Tag Archives: Czech Republic

Team Russia shows no sense of decency

This is called sportsmanship at its best.

After Team Canada won the world championship 2015 title in the O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic, Sunday, it took the vanquished team quite some time to skate over and accept their silver medals from International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President René Fasel.

In fact, Fasel had to keep waving at the Russians for almost a minute to convince them to come over and collect what was deservedly theirs.

But that wouldn’t be the end of it.

What happened then was even more shocking. Not surprising: something like that had happened in other, similar situations, too. And it always involved Russian teams in one shape or another. But one would have expected that the Russians would have learnt their lesson by now and not stoop to this kind of scandalous behaviour yet again. When Team Russia captain Ilya Kovalchuk saw the IIHF dignitaries began distributing gold medals to the winners from Canada, he ordered his teammates to leave the ice. He waited by the door to the bench to see that the entire squad leaves.

To their credit, a small group that included Team Russia’s brightest stars, Alexander Ovechkin and Yevgeni Malkin, remained at the blue line. Kovalchuk kept ordering them to leave forthwith, while Ovechkin was gesticulating back that good manners dictate they should stay there till the end of the ceremony. Or, at least, until Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby receives the championship cup and O Canada had been played.

It took about a minute of embarrassing exchanges. But when the fireworks started and the confetti were fired, Kovalchuk skated over and personally forced the remaining Russian players to leave immediately.

That no Russian player stayed to see Crosby and his teammates skating around with the cup is one thing; that they didn’t wait until an orchestra gathered to play O Canada, is another.

Fasel said he was very disappointed with Team Russia’s behaviour. He said he found it perfectly unacceptable and added that the IIHF is going to debate potential punishment. Team Russia’s behaviour showed profound lack of respect for the other team, and Russian Hockey Federation will be asked for an explanation, Fasel told the Russian TASS news agency, adding Team Russia’s behaviour showed not only lack of sportsmanship, it also broke the IIHF’s rules, and for that, the Russian Hockey Federation can expect proper punishment.

Fasel said some Russian players wanted to be sportsmanlike: “We saw Ovechkin and Malkin who tried to stay. It’s the team management and coaching staff who should have made sure nothing like this happened; they were right there, on the ice, at the time.”

Vladislav Tretyak, the former all-world goalie who now serves as Russian Hockey Federation’s president, said it was all a misunderstanding rather than lack of respect: his players even shook Canadian players’ hands, he said.

But former Czech goalie Petr Bříza, who served on the organizing committee, said wherever Team Russia showed up, difficulties would follow.

When they came to Ostrava, instead of staying in a hotel reserved for all teams that played there, the Russians demanded that they be accommodated in Kravaře, an Ostrava suburb. Then, when they saw it took them longer than it took others to get to the ČEZ Arena, they demanded that the organizers provide them with police escort, so their team bus can get to and from the arena breaking all traffic rules.

In fact, Team Russia was scandalized its team bus had to wait at a railway crossing for a train to pass. Organizers in Ostrava started asking publicly whether they should have made the railway change its schedule, and Team Russia dropped the subject.

And, Bříza added, “They brought a few problems with them to Prague, too, issues that hadn’t been here before their arrival. The eight teams that had been here were living side by side quite famously, but then the Russians came and the first thing they did was they blocked off a hallway in the arena and demanded to stay in a different hotel. That created serious security issues for us, and if anything had happened, it would have been linked to the championship, no question. And then, they topped it off with such lack of sportsmanship and respect for others, including the entire event,” Bříza concluded.

It seems it may be useful for the organizers of the forthcoming World Cup (NHL and NHLPA) to remind Team Russia management in advance that there are basic rules of decency and sportsmanship that one should keep in mind even following bitter defeat.

And if they can’t live with it, disinvite them, no matter the star power that the event would lose.

Like hippos in a china store

The government of Hungary is considering kicking U.S. chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend out of the country. It is of the view that the American diplomat is poking his nose into matters that are none of his business.

