12-07-2001

Several of today's papers carry front-page pictures of a grim-looking Helmut Kohl at the funeral of his wife Hannelore following her suicide last week. And the mood of mourning is also reflected in the front page of MLADA FRONTA DNES, with a photograph of a woman weeping for her lost relatives, on the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

But it's not all gloom on MLADA FRONTA DNES's front page. It also tells the heartwarming story of the last romance of one of the great Czech writers of the twentieth century, Bohumil Hrabal. One autumn day in 1988, when he was already in his mid seventies, Hrabal was approached by a young American student in his favourite Prague drinking hole, U zlateho tygra. Usually Mr Hrabal did not welcome such disturbances, but in the case of April Gifford, a student of Czech back home in the States, it was love at first sight, writes MLADA FRONTA DNES.

The writer described the moment like this: "I knew at once that my future was in your eyes." April Gifford became his friend and muse, and although she never returned his passion, Hrabal's "Letters to Dubenka", meaning "Little April" in Czech, have now become a minor classic. Without Dubenka, concludes MLADA FRONTA DNES, it is very likely that Hrabal would not have written a single word during the last years of his life.

Turning now to the flipside of romance, ZEMSKE NOVINY writes that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise - and that official statistics show just the tip of the iceberg. According to the paper cases of syphilis have multiplied fivefold in the last ten years, and what is still more worrying is that people with the disease often fail to come forward. Instead they try to treat it themselves, often using unsuitable drugs. This can damage the nervous system and even lead to paralysis. ZEMSKE NOVINY attributes the trend to the more open, international and cosmopolitan nature of the Czech society since the fall of communism.

And on a not totally unrelated note, several papers return to the case of the Czech Republic's youngest government minister, 28-year-old Karel Brezina, who is suing the magazine REFLEX over a satirical comic strip showing him naked and engaged in various sexual acts. PRAVO devotes an editorial to the subject, accusing Mr Brezina of having no sense of humour. The minister's current girlfriend is the young novelist Bara Nesvatbova, whose books have a reputation for being highly erotic, and it is partly because of her that the press has seized on his image as a playboy. PRAVO calls on Mr Brezina to come to terms with this. In the long run it will do him a great deal less harm than a protracted court case, the paper writes.

But in an interview for MLADA FRONTA DNES, Mr Brezina defends his decision. The comic strip simply went too far, he writes, and as for the playboy image, it was not of his own creation. LIDOVE NOVINY also looks at the case and concludes that Mr Brezina's decision is part of a systematic campaign by the minister to change his public image, and to encourage the press to take him more seriously.

And finally, the Czech Republic is a land of dog-lovers, but LIDOVE NOVINY reports that more and more people are losing their patience with dog-owners. This year there have been six serious cases of people being attacked by dogs, including a four-year-old girl in the north-eastern town of Havirov, who suffered serious facial injuries. 681 people in the town have signed a petition and as a result the town hall has decided to act. All dogs within five metres of a playground or sports field will now have to be kept on a lead. This may sound pretty reasonable, but Member of Parliament Zdenek Koristka tells the paper that such decrees are against the law, and the town hall's decision will probably have to be withdrawn. What is needed instead, he says, is greater momentum to get a law restricting dangerous breeds through parliament.

12-07-2001