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Czwastika Eyez brings word of the censorship plights of the Czech Republic, which says a lot about how the people there value their freedoms of speech and what they would do to protect it.

Hit play on the MP3 player and read along...

Czwastika Eyez?
Lone Star
Posts: 7
Big new article in English on the Czech "Swastika Eyes" censorship farce
« on: March 22, 2009, 12:37:02 PM »

Hi all,

I posted about the early stages of this nonsense a couple of months ago: denunciation of the "fascist" Primal Scream by Czech state officials, public protests n much anger here in Prague...

Update March 2009: the "Swastika Eyes" debate has opened several larger cans of worms, covering ongoing arbitrary state censorship, open corruption among public officials, and various other ugly hangovers from the totalitarian era that we're still stuck with.

This story has not gone away - and by now it's about far bigger stakes than one Primal Scream song.

Linked n pasted below, an article that came out on Friday on Spin's new website...


"Hammer and Sickle Eyes: Music censorship in the Czech Republic, and the wider crisis of post-communist democracy"
by Peter G Holland
Instigator Media Group /, Prague

It began with a scare that felt more like the Cold War era than October 2008. The Czech Radio Council - the national body for broadcasting standards in public radio - announced their discovery of a conspiracy to "promote fascism" to the youth of the Czech Republic.

The accused: Scottish alt-rock band Primal Scream; their 1999 single Swastika Eyes; the DJ who played it on public radio; and the entire staff of Radio Wave, the country's non-profit youth culture and alternative music station. As the full background to this sweeping denunciation has emerged, it has triggered public protests in the Czech capital of Prague and widespread debate about the enduring legacy of communism.

Primal Scream, it should be noted at the outset, are a rather unlikely choice for would-be fascists, being a band well known for their left-wing anti-authoritarian stance and past involvement in anti-racist activism. Similarly, the song Swastika Eyes is unambiguous in its message: an explicit critique of "parasitic, syphilitic" politicians who pay lip service to democracy but have totalitarian intentions clearly visible in their "swastika eyes."

The basis for the accusations was a woeful mistranslation of the lyrics to Swastika Eyes, skewed either by incompetence or design to give the song a celebratory rather than condemnatory meaning. It was soon discovered that the translation in fact formed part of a larger dossier on the evils of alternative music, commissioned by the Czech Radio Council from their “expert” analyst of contemporary youth culture. This expert, it emerged, was a middle-aged Moscow-educated economist and lobbyist with no background in either culture or radio, and those parts of his report which are on public record make intriguing reading for music fans. Particular standouts are comments on how hip hop "advocates revolution", and goths promote "intolerance of Christianity"... but it was the interpretation of Swastika Eyes which received the greatest attention.

The report’s findings were announced to the press without any advance warning given to anyone at public radio. Craig Duncan, the Radio Wave DJ who had played the track as part of a retrospective of the Glasgow alternative scene, recalls, "First thing I knew, I got a phone call saying 'You should check the newspapers - the Radio Council just denounced you as a neo-fascist.' Yeah, I was kinda surprised." Duncan, an expatriate Scot and long-term Prague resident, is remarkably cheerful about the whole thing, explaining that, "everybody in radio was already fully aware of the kind of nonsense the Radio Council were up to. But when they came out with the whole 'fascism' thing, then the whole country could see what they were doing. It really helped that they picked a song that was specifically about that kind of behaviour, especially since there's such an ugly history of it under the previous regime."

Under communism, alternative music played a central role in the Czech dissident movement. Charta 77, the protest organisation formed in 1977 by playwright and future president Vaclav Havel among others, was begun in response to the regime's persecution of an alternative rock band, The Plastic People of the Universe . The Plastics, a psychedelic jazz-rock group influenced by Frank Zappa, were entirely apolitical but were nevertheless harassed and jailed as dissidents. This marked a turning point in organised opposition to communism, as the regime made explicit that it would imprison not only active dissidents, but also anyone who sought to pursue an alternative lifestyle. Like many of the country's leading writers, artists and filmmakers of the time, the Plastics were denounced as dangerous political extremists who must be suppressed for the public good. National newspapers carried official reports of their extremism, supported by wildly out-of-context quotes. Now, almost 20 years after the fall of communism, the Radio Council was employing the same techniques - and, it was alleged, exactly the same words.

