"It is not important in politics, how things really are, but it is important what they seem to be to the public—and that is controlled by the media," said Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross. Mr Gross was speaking at a secret discussion between Social Democratic (ČSSD) MPs during a meeting of Parliament on 5 January 2001 held on account of the Czech Television crisis.
The Minister and some other ČSSD MPs demonstrated that they know very well that the rebellion of the Czech public service TV journalists is not a "struggle for freedom of speech," as it was interpreted, for instance, by the more naive members of the Western journalistic community. It was rather a political party struggle for influence within Czech public service television and in Czech politics as a whole.
The Social Democratic MPs were fully aware of the fact that the so-called 4Coalition, a small opposition political grouping, had staged a highly successful coup, turning an internal labour dispute within Czech Television into a political "struggle for freedom of speech," playing on the Czech public's strong disenchantment with politics.
Although the MPs knew that the Czech Television crisis had nothing to do with the issue of freedom of speech, they were afraid of saying this aloud for fear of making themselves unpopular in their own country. In fact, a number of members of the ČSSD parliamentary group proposed that the Social Democratic Party should support the demands of the rebelling TV journalists (regardless of the real reasons of the virtual "crisis") and use the political support for their own party political purposes. This seems to explain why the Social Democratic government of the Czech Republic has failed to take a firm stand against the rebelling journalists.
Politics in the Czech Republic seem to be motivated almost exclusively by shrill, emotional virtual reality campaigns, conducted by the media in support of various vested interests. Fortunately, perhaps, unlike in the West, the machinery of deception is not exactly subtle and occasionally it spectacularly breaks down.
This was the case on Thursday 2 February 2001.
No foreign marauder—the case of Mads Traerup
Regular readers of this column may remember that in the autumn of 2000, the Czech media ran a ferocious campaign against the "foreign marauders who destroyed Prague," the anti-globalisation demonstrators who had come to Prague to speak out against the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which took place in the capital in September 2000.
While some limited violence (throwing paving stones and a few Molotov cocktails) was committed by a few dozen demonstrators, thousands of the demonstrators were peaceful. The Czech media created the image of Czech policemen as chivalrous, heroic "local lads," who firmly, but fairly, prevented the foreign "left-wing weirdos," criminals and drug addicts from spreading violence in Prague—"our beautiful capital city." Most of the media supressed the information that acts of police brutality were perpetrated on peaceful demonstrators and even on accidental passers-by.
Several foreign participants of the demonstrations were charged with disturbing the public order. Britské listy predicted as early as October 2000 that most of these charges would not stick and that the Czech Republic would only show to the world that the work of its police and judiciary leaves much to be desired.
Danish student Mads Traerup was one of those demonstrators charged with assaulting Czech policemen. He was detained in a Prague prison for as long as 53 days under rather brutal and primitive conditions.
His case provoked considerable interest in the Danish media and a number of protests on his behlaf soon followed. A public collection was taken up in Denmark in order to raise funds to help Traerup make bail. Considering that the Czech authorities regarded Traerup's case as one of the strongest cases against the "foreign marauders," bail was set rather high by Czech standards: CSK 800,000 (some USD 20,000; the average monthly pay in the Czech Republic is about USD 350).
A significant verdict
On 2 February, Treaerup's case came before a Prague court. He was found not guilty on all counts. Britské listy reporter Tomáš Pecina was on the spot:
This is a very significant verdict, considering that the case was closely watched by the world media as well as by official representatives of the Kingdom of Denmark. This was also the first public court case in which a person, detained in connection with last September's Prague demonstrations was tried. It was obvious that the result of Traerup's case would determine the attitude of the media and of public opinion towards the cases of the charged activists.
Since Traerup had been held in detention for a very long time and the accused student was only released on a rather high bail, it was to be expected that the evidence against Traerup must be really strong. It, however, turned out that the opposite was the case. Within the first 15 minutes of the eight-hour proceedings, the prosecution's case collapsed.
According to the Czech police, the Danish demonstrator had committed an assault on a public official, in two instances and in two different places. On 26 September 2000, near McDonald's at Wenceslas Square he was supposed to have hit a policement with a wooden club, hurting his earlobe slightly. 30 minutes later, when Traerup was allegedly recognised by this policeman, he was supposed to have attempted to hurt another policemen by hitting him with a paving stone.