Fifth Element Golgo on why so many people think Britské Listy is leftist and how come many of them fell to populists’ siren songs

26. 11. 2022 / Fabiano Golgo

čas čtení 38 minut


Last week, Jan Čulík brought together the three musketeers of Britské Listy - Karel Dolejší, Bohumil Kartous and Boris Cvek - to discuss on video the reasons they believe so many people wrongly perceive the Britské listy as a communist or at least very left-wing opinion website. As the fifth element of the BL team - I've been publishing articles here since 2000, making me a veteran who has been part of it longer than most Musketeers - I'd like to give my "professional" view on this matter.

Professional because it's not just based on my guesswork, I'm a seasoned and highly experienced media professional who has successfully led 14 magazines and 2 newspapers from the bottom to the top of the market. Over the years (2004, 2010, 2018, 2021) I have also promoted several researches about BL using anthropological methods to measure the tastes of its audience and the reasons why people read it. And that's a matter that doesn't fit into an 18-minute discussion video of four people, so forgive me for offering an extensive thesis on the matter. Like an article in the New Yorker or Vanity Fair, this one will be long and will address not-so-obvious aspects of the issue.

 

When Jan Čulík first invited me to a meeting at a Mexican restaurant on Kaprova street in Prague, I had no idea that that day would mark the beginning of my longest and most significant career shift. Although I had covered The New York Times, CNN, MTV, and not to mention contributing to Brazil's most important media outlets and later directed major titles in the Czech Republic such as Mladá fronta Plus, Nový Prostor, Playboy, Lidé a Země, VTM (Science and Technology magazine), Houser, created the supplement Relax for the  newspaper Lidové noviny, co-created Czech Television's Queer (formerly Q) TV show, or that I turned the daily Metro into the most widely read Prague newspaper (with my conversion copied by all 22 other editions of this Swedish media outlet worldwide), or even that the fact that I saved the decades-old traditional children’s titles Mateřídouška and Ohníček from closure in 2004, none of that is as important to me as my nearly 23 years of writing for the British Gazette (with a couple of years hiatus when I had a fit and attacked it for no rational reason).

There are many reasons why I consider BL my home, my most stable work. The longest lasting job I've ever had. The most comfortable to write and the most democratic of them all.

I started out in the media quite early and unusually. At the age of ten, I won a competition in Brazil to be the co-presenter of a children's TV show called Recreio (School Break). At 16, I started working as a daily producer of local TV shows. My job was to call up the guests, arrange for them to come to the studio, set up the microphone, serve them coffee, type down suggested questions to help the host, give tips for future shows. So my experience goes back decades and like playing the piano or tennis, when you start it as a kid it becomes more than a profession or a practice: it's who you are.

At the age of nineteen, when I was already the director of a daily prime-time political TV debate whose host was Brazil's first international correspondent, I decided to follow in his footsteps and went abroad. And so, I think that since my brain started to work logically, I have been watching the media through the eyes of a person who knows how it works from the point of view of its kitchen – from behind the scenes –, and since 1979 I have witnessed its evolution and transformations, going through many different eras, technologies and public tastes. Therefore, I can say my opinion should be taken seriously.

And I say this because I have complained about some aspects of the way Britské Listy is prepared in its kitchen, but so far only a few of the measures I suggested have been taken. But before we get to that, I'd like to delve into why the BL is (wrongly) considered a radical or left-wing website. And also why we have lost so many readers at the expense of Parlamentní Listy, a primitive far-right scaremongering website run by dubious characters with no journalistic skills whatsoever and with a (paid) political agenda linked to Tomio Okamura and other such clowns. Even the fact that PL chose Listy as part if its name denounces how they grew up on Britské Listy and wanted to have their own.

