Press Review

All the Czech daily newspapers today report on celebrations marking the anniversary of the founding of the independent Czechoslovak state on October 28th, 1918. However, the national holiday is somewhat overshadowed by reports of a fresh serious accident involving the Czech air force - the crash of an army helicopter, which carried two astronauts of Czech origin.

Indeed, the accident makes the main headlines in most of the daily papers. The Czech Army's Mi-8 helicopter crashed near the South-Bohemian town of Milevsko with Czech astronaut Vladimir Remek and his American colleague Eugene Cernan and ten other people on board. There were no fatalities, although one of the passengers was rushed to hospital in a critical condition.

Lidove noviny leads with a rundown of president Vaclav Havel's speech on the occasion of the national holiday. Havel, who left hospital just to deliver his speech at Prague Castle, talked mainly about the legacy of the Communist era and severely criticised top political leaders, including Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Lower House Speaker Vaclav Klaus, although without mentioning their names. According to Lidove noviny, Vaclav Klaus, who attended the ceremony, smiled at first, but his smile gradually vanished and in the end, he did not join in the applause which followed Mr. Havel's speech.

The business daily Hospodarske noviny criticises the growing number of bureaucrats working in state administration. The paper recalls that the government originally promised that a reform of the regional administration system would be followed by a reduction of the number of employees at government ministries. However, in 2002, the number of state bureaucrats is to increase by more than 2000 people.

The government has even set up a special department whose task is to count civil servants and propose cuts. On the other hand, the cabinet argues that it needs more people to deal with tasks stemming from the country's accession to the EU. According to Hospodarske noviny, there is little chance that Czech taxpayers will have to feed fewer than the current level of 520,000 civil servants in the near future.

Today's Pravo devotes a large part of its front page to a speech made by the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party, Vladimir Spidla, which is seen as the launch of the party's pre-election campaign. Spidla launched a fierce attack on the party's opposition rivals, the right-of-centre Civic Democrats and the Freedom Union, highlighting what he calls socially insensitive policies.

Mr. Spidla painted a gloomy picture for ordinary Czechs, claiming that if these parties win in the elections next June, the two parties would introduce tuition fees for university students, direct payments for health care, eliminate the role of trade unions and cut old-age pensions to a bare minimum. Of course, as Pravo quotes Mr. Spidla, none of these evils will befall the population if the Social Democrats are voted in for a second term in office.

Meanwhile, Pravo writes, the opposition right-of-centre Four Party Coalition has become a three-party coalition, as two of the member parties - the Freedom Union and the Democratic Union, merged at the weekend. The move will make it easier for the coalition to enter parliament in the general election next summer. Coalitions need 5 percent of the vote per party to receive parliamentary representation. The Four - or rather Three Party Coalition now has to gain only 15 percent, instead of 20.