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My eye was caught a few months ago at the airport by a poster of a middle-aged man winking at a sugar cube on a spoon. The publicity campaign heralding the forthcoming Czech presidency of the EU featured the embarrassing message: "We'll sweeten the EU," which to a native ear sounded more like "We'll sweeten your EU for you." By early December, the smirk had been wiped off that wily face, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy hinted that the Czech Republic, only the second post-communist state to occupy the rotating chair, might not be up to the task. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek rushed to Paris to convince him otherwise. A week later, former 1968 revolutionary Daniel Cohn-Bendit, now a prominent MEP, journeyed to Prague to rebuke the renowned Eurosceptic President Vaclav Klaus for openly supporting the Irish anti-Lisbon Treaty party Libertas. The Czech head of state retaliated by not quite comparing the EU to the old Soviet Union under whose yoke his country languished for 41 years. The actual presidency can only get better.

In our Anglo-Czech house, we'll be imagining how the current state of the EU strikes Vaclav Havel, my husband's old boss and Klaus's predecessor at the Castle. London critics were mostly disappointed by the spirited retrospective of Havel's plays put on in Richmond by the Orange Tree Theatre last autumn, though what came out of the readings and lively discussion I attended was how relevant a contemporary British audience found Havel's old satires on power and language and human weakness. That was surely the context in which to understand his first new play since he left office in 2003. Leaving was not a pièce-à-clef about past colleagues but a frantic and farcical meditation on the pros and cons of high office, with women ever ready to oblige and men keen to stab you in the back. The most moving moment in the play was when the former "chancellor" delivered a soliloquy on ideas he had passionately believed in but now had to watch being meretriciously adopted by the opposition. The film Citizen Havel, currently doing the rounds of selected British cinemas, is a graceful, artistically polished documentary of Havel's two presidencies after the country split in 1993. The director, the late Pavel Koutecky, and his crew, were free to film front and backstage whenever, and the witty, tender result is full of wry glimpses of the real world behind the face of politics. Koutecky avowed that one of his aims was to show the powerlessness of the powerful, a neat reversal of the title of one of Havel's most famous anti-communist essays.

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