Press Review

For several weeks now developments in neighbouring Austria have received a prominent position in the Czech papers, and today is no exception. Only today the topic at the centre of attention is not the controversy over the Temelin nuclear power plant, but Saturday's announcement by the former leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Joerg Haider, that he would withdraw from national policy-making.

The response of Czech commentators is one of total disbelief and heavy sarcasm. They all predicted - correctly as it turned out - that Joerg Haider was far too ambitious to remain out of national politics for long. Haider's change of mind - 48 hours later - came too late for the papers to record.

"Make no mistake - Haider's moves are carefully orchestrated to bring him publicity and personal gain" says Marketa Zidkova in Lidove noviny, while David Zelinger, a Vienna correspondent for Mlada fronta Dnes, says that there can be no doubt at all as to who pulls the strings in the Austrian Freedom Party. For the majority of Freedom Party members Sussane Ries Passer is head of the party only by the grace and will of Joerg Haider, Zelinger says.

Meanwhile, on an official visit to Israel, the Czech Prime minister further fanned the flames of Czech-Austrian animosity when he compared Joerg Haider to Hitler, and assured his hosts that he fully appreciated the reasons why - as long as the Austrian Freedom Party was in office - Israel would not consider sending an ambassador to Vienna. That statement is splashed across the front page of Monday's Lidove noviny.

In domestic politics, all eyes are on the summer's parliamentary elections and possible post-election deals already being discussed. From what we've been given to understand, says Pravo, the leading political parties are leaving their options open. Both the Civic Democratic Party and the governing Social Democrats - who share power under the so-called "Opposition Agreement" - have hinted that a regular coalition is not being ruled out.

Commentators report on various behind-the-scenes talks and in LN's front page editorial Ondrej Neff pokes fun at the "clean" government which the Social and Christian Democrats are allegedly cooking up between them. The top priority is to set up a cabinet of "clean" politicians and the two parties are busy looking for such candidates, says Neff adding - this will be no simple task, even after the government's "Clean Hands" anti-corruption campaign.

Meanwhile, Mlada fronta Dnes has decided it is high time to take a look at the hands of the present cabinet members - and has published a two page centre-spread on where each minister lives, what kind of car he drives and what assets he has collected since getting into the hot seat. Four ministers, among them the premier himself, refused to fill in the paper's questionnaire, saying their property declarations were available in the Senate - and that they had nothing further to add.

There's one little hitch - says the paper's Jana Bendova - some of those files are empty and some contain a minimum of information - such as the PM's declaration of having earned 50,000 crowns on the side, and receiving a 100,000 crown wristwatch in the course of 1999. In 1998 the Prime Minister declared 10 piglets as a gift saying they had been sent to a charity organisation.

What was it the Prime Minister told us at the beginning of his term in office - "everything must be above board and transparent - for if people don't know they will speculate". Quite right, says Jana Bendova. People are speculating and they believe that these cabinet members are no better than their predecessors. It is a pity that, in his wisdom, the PM does not pay heed to his own advice, she concludes.