Getting to Prague Unsecretly

The McClatchy newspaper company reported yesterday that Michael Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, was in Prague last August or September. This is important because if true, it would seem to corroborate part of the controversial dossier compiled by British former spy Christopher Steele. The idea is that Cohen would have taken on the role of contact person with Russia after Paul Manafort was fired from/quit the campaign.

For about 25 hours so far, reporter Peter Stone has left out there twisting slowly, slowly in the wind kicked up by his report. No other news organization that I know of confirms his report. That must be uncomfortable.

If the report is true it is important. Cohen made a conspicuous point of denying the trip when the allegation appeared, when the Steele dossier was published by Buzzfeed. He tweeted a picture of the front of an American passport and wrote “I have never been to Prague in my life.”

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Less than half of Americans have a passport, and as recently as 1997 that number was only 15 percent (After 9/11, for the first time “U.S. citizens traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda were required to have a valid passport,” Forbes reports, which raised the percentage dramatically).

Since so many Americans are unfamiliar with borders and how they work, I think it’s important to point out something that many might not realize: whether Mr. Cohen traveled to Prague in 2016 or not, his passport would not necessarily contain a Czech entry stamp.

Here’s how that works: 26 European countries, comprising some 400 million people, signed an agreement in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, in 1995. Under the Schengen agreement, entry into any of these countries requires the usual pass control arrival procedures, the glowering official, the uncomfortable silence, maybe the fingerprint thing and all the flourescence and fatigue, but once stamped in, a visitor is not subject to further border checks within the Schengen area.

Here is a list of the Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

It has been reported that Mr. Cohen traveled to Italy in July of 2016, though at a time not consistent with the claims of the dossier. He could have walked from the plane to the Hertz counter, rented a budget sedan and driven from Roma to Prague in about twelve hours with no need for his passport.

Alternately, his evil, opulent-luxury-yacht-wielding collaborators might have put him ashore on a quiet Portuguese beach, from which he perhaps begged a ride from an itinerant fisherman to the train station, and from there made his way to Prague. He might have caught the Delta flight up to Reykjavik, been waved through by a weary pass control clerk at the end of his shift, predawn, when all those flights come in at once, and caught the ferry to Denmark.

Or, of course, for the conspiracy minded, he might have been spirited in and out of the Czech Republic with the help of all those evil, conspiring collaborators. Doing something really mean about Crimea on the way just for the record.

Point is: these days in Europe, a passport needn’t have a stamp for you to have been there.

You can get to Prague with your initial entry stamp from any of these places:

The Velvet Revolution & Personal History

HavelCampaignPoster-small

Today Vaclav Havel will be honored with a bust in the U.S. Capitol. Only three other international figures have been honored this way. This week’s ceremony marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. By the 29th of December that year Mr. Havel had been elected President by Parliament.

That year the New York Times published special pages each day under the heading Upheaval in the East. From its 29 December, 1989 edition, in an article by Craig R. Whitney:

This evening, tens of thousands of people streamed into the center of Prague’s Old Town in what amounted to a street celebration of Mr. Havel’s election. He appeared along with the visiting Portuguese President, Mario Soares, and greeted them.

Mr. Havel, son of an upper-class civil engineer, was not allowed to go to university by the Communist Government after he finished his compulsory schooling in 1951, because of his class background. Today the students of Prague, many of them children of the Communist ruling class, have made Mr. Havel their intellectual hero, and they have been on strike since demonstrations on Nov. 17 sparked the peaceful revolution that overthrew the long repression.

‘Havel is the only guarantee that the changes here will be of a permanent character,’ said one of them, Ludek Vasta, 21, an economics student.”

Leaving East Berlin’s newly accessible Lichtenberg Station four days after Havel’s election on 2 January, 1990, we stopped in Prague en route to Vienna just long enough to tear this campaign poster from a wall and bring it back home. It remains on my office wall.

 

Three Quick Photos from Prague

Good morning from Warsaw, just in via overnight train.

Yes, we have hundreds of those ‘beautiful, magical Prague’ photos, like this first one, and we’ll go through and buff and polish them all over the next month or so, but I’m partial to some less mainstream stuff, like these last two. That’s a puppet shop in the middle and at bottom, the crazy ceiling of the Church of St. Nicholas. We’ll save them all here on EarthPhotos.com for now.

BeautifulMagicalPrague

PuppetPrague

StNicholasPragueRoof