Tuesday, November 30, 2021

No Christmas Markets in 2021

Christmas markets around the country should have opened up this past weekend.  However, that didn't happen.  Due to the increase in the number of Covid cases the government announced restrictions on Friday.  

Christmas markets are closed.  Restaurants close at 10 pm, and events are limited to a maximum of 100 people.  There's also a ban on consuming alcohol in public spaces.  So just like last year, I'm going to miss out on my favourite vánoční punč.

The only exception is that vendors can sell saplings and carp.

The Brno markets looks like Christmas market ghost towns.

It doesn't exactly make a lot of sense that the outdoor markets are cancelled but department stores and shopping centres can remain open.

The Czech online grocery delivery service Rohlik has offered to help small and medium-sized vendors to sell their goods online.  

It's not just Czechland that is shutting things down.  In Germany, the sate of Saxony, which borders Czech Republic has closed clubs, bars, cultural and sports facilities, in addition to Christmas markets.

Christmas markets are cancelled in Bratislava too.

A couple of weeks ago Austria went into a national lockdown.  The country is completely closed to tourists.

Monday, November 29, 2021

A New Prime Minister

As of yesterday, Czech Republic has a new prime minister.  Petr Fiala, the chairman of the Civic Democratic Party and head of the SPOLU alliance, was appointed as the new prime minister by President Miloš Zeman.

The new prime minister is a Brňák meaning that he's from Brno.  The country's first prime minister from Brno.  He was born here.  He studied history and Czech language at Masaryk University and in 2002 he became the country's first professor of political science.  In 2004 he was the dean of Masaryk's Faculty of Social Studies and became head of the entire university.  

In 2012 he was the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports.  In 2013 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies and in 2014 he became chairman of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS).


SPOLU, the Together coalition, is made of the Civic Democratic Party, the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and TOP 09.  SPOLU won the recent general election with the ANO party coming in second followed in third place by an alliance between the Pirate party and the Mayors and Independents party (STAN).  In fourth place was the Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) which is anti-EU.  SPOLU took 108 of the 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.  No other party gained enough votes to earn a seat which is why the Communist party is out.

SPOLU signed an agreement with the Pirate and STAN alliance to create a new majority government with Petr Fiala as the leader.  


Premiér, or ministerský předseda, is the prime minister who is the head of the government of the Czech Republic.  The prime minister is the most powerful office as they lead the executive branch of government, chairs the cabinet and selects the cabinet ministers.  

The Czech President selects the prime minister whose term is four years and there are no terms limits.  Well, sort of.  Czechland is a parliamentary democracy so the prime minister and their government are accountable to the Chamber of Deputies.  The prime minister is usually the leader of the largest political party, or a coalition, in the Chamber of Deputies.  So it's pretty straight forward who the president will select as prime minister.    

The Czech Constitution states that the prime minister was gain and maintain the confidence of Parliament. As soon as the prime minister looses the the support of the majority of the Chamber of Deputies, the prime minister is forced to resign and the president must select a new prime minister.  So there's no guarantee that a prime minister's term will last the full four years.

The Czech president is the country's head of state, represents the country internationally and is commander-in-chief of the military.  As the prime minister runs the executive government, the president's role is mostly ceremonial.  The president is responsible for appointing the prime minister but it's pretty straight forward that the PM is the leader of the largest party, or the largest coalition, in the Chamber of Deputies.  However the president is responsible to appoint members of the Czech National Bank and to nominate justices to the Constitutional Court, but this is subject to Senate approval.  In Czechland, "professor" is the highest academic degree and the title is appointed by the president, but countersigned by the prime minister.

The Czech Statistical Office reported that more than 65% of eligible voters participated in the election about seven weeks ago.  This is the highest turnout in a legislative election since 1998.

The now former prime minister was Andrej Babiš and he held the role from 2017 to now.  Prior to that, from 2014 to 2017, he was the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.

He entered politics 2012 by forming his own political party - ANO 2011.  "ANO" stands for Akce nespokojených občanů, the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens.  "Ano" is also the Czech word for "yes".  

