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Interview: Osamělý Králíček / The Lonely Bunny

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

 

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Odkud pocházíš?

Já jenom vím, že můj otec je Čech a nikdo mi nikdy neřekl, kdo je má pravá máma.

Jsi z velké rodiny?

Jsme tři bratři: Bob, Bobek a já.

Jak jsi se dostal do Prahy?

Přijel jsem sem jako oficiální maskot na Mistroství světa v ledním hokeji, společně s mými bratry.

Proč se citíš tak osamělý?

Protože komise vzala Boba a Bobka jako maskoty, ale mě vynechali :((( Moji bratři byli slavní a já ne. Opustili mě a nikoho jsem neměl…ale potom jsem potkal Bobinu, super sexy bílou králici s úžasným ocasem a velikánskýma černýma očima. Zamiloval jsem se do ní. Byla tím jediným důvodem, proč znovu začít žít. Potkal jsem ji na Letné, a pak přišel sníh, Praha byla zasypaná sněhem, všechno bylo tak bílé…jeden druhému jsme se ztratili. No nebyl bys nešťastný, kdyby se ti něco takového stalo?

Jaké jsou tvé sny, čeho chceč dosáhnout?

Chci najít Bobinu, prochodím celé město, každé místo, každý kout, jsem si jistý, že tu někde musí být.

Co rád děláváš v neděli odpoledne?

Čekám na svou princeznu. Sám, samozřejmě.

Jak bys popsal Prahu jen v několika slovech?

Praha? Je úžasná, skoro jako Bobina.

Jaké je tvé oblíbené jídlo?

Moravská mrkev :))) samo sebou :)))

Čeho se nejvíc bojíš?

Troubení tramvají, vždycky mě to vyděsí! Ne ne ne prosím, blázniví lidé!

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Jak udržuješ svou krásnou srst tak bílou a nadýchanou? Jaké je tvé tajemství?

Ráno piji mrkvový džus, k obědu si dávám mrkvový salát s několika bio mrkvovými párečky, a večer…DIETA!

Připravuješ se nějak na Velikonoce?

Dokud nenajdu Bobinu, nikdy nebudu na nic připravený.

Where are you from originally?

I just know that my father is Czech, nobody told me who my real mum was.

Do you come from a large family?

Three brothers: Bob, Bobek and me.

How did you get to Prague?

I arrived here to be the official Ice Hockey World Championship mascot with my brothers.

Why are you alone now?

Because they took Bob and Bobek as mascots and the Commission excluded me 😦 My brothers are successful now and I’m not. They left me and I had nobody… but then I met Bobina – a super sexy white bunny with an amazing tail and big big black eyes. I fell in love with her. She was the only thing that gave me a reason to live. I met her in Letna Park, but then the snow came, everything was white so… we lost each other… Wouldn’t you be sad if something like that happened to you?

What are your future dreams and goals?

To find Bobina, I will travel the whole city, every place and every corner. I’m sure she is here somewhere.

What’s your favourite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon?

To wait for my princess. Alone, of course.

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How would you describe Prague in just a few words?

Prague? It’s amazing, almost like Bobina.

What’s your favourite food?

Moravian Carrot :-))) of course.

What’s your greatest fear?

Tram horns that alert pedestrians. They make me so scared! No, no, no, please! Crazy humans!

How do you keep your beautiful fur so white and fluffy? What’s your secret?

Carrot juice for breakfast, carrot salad for lunch with a few little bio carrot sausages, and in the evenings… DIET!

Are you getting ready for Easter?

I won’t be read for anything until I find Bobina.

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Follow the white rabbit here

Photos by The Lonely Rabbit. Translation by Misa Rygrova.

