Press Review

Most papers are still dealing with the naval disaster in Russia's Arctic waters. On the domestic front, commentators are focusing on a scandal that ultimately could incapacitate the ruling Social Democratic Party. Beatrice Cady and Libor Kubik join me in the studio now with a review of Wednesday's Czech press.

Most domestic editorials today consider the implications of Operation Lead, a plot, apparently hatched by one of Prime Minister Milos Zeman's top aides with the aim of discrediting Petra Buzkova, a former deputy chairwoman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, who is also the deputy speaker of the lower house of Parliament.

MLADA FRONTA DNES believes that Operation Lead--from Petra Buzkova's initials P. B., which is the scientific symbol for lead--should be taken simply as another episode of in-party feuding that broke out when the Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman announced he would retire soon and offer his high post to the best man or woman. Mr Zeman de facto condemned his party to a constant battle for succession, fuelled by an impressive chain of scandals, mutual recriminations and defamation campaigns. The paper notes that ultimately the current war of attrition between Ms. Buzkova and some of Zeman's aides could paralyse the entire party.

On the same topic, HOSPODARSKE NOVINY says it is no accident that Operation Lead--whose perpetrators allege, amongst other things, that Ms. Buzkova abuses her small daughter and is an alcoholic--strongly resembles in style and form fabrications planted in the olden days by the notorious communist secret police, the StB. After all, it was apparently conceived in the seat of the incumbent government. Some of the top aides to Prime Minister Zeman are well known for their communist past. The chief of the corps of consultants, Miroslav Slouf, was once placed quite high on the communist "nomenklatura", the pecking order for officials to be groomed for top posts. The question everybody must ask is: who this serves and what is it good for? Is it just settling old scores between various members of Mr Slouf's team? Is it another outbreak of factional fighting within the Social Democratic Party? Or is simply proof that you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

The focus on the international pages in the majority of the Czech papers today is firmly on the aftermath of the tragedy of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, a steely grave for more than 100 sailors at the bottom of the icy Barents Sea. Doldrums and eerie silence, notes PRAVO. Rather than admit that the Russian Admiralty's rescue efforts were a complete failure, both technological and human, Moscow chose to keep mum on virtually all the key aspects of its tragic blunder. And yet, the paper notes, it would be unfair to say that the Russian military hasn't changed at all since the end of the Cold War. Jut imagine, it took only about two days for the Navy to disclose that one its most advanced nuclear-powered subs lay crippled on the seabed. Such speed would have been unthinkable in the past. We would probably never have known. Secondly, the Russians this time worked with those against whom the hapless Kursk was deployed. Hopefully, things are changing even in Russia and in the near future, this type of joint effort will become the standard, PRAVO suggests.

President Vladimir Putin's lame excuses cannot stand the acid test of time, notes today's CESKE SLOVO, which begs to disagree with PRAVO's prediction of greater openness on the part of the Kremlin. In this situation, so critical for his style of leadership, he faces two options. One is the Chernobyl approach, to continue to play down the impact of the accident. This way is apparently leading nowhere. The other option is to make political capital for himself by ruthlessly pointing out the various disastrous shortcomings of others, just like Mikhail Gorbachev did in his time. This other option would be more appealing to the West, but then again, prophets invariably face harsh treatment in Putin's native Russia, the paper notes.

Authors: Beatrice Cady , Libor Kubík
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