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January 20 2014

European Citizens Call for the Protection of Media Pluralism

For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and 'like' the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

Website: MediaInitiative.eu. For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and ‘like’ the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.

The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative - a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:

Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.

A short video presents the campaign:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

November 24 2013

Czech Crime Boss Claims South African Police “Tortured” Him

Radovan Krejcir, an alleged Czech crime boss living in South Africa, was arrested on Friday, November 22, 2013, in Johannesburg on charges of kidnapping and attempted murder, although there are rumors on social media that other charges, such as money laundering and conspiracy, will be added to the list.

Krejcir, who has been a hot topic on social networks since his arrest on Friday, was already charged by Czech authorities, where he was sentenced to 11 years in prison in absentia for money laundering. He fled to South Africa before trial and is still wanted in the Czech Republic for several crimes, including tax fraud. South African authorities have been planning to have him extradited to the Czech Republic.

Krejcir is now claiming that he was tortured and treated cruelly by South African police since he has been in their custody. Many on social media are calling the case a disgrace and Krejcir “an embarrassment” to the country, asking that he be deported immediately. Twitter user Nqaba Ndlovu living in Nelspruit, South Africa, says:

October 07 2013

Czech Republic: Anti-Roma Riots and Attacks on the Rise

Anti-Roma demonstration, neo-Nazi`s alongside regular inhabitants of the area; photo by Romedia Foundation.

Anti-Roma demonstration, neo-Nazi`s alongside regular inhabitants of the area; photo by Romedia Foundation.

The Romedia Foundation, a Romani non-governmental organization based in Budapest, wrote about anti-Roma demonstrations and rising attacks on the Roma population in recent months in the Czech Republic.

(more…)

June 20 2013

Czech PM Resigns Amid Sex Scandal

What Australian website Crikey calls “a sensational scandal involving sex, gold and espionage” brings down the current Czech government and it seems early elections can be expected in this Central European republic:
(more…)

January 24 2013

Parallels Between Religious and Copyright Wars

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of Pirate Party, reinterprets the wars of religion that devastated Western Europe in the XVI and XVII centuries in terms of the current struggle to control information through overbearing legislation related to copyright and freedom of expression:

The religious wars were never about religion as such. They were about who held the power of interpretation, about who controlled the knowledge and culture available to the masses. It was a war of gatekeepers of information.

January 15 2013

Přednádraží Still Stands: Czech Roma Community Resists Evictions

In August 2012, the Ostrava City Hall issued a 24-hour eviction order to the owner of the 11 buildings at Přednádraží, asking him to evict all of the residents, giving as a reason an unsafe condition of the buildings, primarily due to broken sewage lines. Three lawsuits have been filed between the various departments of the Ostrava City Hall to establish responsibility for fixing the sewage lines, but in the meantime, the residents have to bear the consequences of this neglect (earlier GV coverage of the case - here and here).

“We Won't Give Up!” (August 2012). Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

Approximately 100 families, supported by local activists, refused to move out. Many simply did not have anywhere else to go; some have been living there for over 30 years. Now, five months later, twelve families still remain at Přednádraží, including six children. Everyone, except for one couple, moved to Building #8, which has become the focus of community efforts.

Building 8 at Přednádraží. Photo by Daniel Arauz, used with permission.

The Building Works Authority outlined a list of repairs necessary to make in order for it to consider the Přednádraží buildings inhabitable, and the owner, Mr. Roztočil, agreed that the residents could make the required repairs to Building #8 themselves. Since the owner has no funds available, the community relies on the funds raised by local activists. So far, the roof has been fixed, the basements have been cleared, and the chimneys will be next.

Jan Bandy, Community Organizer at Přednádraží. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

Přednádraží Repairs Plan. Photo: Daniela Kantorova

Přednádraží Repairs Plan. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

All this is happening in harsh conditions: water supply still comes from a single tap, and electricity is officially supplied to only one apartment. One couple also still remains in Building #17, where it has a supply of electricity, but no running water. They are ethnic Czechs, who have not been able to move elsewhere. Both with chronic health problems, they are scrambling to pay for their medications each month. However, the community is determined to continue with repairs.

Building #17 at Přednádraží. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

Although the number of families at Přednádraží has diminished and most buildings have fallen prey to gangs of looters looking for scrap metal and construction materials, largely ignored by the police, some residents who had previously moved out expressed an interest in coming back. Many families that left Přednádraží did not have any other option but move to overpriced hostels. They have been facing dire conditions in the hostels: overcrowding, an epidemic of dysentery [en] that broke out in the fall, and even pressure to stop speaking out under the threat of eviction from the hostels themselves.

Přednádraží after looting. Photo by Daniel Arauz, used with permission.

There are allegations of a connection between city officials and hostel owners who receive public funding to run the hostels. However, hostels are anything but a cheap housing alternative. For instance, a hostel at Cihelní Street in Ostrava [cs] charges 80 CZK per person per night for long-term stay if four or more people are staying in a single room with shared facilities. For a six-member family this would translate into 14,400 CZK a month (740 USD), which is unaffordable for most, as the Czech average monthly salary (cs) is approximately 24,500 CZK (1,265 USD).

It has been extremely difficult for the people of Přednádraží to find alternative housing due to the lack of low cost housing in Ostrava, and exorbitantly high rental deposits charged to the Roma by private landlords. Moreover, many residents of Přednádraží are unemployed.

Building #17 at Přednádraží. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

The Roma get frequently blamed for their unemployment, but the reasons for this, other than the outright discrimination on the side of employers, are rooted in the historical oppression of the Roma in Europe. For instance, the Czech Republic has a decades-long history of segregation in education [en] that was practiced during the years of the communist dictatorship and continues still. There was a common practice of sending all Roma children to separate Special Education schools for children with cognitive impairments, without any psychological assessment that would demonstrate such impairments.