Bělá-Jezová: Inside a Czech refugee camp

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Illustration by Delarock

By Ryan Keating-Lambert

I wanted to pay the Bělá-Jezová detention camp a visit after reading some rather negative articles late last year on the subject. In a recent DW article, human rights official Anna Šabatová said the camp in many respects, offered worse conditions than a Czech prison. Upon first glance, it seemed that the camp had improved, however after speaking to a refugee there about her own personal experience within the camp, I started to doubt some of these improvements. On top of that, the staff were unable to divulge any information whatsoever. As you read on, keep in mind that the names and details of some people have been changed in order to protect their identities. This is also the only ‘People in Prague’ interview I have done where I have not been able to put a photo of the person. Due to not being able to capture details on camera, Czech artist and illustrator ‘Delarock’ was kind enough to interpret my description of the grounds.

I arrived at the camp with Jonatan and his wife Eliška – 2 local volunteers who were bringing some supplies such as food, literature and other materials. The camp, which was formerly a military training facility is reasonably well concealed and had I been driving I would’ve gone straight past it without blinking an eye. We were greeted by security who closely examined our ID, but surprisingly didn’t ask that many questions about a native English speaker carrying no supplies for the detainees. Lucky for me.

After receiving our entrance key cards, we were escorted to the main building where we were instructed to lock up all of our possessions including phones, keys, lighters, wallets – anything that could be stolen, used as a weapon or as a recording device.

We then started to walk to the main building through a narrow path carved through the thick snow that had fallen the night before. During the walk I took in everything around me, the high 4 metre fence with barbed wire sitting coldly behind a snow-covered children’s playground that reminded me a bit of the opening credits of Terminator 2, but the apocalyptic fire had been replaced by a thick blanket of monotonous snow – later I realised that this image painted a depressing portrait of the monotony and loneliness felt throughout the whole camp. The playground was there, but the high barbed-wire fence made it almost invisible. Eliška informed me that the playgrounds and children’s art on some of the walls had obviously been put up after Šabatová’s visit to the camp in an attempt to make it more comforting and friendly for children. While we passed through yet another security gate, Eliška and Jonatan also spoke about the conversations that the workers had about the refugees and other migrants, that they referred to them as objects or things rather than people.

Finally, we entered the main accommodation building and our ID was taken before entering the recreational rooms through a prison-like gate. We were then told that the Macedonian migrants, whom the volunteers had ordered books for, had since been released. According to Eliška and Jonatan, the staff never make known how many migrants or refugees are present in the camp, so we were unsure of what numbers to expect when we entered the ‘tea room’.

Upon entry, we removed our shoes and entered a living room with a small TV, a few armchairs, a bookshelf and a table and chair set where four women were sitting, two Ukrainian and two Serbian. A volunteer told me that most of the people now in the camps were not refugees anymore, but rather regular economic migrants and that maybe some of them had simply forgotten to submit paperwork or made another mistake in the visa applying process. According to them, it wasn’t like that before the refugee crisis. Apparently there was even an American in another camp in Drahonice that actually used to be a prison. While listening to this, I started to think about my own visa status and they warned me to keep a close eye on the process or maybe I could end up in the same place.

We were soon greeted by a woman with a purple head scarf that had entered from the other room who spoke to us in English. I soon learnt, that she was the only person who spoke English in the camp, not even the staff did. After serving some tea and biscuits, we sat down together at the table and had a lengthy two-hour conversation about how Naciimo, from East Africa, ended up in the camp.

Surprisingly, she was not there alone but had her teenage children upstairs that refused to leave their room because they were angry. Angry at the staff and angry that they had to be there at all. It was then that I learnt that despite several meetings with lawyers, their situation hadn’t improved. It had almost been six months since they arrived to the camp. She seemed to believe that the staff were simply exercising their power by keeping her there. Her release date should be some time during February, but the look on her face told me that she wasn’t too optimistic. I found this interesting because the whole camp is run by SECURITAS – a private security company, and I wondered who these people in power were. Since November, the Czech government have also stationed prison guards there.

