On October 2nd, Prague’s taxi drivers, with their brilliant sense of PR, decided once again to protest about Uber by blockading the airport. What great memories all the tourists will have of their weekend in Prague. But this time, the taxi drivers seemed to have some international allies . A few days earlier, in a move that really attracted global interest, Uber lost its licence to operate in London. It reminded people that Uber had problems in other parts of the world too.
The arguments roared into life in both London and Prague. In both cities many people felt Uber were giving them a cheaper alternative to “expensive” taxi drivers. Young people in particular argued that taxis are ‘the past”; Uber with its app and its new way of working with drivers was part of the cool new world, together with AirBnB. Uber of course have encouraged that thinking. But in fact, the arguments in the two cities are not the same, and I would like to describe the difference to you.
But more importantly, thanks to an article in a really obscure London magazine devoted to London transport issues, I will show you that the real problem with Uber is one that the mainstream media has not picked up. In fact, I don’t think even the Czech Minister of Transport, Dan Tok, has picked it up yet. I hope he may read this…
I was really surprised to learn of Vladimir Šmicer’s comments regarding fan protests at Sparta, and especially his assertion that such protests don’t happen in England. As I will show, this assertion is completely wrong.
It is 12 years since Šmicer left England. In that time, the money in English football has grown to an almost ridiculous level, and clubs have been bought by owners or companies who have not always had the best intentions. Šmicer focuses on Sparta fans protesting about the coach, but he surely knows that the fans are more discontent with the ownership of Daniel Kretinsky. Here for the benefit of Mr Šmicer is a quick tour around the many clubs whose stadia he has played at, where fans have recently been protesting against owners.
Where better to start than at Šmicer’s old club, Liverpool. Here they are in February last year, protesting about ticket prices. They walk out of the stadium on 77 minutes.
Of course Manchester United have been protesting for much longer about the ownership of the Glazier family. Some have gone so far as to set up a new club, FC United of Manchester, which now has its own stadium and often attracts around 5,000 fans (about the same as Slavia on a bad day..)
Blackburn Rovers, once champions, are now in the 3rd division under the ownership of the Venky family of India. They have made their money in chicken farming, so fans recruited a live chicken to help their protests.
There have been protests against the owners of Newcastle, Aston Villa, Hull City, Cardiff, and Coventry in the years since Šmicer last played in England. I would like to think that among the most creative protests are those at my club, Charlton Athletic. Šmicer played against Charlton in the Premier League, but under the bizarre ownership of Belgian businessman Roland Duchatelet we are now, like Blackburn, in the 3rd division
Šmicer describes the protesting fans as ‘radicals’. It is certainly true that protests usually come from those parts of the stadia where the noisiest fans congregate, but he is quite wrong if he thinks that most fans disapprove of the protests at English clubs. I doubt he knows what the non -radical Sparta fans think of the current ownership regime either. He speaks of the ‘respect’ shown by fans in England, which he says is missing here in the Czech Republic. He seems to suggest that fans should respect club owners. Well, Mr Šmicer, in England, respect has to be earned. The problem in the cases I have shown above is that club owners have dis-respected fans. Even in the often empty stadia of the Czech league it remains true that without the fans, football is irrelevant. Mr Šmicer will remember the wonderful English coach, Sir Bobby Robson. But he may have forgotten one of Sir Bobby’s most famous quotes:
“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”
We Westerners who arrived here soon after the fall of Communism took some time to learn a lesson: Democracy is not just a light that you switch on, and everything in the room becomes just like at home. With hindsight that is obvious, but the question then is, how long does it take before a country can be said to have a “mature” democracy?
Judging by the recent actions of TV Nova, the answer seems to be “ longer than 28 years”. Of course TV Nova was widely welcomed when it started in 1994 as a symbol of a democracy, in a country where a totalitarian State had controlled media absolutely. However it quickly abandoned its initial promises to provide quality programme and became a typical commercial TV station, whose main goal was to maximise TV ratings.
There are many things wrong with British society, and I have never been afraid to speak of them to Czechs; I hope that then, if I claim something about Britain is really good, they will believe me rather than just suppose I am being “patriotic”.
One of those good things, I always argue, is the British justice system. When I first heard the dreadful news of the murder of Czech citizen, Zdeněk Makar, in London last autumn, I tried to reassure my Czech friends that our police will get the killer, and he will face justice.
The police did their job. Raymond Sculley was very quickly arrested and charged with murder. It’s usually a good sign, when an arrest and charges follow quickly. It suggests the police have received clear and damning evidence. In the meantime details had emerged of “Zed” in the press and social media. I quickly gained the impression of a hard-working and able young man who had gone to Britain to build a career and enrich his life experience, and was clearly succeeding. He had a group of friends there from the Central European countries, equally decent, and now horribly bereft. They organised a fund to ensure he could be returned home to lay to rest.
You might be surprised if I argue that the behaviour of Prague’s public transport ticket controllers is a commentary on the wider state of Czech society ; but I am going to try. And even if I fail, I hope I will convince you that DPP needs to urgently instruct its controllers to behave differently.
“I don’t know how they sleep at night”, my friend said, “What are they thinking of?”
We were having lunch and as usual talking about politics. He is a well known person in the marketing communications industry; as are the the two guys he was referring to, who are both working as consultants to Babiš. I readily agreed with him.
After reading about the absurd decision of UOHS regarding Klasa, I told myself that this could only be the decision of a person or people who have never hired or worked with a communications agency. And after all, there are many intelligent business people who have never done that. So it seemed reasonable to ask about the professional backgrounds of those at UOHS who worked on the case, and to enquire if they thought to hire external help from a consultant who does understand the business of marketing communications. If (as I suspected) they had not been able to use such expertise, then at least we could identify this as the problem, and propose a potential resolution; UOHS should seek wider business experience within their senior team, and sometimes also hire external specialists who can help them understand how a market, which they are investigating, works.
How often do you think about UOHS? In most cases the answer is probably “not often”. If however you are one of our readers who work for McCann-Erickson, or for Vodafone, you will be aware that UOHS have made decisions (or failed to make decisions) which have negatively affected your business. One commentator recently remarked that the value of business “frozen” under review by UOHS was so great that it represented the difference between positive and negative GDP for the country.
The Czech Republic that I know is populated by people who are moderate, tolerant, good at considering different viewpoints, and generally rejecting of conflict (except, unfortunately, when driving). Unlike in Hungary, Poland or Austria, Czechs have always resisted extreme right wing populist “solutions”. They deserve better leaders. Unfortunately, when they do not see good leaders, many Czechs choose to withdraw from the political process. The danger in such situations is that this allows extremists to appear more representative than they actually are, and thereby to gain more power than they should.