Archive for Czech Republic

Can America Learn From Czech Muslims?

Posted in Features, New York City with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2010 by pbiris

The recent hubbub about the construction of a Muslim community center near ground zero drove me to dig up a story I reported and wrote while studying in the Czech Republic last fall. Since I haven’t had much success shopping this around – a little too specific to the Czech Republic, probably – I’ve now decided to self-publish the feature here, as it seems the right time for this story. Obviously this is a personal blog, so my opinion and personal perspective are a little more available than they would be elsewhere, but hopefully that doesn’t impact how you respond to this.

Since I can say so here though, I really think opponents to the mosque in Lower Manhattan should reconsider whether the United States should be in the habit of debating core freedoms to the same extent as a much smaller nation that’s been a democracy for less time than I’ve been alive; this sort of thing is happening all over our country.

But maybe these thoughts should rest somewhere near the back of your mind as you read the story of Muneeb Hassan Alrawi’s mosque, one of only two that have been officially allowed in the Czech Republic.

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Czech Muslims at the Breaking Point of Past, Present, and Future
by Damon Beres

Muneeb Hassan Alrawi made a choice 25 years ago to leave his home in Iraq and lead his life as a Muslim in the Czech Republic, a nation wherein 96% of the population is ethnically Czech, and nearly 60% describe themselves as unaffiliated with any religion. At the time, there were a grand total of zero mosques nationwide for Muslims to worship in.

Over two decades later, the number has risen to two, and petitions for a third have largely fallen on deaf ears.
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David Cerny Hates You

Posted in Columns with tags , , , on December 2, 2009 by pbiris

I had the opportunity to meet with Czech Jeff Koons Damien Hirst artist David Cerny this past Monday. I’ve enjoyed learning about his work immensely during my stay in Prague, but his too-cool-for-school, fuck-everything persona was a bit, shall we say, irksome, if not entirely unexpected. Still, he keeps things light, and for a country that has continuously struck me as painstakingly in order and (dare I say) repressed, his work is an invaluable source of vibrancy and levity. This column was, as always, published first in the Washington Square News.

Oftentimes, NYU in Prague kids prove to be, air quotes, “the jackasses.” We desecrate our lush dorm kitchens, ransack one another’s sustenance, stand on the wrong side of the escalator (or plummet down them drunkenly) and squawk English at the indigenous elderly — “Two. Klobasa. TWO!”

But sometimes, NYU in Prague brings the jackasses to us, and that, slight victory as it may be, is always reassuring. Case in point, last evening’s guest appearance by Czech artist and pop-culture point of fascination David Cerny, who would probably take no issue with the pejorative. (He might, in fact, settle into it as comfortably as he has his off-the-cuff flippancy.)

Cerny is the man behind such sculptures as “Dead Raped Woman” and “Entropa,” a controversial work commissioned by the Czech government to celebrate the nations of the European Union. And how did Cerny choose to represent these member states? Some choice examples include Italy as a group of athletes passionately humping their soccer balls, the United Kingdom as a massive chunk in absentia from the work, and Finland as a man lying prostrate in front of an elephant and hippo, which Cerny last night remarked was a depiction of how drunk the Finnish people are, or, after a pause, how drunk he might have been when he made the work.

It’s all pretty hilarious, and it’s all pretty obvious. After I asked if he views his work as political, Cerny acted almost incredulous and said no. When I asked if he thinks people take his work too seriously, he indicated that, yes, they sometimes do.

Those are pretty jackass things to say for a number of reasons. Cerny also put together a pretty famous work on display in the Czech Republic that has the audience climb up a ladder, poke their heads through a gargantuan rear end and watch a video of Vaclav Klaus, the second Czech president and right-wing nut, being spoon-fed white fluid to Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” footage that he proudly showed us last night. (You can see a pretty good shot of the exhibit if you Google Image search “David Cerny Vaclav Klaus rectum.”) He also came up with an image of a barbed red hand giving the middle finger with the words “FUCK THE KSCM” (the Czech Communist Party) printed beneath, elevated to a higher profile when Keith Richards once wore it onstage. And Cerny explained that after proposing a monument commemorating the Czech resistance to fascism in World War II, he was asked to respond to the fact that Communists had also been a part of the resistance. To this, he responded, “A dead Communist is the only good Communist.” He’s also put together a model of Saddam Hussein’s noose-choked carcass floating in formaldehyde.

In sum: His work slaps you in the face with its blatant political overtones, and it strikes me as a little ridiculous to say that people might take these over-the-top ideas a bit too seriously, even if it’s almost stupidly apparent that Cerny is only masturbating to an absurd Technicolor climax every time he concocts a new piece of, ahem, artwork.

But then, David Cerny knows this. He knows a lot of things, like how his future might hold a piloting career in South Africa — oh wait, no, he corrects himself — South America, but maybe Africa if he decides to work for “Doctors Without Borders or something.”

Yeah, dude’s a complete jackass, and he probably loves it! Frankly, I found his myriad urinating statues refreshing. And dare I say, it was almost liberating to find someone as at odds with this demure culture as I may be, forever and ever.