Press Review

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The "war of words" between the Czech Republic and Austria is splashed all over today's front pages, and the commentators are having a field day. Of course the Prime Minister hit the nail on the head, says Petr Fisher in Lidove noviny, but it was totally inappropriate to say so. By telling Austrians they were harbouring a post-fascist in office and advising them to get rid of him as soon as possible, the Czech Prime Minister has just added grist to the mill of Haider's nationalist policy and anti-Czech rhetoric. The statement may have put a smile on many people's faces but politically it was an expensive indulgence, says Fisher.

Jan Kovarik of Pravo has a similar assessment of the situation in an article entitled "Poking the Hornet's Nest". "Haider is fairly transparent - but there's a time and place for every statement. And this was the worst possible timing," Kovarik says. The Czech Prime Minister may have got something off his chest, but in doing so he has made life very difficult for the Freedom Party's senior partners - the Austrian People's Party - and has doubtless added quite a few signatures to the anti-Czech petition which Haider organised in Austria.

Mlada fronta Dnes carries a front-page report about an ultra-modern, highly- specialised medical facility that is being built somewhere near Hradec Kralove. The military hospital will specialise in researching and treating deadly biological diseases such as ebola or anthrax. The multi-million crown project is shrouded in secrecy and there are allegedly only two other institutions of this kind in the world - one in the US, the other in Britain.

At the Defence Ministry's request the paper has not stated the exact location of the medical institution, but it does say that work on it is almost finished and it should be made operational sometime this year. One of the experts involved in the project has made a point of assuring people living in the vicinity of Hradec Kralove that there is no danger of exposure to deadly viruses and bacteria. Secrecy or not - there's little doubt that the public will want more information on that story.

Jiri Kobelka of the same paper comments on the outcome of a highly publicised court case in which one of the country's most popular singers, Helena Vondrackova - who was at the pinnacle of her fame during the communist regime and made a come back after 1989 - sued a critic for alleging that she had signed the infamous anti-Charter in 1977, the communist-orchestrated response to the Charter 77 human rights manifesto. Does a critic really have the right to judge an artist's personal courage or political stand? Kobelka asks.

Not really, the author says. Literary and music critics should only analyse a given work of art - and not judge the person behind it. But inevitably this happens to the best of artists and most likely always will, says Kobelka, citing the music of Richard Wagner which is boycotted in Israel, because of Hitler's partiality to that composer. There's little you can do about that sort of thing, the author notes. When conductor Daniel Barenboim tried to break that taboo last year the audience simply got up and walked out.

And finally another legal story that has stirred emotions is the case of former communist prosecutor Karel Vas who walked out of court a free man on Tuesday. What irks commentators most is Vas' closing statement in which he described himself as "an absolute winner and an innocent man". The court halted proceedings against Vas because of the statute of limitations pertaining to the case, but Vas walked out with his head held high proclaiming innocence. It's a hard fact to face but it seems that this judicial murder will go unpunished, says Lidove noviny.