U.S.: As predicted and discussed on TRF exactly 3 months ago, Ernest Moniz became the new U.S. secretary of energy.Valtr Komárek died today (Fox News). He was one of the key minds behind the Velvet Revolution, in some sense a senior collaborator of the current Czech president and the previous one, and a left-wing politician whom I respected – and be sure they make up a very exclusive set.
His unusual biography reflects the dramatic history of Czechoslovakia and the whole world in the 20th century.
He was born out of wedlock to a Jewish family in Hodonín, Moravia, in 1930. Both parents died in a concentration camp. Valtr himself was saved from the Holocaust thanks to his foster parents, the Komáreks. As a young kid, he was educated as a "hip" anti-Semite, much like most kids in the region, before he learned he was a Jew and the parents were not biological ones when he was nine. After the war, when he was still a teenager, he became a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, partly because he was grateful to his poor adoptive parents who brought him up and who were communists, too.
He completed a degree in economics in Moscow, USSR, and in the 1960s, he worked in the State Planning Commission. What's even more remarkable for foreign readers is that he worked as an adviser to Che Guevara, an educated Argentine left-wing mass killer, between 1964 and 1967. So you would think that Komárek symbolized the ultimate extreme left wing in economics.
However, in the following year, in 1968, he returned to Czechoslovakia and became a key economist behind the Prague Spring, trying to construct a more viable i.e. more capitalist form of socialism. He remained in the top economics after the Soviet occupation but in 1971, he was moved to the Federal Bureau for Prices which was a somewhat "lower" institute that didn't affect the national economy this much.
In 1978, he returned to the Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences and since 1984, he was the director of the Forecasting Institute. In his institute, the bulk of the Czechoslovak (in some cases) Chicago-school-like reformers including Klaus, Dyba, Ježek, Dlouhý, as well as a top communist Ransdorf and (after the fall of communism) Zeman have worked at various moments.
He was a highly visible character during the Velvet Revolution; see his name in 5 previous TRF blog entries. A well-known slogan "During [the reign of] PM Komárek, a crown will be like a mark" shows both enthusiasm as well as a slight shortage of realism (the slogan rhymes in Czech; the actual exchange rate was always above CZK 10 per DM). While he was pointing out his differences from Václav Klaus, he would do so in a friendly way. In this sense, he was unusual among the members of the Social Democratic Party that kind of attracted him in the following years. He left politics in 1993 when Czechoslovakia disintegrated. Three years ago or so, Komárek received the highest awards from ex-president Klaus.
He died after complications from heart surgeries. His son Martin Komárek is a highly productive and well-known journalist.
Incidentally, the Czech Republic became the 26th DAC country, switching from a recipient of development aid within OECD to donors as the first post-socialist country. Less optimistically, the Czech economy saw a 1.9% year-on-year decrease of the GDP. We lost to Switzerland (surprisingly undefeated so far) in the ice-hockey championship quarter finals.
The world media are most interested in the video of president Zeman shot during the traditional (every 5 years) ceremony opening the exhibition of the Czech royal crown jewels (7 top people of the state and the church have to lend their keys to open the treasure). Zeman has explained his strange motion by a virus infection ("virosis"). Most Czechs and the world media believe that he had gone through several glasses or bottles of virosis before the ceremony. ;-) I am not sure who is right.