The country’s State Attorney has asked the foreign ministry to initiate stripping Goodfriend of diplomatic immunity so this office can prosecute him based on a legal action started by Hungary’s taxation administration chief, Ildikó Vida.

The foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said he’s sending an official request to the State Department. Whether he’ll succeed is more than questionable: the stuffed shirts at Foggy Bottom would go through the roof and describe Hungary’s request impertinent to nth degree, while President Barack Hussein Obama is expected to go ballistic.

Except: if the Americans, as is expected, tell the Hungarians to go and fly a kite, Goodfriend will be flying first: he Hungarian government will designate him as persona non grata, and if they are kind and generous, Goodfriend will have 48 hours to pack up and leave. If not, he’ll have to leave forthwith.

First, a bit of a definition: a chargé d’affaires represents his or her nation in the country she or he is accredited to. That means, this diplomat has to receive le agrément from the host government (for whatever reason, French is still the language of diplomacy). This means that the host government can always withdraw its agreement with the diplomat’s continued stay.

The chargé d’affaires enjoys the same privileges and immunities as a regular ambassador. In most cases, the chargé d’affaires only serves on a temporary basis, while the ambassador is away. Still, these diplomats can be appointed for longer periods of time, something that seems to have happened in Goodfriend’s case. As diplomatic protocol rules, a chargé d’affaires could be appointed also when the two countries disagree on something and they prefer to be represented by lower-ranked diplomats, basically in order to save face.

Now that we have the niceties behind us, here’s the scoop: several governments’ diplomatic representatives (including Canada’s) went public with their masters’ displeasure about what they described as corruption running amok in the countries where they are stationed. Not that it had the desired effect. General populations in these (mostly post-communist) countries are perfectly aware that their governments’ standards of honesty and decency are nothing to write home about. Still, they detest it when foreigners wag their fingers and tell them this isn’t cricket.

In the Hungarian case, the country’s chief taxation official, Ms. Vida, and five of her subordinate officers were denied entry visas into the U.S. this past November, based directly on accusations of corruption as expressed by none other than Goodfriend himself. Ms. Vida described his statements as slanderous and defamatory and libellous drivel, but her prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said this wouldn’t be enough. Sue the bloody Yankee, he told Ms. Vida, or I’ll fire you.

Wonderful. Except you can’t sue a diplomat who’s protected by immunity. You can only ask her or his government for permission to strip her or him of that immunity, and if no agreement is forthcoming, you can kick her or him out.

And this is where it seems to be headed.

President Obama, whom most of the post-communist countries’ citizenry detest about the same they used to detest their communist leaders, didn’t help matters when he announced that in Hungary, in his esteemed opinion, the something he calls “civic society” is in danger. What he had in mind precisely remains unclear, but Hungarian officials figured out that the U.S. commander-in-chief was unhappy because they refused to blindly follow his lead and call Russia and Russian president Vladimir Putin all kinds of names.

That the Hungarians might have a reason for a more nuanced view is something Obama has never considered. In fact, he seems to be frightfully unaware of this.

On the other hand, post-communist countries have been up in arms lately. They have detected that U.S. embassies in their countries have been interfering with their internal affairs. They are quite sensitive about these things: they’ve had their share of being ordered about by the communist leadership in Moscow. Bad enough that the European Union bureaucracy has been trying to replace the communist economic community system with a similar structure of their own. Post-communist countries, one and all, view this kind of behaviour askance.

For example, the Czech Republic is livid because the U.S. embassy has been supporting (financially) a movement to teach Islam in Czech schools.

Now, Canada’s ambassador Otto Jelínek has joined forces with his U.S. and Norwegian colleagues, trying to tell the Czechs that corruption is bad. The Czechs are perfectly aware of what kind of swindlers and fraudsters they have in their government. But they still feel that young Jelínek would do better tending to his knitting or, even better, to his family business that produces the finest plum brandy (slivovice) in the world.