First of all, it is very important to state a fact: Britské Listy is an iconic brand known to all decision makers from 1996 until today. I say this with scientific precision: over BL, I have polled the whole of parliament seven times (with about 80% response) and four of those times it was included also a list of 1,500 prominent people from the world of media, business and prominent foreigners. The contacts were from the Lidové noviny database. In 2004, 889 respondents included BL in their daily reading habits. In 2010, there were 657. Then in 2018, 504. Finally, 677 in 2021. What does this mean?

Well, have you ever asked yourself why printed newspapers still exist? Apart from the tabloids, which sell a lot, the so-called serious newspapers are a marginal product. But with a much bigger impact. Their influence stems from the fact that, although they are no longer consumed by the masses, the few surviving buyers are decision makers, because we are talking about the entire political world, people who control the media, and businessmen from the most important sectors, in addition to a mass of lawyers and civil servants, dentists, doctors and such. It is this qualified audience that allows some newspapers to maintain their influence, as their columnists directly reach the ears of those they cover. So it is important to note that no matter how BL's readership has declined compared to when it was a pioneer and one of the few players in the online market for opinion and non-mainstream news, BL still has a lot of influence.

I can attest to this based on my recent tenure as director of a magazine that had only three issues (it was shut down with the onset of the pandemic due to inability to distribute) called Nekorektní (Incorrect). The sponsor of the title, which financed most of the costs, was a well-known Czech right-wing politician who has been a personal friend of mine for 22 years. We disagree completely on most issues, but we work very well together, as he is one of the few people I have worked with in the Czech Republic who does not put things off, who is not lazy at work, who takes work ethics seriously, and who does not suffer from that characteristic and typically Czech cynicism about work. The concept of the magazine was that it was only made of opinion articles by far-right big players like Petr Hampl, Petr Žantovský, Jiří Skupien, Pavel Foltán, Jan Stern, Daniela Kovářová, Jiří Kobza, Roman Joch, Helena Válková, Pavel Černocký, Vlastimil Vondruška, film director Jiří Svoboda, Klára Samková, Petr Adler, Jaroslav Štefec, Ladislav Jakl, Jaroslav Bašta, Miloš Zábranský, even Milan Knížák and former president Václav Klaus. Such a combination of far-right people made me say that I feel like the boss of a gay porn magazine because it's full of dicks…

The name "Incorrect" refers to the fact that the views published there are considered politically incorrect. Each issue covered only one topic, such as refugees, Czexit or gay marriage. My job was to refute their opinion on the one topic the issue covered in a two-page editorial, where I would try to dismantle to them and/or the reader the core of their argument. It was an innovative concept that I created when I was trying to find a hole in the market. Realizing that the world was no longer divided into left and right, but in fact into humanists and individualists (calling them progressives and traditionalists is also inaccurate, but thart is for another article), I thought that a magazine that would give whining individualists a place to deposit their selfish views, would attract this public, and give me the opportunity to enter their bubble with an editorial whose points they would rarely read, because they just as most of us are entrenched in our own closed-up information tribal bubbles.

This has allowed me to attend hundreds of meetings with the most well-known far-right personalities in the Czech Republic. Sitting together at the table in the Parliament’s restaurant and elsewhere with people who otherwise despise dark-skinned Third-World immigrants like me. I had the opportunity to hear their real views when they are not playing to their constituents. To hear things that I, like the names in question, have signed a contract with my right-wing sponsor that I will not reveal or write about for ten years. I can open the Pandora's box of how populism has cooked up in the Czech kitchen after 2028. One thing I can say though: all of those far-right populists have been reading BL for a long time.

And from some of them I could dig deeper into how they migrated from BL to Parlamentní Listy. Then enters BL’s “enfant terrible”: Štěpán Kotrba.

Kotrba is one of those figures who are iconic and whose greatness in importance exceeds their message. Anyone who knows Kotrba can attest that, regardless of his radical views, he has an eagle eye that can spot things that most people in the local media can't see deeply enough into, and he has a labyrinth of rhetorical skills with which his well-fed brain bulldozes the mills he battles in his Don Quixote delusions.

