09-02-2001

What can the Czech government do for nationals who get in trouble abroad? Will fear of the mad cow disease bring about a revolution in European agriculture? - and who are the richest Czech women in the year 2001? Those are some of the interesting stories in this week's magazines.

The Czech-Cuban detainee crisis has opened a great many questions. Would the government have acted as promptly and as effectively if the detainees had not been prominent Czechs but ordinary people? Opinion polls have revealed that most Czechs are in serious doubt about their chances of early release in a similar situation. And what about Czechs imprisoned in other states? Tyden magazine reports on two Czechs who are currently doing time in a Thai jail, having been sentenced for possession of heroin. Admittedly theirs was not a case comparable to Pilip and Bubenik's Freedom House mission, Tyden says, but those Czechs are in big trouble. Twenty- six-year old Emil Novotny, who received a 43-year jail sentence, has been there since 1995.

Twenty-nine-year old Radek Hanikovich is even worse off, having been sentenced the following year to 50 years in jail. Given the conditions they live in, this is basically a life sentence, Tyden says. Thai jails are tough for the locals, for Europeans they're hell on Earth. It is not that the Foreign Ministry has been inactive. Deputy Foreign Minister Hynel Kmonicek has been to Bangkok to visit them three times since their imprisonment, but on neither of those occasions was he able to bring encouraging news. The closest they came to coming home was last year when, after two years of intensive negotiations, the Czech and Thai foreign ministries signed an agreement which would have opened the way to their transfer to a Czech prison. The plan had one hitch. The agreement was linked to a proposed reform of the justice system put forward by the former justice minister Otakar Motejl. Parliament rejected the bill, effectively killing the men's chance of leaving the Thai prison. Had the bill been approved they could now have been back home - understandably, in jail - but in much more humane conditions where their case could have been reviewed and their sentences lowered. This is how most Western states approach similar cases, says Kmonicek. However the Thais are well aware of what happens to prisoners after their transfer, and after several cases in which British nationals were set free immediately on their return home they are now extremely cautious about any transfers proposed.

In any case the two Czechs will now have to wait approximately another year for the approval of a new justice reform bill. When that happens the foreign ministry will inform the Thai authorities that the way is clear and the case will be sent to the Thai transfer committee. Unfortunately that committee only meets twice a year, Kmonicek says. So if we miss it the prisoners may have to wait another six months. In a Thai prison that time will seem incomparably longer and even half a year may make all the difference in the world...

When German specialists discovered the tenth case of BSE in cattle, the country's agriculture and health ministers resigned and Chancellor Schroeder announced that it was time to embrace a more environmentally-friendly trend in agriculture. Is Europe heading for an agricultural revolution? And if so what will it be like? Those are questions that Reflex magazine has attempted to answer. We are not just talking about cattle here, the recent news that several hundred German and Austrian farmers had been feeding their livestock large amounts of antibiotics and all sorts of growth hormones, which set off another wave of panic in the two neighbouring states, is not altogether new to us in the Czech Republic, Reflex notes.

Most Czechs are aware that our farmers have been feeding chickens antibiotics for years in order to speed up growth and production. It is a sin most European states are probably guilty of. Although the Czech Republic has no known cases of BSE, we too feed our cattle bone meal - although allegedly the norms governing its production are much stricter. That however is beside the point. The truth is that we too are vulnerable to all kinds of food-related problems as a result of trying to outwit Nature and speed up the natural growth and productivity rates of plants and animals. The ever-increasing pace of our lives in the high-tech age has long outpaced the natural processes in our environment. The four seasons are not adaptable to our convenience and as a result bio-farmers who live in sync with Nature and its processes remain on the margin of interest. They produce "too little, too slowly". In most European states bio farms account for less than 7% of agricultural production. Austria, with 20% is the only exception.

However the current fear of new variant CJD, the human form of mad cow disease, is making an increasing number of people realize the immense value of bio-products. People feel they would not need to consume so much meat if they knew that what they had was safe and nutritious. So -is bio farming the answer to our problem?

Although it might well seem so, Reflex thinks this is not the way Europe will go. Although Europe has a surplus of agricultural products and theoretically we could easily do with less, adopting an exclusively bio-agricultural scheme would sent the price of food products through the roof. Agriculture is already taxing EU coffers excessively. So why not have consumers pay more? The problem is that European food producers face enormous competition from American and Asian firms. Continental bio-agriculture could only survive behind an impenetrable trade barrier and with the ongoing process of globalization and trade liberalization that is unthinkable. So what Europe will most likely resort to, Reflex concludes, is some kind of "half-way measure". Someone will soon come up with "healthier and more nutritious bone meal".

Sad to say but at the end of the day our high tech world of " effectiveness, comfort and progress" will again prove more important than our health.

And finally, Mlada Fronta Dnes Magazine and Lidove Noviny Magazine have both focussed on female assets. While the former carries a collection of the sexiest and most beautiful women to have walked the Earth, Lidove Noviny Magazine has been somewhat more pragmatic and has instead zeroed in on the richest women in this country - and around the world.

Sometimes they are one and the same. For instance super model Eva Herzigova graces both lists. The lady has 385 million Czech crowns in her piggy bank, and she won't get out of bed for anything less that 40,000 dollars - a whopping 1.5 million crowns a day .

Tennis star Jana Novotna has earned her money and says she's finally enjoying a life of leasure. With 11 million dollars in the bank she's not worried about paying the bills either. She spends the day walking the dog, shopping, working out and enjoying herself with friends. Thirty-two-year old Novotna lives in Florida - mainly, she says, because everything there works better than in the Czech Republic.

And - to name one more - from a list of ten - there's Blanka Matragi, the fashion guru who dresses the princesses of the Persian Gulf, and whose creations only a handful of the richest women in the world can afford. The message to Czech women readers is: go for it , because what these ten ladies have in common is that unlike many others who are equally rich, they have made their own fortunes - in banking, the Internet business, the tourist trade or by establishing a cosmetics firm. The message for male readers is: some of these ladies are still single. Unfortunately, most of them admit that business does come first - and as one of them says: she could manage to fit in a date at 3:30 a.m.

09-02-2001