What angers them even more is the gall with which the Americans and Canadians invited the Norwegians to join them in the chorus of anti-corruption condemnation. The Czechs and the Norwegians have been at swords drawn lately. A Norwegian social worker has taken away children from a Czech family that was in the northern country, citing abuse, without providing single proof. The Czech government has been trying to reason with its Norwegian counterpart, to no avail, thus far. And these busy beavers are going to tell us how to behave? is the tenor of the Czech public reaction.

That the Americans didn’t notice they were entering a minefield is behaviour typical for this administration. That ambassador Jelínek, who speaks and reads and writes Czech, was not aware of the backlash this step would create in his parents’ homeland is beyond shameful.

And most of the post-communist countries’ public opinion agrees: the Americans don’t like Putin. Not that we love him. In fact, not that we love the Russian bear, period. But, they say, nobody, and least of all Obama, is going to tell us what to do, what to think, and how to act.

They’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirts.

To heck with the Americans. Let them eat cake. But Canada’s government – of all governments in the world – should know better.

KHL drops playoffs games in Ukraine

Political tensions in Ukraine have dragged professional hockey in Russia’s KHL into the mix.

Lev Praha is to play Donbass Donetsk in KHL’s quarterfinals. But KHL management has decided it would not be safe for either the teams or their fans if the games took place anywhere in Ukraine.

“It’s obvious we won’t play in Ukraine,” KHL vice-president Vladimir Shalayev told the R-Sport.ru website Tuesday.

“We’re now debating where to play. We want to hear what Donbass has to say, they have the right to choose.”

Sources say that it seems at the moment that Slovan Bratislava’s arena will be the venue.

Bratislava is the capital of the Republic of Slovakia.

Lev Praha’s spokesman Jan Rachota told Czech website iDNES.cz it looked as if the series would be played in Donetsk, but “negotiations between Donbass management and the KHL are ongoing. We await their decision.”

It doesn’t matter where they will be playing, Czech club’s players said.

“No change, so far as we are concerned,” Lev’s forward Petr Vrana told the team’s website. “We’re playing two games at home and then we’re going on the road, no matter where that’s going to be.”

After all, “We all know what’s going on in Ukraine,” Vrana said, “so I understand they made the call because of security concerns. Of course,” he added, “if we’re going to play in Bratislava, it’s better for us because we won’t have to fly anywhere, we’ll just bus it.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the Slovnaft Arena would become a home-away-from-home for Donetsk: it was the site for their seventh and deciding game against Riga.

Donetsk coach Andrei Nazarov has been philosophical: “I like Bratislava. I don’t want to talk about how it all ends right now. If there’s no change, we’re going to play our next two home games in Bratislava. But it’s going to be the league management’s decision.”

Slovak players on Donetsk’s roster were pleased with the last game, the decider against Riga, that they played in Bratislava: “I wouldn’t have dreamt that I would play the series final and deciding game at home,” observed Donetsk’s defenceman Peter  Podhradský. He happens to be a Bratislava native.

Still, Podhradský said, Donetsk fans would have deserved that their club faced off against Lev in their real home arena, Druzhba.

Donetsk goalie Ján Laco, another Slovak, said he didn’t know what the fuss was all about: “When we drove to the airport, the city was calm. Nothing catastrophic.”

Yes, he conceded, “There was something going on in the area of Donetsk’s main square downtown, but nothing serious,” Laco told Slovakian website, cas.sk.

“But,” Laco added, “ it’s not our decision.”

R-Sport.ru sees things differently.

Donetsk, in the mainly Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, is being rocked by violent clashes between pro-Russian protesters who want closer ties with Russia and pro-Ukrainian activists who do not, the website said.

Olympic omissions stir fans in faraway Europe, too

It’s a strange tradition: hockey fans debate who didn’t make their country’s team for the Olympics, rather than discussing the gold medal parade route for those who did.

Need examples?

Just watch the hand-wringing about Martin St. Louis or Claude Giroux in Canada. In fact, this case has revealed how many amateur psychologists there are in Canada. They keep analyzing Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman’s feelings. How perfectly tough it must have been for him when he had to reveal to his Tampa Bay Lightning star player that he got the short straw.

