City of Intrigues

And then I said:

“The fight against corruption is and remains one of the
priorities of the Czech government under my leadership”
Petr Nečas (left, with President M. Zeman), Feb. 14th 2012

Photo: ČTK

In an earlier post, I referred to Prague as a ‘city of ghosts‘, and indeed there are tales a-plenty of hauntings and apparitions in the Czech capital. Equally, however, it is a city of intrigue – not just at the Cold War level of spies and shady arms deals with Omnipol, or within the 9/11 investigation and ‘War on Terror’, but also at a more human and more personal level.

Take Clive and Katka (not their real names), for example, to all appearances a model couple. Tall, good looking and affable, Clive was an English executive with a minor multinational, on a long-term placement in Prague. Katka was a stunningly attractive market analyst rapidly rising through the ranks at a major Czech bank. They had met and married some time before I and my Czech wife moved in to an apartment in the same building as theirs; having various things in common we became friends quite quickly.

One unusual feature of Clive and Katka’s relationship was that their offices were on opposite sides of the same street in central Prague, with the result that they could literally wave to each other during their working days. Why, under those circumstances, anyone would decide that embarking on an affair with their secretary was a good idea is beyond me, but this is, alas, what Clive did – but the tale doesn’t end as one might expect. Clive and his secretary went to great lengths to keep their relationship secret not only from their partners, but also from their colleagues – no getting caught in the stationery cupboard or by an indiscretion seen through the window for them! 

No, Clive’s fall came one fateful day when, having overslept after a ‘late night project meeting’ and in a rush to return to the office, he picked up the wrong mobile phone from the kitchen table… and Katka picked up his identical phone a few minutes later, without realising. When an SMS arrived shortly afterwards, she looked at it automatically, but hadn’t been expecting it to say words to the effect of “hey big boy, last night was great, let’s do it again on Thursday!”. Katka didn’t get mad, she got even, calling the sender and suggesting that they have lunch to talk over what was going on. Apparently the two got on well together; the secretary declaring that it was just a fling and that she had no long-term interest in Clive, Katka decided that she didn’t either, and kicked him out, much to the amusement of his colleagues.

Fast forward to 2013, and a similar scandal engulfed the Czech political scene. In June that year, police raids uncovered millions of dollars in currency and gold bullion of ‘suspicious origin’ during raids on aides, political contacts and lobbyists linked to then Prime Minister Petr Nečas. One of those subsequently accused of misconduct was Jana Nagyová, his chief of staff and close confidante – very close indeed, apparently, as she was also outed as the PM’s mistress, and charged with using military intelligence to keep tabs on the PM’s wife to make sure they weren’t caught out. Petr Nečas, who had come to power promising to clamp down on corruption in public life (see picture), was compelled to resign; he later married Ms Nagyová. The latter was found guilty of this gross abuse of office earlier this year, but received only a suspended prison sentence. A ringing endorsement of the anti-corruption drive, or of the seriousness of the courts, this was not.

Neither, however, does it say much about the level of fidelity in Czech marriages; a Pew survey in 2013 found that 17% of Czechs found infidelity socially acceptable, 5% more than the traditionally liberal French, and this is perhaps reflected in the divorce rate, which has hovered at around 50% for many years – five of the Czech Republic’s ten former prime ministers are divorcees, which means that in this at least they are truly representative of their constituencies!

So as you wander through the streets of this beautiful city, remember that a great deal is going on behind all of those mysterious closed doors…

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