From the Weeklies
TYDEN: Michail Martinak's Last Battle
This week's edition of Tyden magazine examines so-called Balkan Syndrome: allegations that NATO soldiers serving in the former Yugoslavia contracted fatal diseases from exposure to depleted uranium used in American anti-tank weapons. NATO, says Tyden, has denied any link between the use of depleted uranium and some 50 cases of leukaemia and other types of cancer reported among NATO soldiers in recent months. But the dead veterans remain an uncomfortable reality for the Alliance, and at least one of them is an uncomfortable reality for the Czech Defence Ministry. In an article entitled 'Michail Martinak's Last Battle', Tyden tells us more about him.
He had a car, but preferred his bike. He was an expert in karate, but always avoided trouble. He'd like the odd pint, but you'd have to force him to have a second. He was mad about military history, and his friends described him as 'a really good bloke'. Captain Michail Martinak, who saw five months service in Bosnia, died in October 1999 of acute leukaemia. He was 34.
"Majkl liked comfort and was a pretty easy-going kind of guy, but at the same time he was a dead fussy and mad about being on time. Definitely not your average stuffed shirt," remembers Bohumil Petrovsky, as he pores over photos of his best friend. Michail, an only child, would introduce Petrovsky as 'my brother'. Petrovsky called him by his English name - 'Majkl'.
Michail Martinak was born in the town of Zlin. He graduated from the Kosice Air Force School in what was then eastern Czechoslovakia. "He specialised in the MI-24 combat helicopter. And helicopters were his fate," says Petrovsky. "He knew them so well, that they ruined his life," he goes on, explaining that Michail never had a serious girlfriend: when he went on dates he'd spend all night telling the girl about helicopters.
After school he joined the Line Air Base near Plzen, and found himself right in his element. He was a member of the American Civil War Association - a military history club whose members recreated Civil War battles in period costume. There he met Petrovsky. The two became instant friends.
In 1997 Michail Martinak applied to join NATO's SFOR mission to Bosnia. He walked the physical and psychological tests, and joined the 6th Air Battalion. He was in perfect health. Five months later, says Tyden, doctors found higher than normal levels of white cells in his bloodstream. "That was the first time I saw him cry," says Petrovsky. "We realised something was wrong." Half a year later, he was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Martinak's doctor Petr Cetkovsky remembers the case well. "I really liked him. As a doctor I know I shouldn't say that. But I took it particularly hard when I saw the treatment wasn't working."
"In the beginning all of us - including Majkl - thought he could beat it," says Petrovsky. "After three doses of chemotherapy he was in terrible pain, his hair was falling out and he started changing in front of our eyes." In the spring of 1999 he was sent home from hospital to wait for a suitable bone marrow donor. His friends from the military history club all went for tests: none of them matched.
His condition worsened at the end of 1999. He was readmitted to hospital, where he was told he didn't have much time left. "He was completely different than the other patients," Petrovsky tells Tyden. "Even though he knew he was dying, he kept doing exercises. The others were lying in bed in agony; he was lifting dumbbells and doing knee- crunches. He kept thinking he could beat it. He carried on fighting to the very end."
Finally they found a suitable donor. "Michail had a very aggressive form of acute leukaemia," says Doctor Cetkovsky. "We had to decide whether to give him morphine and watch him die, or risk a transplant. There was about a ten percent chance that his body would accept the bone marrow." They took the risk. The operation was a success, but was quickly followed by serious complications. Michail Martinak died on the 10th of October, 1999. Petrovsky was at his bedside.
Doctor Cetkovsky says he can't prove Michail fell ill because he handled depleted uranium, says Tyden. But he can't rule it out either. The view is shared by other doctors, adds the magazine.
Bohumil Petrovsky has his own theory about his friend's death. "I know Majkl's illness was linked to Bosnia. Not because of depleted uranium, but because of the combination of chemicals that he was exposed to. And the huge physical and psychological stress of the Bosnia mission."
Was Michail Martinak another victim of the Balkan wars? asks Tyden. Or was his death merely a pure coincidence which slots neatly into the 'Balkan Syndrome' theory? We'll probably never know the answer.