Or think of the the gnashing of teeth over Team USA executive Brian Burke’s comments regarding Ottawa Senators’ forward Bobby Ryan, as dutifully reported by ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside.

But don’t think for one moment these excesses are limited to North America.

They have a wonderful scandal going on in the Czech Republic, too.

Team Czech head coach Alois Hadamczik named his roster for Sochi the other day.

Czech fans (and journalists) zoomed in on three omissions. How come Calgary Flames forward Jiří Hudler didn’t make it? How about Radim Vrbata of the Phoenix Coyotes? And how could Hadamczik forget about Colorado Avalanche defenceman Jan Hejda?

Zdeněk Janda, writing for Czech daily Sport, telephoned Hejda to ask him what he thought of the omission. Hejda said he was disappointed, but added he somehow expected it. He hadn’t seen eye-to-eye with coach Hadamczik when the twain met during the last world championship. By way of explanation, Hejda was critical of Hadamczik’s coaching methods, too. He was used to coaches who would give their players systems to play within, and if there was one thing sorely lacking the last time out, it was precisely that. Hejda went on to say he was much more surprised that he didn’t see Hudler’s name on the roster. Still, Hejda concluded, he wished Team Czech success, and he would be cheering them on.

Now, that’s called sporting.

So far as Hejda’s sentiment regarding Hudler was concerned, Calgary coach Bob Hartley echoed it. Hartley said, tongue firmly in cheek, that the Czechs must have a frightfully talented squad if they could afford leaving Hudler off. They must be prime candidates for gold, Hartley added.

Of course, there’s a minor catch of major proportions involved here: if Hartley knows anything about the Czech players who ply their trade in Europe, be it within the Czech Extraliga or the Russian KHL, or any other top European leagues, Hartley would have second-hand knowledge of their talents at best, if any at all.

Still, leaving Hudler off the Czech Olympic roster has raised more than one eyebrow.

But Hejda was the first of the top players to come out and say openly what many other Czech players would grumble about in private. They just do not like Hadamczik as coach, period.

In fairness, having talked to a few Czech players who had won bronze in Torino Olympics of 2006, their views of their coach were split right down the middle. To some, Hadamczik was anathema and, they claimed, they got as far in the tournament despite his coaching (or lack thereof). Several others said, on the other hand, that they were just fine with Hadamczik’s methods.

One of the major issues amongst the Czech hockey fandom is they hate Alois Hadamczik. Whether those fans know whereof they speak or not is perfectly irrelevant. They are aghast about some of his alleged business dealings, but neither the fans nor the Czech media have ever come up with a single proof of any wrongdoing.

What is it then? It seems Hadamczik just isn’t their cup of tea.

To top it off, Hadamczik named Michal Barinka of HC Vítkovice to the Olympic squad, giving him the spot many Czech fans believed was to belong to Hejda. Now, Hejda himself didn’t even mention Barinka’s name in his interview with Sport’s Zdeněk Janda. In fact, Hejda didn’t mention a single player named to the roster. He didn’t mention anybody but Hudler.

But Czech fans are aware of the minor fact that coach Hadamczik is Michal Barinka’s father-in-law. So, they cry nepotism. Whether they are right or not does not really matter. One would expect that they should reserve their judgement till after the Sochi Olympics. But they haven’t.

Hejda’s NHL coach, Patrick Roy, the one who can’t hear Jeremy Roenick’s criticisms because he’s got his Stanley Cup rings firmly stuck in his ears, joined the chorus. Hejda, Roy was quoted as saying the other day, married the wrong person. He should have married Hadamczik’s daughter, instead of his lovely wife Tereza. His position on the Czech national team would be unassailable.

Judging by reader reactions in the Czech media, some praise Hejda for coming out and saying what he thinks, while others say it’s all sour grapes on his part. How so, they wouldn’t elaborate. The fact remains it was a Czech reporter who called Hejda, not Hejda calling the Czech reporter. And that Hejda didn’t resort to cliches? More power to him.

Hejda himself is now more or less shocked to the point of amusement. He spoke to one reporter. Once. And that single interview has been appearing all over the place since then, in various shapes and forms, soliciting heated reader exchanges wherever and whenever it ran.