In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in the case brought against the Czech Republic by Roma citizens [en] to condemn this practice. In November 2012, the Roma of Ostrava organized a march [en] on the anniversary of this decision. This march was the first reported action organized independently by the Roma activists without any government or NGO support.

Despite the decision of the European Court, however, and despite the fact that the city of Ostrava, for instance, started its EU-sponsored program of “social inclusion” [cs] in February 2012, the discrimination of the Roma children in schools continues, according to a report published by the Czech branch of Amnesty International [en] in November 2012.

The Czech government has also been lagging in its follow-through on the situation at Přednádraží. Although a report was produced by the office of the ombudsman, whose advisors visited Přednádraží in the summer, this report still remains to be published. The people of Přednádraží have yet to see a sign of goodwill from the authorities, a sign that is many years overdue. Meantime, they continue fighting for their basic human right for a home, despite threats, poverty, and harsh living conditions.

November 15 2012

Czech Kids' Anti-Roma Attitudes Not Discouraged

Jeremy Druker of TOL's East of Center writes about anti-Roma attitudes among school students in the Czech city of Jihlava:

[…] These kids obviously get their opinions from their parents, teachers, and fellow students; they can freely read as much racist propaganda online as they want […]; they hear about or personally experience some bad incidents […]; and too few people are telling them not to generalize about the entire race. […]

October 12 2012

Czech Republic: Přednádraží Struggle Continues

Přednádraží is a street in Ostrava with eleven brick buildings on it, inhabited mostly by Roma families, members of the largest Czech ethnic minority. Since August 2012, it has been a site of an intense struggle against forced evictions imposed on the owner of the houses and the residents by the Ostrava City Council, allegedly due to dilapidation of the houses and particularly due to broken sewage lines.

The Ostrava City Council let the sewage system at Přednádraží dilapidate to its current state of dysfunction during more than ten years of neglect, until August, when it decided to “solve” the problem by evicting the residents and blaming the devastation largely on them and on the owner of the buildings. For most residents, evictions mean displacement and a threat of homelessness, since the authorities did not offer any alternative low cost housing, recommending that the residents move to overcrowded and overpriced hostels. In what is a historical step in the struggle for Roma civil rights, the residents and the owner of the buildings have joined forces with Czech activists and collectively resisted the pressure from the state institutions.

Přednádraží has suffered several severe blows over the last month, however.

While approximately 50 people still remain at the site, in a building that is known as “Number 8,” they are facing the ever-increasing pressure from the institutions as well as physical hardships, with the electricity cut off and their entire water supply available from a single tap, as winter approaches.

On Sep. 20, Romea News reported that Vzájemné soužití [cs], a non-profit advocacy and social work organization focused on Roma rights, run by Kumar Vishwanathan, who has been actively involved in supporting the struggle for Přednádraží, has been evicted from their offices [cs], rented to them by the Ostrava City Council. Vzájemné soužití has not received any rationale for this eviction, and is considering legal action.

On Sep. 25, Czech activist Jakub Polák [en], an outspoken supporter of Přednádraží, heavily involved in the Roma civil rights struggle since the Velvet Revolution, died of cancer. His friends organized an anti-funeral march in his honor in Prague, carrying large banners that said “The Struggle Continues” in Czech and Romani. The event became a beautiful expression of the Czech-Roma solidarity and was attended by a number of Roma rights activists and community representatives.

The Anti-Funeral of Jakub Polák: The Struggle Continues. Photo by Saša Uhlová, used with permission.

Only two days after the news of the death of Jakub Polák, on Sep. 27, Romea News reported [cs] that the owner of the houses at Přednádraží, Oldřich Roztočil, who had stood by the tenants, attempted to commit a suicide. Mr. Roztočil has been the subject of constant harassment by the authorities since his refusal to comply with the evictions order. The Building Works Authority of the City Hall issued him a fine of 30,000 CZK [cs], ordered him to make numerous repairs on the buildings (rendered meaningless by the unresolved sewage situation), and finally ordered him to demolish one of the houses in an impossible two-week deadline since the order, which would have cost him 28 million CZK. Mr. Roztočil is currently in a stable condition physically and is recovering.

Oldřich Roztočil debriefing with Přednádraží community representatives and activists. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

Most recently, the Building Works Authority of Ostrava has started sealing off individual houses at Přednádraží [en] and barring entry of the residents. All residents have moved into the building “Number 8,” and they are planning to stay there whilst they search for funds to make necessary repairs to the building and its sewage system. The residents face continued pressure from the social services agency that is threatening with taking away their children. They also have a reason to fear for personal safety, as the remaining abandoned houses have become target for looting, particularly of any metal parts that can be sold. This type of looting renders the abandoned houses less secure and further increases any future costs of repairs; however, the Ostrava police have not acted to protect the location.

Building 8 at Přednádraží. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

While the pressure keeps rising, alliances also keep growing.

A new civic group, SOS Přednádraží [cs, en] has started a petition that has at this point 277 signatories, mostly individuals, but also a couple of organizations and groups, including the Czech Helsinki Committee [en] and a hip-hop duo Čokovoko.

At the first ever Roma Pride [en] march in Prague on Oct. 7, members of SOS Přednádraží read a statement in support of Přednádraží. Several activists from Prague have moved to Přednádraží to help guard the houses. Martin Škabraha [cs], the spokesperson of the civil liberties organization ProAlt [en] and a professor of philosophy at the Ostrava University, is planning a public debate about Přednádraží at the university.

Currently at Přednádraží, despite all the painful losses, there is a sense of hope, and as the alliances grow, the authorities do not realize one thing: the absurdity of their actions is becoming clear to a growing circle of the public, which, in a long run, means more support for the Roma civil rights movement.

