Dancing in the Streets!
In fact, as you may have guessed (or not), there is no celebration evident whatsoever. Schools and government buildings are sporting Czech tricolor banners, but otherwise there is little activity. According to the Brno newspaper Rovnost (29 April, p. 6), "The Communists transformed this celebration of spring into a compulsory celebration of industrial success. This has caused many people to renounce the holiday until their deaths." Rovnost gives the following schedule of events, as you can see closely connected with the upcoming June elections:
- Communist Party: Cultural program, introduction of election candidates; 9.00-12.00 at Pisárecký park
- Young Conservatives: Transparency, anti-Communist flyers; 9.00-12.00 at Pisárecký park
- Czech-Moravian Chamber of Labor Associations: Cultural program, dance theater, historical fencing, music performance; 13.00-18.00 at castle Špilberk
- Social Democrat Party: Sightseeing voyage on a steamship [!!?], diving, the green Zekon country band, historical fencing; Brno reservoir, 13.00-17.00
Perhaps in a bit of light irony, the paper reports just a few pages later (p. 8) that Communist MEP Jiří Dolejš was beaten up last Wednesday night: "Unknown attackers fell upon him and, according to witnesses, beat him up for his Communist beliefs." The premier Jiří Paroubek (of the Social Democrat Party [ČSSD]), accused his main opposition, the Civic Democrats [ODS], of creating the atmosphere that fostered the attack: "This is the chosen atmosphere of intolerance, a direct cold war, which the ODS has unleashed. They are intensifying this lack of understanding and uncontrolled anti-Communism. This is primarily the work of the ODS, but also the media &mdash Mladá Fronta Dnes, Lidové noviny [two major Czech newspapers]." To put this in perspective, Paroubek's party has formed a sort of liason with the Czech Communist Party in order to gain a majority in parliament. This cooperation is slightly disturbing and makes for a very emotionally sensitive debate, as you can imagine. There is much more to this attack than a mere interparty dispute. (Read a response heard on Czech Radio for another perspective.)
What is there to celebrate? Well, the first of May marks the official entry of the Czech Republic into the EU. This was only two years ago, but of course the Czechs are not going to celebrate anything that hasn't yet yielded what they see as satisfactory results. The continuing strong economy, development funding, rising standard of living, are usually eclipsed by such things like rising prices, encroachment of "foreign" management, regulations against the old way of making goulash, or possible negative impacts on the Moravian wine industry. I'm celebrating by drinking tea from my low-quality Interspar mug that was on sale a month back for less than 10 crowns! It's the perfect accessory to any neo-capitalist breakfast set. If you hurry, there might still be a few in stock at your local Interspar.
The classic recognition of the first of May, however, is the Romantic poem Máj by Karel Hynek Mácha (1810-1836). The poem opens,
Byl pozdní večer &mdash první máj &mdash
večerní máj &mdash byl lásky čas.
Hrdliččin zval ku lásce hlas,
kde borový zaváněl háj.
Late evening &mdash first of May
Evening May &mdash it was Love time.
The turtle dove's voice raised to love
In a fragrant pinewood clearing.
Some consider Máj, published shortly before Mácha's death, to be the beginnings of modern Czech literature. It tells a story of passionate requited love, which involves the competition between a son and father for the same girl, and eventually ends in fratricide and the requisite (for Romantics anyway) drug-induced dreams. At the time some considered it immoral, but it is a fairly typical of Romanticism &mdash a lot of extreme emotions and bizarre natural occurences, along the lines of Byron or Berlioz. The rather violent nature of the poem seems well-suited to the pagan connotation of spring celebrations. Perhaps it is nice to know that now someone was just beaten up for their beliefs rather than shot in the back in the forest or dueled to death in a "historical fencing" match. (Sorry to give away the poem's denoument, but there is much more that happens along the way, of course, and the shooting is just the main event. In fact it turns out to be more about the "Mother land," or nation, than anything else in the end.)
A nicely presented version of the poem, with illustrations by Jan Zrzavý, is here. I can't endorse the English translation, but it seems to convey the poem's general idea. An essay on the poem's significance is here. And an article on the Mácha statue in Prague's Petřin park. Alex posts a picture of flowers at the statue's base.
Tags: Czech, May, spring, signs