Press Review

The Tale of Two Zemans. That just about sums up the gist of editorial comments in today's Czech papers. Thursday's Press Review was compiled by Libor Kubik who joins me in the studio now.

All papers follow the drama of critically-ill Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, who's fighting for his life in Innsbruck University Hospital. In charge of the clinic is Professor Ernst Bodner, the man who saved the life of Czech President Vaclav Havel two years ago under similar circumstances. The return of Cuba's most famous boy, Elian Gonzales, to his communist-run Caribbean home also makes headlines. But most of today's editorial comment centres on economic issues, specifically on the repercussions of placing the ailing IPB bank under forced administration and its subsequent takeover by its rival CSOB. The sheer speed of the takeover process continues to invite all manner of speculation as this case has strong political overtones.

PRAVO suggests that the Social Democrat government still owes parliament a plausible explanation of what went wrong in IPB and why it was CSOB who won the takeover bid. But the paper is sceptical about the value of the commission of inquiry which the main opposition Civic Democrats want parliament to set up. PRAVO believes it knows who the culprit is -- but before the villain goes, Prime Minister Milos Zeman will have to carry out a delicate political transaction. He'll have to trade in his finance minister, Pavel Mertlik, for parliamentary approval of his government's draft budget for next year. The paper says 'delicate' because if Mr. Zeman proves that the IPB takeover was a clean deal, he will paradoxically lose his main argument why Mr. Mertlik's head should be served to the opposition on a silver platter. This wouldn't happen before the budgetary battle starts in the autumn -- but it will be interesting to keep track of Zeman's public remarks from now on, no matter how cryptic they may be, the paper concludes.

The IPB bail-out and takeover was a costly affair. Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus has accused the government and the central bank of robbing every Czech household of 25,000 crowns in the first few days of the drama. MLADA FRONTA DNES's cartoonist Vladimir Rencin has a pub patron, nursing a frothy pint of the best on tap, complaining to his buddies round the table: "It's outrageous! Their economic incompetence is costing us -- a total of 895 beers each!"

From one Mr. Zeman to another -- the prime minister's namesake Eduard Zeman, the Czech minister of education, wants to abolish an institution which summed up pre-war Czechoslovakia perfectly, was forgotten under communism, and was only reintroduced quite recently. Namely, the extended 8-year secondary schools which admit bright teenagers at the age of 11 or 12 and give them academic schooling until they are 18 or 19. ZEMSKE NOVINY reports that Mr Zeman considers the system too elitist and discriminatory towards other Czech schoolchildren. Many political leaders went berserk when they heard the education minister make such iconoclastic remarks, because academic schools provide better education to their students than most elementary schools. The ministry argues that all pupils should have equal opportunities and that early selection of the most talented creates undesirable social barriers and encourages disrespect for underachievers. ZEMSKE NOVINY suggests that instead of closing down all extended high schools, the Ministry of Education should see to it that junior high schools start raising their academic standards. And in PRAVO, sociologist Jirina Siklova compares Minister Zeman to Zdenek Nejedly, a '50's Communist minister of culture and education who gained notoriety as a self-styled inquisitor general.

Author: Libor Kubík
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