Press Review

Today's PRAVO features a photo of the Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday evening in response to a scandal currently fermenting around a Czech-Government owned building in Moscow. Mr Kavan is currently under fire from journalists and politicians alike, following an article in the Czech daily MLADA FRONTA DNES, which claimed that Mr Kavan approved the rental of the ten-story complex to a company for a sum far below its market value. PRAVO reports that Mr Kavan has admitted that there were formal discrepancies in the contract and that he has promised to start an investigation to find who was responsible.

"Prime Minister battles the pink tank" reads the headline in LIDOVE NOVINY. It refers to Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman's press release in which he strongly opposes the placing of a Soviet tank, painted pink by Czech artist David Cerny, on one of Prague's town squares. The tank used to stand on the square as a monument to the Soviet liberation of the city at the end of World War Two, but was removed just under ten years ago after the young Czech artist had illicitly painted it pink overnight. Now the local authority wants to put it back, not in its original green, but in Cerny's pink livery.

Not surprisingly the plan has received criticism from the Russian Embassy, but the paper writes that whilst the Russian objection is for understandable historical reasons, the Czech Prime Minister's reaction is less acceptable. He just does not believe the pink tank to be a work of art. LIDOVE NOVINY is reminded of the days of Krushchev in the Soviet Union, who used to dictate what should and shouldn't be displayed in galleries or performed at the theatre.

HOSPODARSKE NOVINY reports on the Czech Government's decision to enter into a contract with an Israeli company to construct a 60-kilometre stretch of motorway. The paper notes that the company, Housing & Construction, was chosen without public tender mainly due to the financial advantages. It quotes the Transport Minister, Jaromir Schling as saying that the Czech government wanted to have the motorway built as soon as possible and a public tender would have taken too long. He added that Housing & Construction offered to utilise its own financial resources and would allow the Czech Republic to pay it back through taxes.

Today's ZEMSKE NOVINY notes that Czechs forced to work in German camps and factories during the Second World War, are still uncertain as to when they shall receive compensation. Under an agreement between representatives of wartime forced labourers and German Government and industry representatives last year, the reparation payments should be made by summer this year. But, the paper says, a delay in the compensation process has been caused by a New York court which refuses to dismiss pending lawsuits filed by individual wartime slave labourers against some German companies, a condition set by the companies in order to secure that there would be no more demands.

Since these lawsuits were filed by only a small fraction of the wartime slave labourers demanding compensation, the majority are in favour of the charges being dropped which would then provide German companies with the security they want before making the payments. The paper quotes the Czech Republic's chief negotiator for WWII compensation, Jiri Sitler as saying that if the courts managed to dismiss the pending lawsuits by May, then there would still be a chance of getting compensation by the summer. Representatives of both sides will be meeting on April 4th to discuss the possibility of paying out at least part of the sum before the pending lawsuits are resolved, the paper adds.

The topic of the day in today's MLADA FRONTA DNES is the plight of the Czech army. The paper notes that thousands of officers who are considered irreplaceable intend to leave after their contracts expire. This would result in a lack of people to head the army's staff and units. In September this year, contracts with thousands of skilled army officers shall expire and most of them do not plan to have them renewed, says the paper. Most of these officers, it goes on, are fed up with numerous re-organisations and re-locations which have made them uncertain of the Czech army's future. They have lost their patience and now intend to take control of their lives by going elsewhere.