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Vol 3, No 4
29 January 2001
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Czech newsNews from the
Czech Republic

All the important news
since 20 January 2001

Mark Preskett


TV law passed

The Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday approved for the second time a new law on Czech Television (ČT), which Parliament hopes will go some way to solving the month-long crisis at the public TV station.
View today's updated headlines from Slovakia and the Czech Republic

The lower house initially approved the law last week, but the Senate sent it back, saying it contained irregularities. Crucially, this time President Václav Havel added his signature to the new law, something he refused to do when it was presented before the upper house last week.

Under a special clause in the new law, the Chamber of Deputies will take over the powers of the ČT Council to elect a provisional administrator for the state television station. The administrator will run the station until a new ČT Council is chosen, which will, in turn, elect a new general director. The new councillors will be nominated by professional and civic groups, not by politicians, as was previously the case.

Despite the passing of the new law, the striking TV employees show no signs of letting up. A meeting between the strikers and Věra Valterová, authorized by former director Jiří Hodač to manage the station in his place, was cancelled. Mrs Valterová claimed that increasing pressure from the strikers since last week's attempted takeover of the station by ČT's former financial director, Ladislav Paluska, made the meeting impossible.


Electoral laws repealed

On Wednesday, the Czech Constitutional Court struck down key elements of electoral reform that the Social Democrats (ČSSD) and the Civic Democrats (ODS) had forced though Parliament last year. The court upheld a complaint by President Václav Havel and senators from the 4Coalition, repealing five of the six paragraphs they had attacked as "unconstitutional."

The electoral reforms were designed to give more power to larger parties. The repealed laws included increasing the number of electoral districts from eight to 35, introducing a new system of converting votes to seats, which would grant the advantage to stronger parties, and reducing the lowest number of seats in any one electoral district to four.

The only law to survive increased the threshold for the entry of coalition parties to Parliament. Thus, the 4Coalition now must exceed the 20% threshold if it is to be represented in the Chamber of Deputies after the next general election.

The verdict of the court surprised both the ruling ČSSD and its opposition partner, ODS. With a jab at the ongoing crisis at Czech Television, ODS chairman Václav Klaus said: "The ODS respects the decision. We will not sleep in sleeping bags next to the court building nor organize a demonstration. But I must state that the current electoral law is very bad and at this time unworkable."

Members of the 4Coalition were naturally more positive. Jan Kasal, chairman of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), said, "I think that it is was known beforehand that some of the provisions of the law were unconstitutional, and the ODS together with the ČSSD could benefit from it."

Some political commentators have highlighted the electoral reform debate and ongoing ČT crisis as further evidence of President Havel's eagerness to involve himself in political debate and show that his sympathies lie with the 4Coalition.


Cubans say evidence exists

For the first time since former finance minister and member of parliament Ivan Pilip and former student dissident Jan Bubeník were imprisoned on 12 January, Cuba has released an official statement, given to foreign envoys in Havana, which claims it has evidence that could summon the two to trial.

According to the Cuban authorities, they were in possession of a laptop computer that contained instructions to be given to "anti-Cuban" dissidents. The instructions were said to have been provided by Freedom House, a New York-based nongovernmental organization, described by Havana as having been "created by the US government to de-stabilize the Revolution." Beside the computer, they were allegedly also given USD 1500 for expenses.

The incident has instigated pressure from outside the Czech Republic, with the 41 nation-strong Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly writing to Castro to protest the detention of the two men and demand their release, and worsened already poor Czech-Cuban relations.

"The Czech Republic achieved the sad honour of being the first ex-Socialist country to become... a docile instrument of North American imperialism," the document said, referring to the fact that the Czechs co-sponsored a UN resolution alleging Cuban human rights violations.

The Cubans, though, seem keen to resolve the diplomatic incident, stating that the Czechs should appeal to Cuban generosity and admit the meetings with Cuban dissidents were a mistake.


State bail-out

The minister of finance, Pavel Mertlík, estimates the costs to the Czech Republic for repayment of debts in the former Investiční a poštovní banka (IPB) to be between CZK 50 and 100 billion. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Finance went further and stated that the state will guarantee debts up to CZK 180 billion.

According to the national daily Lidové noviny, every Czech citizen, including infants, will spend CZK 40,000 paying off the bank debts, which the government announced will come from taxpayers' money.

IPB, the Czech Republic's third largest bank, was placed under forced administration in June of last year and was immediately bought by Československá obchodní banka (ČSOB). Controversy still surrounds the sale, with former owners, Nomura of Japan, accused of raiding IPB for cash and assets instead of handling the bank like a strategic investor.


Febio film fest hits Prague

More than 460 films from 44 countries will be screened in Prague during the eighth annual FebioFest, a festival of film, TV and video. Each of the ten screens at the newly opened Slovanský dům will be showing films from a number of countries, including Russia, the Baltic states and the Balkans.

After the festival comes to an end in Prague next week, FebioFest will travel to 19 cities and towns in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Mark Preskett, 26 January 2001

Moving on:


Lidové noviny
Mladá fronta Dnes
ČTK—Czech News Agency
BBC World Service

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