William Shakespeare had a fine description for events like this: much ado about nothing.

Mysterious KABOOM rocks Prague’s embassy row

It had to happen one day, and it’s rather typical it happened in Prague: an ambassador representing the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a.k.a. PLO, blew himself up right inside his official residence. Apparently he was opening his safety vault. For whatever reason, perhaps to hide some highly secret documentation from enemy eyes, it seems that he had the place secured. With explosives. He tried to open it and the explosives proved to be efficient and effective.

Why is it typical that it had to happen in the Czech capital?

Simple.

A Czech writer named Jaroslav Hasek wrote a novel about a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. The book appeared several years after the war ended, and the soldier’s name, Josef Schweik, would become synonymous with what has been known as passive resistance. The guy would obey all of his officers’ orders, and he would be so literal about it nothing could expose the stupidity of the system better than good soldier Schweik’s strict approach to discipline.

For those interested, former British diplomat, Sir Cecil Parrott, translated the book into English, and it’s a riot.

Anyhow, there’s a scene in the Schweik book in which the soldiers find a Red Cross train, bombed out and in ruins beside the railroad track. One of them asks whether it’s done, to bomb Red Cross trains. And good soldier Schweik replies, matter-of-factly, that it’s not done, but it can be done.

Which brings us full circle back to that PLO ambassador.

Embassies and sundry representations of countries in other countries are specifically banned from keeping any weapons, including explosives, on their premises. It’s the host country’s duty to provide such embassies with sufficient protection. In fact, even if the two countries declare war on one another, it’s the host country’s job to securely deliver those linked to the embassy (employees and their families) to their home country.

If the embassy feels its security arrangements deserve better, it can negotiate with the host country that it can bring some additional personnel of its own. But the host country must be made aware.

Thus the Vienna (and subsequent) conventions.

The Czech police are in a fix: they can’t go and investigate on the spot: an ambassador’s residence (and the embassy itself, too) is off limits. They can’t expect the Palestinian security people to share anything with them. And if they do get a bit of information here or there from the PLO, they can hardly trust it as if it came straight down from the mount.

So, what they have here is a crime (or a blatant breach of diplomatic rules and protocols, if one wants to express it diplomatically) that stares them in their faces and they can do nothing about it.

Czech police evacuated people in the building next to the embassy. It also belongs to the PLO. Its explosives experts couldn’t do much but record what happened based on interviews with witnesses of which there weren’t many.

The most interesting thing: several intelligence people from different corners of the world had a good laugh upon hearing the theory of safety vault safe-keeping. There are many ways how to keep your secrets secret, they said, independently of one another, but putting explosives into the picture isn’t one of them. These experts, who (for understandable reasons) spoke on condition of anonymity, wouldn’t reveal their secrets, but they all insisted that only a moron who believes in what one described as “Hollywood drivel” would believe that the envoy had his safety vault secured by explosives.

“You can call those guys (meaning the Palestinians) whatever you wish to call them, but if there’s one thing they are not, it’s stupid,” said one of them.

Whenever the Hollywood types don’t know how to continue with the nonsense they present to their audiences as story, they implant an impressive explosion or two, combined with a wild chase. Same goes for “self-destructing” messages, like they have them in all those Mission: Impossible flicks, said one of those intelligence experts.

Which brings us back another full circle to the explosion in the PLO envoy’s residence in Prague: what the heck were those explosives doing on the premises? There was enough of them, and they were potent enough, to cause fatal injury.

That, several intelligence people agreed, will remain a sweet secret. At least, for the time being.

Sure, the experts agreed, there are ways to find out. But if somebody does find out, will they reveal the truth?

It’s going to be interesting to hear what the Czech government will have to say. They would have to object, if not protest. The country’s new president, Milos Zeman, hasn’t been too keen on the Palestinian authorities’ modus operandi. Is he going to break the niceties of diplomatic protocol and say he doesn’t like having embassies in his country’s capital that keep explosives on their premises?