Andrej Babiš is from Slovakia.  He moved to Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution.  He was a businessman prior to entering politics and is the second richest man in Czechland.

He is the oldest and wealthiest person to ever become prime minister.  He was the country's first prime minister to not be from the ODS or ČSSD parties.  He was the first prime minister who was born outside of the Czech Republic.  He is the first to hold dual citizenship and the first whose native language isn't Czech.

He has Czech and Slovak dual citizenship.  One of the things that came out of the Velvet Divorce was that anyone who was a citizen of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic on 31 December 1992, could chose if they wanted to be a citizen of either the new Czech Republic or the new Slovak Republic.  This is called "declaration".  In 2000, he obtained Czech citizenship by declaration, but he maintained his Slovak citizenship by descent as his parents are Slovak citizens.

This is still something that's odd to me.  In the U.S., you can't be President unless you were born a citizen, and you can't hold dual citizenship either.  The best case of this is probably Madeline Albright when she was Secretary of State.  In the US, the order of succession for the President is (1) the Vice-President, then (2) the Speaker of the House, (3) the President pro tempore of the Senate, followed by (4) the Secretary of State.  Since Madeline Albright wasn't born a U.S. citizen she was not eligible to become a presidential successor.

Babiš is Slovak, with Czech citizenship.  In my head I just can't understand how you can be the leader of a country when you weren't born a citizen.  Or how do you ensure that the leader is working in the best interest of the country when he holds citizenship, and loyalty, to another country?  But that's just one of the differences between the Czech and American systems.

One of the many controversies about him was that during the 1980s, he was an StB agent.  Documents at the National Memory Institute in Slovakia show that Babiš collaborated with the StB under the code name agent Bureš.

He was accused of illegally obtaining €2 million of EU subsidies designed for small businesses by concealing his ownership of a company that received funds.

On 16 November 2019, the Million Moments for Democracy protest group held a protest demonstration against Babiš that was attended by over 250,000 people which was the largest protest since the Velvet Revolution.

The national debt in 2020 was 367,4 billion Kč (over $15 billion) which is the largest in the country's history.  In spite of all of the controversies around Babíš he's still leaving with a 30% approval rating.

The new prime minister has promised to reform and stabilise the growing national debt.

In July 2022, the Czech Republic will assume the 6-month Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

First Day of Advent & Hanukkah

Today is both the first day of Advent and the first day of Hanukkah.  Czechland is often described as one of the world's most atheistic countries.  I'm not hundred percent sure on the numbers but it's something like 75-80% of Czechs don't declare a religious faith in surveys or the census.  As far as atheism goes, Czechs are third in the world at 30%, behind China and Japan.  

Religion just isn't a big part of daily life here.  It's definitely not like in Poland where some 88% of the country identifies as Roman Catholic and the church is very much a part of the national identity.

Advent marks the countdown to Christmas.  It begins four Sundays before 25 December.  In most of Central Europe, Christmas is 24 December followed by the second day of Christmas and St. Stephen's Day.

Two different ways of counting down to Christmas are Advent wreaths and Advent calendars.  For the wreath, you light a new candle each of the four Sundays prior to Christmas.  This is what I'm doing this year because I won't put up a Christmas tree since I'll spend Christmas in Berlin again this year.

For kids, and many adults, Advent calendars are more fun.  Every day of December you eat a piece of chocolate.  I still send Advent calendars to my niece and nephew in California each year.

Claudia does her own version of an Advent calendar with Tünde.  Each day in December, Tünde unwraps a book.  Some are new books and some are Christmas themed books that are reused each year.

Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the recovery of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Second Temple.  Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days and candles are lit on a menorah.

It's not that uncommon in California for there to be mixed families where some member are Christian and some are Jewish so both holidays are celebrated.  Sometimes it's called Christmakkah or Hanumas.  This year Hanukkah began today at sundown.  

Happy Hanukkah and Happy First Advent Sunday!

