Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 13
3 April 2000

Czech NewsC E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for the Czech Republic
All the important news from the Czech Republic
since 25 March 2000

Markus Bonorianto

Minister of Interior Václav Grulich submitted his resignation to the President and Prime Minister on Friday, thereby ending months of speculation on whether he was to be one of the ministers included in the prolonged and clumsy cabinet re-shuffle executed by Prime Minister Miloš Zeman. The re-shuffle, which has resembled more of an uncertain and meandering slide, came in response to pressure from the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), with which the ČSSD entered an "opposition agreement" after the summer 1998 elections and which made its approval of this year's budget contingent on the cabinet changes. Zeman has thus far replaced two ministers - interim Minister of Health Vladimír Špidla, who had been temporarily filling the post of resigned Health Minister Ivan David since December of last year, and Minister without portfolio responsible for the secret services and the Clean Hands anti-corruption campaign Jarosalv Bašta. After Grulich two more ministers are to be replaced: Minister of Local Development Jaromír Císař and Minister of Transport Antonín Peltram. Grulich claims to have found out about his impending dismissal from the press and to never have been informed directly by the Prime Minister and alleged that he stepped down in order to not prolong the state of limbo and uncertainty at his Ministry. Recently, Grulich clashed with the Prime Minister over differing assessments of two elite police units fighting corruption and organised crime, which Zeman criticised and Grulich - and President Václav Havel - judged positively. President Havel accepted the resignation, which is to come into effect on 4 April. Grulich will be replaced in his post by current Deputy Chairman of Parliament and leader of the ČSSD parliamentary caucus Stanislav Gross.

On Friday, the head of the Czech parliamentary commission for the Security Intelligence Service (BIS), Jan Klas, criticised President Václav Havel for making reckless comments on the work of BIS, claiming they could harm the work of the investigators. The problem began few weeks ago when Prime Minister Miloš Zeman described the work of two crime-fighting units within BIS as inefficient and ineffective. Meanwhile, although Havel disagreed with the criticism, he alleged that it could be part of a plot by someone attempting to destabilize the units. According to the media, the person could be Miroslav Šlouf, chief advisor to Prime Minister Zeman. The Prime Minister himself defended Šlouf by saying that he had not found any evidence that could be used against his advisor after many years of working together.

However, Minister of Interior Václav Grulich also pointed the finger at Šlouf, claiming that it was possible that former Communist officials were behind the undermining of the Security Service and that Šlouf, as one such official, had been trying to influence the appointment of officers within the organisation, many of whom, according to Grulich, had been somehow involved in the previous regime.

In the next stage of the row over the Intelligence Service, President Václav Havel said in a televised debate that he was worried by the fact that Prime Minister Miloš Zeman was to take charge of a large part of the important institution. Havel said that he would prefer individual ministers to be responsible for parts of the organisation and report back to the government. He feared that the Prime Minister had appointed the wrong people to the organisation and, consequently, would try to destabilize it by passing false information to the government. The President had recently drawn attention to the problems of the low morality of Czech statesmen, widespread corruption and the inability of the country's crime-fighting units to tackle the "mafia-like" economic crimes had recently. He also suspected that people occupying high positions in the organisation maintain close contacts with the Russian mafia. These would be the people who would keep the country's economic burdens high and its reputation abroad low, Havel alleged.

Later in the week, Šlouf and Zeman were criticised for refusing to reveal a list of the Prime Minister's other advisors. When, under media and inner-party pressure, the list was revealed, Šlouf and Zeman refused to identify the specific government areas in which advisors were involved. The media criticised the group of the Prime Minister's closest advisors for containing several employees of private firms and person's with questionable track records with respect to the law and corruption.

The Czech Republic came under fierce criticism from Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In a speech to Cuban university students, Castro accused the Czech government of being a US puppet and threatened to freeze diplomatic ties with Prague if the Czechs continued to follow the US in criticising Cuba. The reaction came after the Czech Republic put a proposal before the UN Human Rights Forum criticising Cuba's human rights record, especially concerning the persecution of political opponents in the country. Later in the day, the Czech Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that the criticism was accurate and justified. Cuba was for more than 40 years a close ally of the Communist government in Czechoslovakia until the regime changed in 1989. However, the two countries still maintain diplomatic ties and have embassies in both countries.

