02-09-2003

There is little doubt which story gets the most press in all of today's Czech papers and that is Monday's teachers' strike, the largest teachers' strike in the country's history. More than half of the Czech Republic's schools remained closed September 1st, with many children gaining an extra day of summer holidays. By contrast, the pictures in the dailies are traditional, taken at one of the schools that did open its doors - to no one less than President Vaclav Klaus. He wished first graders well, giving each a flower as they began their first day. Still, if the papers offer any indication, it could be a turbulent year for students - because of future protests unions say they have planned.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Teachers' unions promise they will fight back reads a headline in MLADA FRONTA DNES. In all likeliness they will again be supported by other civil servants fighting for higher wages. On Monday teachers were joined for an hour by workers from social services, libraries, and finance bureaux. Even so, even their support was not enough to make the government budge; no concessions - only refusals - were offered.

MLADA FRONTA DNES writes Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla broke the news to union leaders that there was no money left for half of teachers' end of the year bonuses. Even an added 11 billion crowns recently uncovered by the Finance Ministry would not be used to satisfy their demands. That money is needed elsewhere. Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares spoke to the point: he is quoted in MLADA FRONTA DNES saying "All the ministries have sent applications to the government appealing for a budget increase. For this reason unions' demands have not been taken up."

So, how do some of the dailies themselves view the strike? LIDOVE NOVINY notes the fact that there is a surplus of teachers in the school system - some 30, 000 - made less than necessary through the declining number of students. LIDOVE NOVINY writes that at least one government coalition member agrees that six billion crowns would be saved if a good number of teachers 'found work elsewhere'.

But, the idea of lay-offs and closing down schools is probably less-than-appealing for the government, at least for the time being. In any case, only local regions are responsible for such decisions, writes LIDOVE NOVINY. The paper says that under such circumstances talks between the Education Ministry and district commissioners should have already begun. Precluding yesterday's strike and not letting the strike escalate, aggravating teachers and students' parents, says the daily.

From Monday's strike we turn to another event that has saddened many in the Czech Republic and abroad: the passing of Pavel Tigrid on Sunday at the age of 85. Mr Tigrid was of the country's finest journalists who lived in an age of extremes, writes philosopher Vaclav Belohradsky in today's PRAVO. He notes Mr Tigrid's extensive work for his country in exile - his dedication to dissident culture during the so-called normalisation period and his refusal to retreat from grim realities into what he calls 'false worlds', to continue fighting against intolerance and stereotype. Mr Tigrid's refusal to accept false paradigms rings just as true today, Belohradsky writes: an age in which spin doctors put their own spin on just about everything, an age of false worlds. Apparently 'out of fashion' in such an age: dedication to the truth.

And, commemorations to Pavel Tigrid can also be found in today's other papers: in MLADA FRONTA DNES President Vaclav Klaus sees the great journalist - and his body of work - as an inspiration for all Czechs, recalling how he 'threw salt in the eyes' of the old regime, and how he gave those within Czechoslovakia, who yearned for democracy, hope in the lean years. Marta Davouze, the ex-wife of former media magnate Vladimir Zelezny and head of the Franz Kafka Institute, writes that Mr Tigrid was a true gentleman of the old school, and she applauds his 'aristocratic spirit'. She writes "Wherever he appeared the room lit up like the sun," and adds he was "Precisely the kind of person God wanted to have." - quoting Max Brod's line about Leos Janacek. She ends her article saying that for her Mr Tigrid her remains a symbol to believe in. She notes that while he lived he was one of those people whose existence one counted on as a reaffirmation of the self. Without question Mr Tigrid will be missed.

Finally, for this edition - here's a curious item: MLADA FRONTA DNES writes that the former mayor of New York, or as he might call it: the 'greatest city in the world'- will be visiting Brno soon. 59-year old Rudolph Giuliani will visit the Moravian city on business, representing his consultancy firm at an international conference. It should be interesting to see if Mr Giuliani takes to the city, to see what will strike his fancy. We can only speculate, of course, on what he would do if he were mayor - of Brno - or even Prague - the world's second greatest city. One suspects that first things first, he'd do something about dangerous and negligent driving on Czech roads.

02-09-2003