Critics may say that the Czech government is doing practically nothing to address the country’s high levels of corruption – the Czech Republic rates 57th out of 182 in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, four places lower than 2010’s 53rd place – but that hasn’t stopped other entrepreneurial figures from stepping in to fill the vacuum. Interested in seeing the top spots for “tunneling”, murky, hidden centres of power or finding some of the buildings that have resulted from alleged shady deals? Then Corrupt Tour may be what you’re after! They are promising to show “The Best of the Worst” as their motto puts it, their website adding that they are striving to open up an entirely new field of tourism. Or is it just all a new way to shame the country’s politicians?
Petr Šourek, a young theatre director and philosopher rather than a typical businessperson, is the man behind the satirical enterprise. He recently sat down with Czech Television to explain the project, which stemmed from some of his stage-work also mocking the issue of Czech corruption, and argued that the main aim was to find a fresh way to present the urgency of this issue to the public:
“Obviously, corruption is something that routinely erodes business. That’s a given. So in the beginning you set up a normal business and then you pay off the corrupt entities and gain a kind of above-standard arrangement; but gradually, they demand more and more and it ends up destroying the business. So this endeavour highlights that corruption is a real subject of debate in this country, and for us it represents a raw material. For some people that’s crude oil, others have timber and for us it is corruption. For the media too, something like corruption presents the raw materials to tell a story and we are just doing that in a slightly different way.”
So is the endeavour pure parody? Or is the business model really designed to function? The website would suggest the latter. There’s a number one can call to reserve a coach tour; a price list, with trips ranging from around 250 to 600 crowns. Presently, corrupttour.com even notes that its most recent “Prague Safari” – which takes people to the security wall and cctv-protected homes of influential lobbyists – and “Hospital on the edge of the law” – which takes people to three Prague hospitals where state money is apparently being misused – are both sold out.
“It’s a real travel agency. It all works like any other travel agency. So it is a real product except that I would say that it has a relatively large creative component and ends up as something, which I would describe as ‘creative industry’. It certainly isn’t the standard artistic work where someone locks themselves up in for two weeks or a month and then a final work emerges.”
The endeavour was launched at Prague’s “Holiday World” trade exhibition, which ran from 9-12th February. Šourek also pointed out that his colleagues in the industry have been extremely polite and bear no malice towards this unusual take on Czech tourism. He even plans to take the effort abroad to Berlin and perhaps Italy. But is not the ultimate aim to shame the country’s lackadaisical political elite into acting to stop the erosion of the country by corruption? Šourek referenced a phrase famously once used by Václav Havel:
“I personally don’t like the bad mood that is prevailing in this country at the moment. And I wanted to have a good mood. So I thought of a way to turn a bad mood into a good one…and I really don’t think that the Czech public is lethargic when it comes to these matters. Rather, I think that in the last two years, people have been very interested in public affairs - it’s a silly expression, but these things are kind of ‘in’ at the moment – and this is just one example and component of that. If people are willing to join in and help promote this or even come along on a trip, then I consider that a positive sign.”
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