changing, Reflex notes. What will happen to the fragile national consciousness when the Czech Republic joins the EU? That is a question that the magazine has not ventured to open.

And finally, the same weekly has sent one of its editors to take part in a three-day getting-in-touch-with-yourself-and-nature course. Imported from the West, these courses are supposed to test your limits and improve your team spirit. Many simulate some disaster which, like in The Day of the Triffids, will leave the majority of participants blind or in some way handicapped and dependant on the help of others. The groups spend hours overcoming various hurdles: wading through rivers, struggling up steep slopes or traversing crevices with the help of a rope. All this blindfolded and holding onto each other for safety, with just one or two members of the group to lead them.

Teachers like to take part in these courses, as do employees of big firms, but no matter whether it is the staff of a primary school or the top management of Shell, the end result is the same. The participants learn more about each other than they have done in many years of sharing an office.

The tradition of these events dates back to the war years in Britain, where the navy used them to prepare new crews of volunteers for crisis situations and create team spirit fast. Today they are popular with European and American firms and are organized by Outward Bound in many places around the world, including the Czech Republic.

Will they inspire Czechs to try something different? Reflex' editor Tomas Fertek puts it this way: "These games where complete strangers are on familiar terms with you, where you constantly perspire and completely loose your carefully groomed image seem childish, undignified and plain silly to most people. There is simply no way of putting into words the unique experience it gives you. The only way to get a taste of that is to try it out for yourself."

If you are in the Czech Republic and wish to try this out for yourself, then try contacting the Lipnice Summer School, a member of Outward Bound, which organizes these courses in various parts of the country.