Prime Minister Miloš Zeman made official visits to Norway, Finland and Lithuania this week. The Prime Minister was to meet the leaders of these countries as well as businessmen in the hope of increasing investment in the Czech Republic. He also planned to meet NATO regional commanders at Stavanger, Norway.

President Václav Havel congratulated his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on his victory in the presidential elections on Monday. He wished the new President and the Russian people success in the continuation of the country's political and economical reform process. He insisted that the intensification of democracy, a civil society, respect for human rights, the rule of law and economic development are factors that could improve Russia's position on the international stage. He also reminded the new Russian government that ending the war in Chechnya would be the first step toward these goals.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said that he had no information on any changes in Russia's foreign policy. The Russian Foreign Minister had mentioned such changes but gave no details. Kavan said that Putin's election would improve the process of democratic reforms in Russia and speed up its integration into international structures.

On Monday, the American firm Commercial Metals Company (CMC) acquired an 11 per cent stake in the Czech steel giant Trinecké železárny (TZ). CMC focuses on processing, recycling and sales of steel products and posted a turnover of USD 2.3 billion in 1999. Meanwhile, TZ had a gross profit of CZK 100 million (USD 2.85 million) in the same period. TZ and CMC have been co-operating closely for four years and had established joint ventures in Germany and the United Kingdom.

After, announcing he was considering submitting his resignation last week, Justice Minister Otakar Motejl decided on Monday that he would remain in his position. The reason he gave was that he would like to finish up the reform of country's justice system. Motejl also denied that he had been annoyed by the slow progress of the reform. Motejl is the only independent minister within the Social Democrats' minority government.

On a state visit to Prague on Monday, Saudi Arabian Deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Madani said that his country would open an embassy in Prague. Saudi Arabia does not have an embassy in any of the Central and East European countries and sees Prague as one of its priorities, although there are still administrative and technical problems to iron out. Czech President Václav Havel had also expressed his wish that Saudi Arabia give preference to Prague over Budapest and Warsaw. Prague opened its embassy in Riyadh in 1996. Mutual trade between the two countries reached a value of USD 23 million last year.

The South Bohemian city of České Budějovice, home to the authentic Budweiser beer, had a planet named after it. In 1996, astronomers at the town's Klet Observatory discovered a minor planet located within one of the main clusters of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. The planet has an orbit time of 4.97 years and is estimated to be between 300 and 400 million kilometres away from Earth. The documents and photographs approved by the International Astronomical Union(IAU) for the name "(11134) České Budějovice" were handed to the town's mayor, Miroslav Tetter, by Director of the Klet Observatory Jana Tichá on Tuesday.

A second print run of the Czech version of Hitler's Mein Kampf is in the works, according to Michal Žitko, head of the publishing house Otakar II that published the book despite protests from Jewish and Romani groups and the German embassy in Prague as well as authorities in Bavaria, which owns the copyright. Žitko claimed that thanks to the unprecedented media campaign which he did not participate or finance, an initial 4,000 copies had been sold out in only three days and thus a second printing was planned. He maintained his position that the books was published as a historical document.

The Czech government agreed on Wednesday to a compromised settlement to the dispute over an old Jewish burial ground in central Prague. Government ministers decided not to remove the cemetery's skeletal remains from the present location. The entire block of land where they are situated would be covered in cement and become part of the new site of the administrative building of the insurance company Česká Pojišťovna. In a deal with the Prague Jewish Community and the insurer, the government agreed to contribute CZK 60 million (USD 1.7 million) to cover the construction. Both the insurer and the Community praised the step.

The Dutch electronic giant, Philips, reached an agreement with the Czech government to manufacture colour TV picture tubes in the town of Hranice na Moravě, in the eastern part of the country. The company planned to invest EUR 200 million (approximately USD 200 million) and employ around 1000 people. The plant would be the first of its kind in Central Europe.

Markus Bonorianto, 31 March 2000

Previous news reviews for the Czech Republic

News Sources:

Mladá fronta Dnes

Hospodářské noviny

ČTK - Czech News Agency


Český Rozhlas


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