Bald readers stop here!

Observations on Prague

It's been a busy day at the office and you're rushing. You whip out a long shopping list with things the family needs that you must buy before returning home - and notice that it's nearly 5pm. Your deadline.

Prague's city hall has just passed a law forbidding people with blond hair from buying household goods outside the hours of three and five each day. This includes you; and as you reach the entrance to the shop two guards in leather trench coats block the entrance. You dare not risk it.

This sort of madness was once an everyday experience during the years of Nazi occupation of the Czech lands. But today?

Yes, it really is happening, but the clue is that it's a collaboration between the Prague Jewish Museum (JMP), the Prague Municipal Authority, and the McCann-Erickson advertising agency. According to Vladimir Hanzel, head of the education centre at the JMP, the campaign aims to use humour to bring to Praguers' attention the lesser-known details of a phase in Czech history.

"We Czechs are accustomed to delivering key information through irony, from Capek to Kafka to Havel," says Hanzel.

Thus, for the past month, on prominent display throughout Prague, 80 placards bearing some startling messages have been plastered on bridges, at bus stops and at road intersections.

"Blond people are forbidden to enter the cinema!"
"Bald people are prohibited from visiting public libraries!"
"Short adults are permitted to shop only between 3pm and 5pm!"

The idea, says Hanzel, is to get people talking about the country's past in a way that is neither bookish nor forced. The JMP's posters are designed to get people talking. "For a person to understand the message of this campaign, it's a three-step process," he says. "First, you see the yellow sentence from afar. We chose yellow, a colour that can be spotted from several metres away. A typical person will read the sentence, then wonder what it's all about. A subsequent line asks if they think it's odd, and tells them these sorts of bans were in force during the Protectorate period. And lastly, and in the smallest font we could use, the final line of the posters tells them that they're welcome to contact the Jewish Museum where they can discover more about these wartime policies and other matters affecting the Jewish community."

The poster campaign was the brainchild of Jan Binar, an advertising executive at McCann-Erickson. He got in touch with Leo Pavlat, director of the Jewish Museum, who was enthusiastic about his zany idea for a national campaign to combat racism and anti-Semitism, and the trampling of human rights more generally.

The tongue-in-cheek campaign was welcomed by Jewish people in the Czech Republic, but the JMP has been very aware that such a light-hearted take on the Nazi era might offend some. For two months before the project was unveiled, there were public announcements about the forthcoming campaign.

Now the posters will travel to other Czech towns and cities. Neighbouring Slovakia is also interested, with an exploratory committee from Bratislava visiting to see the campaign up close.

"But it might not translate well into every culture and language," admits Hanzel.

This article first appeared in the 19 February 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iran - Ready to attack