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Vol 3, No 14
23 April 2001
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Czech newsNews from the
Czech Republic

All the important news
since 14 April 2001

Mark Preskett


New look for ČSSD

Dramatic political changes have taken place in the Czech Republic in the last three weeks. Important among these changes was the departure of Miloš Zeman as Chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party (ČSSD). Mr Zeman remains Prime Minister of the country.

View today's updated headlines from the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Mr Zeman kept his promise to hand control of the party to Vladimir Špidla, the former minister of Labour. As Zeman's handpicked successor, Mr Špidla ran unopposed for the top spot at a ČSSD party conference earlier this month.

After accepting the position of Chairman, Mr Špidla immediately began making political appointments. For example, Stanislav Gross, the current minister of Interior, was offered the position of Vice-Chairman.

One week ago, the minister of finance, Pavel Mertlík, announced his resignation. He described his position as "untenable" after losing the support of Prime Minister Zeman. In addition, Mertlík encountered differences with Minster of Trade and Industry Miroslav Gregr, who he often criticized for promoting interventionist policies.

Mr Mertlík, an academic appointed by Zeman, was responsible for overseeing the enormous task of privatising Czech industry. As a result of his efforts, Mertlík won a number of admirers abroad. Following Mertlík's resignation, Mr Špidla named Jiří Rusnok as new Minister of Finance.


Svoboda out, Kühnl in

The Four-Party Coalition has undergone recent changes in leadership. Cyril Svoboda, a member of the Christian Democrats, was elected party leader in January. He was given until 1 April to name a 16-person shadow cabinet. Infighting over who should be in the shadow cabinet contributed to Mr Svoboda's abrupt resignation on 31 March.

Svoboda was particularly opposed to the appointment of Miroslav Kaloušek, another Christian Democrat, as shadow Minister of Trade and Industry. Mr Svoboda was replaced by the head of the Freedom Union (US), Karel Kühnl. Kühnl had previously challenged Svoboda for the party leadership.

The Four-Party Coalition comprised of the Christian Democrats, Freedom Union, and the smaller Civic Democratic Alliance and Democratic Union has been performing well in recent polls. The coalition has benefited from the support of President Vacláv Havel and its stance concerning the Czech television crisis earlier this year.


Železný in trouble

The pressure on Director of Czech TV Nova Vladimír Železný is mounting. This time, however, it is coming from closer to home. On Tuesday, Mr Železný was questioned for six hours by Czech investigators. This was the third such questioning in the past two weeks.

Mr Železný is suspected of two separate crimes. The first regards the so-called "magic contract" (described in the previous news review) between TV Nova's license holder CET 21 and a Liechtenstein firm, Astrona Foundation (AF). The US-owned Central European Media Enterprises (CME) claims that the contract was predated and is hoping to confirm this claim through forensic evidence.

Železný has yet to pay CME USD 27.1 million as ordered by international arbitrators two months ago. If Mr Železný paid a similar sum to Astrona following the arbitrators ruling, as he claimed three weeks ago, he may be charged with damaging creditors including CME. For this act, Železný could face up to eight years in prison.

The second charge, which is regarded more seriously by Czech law, is non-payment of customs duties. According to Czech television, Železný paid CZK 30 million for a number of valuable paintings. The head of the Long gallery in Prague, George Novotný, a Czech-American then brought the paintings into the country. Because of his citizenship, Novotný did not have to pay duty on the works of art amounting to almost CZK seven million. If convicted on this charge, Železný could face an additional 20 years imprisonment.


New party enters the fray

According to the Czech daily Lidové noviny approximately thirty intellectuals and members of the business community are in the process of forming a new political party. The new centre party, which plans to compete in next year's general elections, has yet to disclose a name or a definite manifesto.

The party's founders include Vlastimil Ježek, former head of Czech Radio, Jiří Lobkowicz, former vice-chairman of the Freedom Union, a number of prominent figures from the 1999 "Děkujeme, odejděte!" ("Thanks, Now Leave!") campaign and several academics such as Jiří Pehe and Jan Švejnar.


And in other news...

  • According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Czechs are hypochondriacs. A comparative study of 57 nations showed that the average Czech visits the doctor 15 times a year. This is nearly three times more than the average British, German or French citizen. Japan ranked first in the study, followed by the Czech Republic and Hungary which tied for second. Slovakia ranked a close third.
  • Škoda celebrated its ten-year anniversary since being bought by German car manufacturer Volkswagen. Since 1991, car production has almost tripled to reach 450,910 last year. The Mladá Boleslav region, where the main auto plant is situated, is the second richest region in the Czech Republic behind Prague. Despite being out of production for 12 years, the Škoda 120 remains a favorite among the Czech population. Almost 390,000 such cars are registered in the Czech Republic.

Mark Preskett, 20 April 2001

Moving on:


Hospodářské noviny
Lidové noviny
Mladá fronta Dnes
ČTK—Czech News Agency

Today's updated headlines from the Czech Republic and Slovakia

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