From the Weeklies

Stress. Depression. Christmas. Now most people would think that these three words were unconnected. Well, think again. For many, the end of December is not a time of optimism and good cheer, but an unbearable nightmare. And in many cases, says TYDEN magazine, it all becomes too much. The magazine says that a rise in the number of suicides, cases of serious depression and 'ordinary' stress go hand-in-hand with the Christmas season.

The worst affected are the elderly, says TYDEN. One psychologist explains this is because they often spend the festive season remembering Christmases past, spent in the bosom of their family. Depression is also a frequent problem for people with nowhere to go at Christmas, such as children in orphanages, prisoners, and those who work in factories on non-stop shifts. The number of people turning to crisis centres usually increases by some 75 percent at this time of year.

A sizeable chunk of the population finds itself under much more stress than usual, writes TYDEN, because Christmas is, of course, preceded by Christmas shopping fever. The magazine goes on to say that the worst situation is found in supermarkets, which have the highest concentration of people. The pent-up aggression and irritability is thus transferred to shop assistants, who often have to listen to the same old stories day after day. Women are at even greater danger from stress, due to the mounting workload in the household and in particular due to another 'Christmas must' in the Czech Republic: baking Christmas cookies.

Meanwhile, winter weather does little to alleviate pre-Christmas neurosis, and the lack of daylight only adds to our problems, says TYDEN. It's people on their own who find themselves most depressed during the Christmas holidays--be they elderly people in pensioners' homes or those who are divorced or recently separated.

And what does TYDEN advise to avoid all those stressful situations? Buy presents and bake cookies well beforehand! Try to avoid looking back at your life, this can lead to self-accusation and self-pity. Those of you who are lonely, don't be passive and try to find someone who's close to your heart. Be kind to YOURSELVES, even if you're not in high spirits, says the magazine.

And staying with psychiatric problems, PRAVO magazine turns this week to the problem of uncontrollable blushing. All of us blush when we find ourselves in an embarrassing situation, it says, but for some blushing can grow into a serious problem. Psychiatrist Miroslav Sekot says blushing is the body's natural reaction to stress. That reaction, he explains, can't be controlled at will; on the contrary, the more we try not to blush, the more we do so.

Dr Sekot tells PRAVO that the fear of blushing--or ereuthophobia to give the condition its proper medical name--is actually very rare, and that it often serves as a way of covering up other problems. Very often people who blush excessively are suffering from so-called social phobia, a fear of such common activities as shopping, making a phone call, going to a restaurant or visiting a public toilet, or meeting people they don't meet very often.

"Some of my clients are afraid of travelling by public transport, especially by metro, and choose to spend two hours every day going to work on foot instead," says Dr Sekot. These problems might grow to such an extent that the person in question refuses to leave his or her flat altogether.

According to Dr Sekot, the majority of patients usually come to see him when it's too late, and in some cases only after they've lost their job or even ended up on a disability pension. His patients, he says, mostly include people with a university education, who are very sensitive about how they appear in the eyes of others.

After a course of psychotherapy many patients manage to shake off their phobias, but they have to keep attending training on how to act in embarrassing--for them at least--situations. One female patient told the magazine: "I've had treatment, and I still blush. But now it's when a colleague tells a dirty joke, not when I go to buy a loaf of bread."

RESPEKT magazine devotes a whole page to the problem of providing suitable education for foreign children living in the Czech Republic. Can we help ten Mongolian children by creating a special class for them? asks Respekt, and says the answer is 'No', even if the idea sounds good in practice. Many experts on multicultural and intercultural education say the most important principle is to avoid the separation of different ethnic groups, in order to enrich their members' lives with a feeling of diversity.

RESPEKT says people often fail to realise the positive aspects of being different until they get the chance to mix with people who are different. But to be a teacher in a class with children of different nationalities requires special training, and not just empathy or a positive approach towards foreigners. But there are a number of special programmes running in the Czech Republic. One of them is called "Starting Together", the Czech version of an American project called "Step By Step".

"Starting Together" attempts to integrate foreign pupils with Czech children. The programme is certainly an ambitious one, bringing together children of many different nationalities, different levels of intellect as well as handicapped children, which is something quite unusual in the Czech Republic. Each child is approached in an individual way and fulfils his or her own tasks. But the project, says RESPEKT, has shown that general solutions cannot be applied to the problems of ethnic minorities.

Children of Vietnamese parents, for instance, are usually more successful than Roma children, it says. Children's success at school is to a large extent influenced by the social-cultural conditions and the way of life of their families. But one thing is for sure, says Respekt. Czech Parents have to be encouraged to play a greater role in the educational process, if projects such as "Starting Together" are to enjoy any success. If the family doesn't trust their children's school, then any project is doomed to fail, writes RESPEKT.

Turning back to TYDEN: the magazine delves into the past for an examination of the 'brotherly help' given by Communist Czechoslovakia to fellow communist regimes around the world. The list, says TYDEN, is sizeable. In 1948, it says, Czechoslovakia started exporting arms and experts to Israel, to help the fledgling state to defend itself against its Arab neighbours. By the 1950s, however, the Cold War had truly set in, and Czechoslovakia cut all military co-operation with the Jewish state and started doing business instead with Arab and African regimes in the Soviet sphere of influence.

Over the next four decades, says TYDEN, Czechoslovakia exported tanks, fighter planes, heavy artillery, goods lorries, military attaches and advisors to countries all around the world. Only recently, it says, has the truth started to emerge about the extent of the role played by Czechoslovak military personnel in such countries as Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Indonesia, Uganda, Libya and Cuba. Their role was to teach fledgling communist countries to use modern military hardware against the imperialist aggressors. Sometimes they trained fighter pilots and tank brigades in their home countries, sometimes at bases in Czechoslovakia. But regardless of where they were posted, they played a substantial role in training and equipping the armies of pro-Soviet regimes from West Africa to Afghanistan.

And finally, MLADA FRONTA DNES magazine has some important news for stamp collectors. Thirty-eight stamps are competing for the prestigious title of Most Beautiful Stamp in the Czech Republic. In what it calls the Stamp Hitparade of 2000, the magazine asks readers to write in and choose the prettiest one. There's certainly enough to choose from: the entries range from reproductions of Alfons Mucha to pictures of the so-called 'Satan's Toadstool'. So to make your choice, find a copy of MLADA FRONTA DNES magazine and write in.