Even though Čulík had a long and close working relationship with Kotrba, Štěpán adopted me as a sort of pupil of his complex theories about politics, life and history already from my first days at BL. When I became editor-in-chief of the newsweekly Redhot in 2001, I invited Kotrba to join the team. After two weeks, he had pushed a communist manifesto onto the cover and middle pages of the magazine, provoked the rest of the team to leave the newsroom, and burned half our chairs with his unstoppable smoking. He drew things aimed at testing our IQs and threw riddles in the air in the expectation that no one would be able to solve them, and then he could begin his explanations with the phrase "The joke is that...".

After leaving BL and having a couple of heart attacks, Kotrba turned into an anti-refugee radical and became close to the Christian fundamentalists around Milan Badal, who was Dominik Duka's closest assistant. Through Josef Nerušil, whose Brazilian wife is a close friend of mine, Kotrba became a backstage agent of Okamura's circus. I have personally witnessed his puppetry of Nerušil, who was manipulated from a young age by the priest Badal, in a relationship that people close to them, like the very credible witnesses Tomáš Halík, Martin C. Putna and Ondřej Liška, described as a homosexual partnership. It is therefore easy to understand that a guy who had been groomed by an older man since puberty found comfort in Kotrba as a substitute after Badal's death. Not sexually, but ideologically.

Kotrba not only feeds himself for hours in the Ambix wine bar, which belongs to Nerušil, with imported salami and cheese and lots of free quality wine, while he constantly prepares speeches for Josef, and writes presentations for him to bring to Okamura, also advises him on how to create political intrigue, and everything else Štěpán's seasoned mind can do. Josef's wife has complained many times about the constant phone calls and the endless texts prepared for her husband to pretend they are his, whether previously for the Council of Czech Radio, where Nerušil was a member (Kotrba used to be one too, before he was expelled, so he found an avatar to represent him there with a vengeful mood), or now as an important player inside the nation's most powerful far-right political party. This is how Kotrba, a former communist who even today is a righteous advocate for gay rights and a soft teddy bear as a person, helps dictate the policies and speeches of Okamura's party... This plot is better than any Netflix political drama. In a few years, when I'm able to uncover the names and stories I've witnessed due to the proximity I've come to the far-right spectrum of the Czech Republic, Kotrba's involvement will be an even bigger plot twist...

Unlike most people, I saw Kotrba in his intimacy. Both when he slept on the floor of the House of Trade Unions office with young Lenka and when he lay on the bed in the apartment of his wife and breadwinner Irena.

To prove his closeness to me, he insisted on taking me to dinner first on the day of my return from a four-year stay outside the Czech Republic. As a signal of his close friendship, he always called me Fabi. I often had to endure his three-hour phone calls and his very poor personal hygiene habits. For all these reasons, I consider myself legitimized to write the harsh words I have for who he has become and for his terrible influence in the Czech zeitgeist.

And here's part of the revelation, and if readers and BL writers are now wondering if I'm overstating Kotrba's importance, I should add he is not influential or important as a commentator, but he is so as a behind-the-scenes operator. If I jump to the present and leave for another article or autobiography the circles in which Kotrba had influence "in the kitchen", we now come to the Ambix wine bar near the Parliament, which became his unofficial office and where he cooked the weak mind of Tomio Okamura's right-hand man, Josef Nerušil. Kotrba was not very successful in making me his disciple and we had many public arguments on BL, especially on the subject of Fidel Castro, whom he adores (adored?), but in Nerušil he found the right kind of dog.

Why is Kotrba in this calculus about BL's image and also about the outflow of readers from BL to PL?

