16-03-2001

Train delays, long queues at border check points and an increasing number of irate passengers - such is the picture presented in today's papers. Although at first passengers expressed understanding for the authorities' attempts to prevent foot and mouth reaching the Czech Republic, with every passing day tempers grow shorter. And now even commentators question the effectiveness of the measures introduced.

Lidove Noviny's commentator Petr Kucera speaks of fundamentalists on the border, pointing out that there are hundreds of other ways in which the disease could spread and that making people walk across a disinfectant mat is not half as effective as it is made out to be. Pravo inquires what will be done about the free movement of forest animals across the border -and Mlada Fronta Dnes complains that border police have not received proper instructions as regards to what foodstuffs must be disposed of. For instance chocolates do not present a danger but not all border guards are aware of this so while some let people keep their gift wrapped boxes others are forced to hand them over. This irrational approach just makes people uncooperative, the paper says.

The unexpected news that the Institute for Protection of Private Data has asked the Czech Statistical Office to halt the processing of national census questionnaires has also evoked a heated debate - and once again the authorities have come in for a bashing. Mlada Fronta Dnes wonders why the institute failed to make its concern public before the two billion crown operation was in full swing. Now that people have filled in and handed over their forms they have all the more reason for concern, the paper notes. And if the Institute for Protection of Private Data thinks there is a serious danger of abuse - then by all means let it use its clout to get the census scrapped, the paper concludes.

Hospodarske Noviny is somewhat more optimistic about the possibility of resolving this hitch - but it admits that nobody can be quite certain that their private data have not been copied and sold. The authorities have once again displayed "arrogance of power" in demanding that citizens meekly comply with their demands without giving them the necessary guarantees, Hospodarske Noviny says. Instead of an apology, they are now wagging warning fingers and demanding fines from those who did not fill in their forms correctly. For instance several dozen people in Olomouc reportedly "thumbed their noses" at the authorities by putting "Eskymo" in the nationality column.

Lidove Noviny carries an in-depth report about smoking in the Czech Republic -which still shows no sign of following the West European trend where people are opting for a healthier lifestyle. Every third Czech lights up occasionally, a fifth of Czechs smoke ten cigarettes a day. Despite several anti-smoking campaigns held since 1989 the number of smokers has not dropped - unlike the average age at which children start smoking which is lower every year. The paper carries a mini opinion poll asking Czechs whether they smoke and if so whether they had ever tried kicking the habit. The health ministry spokesman said: "I kicked the habit in fifth grade".

And finally, there is a front page article in Mlada Fronta Dnes which might evoke serious concern among foreigners in the Czech Republic. Foreign drivers' licenses are not valid on Czech territory, the paper says. Although the information is correct, the reader has to read right through to the very last paragraph to be told that international drivers licenses are of course valid and acquiring them on the basis of a foreign license should not present a problem.

16-03-2001