13th Annual Czechsgiving

Yesterday was the 13th annual Brno Czechsgiving fiesta.  It was so good to see everyone.

I was happy with the turkey.  I tried a slightly different recipe this year.  Thanks Gordon Ramsay!

We had so much food but that's normal for Thanksgiving.  Fortunately I had my little sous-chef who helped me last night night with some of the casseroles.    

It still amazes me how much this event has changed from the very first one 13 years ago.  Pretty soon all of the kids will outnumber the adults.  

Way too much food and a flat full of people.  

This is the Thanksgiving that I missed last year due to the Covid restrictions and the state of emergency.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Pre-Czechsgiving Preparations

Well it's going to be a white Thanksgiving tomorrow because today we had our first snow. I'm really forward to tomorrow's 13th annual Czechsgiving.  Especially since last year's dinner was done over Skype.

I picked up the turkey today.  This year's bird is 11,4 kg (25 lbs).  With this turkey, and everything else, we're going to have enough food to feed an army.  Which sounds about right because I'm expecting around 40 people through the day tomorrow.

Claudia and Tünde arrived from Friedrichshagen late this evening but I quickly put them both to work in the kitchen.  Claudia made her pumpkin soup which will slowly simmer overnight and Tünde became my little sous-chef helping me prep casseroles.

I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow.  But now I need to try to get some sleep.  Tomorrow will be a long day and I need to get up in about five hours to prep the turkey and get it in the oven.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021


When I first moved here I made a comment at work that I was going to get so fat here with this being the land of beer and potatoes.  A friend sniped back with, "but I thought that all Americans were already fat."  Well not quite right but not wrong either.

In 2016, the World Health Organisation put the USA's obesity rate at 33,8%.  Czech Republic was 24,2%.  Czechs have been getting bigger.

In 2019, the five EU countries with the highest percentage of obesity were Croatia, Malta, Czechland, Hungary, and Slovakia.  France has the lowest obesity levels in the EU, followed by the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, and Sweden.  Czechs were had the 3rd highest levels of obscenity in the EU.

Here's where I think that Nutri-Score would be a good thing.  Nutri-Score is a "traffic light system" that ranks food products on a scale from A to E, where A is the best and E is the worst, and it is clearly visible of the front of the food's packaging.  

Food products get a lower rating if there is:

  • high energy density per 100 g or per 100 ml
  • high sugar content
  • high content of saturated fatty acids
  • high salt content.
There's a higher rating when:
  • contains fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes
  • contains fiber
  • contains protein
  • contains rapeseed, walnut and olive oil
Nutri-Score was founded in France in 2013 and in 2017 the French Health Ministry officially recommended it.  Since then it has rolled out in Belgium, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.  The system has been recommended by the European Commission and the World Health Organization.

So far it's not mandatory across the EU but I'm sure that it will be eventually.  Some companies such as Nestlé and Danone have announced that they will start using Nutri-Score in Portugal, Slovenia, and Austria even though it's not required in those countries.  

Not all countries are onboard with the system.  Poland, Czechland, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, and Romania all oppose it.  Italy believes that the system puts the traditional Mediterranean diet at a disadvantage.  

The Czech Ministry of Agriculture isn't in favour of the system but it will tolerate international labels with Nutri-Score.  The ministry is not in favour of a mandatory front-of-package label and believes that the Nutri-Score formula is too simplistic because it doesn't consider the size of a portion or how food is prepared. 

Nestlé will start using Nutri-Score in Czechland in 2023.  

Here's an interesting video I found out on YouTube where CNN talks about some of the differences between the US and Czech health care systems.  Not exactly Nutri-Score or Obesity related but still kind of fitting.  While the video is at least 12 years old already it's still pretty accurate.


Update:  August 2022.  Here's a short TV commercial for Nestle that shows the Nutri-Score label.

©Nestlé Cereálie CZ

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Czech and Slovak Federative Republic

Today is 17 November and it is a public holiday here, the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day, to commemorate the start of the Velvet Revolution that eventually brought down the communist government.

