04-12-2000

The road to the leadership of the ruling Social Democrats seems to be clear for the party's deputy chairman, Vladimir Spidla. "Gross Makes Way For Spidla," reads a front-page headline in today's PRAVO. MLADA FRONTA DNES leads with the same topic, describing Spidla as a politician who has earned respect even among his opponents. ZEMSKE NOVINY calls him the crown prince of Social Democracy, and LIDOVE NOVINY says that the Social Democrats have now closed ranks behind Mr Spidla.

The rapidly unravelling crisis over the nomination of the new chief of the Czech National Bank also took the fancy of this morning's papers. "Havel Tells Government He Won't Give An Inch," writes LIDOVE NOVINY. In a more sober and matter-of-fact manner, PRAVO notes that President Havel certainly won't go to court over his constitutional right to appoint the leadership of the central bank. Other papers relegate the story to the inside pages, perhaps aware that the saga is set to continue.

Away from politics but still dealing with a global problem of potentially disastrous implications even for the political scene, HOSPODARSKE NOVINY reports that Mad Cow Disease is not the only health risk from the animal kingdom. Some epidemics, the paper writes, can spread from one continent to another in a matter of hours. Apart from BSE in cattle, the paper gives a list of other mortal threats.

AIDS is known to have developed in monkeys. The Hendra virus comes from horses, whilst pigs are responsible for the lethal Nipah, so-called after the Malaysian town of the same name. Nipah affects exclusively male inhabitants of Chinese origin, the only people allowed to breed pigs in the predominantly Muslim country, writes HOSPODARSKE NOVINY.

According to LIDOVE NOVINY, a system of isolated castes is forming in the Czech Republic. After 10 years of capitalism, class divisions have reappeared in the country, and the classic communist division of the people into 'workers, peasants and the working intelligentsia' is definitely a thing of the past.

The paper says most Czechs consider themselves as the occupants of the lower rungs of the social ladder. At the top of this ladder, there is an elite which, although not numerous, makes all the decisions, earns a lot of money, and is both worshipped and cursed by the rest of the society. But most of all, this elite is constantly under surveillance from the masses.

Who belongs to the chosen caste, which enjoys an elevated status in the country? Sociologists say they are mostly top managers, commercially successful artists, lawyers, professional athletes, rich and idle characters of every hue and description, and of course, politicians.

It isn't difficult to find out just how ordinary Czechs live--workers, shop assistants, or chimneysweeps. Invariably, most Czechs will tell you life's pretty hard, even though most of them may be wrong. And if you ask them how they think the upper class lives, invariably, they'll tell you: oh, those, well, they're so rich! Us and them--this old class divide has come back with a vengeance, concludes LIDOVE NOVINY.

Sunday was the first day of Advent and shopkeepers had a field day. Only, as CESKE SLOVO complains, some of them are cheating on value for money, especially in dealing with child customers buying small presents for their parents. For shopkeepers, naive children are the ideal buyers of rejects and unmarketable goods and many shops actually use this opportunity to clear their stock.

So, a typical shop assistant will coach the confused little buyer towards buying a carton of cigarettes, a bottle of alcohol and stale coffee for Dad, and soap, facial cream and cheap perfumes for Mom. Everything's on the cheap side, the goods are neatly packaged but the merchandise is usually well past its recommended shelf life, the paper says.

And still on a Christmassy note, MLADA FRONTA DNES says Christmas cards may soon become history, taking with it the pre-Christmas rush at the post office. The magic formula, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, is shifting from snail mail to mobile phones, e-mail and the Internet, as ever more Czechs use cellphones, and the Net is fast becoming an affordable luxury.

Talking about SMS messages on mobile phones, something is definitely missing there. The Czech equivalent of 'Season's Greetings' is full of diacritics--those various hooks, strokes and circles above letters that make Czech so fiendishly difficult. There are no keys for such intricacies on mobile phones. Therefore, a polite Christmas greeting is reduced to something definitely less pleasing for the recipient. There goes another Christmas joy, complains MLADA FRONTA DNES.

04-12-2000