September 28 2012

Czech Republic: Roma Resist Evictions in Ostrava

Přednádraží, a small neighborhood in Ostrava, has been the site of an intense struggle against unlawful evictions of the predominantly Roma residents this summer. For the Czech Republic, this case is unique and historically significant.

The Roma community has been a subject of constant push towards social exclusion and dispossession, and the case of evictions at Přednádraží is, sadly, another spectacular example of this trend. The Roma are collectively blamed for their “nomadic lifestyle,” “lack of roots,” and “refusal to adopt to the mainstream culture.” The residents of Přednádraží decided to stand up both against the unlawful evictions and against these stereotypes.

Přednádraží children holding posters that read: "The media are censoring our reality! Tell the truth!" Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

Přednádraží children holding posters that read: “The media are censoring our reality! Tell the truth!” Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

Whilst the situation attracted the attention of the mass media during the summer, which was relatively uneventful politically, the context of historical oppression, within which the struggle has unfolded, went largely ignored. An independent news portal Romea.cz, which focuses on the life of the Roma community and their struggle for civil rights, has consistently reported on the events [cs] in detail – and from a more socially-just perspective.

History

Built in 1902, Přednádraží is a group of eleven brick apartment buildings, located in a formerly Jewish neighborhood. There are unconfirmed claims that residents of these houses were the first to be transferred to the concentration camp in Nisko, Poland, in 1939.

The Czech media call Přednádraží a ghetto, without pausing to reflect what this word means and how it might relate to history. Přednádraží, which in literal translation means “in front of the train station,” is in fact located behind the Main Train Station of Ostrava, the same train station in front of which stands the modest memorial to Ostrava’s Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Thousands of the Czech Roma perished in the Holocaust, but this memorial does not include them.

The buildings of Přednádraží are located on a triangular island, with a highway on one side, a railway depot on the other, and a plot of industrial, fenced-off land on the third, giving a sense of isolation, of being pushed into a corner. Přednádraží is difficult to access: a single bus goes there, at rare intervals, and taxi drivers tend to refuse to drive all the way into its single paved street.

The area also lacks social infrastructure. In the city that opened a brand new 14-acre mall six months ago just 4 miles away, the neighborhood adjacent to Přednádraží has only two small corner shops carrying basic (and not always fresh) food items, and a pub that, according to its manager, doubles as a community room because people have nowhere else to go. Although many children live in this neighborhood, there is no playground or any other facilities available to them.

Residents of Přednádraží and activists get ready for an anticipated raid. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

Residents of Přednádraží and activists get ready for an anticipated raid. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

Home for how long?

Despite the isolated nature of the neighborhood, its residents consider it their home, but the danger is that it may not be their home for much longer.

In early August, the Building Works Authority of Ostrava’s City Hall declared the houses at Přednádraží uninhabitable, citing broken sewage lines as a reason, and ordered the owner of the houses, Oldřich Roztočil, to evict all of the tenants within 24 hours. Ostrava is notorious for its lack of low cost housing, and the city hall did not offer any alternatives, other than recommending that the residents move to overpriced and overcrowded hostels.

Mr. Roztočil has decided to support his tenants, and so far has resisted the eviction order handed by the City Hall. Approximately 140 people refused to leave the houses, in which many have been living for 30-40 years. They joined forces with non-Roma activists, which is also a major step in the history of the struggle for Roma rights, as the majority of ethnic Czechs want to have nothing to do with the Roma.

The pressure from the authorities has been steadily increasing since the beginning of August, which is somewhat ironic, as the underlying reason for the evictions are the broken sewage lines. However, the sewage lines were first damaged during the floods of 1997, and their condition has declined significantly over the past two years.

As is characteristic for the mainstream narrative that tends to blame the Roma for problems that have been caused by discriminatory practices of the negligent authorities, the residents of Přednádraží have been blamed for the broken sewage lines; all this while there are at least three lawsuits taking place among the various City Hall departments in order to establish the ownership – and thus responsibility for maintenance.

A question needs to be asked: why this sudden rush to evict the residents - instead of fixing the sewage? One possible explanation is that a private college was about to be opened in the neighboring street in September, and it is likely that the area has become a target for developers. It would not be the first time that Roma people were pushed out from their homes due to forces of gentrification. In the past ten years, the Roma were forced out of a downtown area that was later developed as a sort of a party destination – on a few blocks, it features over a hundred pubs and bars.

The idea of “moving the Roma out” is often proposed by regular Czech citizens as their desired solution of the “Roma problem.” In 2006, two years after the Czech Republic’s entry into the European Union, after Canada abolished the visa requirement for the Czech citizens, representatives of Ostrava’s district Marianské Hory came up with an unbelievable scheme: they were going to encourage the Roma residents of their district to move to Canada and offer a financial contribution for their flight tickets.

In the case of Přednádraží, the authorities did not offer any assistance whatsoever. In one of the first moves, Ostrava Water Company (OVAK) switched off the water supply for all the houses, allegedly due to outstanding water bills. For three weeks, the location received its water from an expensive cistern delivered by the very same water company that switched off the water supply. It took three weeks of negotiations to restore the water supply from a single water tap to be shared by all the residents.

Next, families started experiencing difficulties receiving their social benefits. Social security workers explained to them that since they have no water supply, they are not likely to cook or wash clothes, and that without permanent housing they cannot receive housing benefits. A couple weeks after the water supply was restored into one shared tap, the authorities ordered electricity to be shut off.

The children of Přednádraží. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

The children of Přednádraží. Photo by Daniela Kantorova.

Since the end of August, the city social workers have been visiting Přednádraží and threatening families with taking away their children if they do not move to the hostels immediately. All this adds up to immense psychological pressure without any concern for the well-being of the families. With no housing prospects except of unaffordable and inadequate hostels, people are naturally afraid of homelessness and having their children taken away from them.

