From the Weeklies
It needed a big story to push the Czech public TV conflict from the cover pages of the weeklies and, of course, the jailing of two Czechs in Cuba is just such a story. Although coverage of the Czech TV affair and the newly approved law on Czech public broadcasting still holds a prominent place in the weekly magazines, it is the bearded Cuban leader who looks out from the front page of Tyden, and the two unfortunate Czech prisoners who are depicted in a cartoon on the cover page of Respekt. "The familiar enemy" is how Tyden describes Castro's so-called "island of freedom", with which communist Czechoslovakia had close ties. The weekly describes the deterioration of relations since the Velvet Revolution, and reports in detail about everyday life in Cuba, both for the locals and foreign visitors. One disconcerting revelation that readers are not likely to overlook is that Cuba, like the present day Czech Republic, has dual prices for locals and foreigners. Obviously we haven't discarded everything from the old regime.
Talking of discarding bad habits, how about improving the ethics of civil servants? The past ten years have shown that this transformation is not likely to happen unassisted, and the interior ministry has now proposed introducing a CODE OF ETHICS for Czech civil servants. Its chief advocate deputy interior minister Yvonne Streckova likens it to the Ten Commandments.
The list will doubtless make many a reader chuckle with pleasure and wish it could be made to apply to government officials, MPs and senators alike.
You will always be polite and cooperative, says the first commandment.
You will be loyal to your employee, says the second.
You will avoid conflict of interests.
You will be politically unbiased in all decision making.
You will accept no gifts or services from clients.
Out of office hours, you will behave so as not to discredit the entire civil service.
What exactly does that last commandment imply? According to Mrs Streckova it means for instance that a civil servant should not be seen drunk in public.
This will have readers roaring with laughter and many will doubtless recall how the allegedly very fatigued foreign minister crashed into three cars in succession as he drove himself home after a late night Parliament session, or how many MPs refused to undergo alcohol tests after causing road accidents.
Is there any chance at all that such a transformation could be brought about?
Can we truly hope to deal with civil servants who are "always polite and cooperative"? The Cabinet is reportedly racking its brains over this code of ethics. Should it be approved as a law or merely be presented as a "moral appeal" ? Should it be binding only for civil servants or for all employees?
Mrs Streckova is obviously highly impatient with the Cabinet's dallying. To quote her own words "the scene she made in Cabinet last Wednesday to defend her proposal could have cost her her post". And the cherry on top of the cake ? (for in Czech politics there is always a cherry...) that the report has left until last. The woman single handedly defending the need for a code of ethics in the public service sector was a communist party member from 1952 right up until the Velvet Revolution. Surprises will never cease, nor will the never ending series of paradoxes which liven up Czech politics and fuels the Czech sense of humour.
Away from politics, several of the weeklies have noted the much publicized case of a British 16 year old whose parents want to give her a pair of silicone breasts for her 16th birthday. In the Czech Republic plastic surgery under 18 is only carried out on medical grounds, usually following an accident or to remove a birth defect. However the rage for body- beautiful is something the country has not managed to avoid. It was embraced along with other Western values and trends. In the first years after the fall of communism most people focussed on dressing well - at that time plastic surgery was still very expensive. Only people from the world of show business would enter a clinic to come out slimmer and younger. Since then the plastic surgery business has boomed and prices have dropped. Now salesgirls, teachers and waitresses can save up for a nose job or silicone breasts and many are doing so. Kvety, which has interviewed a prominent Czech plastic surgeon reports that there are twenty two clinics in Prague alone and that there is never a lack of clients. In an effort to live up to the Barbie image even young and attractive women with slim and firm bodies are demanding a remake. Clients in the 18 to 25 age group go in for liposuction, nose jobs and breast enlargement. Those in the 35 to 45 age group enter these clinics to get rid of post- baby flab and extra weight, those between 45 and 55 ask for face lifts and surgury to reduce sagging eye lids. There's no age limit to wanting to look good - the aforementioned doctor says his oldest patient was a sprightly 80 year old lady, anxious to look ten years younger. Well, if that doesn't make you feel good -nothing will!
Now there can be too much of a good thing - and if you should get tired of perfection you can always visit a Russian exhibition called "Nature's Disasters". The exhibition is of wax figurines depicting what its authors claim to be true life disfigurements of the human body through the ages. These "disasters" include an image of the smallest woman in the world Paulina Maestro from Holland who according to the Guinness Book of Records measured 60 cm and weighed two and a half kgs. You'll see the ugliest woman in the world - a certain Grace Magdanel who, in spite her drawback, is reported to have attracted several husbands. The records do not say what became of them. The lady herself died in 1912 so the title is now vacant. There is the French Venus Lolo Ferrari, with an impressive bust-line 135 cm and quite a few pounds - all on show, Siamese twins sharing a single pair of legs and so on and so on. Not all of these cases are properly documented - and frankly some of them look pretty dubious, but as the authors say given the twenty or so billion people who walked the Earth in the last few centuries Nature can be forgiven for a few whopping deviations. The exhibition is now on display in Olomouc, will later move to Brno and then onto several other Czech towns before going on to France. So if you have a body-image problem and are scared of plastic surgery maybe this could serve as alternative therapy.....
"I'm not sure what it is exactly but I do know that it exists" - the answer of one elderly Czech woman asked by Tyden's reporter whether she knew what the Internet was. Like elsewhere, the older generation is not eager to surf, but the authorities say they will soon not be able to do without basic Internet know-how and the Czech Republic is joining other European states in introducing a public network.
As of the beginning of this year public Internet links have been springing up in the major cities. 100 will be operational by the end of January, 1,000 by the end of the year, 6,000 by the end of 2002. The Czech Republic has 6,214 towns and villages and the authorities aim to link up every single one of them with at least one Internet connection. Operating them will be as easy as operating a lift, says Josef Hajkr, the head of the Czech Internet Agency which is masterminding the whole project.
One will be able to get to the information one needs in just three clicks on the keyboard - from a weather forecast to a bus schedule, or what they are showing at the local cinema. At present only 1 and a half million Czechs have access to the Internet - seven million do not. In two years' time they will at least all have these public Internet links. Can the ogeneration which is by and large sceptical about the advantages of modern technology be persuaded to make use of them? Hajkr thinks so -if only for the attraction of getting information -and E-mails to your relatives -free of charge. If they pick up a phone to get the information they'll be footing the bill, but all services on the public net will be free of charge -at least to start off with. Most of them should remain so, Hajkr says. With the new law on electronic signatures it should also be possible to tackle your red-tape paperwork over the net without waiting in line ! So who's paying for all this? The estimated cost is around 30 million crowns and according to Mr Hajkr it's all to be had from private Czech investors, not a haller from state coffers. And - the last two questions - Kvety says. What about vandals and children accessing porno sites on the web. Certain sites will be blacklisted, Hajkr counters, as for potential vandals - just to be on the safe side, most of these first links will be placed where they will be under surveillance - public libraries, schools, post offices, youth clubs and bus terminals.
The system is already working well in Great Britain, Germany, Finland and Estonia - so why shouldn't it here?