Derek Sayer: A Scandal in Bohemia

tags: NYT, Czech Republic, Derek Sayer, Lancaster University



Derek Sayer, a professor of history at Lancaster University, is the author, most recently, of “Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History.”

PRAGUE — A MIDDLE-AGED man sits in a cafe, sipping absinthe, the newspaper before him untouched. He stares at a shapely young woman perched mysteriously on the corner of his table. Naked as Eve, she is a translucent green. A waiter hovers nearby. Painted in 1901, Viktor Oliva’s “Absinthe Drinker” hangs in the venerable Cafe Slavia, which opened in 1884 and was a redoubt of dissident artists, from Vaclav Havel to Jiri Kolar, during the Communist era. Its temptress seems a fitting muse for a city where the absurdities of the public realm have often encouraged a retreat into the alcoholic and the erotic.

Last month, Czechs were thrust back into the world of the surreal. On June 12 and 13, some 400 police officers raided the offices of Prime Minister Petr Necas, the Defense Ministry, Prague’s city hall, other government offices, and several banks and homes. Stores of gold, and some $8 million in cash, were carted off. Nine senior officials — including the prime minister’s chief of staff, Jana Nagyova, and the present and former directors of military intelligence — were arrested and charged with corruption and misuse of power.

Four days later, Mr. Necas, leader of the center-right Civic Democrats, resigned. This week, prosecutors asked Parliament to strip him of legal immunity, a signal that he would face corruption charges. His closest aide, Ms. Nagyova, has been accused of ordering military intelligence agents to spy on her boss’s estranged wife and of offering jobs at state-owned companies to three lawmakers who had opposed a government austerity plan. President Milos Zeman has named Jiri Rusnok, a former finance minister from the opposition Social Democrats, to run a caretaker government until the next election....



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