Naciimo used to be a teacher before they began to be executed by rebels in her town, so she fled. “10 countries in 4 months,” she repeated over and over again. She spent most of her time travelling in a large group with mainly Iraqi refugees and walked a lot of the way, aside from the occasional boat, and a car ride through Syria.

When I asked her about her trip through Syria, she replied that “it was dangerous, but here is worse.” She wanted freedom, and felt that it was a waste to be stuck in the Czech Republic after travelling so far for so long. I could see that she was incredibly lonely. I thought back again to the picture of the snowy playground. Her daughter was in another camp in Belgium and she wanted to meet her. Since her phone was taken away from her upon arrival, she didn’t have many opportunities to speak to her. There was a landline phone in the camp but with limited access.

Naciimo’s dream was to eventually move to Ireland. As we sat there drinking our tea she was holding a book about Ireland that she said she’d been reading. She also made it clear that she didn’t want to go to a country where there were a lot of refugees. It sounded as if she wanted to be immersed in something completely different, and from her journey so far I don’t blame her.

Something that had the most impact on me was that during her time in the camp so far, she had seen many families come and go and couldn’t understand why families from Afghanistan or Syria could leave before her. She was convinced that it was because she was black. Her frustration escalated until she organised a one-week-long hunger strike with other detainees in an attempt to get some answers, which she didn’t get. This caused her to become sick and she was eventually sent to a nearby hospital which started her on a course of medication to clear any infections as well as medication to help her sleep. Naciimo averaged about 3-4 hours of sleep a night.

However bad things had been, I kept thinking about how much was still to go for her and her children. Thankfully, the volunteers had managed to keep her optimistic about leaving and helped in every possible way that they could.

Our two hours were soon up and I was quite upset to have to leave her there. We said our goodbyes and it did seem that the detainees were in higher spirits than when we arrived. The two Ukrainian women were getting out the following day, the Serbian women probably not much later. As we crunched our way through the snow and gravel in the playground one last time I kept thinking that Naciimo’s story is just one out of millions.

I continued to think about that on the train ride back to Prague looking at the man sitting across from me with a ‘BLOK PROTI ISLÁMU’ (Block against Islam) button badge on his sweater – quite a difference to my arrival to the camp with the cheerful and caring volunteers.

Refugee crisis: the difference in photos

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Photo: Human Rights Watch

By Ryan Keating-Lambert

So this is a little bit late, but it’s still extremely relevant now. I was talking about the topic of refugees recently on the November 17 holiday in the Czech Republic, a day dedicated to the struggle for freedom and democracy. There is absolutely no way that you haven’t heard about this crisis and you may even feel that you’ve heard it all. But I thought you might like to see a new perspective on the situation; a perspective that can help you relate directly to this crisis.

Like countless others I have witnessed the pain and loneliness of these refugees through 100s of photos posted on news websites all over the world and when I think about these photos, two come to mind in particular.

The first being the photo that most people have seen in the Guardian or somewhere else… The one of the dead Syrian boy on a Turkish beach. This photo sparked a lot of controversy in the media and it seemed that people started to pay attention to the situation much more after that.

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Photo: Reuters

The other photo (pictured under the headline) is one that a lot of you probably haven’t seen. A photo of Syrian doctor and student Ali when he was in transit in the Budapest Keleti train station waiting to go to Germany. He looks reasonably healthy, not smiling but also doesn’t look particularly upset or angry.

What was interesting to me was that even though these photos appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, both are capable of provoking an intense emotional response.

The death of a child, especially when it’s associated with war, is utterly heartbreaking and shows the true destruction of innocence. But at the same time, isn’t that what the media usually uses these photos for? To provoke emotion and read on and sympathise? This definitely works and does make people more aware of the situation which is certainly an advantage… However, it shouldn’t only be these photos that make a situation like this hit home.

Ali is a young doctor and student, wearing normal clothes and a baseball cap. He could be me and he could be my friends, and that is what makes it terrifying. He is not the typical poor and rugged looking refugee that the public is trained to see and feel for.