Alliances form

In the face of all of this pressure, alliances have started forming.

The struggle has been continuously supported by the Czech-Indian Roma rights activist Kumar Vishwanathan, whose organization, Vzájemné soužití (”Living Together”; @vzajemnesouziti [cs, en] on Twitter), works on advocacy and runs social programs for the Roma community. An interview with Kumar Vishwanathan [cs] about the situation was recently published by Nový prostor, a non-profit publication benefiting the homeless.

A small number of activists from Ostrava’s chapter of a recently formed civil liberties organization ProAlt (on Facebook - here), as well as a few anti-racism activists from Prague, showed solidarity and offered help. ProAlt’s spokesperson Martin Škabraha has written extensively about the situation, and in his most recent analysis [cs] called the situation a manufactured disaster, citing the negligence of authorities, as well as the apathy of the majority population, as factors that created this crisis.

A statement of support has been issued by Milan Šimáček, the director of the governmental agency for Social Inclusion. Additionally, the European Commission has sent a letter to the Ostrava mayor, Petr Kajnar, requesting resolution of the situation.

The Czech branch of Amnesty International has also issued a statement [cs] about the situation.

All of these voices, however, have not been sufficient to get Ostrava’s district and city council to do something that would actually help Přednádraží. At this point, the situation is tense, as the families face an ultimatum from Ostrava’s social security office: either they move to the hostels, or their children will be taken away.

It is important to show solidarity with Přednádraží. If these efforts succeed, it will serve as a precedent, as an example that it is indeed possible to have roots, that it is possible to peacefully stand up against oppression enforced by institutions that have it in their job description to serve the citizens – a job in which the institutions have been failing.

August 10 2012

A David Cerny sculpture walk in Prague

Cerny's exercising bus sculpture may have delighted Londoners during the Olympics, but in his native Prague lurk many far wittier, more subversive creations. Discover them on this unusual tour of the Czech capital

Double-decker buses typically provoke an irksome reaction in Londoners. Crowded, late and plagued with chewing gum-abandoning teens, they are rarely the subject of mirth. However, David Cerny's "London Booster" sculpture – a 1957 Routemaster which does push-ups while groaning – has raised a big, transport-related smile from the capital's commuters during the Olympics.

Situated outside the Czech HQ in Islington, the wheezing, working-out vehicle is one of many tongue-in-cheek installations from the Prague-born artist. A rebellious mix of Antony Gormley and Damien Hirst, the enfant terrible is as controversial as he is amusing. In 2009, he was supposed to collaborate with 26 artists on a piece promoting the EU. Instead, he faked the names of the other sculptors and made the giant collage himself, perpetuating crude stereotypes of its member states: Bulgaria was shown as a squat toilet; Italy was a football pitch of masturbating footballers.

Subtlety might not be his strong point, but his larger-than-life social comment pieces are certainly intriguing. Many of his most famous creations lurk tantalisingly in Prague's historic crevices, providing a refreshing and quirky way to explore the capital's centre.

A perfect starting point is the middle of Wenceslas Square, inside Lucerna Pasaz on Vodickova. Here, you will find 'Horse' – a dark, bastardised version of the imposing kingly statue situated in the square behind you. Hanging, Damocles-like, from a lime-tiled dome ceiling sits Wenceslas, astride his now dead, upside-down steed. Though Cerny never comments publicly on his work, the piece is seen to be a damning attack on current Czech President, Václav Klaus – a frequent subject for Cerny derision.

Next, head down Spalena towards Old Town Square. When you reach U Medvidku beer hall on Na Perstyne, look up. In the distance, a diminutive, Colonel Sanders-esque figure dangles suicidally from a rooftop. This tiny, bearded figure of "Hanging Out" is, in fact, Sigmund Freud, casually swinging from a beam with his hand in his pocket. Created in 1997, it is Cerny's ambiguous response to the question of what role the intellectual would play in the new millennium; an absorbing sight regularly missed by tourists watching their footing on the cobbles.

Over Charles Bridge, the Franz Kafka museum immediately to the right (Cihelná 2b) harbours one of Cerny's most humorous creations. Affectionately titled, "Piss", it features two gyrating, mechanical men urinating on a map of the Czech Republic. Text a personal message to the number next to the exhibit and these chaps will happily waggle their bronze penises around to spell it out for you.

Skip past the gorgeous Malostranske namesti (Lesser Town Square) and head up Trziste, into Vlasska – a cobbled hill lined with large, grandiose buildings. The German Embassy is an imposing sight, and hidden within its huge, maze-like gardens, stands "Quo Vadis" (walk 100m past the embassy, left into a children's playground and peer through the railings). This post-Velvet Revolution sculpture, a fibreglass Trabant car on four, giant tree-trunk legs, is a tribute to the 4,000 East German asylum seekers who, in 1989, stationed themselves here until they were granted political asylum back into West Germany. Many left their Trabants behind, hence Cerny's choice of motor.

Double back on yourself towards the river and head right, along the Vltava's edge, to Kampa Island. Three giant babies guard the entrance to Museum Kampa (U Sovovych mlynu 2). These crawling, Lynchian creatures, with imploded slot-machine faces, are part of Cerny's "Babies" project – a commission to make the notoriously ugly Zizkov TV Tower more attractive. Look beyond the museum into the distance and you will see the result: swarms of these weird mutants scaling the futuristic eyesore, with atmospheric red and blue neon lighting them at night.

