11-06-2001

Ireland's rejection of the EU's Nice Treaty has not created as much of a stir as one might expect. For the most part it's pressing domestic problems that jostle for space on today's front pages: concern over the first confirmed case of BSE in the Czech Republic, news that three out of a hundred former Communist agents who escaped detection in the post- revolution screening process were unearthed at the interior ministry itself, and last but not least a warning from the Audit Office that ministers of the Social Democrat government often dispense with public tenders and hand out million crown contracts to firms of their own choice.

Mlada fronta Dnes says that a recent inspection by the State Audit Office revealed that the cabinet had waived aside public tenders in 277 out of 600 cases where there should have been one, allegedly due to lack of time. This creates a lot of space for corruption and we can only speculate about how much money changed hands or what deals were quietly made behind the scenes, Mlada fronta Dnes says. The former finance minister Pavel Mertlik told the paper that this practice was one of the reasons why he resigned from office.

All weekend the number one topic on local news and current affairs programmes has been the first confirmed case of BSE -its impact on beef consumption and the economy. How many more cases will now come to light ? asks Mlada fronta Dnes. The state veterinary authority says several dozen at the most, and reminds Czechs that blanket-testing of all cattle put up for sale should make Czech beef safer than ever.

Visiting Czech troops in Bosnia and Kosovo over the weekend, Prime Minister Milos Zeman urged Czechs not to panic. After a canteen meal of beef and cream sauce with the troops, the head of Cabinet appeared to be in high spirits posing for reporters sporting the traditional fez cap worn by Kosovo Albanians and a beret worn by SFOR troops.

Few readers are likely to share the Prime Ministers optimism though, not least because the papers all carry reports of slaughtered cattle which someone quietly dumped in a ditch over the weekend. Police are investigating the matter and the incident has left a lot of unanswered questions. With BSE tests per head of cattle costing 1,600 crowns it is not difficult to imagine some farmers selling their meat at cut price without tests. At present extreme caution is advisable, Lidove noviny says slamming the Prime Minister for having recklessly urged the nation to consume beef without fear.

It would seem that Czechs need to exercise caution in more ways that one. Pravo warns that there is an increasing incidence of syringes stuck in upholstered seats in city transport and cinemas - intentionally or otherwise. Similar warning have appeared on and off for several weeks now and according to Prague's chief Hygiene Officer Vladimir Polanecky close to twenty people have sought medical assistance after injuring themselves on abandoned syringes in public places.

The most common danger is hepatitis but one cannot rule out AIDS either, Polansky told Pravo. Apparently this anti-social behaviour is not restricted to the Czech Republic. Similar cases have been reported in France.

And finally, Lidove noviny reports that although corporal punishment was banned from Czech schools in 1870, many teachers still resort to the occasional smack as a form of discipline. According to a survey in which 1,000 schoolchildren and 200 teachers took part, 44% of teachers at primary school level have smacked their charges at one time or another. Half of the schoolchildren polled said they'd got a smack or got their hair or ear tugged if they misbehaved.

An increasing number of teachers complain that since the revolution Czech children have become increasingly unruly since they have much more freedom at home to do as they like. Many believe they can get away with anything, one teacher told the paper. In an editorial column Martin Zverina says that while teachers should not be allowed to inflict real pain the occasional disciplinary smack is something that parents should trust them to apply fairly. Otherwise teachers might soon need protection at school -or else nobody will want to do the job, the author notes.

11-06-2001