Press Review

Inevitably, it's the elections to new regional parliaments and a third of the Senate seats which dominate the front pages of all Czech dailies, although the papers also devote space to international stories--the mountain railway disaster in Austria features prominently, as does Slovak unwillingness to go to the polls and allow the former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar to make a bid for power. Less than twenty percent of Slovaks turned up to support Meciar's referendum for early elections and the Czech papers speculate as to whether the former Slovak leader will finally get the message and bow out of politics.

In the Czech Republic, voters seemed equally unwilling to go to the polls in the country's regional and Senate elections and some of the papers which monitored preliminary voter turnout at 25% describe the lack of public interest as "disastrous". It eventually climbed to under 40% which is still far below the projected 64% turnout. Lidove Noviny hails the elections as a triumph for the right-of-centre parties, while Pravo notes that the Communists are slowly but surely regaining support at regional level, especially in the eastern part of the country. "We're ready to break out the champagne and if things get even better we'll go out and get caviar for a real celebration," officials at Communist Party headquarters told Pravo late Sunday night. There is no doubt at all as to who is the loser in these elections and Pravo notes that Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman's disappointment was etched deeply into his face even as the first results came in.

On a different topic, after a disappointing EU progress report last week, the papers have found some solace in highlighting Swedish and Greek support for the Czech Republic's early admission to the EU. The fact that despite its progress over the past year the Czech Republic was placed in the third group of EU candidate states has left a bitter aftertaste, and Slovo quotes the Czech foreign minister's concern that the report could increase public hostility towards the European Union.

Mlada Fronta Dnes reports on a pilot project launched by the Czech Interior Ministry in cooperation with the British police. The aim is to teach Czech police officers how to treat members of minorities and foreigners. Romanies often complain of racist behaviour on the part of the police, and an Indian national whom the paper has interviewed likewise complains that he is constantly being singled out for attention by the police, even if it is just an ID check.

Pretty heavy stuff in most of the papers today, but Lidove Noviny has made an effort to cheer up readers with several lighter topics. "Where shall we go on holiday? How about a trip into space?" reads an eye-catching headline. The paper claims that in 15 years' time space tourism will be available and affordable to middle-class families. In the meantime it's necessary to look around for other forms of entertainment and Jan Knotek from Decin certainly has an original hobby. He puts stationary aircraft into motion using his own manpower. Knotek wowed a local audience as he set a world record over the weekend pulling a plane weighing over 800 kgs close to six and a half metres by the strength of his neck muscles alone as he walked on his hands before it. Knotek told the paper that he developed this unusual hobby after the break-up of the Czechoslovak Federation in 1993. I wanted to get the Czech Republic's name into the Guinness Book of Records, he said. Having achieved this, he plans to go onto bigger and better things. You may get a chance to see him in action, since next year he plans to walk on his hands from Prague to Vienna, covering over 1,400 km. In order to break the current world record he would have to do it in under 55 days.