07-04-2003

As US troops enter Baghdad for the final showdown with Saddam Hussein, both MLADA FRONTA DNES and LIDOVE NOVINY carry identical front-page photographs of two Iraqi soldiers racing past a burnt-out American tank on a Czech-made Jawa motorbike. Meanwhile the financial daily HOSPODARSKE NOVINY reports that European firms are worried about losing out in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq, as U.S. companies eye lucrative development projects.

If only the U.S. had invaded Communist Czechoslovakia in 1948, says philosopher Miloslav Bednar in the "Hyde Park" column of MLADA FRONTA DNES. If the Americans had forced Stalin to withdraw from the country, we wouldn't still be coming to terms with the devastating effects of 40 years of totalitarian rule, says Bednar.

People like Milada Horakova - executed in a Communist show-trial - would have been building our post-war democratic culture, he goes on, and the Communists would have been left on the margins of political life. And democratic Czechoslovakia would not have had to be divided into two.

PRAVO reports today that all members of staff working at the Czech Defence Ministry will have to undergo strict security screening in the coming weeks, or leave their posts. The paper says the new measures concern everyone: from senior military officers right down to secretaries and even cleaners.

The measures are to prevent classified information from getting into the wrong hands, says PRAVO. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik says even cleaners pose a security risk: they can attach listening devices when nobody's looking, he tells the paper.

Back to MLADA FRONTA DNES, and the paper features a revealing portrait of Zdenek Ruzek, the 57-year-old former convict who was recently released from prison after 32 years behind bars. Ruzek was originally sent to prison in 1971 for the crime of leaving Communist Czechoslovakia without the permission of the authorities. During his prison sentence, however, he killed a fellow inmate, and was given another 25 years.

He now lives alone, with just a small dog for company, in a village in South Moravia. Ruzek says he's still having difficulty acclimatising to his new-found freedom, but his Zen Buddhism - which helped him survive 32 years in prison - is still a source of comfort. He spent his early years in Japan, and often thinks of his time there. A karate expert, he tells MLADA FRONTA DNES his life would take on new meaning if he found work as a martial arts teacher, and has even founded a "samurai club" in his new home.

07-04-2003