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The environmentalists have not dried the spring of the Moldau River

Ironically enough, I must defend the innocence of an environmentalist movement in a bizarre argument.

The Moldau (Czech: Vltava) – the river that Prague was built upon – is considered the Czech National River or the Mother of Czech Rivers. I guess that the true reason is that it is the river beneath the Mother of Cities, Prague. The officially stated reason is that the Moldau is the longest river on our territory – 430 kilometers in total.

The Elbe (Czech: Labe) seems like a bigger river – because it "devours" the Moldau near Mělník – and it is born in Northern Bohemia, too. However, the Elbe spends too much time in Germany so it's not quite "ours".

All this terminology and mythology about the river is full of strange irregularities and bogus arguments.

The first crazy irregularity is that the Elbe is actually not a bigger river than the Moldau. At their confluence, the Moldau has a larger flow rate. So according to all the rules, the river that continues into East Germany should actually be called the Moldau! ;-)

(Also, the river that Pilsen sends to Prague as a Moldau's tributary and that is called "Berounka" should simply be called "Mže/Mies" according to the largest of the four rivers of Pilsen. The idea that a new river is "created" at the confluence in Pilsen is another "exception".)

The fact that Moldau, and not Elbe, is actually the larger river may have been obscured by the fact that Moldau makes a sharp left turn at the confluence while Elbe seems straight. Sharp turns is what you expect from tributaries.

The second terminological distortion is the beautifully patriotic, Czech name of the river: Vltava. It sounds like an originally Czech, Slavic name, doesn't it? All those people who love to mock the Czech language for too many consonants get their strawman (just like in "Motl", "L" in "Vltava" simply plays the role of a de facto vowel, the core of a syllable, something that "R" is capable of doing, too: with this realization, all sensible people must agree that the Czech syllables are unusually balanced; in Polish, "Vlček" is simply said with an extra "I" in front of "L", "Wilczek", a wolf puppy, but the rhythm is basically the same).

Is Vltava a truly Czech or Slavic name? Well, no. It comes from the old Germanic "wilt-ahwa"; it sounds the same, doesn't it? It's not hard to fix these words so that they resemble modern Western European languages. What will you get? Well, "Vltava" ultimately comes from "Wild Aqua", or "wild water"! ;-) So the word was only made to look Slavic or Czech, its origin is entirely foreign. Maybe, once you were told this story, you will prefer the name Vltava over the Moldau! ;-) Where does the name "Moldau" come from? It's a deformation of "wild aqua" ("wild aqua", "wuld aqua", "fuld/muld aqua", "mold aqua", "mold au"), too. You may see that the Czech language has saved the Germanic and Latin roots of the name much more faithfully than modern German!

The Czech national mythology continues with the third and fourth mystification. The third mystification is that the Moldau never leaves the Czech territory. Moldau actually has two springs, the Warm Moldau and the Cold Moldau. Only when they merge, they are called Moldau. A problem is that the spring of the Cold Moldau is already in Bavaria. The spring of the Warm Moldau – and that's the main topic of this blog post – is in Bohemia but 600 meters from the Bavarian border, on the Southeast slope of the Black Mountain (peak: 1315 meters above the sea level). So the Bohemian geographic credentials aren't that flawless, either.

Some years ago, I created a music video (it had to have 2 parts thanks to a 10-minute limit that was enforced then) for Bedřich Smetana's "The Moldau"; over 250,000 views now. I tried to faithfully show what themes Smetana wanted to express by parts of the composition. The spring, its chaotic journey through the Šumava mountains, the South Bohemian countryside (the "healthy core" of the nation whose dialect was used as a template for the official Czech language a few centuries ago), the castles, the dams (that were not there in Smetana's times but he has clearly predicted them), a rural wedding with the folk songs, nymphs, mysterious dark forests, and the old pagan natural mythology in general, Hussites in Tábor (with the theme of their combat song), Moldau in Prague including the theme of the Vyšehrad Castle (which is dedicated another symphonic poem, too), and the disappearance of Moldau in Labe.

The fourth mystification I want to mention is that the composer, Bedřich Smetana, was a typical all-Czech patriotic composer. Well, Smetana sounds Czech – it's Cream, unless said otherwise, sweet whipping (not sour) cream. His father František/Franz Smetana was a brewer in Litomyšl and had 18 children in total. The brewery wasn't in Pilsen, obviously, but Smetana did study in Pilsen and made compositions to remember our city. But the point I want to make is that Friedrich Smetana spoke almost only German throughout his life before he was discovered as the Czech national composer and embraced Czech as his first language.

