22-03-2002

The papers' cover pages today focus on a cross-cut of events from the Czech Republic to around the world: Pravo's cover photograph shows NATO Secretary General George Robertson clinking glasses with Prime Minister Milos Zeman in anticipation of November's NATO summit in Prague, Lidove noviny goes with a golden Oscar in preparation for the Academy Awards, and Mlada fronta Dnes shows a picture of a small boy playing with a gun replica, after yet another suicide attack in Israel.

Turning to the Czech Republic, the biggest story making news in this country is the 3.6 percent increase in GNP growth, which is the highest increase since 1996. Hospodarske noviny quotes Prime Minister Milos Zeman as saying he expects growth to go even higher in 2002, a possible four percent - all signs which shows the Czech economy is "healthy and stable" despite the world-wide recession.

Hospodarske noviny also quotes Marie Bohata of the Statistics Office, who says that the economic gap between the Czech Republic and the European Union has also narrowed: Mrs Bohata is quoted as saying that the Czech Republic now rests at 62 percent of the economic level enjoyed by the European Union.

But that's not all. Hospodarske noviny writes that that the overall structure of the Czech Republic's GNP is also changing, with the services market making inroads against heavy industry, with Czechs spending on the post, telecommunications, and housing services. Restaurants are also beginning to make their mark, and economic growth has received a big injection by increased household spending.

So generally good news, although as the paper points out that not all analysts believe the GNP growth will continue. Some analysts say that not all of the credit for the improvement can be claimed by the government.

Enough of economics for now as we turn to Friday's Mlada fronta Dnes, which examines a bill passed in parliament yesterday which would finally lead to the creation of a high administrative court in the Czech Republic. The paper's Miroslav Korecky writes that until now it took months, even years, for some cases against state bureaucrats to go to trial; he says that the new proposal will finally start tackling the problem.

In Mr Korecky's words the court will be a whip for bureaucrats, a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, so to speak, and he only expresses regret that the bill was not passed sooner. He argues it would have saved the Czech Republic the necessity of creating the office of the public ombudsman, which Mr Korecky says costs 90 million crowns per year in exchange for an office he sees as highly symbolic compared to an administrative court with real powers.

I don't know how state bureaucrats will appreciate the metaphor of a whip, but there you go. Leaving whips behind we stick with Mlada fronta Dnes but turn to a less burning issue... ever given thought to a sauna... in the family home? Why not, suggests an article in the paper that covers the many uses and benefits of saunas in Finland, in everything from good health to good business. Raulio Huikari, a Finn who lives in Prague, sites famous examples where Finland's prime minister negotiated important agreements in saunas. And Mr Huikari says an agreement made in a sauna, is worth its weight in gold...

I've just had a thought - could you picture the Czech Republic's politicians negotiating in a sauna after general elections in June? For instance a new coalition government, or a new version of the power-sharing pact known as the Opposition Agreement? It evokes rather funny - and scary - images... but perhaps we'd better leave those unexplored as we come to an end of this Friday's Press Review...

22-03-2002