From the Weeklies

Czech economic performance has been improving, but who will pay the bill? Has euthanasia a chance to be included into the Czech legal system? And juvenile criminals in the Czech Republic are likely to be prosecuted as of next year. These are some of the topics taken up by the Czech weeklies.

This week, the weekly RESPEKT reports on the causes and consequences of the slight improvement in Czech economic performance. The government is happy; last Friday it learned something that it had long wanted to hear: in the second quarter of this year, GDP increased by 1.9 percent. But economic analysts seem to be more sober; taking into account data from the beginning of this year, the Czech economy increased by 3.1 percent between January and June, which means that it has seen only a mild improvement.

What is most pleasing, says RESPEKT, is the fact that the increase is not the result of people's unbridled shopping but domestic companies' investment activities. Czech industry, which is largely ruled by foreign-owned companies, is undergoing modernisation, using high-tech machines and other sophisticated equipment. We already know, writes RESPEKT, that this year foreign investment in the Czech Republic will reach an all-time high--the most important projects being Philips constructing a huge plant in the North Moravian town of Hranice, and the Japanese TV giant Matsushita transferring its unnecessarily expensive production of TV screens from Wales to the Czech Republic.

According to the governmental agency Czechinvest, the influx of direct foreign investment is expected to continue next year, perhaps even in 2002, when parliamentary elections will be held. This is undoubtedly good news, and not only for the ruling Social Democrats. But sensible economists cannot ignore the reverse side of the coin, which is not discussed as often as the flourishing economy: namely, that foreign investors have still been lured by the cheap skilled labour force, and by the existing generous system of special offers for investors, such as ten-year tax and customs breaks or subsidies amounting to around five thousand dollars for the retraining of each worker. But much to the dislike of ordinary people, the latest data on average wages shows that in the public sector salaries are lagging behind inflation, something which the unions at least will certainly not like, writes RESPEKT.

The latest supplement of the daily PRAVO ponders the possibility of introducing euthanasia into the Czech legal system. The magazine carries a story of an 83-year-old man from Prague who is gradually going blind. His children and grandchildren are trying to give him as much care as possible, but he still wants to die. "Doctor Death is God to me," he tells the magazine, and expressed a wish to be a member of an association such as "Exit" in Switzerland.

This prompted the magazine to explore the situation in the Czech Republic. Euthanasia is Greek for 'a good death', and should be understood as the right to die without suffering. The magazine reports on the latest survey carried out by the prominent Institute for Public Opinion Research, which showed that euthanasia was acceptable to a staggering 50 percent of Czech citizens, and that every third nurse at the anesthesiology-resuscitation ward in Prague had treated patients who asked to be allowed to die.

"I can't imagine euthanasia being legalized in our country, the moral climate is too corrupt," psychiatrist Miroslav Dedina is quoted as saying. Mr. Dedina also told the magazine that back in the 1950s, the communist bosses strove for a kind of euthanasia with the aim of liquidating its political opponents. Its legalization could enable an 'enlightened' present-day dictator to use it in the same way. "It would be enough to put the potential patient behind bars, there he'd be turned into a mere number and would be unable to appeal anywhere," Doctor Dedina told PRAVO magazine.

The TYDEN magazine this week takes up a discussion over a bill submitted by Justice Minister Otakar Motejl, which--if passed--will make children criminally responsible for their actions and punishable accordingly. TYDEN says the new law could be a remedy for the ever-rising crime rate amongst youngsters under the age of 15, as well as their appalling brutality.

The magazine mentions a case where two boys aged eight and ten kidnapped a 4-month-old baby with the aim of throwing her out of the upper window of a seven-storey building. They changed their mind at the last minute, took the baby girl to a police station and demanded a ransom of 10 thousand crowns. Due to their age, they could not be prosecuted. If a similar case happens next year, it is very likely that the culprits will be facing criminal charges, says TYDEN.

Since juvenile delinquency has been on the rise, the present age limit for criminal responsibility, 15 years, has come into the limelight again. After several years of heated debate, the Justice Ministry submitted a bill last week which could heal this 'painful spot' in the Czech legal system.

So what to do with children under 15 when they commit a serious crime? Do they even realize that they've done something which does not correspond with established social norms? Therapist Petr Peniska divides juvenile delinquents into two categories: one is children who cannot feel clear limits of responsibility, the other is formed by youngsters who revolt against the establishment--school, family, the entire fabric of society. The new law will introduce three basic age categories: under-aged--that's young people under 15, adolescents--between 15 and 18, and young adults--between 18 and 21 years of age. Their cases will be dealt with exclusively by specialists, from police to judges, and there will be a lot more so-called "alternative punishment", writes TYDEN.

And finally, MLADA FRONTA DNES magazine has discovered that women in the Czech Republic are still "hidden in the background". Even after ten years of economic transformation, sociologists say one of the typical features of the Czech Republic is an enormously high number of women who must work in order to support the family. Today's generation of young employed women is already the third in the country's history which will go to work for their entire lives.

The position of women in the work force has not changed for the better; for instance a wife holding the same education and position as her husband often is still paid less money. Also, more women have lower education and work in less important posts than men. The Czech labour market is characterized by a high degree of male solidarity; it's not patriarchal but rather ruled by a kind of a modern brotherhood, concludes the magazine.