This classic Pilsner Urquell ad presents its idea about the way how Smetana was hired to write "My Country". In 1874, when he was 50, couriers came to Jabkenice, a village where he lived, with a letter. Sadly, just weeks earlier, his health condition deteriorated – not just skin rashes but also hallucinations and the loss of hearing.

In the ad, Smetana reads the offer and replies: "I cannot author an opus, the patriotic one, since I can hear of nothing, Gentlemen." – "But Master, who el..." – "I can't hear, Gentlemen!" The woman brought him a pint of Pilsner Urquell and Smetana ordered "The pen!". He began to write and indeed wrote "My Country" (a set of six wonderful symphonic poems) when he was deaf. (He angrily screams "Go away!" at the end of the ad when the creativity already flooded his mind.) A truly amazing feature of this legend is that it is true (probably including the Pilsner beer, but it's hard to prove). It's possible to create great compositions when you're deaf (as long as you are Smetana, too). And the fact that no other activities distract you may be helpful. I think that Stephen Hawking is freed from numerous (but not all) distractions, too.

(The legend about the birth of Pilsner Urquell, started by pouring barrels of the sucking old beer down the drain is also a great story – remotely resembling the Boston Tea Party.)

But let me get to the present. Eleven days ago, a center-right senator Mr Tomáš Jirsa (ODS, the Civic Democratic Party I mostly voted for) announced that the spring of Moldau has dried out. He heard the news from the mayor of Kvilda, the village that is close to the spring. The senator argued that it is a truly national catastrophe for Moldau to dry out. You can imagine that. ;-) The senator was joined by guys from a small formerly Zeman's party and others.

I think that the American readers would agree with me that if their national river's spring dried out, global warming, the deniers, the oil industry, and similar culprits would be immediately blamed. But the Czech discussions about these matters are really, really different. The simple-minded, one-dimensional climate hysteria is pretty much completely absent. So Mr Jirsa has found the actual culprit of the national catastrophe: the environmentalist NGO "the Rainbow Movement" (Hnutí Duha).

How were these econuts supposed to kill the spring of our national river? Well, these econuts have opposed any human-led fight against the bark beetle, the most important pest that destroys trees in the Šumava Mountains (Bohemian+Bavarian Forest). They want things to be natural so no one is allowed to fight the bark beetle, the econuts insist. The current president Zeman is the most famous politician who's been fighting a coalition of the econuts and the bark beetles on this issue. Needless to say, I agree with him. It's right for the people to behave as the "masters of the forests" and if it seems obvious that the bark beetles are crippling whole forests, they should be dealt with just like the Islamic State.

At the end, the cultivated treatment of trees and other plants in Western Europe always seemed to me as one of the most obvious signs of their being ahead. The trees and gardens are still alive, green, and colorful, but you may see that human hands (and careful planning, with some good taste) have been involved. Forests and parks that seem closer to uncultural "primeval forests" are much more frequent in the poorer parts of Europe, aren't they?

So the argumentation by the center-right senator is that the dead dry trees – that have replaced, because of the bark beetles' activities, the deep forest that was surrounding the spring of Moldau for centuries – have caused the spring itself to dry out and the environmentalists should be blamed for that!

Well, I am no geologist but I would be skeptical about the implicit assumptions "how the springs work", especially the idea that they immediately follow the fate of the trees. (The spring must go through the rocks for some time. By the way, there is a lot of silver in the water from Moldau's spring: the water may go through the places where our ancestors were mining silver.)

A week later, The Rainbow Movement responded and I find their response persuasive. The key of the response is that the well you can see at the top of this blog post is an artificial tourist destination. This well has been created for the naive tourists who want to see the "spring of Moldau". But this well has been actually getting water from a pipe and the main problem was, as it turned out, that the pipe got jammed! ;-)

So nothing qualitative has changed about the spring; the "actual" spring in the peat bog works just like it did years ago. The environmentalists also argue that if the trees infected by the bark beetle had been cut, the tree-less place would be even drier than it actually was two week ago. The main mistakes happened when too many trees on that mountain were cut in the 1990s – and Kyrill (the 2007 storm) was the last blow. They recommend logging to be done slowly and carefully. And one sentence of their statement is dedicated to climate change – they argue that droughts may become more common. This is obviously the most problematic sentence in their statement.

However, I do agree that if the actual cause of the "disappeared spring of Moldau" is found to be a clogged tube, those who have blamed particular people and movement for the catastrophe should apologize, even if they're mayors or center-right senators. Such a mistake looks too ludicrously obvious.

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