David clings on as ministry disintegrates around him
What is going on at the Health Ministry? Eighteen months ago Ivan David was given the job of introducing widespread reforms to the troubled health care system, and many believed he was just the man for the job. Now the ministry seems to be collapsing around him as his deputies prepare to jump ship and the opposition clamours for his resignation. Rob Cameron has more.
It all began with a quarrel with the director of Pragueīs Motol Hospital, Helena Roegnerova. Mrs Roegnerova claims the hospital was forced by the ministry to accept a contract with a catering firm, despite her protests that the firm had submitted the most expensive tender. The implication being that someone at the ministry had something to gain by awarding the contract to the caterers.
Apologies lacking from Prime Minister Milos Zeman
A team of Health Ministry inspectors then descended on Motol Hospital, ostensibly to investigate allegations of financial mismanagement. Davidīs team recently produced a report, that indicated discrepancies in the hospital's accounting totalling almost 100 million crowns. Mrs Roegnerova says these discrepancies are fabricated, and that her hospital is clean. The director has filed criminal charges against the ministry and has called on David to resign.
But the quarrel is no longer just between David and Roegnerova. Deputy Health Minister Jiri Cihar defied his superior last week and apologised to Roegnerova for what he said were errors in the report. Cihar told reporters at the weekend that he was giving serious consideration to resigning from the post. Fellow deputy minister Martin Holcat was also about to jump ship, but on Monday he agreed to stay on. No-one knows on what terms. Davidīs third deputy, Petr Pokorny, has been accused of attempting to blackmail Mrs Roegnerova. The minister said on Monday that Pokorny was considering resigning from his post, due to what he said was the campaign of lies against him in the Motol case.
Whether his deputies abandon him or not, Davidīs position appears increasingly untenable. Doctors, opposition parties and hospital managers are clamouring for his resignation. The scandal surrounding Motol is only one of a number of controversial disputes with health workers. Everything rests with Prime Minister Milos Zeman. Mr Zeman has so far supported his embattled Health Minister, but if such scandals continue, Davidīs days could be numbered.
Over the course of his political career, Prime Minister Milos Zeman has managed to ruffle a few feathers. He has a reputation, according to the daily newspaper Lidove Noviny, for hurling insults, and then failing to apologise, even when required to do so by the law courts. Nick Carey has the details:
Six years ago Milos Zeman said that former member of parliament Milan Hruska had obviously completed primary school with a great deal of difficulty. Hruska sued Zeman, and the court awarded him twenty thousand crowns in damages, and ordered Zeman to apologise. Six years on, Zeman has not apologised. In 1997, Zeman said that another former member of parliament, right-wing Josef Wagner, had tried to get into the Communist Party, but had failed. Wagner sued, and Zeman was again ordered to apologise, but has still not done so. The prime minister claims that this is because he is appealing the decision, but Lidove Noviny notes that no appeal has yet been filed.
Czech extreme right-wing groups get warning
There are other such cases I could list, in particular the latest affair with former Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec, who will no doubt want an apology for statements made by Milos Zeman that he abused state funds. Why does Milos Zeman do this? I asked Czech Lecturer at Glasgow University and a contributor to various publications in and about the Czech Republic, Jan Culik, for his opinion:
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And how is it that he has avoided punishment for this if the law courts have decided against him? Jan Culik:
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There are several lawsuits underway against Milos Zeman at present, including Hruska and Wagner whom we have already mentioned, who are going to take Zeman to court for failing to apologise when required by law to do so. Given his track record, these lawsuits will probably not bear any fruit.
The Czech Interior Ministry has taken major steps towards dissolving two extreme right-wing groups, the Patriotic Front and the National Alliance. Now, those of you who were listening on Monday heard an interview with the Czech government Commissioner for Human Rights Petr Uhl, who was highly critical of the Interior Ministry that it allowed these extremist groups to go more or less unchecked. . Our correspondent Jana Kotalik is in the studio with me now. Why was Mr. Uhl so critical yesterday?