Refugees are not in rags anymore, they are in your clothes. These people ARE you. They are me. They are everyone we know. They worked and had families and were simply trying to live their lives.

You can find more information on Ali’s story through Human Rights Watch here.

More protests in Prague: Anti-racism and xenophobia rally photo report

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

More protests on Wenceslas Square today in response to the ‘refugee crisis’ that is currently all over the media. The anti-Islam and anti-immigration protesters under the National Museum expressed their concerns through loud chants guided by chosen speakers on the museum balcony, while under the statue of St Wenceslas the pro-refugee crowd preferred to make an impact through motivational speeches and dance.

Both groups appeared to draw bigger crowds this time. The protesters then marched to Náměstí Míru where the event concluded. Check out some of the photos from Wenceslas Square below.

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“When everything started I thought there is no way there is going to be violence” – Ukrainian expat Lilia on the shootings in Kyiv

Almost everyone has heard about the major political problems that are currently plaguing Ukraine. There are a number of opinions on both sides that deserve attention. Lilia, a Ukrainian citizen living in Prague caught up with us to give you the chance to hear an opinion from a local rather than a sensational news agency.

Lilia discusses a number of fascinating and controversial issues in Ukraine including the Czech Republic’s supportive response to the bloodshed in Kyiv, as well as the ‘information war’ sweeping through the media, especially in Crimea. What started off as a regular People in Prague interview in her kitchen turned into something incredibly informative and inspiring. Lilia’s positive attitude is infectious and will surely make an impact on many of you. Take the time to read the interview and please feel free to comment and express your opinion on this dire situation.

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So where are you from in Ukraine, Lilia?

I’m originally from a small town in Western Ukraine, but I studied in Kyiv for four years so that’s where my conscientious life began!

What did you study?

I did a BA in History and an MA in Interdisciplinary Political/History/Cultural Studies in the Netherlands.

Tell us a little bit about your childhood.

I grew up in a kind of rural area. My dad is a farmer, we lived in a house surrounded by chickens and stuff. But I went to school in the town and it’s a very kind of core Ukrainian nationalistic part of the country. Everybody speaks Ukrainian. When I was growing up there I never spoke Russian nor met a Russian speaking person – yeah, it’s very very Ukrainian.

So quite different to the east.

Yeah definitely, because Western Ukraine was a part of Poland and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire after that. It only became a part of the Soviet Union in 1939 when they came to rescue us from Hitler. So, that’s where all the core differences come from; the fact that we belonged to different empires for such a long time.

How do you think Ukraine is seen by the rest of the world generally?

Well first of all Ukraine is on the map now, woohoo! Most of the world that knows anything about this situation, they tend to oversimplify it. That’s why the idea of Ukraine being so equally divided, that it’s just Russian versus Ukrainian stuff going on and Ukraine actually becoming two different countries based on the language is sort of bullshit.

When it started, the problem was that most of the world believed that it was about the EU only and that we wanted to join Europe so much that we were prepared to die for it – which is nonsense. It started like that and it was really small. It was more about showing the government that they can’t treat us like that. We have something to say and we’re going to say it, so fuck you (laughs).
And now, we have a new government that has no choice but to listen, at least for now. We, the people, are still at the square in Kyiv and we’re not going anywhere until we’ve got what we want. But I think now, after everything, that people are finally starting to realise that the Ukrainian revolution was so much more than just the EU, and that we actually has a chance. The problem is that Russia has so much more money and influence, resources and power. So we are seeing what we have seen so many times before in history… Other countries not wanting to poke the bear and saying ‘yeah, you know we condemn it so much. That’s so not nice Russia, don’t do that!’ (laughs).

How do you think Ukrainian people are seen by the Czechs?

