Press Review

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The face of the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic looks out from all of today's front pages as the papers report on the start of his trial at the UN War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. Mlada fronta Dnes describes it as the biggest court case since the Nazis were brought to trial. "A barbarian straight out of the Middle Ages" is how Lidove noviny describes Milosevic, noting that it is for the first time that a former head of state is being made to face responsibility for his deeds.

Rubbing shoulders with the Milosevic trial story is a report on Tuesday's meeting in Baghdad between the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussain and Joerg Haider, a prominent member of Austria's ultra-right Freedom Party. "Haider shocks the world" says Mlada fronta Dnes while Lidove noviny calls it an "unbelievable meeting". Joerg Heider, whom the Czech papers have dubbed the enfant terrible of Austrian politics, has received plenty of coverage in the Czech press recently due to a war of words between him and the Czech prime Minister Milos Zeman.

Zeman came under plenty of criticism both at home and abroad for his lack of restraint when telling neighbouring Austrians that the sooner they got rid of Mr. Haider and his neo-fascist party the better, says Pavel Verner in today's Pravo. Mr. Haider's trip to Baghdad appears to have put the Prime Minister's statements in a more acceptable light, he adds.

On the home scene, there is general disappointment at the outcome of the court case against four former top communist officials charged with masterminding a campaign intended to force anti-communist dissidents to flee the former Czechoslovakia. Three were handed suspended sentences and one was cleared of all charges. The papers express surprise over the fact that in a separate court case this week two low ranking former secret service agents received three year jail sentences for beating up dissidents as part of the same campaign.

Who is the greater monster - he who beats somebody with a stick or he who orders it done and watches from the shadows? And who deserves the greater punishment ? asks Hospodarske noviny. This is not the first case which has proved that - in this country at least - it is better to be in command than obeying orders, the paper notes. Mlada fronta Dnes and Lidove noviny fully agree with this sentiment, calling Tuesday's verdict " a strange sort of justice".

There is more optimistic news to be found on the sports and cultural pages today. The Czech ice-skating duo Katerina Berankova and Otto Dlabola have warmed Czech hearts by doing unexpectedly well in the Salt Lake Winter Olympics - they finished 8th in the event. Still room for improvement but at this point in their careers it is a dream come true, says Pravo. Asked how the couple planned to celebrate, Dlabola said that after the champagne party he personally would forget about his strict diet for a day or two and stuff himself with his favourite American junk food.

There is disappointment of course at the news that Jan Sverak's Dark Blue World did not receive an Oscar nomination. However, director Sverak is upbeat in his response to the news - saying he had half expected this and that in his view the French film Amelie was the definite favourite in the foreign films category. Meanwhile here in the Czech Republic - thousands of kids are counting down the hours until Thursday's film premiere of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.