And so, for now, we’re left in the dark. Transporting all kinds of weapons and explosives in diplomatic pouches all over the world is nothing new.

Where were these explosives supposed to go?

The dead envoy might have known, but he won’t tell us. And it’s difficult to believe his superiors will tell the truth.

Happy (and safe) New Year, everybody!

Slovak hockey legends’ mutual hatred reaches boiling point

Hockey fans in Slovakia are watching this with baited breath: two legends of Slovakian hockey can’t stand one another. Nothing unusual about that, except, this time, it’s not about their personalities, it’s about politics.

And it all may end up in court.

North American hockey fans know, of course, the name of Peter Stastny (Šťastný is the correct spelling, by the way). Slovakian fans know Stastny, certainly, but Jozef Golonka seems to be closer to their hearts.

What happened was simple. Stastny was running for the office of Slovak hockey federation president. It used to be occupied by Juraj Siroky (Široký). That happened to be the guy who had had Stastny removed from the post of Team Slovakia general manager in 2006. When Siroky departed, accused of willingly collaborating with Czechoslovakia’s secret political police (StB) under the communist regime, Stastny wanted to replace him. Golonka opposed his election. So popular was he, Stastny didn’t have a chance.

Golonka’s stated reasons sound somewhat provincial and parochial: “Stastny doesn’t even live here, he’s busy working for the European Parliament (Stastny won an election to that August body as one of Slovakia’s representatives), he doesn’t know much about what’s going on in the country, and he wants to be the boss here.”

Golonka’s reasons carried the day.

Earlier this spring, both players were invited to take part in the taping of a TV show commemorating the split of Czechoslovakia into two independent states: Czech and Slovak Republics. As Golonka was facing the camera, recalling his fierce battles, especially those against the hated Team USSR, he noticed Stastny was approaching. Golonka stopped his reminiscing mid-sentence, saying he couldn’t be talking in the presence of THAT person (shrug in Stastny’s direction) and walked to the bench. That’s where Stastny caught up with him and used a communist greeting to address him. Golonka turned and asked: “Are you talking to me?” whereupon Stastny spilled all kinds of invective against the veteran.

Golonka, a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame, has become a symbol of his country’s resistance to the Soviet occupation.

Stastny, on the other hand, defected together with his brothers, Marian and Anton. Slovak hockey fans, especially those living in the south-western region of the country, could watch the brothers’ achievements with the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques on Austrian TV sportscasts, but still, the view lingered: Golonka stayed home and resisted, the Stastnys took an easier path and defected.

It doesn’t matter whether this perception is fair. What does matter is that it exists.

The exchange at the bench, as reported by Slovak media, was brief and to the point.

Golonka stood with his back to Stastny, who started: “Long live the commies and secret police helpers.”

Golonka turned and said: “Whom are you talking about?”

Stastny: “Comrade!” (that was the way the communists would address one another).

Golonka: “Are you talking about me?”

Stastny: “Comrade!”

Golonka: “You’re a bit off, boy. Really off. The StB (secret police) people were different. And you wouldn’t find Golonka among them.”

Stastny: “We all know what we know. How’s your buddy Julko (meaning Siroky)?”

Golonka was livid. The 75-year-old veteran would later tell Slovak journalists that “I’ve never been with the StB or with the communist party. They were following me,” he added. Documentation from the Institute to Preserve National Memory confirms it: yes, there was an entry in the StB files under Golonka’s name. It said: “Put and keep under surveillance.”

According to Slovak sources, Golonka has already filed a lawsuit against Stastny but there’s a catch: Stastny hasn’t been seen at his official permanent address. The file couldn’t be delivered to him. That annoys Golonka no end: “They can find him in Brussels (European Union capital), for crying out loud! Delays, delays, delays! This is very frustrating. I really wouldn’t want to have the trial started after I’d been laid to rest in a cemetery.”

In addition to considering Stastny’s attacks a personal insult, Golonka says some people stopped talking to him and he had unexpected problems in some of his business activities, as a result of the row he’s had with Stastny.

Stastny hasn’t reacted yet, Slovak media say.