Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Czech.Global

Czech.Global is a new social network sponsored by the Foreign Ministry.  The purpose is to reach out to the roughly 2,5 million people throughout the world who identify as Czech or have Czech roots.

It's still a work in progress but new content continues to be added.  

To check it out you can use my referral link here.

Currently there's a blog plus accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Friday, July 17, 2020

The European Council

The European Council, sometimes referred to as the EUCO, is not the same thing as the Council of the European Union

The European Council doesn't have any legislative power.  However, it sets the strategy and determines the overall priorities for the European Union.

The European Council is made up of the leaders of each member country.  For Czech Republic, it is Andrej Babiš, the Czech Prime Minister.

There are two additional members, the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council.  Neither of these two get a vote.

In 2019, Charles Michel, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, took over as President of the European Council.  Here's a short video of his acceptance speech that I found on YouTube.

©Council of the EU

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union is one of the EU's three legislative bodies.  It is also known as the Council or as the Council of Ministers, but the Council of the European Union isn't the same thing as the European Council.  And it's definitely not the same thing Council of Europe

The job of the Council of the European Union is to work with the European Parliament to amend, approve, or reject legislation proposed by the European Commission.  

So the European Parliament represents the EU citizens are are directly elected by people in each country.

The Council of the European Union represents the governments and national interests of each EU country while the European Commission represents the interests of the EU as a whole.

The Council of the European Union has 10 different configurations and the national ministers from each member country participate.  For example, the environmental ministers from each of the EU countries get together and sort out things in Environment configuration.  The ten configurations are:

  •  Agriculture and Fisheries
  • Competitiveness (which covers the internal EU market, industry, research & innovation, and space policy)
  • Economic and Financial Affairs
  • Education, Youth, Culture and Sport
  • Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs
  • Environment
  • Foreign Affairs
  • General Affairs (cross-cutting policy areas like EU enlargement, the EU 7 year budget plan, and COVID-19)
  • Justice and Home Affairs
  • Transport, Telecommunications and Energy
The Presidency of the Council rotates every six months.  On 1 July, Germany took over the presidency from Croatia.  In January 2021 the presidency moves to Portugal, followed by Slovenia and France.  In July 2022, Czechland gets the presidency again.  

The last time Czech Republic held the presidency was in 2009.

Here's a 5-minute video I found on YouTube that gives more information about the Council.

©Ciceroni

Update:  December 2020, the Czech Republic has a countdown clock until they take over the EU Presidency. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The European Parliament

The European Parliament is one of the EU's three legislative branches.   Together with the Council of the European Union, it adopts the laws proposed by the European Commission.  So the European Parliament can vote on legislation but it can not propose new legislation.

The European Parliament, after India, is the world's second-largest democratically elected body. 

There are 705 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) as determined by each country's population.  The minimum number of MEPs is six per country.  Germany has the Most MEPs with 96, followed by France with 79, Italy with 76, Spain with 59, and Poland with 52.  

Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, and Sweden, all have 21 MEPs each.

MEPs serve five-year terms and there are no term limits.

Here's a short 5,5 minute video I found out on YouTube that provides more information about the European Parliament.

©Ciceroni

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The European Commission

The European Commission, the EC, is the executive branch of the European Union.  The EC sits in Brussels and it is responsible for the day-to-day running of the EU.  The EC initiates new legislation as it alone has the power to propose laws for debate.  Another responsibility of the EC is to maintain that treaties are running efficiently and to police them.  Basically, the EC acts as the cabinet government for the EU.  The working languages of the EC are English, French, and German.

The commissioners are to think European as each must pledge to be independent of their home countries while acting in the general interest of the EU and not be subservient to independently from their home countries.  There are 27 commissioners, one from each of the EU member countries.  It was 28 until the UK left the EU following Brexit.  

The path to become a commissioner seems kind of complicated.  Candidates are proposed by the Council of the European Union, based on suggestions coming from the various national governments.  Once approved by the European Parliament then they are appointed by the European Council, which isn't the same thing as the Council of the European Union. 

Here's a five minute video I found on YouTube that explains the how the European Commission works.

©Ciceroni

In December 2019, Ursula von der Leyen became the first woman to hold the presidency of the EC.  She used to be the German Defence Minister and her term is for five years.  Here's a bit about her.