For the last stop, head south past the funicular railway, and turn right up Holeckova street. A brisk 10-minute walk and you'll reach Futura, a contemporary, free art space (Holeckova 49, Wed-Sun 11-6pm), which hosts the permanent Cerny installation, "Brownnosers". Weave through the underground vaults to the tiny garden at the back to find it – two giant pairs of legs bent over and moulded into the wall. Viewers are invited to climb up the ladders and stare into the fibreglass anus. Inside, a video of Cerny's old adversary President Klaus is shown, in which he and the Head of the National Gallery are spoon-feeding each other slop to the sound of Queen's "We Are The Champions". Crude, unsubtle, comical, it is yet another example of Cerny's displeasure with post-revolution democracy; the fates of the Czech people, he feels, rest uneasily in the dictatorial, money-grabbing hands of inept politicians.

A fitting, relaxing, antidote to the day's walking would be to catch a band at Cerny's very own club, Meet Factory (Ke sklarne 15). Part music venue, part gallery, it is a converted glass warehouse in the Smichov district, with two melted red cars nonchalantly hanging on pegs outside ("Meat"). The club regularly hosts electro and indie, and you can regularly find the floppy-haired man in question, David Cerny, beer in hand, enjoying the bands.

• EasyJet (easyjet.co.uk) flies to Prague from London Gatwick from £52 return


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April 06 2012

Villa Tugendhat

Mies van der Rohe's Villa Tugendhat, a paragon of light and spacious living and the inspiration for Simon Mawer's 2009 novel The Glass Room, has been restored to its 1930s glory and is now open to all

When Ludwig Mies van der Rohe declared that "less is more" he was not talking about budgets. Saving money was rarely among his concerns, and one of the many amazing things about his Villa Tugendhat, completed in 1930 in the Czech city of Brno, is the stupendous price of its apparent simplicity. It cost five million Czech crowns at a time when a very respectable luxury villa could be built for about 320,000 crowns. In other words, it cost 15 times the going rate for houses of this type; he could accurately have said "less costs more".

Not that his clients, Grete and Fritz Tugendhat, both heirs to industrial fortunes, complained. What they got for their money was a pioneering steel-framed house, equipped with glass walls that could slide down into the floor, a special room for keeping their furs chilled and moth-free, and a heating and cooling facility like the engine room of a ship, which consumed a train-wagon-load of coal every winter. It also passed air through a shower of water, over stones taken from the sea, then through filters of cedar oil and cedar shavings, in order to make it cool and fragrant.

They got one of the most influential houses of the 20th century, whose open plan and panoramic glazing are still imitated today. Most importantly, they achieved what Greta called "a modern spacious house… with clear and simple shapes" that gave "a completely special calm". It did justice, she said, "to the primarily spiritual sense of life of each and every one of us, as opposed to mere necessity".

It has been variously claimed that modernist architecture was about rationality, or pure function, or raising the environments of the working classes; none of those arguments applied in this case.

Now, for the first time since the 1930s, it is possible to see the house more or less as Mies (as the architect is best known) intended, following a restoration supported by the EU and carried out by the city of Brno. It can be visited by the public, although its popularity means you have to book a place on its tours long in advance.

Above all, you can experience the living area at the centre of the house. To say that this has two glass walls, an open plan and clean, modernist style is like saying that Chartres cathedral has pointed arches and big windows. Nor does it get you very much further to describe the beautiful materials acquired from distant regions – macassar ebony for the library and the circular dining alcove; a wall in miraculously thin onyx slabs quarried from the Atlas mountains. Nor the spectacular view of the city, the sense of contact with the garden, the abundant light, nor the way that the steel columns, with their mirror finish, almost disappear.

The point is more that the combination of all these elements is mesmerising. If the plan, with the regular spacing of the columns, is lucid, the dissolving effects of the surfaces confound the senses. Reflections draw the garden foliage inside and the patterns of leaves play off the squirming, fossilised patterns of the stone and the grain of the wood. The creamy-brown onyx is plainly heavy, but it is thin enough that, when hit by the low winter sun, it glows on its inward side. The vanishing columns make the ceiling slab levitate, and when the glass walls disappear into the floor the room becomes a theatre box in the sky. At one end the glass is doubled, with space between the layers wide enough for a cuboid conservatory, which again inverts the perception of outside and in.

The surfaces are lush and the lines are spare. The space is ancient and industrial at once, with the construction methods of office blocks, and a pale linoleum floor combined with classical proportions, the rhythms of a temple and travertine. It is made of different scales of time – the geology of the stone, the tree growth recorded in the wood grain, the seasonal revolutions of the garden, the movement of daylight, the movements of people through the space. Silk curtains made it another place at night.

It is dreamlike, the more so for the way that boundaries are drawn with a sharpness something like the uncanny precision you get in dreams. It is a bubble made of straight lines and right angles. Its illusions are framed with the regular measure of the columns, like bar lines in music, and proportions (of which Mies said, disingenuously: "Proportions don't cost anything").

The house is built against a steep slope, with the living space in the middle one of three levels. Below is the apparatus that sustains it, like the backstage of a theatre – the heating and ventilating, the fur room, storage, laundry and the machinery for operating the windows. Above are the bedrooms and bathrooms of the Tugendhats and their children, and a terrace with a Miesian sandbox, perfectly square, and trellises for roses.

Because of the slope, only the top floor is visible when you approach from the street. You enter and a stair descends through what seems to be ground level to the living space, which in turn seems to hover above the garden, an upside-down sequence which further heightens its quality of apparition. You discover that everything in the house revolves around and sustains the central zone. Other aspects are special enough – the daring simplicity of the exterior and the refinement of the bedrooms would have been sufficient achievements for many architects – but here they support the main event.

All of which could add up to a familiar type of architecture, the uninhabitable masterpiece. Critics latched on to this possibility early, and a German architectural magazine asked, within a year of its completion: "Can One Live in Villa Tugendhat?" Greta and Fritz replied robustly that yes, you could. Their wishes were perfectly fulfilled, they said, and the design allowed different activities happily to co-exist. It was "austere and grand – not in a way that oppresses, but one that liberates". They spoke fondly of the way their children could play on the terrace, and of "sitting in the warm sun and looking out on the snow-covered landscape just as though we were in Davos". Mies later designed the Farnsworth House in Illinois, whose impracticalities drove its owner, Edith Farnsworth, to fury and lawsuits. In Brno, however, he achieved a miraculous union of art and life.