At the same time that I felt safe and settled as a BL author, I spent two decades having to defend it. Every person I came across who read BL or knew about it insisted that it was a left-wing site. Since I don't consider myself a leftist, but a humanist, I felt uncomfortable with that label. It gives the false impression that I will then agree with everything that leftist parties or ideologies stand for. My only vector is human rights. Therefore, I cannot see Cuba or Venezuela as anything other than dictatorships that do not respect human rights. Like Saudi Arabia or Russia, Myanmar or Iran, I do not care what ideology their governments hide behind, to me they are human rights abusers. So my first argument is: if BL is leftist, how come I could publish many articles criticizing Cuba and Venezuela?

But the problem is that Kotrba sucked the attention and contaminated BL with his own image. Given my years of experience in the media, I have organically absorbed a few universal characteristics that go across nations and eras because they are related to human nature. Kotrba's conspiracy theories were sexy, the titles of his articles were catchy, his rhetoric is both workmanlike and full of erudite flourishes and lots of data, making it accessible to ordinary people while conveying the idea that the author is careful, empirical and scientific. As a result, BL, which began with the image of a personal blog of the liberal-minded nerd, expatriate professor Jan Čulík, became a loud and bold alternative medium in which Kotrba's flamboyant presence became a major influence. As an indication of this, I see that in the 2004 and 2010 polls I made, Kotrba was mentioned first before Čulík in 661, then in 444. In four of those, Kotrba was the only name listed in response to the question about which BL authors they read.

The point I'm trying to make is that, based on that long list of publications and the even longer list of years I've been cooking in the media kitchen, one thing is certain: the personal and the extraordinary is what catches the eye and sticks.

Kotrba offered a fat menu of seemingly complicated conspiracies that he heroically, through his genius, broke down and simplified for us poor mortals to understand... That's how he sold himself. Unlike most BL writers, who offer a typically Czech dry type of writing, without creating a personal bridge with the reader (instead of a narrative, it's in the form of a statement on the subject), Kotrba was powerfully present in his texts. While many texts offer a construction that does not need specific intonation and can be reproduced by robotic voices, Kotrba writes with his own cadence, tone and inflection. He connects with the reader, engaging the "listener" of his text in an embrace that reminds me of the embrace of US President Lyndon Johnson, both physically and textually. 

Stigma is something that is rarely washed away. Our brains register certain fears as a perpetual warning stamp. Some red lights burn themselves into our consciousness and we never get rid of them. Such is the nature of stigma. When Brtiské Listy was created, it soon  was marked with a small stigma: after Ondřej Neff initially offered Britské Listy space on his own website, Neviditelný Pes (Invisible Dog, in a reference to the animal that is associated with journalistic investigation), in 1996, BL migrated to Jan Panoch’s server, and that, in my understanding, was mistakenly seen by many as a sign that Čulík had a disagreement with Neff. Being Neff a right-wing, I heard from many people that they believed Čulík had to leave Neff’s website. The “kitchen” reason (change of platform) was less medialized than the rumours. This in itself gave the first signal that Neff, attuned to the new times when leftism was for the old and naive, was on a different side from Čulík. In our dualistic thinking, then, Čulík must have been a leftist. And he is, just not in the old sense, and certainly not in an orthodox sense.

It is important to mention that he is actually more than anything else a university Professor. That means he has always been in touch with each new generation that comes by and surrounded by a liberal intellectual milieu that is open to debate. Čulík's uniqueness on the Czech media scene lies precisely in the fact that he offered the first and one of the few true Hyde Parks of the Czech media landscape. While all other Czech counterparts are heavily ideologically guarded and offer only the opinion that the owner wishes, Čulík has turned his pioneering blog into a pluralistic think-tank. I've seen no other medium in the Czech language that allows writers to attack the editor-in-chief and each other, offering articles ranging from Daniel Veselý's pro-Russian views to my almost graphomaniacal articles on LGBTQ+ issues. Although the stigma created by the Neff contrast and Kotrba's subsequent show-stealing is that BL is left-wing, in reality it is one of the few pluralistic opinion sites in the country. And it is authentic, without the backroom intrigue of most media outlets. Čulík is like that youthful uncle who lets the kids run around and do things their parents wouldn’t.

