July 2002   česky

He pulled it off. With a bare one-vote majority in parliament, Vladimír Spidla put together a coalition government consisting of his liberal Social Democrats and the center-right Populists and Unionists. Negotiations had stalled over the growing budget deficit, with the Unionists officially calling for more fiscal restraint. Unofficially, it was their leader, Hana Marvanova, making a play for the Justice Ministry. She got neither the post nor the fiscal restraint. The lion's share of cabinet positions went to the Social Democrats, including a few holdovers from the previous government. But Spidla made it clear that the Zeman era was over by naming Lubomir Zaoralek as the new Chairman of Parliament. He's the man Zeman had once called a "moocher" for daring to come out against the cronyism of his administration. Klaus fought to retain the post of chairman, but had to settle for two of his deputies getting vice-chairs. Marvanova also got a vice-chair, since Spidla still needs the meager showings of her party to form his government. Of the three other vice-chairs created, one went to Populist Jan Kasal, whose career seems none the worse after injuring a woman in a drunk driving incident, and another to Vojtech Filip, the first Communist to assume a leadership position in government since 1989. That is, if a vice-chair can be called a leadership position. In the last parliament there were only three of them and none, to use the famous expression, was worth a pitcher of warm spit. These chairs only serve the purpose of indulging party leaders with perks like more pay, limousines and the indescribable honor of telling others they are vice-chairs. And Spidla finds he has to be even more indulging now that the first scandal is already upon us. In what is one of the wildest stories to hit this country in years, the police arrested Karel Srba, deputy to former Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, on charges of trying to organize a contract killing. Last year Srba was forced out of office after a reporter revealed he had negotiated an illegal sale of government property abroad. Apparently Srba wanted to get even, but the drug addict hired to hit the reporter went to the police instead. A quick investigation turned up a shopping bag in Srba's car with 30 million crowns ($1 million) stashed inside it and a luxurious villa well beyond the means of a public servant. Who knows, maybe he made all the extra money from his work as a spy with Army intelligence. Actually the Army was ordered to sever its ties with him last year, but nobody got around to doing the paperwork. Also charged in planning the hit was Srba's advisor from his foreign ministry days, a businesswoman who began telling all kinds of stories about kickbacks at the ministry. A couple million for this job, several million for that one. The one that cost Srba his job went out over the signature of his former boss, who is now the chairman of the UN's general session. Like Kasal, Kavan has also used parliamentary immunity to beat a drunk driving rap. He's survived allegations of cooperating with the former secret police, of organizing a campaign to discredit his predecessor as foreign minister. Spidla has given him the benefit of the doubt so far, if only because Kavan is also an MP. Without his seat, there goes that one-vote majority. Also on the police blotter is another well-known escape artist. Vladimir ®elezný reported that one of his paintings has gone missing from the heavily guarded Golden Goose Gallery in Prague. ®elezný had just thwarted another attempt to remove him as the director of crass TV Nova and now this happens. The painting, Chagall's "Jacob's Ladder", nearly got ®elezný locked up for failing to pay customs duties when he brought the picture to the Czech Republic in 1998. He beat the rap then by insisting the painting wasn't his. And now it is. Or was. Apparently only he really knows. It was a better month for ex-Communists. Former secret police henchman Alois Grebenicek got yet another stay from his judge in the case the government has tried to bring against him for the last FIVE YEARS! Former premier Lubomir Strougal saw charges that he quashed an investigation into three murders committed by the same secret police dropped for good. Naturally, he had nothing but good things to say about his judge. And finally there is the curious case of singer Helena Vondrackova. She's suing critic Jan Rejzek for writing that she owed her success to the Communist music mafia. After a lower court dismissed the case on a technical ground, her lawyers did some homework and managed to get a higher court to rule in her favor. The court ordered Rejzek to apologize to the immortal Helena for using the word "mafia" in his article about her. Her connection to the Communists was never in doubt, but the court declared that "mafia" implies an illegal business and Rejzek went too far in using it. Maybe he should play it safe next time and write an article about the foreign ministry instead.