It did not last. Just over seven years after they moved in, the Tugendhats, who were Jewish, foresaw the approach of the Nazis and left for Switzerland, and then Venezuela. When they arrived, the Nazis appropriated the house and rented it out to the Messerschmitt aircraft company. They took the timber lining of the dining alcove and reinstalled it in the town's Gestapo headquarters. Shockwaves from allied bombs blew out the glass walls. The Soviet army took it and stabled horses among the exquisite veneers. After the war, it became a ballet studio, a rehabilitation centre for children with spinal defects and a guest house for the government. In 1992 the Czech and Slovak leaders met here to agree the division of their country. The house was a bubble in time as well as space and Greta's "completely special calm" was engulfed by the tumult of its period.

Its story is too good to go unnoticed by novelists, and it has not: Simon Mawer's 2009 Booker-shortlisted The Glass Room is a lightly fictionalised account of the Tugendhats and their house. Its descriptions of the place are evocative, but nothing can compare with the real thing, which, thanks to the EU millions, is about as close to its original state as could be hoped for. The timber abducted by the Gestapo was rediscovered and returned, having meanwhile become the setting of a student cafeteria, and the vibrant red and green chairs with which Mies furnished the space have been reinstalled. It is also different – it is no longer a private house for a highly privileged couple (which led a snarky critic to call it "modernist snobbery… the renewal of fancy baroque palaces, the seat of a new financial aristocracy") but a three-dimensional artwork and museum piece to be visited by the public.

Brno is a town whose location and identity most Britons, maybe even Observer readers, would be hard put to describe. Yet it has had a way of compressing a lot of history into its locality (rather, one is tempted to say, as it compresses a lot of sounds into its consonant-heavy name). The battle of Austerlitz took place just outside the town; Gregor Mendel invented modern genetics in the town's Abbey of St Thomas and Sigmund Freud was born in the region. In the 1920s the most optimistic time in Czechoslovakia's short life, it was a leading centre of modern architecture, several years ahead of London, for example. The vitality of that time has not returned, but in the Villa Tugendhat something of its spirit lives on.


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February 09 2012

02mydafsoup-01


Diaspora* - entries from 2012-02-08 via oAnth via Evernote

====================================


YA 
Planned Post-ACTA Repression In European Union: The Documents

Documents have emerged from the European Commission that gives a glimpse of the planned crackdown on online freedoms of speech post-ACTA. We’re seeing entirely new mechanisms and means of squelching dissent, mechanisms and means against pretty much anything online.

A European Commissioner responsible for the governing of 500 million people who refers to his constituents as “consumers” and describes complying at legal gunpoint as “cooperation” is just a small taste of the newspeak in the documents we find here, documents that are intended for the post-ACTA timeframe. Oh, and he doesn’t rule out shutting down your income streams either. It is not hard to see where this particular mindset comes from – and no, it is certainly not Locke’s ideas of a constitutional government or anything similarly responsible. It’s filled to the brim with terms we would otherwise only see in reports from the copyright industry lobby. ... read da rest HERE!

#ACTA #documents #crackdown #government #internet #online #repression #EU





Bembel ::BK::

Jeder 4. Europäer von Armut bedroht ... besonders Kinder http://j.mp/w80PtB via @schmecks in was für einer Welt wollt Ihr eigentlich leben?
Öffentlich – Gefällt mir · Kommentar



Heward Hewiak
Cotton Candy Prototype from FXI Technologies
Cotton candy prototype
Specs
– Quad Core ARM® Mali™-400MP Graphics Processing Unit – Quad-core ARM Mali-400MP 720p / 1080p OpenGL ES v2.0 – 30M Polygons, 1.2 GPixels / s – ARM® Cortex™-A9@1.2GHz – NEON extensions – TrustZone extensions
Connectivity
Wifi 802.11 b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
Memory
1GB DRAM Up to 64GB memory local storage (microSD)Mehr zeigen


James Prothero




Czech, Slovak governments backing away from ACTA, too
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/02/czech-slovak-governments-backing-away-from-acta-too.ars
Prime Minister Petr Nečas has announced that the Czech Republic will follow Poland and suspend ratification of ACTA, which has become a local lightning rod after 22 EU countries signed on last month. Ratification still needs to take
Mehr zeigen




Jacob Appelbaum
"Benutzt am besten gar keine Mobiltelefone"
Der Hacker Jacob Appelbaum weiß sehr genau, wie es ist, überwacht zu werden. Im Interview spricht er über das Anonymisierungnetzwerk "Tor" und das Luxusgut Privatsphäre.

#jacob #appelbaum #julian #assange #handy #Mehr zeigen



#Hörempfehlung: Deutschlandfunk - Länderzeit
Die Debatte um ein NPD-Verbot
Was tun gegen den Rechtsextremismus in Deutschland?

