The Economist: A convicted murderer is the new star of Czech television

December 20, 2017

Jiri Kajinek is one of the biggest stars in the history of the Czech Republic. Last month, the first instalment of a docudrama about his life drew a massive 1.3m viewers (the television-watching public consists of 10.5m people). A theatrical film, released in 2010, shattered box-office records. The unusual part of Mr Kajinek’s stardom is that he is a convicted double murderer, controversially pardoned by Milos Zeman, the president, in May. “I have been out seven months and I have not yet met a single negative response,” Mr Kajinek says.

Equal parts fascinating, commercial and sensationalist, “Ja, Kajinek” (“I, Kajinek”) is a television show befitting the political moment. Traditional institutions and establishment opinion are cause for distrust; maverick outsiders are celebrated. Mr Kajinek’s continued insistence that he is innocent, repeated prison escapes and general opposition to authority have long generated sympathy in the country’s folksier environs, even as urban elites label him a cold-blooded killer. “He is gifted with charisma, he is a storyteller,” says Ivan Bares, the director of “Ja, Kajinek”. “I watched people’s reactions as we filmed and they admire him as a modern hero.”

Mr Kajinek has the reputation of a man who will not let the system keep him down. Among other memorable incidents, in 2000 he busted out of Mirov Prison—a medieval castle and onetime Nazi dungeon, now used as a maximum security penitentiary—and eluded capture for 40 media-fevered days…