Burčák - Pasteurised and Homogenised
By Kamal Sunavala

Thursday night at Jiřího z Poděbrad I was one among many at the burčák festival in the square by the church. I remember this from two years ago with memories that involve inebriation, inelegant upchucking of bodily contents and distribution of mechanisms for safe sex. And of course the bands. And the crowd, heaving and drinking and shouting.

This time, what was different was the crowd control. There was more security than the last time, which no one could explain. And the most disappointing thing was how well mannered in general and how much smaller, the crowd was. There was none of the deafening screaming, none of the chucking empty bottles at each other and none of the usual sirens accompanied by irritated police officers. It was all almost civilised. People were milling around in small groups talking about their jobs and babies and dogs and summer houses. Not strange one might say. For a PTA meeting! This on the other hand, was supposed to be a burčák festival where riotous behaviour and lots of drunken laughs were promised to tourists and their visiting Canadian uncles.

I stopped in at Náměstí Míru and it was the same kind of atmosphere. Mellow with a bad band, people being there but looking as if they would rather be someplace else. The place being packed with expats who knew their way around and there was no awe and no wonder. In fact I overheard a few British and American expats expostulating to their Czech friends about how bad the burčák festival had got this year and that last year and the year before that there were better bands and more varieties of the sulphur smelling alcohol to be had. Clearly the expat cycles were getting longer. The local knowledge was spreading faster and the charm was getting weaker.

I have to admit myself that I had attended better burčák gatherings than these two. What saddened me was that the local population were drinking more beer and singing more American songs and making fun of the Czech bands. Has patriotism taken a beating? I remember even young Czechs being quite culture proud. What I saw at the two squares seemed to be the cold finger of globalisation creeping up even in the midst of a local or national tradition. Jingoistic demonstrations are not my style and are infact dangerous to a nation's health, but come on people; you're drinking Rum n Cokes and beer at a burčák festival while singing Guns and Roses instead of politely applauding for a band from Mělník?

I had observed in an earlier article that Prague had changed. That I would have to re-introduce myself to the city and it would have to re-introduce itself to me. I didn't think at that point, only a few short days ago, that it would be a disappointing re-introduction. Prague has been many things to many people but disappointing has not been one of those things. I am trying not to reach a conclusion from the evening I spent at the burčák festival but it is indeed hard not to notice how the slate is being wiped out in some ways to accommodate what can only be labelled as a homogenised lifestyle - Made in the EU, packed in the EU and distributed in the EU. Yes, Prague is part of the EU, yes it must integrate, yes it must embrace foreigners and yes they must all learn to speak better English. Must they be so damned civilised while doing all of this?