Press Review

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Most of the Czech papers today lead with the story of the motorway running through the ceské stredohori. MLADA FRONTA DNES features a picture of the motorway under construction with Rip hill in the background. Rip is a national symbol for many Czechs, since according to an old myth the first Czechs settled on Rip. The paper says that the environment minister, Milos Kuzvart, caved in to ever-increasing pressure from his Social Democrat colleagues and agreed to the construction of the motorway.

Who will be the next head of the Czech National Bank? PRAVO says it could well be the current minister of finance, Social Democrat Pavel Mertlik. According to the paper, Mertlik has high ambitions, even though he doesn't look like it. Not so long ago news broke out that the current head of the CNB, Josef Tosovsky, may leave the bank. PRAVO claims that Tosovsky received a very lucrative offer from the European Bank for Regional Development in London to become one of the bank's vice-presidents, and that he is currently faring very well in the competition.

But that's not all. The Social Democratic MPs seem to think that the Civic Democrats, the main opposition party, will not approve next year's state budget for free. Although the annual struggle for the state budget hasn't yet begun, unofficial reports that Minister of Finance Pavel Mertlik will have to leave the government in exchange for the approval of the budget by the Civic Democrats are also circulating within the Social Democratic Party. The Civic Democrats might also ask for the removal of Mertlik's deputy, Jan Mladek. PRAVO quotes a source close to the Social Democrats, who says that Mertlik's next destination could also be Washington, in the IMF. So is the future really so bright for the young Czech minister of finance? We'll have to wait and see, the paper concludes.

A commentary in MLADA FRONTA DNES suggests an unusual way to quietly sweep any scandal under the carpet. The paper claims that all you have to do is establish a parliamentary commission to investigate the affair. By doing so, you can be sure that you will not only receive no more new information about it, but there'll be no more controversial reports about it in the media.

In 1996, the lower house of parliament appointed a commission to investigate the affair of Kreditni Banka in Plzen, but the commission provided no report and the affair was never heard of again. In 1999 the lower house appointed another commission to investigate allegations that bribery was involved in the privatization of Czech Telecom, the country's monopoly fixed-line telephone company. In fact, this involved the people who carried out the privatization, that is, former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and his government. In May this year, the commission handed in a report saying that despite all their efforts they had found no direct evidence of bribes or corruption. What a surprise it must have been when, three weeks after that, the Swiss authorities confirmed the existence of secret accounts in Switzerland. Accounts that the former prime minister and his colleagues fiercely denied during this affair. The police are almost sure that the accounts contain money from the Telecom bribes.

The commentary points out the recent case of the bank IPB, for which the lower house has also established a commission. Apart from the former prime minister, Vaclav Klaus, all the other MPs present voted in favor of the suggested members for the new commission. Now, why did Vaclav Klaus, who was shouting the loudest for further investigation of the case, vote against them? According to MLADA FRONTA DNES, this is because of the head of the commission, Miroslav Kalousek. Prior to this position, Kalousek was in charge of finance at the Defense Ministry. During his time there, the paper says, there were many suspicious public tenders for the army. However, there have never been any charges against Kalousek, and perhaps because he outsmarted his investigators at the time. Obviously he is not guilty of anything, after all, everybody's innocent until proved guilty. But for this commission, which is investigating the biggest bank affair in recent Czech history, MFD claims, more than just unproven guilt is needed.

And finally, today's ZEMSKE NOVINY reports on possibly the only wild bear in the Czech Republic. It has been living in the Beskydy Mountains in Moravia since May and has caused extensive damage by attacking farms and killing sheep. A team of zoologists has decided that the bear is most likely very young and inexperienced, and that it might also be hard of hearing. Since it shows no fear of humans, it is becoming dangerous. That's why zoologists intend to catch it and perhaps put it in a zoo. This came as good news for many locals, as they were scared of going into the woods with the bear living in their neighborhood. The zoologists have to wait for approval from the Environment Ministry, but preparations are already underway. A large wooden trap has been built, and old, decaying meat gathered. According to ZEMSKE NOVINY, rotten horse meat would be the best way of attracting the bear. It would not be able resist the smell, but the zoologists couldn't get any. So instead they will use old fish meat, and if that doesn't work, five kilos of honey surely will.