From the Weeklies

The ups and downs of Czech politicians, does your boss appreciate your qualities? and, are the days of the popular Slivovice, the Czech plum brandy, numbered? Those are some of the interesting stories in this week's magazines.

Tyden magazine has zeroed in on the happiest and saddest faces in Czech politics. The weekly carries a delightful caricature of Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr, whom it dubs the country's "nuclear granddad". He is portrayed grinning from ear to ear, as he camouflages the Temelin nuclear power plant, painting grass and bright red flowers onto the 4 giant concrete cooling towers. Now that Temelin has finally been launched, Minister Gregr will doubtless start looking around for a new baby, Tyden says. And he has already shared his vision with the nation. The Ostrava region would be ideal for another plant. After all, the Poles have nothing against nuclear energy.

But Temelin is not Gregr's only triumph, the weekly continues. The Industry Minister is on a roll. Last week he convinced the Cabinet to back another of his megalomaniac projects. Eight regional power companies are to return under the wings of the state-owned power giant CEZ. Consumers have a lot to look forward to, Tyden notes, because there's nothing like a strong monopoly to keep the prices up. Minister Gregr seems determined that his legacy will outlive him and he has just made sure that future generations will not be able to overlook his work, the weekly concludes.

There's a much kinder 6-page spread on the sad face of the week, that of outgoing Justice Minister Otakar Motejl, entitled "The long wait for justice". It deals not only with the reasons which led Mr. Motejl to resign his post--mainly his unwillingness to enter into the process of political bartering--but analyses the problems of the Czech justice system and the difficulties of finding a suitable replacement for him, capable enough and politically strong enough to push through the necessary reforms.

Mr Motejl is now in the running for the post of Ombudsman and even there it seems the process is personally distasteful to him. "The Civic Democrats have just thrown a lot of mud at me in connection with some personnel changes I made prior to leaving the post, but all of a sudden I am back in their favour because I'm a handy bargaining chip," the outgoing minister complained to the weekly.

This is one of those articles that makes one wonder to what extent principles and politics go hand in hand. Each politician draws a line which he is not willing to overstep. Mr. Motejl's line comes way before any of the others and there is no question at all that on this account his 2 years in office must have been painful and frustrating ones. And if Mr Motejl's name goes down in history he will doubtless be remembered as "the man who was too principled for politics".

In this respect it is interesting to note the outcome of a mini-opinion poll which Mlady Svet carries this week. It asked 7 people to name one politician they could trust. 5 of them couldn't think of anyone.

Personnel departments in some Czech firms are acquiring a new dimension: assessing the quality of their human resources, or, to be more specific, compiling a character and potential profile on the firm's employees.

Western firms have brought this practice to the Czech Republic and human resources consultants are encouraging Czech firms to introduce it as well, in their own best interests. However Profit magazine reports that this is not always easy. To begin with, Czechs still harbour a deep resentment for the communist practice of collecting files on their personal life and political activities which predetermined their careers and even travel opportunities. After the revolution these files were handed over to the employees in question or shredded.

The dreaded word "kadrovak", the all-knowing personnel officer who could seal your fate, carries a stigma to this day. Therefore it is difficult for many people to accept that they will once again be placed at the mercy of subjective judgement.

Many Czech personnel managers who have introduced the practice admit that extreme caution is necessary. They agree that bad assessments are worse than no assessments at all. And close cooperation with the employees in question is of key importance. "I stick to work potential and performance; character traits are out," said one who did not wish to be named. Josef Fogl, personnel director of the Marko chain of stores, who has been exceptionally successful in introducing the practice, says he is very diplomatic. "I give employees the assessment forms to fill in, and then I spend a week mulling over them. After that I have another chat with the employee and let them know what I think," he says.

Some personnel officers report major rows with employees in the wake of such assessments and questioned by Profit they admit that in some cases the assessments can be less than objective. Sometimes the character and prejudices of a personnel officer will be reflected in the assessment, says the personnel director of a Prague firm who did not wish to be named. All in all Profit says as far as this practice goes, Czech personnel departments are still treading on thin ice. As for the smaller firms they are avoiding it altogether.

There is an unmistakable, familiar smell hanging over many Czech villages at this time of year. It is the smell of homemade brandy coming from hundreds of illegal distilleries. Especially in Moravia, homemade "palenka" is to be found in almost every household, but the days when real plum brandy was put on the table for neighbours to sample and admire are pretty much over. After a dreaded plum tree disease swept the country few farmers have enough plums for consumption much less making brandy. So they use apples, pears or other fruit of the season.

As for the most famous Czech plum brandy, Jelinek, that is now made from imported plums grown in Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldavia. Anyone who has tasted the Jelinek Slivovice knows that it is less aromatic and less potent that plum brandy made in the EU or the Balkans and that's how people here like it. "It's milder and you can consume more of it," says Jelinek's manager Petr Bartos. That's because we add methylated spirits after the first distilling."

Now this is something that EU norms do not allow. Similarly, the local rum--which is made of potatoes and beet root--will not be able to retain its name once the Czech Republic joins the EU. So what will happen to the typical Czech plum brandy? "We may be forced to change our technology," Petr Bartos admits, "on the other hand, if we can convince the EU authorities that this is a national recipe then we might get an exception from the law." In that case the Jelinek Slivovice would be on par with the Italian parmesan or the French calvados.