                                   ©France 24

The Czech member of the European Commission is Věra Jourová.  

She is one of seven vice-presidents and she is responsible for Values and Transparency.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

East Germany

Old DDR postcards

While at the local flea market in Friedrichshagen I came across some old East German postcards.  Here's a little about East Germany.

Officially it was the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the German Democratic Republic, or DDR for short.

Following WWII, the Soviet occupation zone in the east became eventually became a communist satellite state.  The DDR existed from 1949 until German reunification in 1990.

The DDR was bigger than Kentucky but a bit smaller than Tennessee.  It bordered the Baltic Sea, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.  East Berlin was the country's capital and the largest city followed by Leipzig and Dresden.  At the end, East Germany was home to over 16 million people. 

The DDR started out rough.  After the war, the Stalin demanded huge war reparations be paid from the occupation zone which further crippled the economy before it could even try to rebuild.  Over ⅓ of the area's industry was confiscated and sent back to the Soviet Union.  About $10 billion worth of agriculture and industrial products were paid out.

The communist government was ruled by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED).  The economy was centrally planned and everything was owned by the state.

The government heavily subsidised the price of housing, food, and other basic goods so things were affordable when you could get them.  There were often shortages of basic goods.  A Trabant cost a year's salary and you usually had to wait about 15 years.  The incredible thing was that East Germany had the strongest economy of the Iron Curtain countries.

Another challenge for the economy was the "brain drain" the country experienced as professionals and skilled workers fled to the west.  By 1961, about 20% of the population, some 3,5 million people, crossed over to West Germany.  This is why the government built the Berlin Wall, what they called the "Anti-Fascist Protection Wall" that split the city in two and preventing people from escaping. 

The Stasi was the secret police and they were ruthless.  Some 90.000 worked for the Stasi and roughly every one in seven people were informers.  After reunification people can see their Stasi file.  Claudia's dad never requested to see his file because he doesn't want to know which colleagues, friends or family members informed on him.  

  
©CNN

The DDR was a member of the Warsaw Pact.  There were 500 000 Soviet soldiers permanently stationed in the country.  Even after Germany reunified in 1990, the last Russian soldiers didn't leave until 1994 because there weren't enough facilities in Russia to house all of the returning troops.  So for the first part of the 90s, Germany had both NATO and Russian soldiers stationed there.

Sport was seen as a means of international legitimacy and validation of the communist system.  During the 70s and 80s the DDR was a powerhouse at European, world, and Olympic championships.  This was due in part to the state-sponsored doping programme that was later revealed.  Here's an interesting PBS programme that I found on YouTube that sheds light on what was going on.

©PBS

The Iron Curtain started to crack in 1989.  Hungary removed the electrified fence at the border with Austria so many East Germans went to Hungary in order to try to make their way on to West Germany.  Others went to the West German embassy in Prague in hopes of defecting to the west.

©JHEBox

The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989.  On 3 October 1990, the DDR was gone and it was reunified with Germany.  Berlin was reunified too and became the new capital.

Reunification hasn't always gone smoothly and there are still some challenges.  Eastern Germany is still the poorer part of the country.  Germans in the western part of the country are still paying a solidarity tax to the east.  

There does exist some Ostalgie which is nostalgia for the eastern times.  

©Berlin Project

At least the DDR gave us Ampelmännchen.  One of my favourite movies is the 2003 file Goodbye Lenin! which is a comedy about the fall of the DDR.

Here's a Deutsche Welle story on a Berlin restaurant that serves typical DDR food.  

©DW News

I definitely want to give it a shot the next time I'm back.  Hopefully for Christmas but I'll just have to wait to see what the COVID-19 situation will be like then.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Lübbenau, Germany

On Monday morning we headed out to Spreewald for the day.

Lübbenau is a town of just over 16.000 people about 82 km (51 miles) southeast of Berlin.  

Lübbenau dates back to at least 1315.  Though excavations have turned up evidence of settlements dating back to the 8th or 9th century.

It used to be part of the Kingdom of Bohemia from 1364 to 1635.

We started off with a guided boat tour of the canals on a traditional barge.

Since 1991 the Spreewald is a protected UNESCO biosphere Reserve and there are thousands of small waterways.

Along the way we stopped off to try the local pickles and lard on dark bread.

