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Communism's answer to Mickey Mouse is thrust into a very capitalist dispute

The gray-bellied character may not mean much to Westerners, but for many in Central Europe and elsewhere, the animal is easily recognised as Krtek

Philip J Heijmans | NYT  |  Prague 

Krtek, Czech Mickey Mouse
Created in 1956 by the Czech animator Zdenek Miler, the mole first appeared in an award-winning film commissioned by Communist Party leaders as a way to teach children about making trousers.

Along the historic streets on the periphery of the famed Old Town Square here, tourists stroll past dozens of souvenir shops, many displaying the same stuffed toy of a wide-eyed and cheerful-looking mole.

The gray-bellied character may not mean much to Westerners, but for many in and elsewhere, the animal is easily recognised as Krtek, a warmhearted mole whose adventures have dazzled children for 60 years.

“It was something on TV that was completely different from the others,” Ondrej Hojer, 37, said of Krtek, recalling his youth in communist The appeal endures: “My youngest one has a doll in his bed and goes to sleep with him every night,” Hojer said.

Created in 1956 by the Czech animator Zdenek Miler, the mole first appeared in an award-winning film commissioned by Communist Party leaders as a way to teach children about making trousers. The silent character found huge appeal as an advocate of friendship, morality and human decency and would earn enormous popularity across as a sort of Czech (The character was forbidden throughout the ) But now this icon of the Communist era has become the subject of a very capitalist battle in a bitter copyright suit.

After the fall of in in 1989, (pronounced KURR-teck) was free to travel. The character would spread to China, India and Japan through movies and books, spawning lucrative merchandising contracts. Though never really made it to the United States, a toy accompanied the American astronaut Andrew J Feustel on the space shuttle Endeavour in 2011.

Celebrating Krtek’s cultural impact and marking the 60th anniversary of the character’s first appearance, an exhibition in is currently showing original drawings of the character and portraits of Miler. However, with success came problems. Confusion about the terms of the inheritance of Miler’s work after his death in 2011 prompted a legal battle between relatives vying for control of a business empire worth millions of dollars.

According to the details of the most recent case at a court in Prague, Miler left a controlling stake to five of his relatives. Among them was his granddaughter, Karolina Milerova. Milerova says Miler handed her full control of all copyright, in writing, while on his deathbed. Soon after, she established a new company with the intention of carrying on her grandfather’s legacy, she told the court. On Oct. 17, the court rejected her claim, determining that the language in the contract was too vague. 

©2017 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Tue, October 24 2017. 22:19 IST
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