Human Rights Commissioner Petr Uhl reproached the Interior Ministry for not having taken any concrete steps towards controlling the two extremist groups.
In July the government gave the Ministry a deadline for the end of October.
By taking concrete action on Monday November 1st, the Ministry has taken action only one day late. Better late than never.
Secret police officer receives reduced prison sentence
So, what kind of concrete steps are we talking about, what has the Ministry done to deal with the actions of these groups?
Well, late on Monday the Interior Ministry announced that they have sent letters to two groups - the Patriotic Front and the National Alliance - notifying them that they have broken the law. The government cannot just ban groups at will
So, they have 30 days to declare (in writing) that they will stop all illegal acts.
If they fail to do so, the government will ban the groups.
And specifically, what laws have the two groups broken?
Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich said on Monday that the groups are accused of "speeches which incite racial hatred and intolerance " Take the demonstrations that were held by the Patriotic Front last Thursday in Prague on Czech national day. Members of the National Front were there publicly declaring that the Holocaust did not take place, that it was fabricated - denying the genocide of the Jews and the existence of concentration camps. In the following excerpt, spokesman for the Patriotic Front Jan Skacel is speaking to journalists on Monday:
He is saying that the Patriotic Front does not think the Holocaust can be discussed freely. The Holocaust is only a Jewish and German problem and does not concern Czechs in the slightest.
And how have the two extreme right groups reacted to the letter from the Interior Ministry?
Well, Jan Skacal of the Patriotic Front has said that their group has not done anything illegal. If their group is banned, they will appeal the decision in court.
If this does not work, he said they would start another organisation or go into politics. So, the Ministry of the Interior expects a fight.
Following a ruling by the Municipal Court in Prague, the prison sentence of 76 year old Ladislav Macha, accused of torturing a village parson back in the 1950s , has been reduced from five to two years. But it's not yet clear if this Communist secret police officer will ever serve time in prison. Alena Skodova has more:
Macha's attorney, Kolja Kubicek told newsmen on Monday that the case will be decided at the Prague 6 district court. But, he said, the fact that Macha is 76 years old and in poor health, might mean that he will most probably never end up in prison.
Czech-Roma housing estate evokes controversy
In the early 1950s, when the Communists' grip on post-war Czechoslovakia was at its toughest, Macha was appointed the chief investigator of a case known under the name of "The Cihost miracle."
During an advent mass on Sunday, December 11th, 1949 in the village of Cihost in Eastern Bohemia, a 50 centimeters long cross on the main altar moved several times from side to side. Chief investigator, Ladislav Macha had the local parson, Josef Toufar, placed in the infamous Valdice prison, where he was forced to spend several days in a cold cellar, without food or drink. Several days later, Macha beat the parson up with a club to force him to confess that the whole "miracle" had been staged by him, with the help of a home-made technical device. Although the whole event has remained a mystery until now, the most probable explanation is that the moving cross had been staged by the communist secret police themselves, with the intention of preparing the ground for the forthcoming trials of prominent figures in the Roman Catholic church. Shortly after parson Toufar was arrested, many other church dignitaries ended up in police cells, and many of them then spent long years in communist prisons. The Communist regime had described the event in Cihost as an anti-Communist conspiracy organized by the Catholic church against the government.
Parson Josef Toufar died in February 1950 of internal injuries in a Prague hospital, where he had been taken directly from the Valdice prison.
There is much being said nowadays about the process of integration of Romanies into Czech society. Whenever an open debate on Czech public radio takes place on this particular topic the station is flooded by phone calls from listeners with respect to how things should be done. Our Ostrava based correspondent Zuzana Smidova reports on a project aimed to help Czech and Romany flood victims find new homes -which goes to show how controversial proposed solutions may be not just between Czechs and Romanies - but within the Roma community itself.
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