Gesprächsteilnehmer u.a.:

Prof. Dr. Hajo Funke, emeritierter Politikwissenschaftler, Freie Universität Berlin Bernd Wagner, Mitbegründer der Initiative EXIT-Deutschland, Geschäftsführer des ZDK Gesellschaft Demokratische Kultur Holger Stahlknecht, CDU, Minister für Inneres und Sport des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt David Begrich, Arbeitsstelle Rechtsextremismus, Magdeburg Stephan Mayer, CSU , Mitglied des Innenausschusses des Bundestags

Moderation: Michael Roehl

http://ondemand-mp3.dradio.de/file/dradio/2012/02/08/dlf_20120208_1010_39eea76c.mp3







Volunia, plus qu’un moteur, un concept
http://www.presse-citron.net/volunia-moteur-concept
Créer un moteur de recherche ! En 2012 ? Dans un marché planétaire phagocyté par des monopolistes géants qu’on peut compter sur les doigts de la main. L’imaginer, au plan conceptuel, en développer toute la technique, extrêmement sophistiquée, pour le plus Mehr zeigen
from Diaspora* entries via oAnth 2012-02-08

February 08 2012

Slovakia: Stop ACTA Protest

An anti-ACTA rally took place in Bratislava on Feb. 4. On the protest's Facebook page [sk], nearly 7,500 people wrote they would attend, and over 3,800 wrote they'd “maybe” attend. The weather was cold and windy; the recent news from Poland, which has postponed the ratification of ACTA, was good; and it's unlikely that anything will be approved before the Slovak early elections in March. As a result, only 500 people or so showed up for the rally [sk; photos; video]. This week, a number of Slovak and Czech politicians announced they were in favor of postponing the ratification of the controversial treaty.

February 06 2012

02mydafsoup-01




Vous avez dit tz quoi ?




Stoppt ACTA!
Informationsveranstaltung am 9. Februar und Protestkundgebung am 11. Februar
Am Donnerstag, den 9. Februar 2012 findet um 20 Uhr im Bistro ›Das Sofa‹ [1] eine parteiübergreifende Informationsveranstaltung zu ACTA statt. Wir wollen mit möglichst vielen Leuten und Initiativen über ACTA sprechen und anschließend die gemeinsame Fahrt zur Protestkundgebung in Rostock [2] am Samstag 





nach Protesten nun auch #Tschechien: Regierung setzt #ACTA -Ratifizierung aus http://j.mp/zkftLV nach #Polen schon Nr.2 via #Diaspora




Telepolis: Internationaler Gerichtshof soll über Klimawandel verhandeln
Vom Untergang bedrohte Inselstaaten wollen die Verantwortlichen vor Gericht stellen
Die kleinen Inselstaaten haben die Schnauze voll. Nach mehr als 20 Jahren ziemlich unbefriedigender Verhandlungen über die Eindämmung des globalen Klimawandels planen einige von ihnen nun, die Sache vor den Internationalen Gerichtshof zu Mehr zeigen




einer von vielen gründen, nie wieder eine @faz oder @sz zu kaufen … http://www.3sat.de/page/?source=%2Fkulturzeit%2Fthemen%2F160212%2Findex.html









ALG II und #Datenschutz: Datenlöschung? Leider technisch unmöglich - offenbar gar nicht erst vorgesehen!?! http://j.mp/z9vqbl #hartz4



On February 18, 2012, Axel Honneth speaks at the University of #Munich:
http://philosophy.columbia.edu/directories/faculty/axel-honneth
"Negativität in einer revidierten Psychoanalyse"
See the program here [pdf] [partly EN, DE, FR] - http://www.ls1.soziologie.uni-muenchen.de/download/plakat_0112-progr.pdf






YouTube: Die großen Vordenker des Grundeinkommens
Das Bedingunglose Grundeinkommen ist in meinen Augen das richtige Mittel um der Ungleichverteilung der Mittleln in unserer Gesellschaft zu begegnen und jeden ein lebenswürdiges Leben und ein Teilhabe an der Gesellschaft zu ermöglichen.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcCdyRmalZs
Tags: #German #Deutsch #Video #BGE #BedingungslosesGrundeinkommen #Grundeinkommen #Gesellschaft











  • Organizational Development 2012 - link
  • Co-Creating Open Source Ecology - link



  • Converting Urban and Suburban Lands for Growing Food - link
  • Something's fishy in urban backyards - link
  • The Lexicon of sustainability - link
  • Status quo bias and what to do about it - link
  • New site: ResilientCommunities.com - link
#sustainability #urbanfarming #permaculture #aquaponics


  • Revenu garanti pour tous : quand la réalité devance l’utopie - link
  • La bataille de l’emploi est perdue d’avance - link
  • En nous piquant nos boulots, les robots nous obligeront à changer de modèle économique - link




#Greece #Europe #EU #ECB - financial #crisis

ONE MILLION SIGNATURES FOR “A EUROPE OF SOLIDARITY” http://www.1millionsignatures.eu/?a=en
To: Mr José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission 1049 Brussels, Belgium.
Mr President, I. It is hard to accept that Europe has established a usurious relationship Mehr zeigen



Goodbye democracy :( Journalists arrested at #fracking hearing, thanks to Andy Harris (R-Md) http://bit.ly/wuSHO8 #environment #ows #occupy




OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks) is a collaborative initiative to develop and implement a sustainable Open Access publication model for academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
from Diaspora* via oAnth 2012-02-05&06

January 14 2012

Slovakia: 25,000 Euro for National Gallery's Website?

Slovak netizens are discussing the overpriced new website of the Slovak National Gallery [sk, en]: SME.sk reports [sk] that the “minimally designed” [en] site cost Slovak taxpayers some 25,000 euro (allegedly, 20 times the price of the website of the Czech National Gallery in Prague [cz]); SME.sk blogger Martin Palšovič has already sent an inquiry to the Slovak audit/control office [sk] (links via Tibor Blazko).

January 11 2012

January 08 2012

CEE: “Spotted by Locals”

Spotted by Locals: Experience cities like a local features a few dozen locations, including CEE cities of Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Krakow, Ljubljana, Prague, Riga, Sofia, Tallinn, Vilnius, Warsaw, and Zagreb. A random sample post from Zagreb, Croatia: Hrelić Flea Market – The Aleph of Zagreb; from Bucharest, Romania: The Haunted House – Armenian Neighbourhood; from Sofia, Bulgaria: Nissim – A True Old-School Bookstore.

