It’s Friday afternoon, getting dark and the SSEES building is slowly emptying of staff and students before the weekend. One person heading into the building, however, is UK’s ambassador to the Czech Republic Sian Macleod. My SSEES colleague, Czech and Slovak literature specialist Peter Zusi, get to serve the tea and talk to the ambassador, who is a former professional violinist and also served in Moscow at the time the Soviet Union was slowly crashing down around our ears. She could perhaps have been forgiven for thinking that Prague would be a calmer posting, but that would be to reckon with the perfect Lisbon Treaty storm created (almost) around the country by Václav Klaus.
As reformed Klausologist, I hear myself – somewhat as if in an out of body experience – saying that criticisms of VK as villain of post-1989 politics are overdone and that both the popularity of the current technocratic caretaker government and familiar Havelian diagnosis of the Czech Republic as in a permanent malaise brought on by parties, professional politics, lack of civil society, failure of elites etc etc are riff that the Czech intelligentsia and, well, somewhat overdone. Rather like the Sovietologists of the 1970s, who defined themselves as anti-anti-communist, I find myself becoming anti-anti-Klaus.
Before I can discredit myself any further, however, the discussion happily turns to Czech culture – not with me obviously, several students from the SSEES Czech Seminar have shown up – so there are some useful recommendation of things to read and listen to, including Czech-Moravian folk updaters Čechomor – as well as the news that the veteran rockers, who inspired Charter 77, Plastic People of the Universe will be visiting SSEES on 15 December. Politically speaking, I also learn that Cameron ally Greg Hands is chair of the parliamentary Czech and Slovak group and can speak both languages. Another interesting element in the unusual mosaic of the European Conservative and Reformists group that colleagues at Sussex University and I are following with some academic interest.
A very relaxed and interesting conversation moves from how you say ‘letters of accredition’ in Czech (pověřovací listiny) and ends up on Russian poetry. The ambassador needs to go. As a Senior Lecturer, I, naturally, get to stack the dishwasher. There’s no one around. The building is almost deserted. Time to go home.