So, because Kotrba was such a communist agitator, whose family history gave him reason to feel betrayed by fate when the Velvet Revolution deprived him of his position as a privileged member of the cadres who were supposed to be in power, and because his articles had the ingredients to make them more noticed and remembered, BL got the burden of stigmatization.

Anti-Neff + pro-Kotrba = BL is leftist.

At the same time, we've seen Kotrba and tens of thousands of readers go from idolizing Che Guevara to having wet dreams about Vladimir Putin. Readers who identified with leftist views began to become extremists who fear foreigners and non-heterosexuality. Whereas they used to find fulfillment in BL articles which covered aspects of issues that the mainstream media did not address, they now seek out inflammatory texts that tell them who to hate or fear. How could this happen? What is the connection there?

When Ivo Brhlík, the son of the clarinet player of the orchestra of the TV station where my children's show was broadcast, became part of the presenter ensemble, I realized that my days were numbered. Blond, green-eyed, with a typical symmetrical Czech face, Ivo also sang and played the piano. I could only manage a few magic tricks and festivily announce cartoons that were part of our program. Hundreds of letters began to arrive from children and their mothers who were enchanted by his wide teeth and musical talent. I received less than ten. 

Then I remembered my father telling someone about how he had managed to outwit the prosecutor in court. He thought that because the prosecutor was an incredibly attractive lady in tight skirts, the jury would instinctively fall in love with her, fueled by hormones. He even mentioned that a research study found that men tend to buy twice as much when the salesperson is a sexy woman, a consequence of reduced rational faculties during sexual arousal. So he needed to somehow take the jurors' eyes off her silicone breasts. He did it by bringing a bag of grapefruit to court. Grapefruit is not grown or consumed in Brazil, but it's very popular in the United States. He had someone send him a bag of them and proceeded to take and peel them slowly and one by one while the sexy lady prosecutor revealed her reasons for convicting the defendant. My father's rationale was that because the fruit was unknown and the act of peeling fruit during a trial was totally unusual, all eyes and minds would be on him. His act was not illegal and the judge was also too confused to intervene, so my father was successful in his goal. Not only did he win that particular lawsuit, but the event will forever be etched in everyone’s memory. His foresight and wise strategy became a trademark, repeated by others. He never needed to use it again because he moved quickly and to this day to tax law and never again dealt with jurors or personal crimes. But still, it's an image that lasts forever.

Inspired by this story, I appeared on the next live broadcast wearing John Lennon-type yellow round-lensed glasses. It was impossible not to look at me. The children loved it, while their mothers dreamed of having an angelic son like Ivo. I started getting more letters than him…

This taught me something that I have repeated many times with success and which has been instrumental in helping me to realize the reason why Kotrba, rather than Čulík or the rest of the team, has become the most characteristic feature of Britské Listy. Karel Dolejší, from what I've picked up informally over the last decade, is seen as the "second wife", the one who took over from Kotrba and renovated Čulík’s house, making it the new standard. But it's taken too long for his own leftist credentials to soften, so BL's image as a leftist server was maintained.

Bohumil Kartous's prominent positions, which range from his leadership within the Czech Elves group (that pioneered checking and accusing fake news) to co-leading the huge protests against former premier Andrej Babiš, not to mention his involvement in visionary educational projects (and the admirable artistic talent of his son Jachým), help reinforce the perception of BL as at least decidedly not right-wing and not pro-populist. Boris Cvek is perceived in my circle as a scholarly and philosophical mind with an academic level of writing and very well-supported texts that are refreshingly personal and capable of a closeness with the reader that is inherent in him, and he is well respected as ideologically non-activist.

