Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Czechs are Cool

There has been another diplomatic flare-up between the Czech Republic and Cuba, with Czech diplomat Stanislav Kázecký expelled for “subversive activities.” According to the Prague Post (week of Apr. 19, 2006):

Specifically, Cuban authorities say Kázecký was photographing military facilities on the Island.

“To the best of my knowledge,” Kázecký told reporters at an April 16 press conference, “I have never entered any army base or military ground in the Republic of Cuba.”

It’s not really about bogus espionage charges. The Czech Republic has probably been the leading critic of Cuba’s abysmal human rights record after America, advocating a “democratic and prosperous society in Cuba.” Neither will happen during Castro’s brutal reign, which is why the Czech Republic has been advocating U.S. style sanctions in the EU.

The Czechs have a historic love of freedom, which the Soviets tried to crush. It’s why jazz has taken root there. Many Czech Dixieland bands sprung up as early as 1947 following a tour by British Trad player Graeme Bell. Of course, under Communism, jazz was always on shaky ground, often prohibited.

In his entertaining introduction to the jazz themed collection The Bass Saxophone, Josef Škvorecký recounts jazz’s temporary comeback when American bass player Herbert Ward defected, “delivering another serious blow to American Imperialism.”(p. 22) Škvorecký and his associates, including trumpeter Josef Krajnik immediately sought out Hall, offering themselves as his new band. Škvorecký writes, “we used him ruthlessly” to play their music, provided it accompanied Hall ridiculous propaganda lyrics. Ultimately, Hall returned to the U.S. when the Czechs were unable to meet his demands for more money, but socialist regulations forbade it. You can take the socialist out of capitalism, but you can’t take the capitalism out of the socialist.

Škvorecký would relinquish music for literature. After a detour in the Czech auto industry (such as it was), Krajnik was later able to form another, more swing oriented band, the Metropolitan Jazz Band Praha. Now Czechs can freely play any music without regard to state censors. To their credit, they want to extend that freedom to Cuba.