22-05-2001

Stories of financial scandal, bankruptcy and racism are the dominant stories in today's papers, as well as fresh disputes over Czech Public Television, this time over who to elect to the station's supervisory board.

Indeed, LIDOVE NOVINY's top story today starts with a headline proclaiming that the selection of the new board has parliament up in arms. Voting for the fifteen members of the new board is not due to take place until Wednesday, the paper writes, but the debate in the Lower House has already become very passionate.

The main bone of contention at this point is the list of candidates up for election. The original list contained two hundred and fifty names, from which the Lower House's election committee has selected forty five for the parliamentary vote on Wednesday. Culture Minister Pavel Dostal, the paper writes, is fiercely opposed to the selection process, saying that all the candidates should be included. Mr Dostal says that they should all be given the same chance of getting elected.

Several leading personalities have been removed from the list, including writer Ivan Klima, and the centre-right Four Party Coalition claims that the two main parties, the Social Democrats and Civic Democrats, have doctored the list to make sure only weak candidates can be selected, LIDOVE NOVINY notes.

Hundreds of Czechs have lost their American stocks and shares cries MLADA FRONTA DNES today, as Private Investors, the Czech Republic's largest stock broking company dealing in shares in the US, has gone bankrupt under suspicious circumstances. Last year the firm made deals worth a total of 17 billion Czech crowns, or almost five hundred million US dollars.

But now the company's representatives say the company has lost hundreds of millions of crowns, because of losses on the NASDAQ exchange. After making a brief announcement, the firm's directors then rapidly cleaned out their offices, locked all the doors, left redundancy notices at the reception desk for all their employees and then disappeared without trace.

The paper quotes experts as saying that there's something fishy going on here. For a start, they say that the decline of NASDAQ could not explain the size of the company's supposed losses. Also, the fact that the directors have vanished like thieves in the night and that they were apparently running scared in the past few weeks, has lead financial market analysts to the conclusion that large scale fraud has been committed. The question now, says MLADA FRONTA DNES, is what do about the money of the two thousand investors who trusted the company to trade on their behalf.

PRAVO today features a scathing commentary from former Czech human rights commissioner Petr Uhl, in which he says that complaints by the Jewish community that the Czech authorities have neglected racist issues and tolerated neo-Nazis are completely justified. Yes, Mr Uhl, says, in the past four years progress has been made, but it's not enough, and the government is reluctant and slow to introduce harsh measures against extremists, because they would not be popular.

The courts and the police are also to blame, writes Mr Uhl, as they do not take sufficient action against racially motivated crime, even when they clearly have the authority and the obligation to do so. But the former human rights commissioner feels that the biggest problem is with prevention. Racial prejudice is rife not only in vocational colleges, but also in primary schools. The fact that anti-Semitism has officially decreased in public opinion polls, warns Mr Uhl in PRAVO, should not reduce our vigilance, because democracy is a fragile thing.

And finally, ZEMSKE NOVINY features a report in which it says that Czechs working in international supermarket chains across the country are often forced to work unpaid overtime for fear of losing their jobs. The paper quotes Ivan Kaspar, the head of the union that represents workers in this sector, as saying that in areas of high unemployment, people are petrified of being made redundant. Employers abuse the situation, and threaten to fire staff if they don't work extra hours, for which they receive no money.

Mr Kaspar says there are numerous such cases, but refused to give any names, saying that anyone discovered making a complaint would be fired instantly. ZEMSKE NOVINY reporters visited one unnamed shop, where they spoke off the record with employees - who said that it was common practise for them to work overtime without pay. The problem is, the paper writes, is that there are very strong unions in the base countries of these international supermarket companies, and unless Czechs organise themselves into proper unions, they don't stand a chance.

22-05-2001