My image also feeds into some of the stigmas of Britské Listy, as I became a media personality in the Czech Republic for 1) being attacked by Vladimír Železný on his show for defending Czech public television during the 2000-2001 crisis, 2) as the head of the only mainstream journalism outlet in the Czech Republic that challenged the official version of the 9/11 attacks, 3) I ran a magazine to help the homeless, 4) I am openly and proudly gay - all of which tend to give the impression as being from a leftist or at least an anarchist type.

So unfortunately BL will not lose this image, because experience shows that stigmas stick forever. And the light will always focus on those of us and those articles from us that have a left leaning slant, while not weighing equally all other articles published on BL that are either ideologically neutral or anti-left. I won't claim that BL publishes right-wing articles other than by rarely, but it does give space to voices that represent populist fans, far-right conspiracy theorists and apologists for Vladimir Putin, as we can see with Daniel Veselý's articles. And let's make sure that it's clear that Daniel Veselý is not a far-right commentator or a populist fan, he's more to the left than I am, as I understood from his articles and even from a personal meeting we had when I offered him a position at the magazine Nekorektní. Veselý may see things differently than I do over the war in Ukraine, but he is a respectable and very good writer whose arguments are well-founded and represent a large number of good people who frequent the best cultural places in this country.

And that makes a bridge to why so many former BL readers have migrated to the populist and far-right PL. Consider the core of my "followers" - those who usually respond to my articles, send me emails, or add me to their social media apps – who are usually people who became my fans because I challenged the White House's version of 9/11. That's how I won the hearts of many Czechs. They've been communicating with me for decades. Today they are on the other side, they don't understand why I am blind to the conspiracy theories they believe. The woman who brought me to Veselý is one of those people.

She was an anti-globalist protester who loves alternative medicine, spiritual books, astrology and similar things that are generally associated with the left. She's a very good journalist with a distinguished career, and I was one of her first impulses when I gave her a job at the magazine Nový Prostor, which is like the British title Big Issue, aimed at helping people without permanent roofs over their heads. Although she is very empathetic and intelligent, she has become a vaccine denier who votes for far-right political parties and espouses an ideology against refugees and gay marriage. This is one of the reasons why I insist on pointing out to those who, unlike me, live within a limited range of opinion, that far-right and populist voters are not the mocked old ladies in viral videos on the internet, but often people of high intelligence, who are well-travelled, well-informed, who are friends with dark-skinned strangers in their personal lives, and whose lives are spiritual and cultural, for they are also potential victims of the siren song that is the politics of fear.

Paradoxically, Veselý ends up sharing some of his views with groups that have nothing to do with most of his views because what unites them is the "wow" factor. And this is where I come in and show why I shared all those details of my professional life that may have seemed unnecessary and out of place at the outset of an article that tries to explain why BL has become stigmatized as a leftist site and how it is possible that our readership has dropped due to a migration to the opposite minded PL. It also explains - which also ties in with the other puzzle-style part of this article - what impact the Kotrba factor has had on both BL's image and the migration of readership to PL. 

It's the "wow" factor.

As much as Ivo's Slavic beauty created a "wow" factor, or as much as my dad's grapefruit or John Lennon's round colored glasses, it was Kotrba's ability to create the "wow" factor that made him personally the most symbolic member of BL. 

"Wow" is a feeling. It is not specific and can be triggered by a variety of sources, some individual, others universal. The universal ones are related to our survival instincts, for example, our attention is heightened by the colors red and yellow (fire), certain sounds, or unexpected sizes and shapes. So a fruit that looks like an orange but isn't one (grapefruit) will attract more attention than a common green lime. So the red and yellow colours typically used by the tabloid press is an example of the effectivity of this trick. Exclamation marks also catch our attention with success.