I swear that Spreewaldgurken are the best pickles in the world.  We made sure to pick up a few small buckets of pickles to take home for later.

The St. Nickolas church is in the middle of the old town.  The Protestant church built from 1738 - 1741.

Only at Spreewald can you find a pickle radler, a green pickle beer.  It wasn't terrible but I don't have a need to try another one.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Completing the List

With Claudia and Tünde in Berlin, and Natalie currently in Switzerland with the U.N., we're lucky if we can meet up once a year.  So it's amazing that from Christmas, to our weekend in Geneva, and this past week in Friedrichshagen we've gotten three visits in seven months.

After breakfast on Saturday morning Tünde made up a list of all of the things that had to do together.  What a to-do list it was.  Some of the things on the list were to do something together, jump on a trampoline, read stories, take a nap, make a volcano, go to the summer garden, write postcards, visit grandma and grandpa, go for sushi, and eat ice cream.  


We definitely over achieved on the ice cream.  But what are godparents for if they don't spoil you with lots of ice cream?




Natalie had never been to Spreewald before so on Monday we made a day of it there.  A boat ride along the canals, the world's best pickles and lard...what a great day.


We even got in a little beach time.  It's pretty cool that the beach area is where we went ice skating at in December.

On Tuesday we went over Rahnsdorf to help Claudia's parents with a major re-roofing project on the garden shed.  


They put us to work as day labourers with some of the cousins.  It felt so good to help out.  

Plus we did manage to complete everything on Tünde's list too.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Borders Are Open

The borders are open again.  Hallelujah!  Yesterday was my first trip in four months.  That's a long time for me.   

My train to Berlin was late but it was so nice to actually get on a train and go somewhere.  No masks were required in Czechland.

However, masks are required in Germany so I had to put one on once we crossed the border.

I made it to Friedrichshagen late last night.  Natalie arrived early this morning so yeah for some more godparent adventures with Tünde this week.

We had a big German breakfast complete with teddy bear salami.

Tünde is busy now coming up with a list of all of things we have to do together this week so I expect it to be a rather fun and busy week.

Friday, July 3, 2020

George Novak, RIP

George Novak was the Czech Honorary Consul General in Atlanta and he passed away last week at the age of 88.    

He was born Jiří Novák in 1931 in Brno and became known as George after he emigrated to the USA in 1968.  He narrowly escaped the 1968 invasion and managed to get his wife and son to Vienna.

Mr. Novak was appointed honorary consul in 1994.  He was a representative of the Czech Olympic committe for the 1996 Olympics and helped get support from Georgia legislators for the Czech Republic to join NATO in 1999.

Over the years he helped several Czech manufacturing companies break in to the U.S. market.

His role was upgraded to honorary consul general in 2003.  He was a founder of the Czech School of Atlanta in 2013.  Czech President Miloš Zeman awarded him the Medal of Merit, First Class, in 2014.

Back in 2012 he led a delegation of Georgia officials and businessmen to Brno.  Here's a video I found out on YouTube where he talks about the trip and describes Brno as the Czech Silicon Valley.

©Global Atlanta

Thursday, July 2, 2020

No More Masks...Sort Of

As of yesterday face masks are no longer required even on public transportation and in public buildings.  Face masks are still required in hospitals and medical facilities.  Prague still requires masks on the metro.

As far as restrictions go, all pubs and restaurants have to close by 11 pm.  The maximum number of people at public events is 100.

While things are getting better here in Czechland I'm worried about bad things are getting in the USA.  Especially in Arizona where my parents live.  Arizona isn't mandating masks but my parents are wearing them.  Thank goodness.  Yesterday there were 4,753 new COVID-19 cases in Arizona which has a population of 7 million.  That's more than the entire EU which has a population of 446 million. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

11 Years in Czechland

Today is officially 11 years in Czechland.  It was hard enough to believe that last year was a decade here.  Now it's a decade plus one.

I grew up in California so deep down I'll always be a Cali boy.  When people ask me where I'm from in the USA I say Atlanta.  I lived in Atlanta for 13 years.  So what happens in a couple of years when I've lived in Brno for as long as I lived in Atlanta?  

The plan was to submit my application for Czech citizenship which meant that I would get it in 2021.  Now that my exams have been postponed to December 2020 I probably won't get to become Czech until the end of 2021...if I'm lucky.