Press Review

Gingerbread, spooks and Swiss secrets dominate the papers today.

"No, No, No" was the former Prime Minister and Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus's comment on the press's claim that the Swiss State Prosecutor's Office has confirmed the existence of a secret bank account used to illegally fund his party. According to MLADA FRONTA DNES daily, Swiss authorities have also confirmed that 45 million crowns were transferred from the Zurich-based Credit Suisse account to the Prague accounts of former Civic Democratic Party secretary Ludvik Otto. The Civic Democratic Party, or ODS, has long denied the existence of such an account, as the paper reminds us by reprinting ODS Deputy Chairman Miroslav Macek's 1998 statement, in which he described the secret account gossip as mere "media fireworks". The only glitch in sealing the investigation is that the Swiss have not connected the account with the privatisation of Czech Telecom, as alleged by Czech authorities. This prevents them from releasing the details of the account, and for now keeps its sponsors, who are likely to be prominent businessmen or companies which profited under the Klaus regime, in the shadows, concludes the paper.

"Gingerbread is not grass" is the peculiar headline of LIDOVE NOVINY's commentary today on the case of the elementary-school teacher who received a 2-year suspended sentence for selling the ephedrine-based drug Pervitin, known in Czech as Pernik - or gingerbread - to her students. The paper uses the case to call for the sorting out of the country's chaotic drug laws. It recalls the recent case of Stanislav Pobuda, who was pardoned by President Havel after receiving a 4-year sentence for giving marijuana to his peers. Marijuana is a soft drug; Pervitin a hard one, writes LIDOVE NOVINY, and common sense dictates that court verdicts should reflect this relation. Unfortunately, more often than not in the Czech Republic they do not, the paper claims.

Most papers today carry commentaries on Prime Minister Milos Zeman's assessment yesterday of his party's two years in government, focusing largely on its reception in parliament than its content per se. PRAVO takes a pessimistic view when anticipating the reaction of the two parties on the far sides of the political spectrum: the Communists and the Civic Democratic Party, or ODS. They will continue to paint the Social Democratic government as the evil boogey man who damages the country but can and must continue to rule, says the paper. The paper places hope in the alliance of 4 right-of-centre parties, which can no longer afford to be a mere caricature of the ODS. Rather the alliance must assume the role of state builder and begin considering the Social Democrats as a real partner and political opponent and not an ideological spook or it risks becoming a comical spook itself, the paper warns.