Conspiracy theories have the same effect. They are about something we know a little bit about, but which we don't really know that well. Some of it we understand, but the rest of it surprises us. The "wow" feeling comes, for example, when the story takes an unexpected and even almost impossible turn. The sexy nature of conspiracy theories stems from those pleasurable bodily chemical reactions caused by the element of surprise, compounded by the satisfying hormonal feelings that kick in when we feel like someone is telling us something few people know. Our nature leads us to consider that which is rare as more valuable. Information that everyone has is not valuable. Being informed of something that only a select group is allowed to know is something that makes us feel special. And feeling special is a nice feeling. Plus the comfort of being part of a smaller, therefore cozier group. Our instincts prefer smaller caves to large, crowded ones.

So BL offered a "wow" factor when it went against the tide. When it sided with Jiří Hodáč and Jana Bobošíková during the Czech public TV protests in the first year of the new century, when it went against George W. Bush's war in Iraq, when it gave space to hundreds of articles that went against the establishment, and when it wrote about issues that the mainstream media didn't cover. But what do these readers have in common with both BL and PL? The "wow" factor. They're looking for those chemical reactions. And it's a trigger when readers feel special, that they're reading something the masses don't know about, or that the elites are on the other side. Because knowing something that few other people know means winning over the more powerful elites. It's about feeling... powerful. One of the pillars of our instinctive hierarchy.

When one feels overwhelmed, it's because one has witnessed something unexpected and rare, perhaps even previously thought impossible.

When BL fed Czechs, at a time when online space was much more limited and less extensive, with exclusive translations of articles from the UK, the reader felt special, had access to something less accessible and therefore more valuable. Once access to such information became less scarce, this aspect of BL has already helped to make us lose some readers. For a while, only BL was the voice of dissent, but later many other websites came along and took over another section of our readership.

Then Kotrba left and BL became less radical, conspiracy theories less extreme and headlines less often explosive. At the same time, it should be noted that the sometimes almost vulgar headlines of some articles on BL are also a characteristic that attracted many now former readers. BL often uses aggressive words, insults or long headlines, which are characteristics of the tabloid media, but they fit with a medium that originated in Britain, where the tabloid media is accepted and widely read, which is, I would say, something similar to the Czech Republic. 

Like my anti-vaxx journalist friend and Kotrba himself, these people no longer found that "wow" factor in left-wing circles or on BL. Not enough of it. When we consume something, after a while it stops being intense and we tend to want to increase the quantity or strength.

Kotrba stained us with his leftist brand and then left and became a far-right believer and backroom operative. Leftism used to be radical only because the country and the world had turned neoliberal. Thus, to be a leftist anti-globalist in the 1990s or 2000s was to seek the same satisfying chemical reactions triggered by the sense of power that comes with the decision to 1) go against the elites (economic or intellectual), 2) understand something about the world that the masses don't.

But when leftism came to power around the world, it became the establishment. In Czech Republic, when Miloš Zeman and Václav Klaus signed the “Opposition Treaty” and made it clear that there was no real left party in the country, only an opportunistic political machine, being a leftist lost its appeal. It ceased to provoke those chemical reactions that many of our readers and Kotrba sought.

This also partly helps to explain why when Čulík advertised BL on Facebook, it mostly only led teenagers to click and look at the page. It's because unlike older people who have been exposed to "wow" articles for a long time and as a result need stronger doses, the younger ones are still able to get seduced by the "wow" factor in smaller doses.

But the fact that this group is the one that BL attracts should not be seen as a negative. Precisely because these ads have successfully reached this age group, they should have continued. Because we may think that children between the ages of 13 and 17 are shallow minds who are incapable of understanding the issues BL addresses, but that is a mistake. When we look at the ocean, we don't see the drops. Of the millions of teenagers in the country, thousands are wonderfully ahead of their age, consuming books and information equal to our age group. And I know this because I was one of them. Even at the age of 13, I was very interested in politics, sociology, philosophy and psychology. It may have contrasted with the vast majority of my peers, but at the same time there were thousands of us. Which is a number that can be useful to BL. Also, the years fly by and soon they are adults. Most importantly, BL may not influence the older generation as much, but it has a golden opportunity to help shape the thinking of the generation that will soon be in charge. Kartous thanks to his smart teenage son Jachým in particular should realize this.

