13-04-2001

All Czech papers report today on the appointment of the new finance minister, Jiri Rusnok. The financial daily HOSPODARSKE NOVINY points out that Mr Rusnok was sworn in three days after the resignation of Pavel Mertlik, which, in comparison with previous cabinet changes, is unusually fast. That in itself is good for the nation's economy, says the paper. Whether the new minister himself will prove to be good for it as well, it's too early to say, but most experts quoted by HOSPODARSKE NOVINY are optimistic.

Jiri Rusnok, aged 41, will be one of the youngest members of the cabinet, but he has many years of experience in economics. After graduating from the School of Economics he worked in a number of senior government institutions, including the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. From 1992 to 1998 he was head of the social and economic department of the country's largest trade union organisation.

The outgoing finance minister, Pavel Mertlik, says he is confident that Mr Rusnok will be able to do the job well. But, as one economist quoted by HOSPODARSKE NOVINY points out, all will depend on his ability to co-operate with the rest of the cabinet and win the backing of Prime Minister Milos Zeman. It was mainly due to the Prime Minister's lack of support that former minister Pavel Mertlik resigned.

MLADA FRONTA DNES reports on preparations for yet another gathering of right-wing extremists, which is to be held north of Prague, near the city of Mlada Boleslav, over the weekend. After last week's neo-Nazi skinhead concert, when police did not intervene, this time preparations have been made to prevent any illegal Nazi propaganda.

The local chief of police could not tell the paper's reporter how many skinheads would be taking part, but participants from abroad are expected. And this time, he stressed, the police would not hesitate to step in.

During last week's concert, the only step taken by police was to push journalists off the square in front of the pub where the neo-Nazi concert was being held. And today's HOSPODARSKE NOVINY comes back to this in a cartoon. It features two men wearing Nazi insignia, standing inside a shop window, lifting their right arms in the Nazi salute and shouting Sieg Heil! The policeman standing in front of them says, "Be discreet, boys, so the journalists don't see you."

LIDOVE NOVINY reports on the battle between the inhabitants of a housing estate on the outskirts of Brno, the Moravian capital, and the local town hall. The battle concerns the planned construction of a hypermarket, on the only remaining vacant plot among the blocks of prefabricated apartment houses, which has received the go ahead from the local authority.

But the people living there would prefer to have a children's playground and a few trees, and are signing a petition against the building of the hypermarket. More than 600 of them have already signed a petition to that effect, and the issue has aroused mass activity, something rather unusual in this country, where people tend to shy away from participation in public matters.

Meanwhile the international organisation which is planning to build the huge shopping centre has threatened that if it doesn't go ahead, it will close down the one and only self-service supermarket in the housing estate, which it also owns.

This arrogance has charged the atmosphere even further, and at this point it is not clear whether the town hall will revoke its decision. Obviously, the presence of a huge and wealthy company is economically very tempting. On the other hand, mass protests are increasing - and it remains to be seen which side will win.

LIDOVE NOVINY points out that similar battles are being fought in other parts of the country, and that huge internationally owned firms are winning in the battle against small Czech companies and local shops.

13-04-2001