Well the Czech Republic really don’t like Russia at all. They’ve been supporting Ukraine a lot. They send tonnes of money and aid and we have had so many demonstrations with so many Czechs. They started their own initiatives and they actually understand what’s going on, that’s the difference. In countries like Germany or France or the US, it’s completely different. Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, countries that have been through these Soviet camps – they get it. I feel so proud being Ukrainian here. I wear blue and yellow ribbons on my bag all the time.

Yeah? That’s great.

People actually talk to me about it. They will come up to me and say ‘oh we’re supporting Ukraine and how can we help?’ – it’s really nice. They also made a pegasus sculpture out of tires recently in Václavské náměstí to honor us. In Kyiv a lot of people were burning tires in the square.

Generally speaking, let’s say that Czechs are not very tolerant, and they don’t like Ukrainians so much. There are a lot of prejudices and clichés about Ukrainians being cleaning ladies and construction workers only and that they are stealing their jobs, it’s just insane. But, in this situation they have been great. I feel super lucky being here actually. Czech Republic – thumbs up.

Ok good, would you say that these common stereotypes of Ukrainians here have changed now as a result of the situation or are they still there?

No, that’s not going to change. They are still the same. Frankly, a lot of them have these jobs but they are still highly educated. There is so much more to them than that.

Ok. Now is it the language barrier that puts them into these jobs? Or is it to do with the Czech Republic not always recognising Ukrainian education?

A lot of people come here in their 30 or 40s, they don’t speak Czech and can’t get anything better. I’m not sure about diploma recognition. I know it is possible, but very difficult.

How have the recent incidents in Kyiv and Crimea affected you?

When everything started I was like ‘there is no way there is going to be violence’ because we had the Orange revolution in 2004, where there was zero violence and millions of people on the streets. Then when they beat up the students the first time, I thought ‘come on, this is crazy. This is my country and this is impossible’. And then, when they started shooting, I thought ‘what the fuck! This is not possible’. Things like that don’t happen in Ukraine. And we thought that Russia would never bring the army into the country, this is insane. And then they did. Myself and tonnes of other Ukrainians have just been watching the news non-stop.

It’s been very emotional for me. I really want to go there, I want to be there and be a part of it. The band 30 seconds to Mars were recently there and spoke out about it, and the atmosphere was just incredible. That’s what it is like in Kyiv and other big cities at the moment. We’re witnessing the birth of a political nation in Ukraine. Putin actually managed to unite the country more than our politicians have in the last 22 years.

Wow, that’s interesting.

Yes, it’s because of the common enemy we have right now. It started off as being against Yanukovych and also because a small portion wanted to join the EU, but then it was about freedom and dignity – that brought a lot of people to the streets. But it still didn’t gain support from the eastern and southern regions, and then Putin brought the army in, and now the people are chanting things in the streets! They are marching and proud to be Ukrainian, and that’s a good thing.

And have these protests affected anyone you know?

My sister has been volunteering a lot everywhere. Fortunately, nobody I know was hurt. No one I know lost any relatives, but I don’t know if our country will ever be the same again. It was a tragedy and at the same time, it’s a necessary thing for Ukraine to become a true political nation. We can do it!

Great! And on a different note, do you like 30 seconds to Mars?

(Laughs) They’re good, I don’t know too many of their songs though. But Jared Leto is cool.

I believe he also mentioned Ukraine as well as Venezuela at the Oscars?

Yes, he did which was great. Apparently that part was cut out in Russia when they were broadcasting it.

Do you think that really happened or do you think it’s just a rumour?

I’m pretty sure that they really did that.

Ok then, since we’re talking about the media now. There are posters glorifying Putin as the new Hitler. What’s your opinion on those?

We have an information war going on right now. In Crimea, there are posters that show the region as Russian and prosperous, or as a Ukrainian fascist state with a swastika… In Russia they are showing people in Kyiv as ultra nationalistic and fascist. They also say that everyone in the square are drugged to pump them up more. It’s crazy!

Do you believe the Western media when they say that Putin is going to continue to invade countries or do you think it’s a bit too sensational?

