"Operation Lead" won't sink the government

Most of the Czech dailies are now talking about the famous "Operation Olovo", (Operation Lead), a slanderous campaign allegedly prepared by one or more of the prime minister's advisers against the very popular deputy speaker of the lower house of Parliament, Petra Buzkova. It all started when one of the prime minister's advisers, Zdenek Sarapatka, found some material on one of his colleagues' computers and put it into the public domain. Beatrice Cady reports.

"Operation Lead", named after Petra Buzkova's initials, which correspond to the chemical abbreviation Pb, for lead, was allegedly to be a very special operation indeed: a campaign led by one of Prime Minister Zeman's advisers to discredit the deputy speaker of the lower house of Parliament, Petra Buzkova. Like Prime Minister Milos Zeman, Petra Buzkova is also a member of the Social Democrats, but her outspoken comments about some in her own party have not won her the universal affection of her party colleagues.

It appears that at least one of Zeman's advisers has been making up false information about Petra Buzkova, claiming, for example, that she once belonged to the StB ( the Czech secret police under communist rule), or that she tyrannized her daughter. Today, after Sarapatka's assertions, the paper Mlada Fronta Dnes claims it was Vratislav Sima, one of the prime minister's advisers, who made up all the false information. Zeman's advisers and potentially the Social Democrats themselves, could soon be facing charges of slander.

The prime minister's chief adviser, Miroslav Slouf, says he will step down if it is definitely proven that one of his colleagues is guilty of slander, a crime, Czech police officials say, which can be punished with up to two years imprisonment. This is all very well, but what does Prime Minister Zeman say ? Well, he's on holiday and is not available for comment.

It seems that the whole affair will not shake the prime minister, although it does pose serious questions about his choice of advisers. The newspapers Zemske Noviny and Slovo have reacted in no uncertain terms. They claim that in a "normal" country, such an affair would threaten the seat of the head of the government. But in the Czech Republic, they say, there is no reason to fret. The most that is likely to happen is that the adviser concerned will be quietly removed from his job.

Author: Beatrice Cady
run audio