RESPEKT: "Ivan? Hi, it's Mirek"
Moving on to another story that's been dominating the news lately: the battle for control of the country's public television network, Czech Television. The weekly newspaper Respekt publishes some rather damning information about the cosy relationship between politicians and members of Czech Television's supervisory board, which, while appointed by parliament, is meant to be strictly apolitical. Respekt says it's seen records of mobile phone calls made by board members during the recent crisis. The records only show who the board members have been calling, not who's been calling them, but the details still make interesting reading, says the paper.
The board's former chairman Miroslav Mares - nominated by the right-of-centre Civic Democrats - called the chairman of the lower house's media committee Ivan Langer - who also happens to be Civic Democrat deputy chairman - a total of 138 times in the month of December. Mr Mares made no attempt to deny the claims: "Yes, I spoke to Mr Langer fairly often in December; we talked about Czech Television's budget, about the supervisory board's report and of course we exchanged a few words about the situation at Czech TV." And what was the subject of those "few words" asks Respekt? "Well we exchanged views. Certainly nobody was giving orders," says Mr Mares. Hmm.
But it wasn't just the Civic Democrats who were keen to keep in touch with their man on the board. Jiri Kratochvil, nominated by the ruling Social Democrats, phoned the Social Democrat MP Miloslav Kucera a total of 133 times in December. "We were wishing each other Happy New Year," said Mr Kratochvil when confronted by Respekt. Mr Kucera himself wasn't much more helpful. "We talked about the weather, about our families, about our dogs, about the hockey. It's none of your business. It's a completely private matter."
PRAVO: Czechs brace for census
Czechs are getting ready to stand up and be counted, says this week's Pravo magazine. On March 1st, around 50,000 people hired by the Czech Statistics Office will be touring houses and apartment buildings the length and breadth of the country, in an effort to find an answer to the following question: just how many Czechs are there?
At the moment, nobody knows for sure. The last census was held on March 3rd, 1991, when there were a total of 15,576,550 people living in the Federal Republic of Czechoslovakia. 10,302,215 of them were living in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia; 5,274,335 of them were living in Slovakia. Well two years later of course the Czech Republic and Slovakia split into two separate countries, and it's time for a proper recount - the first census of the new millennium.
The census is something of a DIY affair - every household will merely receive a form to be filled in and returned to a census official. It might sound simple, says Pravo, but it's taken years of planning. And neither is it cheap: the whole exercise will cost around two billion crowns.
Marie Bohata, chairwoman of the Czech Statistics Office, says the secret of an accurate census is good staff. "We need people who can communicate, whom citizens feel they can trust. Therefore we've done everything on a local level, using people who know the local community," says Mrs Bohata. "We also want to work with organisations like the Salvation Army, who can help us contact homeless people. That's a new problem that we have to deal with," she tells Pravo.
And just a note for those foreigners listening on FM in the Czech Republic - don't think you won't be counted just because you're not Czech. The census concerns the number of inhabitants in the Czech Republic, not the number of Czech citizens. Mrs Bohata wants to know exactly how many of you there are out there, and forms will be available in English, German, Polish and several other languages to help her find out. So just make sure you're home on March the 1st.
TYDEN: Rosicky transfer worth 30 million pints of beer
But for the last word we go back to Tyden - and the sale of Sparta footballer Tomas Rosicky to Germany's Borussia Dortmund for 25 million marks - a deal which has saved Sparta from financial ruin and has set a new Czech transfer record. Twenty-five million marks is around 449 million crowns, and just to put things into perspective, says Tyden, that's enough to buy 166 Audi Quattros, or 1,900 Skoda Fabias, or dress the entire 22-man Sparta team in new Hugo Boss suits every day, or buy 30 million pints of beer, or buy everyone in the country three pints of beer each - and that's including infants (this is the Czech Republic after all). In short, says Tyden, 25 million marks is A Lot Of Money - and there's no wonder that Sparta boss Vlastimil Kostal is rubbing his hands with glee.