From the Weeklies

The 'flying coffins' or the 'Dodos' are the most frequent nicknames for the ancient Skoda cars still on the road. And NO, you won't see that many old fuddy-duddies behind the wheel. Old Skodas have become the latest craze among teenagers. Has watching the news on television suddenly become much more pleasant? Small wonder. The latest weapon in politicians' arsenals is employing gorgeous young girls as their spokespersons. And, is it possible that in a few decades our children will find themselves living in the tropics? Meteorologists say that in the year 2075 forty degree heat will be the normal summer climate in Central Europe. Those are some of the interesting stories in this week's magazines.

After several decades of living in a society which enabled one to buy only homemade Skoda cars--or imported Russian Ladas--one would think that Czechs would opt for a different choice today. Yet, while many are enjoying the luxury of flashy Western models, or at least used Western cars, the young generation has as usual done the unexpected. Teenagers in baseball caps and bright T-shirts drive around in ancient Skodas, pressing the gas pedal as far as it will go, to the deafening roar of the engine and clouds of black smoke billowing from the exhaust pipe. The children of the 80's middle-class generation have developed a craze for the cars of their youth. The ancient Skoda 105 and 120 models are in such demand that there is a waiting list for them at used car dealers'. Traffic police are not happy. They claim that if there is anything more dangerous on the road than a teenager behind the wheel, it is a teenager driving an old Skoda.

"These cars are truly unsafe," one policeman told Tyden magazine. "You see it every day in any kind of collision. The passengers of the other vehicles sustain only light injuries, while the ancient Skodas end up as a pile of twisted metal. There are many more deaths and it often takes hours to free the victims from the wreckage. Parents should think twice about buying their kids a car that has served for 20 years," he adds.

For teenagers however, these Skodas are immensely attractive. They are practically veterans, they are different from what the stuffy middle-aged generation of their parents drive and, most important of all, they can be bought for pocket money--the cheapest are available for 3,000 crowns, less than 100 dollars. Spare parts can be bought for next to nothing, the motor and everything in the car is so simple it can be repaired at home and one need not fear car thieves.

The name Dodo has in fact come from the Czech abbreviation "DOdelej si DOma" or "finish off at home" which is revealing of the state of the vehicle you get. Every third battered old Skoda fails to pass the compulsory bi-annual technical check up, mostly due to bad brakes, oil leaks and unresponsive steering. After repeated home repairs most eventually manage to scrape through.

When it first appeared some twenty years back the Skoda 105 model resembled the Citroen 2CV and was the pride of the communist leadership. In 1987 alone, 17 thousand of them were exported to Great Britain. You are unlikely to meet one of them on British roads today. In the Czech Republic their heyday is far from over...

Czech politicians have discovered a powerful new asset in PR. A series of gorgeous young girls are attracting media attention and holding it--as press spokeswomen for parties, ministries and institutions. Lidove Noviny's weekend supplement calls it "the Marilyn Monroe phenomenon in Czech politics".

Until recently it would have been unthinkable for a television station to pit two spokespersons against each other on a prime-time debate, the paper says. A few weeks ago PRIMA did just that, pitting the former Czech beauty queen Michaela Malacova, now spokesperson for the Civic Democratic Party, against the equally attractive Denisa Chovancova, spokesperson for the Christian Democrats. Only a handful of viewers pointed out that the two ladies did not have a great deal to say. Asked whether she'd been employed by the Christian Democrats for her pretty face, Denisa Chovancova responded with an indignant NO. Her boss, party chairman Jan Kassal, was more forthright, saying YES, among other things.

Few people can recall, even vaguely, the face of the Interior Ministry's former spokesman. He rarely appeared on TV in person. Since the post was filled by former TV personality Gabriela Bartikova, the public is kept abreast of developments at the Interior Ministry almost daily. Is the attractive Miss Gabriella's main task to increase the ministry's popularity with the public? If so, small wonder that her less attractive predecessor, Jan Decker, was dismissed for no specified reason.

The Czech police have caught on to the game quickly and now there's an attractive young woman at almost every police department. And people actually listen to crime reports. Even bad news sounds better when you hear it from a pretty face...

So is this a Western trend we are following? According to the paper, not so. For instance the US State Dept and Pentagon pick only highly experienced professionals, their boss' "alter ego" as the paper describes it. The French show a marked preference for perfectly groomed, mature spokeswomen. German politicians follow the unwritten rule that male politicians choose male spokespersons, and vice versa. There are very few exceptions to this rule, the paper notes. In neighbouring Austria it is downright unthinkable that a TV star, model or indeed any apolitical candidate should be employed as a party spokesperson. There parties pick spokespeople from their own ranks, people who have been in politics for years. So this ingenious PR idea is specifically Czech. Whether it will survive remains to be seen...

Now here's something for those of you who love a warm climate. If you live long enough--give or take another 70 years--you are likely to find yourself living in a tropical climate where 40-degree temperatures in the summer will be the norm. This is not from the world of science fiction but has been calculated by meteorologists on the basis of climatic changes which have taken place since the beginning of the century. The outlook is that in future there will be more rain or snow in the winter months and longer periods of drought and higher temperatures in the summer.

While meteorologists are not given to making dramatic forecasts and stress that the trend may be curbed by man's effort to protect the environment, teams of experts in this country are already analyzing the possible impact of these changes on various sectors of the economy, in particular the sphere of agriculture. Farmers would have learn from southern-style agriculture, planting predominantly maize and wheat which would secure excellent harvests. You could grow oranges and tangerines in Bohemia and bananas in southern Moravia.

But much of the old life would disappear. Forests and rivers would bear the impact of long periods of drought. One could forget the traditional canoeing expeditions on Czech rivers, pine forests would gradually have to be replaced by deciduous trees. The paper goes on for some time in this vein and finally exclaims, "Good Lord, can't something be done to prevent this?" In this case the price of tangerines is just too high...