January 07 2012

CEE: Getting “Abnormal For A Change”

East of Center writes about “Eastern Europe’s ‘obsession with normality'” and suggests this New Year’s resolution: “In the true spirit of Václav Havel, why don’t we get abnormal for a change?”

January 02 2012

The World is Talking… We Translate

Every time a year comes to an end, evaluations of it are made. Sometimes we tend to be very objective and other times, subjectivities float to the surface. Most of the time, these assessments, recollections and lists of the ‘best of the year' do not satisfy everybody.

Some members of the team of translators at Global Voices in Spanish [es], who during the past twelve months have worked behind the scenes to translate the best of what Global Voices Online publishes in English on a daily basis, decided to briefly express what we liked the most or what impacted us the most of what we have translated or seen posted. And as we say colloquially, let's put the ‘floro‘ (palaver) aside and get to the point:

Elisa López tells us about the post she enjoyed translating the most, and adds a note of personal information:

I really enjoyed translating Estados Unidos: ¿La NASA ha descubierto un planeta habitable? [es] (Has NASA Discovered a Life-Friendly Planet? [en])

I found the topic appealing. My husband and I are always discussing science-related events, and we had been discussing that particular topic a couple of days ago. And when I started working on the translation, I found the article well-written: clear, concise, and showing different points of view. Interesting information and good writing, a great combination!

Natán Calzolari shares his feelings and sentiments about Global Voices' involvement with world events:

While I was translating it I found myself really moved by how the whole world was helping the Egyptians to put their word out there. Needless to say, Global Voices did an incredible job amplifying their voices, and it was really exciting to be a part of it.

Isabel Guerra shows her amazement about a fact she wasn't aware of:

I enjoyed translating this one Filipinas: Debate sobre proyecto de Ley de Divorcio [es] (Phillipines: Debate on Divorce Bill [en]) because I wasn't aware that there was still a country that does not allow divorce!

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Rivera tells about her sadness while translating a post from Libya:

For me, Libia: De duelo por la muerte de Mohammed Nabbous [es] (Libya: Mourning Mohammed Nabbous [es]) was a very special and sad post to translate. Since Libya's revolution started, I followed ‘Mo's' reports and even watched his live feed. I just couldn't believe it when the news broke on Twitter that he had died. I knew, right away, I wanted to translate the post related to his death as soon as it was published as a tribute to a man I consider a hero and an inspiring citizen journalist. The post did him justice. It was sensitive, complete and very well phrased. Needless to say, I shed some tears while writing it and felt very connected - by heart - to the Libyan people and their struggle.

Although she didn't translated the post, Catalina Restrepo comments she was impressed with the situation women face in many countries:

It's no translated for me but was wonderful when I saw this article in Spanish: Arabia Saudita: Condenada a 10 latigazos por conducir un automóvil [es] (Saudi Arabia: Outrage Over 10 Lashes for Female Driver [en])

Generally Women here [Colombia] are not worried about their role in the society but about the fashion or beauty. When I read this story, I discover again that it's necessary for women [around the world] reflect on the importance of being a woman in honor of others who do not have the same “freedoms”.

Gabriela García Calderón shares her sentiment about the first news of what later would be known as the Arab Spring:

Even though it is actually a post published on late 2010, I think the most important post I've translated is Túnez: El intento de suicidio de un desempleado provoca disturbios [es] (Tunisia: Unemployed Man's Suicide Attempt Sparks Riots [en]).

This post tells us the plight of 26-year old Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire out of desperation for not being able to earn a living for himself and his family.

This at first isolated and individual action was the spark of was later known as the Arab Spring, a series of events that set the standard for the whole year. As usual, Global Voices was there to inform its reader about important events, almost while they are still happening.

Adriana Gutierrez tells us about her chosen post, also related to the Arab Spring:

It's kind of hard to pick just one memorable post for me (every single entry is special, one way or another), but I enjoyed translating this one: Egipto: Graffiti - Por una revolución colorida y un recuerdo inmortal [es] (Egypt: Graffiti - For a Colorful Revolution and an Undying Memory [en]).

I found very moving and creative the way egyptians took a very “simple” and ordinary thing as a street wall and converted it in a canvas to express their thoughts about revolution and to pay tribute to the martyrs, claming the street as theirs.

Indira Cornelio was also impressed by the circumstances some women have to live with:

I enjoyed translating this one Global: Bloggers debaten opiniones contra el nicab [es] (Global: Bloggers Take Issue With Anti-Niqab Punditry [en]) because it really got me thinking about the importance of tolerance as sometimes I find hard to understand how women in other countries live, and the laws or practices they have.

And said:

As a fan of hyperlinks, I like texts that starting off with just two or three lines can take you to new and various texts that may, sometimes, represent a lot of reading. It's just like opening a little wormhole on the generated mental image and taking to another dimension, just to come back to take off once again. That's why, I love posts just as CEE: More on Václav Havel and His Legacy, due to their concentrated richness.

With this small and humble sample we, the Global Voices Spanish team, wish to encourage authors all over the world to write their articles and to go on doing so. We want them to know that their texts not only inform, but also generate sentiments, discoveries and awareness in all the readers.

Thank you, and happy 2012.

December 22 2011

CEE: More on Václav Havel and His Legacy

More posts on Václav Havel and his legacy from around the region's Anglophone blogosphere: Richard Byrne of Balkans via Bohemia; CzechFolks.com; Petr Bokuvka of The Czech Daily Word - here and here; Jeremy Druker of TOL's East of Center; Tjebbe van Tijen and Mary Kaldor for OpenDemocracy.net; Giustino of Itching for Eestimaa; Chris Johnstone of CzechPosition.com; Gray Falcon.

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