After the Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia actually became the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic but this didn't last long and then the Velvet Divorce resulted in independent Czech and Slovak Republics.  Here's a bit of a history recap...

Following the end of WWI, and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovakia declared independence in 1918.  The First Republic lasted from 1918 to 1938.  In 1920, the country's official name was changed to the Czechoslovak Republic (ČSR).

The First Republic ended when Nazi Germany occupied the Sudetenland.  What was left of Czechoslovakia became the Second Republic but that only lasted from 30 September 1938 to 15 March 1939 when Hitler invaded what was left of the country.  The western part became the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia while Slovakia broke off as an "independent" Nazi puppet state.

At the end of the war, Czechoslovakia was again an independent country.  The Third Czechoslovak Republic lasted from 1945 until the 1948 communist coup.

In 1960, the communists changed the name of the country to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR).  After the Velvet Revolution, President Havel said that "socialist" would be dropped from the country's name.  So the country should have again been called the Czechoslovak Republic again, right?  Well some Slovak politicians argued that the name did not reflect Slovakia's equal status in the federal state.   

In April 1990, the country officially became the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (ČSFR).  The ČSFR existed from 23 April 1990 until 31 December 1992.  This is when the Velvet Divorce took effect and on 1 January 1993, and we had the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

Here's a short animated video I found out on YouTube that gives some good insight in to the breakup of Czechoslovakia.

©History Matters

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

New Moravian Holocaust Documentation Centre

Brno is going to get a new Moravian Holocaust Documentation Centre. The governor of South Moravia approved the project for the centre to be built in Brno which will serve as a reminder of the Holocaust and promote Jewish culture among young people.  There has been a Jewish community in South Moravia since the 12th century.

The centre is to be built across of the Grand Hotel, near the main train station.  The facilities should include a conference and projection room, a gallery for temporary exhibitions, a library, and a children's educational centre.  There are some world-class architectural firms that are bidding for this project.

I have no idea of how much this is projected to cost but I'm sure it will be in the millions of Crowns.  An endowment fund was established back in February 2020.

The logo is based on the triangles used in Nazi concentration camps as badges to classify prisoners.  The triangle has been "smashed" into the shape of a dove as a symbol of freedom with the hope that this will never happen again.

I'm already looking forward to this centre and they haven't even picked an architect yet.

Update March 2022:  The name of the place has already been changed.  It is now going to be MEHRIN Moravian Jewish Museum.  "Mehrin" is the historical name for Moravia in Hebrew, מעהרין, and is also based on the German word for Moravia which is Mähren.  I'm still looking forward to the grand opening and the architect still hasn't been chosen.  I think it should be announced sometime in May or June 2022.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Mezipatra 2021

Mezipatra is an annual gay film festival that takes place every November in Prague and Brno.  There are usually additional events such as lectures, art exhibits, theatre performances and parties that take place in Prague and Brno, as well as in other cities like Ostrava and Olomouc.

The festival first started in Brno back in 2000 and in 2002 it started using the name "Mezipatra" and expanded to Prague.

Mezipatra is also part of the coalition of non-profit organisations that makes up Jsme fér, that campaigns same-sex marriage here in Czechland.

This year is the 22nd year and the theme is Oslava života (Celebrate Life).  Last night was the kick off of the week long festival and I went with Aleš and Vašek.  We followed that up with a bit of dancing at a club afterwards.  I can't remember the last time I went out dancing but it was a lot of fun hanging out with the lads.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

No More eRouška

As of Monday, 1 November, the eRouška app was suspended.  According to the website the application sent more than 400.000 notifications to people who had potentially come into contact with Covid-19.  

The app was able to sync up with equivalent applications in Europe which allowed monitoring for Czechs abroad, and for foreigners here in Czechland.

There are, or rather there were, about 1,7 million people using the app.  I don't know why the app is shutting down.  Cases of Covid have gone down but it's not like it's over.  I liked the app and it was easy to use.