September 2002   česky

What a mess, and that's not including the one left behind by the flooding. Vladimir Spidla had been talking about raising taxes even before he was elected premier but with cleanup costs approaching 80 billion crowns ($2.6 billion), he decided to ram a major tax increase through Parliament. He lost by one vote, cast by none other than Hana Marvanova, the Hana, who had given him so much trouble when he was trying to put a coalition government together with her party. She said she was merely keeping her promise not to vote for any tax hike. The normally reserved premier was livid, however. He had taken a lot of heat from the Zemanites in his party for allowing the Freedom Union to join their government and now here they were backstabbing them on the first major vote. Actually the rest of the Unionists were just as angry with Hana. Her infantile conduct, as Spidla labeled it, could easily get them kicked out of the government or cost them one of their three ministries. They called on her to resign her seat in Parliament, but she refused and that left the door open to Spidla to form a minority government with the consent of the Communists. Bluff or no bluff, that got the two sides to work out a compromise calling for Vladimir to talk things over thoroughly with Hana before she would toe the line. She stands to lose a lot of the respect she won for being an honest politician, which may sound like a cliché, but goes a long way in this country. With such a bare-thin majority, the only way she can at least abstain on the government's next tax package is for Jan Kavan to get his ass home. Although a representative for the ruling Social Democrats, Kavan has been moonlighting as the chairman of the UN's general session. He figured his vote this time around wasn't necessary because a Communist member of the opposition was laid up in the hospital (where he later died) and therefore their two absences canceled one another. That gave Spidla just 100 members, the absolute minimum necessary to get the package through, and on first count it seemed he got them. But suddenly another Communist raised his hand and claimed his vote had been miscounted. So they took a second vote and when it was over, all government eyes were glaring at Marvanova, who sat there and radiated integrity. In spite of her promise to cooperate in the future, Spidla isn't taking any chances and has made it clear to Kavan that Prague comes first, New York second. But given the choice, Kavan would just as soon stay in New York. The Srba contract-killing story and the allegations of corruption at the Foreign Ministry continue to dog him. Now it's been revealed that when his safe at the ministry was opened two years ago, a million crowns in cash was discovered inside. Kavan scoffed at the amount, insisting it was more like 300,000. Fine, Mr. Minister, whose money was it and how did it get there? Kavan blurted out it came from political donations, in which case the laws requires it to be taxed. Did you declare the money for tax purposes, Mr. Minister? Kavan took a couple of weeks to ponder the question, as well as the one concerning the whereabouts of the money. Since all documents relating to the safe were destroyed by a ministry employee, who died suddenly thereafter, the answer in the end turned out to be quite simple. Kavan had been in error about the political donations. The money had been a loan from his brother all along. And now back to the peace and serenity of New York. At least Kavan can claim he has never been a trustworthy person from the start. But others like Petra Buzkova have a lot riding on their wholesome images. The Minister for Education found herself in deep yogurt on the first day of school when it was revealed that she had enrolled her daughter in an exclusive private school run by the French government. Her excuse that she made the decision as a mother and not as a minister didn't wash and she soon found herself scrambling to come up with salary increases for teachers in Czech public schools. Of course, there's still the flood to pay for, but money has been pouring in at an unprecedented rate. The EU alone has contributed ten times more than all the money given following the floods in Moravia in 1997. But just when Prague is flushed with money, three men pull off the biggest bank heist in Czech history. In broad daylight they stopped an armored van, subdued the three guards inside and hauled off 150 million crowns ($5 million) in sacks weighing thirty kilos. The director of the security company charged with guarding the van has insisted throughout that the three men were professionals. Indeed, the robber who got the guards to surrender the van without firing a shot was reportedly wearing a mask of Ronald Reagan. He should be easy to point out in any forthcoming lineup. Another famous political face from the eighties appeared in court this month to answer charges that he betrayed his country when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. Milous Jakes, the last Communist premier of Czechoslovakia, flashed his toothy, groundhog teeth as the charges were read against him and his former comrade, Jozef Lenart. Of course, the case was never in doubt from the beginning. Czech judges have proven themselves unwilling to deal with members of the former regime and their colleague in this case was no exception. Perhaps to show they are no longer a threat to the capitalist world, Jakes and Lenart chose to celebrate their victory at McDonald's.