Press Review

The arrest of two Czech citizens in Cuba makes the main headlines in all the newspapers today. MLADA FRONTA DNES sees the incident as the climax of a long crisis in relations between the two former Communist allies. The paper recalls that during the Communist era, thousands of Czechs travelled to Cuba and were welcomed as beloved brothers. But in 1989, say the Cuban authorities, the Czechs betrayed the revolution and became servants to imperialism. Czechs, for their part, have proposed several resolutions in the UN, criticizing human rights violations by Fidel Castro's regime. MLADA FRONTA DNES suggests that the arrest of the two Czechs may be seen as revenge for these resolutions, and a warning to Prague to stay away from such initiatives in the future.

On the same topic, the left-wing daily PRAVO, once a Communist Party mouthpiece, is convinced that Cuba wants to make a frightening example of Pilip and Bubenik. The paper bases this conclusion on the fact that in similar cases, Cuba has so far always detained alleged culprits and expelled them after a few days. The past ten years of cool relations have now become an Ice Age, says PRAVO.

ZEMSKE NOVINY reports on the well-known fact that state administrations tend to mushroom in size. The paper writes that during the two years since the Social Democrats came to power, the number of employees at government headquarters has risen by 50 percent. The government itself admits that it is hard to determine the exact number of advisors. This trend has led Minister without Portfolio Karel Brezina, who is in charge of running government headquarters, to decrease the number of governmental advisory bodies and task forces from 27 to 17. ZEMSKE NOVINY quotes Mr. Brezina's analysis, which reveals that 18 of these bodies have problems with staff attendance, 15 have problems with expertise, and 8 are completely ineffective.

The business daily HOSPODARSKE NOVINY quotes Agriculture Minister, Jan Fencl, as saying that it would be naive to think that mad cow disease cannot affect the Czech Republic. This is why the Ministry of Agriculture has been working intensely on a package of measures to be taken if BSE appears in the Czech Republic. In line with EU procedures, if BSE is discovered in one animal, the whole herd will be slaughtered.

LIDOVE NOVINY disclose a wide-spread practice among small Czech firms, which officially pay their employees wages near the minimum wage, but in addition pay them the same amount or more in cash. This way, the employers economise on taxes, but damage the workers' interests. The illegal procedure affects mainly young people, in regions with high unemployment. LIDOVE NOVINY points out that by accepting this practice, employees are party to a crime and as well as criminal prosecution, they could face a number of other disadvantages, because social benefits and pensions are calculated according to officially declared wages.