The Czech Republic might join the Union tomorrow, but that is completely overshadowed by The Event, the 2004 Ice Hockey World Championship. I have never yet attended a hokej match, not that I could possibly afford a ticket for this event, and am quite uneducated on the particulars of this sport. I am fascinated by the hokej utensils, like the blood scoop they use to scrape the blood off the ice.
Once upon a time the Prague beer hall U Fleků, with its own brand of dark beer, was a recommended visit. Now it is a rather garish theatre set for the Czech impression of the German impression of what a Czech beer hall is all about. So with its big projection screen it was the ideal venue for the match between the historical enemies Sweden and Russia. As the gathered Swiss eagerly demonstrated, Switzerland was not a neutral country in this conflict at all. My table, a Swede and two Russians, was a quiet eddy in the maelstrom of schweinhund chanting, beer guzzling, loudly cheerful hokej fans. The Czech waiters quietly watched in the background. This country may have been invaded by the Swedes in the 17th century and by the Russians in the 20th, but this is hokej, what matters is not the points scored in the past, but where the threats are to the Czech hegemony as the finals approach.
Most Czechs don’t care much for hokej. Even so, when the Czech team fought the underdog Germany and the Germans had the temerity to stay even, there weren’t many Czechs unleashed from the television screen. In the end the home boys fended off a national humiliation from Big Brother to the west with a convincing win. The EU has got its beachhead in the main square, where they have one stand for each of the 25 EU countries and one for EU itself as well as a scene for European culture. All stands except Austria’s were crowded, but the visitors were mainly bemused passers-by filling out the European kviz they had received as they went along. The lack of ceremony is in part because the Czech Republic already is in the Union, and in part because it is not. Joining the Union is a part of a necessary normalization process, much like going to the dentist. It may be a long term good, but with immediate pain, a poll in Hospodařské Noviny showed that a majority of Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, and Poles believe that their economic situation will worsen after joining the Union.
The frazzled hotel staff where I stay, like any other hotel in the city handling the influx of hokej tourists, have had little time for the championship themselves. One had watched the game on her day off to see if their Swiss guests would be ecstatic or pissed, of course they were pissed. Today the hotel was overrun by Russians, the Russian team battling their favourite enemy USA, and at the time of this writing I have no idea whether they will come back ecstatic or pissed.