The country's largest-circulation broadsheet newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes drew the broadest parallels, stating: “The whole of the Council recalls the situation of jazz at the time of the Nazi occupation, and the position of the Communist establishment against rock 'n' roll and New Wave cinema. Not only their desperate ignorance and linguistic inability, but particularly the monstrous totalitarian vocabulary of almost all participants.”

Public protests swiftly followed. First, 150 protesters gathered outside Czech national radio headquarters demanding the resignations of Council members and their associates. Two weeks later, downtown Prague club Roxy (where Primal Scream had played a sold-out show the previous month) hosted a free festival of electro, indie and hip hop groups with the same aim. Swastika Eyes was soon among the best-known songs in the country: the media analysed it in depth, generally concluding that it referred to exactly the type of faux-democrats inhabiting the Radio Council; more than one commentator quipped that Hammer and Sickle Eyes would have been a far better title. The song was also back on the radio with a vengeance, particularly since many bands on the alternative scene began releasing their own versions.

"When I heard these stupid accusations I absolutely lost my temper," fumes Martin "Destroyer" Prikryl, guitarist and bandleader of Prague post-punks The Prostitutes , who premiered their version at a concert broadcast live on Radio Wave. "Primal Scream are hugely influential on what The Prostitutes are doing musically, and we felt we should change from laid-back rockers to activists for a while. We decided to cover the song as our protest against political idiocy." As well as The Prostitutes, post-rockers Aran Epochal and electropunks Sporto released notable interpretations, the latter using samples of Council members’ most communistic outbursts.

Why did the Czech Radio Council make such a blatant return to the techniques of the past? Activist Jan Vavra of the protest group Pro Wave suggests they were instructed to do so by higher powers - namely their parent body the Radio and Television Council, which is ultimately in charge of all major broadcasting matters including the issuing of highly lucrative broadcasting licences. Vavra explains, "Wave is a station for young people, and, because all private radio stations want young people, there is tremendous commercial pressure to shut the station down. The Radio and Television Council is where the serious lobbying is done. There was a court case in 2007 between them and Wave, over whether Wave was broadcasting legally or not. Wave won the case, so after that the lower Radio Council were given the task of getting rid of them. They have taken every opportunity to try and do so - but nobody expected that they would make such a mess of it, or turn themselves into such a public spectacle."

The Radio Wave smear campaign is only one of a range of recent controversies surrounding the Radio Council, all of which are related to attempts to close or marginalise non-profit stations. The past year has seen a number of protests by listeners of public radio's flagship news station Radiozurnal, who believe that the Council has repeatedly attempted to interfere with independent news reporting. Then, from another station, the producer of a highly successful multimedia online nature programme filmed in the gorilla enclosure at Prague Zoo announced that he felt forced to discontinue his project, citing overwhelming hostility on the part of the Council. This was followed by another smear campaign in which the Council claimed that the General Director of the network had hired a former member of the communist secret police for his staff; like Wave's "fascism", this turned out to be a complete fabrication.

The scope and variety of the Council's attacks suggests nothing less than a concerted effort to marginalise and dismantle public radio in its entirety. A coalition of protest groups have submitted a petition to parliament demanding the removal of the Council, and are presently awaiting a response. However: the parliamentary committee responsible for judging the merits of the petition is the same one which personally selected and appointed the Council members in the first place. Less than 20 years ago the then-Czechoslovak Republic was regarded as a paragon of successful post-communist democracy, with a seamless transition from dictatorship to democratic rule of law. Today, at least in the public sector, democratic accountability is marginal at best. What went wrong?

