PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia -- Little green men from outer space, it would seem, are more interested in capitalism than communism.
In the past two years, reported sightings of unidentified flying objects in the Czech Republic have skyrocketed and are now coming in at some 40 a month.
With reports of a flying eyeball with a little window, brilliant orange spheres, a 9-foot-tall dog in an immense orb and a 1,500-foot-long silver boomerang with red and green lights at its wing tips, Czechs seem to be in the grip of UFO fever.
"The number of sightings is growing geometrically," says Vladimir Siska, a telephone linesman who heads a group of UFO buffs called the Czech Archaeo-Astronomical Association.
The group has received reports of more than 350 sightings in the past year that Mr. Siska says can't be explained by natural phenomena, as well as dozens more that have turned out to be shooting stars, planets or other stellar activity.
Before the 1989 revolution that brought an end to 40 years of communism, there was an unspoken rule that sightings of extraterrestrial beings were little more than the fantastic inventions of corrupt capitalist minds.
This prohibition, however, is among the myriad taboos that evaporated with the old regime. No one kept statistics on UFOs before the revolution, but by all accounts there were far fewer sightings reported -- if for no other reason than there was no one to report them to.
"Under communism, everything was closed and rigid. Nothing was allowed, so of course people couldn't speak about such things," says Zdislav Sima, a researcher with the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. "Now, they've taken the lid off the pot and let the genie out. It's like a boom in UFOs."
Furthermore, many people would have been reluctant to attract the attention and eventual ridicule that often accompany any announcement of contact with an alien. Since the revolution, however, many Czechs no longer fear the ridicule and even seek the attention.
Those factors, coupled with the genesis of the year-old Archaeo-Astronomical Association and new tabloid newspapers that splash UFO sightings across their full-color front pages, have put UFOs into the forefront of Prague's collective consciousness.
"My son said, 'Mom, come quick and look,' so I ran in from the kitchen, and I saw what looked like a large eye with a little window in it," says Olga Voskova, an unemployed cook. "It was yellow and red, and it flew above the house and headed toward the park. . . . I wasn't exactly scared, but it was a very strange feeling."
"All of a sudden a huge orange sphere appeared in my window. I was totally paralyzed," Zuzka Bohata, a 14-year-old from the village of Nahoranech nad Metuji, told the tabloid Expres.
Roman Vrtatko, who says he is planning to publish a newspaper on the subject, considers the recent wave of sightings to be a warning sign from creatures who have a better understanding of the Earth's problems than humans do. Especially in Eastern Europe, he says, ecological disaster is imminent, and these creatures are here to encourage humans to change their ways.
"If our planet is visited by intelligent beings from outer space, they probably know about this catastrophe," Mr. Vrtatko intones. "And that's why they've begun to show themselves more often recently."
Mr. Sima demurs. "Newspapers write about these UFOs more, and so people start seeing them more," he says. "As far as I'm concerned, it's not little green men, but something natural."