Another aspect of our readership is illustrated by Cvek's article on Dante and his high readership. In academic and intellectual circles, BL is an important resource. Among our readership, we have a good number of people who are the nation's thinkers, in addition to the "wow" seekers. Many of them are in leadership positions. We have a privileged audience.

So part of the loss of readership and the stigma of being a leftist is our own fault. Part of it is coincidence, it's a sign of the times. Today "wow" can be found in many palces and sources, so we became less valuable. And part of the reason we're losing respect and readership has to do with something I've been pointing out for years to no avail: design and attention to detail. 

As far as taking care of the details, I understand that BL’s editing is improvised because it doesn't have the means to pay for professional work. That those who edit it have to make a living from other activities, and thus the time they have to devote to BL is limited. But I am also experienced enough in Czech newsrooms and thus have seen how Czechs don't like to pay attention to details if those details mean more work. How Czechs tend to deliver only the bare essentials, the basics that are needed, like a prefabricated panel building that is practical - but not painted. The problem is that it's a mistake to think that painting the grey concrete exterior walls of a prefab can't make a difference. That it's just an unnecessary, superficial detail. Those who think that don't realize the effects of design in our brains. How paint can affect how we perceive and evaluate things. How symmetry and visual hierarchy universally affect behavior and taste, even for those who are completely unaware of it, and no matter how stoic a life the person in question leads. And in this regard, BL utterly fails.

I know that there are technical factors, which are also related to economic factors, that prevent BL from a complete visual transformation to accommodate modernity. BL still has the look and feel of a website from the early 2000s. There is no hierarchy of articles. Note that on other websites, unless they are blogs, there are articles at the top of the page that are somehow highlighted as the most important, either by their shape, size or font. BL just has paneled vertical timelines of equally framed articles. We don't know what the editors want us to read earlier, what is more timely, what is of greater importance.

This is not just because of our technical difficulties, but because of the lack of expertise of the editorial staff and a bit of laziness to change the way we work. Plus blindness or ignorance of the importance of design in a site that wants to be visited every day in competition with many much more modern sites. Regardless of my advice and internal protests under the excuse that we don't have the money or technical ability, we continue to offer a visually polluted, cluttered site that sees no problem in using the exact same image to illustrate different articles of the same issue. We don't have different shapes or framing to signal to the reader that the article image is merely illustrative or relates to the fact itself. We look like an old pub that has never changed its decor under the guise of serving good beer. There are indeed many such pubs and they have their public. But in all of them, without exception, their public has dwindled to older people who either like the old ways or are no longer concerned with modernity. Either way, it is a dying audience. So it is urgent that those teenagers who are attracted to our texts also get a more modern and organized visual offer from us if we are to survive. With only our good beer, we won't be here in 2030.

In addition, articles are often published full of typos and with more spaces between words or paragraphs than they should have, all because they are edited without sufficient care and are not subsequently checked by other members to correct any leftovers.

We will never get rid of the stigma of leftism for those who are older. However, we have a unique opportunity to build a new audience who will see us as purveyors of quality writing that doesn't offer cheap "wow" sensations, that is uncensored by the editorial board, that dares to criticize itself. That we espouse this genuine freedom is appealing to young minds. The new generation values authenticity and freedom. For these two factors we are an oasis in the Czech market. And for intelligent young minds, they are stronger than the "wow" factor.

Čulík just turned 70. A key age. But he's one of the lucky ones who's been able to stay in touch with the new generations. He hasn't become a grumpy old man. On the contrary, anyone who knows him personally sees in his body movements, vocal enthusiasm and unadulterated social rebelliousness... a teenager. So it's only right that we try to rebuild our audience with them.


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Obsah vydání | 29. 11. 2022