Putin wouldn’t mind becoming the new great collector of the lands or become the new Russian Peter the Great. I’m pretty sure he has ambitions like that of course. He has grandeur issues… Well, pretty sure he has a lot of issues (laughs). When Georgia happened, some people, President Kaczynski for example, were saying ‘today it’s Georgia, tomorrow it will be Kyiv and then Warsaw.’ Everyone thought that was ridiculous. But now people are starting to think ‘ok, how did this happen!?’ At this point, I’m not going to be surprised by anything he does.

But Russia has no chances when it comes to real war. Even if you compare military budgets of some of the major countries, there is just no way. But, he might try to bite off some small pieces of countries around him instead. He is walking on thin ice though because Russia in the end is just a bunch of different republics and quite a few of them wouldn’t mind being independent themselves.

What can people here in Prague do to help out?

Well they can spread the word. Make sure people understand what is really going on and don’t get into the trap of Russian propaganda or oversimplify things. It’s important to raise awareness and of course donate money. There are more than 100 people in critical conditions in the hospital now. There are victims being treated for free in Czech hospitals too which is great.

I’m curious. What’s your general opinion on the Czech government?

Well, Zeman is a ‘bubble bum’ (laughs). For those that don’t know, he was in the European commission and he wanted to say bubble gum, not bubble bum… Check out the video on Youtube. Fortunately, the president doesn’t have that much power, but he is the face of the country.

Anyway, I know there have been struggles here, but the government is functional unlike the Ukrainian one. There is no need for revolution.

Now tell us a little bit about the language, a lot of people presume that Ukrainian is similar or almost the same as Russian.

They are really different languages. Just because everyone in Ukraine is to some extent bilingual, it doesn’t mean they’re the same. And Russians don’t understand us when we speak Ukrainian. Ukrainian, vocabulary wise, is much closer to Polish. Not only is the language different but our mentalities are also. These differences kind of stem from the language as well. For example, the role of Ukrainian women in society. In Russian, a man marries ON a woman, but in Ukrainian he marries WITH the woman. Also the word man as a human being in Ukrainian is of female gender.

Does this mean that women have or had quite a significant role in Ukraine?

Of course it’s not as significant now, but this role is somewhat still there, yes.

That’s very interesting. Will you ever go back and live in Ukraine?

I would love to, but things change so often. When I left the first time to study, I was convinced I was going to be back in 18 months. But then I got a job, and it was a question of gaining experience here and going back and starting from scratch. Of course right now with everything that is going on, I really want to be there. I wanna be a part of it. I feel kindof deprived of a chance to witness and participate in all of this. I totally see myself going back though, I love Kyiv, I love Ukraine.

Would you say that Prague is home for now?

I think Prague is a very comfortable city to live in. At first it was too peaceful for me. In Kyiv everyone is in a rush and it gives me a rush as well. Prague is much more slow and peaceful, but now I’m so used to this comfortable life, and I have friends here. I have a job, I have a choir and a very active life.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

Delicate – architecture wise especially, sunny (laughs), no but I feel like it is, really!

What do you miss the most from home?

Being able to speak Ukrainian everywhere! I work in Ukrainian but it’s writing so it doesn’t really count. I miss using it in everyday life.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

My weeks are VERY busy. I learn German, I go to quizzes, I go to the movies, I meet my friends, I go to the gym.

Wow, very busy.

I love house parties too AND I love baking.

What’s your favourite thing to bake?

I try not to bake the same thing twice. But I am proud of my carrot cake and chocolate cake!

So… I guess you like cake?

YES.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

That’s a tough one. There are too many options! Maybe I would go back and be a part of a Native American tribe, but not a violent one! (laughs) Yeah I think that would be cool.

Thank you so much for your time, Lilia! Please comment and let us know your thoughts on the present situation in Crimea. All opinions arewelcome.

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating. Photography by Petr Kurečka.

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