Press Review

Several big stories jostle for attention on today's front pages . The ruling of an international arbitration court in London, according to which the Czech Republic has not violated the terms of an investment protections agreement with the United States, has evoked a general sigh of relief. Not only because the state will not have to pay American media mogul Ronald Lauder 500 million dollars in compensation, but primarily because the Czech Republic's image has not suffered damage as a result of the US multi millionaire's business conflict with the private TV station NOVA.

Important as that story is - it has inevitably been overshadowed by the intense media coverage of a blockade of traffic in the Czech capital. The war of words between the traffic ministry and used car importers, driving school operators and taxi drivers has finally reached a head and today's papers carry maps of Prague marked with the various routes which the protesters were expected to block, as well as appealing to drivers to keep their anger in check. In a rather unnerving headline Lidove noviny says that the blockade of the ministry could last for several days.

Lidove noviny says that while the public has a great deal of sympathy for the arguments of car importers and driving school operators, the benevolent mood could quickly change to anger if they are forced to spend hours in traffic jams. Taking Prague hostage is no way for anyone to resolve their problems, the paper says.

Mlada fronta Dnes predicts that, despite the prime minister's show of support, minister Schling's fate is sealed. The prime minister is known for letting incompetent ministers stew before taking action, and by all accounts it is now only a matter of weeks before the axe falls, says Mlada fronta Dnes, basing its claim on inside information gleaned from an aide to the prime minister. He or she admitted that a suitable replacement for the minister had been discussed and that Senator Karel Korytar was a hot candidate. The Senator himself admitted that he had heard of this through unofficial channels, and that he would accept the post if it were offered.

On a different topic, the papers comment on the fact that for the first time since the fall of communism, an active proponent of that regime has been charged with extremist offences. In an interview for Mlada fronta Dnes the chairwoman of the Supreme Court Eliska Wagnerova explains why the law had only been used to prosecute neo- Nazis in the past.

Our communist past is fairly recent and still evokes mixed reactions, Wagnerova says. Unlike Neo Nazism, which is regarded as plain evil , communism is not so clear cut. It is Stalin, but it is also Dubcek. We still have communist MPs in parliament. At the present time, wearing a swastika is not like wearing a red star. What made this case stand out is that the particular communist concerned advocated an armed struggle and attempted to incite class hatred, the chairwoman of the Supreme Court told the paper.

On a related topic, Zemske noviny has welcomed a new campaign against racism which is based on irony and ridicule. One example of this PHARE funded project are the "Be kind to your local Nazi" billboards, which have also appeared elsewhere in Europe. Czech psychologists are divided over this novel approach, some believing that it will prove effective, others warning that it could fuel Neo Nazi sentiments. In any case there is a general agreement that some kind of action needs to be taken in a country where 20% of the population reportedly feel that the goals and opinions of Neo Nazis are not so bad, and that it is only their methods that deserve condemnation.