Glad tidings about this year’s Christmas

In the world full of uncertainty and even bleaker forecasts, Christmas 2016 is arriving as an archipelago of positive deviation. Most Czechs are busy selecting Christmas presents to their loved ones, fundraiser concerts are being held alongside charity projects with ever richer proceeds. I have been to a wonderful party, where music alternated with the wise words of a prominent Czech physician, and in the event we all sang carols with professional musicians in a festive mood of jubilation. Although Czechs stand out as an European nation with maybe the highest proportion of atheists—amounting to almost half the population—many of them take part in Christian events or rituals. This might be the first good news for the future.

During the traditional National Science Week, which extended to the best part of November this year, I have delivered a series of lectures for the broad public in an area stretching from West Bohemia to East Moravia and indeed also Slovakia. Even though natural scientific or philosophical topics pose unusual demands for potential visitors, the lecture rooms were filled to capacity, nobody left before the end, and the lectures were invariably followed by an evening of questions and answers. Listeners posed thoughtful, sometimes quite unusual questions, and the ensuing debate usually took as much time as the lecture itself. This, I think, is the second good news.

The final month of the year see the Academy of Science institutes and higher education institutions regularly evaluate their grant projects. I have witnessed such assessment sessions virtually in both courts of the grant playfield: as a member of project team in my workplace and as an opponent to team projects on “foreign” ground. I was pleased to hear praise lavished on our projects by their opponents, and in return to be able to issue commendatory opinion on the work of teams that often employ highly skilled foreign nationals, who take part in shorter or loner-term internship programmes because they appreciate the standard and dedication of our research workers. This, I feel, is a third message of key importance.

The Czech Republic has lately suffered a severe shortage of doctors and nurses. After receiving a premium education of high quality, many graduates make a bee line to foreign countries, where they have better working conditions and incomes. On the other hand, it could not pass unnoticed this year that many young natural scientists are coming home, having lived and learned abroad after completion of their academic studies, much like journeymen in olden times. They worked in prestigious institutes and laboratories, but they realized they want to send their children to Czech schools, and came home to enrich Czech research teams with their experience from abroad. This is a huge win for the future of our science and technology. One cannot wish for a better message, since a fourth technological revolution is banging on the door, and it will need large numbers of first-rate creative specialists.

My account might seem I am painting the future pink, what with horrible reports coming in from our European neighbours and other continents every day, on assassinations, bombings, war conflicts and massive expulsion humiliation of people in the failed states virtually in Europe’s backyard. For the time being, amidst the tumult devouring the rest of the world, our country may still look like an oasis of peace and prosperity, a status seldom achieved in the history of the Lands of the Czech Crown.

It depends on all of us, how we can retain this status in future, because the forces of evil and ignorance are aggressive by definition. If we do not keep precisely this in mind, we may lose our privileges pretty easily, and pretty soon at that. Good and peace can prevail, but it will take a lot of work.