"The early 1990s were a time of enormous idealism,” explains Jan Machacek, a leading political journalist and economic analyst. Outside his career in journalism Machacek plays guitar in original Czech punk band Garage , formed in 1979 and banned from performing or releasing albums in the decade that followed. He believes that the present revival of censorship is in part a result of the excessive optimism which followed the 1989 revolution:

"Compared to other European countries, very little was actually written down in law about appointing or removing public officials," says Machacek of the post-1989 reconstruction. "We assumed we would always elect politicians who were enlightened enough to appoint the right people to act in the public interest - and that, naturally, they would choose respected personalities who had been moral examples in the 70s and 80s. We were so naive and idealistic that we actually thought this would work." Bodies representing the public interest were thus given wide-ranging powers combined with very little accountability, in the expectation that they would be filled by an intellectual elite of former dissidents. In practice, the positions were soon divided up between the new political parties, handing disproportionate power to a class of third-rate functionaries Machacek describes as "very grey people whose only quality is party loyalty.” With no effective laws regulating lobbying or conflicts of interest, appointees' private business interests are routinely ignored as long as they can be trusted to represent the interests of their respective political masters as well. As Machacek observes, these issues are not by any means unique to the Czech Republic, but are universal problems facing post-communist countries: "To understand the problems of post-communism," he says, "it helps to look at Russia. Russia is a magnifying glass for the problems of all post-communist countries: theoretically it has an open democracy and the rule of law, but everything is facade with no actual content. All the other countries have these same problems but in a less extreme form."

The root problem of naïveté regarding the transition to democracy, however, goes beyond even the former Soviet bloc. Global politics in the first decade of the 21st century have been dominated by a neoconservative faith that democracy can be implanted in a country almost overnight, by force if necessary. The post-communist experience makes clear that, even following a peaceful revolution with mass support, the crucial transition period is not one of months or even years, but of generations. Primal Scream's Swastika Eyes was originally written as a critique of militaristic Western governments, but the song's relevance to the problems facing young democracies is, if anything, even stronger. It encapsulates the paradox inherent in any transition from totalitarianism to democracy: for every emerging political figure with a genuine commitment to democratic values, there are countless others who have merely changed their allegiances in order to gain power. In the Czech Republic, almost twenty years after the fall of communism the majority of politicians and state officials are still of a generation whose concept of government was formed under a totalitarian regime. Few are outright communists, but a great many are a disturbing hybrid of born-again free-market fundamentalism and quasi-communist rhetoric and tactics.

However, it does appear that the Radio Council is by now in its last throes, as its members are increasingly doing the one thing which is simply not tolerated: they are becoming a very public embarrassment to their respective political parties. Each monthly public meeting draws a larger and more diverse group of protesters than the last, with attendant media circus. The first meeting of 2009 was preceded by a "funeral service for public broadcasting standards," where a crowd of black-suited mourners covered the pavement outside the building with wreaths and candles. Some of those who could not attend in person sent flowers instead - including, notably, the Minister of Education. The meeting itself began with the Council deploying private security guards to prevent many peaceful protesters reaching the public meeting room; in a grim stroke of irony, among those physically barred from entering was musician Joe Karafiat of the once-illegal psychedelic rockers The Plastic People of the Universe. Later, it was discovered that some of the meeting's results had been published over two hours before the meeting itself began. The performance ended with the Council's official spokesperson refusing to talk to the press.

Today as under communism, an unelected apparatchik's greatest possible crime is the failure to maintain an appropriate facade of legitimacy. It is this failure, rather than any of their genuinely harmful activities, that marks the Czech Radio Council's days as numbered. Long before his theories collapsed in the bloody morass of Stalinism, Karl Marx suggested that "history repeats itself twice: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." One might hope that, after the tragedies of the Nazi and Soviet occupations, the Czech Republic's present cultural censors are perhaps merely the final, farcical coda of 20th century totalitarianism in Central Europe.


That pretty much covers most of it to date. Respect to Peter, IMG and Spin for picking up the story.

I suspect there will be more about this soon, particularly since the Radio Council have recently begun visiting public radio headquarters accompanied by a phalanx of combat-jacketed private "security" thugs whose main purpose seems to be to stand in the hallways intimidating people.

Updates to follow, I hope.

Meantime, do check out the Spin webpage, with photogallery and MP3 streaming of the best Czech protest cover versions of "Swastika Eyes", at

Also: if you think the issues covered in this article are important, please please post the link on other sites that may be interested. This kind of shit should not be going on in 21st century Europe. Thanks loads.

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