MAY 31, 1999

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Christian Democrats held a conference in Ceské Budejovice

A nation-wide congress of the Christian Democratic Union - Czechoslovak People's party was held over the past weekend in the South Bohemian city of České Budejovice. The most important result of the congress is the new party leadership. Alena Skodova has more:
Jan Kasal, thus far the acting chairman, was elected a new leader of the Christian Democrats, while Cyril Svoboda, Tomas Kvapil, Pavel Severa and Miroslav Kalousek became deputy chairmen. The Christian democrats do not intend to maintain close relations with any other political party, but according to the new chairman, Jan Kasal, they plan to hold talks with all parliamentary parties:

"In the near future I'll turn to the chairmen of respective parties with the demand to meet with all of them. These talks will not be aimed at setting up coalitions, but at developing concerted efforts in seeking possibilities as to how to lead our country out of the present bleak economic situation," Jan Kasal told Czech Radio.

But Mr.Kasal does not have any illusions that substantial political changes could be made, mainly because the so-called opposition agreement between the ruling Social democrats and opposition Civic democrats is still in effect.

As far as this agreement is valid, a party like the Christian Democratic Union- Czechoslovak People's party would only make fruitless efforts if they tried to break in through the closed door, said Kasal.

This view has been fully backed by the new deputy chairman of the party, Pavel Severa, who has made this statement:

The clear message from our party's congress, addressed to the public, is this: we are not a prolonged hand of any other political party, we are a party with a good program , good people, and we are able to materialize it independently, said Severa. Deputy chairman Cyril Svoboda added that the will and the preparedness to make decisions is something that puts a political party high in the eyes of its voters, as well as the general public.

The Christian democrats' conference was also addressed by leaders of other parties. Vaclav Klaus, leader of the right-wing opposition Civic democrats, asked the Christian democratic delegates to adopt a clear view on cooperation between their two parties.

Leader of the ruling Social democratic party, premier Milos Zeman, said after the conference: "We'd like to make it clear that on the part of the Social Democrats there are no limits set beforehand, which would obstruct any forms of cooperation with the Christian democratic Union."
Civic Democratic party passes unity test

The Civic Democratic Party of Vaclav Klaus held an extraordinary party conference this weekend. Held under the motto 'How to help the Czech Republic overcome two years of non-government' it was viewed as a test of party unity. More from Daniela Lazarova.
'I know how best to help the Czech Republic 'the question was do the rest of the Civic Democrats 'which was what this conference was all about' party leader Vaclav Klaus told newsmen later. He pronounced himself more than satisfied with the degree of unity within his party, which he said would be vital if the Civic Democrats were called on to help lead the country out of the present crisis. The party defined itself as 'liberal-conservative' and set itself the ambitious goal of winning over 50% of votes in the next general elections, which many party members expect to be premature. Future policy goals include a significant reduction in taxes and abolishing all dispensable state institutions.

In a rare show of self criticism, party leader Vaclav Klaus admitted that his party shared the blame for the country's present crisis noting that the economic transformation had not been entirely successful on every front. We did not have enough real experts to take care of problems as they emerged, he said. Although the Civic Democratic Party claims that the government's ambition to join the EU in the year 2003 is unrealistic, party leader Vaclav Klaus rejected the label Euro-skeptic.

'We don't accept that label 'if anything then we are Euro-realist which I consider far better than being Euro-naive.' Klaus said. Integration in European structures remains one of the party's top priorities but as shadow transport minister Martin Riman told journalists it would not be wise to blindly accept all of the EU's recommendations.

'We insist that in those negotiations the Czech Republic and the European Union talk as equal partners who have their own specific interests to defend.' Riman said further that his party was planning to launch a much-needed public debate on the advantages and disadvantages of EU membership. One development the conference did not bring was an expected re-shuffle in the party's shadow cabinet, which party leader Vaclav Klaus said 'was all in the mind of the press' .
New Slovak President

The second round of Slovakia's Presidential elections concluded this past weekend, resulting in the defeat of Vladimir Meciar. Pro-western candidate Rudolf Schuster has emerged as Slovakia's new President, winning 57% of the vote. Linda Mastalir has the details.
Sunday brought a bright ray of hope for Slovakia's future as Rudolf Schuster was pronounced the new head of state. The official candidate of the governing 4-party coalition in Slovakia, Schuster was elected President in the final round of a run-off vote against the former Slovak premier, Vladimir Meciar. Meciar gained only 43% of the direct ballot vote, while Schuster secured 57%.

Reactions to Schuster's victory have been highly positive in the Czech Republic. President Václav Havel provided a statement expressing his approval of Schuster's election, saying that it is a confirmation of Slovakia's path towards a stronger democracy and closer European integration. Also welcoming of the results was chief of the Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL), Jan Kasal, who ensured Schuster that his party will give Slovakia full support for entrance into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Miroslav Ransdorf, of the Czech and Moravian Communist Party (KSCM), predicted that Schuster's election will calm the political waters in Slovakia and improve relations with the Czech Republic. Even Petr Necas of the Civic Democrats (ODS) said that Schuster will not want to isolate Slovakia from the world.

Only Václav Klaus, Chairman of the Civic Democrats and Lower House speaker, refused to comment on the election results, saying that it is inappropriate to do so. Following the official announcement of the election results, Rudolf Schuster's speech included his hopes for close relations with the Czech Republic:

"I believe that you will help us so that we can get back amongst you," Schuster told Czech Radio. Schuster added that his first priority in foreign policy will be relations with the Czech Republic, and building on the commonalties of past Czechoslovak statehood. The new Slovak President is also anxious to meet with President Havel, whom he praised as being a man with a close affinity for Slovakia.

The election of Rudolf Schuster as President of Slovakia is widely expected to bring increased stability to that country. Though controversial because of his past as a member of the central committee of the Slovak communist party from 1986-89, Schuster is seen as a better alternative to Meciar, under whose leadership Slovakia lost its ranking as a first-round candidate in NATO and EU expansion. With Schuster as President, Slovakia is predicted to re-join the leading countries in Central Europe. Analysts expect that Slovakia's image will rapidly improve and that foreign investment will flourish with less of a political risk factor.
British Journalist on Czech Press

On our programs you can frequently hear what the Czech press is writing. But only rarely do we talk about the press itself, especially the local press. David Ward, an experienced British journalist on the staff of the Guardian has been here a number of times to help train young local journalists. So Olga Szantova asked him how he saw the Czech local papers.
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