15-06-2001

Well BSE is still making headlines in the papers today - the dailies are awash with pictures of cows from the Dusejov herd waiting to go off to that big old cowshed in the sky - soldiers have been called in to help slaughter and bury 139 cows which could be infected with mad cow disease, following definitive confirmation that one of their number had contracted BSE. 'Waiting For Death' is the caption under one picture, apparently without a trace of irony...

Pravo carries an interview with Agriculture Minister Jan Fencl, who says the decision to order the slaughter was not an easy one. There's no point in dragging out what needs to be done, he says, adding that, unfortunately, there was no alternative but to kill these healthy cows. Mr Fencl also says that burying rather than burning was the fastest and most ethical solution, and reassures readers that only healthy animals will be buried. Any cows found to be infected with BSE will be incinerated, he says.

Turning the page, Pravo says that many Romanies from Northern Moravia are about to leave the Czech Republic en masse, heading for Britain, Ireland and Spain in search of a better life and, primarily, the chance of finding gainful employment. Romany leader Josef Facuna says local Roma have zero chance of finding work in the area, and some 60 families have left the Ostrava region so far this year.

Iveta Millerova - a Roma adviser for the local council - says it's up to the Romanies if they want to leave. But British Ambassador David Broucher has sent a letter to local Roma community leader Josef Sivak warning of Britain's strict asylum regulations, to avoid any wasted journeys. The British Home Office, writes Pravo, says Czech citizens do not enjoy the right to seek asylum in Britain, and those who attempt the journey will be automatically detained and sent to special holding centres. (It should be pointed out that Britain has actually granted asylum to at least three Roma families from the Czech Republic.)

Moving on now, and Lidove noviny reports on news that Jan Ruml had known since 1992 that there were former Communist secret police agents working at the Interior Ministry. Mr Ruml, who was deputy Interior Minister at the time, says he forgot about them because he was so busy. "Czechoslovakia was being divided up. I had lots of other things to worry about that year...and in the end I completely forgot about it" says Jan Ruml, who's now a Senator for the right-of-centre Freedom Union.

"But I've never tried to hide the fact that I knew about it. That the problem wasn't resolved is another thing," he says, adding that responsibility for weeding out former agents lay with his Superior at the time, former federal Interior Minister Jan Langos. Ruml is a former dissident who was later promoted to Interior Minister in the Klaus government.

There's remarkable news in Mlada fronta Dnes today - an ornithologist in Brno says that starlings, nightingales and warblers are starting to imitate mobile phones, car horns and burglar alarms in a bid to impress other, well, birds. Yes, Mlada fronta Dnes says the wider the repertoire, the more chance a male bird has of attracting the ladies. And the bird who picks up a brand new melody that none of the other birds has heard yet has the greatest pulling power.

The ornithologist says studies in Britain and Australia have proven that birds are imitating the sounds around them, but that so far there are no recordings of Czech birds imitating mobile phones. Presumably, says Mlada fronta Dnes, it's only a matter of time before the avian Casanovas catch up with mobile-mania here too...

And finally a fascinating but rather worrying picture on the front page of Zemske noviny today - Japanese market traders getting SQUARE watermelons ready for sale. The melons are grown in square glass boxes, so the final product fits more easily into the fridge. I hate to sound like my grandmother, but what will they think of next?

15-06-2001