Press Review

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The big international news this morning was that there was no news at all. The U.S. election cliffhanger that threw America into a political black hole unprecedented in modern times, figures prominently on the front pages of all national dailies.

America doesn't know who was elected, MLADA FRONTA DNES announces, saying that Austin, Texas was in a state nearing a heart attack. CESKE SLOVO's headline reads: Bush was only inches away from victory, then Florida stepped in. Bush near clinching a win, and now this, says a front-page headline in ZEMSKE NOVINY. Gore wins more total votes than Bush but has fewer electors, PRAVO explains, and HOSPODARSKE NOVINY is quite laconic, saying: Not yet. And one last quote from LIDOVE NOVINY -- Bush wins! Or not?

On the home front, the European Commission report just out relegates the Czech Republic to the third league of EU membership hopefuls. As MLADA FRONTA DNES points out, Brussels is rather suspicious about the Czech economy. The paper thinks this is odd, as the country is currently experiencing an economic revival. The paper believes that by dividing the candidate countries into three leagues, and grouping the Czech Republic together with Slovenia, the EU has committed a blunder. The EU has effectively played into the hands of the critics of its system of evaluation. It is absurd to say that this country has a less market-oriented economy than Poland, whose agriculture in particular is absolutely non-market and would probably collapse if exposed to competition within the EU.

On the same topic, LIDOVE NOVINY notes that Prague's disappointment cannot be muted by any amount of assurances from the EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen. The differences between the evaluated countries that his commission has found were very minor and largely cosmetic. This year's report proves that the EU is less impressed by momentary economic gains than by long-term trends and the overall push for membership. Czechs are lagging significantly behind Poles and Hungarians in this respect, concludes LIDOVE NOVINY.

A young Czech has been sentenced to eight years in prison for giving marijuana joints to minors. Is it too much or too little? asks MLADA FRONTA DNES. According to the law, the man practically got off lightly as eight years is the minimum jail term for distributing drugs among children. But common sense tells us this is a cruel and unusual punishment. Europeans are disgusted by the cruelty of the Islamic Sharia law, with all its public lashing of adulterers, chopping off the hands of petty thieves and stoning unfaithful women to death, the paper writes. European humanists deplore the summary executions of corrupt Chinese officials. Europe always prefers a lighter penalty for Europe believes in the educative and healing effects of civilised justice. Not so in this country. Scientists have long proved that cannabis is no more harmful than alcohol or cigarettes. Yet a vendor who sells beer to youngsters usually gets away with a fine.

Talking about beer, Czechs believe that a government which raises its price must collapse. Even so, beer prices will go up shortly, as CESKE SLOVO reports. But Jan Vesely from the Czech Brewmasters Association says there's little to fear. A half-litre of draft beer, for example, will cost only about 40 hellers more, the equivalent of one U.S. cent. He explains that costs are rising because of higher fuel prices and the poor quality of this year's malt. Czech malt from this year's crop contains too much protein, which isn't good for beer, and so breweries have had to import foreign malt, which is more expensive. All the leading Czech breweries, including Plzensky Prazdroj, Radegast and Krusovice, have announced slight price adjustments, a euphemism for price rises. The paper notes that the average per-capita beer consumption in this country is 160 litres per year. But it says nothing, not even the price, will deter Czechs from downing their daily pint or two, or three.