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Jan Švejnar: basic ignorance about Czech realities

Jan Švejnar, a professor of economics at University of Michigan and a U.S. citizen, decided that he wants to be the next Czech president who will be elected by the Parliament in February 2008. Václav Klaus remains the likely winner but with the support of the Czech Social Democratic Party and the Green Party, Švejnar becomes a serious contender.

Jan Švejnar vs Luboš Motl: a Google fight
I have nothing against him personally but I find it somewhat strange for a person who has no idea about the life in the Czech Republic to become its president. He has lived in the U.S. since 1970 or so.

A TV program today showed very clearly how detached Švejnar is from the Czech history, Czech culture, and Czech reality. He was asked several questions from the Prague Castle's quiz addressed to children and youth. For example, he was asked:
Which play includes the Czech national anthem, "Where Is My Home?" (Kde domov můj?)
He had no idea. But the faux pas continued. Another question wanted him to say the motto on the official presidential flag. As all children know, it is
Truth prevails (actually "Pravda vítězí" in Czech, which is "Veritas Vincit" in Latin)
He had no clue. What do you mean by a presidential flag? Did you say that truth prevails? I will have to inform myself, he said. One more question was about the famous sculptures or allegories of Virtues and Vices by Matthias Braun.
Where are these sculptures located?
This was a tougher one. The correct answer is the Kuks Castle and he didn't know, of course. He happened to know that Charles University was founded in 1348 and Bedřich Smetana composed "My Country". However, he was also asked
Which ancient tribe that used to live on our territory gave the name to Bohemia?
It was also a hard one. The answer is that these guys were Boii which is a Roman name of an old Celtic tribe, and a Germanic word "boio-haemum" designates their home. Mr Švejnar, of course, didn't know.

Now, I don't think that these particular questions are the most essential ones for a president. But I suspect that he is out of touch with many more important questions associated with the citizens of the country in which he wants to become the president.

I feel that these are vices that go beyond any ideology and it is simply a bad idea to promote such candidates.

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reader David said...

This seems to be a very common theme with "international" academics in the USA.
Former Harvard Professor of Political Science Michael Ignatieff, for example, thought he was going to be the next prime minister of Canada. He ended up losing a leadership race for the Liberal Party of Canada. As with Svejnar, he demonstrated ignorance on many facets of Canadian life.

On the other hand, Latvia had Vike-Freiberga as their figurehead for many years, and she had lived in Canada for several decades as an academic. She did reasonably well.

Conclusion: There is a secret society of ethnic slavs seeking to rule North American and the former USSR. They plan to use academia as a stepping stone.